I’m an expert on the history of nineteenth-century Britain. My research focuses on the period’s popular culture, leisure, and entertainment. I’m passionate about challenging the old stereotype that the Victorians were ‘not amused’.
If you want to hear the jokes that made Victorians laugh, learn how to mix the cocktails they drank on a night out, or discover what was printed in the period’s bestselling books and newspapers, then I’m the historian for you!
I regularly give interviews for news articles and magazine features, and I’ve appeared as an expert historian on a range of podcasts, radio, and tv documentaries. I’m happy to talk about any aspect of nineteenth century life and culture, but I’m at my best on the topics below.
I’m an expert on the history of Victorian newspapers and magazines. I’ve researched everything from highbrow broadsheets like The Times, to low-brow crime papers like the Illustrated Police News, popular magazines like Tit-Bits, satirical publications like Punch, and comics like Ally Sloper’s Half Holiday. I once went viral and made headlines of my own by complaining about the shocking misrepresentation of newspapers in period dramas!
Presenter: Exploring the history of Victorian tabloids for Radio 4's Making History.
Interview: Discussing press coverage of the Jack the Ripper murders on Hallie Rubenhold's Bad Women podcast.
Writer: Reflecting on the history of short-lived newspapers for The Guardian.
Socials: A viral twitter thread exposing the misrepresentation of newspapers in period dramas.
For the last decade, I’ve been on a mission to discover what made the Victorians laugh. I’ve uncovered thousands of long-forgotten jokes from the nineteenth century, some of which I’ve shared online via the @OldJokeArchive. If you want to cringe at Victorian puns, hear the jokes they told at dinner parties, or need help deciphering obscure bits of nineteenth-century satire then drop me a line.
Presenter: Telling Victorian jokes on the streets of Liverpool
Interview: Discussing the history of Victorian comedy on the History Hack podcast.
Writer: Reflecting on historical shifts in comic taste for History Today.
Socials: A thread of jokes in which witty Victorian women rebuff the advances of men.
I’m fascinated by what the Victorians did for fun. I’ve researched the development of music hall and the emergence of the first stand-up comedians.
My current research explores the reception of American popular culture in Victorian Britain, including the surprisingly early arrival of cocktails and the celebrity of performing cowboys like Buffalo Bill.
I’ve also investigated the strange history of Victorian parlour games and their shockingly risqué forfeits. Let me tell you about the time a Hungarian impresario transformed Earls Court into a replica of Venice, complete with canals and authentic gondolas!
Presenter: Discussing (and drinking) Victorian cocktails for Radio 4's Making History.
Interview: Exploring the history of Victorian parlour games on DW's 'Don't Drink The Milk!' podcast.
Socials: A thread on the history of Victorian parlour games.
I’m passionate about recovering the experiences of Victorian women — particularly ones who subverted stereotypes about the period. I’ve written about the experiences of ‘American girls’ in Victorian Britain, researched the history of professional female joke writers, and I’m currently co-editing a book for Bloomsbury titled Nineteenth Century Women in Power alongside historians Dr Fern Riddell and Dr Emma Butcher.
Presenter: Enjoying the responses of witty Victorian 'spinsters' for Radio 3's Essential Classics.
Socials: Illustrated news stories in which Victorian women respond to harassment by men.
I'm interested in the relationship between crime and the Victorian media. My Masters dissertation explored representations of glamorous conmen and swindlers in the period's newspapers. My knowledge of Victorian crime and policing was key to researching the series Killing Victoria. More recently, I've turned my attention to the history of police corruption. If you want to understand the roots of our modern-day fascination with true crime and detective fiction, let me tell you how the Victorian transformed murder into entertainment on an industrial scale.
Presenter: the histories of the police, courtroom trials, and imprisonment run throughout my BBC podcast series, Killing Victoria.
Writer: an article on the men who tried to assassinate Queen Victoria for BBC History magazine.
