Andrew Lycett

‘Drink Up, Dear’

The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, & Play

By

Oxford University Press 412pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Behind their sentimental image, the Victorians were brutally down to earth. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, irate husbands in Essex, the county with the highest murder rate in Britain, could be heard threatening to ‘whitechapel’ their spouses, who would reply with Banshee promises to ‘white powder’ them.

‘Whitechapel’ referred to the district in the East End of London recently devastated by Jack the Ripper, while ‘white powder’ summoned up arsenic, the poison that was being recognised, only belatedly, as a deadly killer, both in the home and wider environment.  

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