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Victoria London: Background information when reading The Great Stink

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The Great Stink by Clare Clark

The Great Stink

by Clare Clark
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  • First Published:
  • Oct 1, 2005
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  • Oct 2006
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Victoria London

This article relates to The Great Stink

Print Review

If you had a choice between being a tosher, mudlark, rag-and-bone man, scavenger or riverman in Victorian London, which would you choose?

London was a dangerous place with an unnerving number of bodies ending up in the river - cutpurses would murder their victims and throw the bodies in the river, drunken sailors fell overboard, dock fights would result in more bodies in the river, and why pay the expense of a burial when granny could be dropped down the sewer and end up in the Thames?

Rivermen scraped a living hauling corpses from the river with long boat hooks in the hope of finding valuables in their clothing.

Mudlarks were mostly children who searched the mudflats of the Thames at low tide looking for anything of value - coins and jewelry of course, but also old clothes and even driftwood that could be sold as firewood. Mudlarking was dangerous - many got stuck in the mud and would be washed away by the incoming tide.

Scavengers rummaged through garbage dumps searching for valuables they could sell for a few pennies.

Rag-and-bone men, the forerunners of today's scrap-merchants collected rags that could be made into ropes or sold to garment makers, and bones that were ground down for fertiliser.

Toshers, such as Long-Arm Tom, spent their days in the sewers, a lucrative place to be, and many became rich on the pickings to be found there. The word tosher was also used to describe the thieves who stripped copper from the hulls of ships moored along the Thames. The word "tosh" was also used to describe garbage - and is still used in British English, for example "it's a load of tosh", meaning "utter rubbish".

Filed under Cultural Curiosities

This article relates to The Great Stink. It first ran in the November 12, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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