I've researched the history of Victorian 'matrimonial adverts' — an early version of Tinder— and investigated the seedy world of Victorian pornography. If you want to learn about nineteenth-century 'leg mania', the rise and fall of the first lads mags, or the time a newspaper was shut down because it printed too many 'artistic' illustrations then get in touch.
Socials: a collection of matrimonial adverts from Ally Sloper's Half Holiday.
Socials: an thread investigating catalogues of Victorian erotica.
Socials: the rise and fall of the Days Doings - a risqué Victorian newspaper.
I've researched the history of Christmas, with a particular focus on how the Victorians entertained themselves at home during the festive season. I can talk about the history of Christmas crackers, dinner parties, magazines, ghost stories, Christmas trees, festive jokes, and a dangeous game called 'Snapdragon' that was once a treasured yule-tide tradition.
Interview: discussing the history of humour and parlour games for Channel 5's Our Victorian Christmas.
Writer: an article on Christmas and Victorian jokes for The Conversation.
I'm an experienced broadcaster and interviewee. I wrote and presented the podcast documentary series Killing Victoria for BBC Sounds (2023). I've also written and presented dozens of short stories based on my research for programmes including BBC Radio 4's Making History and Radio 3's Essential Classics.
I've been interviewed for a primetime Channel 5 documentary on the history of Christmas. I've also appeared as a guest on radio shows including Radio 4's The Long View, BBC Radio 3's Free Thinking, and popular podcasts including Bad Women, BBC History Extra, Don't Drink The Milk!, and History Hack. I've also been interviewed by a range of local radio stations, including BBC Radio Merseyside and Radio Lancashire.
I co-wrote and presented this seven part documentary series for BBC Sounds (2023). It explores the lives of seven men who attacked Queen Victoria, digging into their motivations and tracing what happened to them after the fateful moment when they assaulted the monarch.
The series involved a combination of location work, studio recordings, and interviews. It showcases my ability to present in the following formats:
UK, Canada, Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, India, Poland, Portugal, Philippines, Argentina, Singapore, Thailand and more!
I wrote and presented three stories based on my research for BBC Radio 4's Making History. These pieces involved scripted voice overs, improvisation on location, public vox pops, and expert interviews. Clips from these stories were later featured on the BBC website and repackaged as part of Radio 4 in Four.
I wrote and presented 28 short stories based on my research for the 'Time Traveller' slot on BBC Radio 3's Essential Classics morning programme. Many of my pieces were later re-broadcast on the BBC's Time Travellers podcast:
I've been interviewed as a historical expert for TV shows, radio programmes, podcasts, magazine features, and news articles.
In December 2021, I appeared on Channel 5's Our Victorian Christmas discussing nineteenth-century festive traditions. Watch me telling some eye-wateringly bad Victorian jokes in this clip!
I'm an experienced writer and have contributed opinion pieces and features to publications including The Guardian, History Today, BBC History, BBC.com, and The Conversation.
I've written over a dozen peer-reviewed publications for academic history books and journals, including a prize-winning article for the Journal of Victorian Culture.
For literary work, I'm represented by Matthew Turner at RCW.
During her long reign, Queen Victoria faced seven threats to her life from men who had decided to kill her. Outwardly stoic in the face of these incidents, her personal diaries reveal a different story of the toll they took on her mental state.
During her historic reign from 1837 to 1901, Queen Victoria was the target of assassination attempts by seven men, from a teenage wannabe revolutionary to a deeply troubled failed writer. Bob Nicholson considers what drove the multiple attempts to murder the monarch, and whether any of the attempts got close to achieving their aim...
What should we do with old jokes? The question of whether to censor and recontextualise the now problematic humour of earlier generations is often characterised as a modern battleground in our ongoing ‘culture wars’, but a remarkably similar process unfolded at the beginning of the Victorian era...
An article exploring the Victorian sense of humour and the link between laughter and good health.
A Christmas-themed article exploring the history of Victorian joke telling.
An article responding to the failure of New Day by revealing the longer-term history of short-lived newspapers, and the crucial role they played throughout the historical development of journalism.
