It’s April, and this month’s postbag brought me a message from a friend I lost touch with in the early 1990s: Tim Newton, a very talented actor, playwright, and stage magician. That’s him on the right, twenty-five years ago, posing for my camera on a freezing-cold winter’s day on the damp and gloomy shoreline of the River Thames. It’s the shot he used for a poster for his one-man, one-act play, The Ballad of the Limehouse Rat. To see the photo whole and uncropped, click on the Rogue’s Gallery, then click on the image—it’s well worth the time and the effort.
The Ballad of the Limehouse Rat, written in rhyming couplets, was based on two accounts taken from Henry Mayhew’s seminal work London Labour and the London Poor. It received its critically acclaimed première at a festival of one-act plays held at the Old Red Lion, a well-loved theatre pub in the heart of London. It was a rather physical performance, with Tim hefting a huge docker’s hook around blindfolded, right under the noses of the terrified audience (it’s a very intimate theatre space, not much bigger than my own living room).
One of the things I am terribly grateful to Tim for is introducing me to Mayhew’s work. It’s a source that I constantly return to when I write, so it’s not surprising I quote two examples from it here on my website: an account of a mudlark, which gave me the bones for Octavius’s back story in Gooseberry, and part of the hilarious Statement of a Photographic Man, which goes some way to explain the naivety of the general public with regards to the new and poorly-understood medium of photography.
It was great to hear from him, and I’m glad he’s still with his partner, Sal. He tells me they now have two sons, whom I’m guessing must be at least in their teens.
B.T.W. Though the current Old Red Lion dates from 1899—which may seem venerable enough—the first pub to occupy the site was erected in 1415! The 1850s version gets a mention in Octopus, the upcoming sequel to Gooseberry. Sadler’s Wells—which sits opposite, and which has been through just as many incarnations—plays a much greater role, however.
This month’s article from Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts – An Illustrated Guide to 19th Century Spiritualism looks at ghost-grabbers, often men of science or professional stage magicians (though sometimes agents sent by rival spiritualists), who took pride in debunking fraudulent mediums. When grabbing literally meant grabbing, things could—and did—quickly turn bloody! Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts normally retails for US$2.99 in most online stores, but you can still download it for free from Smashwords.com. When it comes time to pay, just use coupon code: TD22X. A word of warning: go for the ePub version if that happens to be a format you can use; for technical reasons beyond my control it is vastly superior to the MOBI on offer.
Remember, you can always message me using the Contact Me form below or send me an email. Tim did! You can too! Both Malane, who designs this website for me, and I really look forward to hearing from you, and I will always try to respond if I can.