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The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Updated on April 27, 2017

In the Beginning

Before Jason Vorhees, Leather Face, Michael Myers or Freddy Kruger there was Sweeney Todd. He started his gruesome career in a Victorian penny dreadful The String of Pearls (1846–47).

He was meant to be a fictional character to give people nightmares and send chills down their spine next time they went for a shave but he turned into a local legend that refused to stay on the pages. Remember that all legends have some basis in truth.

During a Gentleman’s shave Todd would activate a lever on the chair and the customer was given a quick flying lesson; straight to the basement cracking their head or breaking their neck when they landed. Those who were lucky were dead before they got their flying lesson by a quick cut to the throat, those who weren’t so lucky had to wait their turn on the basement if they landed on a pile of previous customers.

Either way the story would end the same way, with the customer dead, robbed and finely diced and minced; in Mrs. Lovett's meat pies.

Mrs. Lovett made her appearance as Mr. Todd's accomplice, she owned the bakery below Todd’s shop and was just as deranged as he was; if not more so than him.

Times were hard in 1846 London and supplies for much of anything were hard to come by. Real meat for cooking was even harder, when you sat down for a steak you didn't know if you were eating cow, dog, cat or in this case your neighbor.

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After publishing

After publishing Sweeney Todd took on a real life of his own outside of the book. People to this day look for the real person Mr. Todd must have been based on.

Life in 1847 London was not an easy one. People did anything and everything they could to make sure they had a warm meal and maybe a bed to sleep in at night. Consider this, Sweeney Todd came to life in 1847 and Jack the Ripper committed his first crime in 1887. Jack the Ripper is considered the first serial killer but it could be that he got his ideas from Mr. Todd.

Women had little choice but to sell their bodies and men worked themselves to death sometimes. Charles Dickens summed up life for the working class in Oliver Twist: "The street was narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours... Drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several of the doorways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands."

Sweeney Todd surpassed legend, it appeared that everyone seemed to know someone who was the real life Sweeney Todd. He became the reason kids all over London would stop talking back to their parents, stop misbehaving or just in general decided they wanted to scare their friends.

Happening today?

To this day Mr. Todd is still providing close shaves to those who need it.

In 1979 Mr Stephen Sondheim wrote a play titled Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street based on Christopher Bonds 1973 play. Mr. Sondheim's play stared Angela Lansbury and Len Cariou. In 2007 Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter stared in another version of the same tale. It appears that Mr. Todd will never have enough throats slit to satisfy his lust for blood; so far he's had 167 years to perfect his trade and Mrs. Lovette to perfect her meat pie recipes.

People in London still tell stories to this children if they don't behave that Sweeney is going to get them. He's become the bogyman that no one wants to meet; but they are still interested in knowing if he was a real person. They mystery remains just that, a mystery.

© 2014 Chosen Shades


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