WH Rugbinder: A Biography

Tea Fiend“Can there be any greater depravity?” WH Rugbinder

Many remember Victorian writer Wilberforce Horacio Rugbinder for his classic text on contemporary mores, The Multitudinous Vile Sins of the Working Class That Will Cause Them to Burn In Hell. At the time it was considered a well-meaning and insightful account of the slum life in Victorian London, although by modern readers it is regarded as a little prudish and judgemental. In particular, the forthright and voluminous chapters condemning the practice of having a day off from work are seen as contrary to modern thinking. However, few people know that WH Rugbinder published other works on moral topics too. This little article hopes to correct that situation.

WH Rugbinder was born to a middle-class family in the borough of Ealing. After an unremarkable schooling where he made few friends, he entered a seminary in the hope of becoming a priest. Unfortunately, this was not to be as Rugbinder clashed with his teachers on a number of theological points. In particular, they objected to his assertion that not just the priesthood but the laity, should be celibate. Leaving the church unfulfilled, he spent time in London to understand first hand the problems caused by sinning. His first attempt at a book, Diary of a Tea Fiend, relates in a semi-fictious way the descent into debauched existence that befalls a young fellow who becomes obsessed with tea drinking. After losing, in short succession, his wife, his livelihood, and the good opinion of his family, he ends up drowning in a bath filled with Oolong. This remarkable book was self published at no small cost and sold almost ten copies.

Rugbinder then went on to confront another beverage related evil in the form of coffee. This time he took a wider view and interviewed a multitude of “coffee pot heads” as he called them. His analysis and conclusions were again self published in a luxurious leather-bound book with gold leafed lettering on the cover. Unfortunately, this was to be a terrible error as the cost of each copy of The Tyrannical Evil of the Foul Plant Known as Coffee, its Effects on Diverse Patrons of Coffee Shops in London, and the Inevitable Decline of Morality that Accompanies Drinking It was to far outweigh the cover price and so nearly bankrupted Rugbinder.

It was this experience of extreme poverty that was to force Rugbinder to live in the poorest parts of London and to lead to his final tome, which was his most popular in terms of sales. Unfortunately word of the contents reached his neighbours and Rugbinder was forced to flee London. His final attempt at a book, The Comfort of Solitude was uncompleted. He left behind no family, children, or indeed, friends.


With thanks to Breaking the Glass Slipper for inspirational twitter chat…

And to Angela McFall for the lovely tea service

Letter to the Editor

Dear Sir/Madam

I am, I believe, a tolerant man and as a man of the cloth, it is well that I should be. However I saw something last week in your Benthic Times which created a profound sense of unease within my breast and which forced me to write to you.

My young nephew Silas has of late been staying at the vicarage whilst his mother recovers from a bout of bilious ague. He is, like many young men, impressionable and given to romantic notion, although he is a good sort, dedicating a part of each day helping out at Mrs Ginnidraws School for Fallen Ladies. Of an evening he will often be seen, though, reading the sort of sensational literature that your magazine also contains. I happened to glance last week and saw something so mortifying that I was forced to extract the magazine from his hand. For there, in plain view, was a plant being presented as Aconite which was clearly another species. I could not allow him to be exposed to such shoddy botany. It seemed as if the creator of the image had looked in their locale for a plant that was similar and attempted to pass off a clear example of Gluteus Maximus – or Ruddy Whackweed – as Aconite.

As a keen yet amateur botanist I recognised not only the plant, but also the locale it must have come from. You see, Ruddy Whackweed is not to be found in Cornwall or even the British Isles, but is a native of Greece. I recognised it from my walking tour of the Dodecanese last spring. Well sir, madam, I present below some of my botanical notes to educate you in the hope that you don’t find yourself using the wrong species again.

4This species is Flora Extraterrestralis or Mouldy Goat Hair. It can be used to prepare a poultice for foxy.

1This is Stella Inconsequentia known as Sticky Chive or Stinky Chive. It is used primarily in salads and is believed by primitive peoples to ward off people with a squint.

7This is known as Stultus Flos or Exploding Jenny. It is poisonous to rodents between 1 and 1 half and 2 inches long.

8This plant is Pigor Scriptor or Incompetent Orchid. It has no known use.