An opinion piece exploring describing the surprising popularity of imported American slang in Victorian Britain, and what this means for modern debates on the English language.
I contributed a chapter to this collection of 'obsolete objects'. My piece used a Punch cartoon imagining 'Edison's Anti-Gravitation Under-Clothing' to explore the 'invention mania' of the Victoria Era and the imagined objects it produced. My chapter was featured in The Telegraph.
Unannounced Book Project, BBC Books/Ebury, forthcoming 2025.
I'm currently under contract with BBC Books/Ebury for a book that will be published in 2025. More details coming soon!
I'm an experienced public speaker and regularly give talks to clubs, societies, history groups, and heritage organisations. I've spoken at venues including The British Library, The Foundling Museum, Conway Hall, and The Portico Library. I've also performed at events such as the Being Human Festival of the Humanities and Liverpool Sound City.
I've presented my academic research at conference around the world, including events at Oxford University, Cambridge University, Harvard University, Yale University, New York University, and Université Paris Diderot.
Giving a talk on the history of Victorian humour at the Foundling Museum (London) for the launch of the national Being Human Festival of the Humanities.
Interviewing the public historian Greg Jenner at The Atkinson (Southport) for the national Being Human Festival of the Humanities.
Co-hosting a comedy panel show at the British Library (London) where teams of celebrity comedians played games based on my historical research.
You can book me to deliver historical talks for your club, society, event, or festival. The talks below are 1 hour long, but can be adjusted to fit the requirements of your event. Please send me an email to discuss dates, topics, and fees.
At 6pm on 10 June 1840, the gates of Buckingham Palace swung open. Queen Victoria drove out to take the air in Hyde Park, accompanied by her husband, Prince Albert. As their open-topped carriage cut through the cheering crowds on Constitution Hill, an 18-year-old boy drew a duelling pistol from his pocket and fired at the Queen.
Edward Oxford was the first of seven men to attack Victoria during her long reign. This talk, based on my hit BBC podcast series, explores some of these extraordinary assaults and investigates the men behind them. It showcases many archival discoveries that we couldn't feature in an audio podcast, including photographs, illustrations, police reports, and home office files.
What did it take to make a Victorian laugh? Queen Victoria might famously have claimed that 'we are not amused', but her subjects wouldn't have agreed. They loved to tell jokes, play pranks, and watch live comedy.
This talk reveals how Britain's sense of humour changed during the nineteenth century, as ribald jokes of the Georgian era were challenged by new ideas about public taste and respectability. But while the Victorians were more polite in public, they still told racy jokes in private and loved practical jokes.
We'll explore the work of professional Victorian humourists, who churned out dozens of fresh gags per day, and the surprising popularity of importedAmerican comedy. We'll also meet a Victorian anti-laughter campaigner who thought that humour could be fatal to our health! Brace yourself for some extraordinarily bad puns...
In 1887, William F Cody - better known as Buffalo Bill - was one of the most famous men on the planet. His spectacular Wild West Show wowed over a million Londoners, including Queen Victoria, and made him the talk of the town.
Meanwhile, up in Liverpool, a different cowboy was also on a mission to take Britain by storm. Colonel Joseph Shelley, alias Mexican Joe, crossed the Atlantic with his own troupe of roughriders and Native Americans. He took Liverpool by storm and looked set to challenge Buffalo Bill as the world's top cowboy, but then things started to unravel...
This talk traces the rise and fall of Mexican Joe and uses it to explore the birth of cowboy mania in Victorian Britain.
As a historical consultant, I provide research and fact checking services to TV documentaries, radio programmes, podcasts, and the authors of history books.
I've worked behind the scenes providing historical research for an episode of Great British Railway Journey's (BBC, 2014), reviewed scripts for the HistoryExtra podcast (BBC, 2023), and fact checked Greg Jenner's book Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2020).
If you're working on a project involving Victorian history, get in touch to see how I can help.
