Old St. Paul’s: A Tale of the Plague and the Fire

Recommended reading for the self isolating... As soon as the epic serial, The Tower of London concluded at the end of 1840, its author, the flamboyant ‘Lancashire Novelist’ William Harrison Ainsworth, threw an enormous celebratory party and promptly began the next serial, Old St. Paul’s, A Tale of the Plague and the Fire, the first… Continue reading Old St. Paul’s: A Tale of the Plague and the Fire

How the ‘Newgate Controversy’ Destroyed Dickens’ Greatest Rival

Guest post I wrote recently for History Hit on The Author Who Outsold Dickens As a child growing up in Regency Manchester, William Harrison Ainsworth had his head filled with tales of highwaymen by his father. His favourite was Dick Turpin. Expected to join the family law firm, the young Ainsworth was already writing poems,… Continue reading How the ‘Newgate Controversy’ Destroyed Dickens’ Greatest Rival

The Birkenhead Poems

As a companion post to 'The Victorian Titanic', here are the two commemorative poems by Francis Hastings Doyle and Rudyard Kipling celebrating the heroes of the Birkenhead, lost off Danger point, February 26, 1852... ‘The Loss of the Birkenhead’ by Sir Francis Hastings Doyle, 2nd Baronet, Professor of Poetry, Oxford (Supposed to be told by… Continue reading The Birkenhead Poems

The Victorian Titanic: The Last Voyage of the HMS Birkenhead

On the 168th anniversary of the wreck of Her Majesty's Troopship Birkenhead, which I once wrote a novel about and am now planning a history of, here's the true story... In the winter 1851, Her Majesty’s Troopship Birkenhead laid at anchor at Portsmouth, awaiting orders. A world away, the British Empire was fighting its third… Continue reading The Victorian Titanic: The Last Voyage of the HMS Birkenhead

Man of La Manchester

It's been a long time coming, but my new biography of the 'Lancashire Novelist' William Harrison Ainsworth, The Author Who Outsold Dickens is published in hardback today from Pen & Sword Books. Here's the Prologue... On the evening of Thursday, 15 September 1881, the man they called the ‘Lancashire Novelist’ attended a mayoral banquet in his… Continue reading Man of La Manchester

Goblin Stories and Haunted Men: Dickens’ Other Christmas Books

My latest for the Wordsworth Blog, on the stories that followed A Christmas Carol... As the fairy lights go up and we max out our credit cards, I think we can all agree that Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Consuming it in some form is as much of a tradition as… Continue reading Goblin Stories and Haunted Men: Dickens’ Other Christmas Books

M.R. James and the Perfect Christmas Ghost Story

My latest for the Wordsworth Blog, on M.R. James and writing the perfect Christmas ghost story... ‘There must be something ghostly in the air of Christmas,’ wrote Jerome K. Jerome in the introduction to his darkly comic collection Told After Supper (1891), ‘something about the close, muggy atmosphere that draws up the ghosts, like the… Continue reading M.R. James and the Perfect Christmas Ghost Story

London Labour and the London Poor

New post for the Wordsworth Blog The sums involved in printer George Woodfall’s chancery suit against Henry Mayhew that killed off London Labour and the London Poor mid-flow were trivial. He made several attempts to arrive at a settlement, but Mayhew ignored him. This was a common pattern of behaviour in Mayhew’s life, going back… Continue reading London Labour and the London Poor

Traveller in the Poor Man’s Country

New post for the Wordsworth Blog As the freelance journalist is never off the clock, William Thackeray was, like friend and rival Charles Dickens, a born people watcher. In a short piece for Punch entitled ‘Waiting at the Station’ written in March 1850, Thackeray thus turns the everyday experience of killing time at Fenchurch Street… Continue reading Traveller in the Poor Man’s Country

G.W.M. Reynolds & Me

A new post for the G.W.M. Reynolds Society... As a child, I possessed a morbid passion for nineteenth century gothic literature. I had inherited this trait from my mother, a Catholic turned Spiritualist with a taste for true crime and horror film and fiction. My parents had me late in life and my grandparents were… Continue reading G.W.M. Reynolds & Me