Chapbooks were small booklets that were sold by travelling peddlers or “chapmen” from the 17th to the 19th centuries. They were usually printed on a single sheet folded into small books of 8, 12, 16 or 24 pages and often illustrated with crude woodcuts.
The paper quality was rather bad, the type was often broken and it was no exception when the illustrations had no relation to the text. Therefore, the chapbooks were very cheap (costing one penny or less). Since printing matter was expensive in the 17th - 19th centuries, the target group of chapbooks, the working class people, usually didn’t care much for the poor quality – they were happy enough to be able to buy any amusement they could get their hands on.
The chapbooks covered a broad range of subjects – from manuals to romances, from crime stories to poems and from nursery rhymes to biographies of famous people. Few publishers created books especially for children.
The popularity of the folded books declined from the 1860s onwards. In that time, the offer of affordable printed material had expanded extremely. The chapbooks were not the sole option anymore and lost their popularity.
In the 19th century, books were still very expensive and a privilege only the mid- and upper classes could afford. But there were alternatives for the working class. Penny dreadfuls (originally called penny bloods ) were immensely popular in the United Kingdom that were first published in the 1830s. They were printed on cheap wood pulp paper and typically were eight pages. The text was divided in two columns and often accompanied by illustrations. The penny dreadfuls were serial literature, as it was common in that time (Charles Dickens, for example, published his books on serial basis as well, but the magazines he wrote for were much more expensive), Pages were filled, which meant it often happened that the last page ended with a half-sentence - and the reader had to wait a week to be able to continue reading.
The name of these prints is self-explaining: they cost a penny, and typically had sensational topics such as crime, ghosts of the supernatural. Popular stories that first appeared as a penny dreadful were Sweeney Todd or Varney the Vampire. The most popular series was written by George W. M. Reynolds, who drew his inspiration from the London slums. His Mysteries of London took a time span of 12 subsequent years; 624 numbers were published, selling up to 250,000 copies a week.
See more at British Library.
From the industrial revolution until the 1920s, British people paid "knocker ups" to wake them. These were a common sight in places where people worked in shifts or at unusual times: when the own sense of time was overstrained to rouse by themselves.
When the profession just began to evolve, knocker-ups used to rap or ring at the doors of customers. But neighbors complained – they were aroused unwantedly!
To avoid this kind of disturbance, knocker ups then started using a long stick to tap on their clients' bedroom windows: loudly enough to wake those who paid them, but silently enough for the people living nearby to stay asleep.
An interview with a female knocker up appeared in The Huron Expositor May 22, 1978. She tells she earned 30 to 35 shillings a week by serving around 30 houses or more a day.
As Mrs. Waters explains, knocker ups were also employed by people who did own an alarm clock – but just like today, people got used to the sound of it and either slept through it or just switched it off and continued sleeping.
Bethlem Royal Hospital, better known as Bedlam, is universally known as the most dreadful mental asylum you can end up in. At the same time, it was the world's first hospital for the mentally ill. Time to dive into the story of this famous, yet infamous, psychiatric institution.
From Bethlem to Bedlam
The institution was grounded in 1247 as a priory for the New Order of St. Mary of Bethlehem in the city London. It originally was intended as a place for the collection of alms to support the Holy Crusades, but benevolent monks would also provide housing for the poor and house the bishop, canons and brothers of Bethlehem if they visited. The priory so turned into a hospital in its British meaning: "an institution supported by charity or taxes for the care of the needy". In the centuries that followed, the hospital slowly separated from the Order of Bethlehem. King Edward III took control over the house in the 1370s. From that moment on, the hospital lost its religious bindings, and the managers were secularized crown appointees - the master nor the inmates wore the symbolic star of Bethlehem. In 1547, Bethlem was still in possession of the crown, but its administration was granted to the city of London. It is unsure when Bethlem began to specialize in the cure of the insane, but it is generally accepted that mentally ill resided in the house from 1377 on. From then on, Bethlem gradually converted from a general hospital to a specialized institution for the insane in 1460 - Bedlam was born.
The Phantom of The Opera is a book written by French journalist and opera critic Gaston Leroux, which was published in 1910. The stage adaption by Andrew Lloyd Webber made the story become immensely popular. The show has been running on London's West End for almost 30 and on Broadway for 27 subsequent years, which makes it the longest running show on Broadway and the second-longest on West End.
Interestingly, for some reason, many people tend to believe that ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ is a true story. How come that this work of art is subject to so many rumors, and why are people so keen to find proof for the reality of this piece of fiction?
One reason for this would be the setting. The Opéra Garnier is a real, operating theatre in the heart of Paris, and belongs to the city's main attractions. Over 800,000 visitors and spectators come to the Opéra every year. Little of them know, however, that there really is water underneath the building. When Charles Garnier, the architect of the opera house, was digging the foundation for the building, he was surprised by an underground stream. Pumping nor blocking the water did help: the water kept on coming. Garnier had two choices: either he would build his Opera someplace else, or he would continue building in spite of the water. He chose the latter. It isn’t the beautiful lake as depicted in the book, the stage version and the movies. It is not lighted by candles, and one cannot ride a gondola. Instead, the water is being held in a rather unromantic, enormous cistern, in which the Parisian fire department practices diving exercises from time to time. Though it is no ghost, there is a living creature down there: a white catfish that is fed by the opera staff. So far we have found, as it seems, a ‘Pet of the Opera’.
Besides the water, at least one of the events in the novel is real, too. In 1896, the great chandelier indeed fell from the roof into the audience and this accident indeed killed a certain Madame Chomette, a concierge – just like in Leroux’ novel. Since Leroux was a journalist, he must have been aware of this accident, and wove the event into his story. One has to admit that the sudden fall of a chandelier during a performance is spooky and can easily lead to rumors.