10This is Disculpi Tardi or  Scrote Violet. It is a powerful sedative or stimulant depending on wind direction.

I trust this little guide to the fauna of the Greek Isles will prevent a similar instance of botanic mislabelling.


Rev Johan Stiltburger



Skeletons in the Booth

bird-skeleton“Entertainment in the Days Before Television” 

Dear Reader

We were recently intrigued by an interesting tidbit we found whilst researching Joy Mallum’s reading material. It was in the restricted section of the library, in a book which also had some information about a rare bit of magic. But our interest in this instance was drawn to something called, rather poetically, the Skeleton Army.

These vile hordes, were, it seems, the sworn enemies of their near namesake, the Salvation Army. Appalled at the notion of tee-totalism, they organised counter demonstrations where they subverted the Army’s songs, shouted foul slogans, and even engaged in violent opposition to the Army. After some unfortunate fatalities their activities petered out, but one can’t help thinking they should appear in some fictionalised form somewhere. Who could write such a thing…

The picture we have chosen to illustrate this little nugget is a skeleton of a bird from the marvellous Booth Museum in Hove. The most tenuous link is the skeleton of one army and the founder, Booth, of the other. We understand neither are related.

Should you ever find yourselves in the Brighton and Hove area (and many people do find themselves in this area) then we recommend a visit. The collection of preserved birds, insects, skeletons and more curios is enough to entertain adults and children with strong stomachs for a couple of hours. One may then find a local hostelry to repair to and, in defiance of the other Booth, restore one’s spirits with a stiff drink.




It Was A Dark and Stormy Night

Gentle Reader

I feel that we cannot simply pen a line such as “the maid screamed” (on which our present chapter ends) without explaining a little of the literary heritage of this line. It is, in fact, a deliberate quotation from a childhood favourite. The original work is by one Charles Shultz, ventriloquised via a well known canine character, who started a novelette in the following manner:

“It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rang out! A door slammed. The maid screamed.”

This is in itself a literary nod to the famous, or possibly, infamous opening lines to the novel Paul Clifford:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

This is the work of one Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who should be very comfortable in these pages, being as he was a Victorian Novelist with a taste for the occult.

edward_bulwer_lyttonEdward Bulwer-Lytton, not Snoopy the Dog

In fact, this gentleman led a most interesting life, working as politician denounced by his own wife at the hustings, being offered (and refusing) the Greek throne and gifting us the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”.

Perhaps it is one of those ironies of fate that leads him to be remembered most of all for the clunky and meandering sentence above. He gives his name to an annual competition in its honour whereby literary wags attempt to parody the style of the thing. Those who find themselves at a loss of what to do this Sunday evening may care to peruse it.

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest




On the Origins of Admiral Isaac Cadwaddler

victorian-name-generatorA Random Name Generator – as we imagine it to look

During an interesting writing session this week, the Benthic Times found itself uncharacteristically stuck for a name for one of our characters. Whilst a ten-mile walk through the countryside would be the normal cure for this malaise, time was of the essence. As such, we turned to that modern miracle, the internet and found this little gem:

Victorian Name Generator

Amongst the many humorous names that we derived is the one that currently graces the title above.

We wish you a most pleasant weekend.

Hermine Moriarty, Temporary Editor

Still Life with Cephalopod

bt-3Happy Benthic Teatime!

The Benthic Times is ecstatic to announce that as from next week, we shall be publishing not just one, but TWO chapters of our gripping, yet hilarious serialised stories.

Dear reader, you are most very welcome, and we wish you the most pleasant of weekends.

The Staircase Mystery

Following our recent transatlantic travel, the Benthic Times are a little airship-lagged and so our regular Friday post is appearing on Saturday. The ink in our well is a little dry as well, so I’m afraid we merely have this picture of a staircase from our pleasant stay at Hôtel St Jacques, Paris. We can wholeheartedly recommend this hotel for its location,  its staff, and for its collection of Victorian ephemera.



Two for Joy

I have discovered this week that Oscar Wilde’s “Bunbury” was likely a portmanteau of Sunbury and Banbury, following a tryst Mr Wilde allegedly had in a location twixt those two towns.

