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Bloods and Penny Dreadfuls

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    An illustration from the 1852 Penny Dreadful: The London Apprentice and the Goldsmith’s Daughter of West Chepe: a Tale in the Ti

    An illustration from the 1852 Penny Dreadful: 'The London Apprentice and the Goldsmith’s Daughter of West Chepe: a Tale in the Times of Bluff Hal'​

Bloods and penny dreadfuls are terms that have been interchangeably used to describe sensational penny fiction written principally for the working classes between 1830 and around 1910.

The earlier bloods seem to have been aimed at an adult audience, whilst the later penny dreadfuls were primarily for boys. The stories concerned criminals, particularly highwaymen, pirates, ghosts, and sensational historical stories. Nearly all would have been produced in penny parts, issued weekly, with each part of four or eight pages featuring a lurid illustration. Few of the stories were original and many were stolen from popular authors of the day, including Dickens and Ainsworth.

Guildhall Library has recently begun collecting penny dreadfuls when the subject matter relates directly to London history – particularly London crimes and sensations – but they are becoming increasingly scarce and difficult to source.

View a selection of images from Guildhall Library's collection of dreads.

You may also be interested in the British Library’s recent online collection on the Romantics and Victorians which has a section on penny dreadfuls.


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