I provided background research for Series 5, Episode 13 of Great British Railway Journeys. The episode explored the life of John Walter, owner of The Times.
I fact checked the final draft of Greg Jenner's book on the history of celebrity. I provided additional expertise on the history of the media industry in the 18th and 19th centuries.
I reviewed and fact checked the scripts for a 6-part mini series of the HistoryExtra podcast, and also appeared as an expert guest throughout. More details soon!
In 2019, I designed and co-curated an exhibition at The Atkinson in Southport. We Are Not Amused explored the history of nineteenth-century comedy and laughter, challenging the assumption that the Victorians were dour and humourless. The exhibition attracted more than 18,000 visitors.
The exhibition featured a wide range of objects and displays, including:
I'm an academically trained historian. I studied for a BA in History (1st class), MA in Victorian Studies (Distinction), and an AHRC-funded PhD in History, all at the University of Manchester.
I currently work at Edge Hill University in Lancashire, England. I'm an Associate Head of the Department of History, Geography and Social Sciences. I'm also a co-director of EHU19, the University's Research Centre for Nineteenth Century Studies, and Programme Leader for the MA in Nineteenth Century Studies.
I've been invited to present my research at conferences around the world and have published over fifteen academic articles and book chapters. I've been awarded academic prizes by the British Library and the Journal of Victorian Culture.
I've published over a dozen articles in academic books and journals. You can find a full list of these publications on my Google Scholar profile. Here are some highlights:
Winner of the Journal of Victorian Culture Essay Prize.
In December 1893 the Conservative candidate for Flintshire addressed an audience at Mold Constitutional Club. After he had finished attacking Gladstone and the local Liberal incumbent, he ended his speech with a joke. He advised the Conservative party to adopt, with regard to the government, the sign of an American undertaker: ‘You kick the bucket; we do the rest’. How did a sign belonging to a Nevadan undertaker become the subject of a joke told at a political meeting in North Wales?
This unlikely question forms the basis of this article. Using new digital archives, it tracks the journey of the gag from its origins in New York, its travels around America, its trip across the Atlantic, its circulation throughout Britain and its eventual leap into political discourse. The article uses the joke to illuminate the workings of a broader culture of transatlantic reprinting. During the final quarter of the nineteenth century miscellaneous ‘snippets’ cut from the pages of the American press became a staple feature of Britain's bestselling newspapers and magazines. This article explores how these texts were imported, circulated and continually rewritten in dynamic partnership between authors, editors and their readers.
This chapter considers the place of joke-writing and joke-telling in Victorian culture. Firstly, it outlines four ways in which Victorian observers accounted for the creation of jokes: (1) the work of anonymous professional humourists; (2) the observation and comic reinterpretation of real-life incidents; (3) spontaneous wit and (4) the endurance of seemingly ‘eternal’ jokes. Next, it considers how and why jokes were performed at Victorian social occasions, such as dinner parties, and explores their function as a form of conversational capital. Finally, the chapter traces the mass circulation of jokes in popular Victorian newspapers and magazines. As a case study, it tracks the reprinting of jokes from a single issue of Punch magazine and considers the ambiguous copyright status of these texts.
'The Most-Talked-Of Creature in the World: The American Girl in Victorian Print Culture.'
In Alexis Easley et al (eds.), Women, Periodicals, and Print Culture in Britain, 1830s-1900s: The Victorian Period, Edinburgh University Press, (2019), pp: 178-196.
As a celebrated and vilified figure in the British press, the 'American Girl' was a prominent form of contested femininity in Victorian Britain, one which Nicholson suggests was reflective of a growing fetishisation of America in British print culture, as well as a broader cultural anxiety about the effects of Americanisation. If Linton’s ‘Girl of the Period’ constituted a threat to the moral health of the nation from within, then the American girl was seen by many as an invasive threat to femininity from beyond Britain’s borders. Nicholson’s essay demonstrates the potency of the girl as a symbolic force in Victorian Britain, as well as the crucial role of periodicals in shaping the various, often competing cultural forms that she assumed.