That led me to muse on my own writing and the fact that, in a less dramatic way, I do something similar. For example, Pook and Clackprattle stay at luxury rooms in Manchester Britannia Hotel because I once spent a unpleasant week in a terrible room there.

I pursued the thought to its conclusion and wondered if writers always hide some aspects of their lives in plain view like this. How many secrets of an author’s life are wrapped up in the warp and weft of their narrative, visible only to themselves and blissfully overlooked by the reader.

On the topic of unsatisfactory hostelries, the Benthic Times recently found itself in a hotel that can best be described as “adequate”. In fact it was probably the epitome of adequate.

And although the general blankness of the place worked nicely as a canvas for the imagination, it wasn’t terribly aesthetically pleasing. We did spy, though, these intriguing light fittings. It was most unusual, as we were several miles from the coast. They function as proof that even in the darkest spots, often especially so, one can find something Benthic.

light cropped


About Town Again

About Town Too

Well, dear Reader, as ever I am as good as my word. Yes, yes I know my words can be a little wicked. Nevertheless, I attended the Peitho Institute’s attempt to rise phoenix-like from its recent moribund state, and I can honestly say it was as bizarre an evening as that strange little gallery could produce. First, we were treated to a mind-numbing and somewhat bombastic introduction to the proceedings, which left me literally bored stiff. Then there was some frantic to-ing and fro-ing, some truly appalling sounds that I gather were intended to be music, and finally a large bang and a lot of smoke. I presume the marvellous new musical instrument exploded, which was a huge relief for all. Not for the first time, myself and the other guests left more than a little bemused. Luckily, there is a decent hostelry in walking distance where one’s nerves can be restored.

And on the topic of restoration: rumours reach me, as they so often do, on the apparent resurrection of the Peitho Institute’s founder, funder and muse. The lady in question, who had seemingly disappeared from life, or at least the social life of our Manchester, was seen out and about with friends. Naturally intrigued I made a few discreet enquiries that confirm that the Peitho Institute once again has curator and benefactor at the helm. As to the interim year of absence, lips are still kept tight. As alas, I cannot provide the requisite information, I will leave it to the readers to imagine what a young lady might do when she disappears for a year.

All this talk of mysterious ladies reminds me of that curious evening again. I spied an intriguing couple there, an English chap and a French lady. I recognised neither the fellow nor the madame, which naturally piqued my interest. I had assumed they were simply newcomers to our fair city that had evaded my company, but then they seemed somehow tied up with the events of that night. Dear readers, if anyone can help solve the mystery of this couple seen “about town” I would be eternally grateful. Answers, please! Discretion, naturally, assured.

Percival Gribblewax, Manchester Guardian

Faerie-Folk of England

Chapter 23 The Pookah

(Extract from “Faerie-Folk of England” by Rev Wilson Lillywhite, 1917)

If ever you find some small but important object has gone missing from where you were sure you left it, or if a mechanical device that worked only the other day has ceased to work, you may be playing host to a Pookah. This type of faerie delight in causing confusion and chaos in the house and are sure to move things, hide things or otherwise make merry mayhem. They are quite reclusive, preferring to work in secret, not at all like those Northern faeries that seem to crave the photographic camera. They are naturally shape-shifters so may appear as almost anything to suit their environment. A horse, a goat, a rabbit, or even a person.

The name itself may come from the Norse pook which refers to a nature spirit. In Irish mythology it is a Puca and a Pwca in Welsh. There are as many different spellings as there are forms this playful creature may take. One name of course is Puck, as William Shakespeare called him.

pookah sepia

Pookah’s are famous for being both helpful and unhelpful. They may find things or steal things and may lead travelers astray into the woods. My personal theory is that even when they are being helpful they are probably planning some misdemeanour or other. A story of mine illustrates this point.

Several years ago I was visiting a house where a pookah had taken residence. This mischievous little creature was driving the family to distraction with its petty meddlings. When I arrived, I was given an overwhelming list of stories by them that I was eager to write down. I looked in vain for my pen, which I could not find. I exclaimed aloud how much I wished I had my pen and then felt a sharp tap on the top of my head. I took off the hat, and there was the pen. The family and I all had a little chuckle at the impudent creature. Whenever a Pookah is about, this sort of roguish prank is sure to happen!