Peter the Wild Boy

Peter the Wild by William Kent, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Peter the Wild by William Kent, Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In 1725, Peter the Wild Boy, a German handicapped youth, was found by George I and his attendants when the King was hunting during a visit to Hanover. The boy had apparently been living for some time in the Hertswold Forest of Hamelin, which is about 25 miles from Hanover. He was about twelve at the time, and, when found, he was reportedly “walking upon his hands and feet, climbing up trees like a squirrel, and feeding upon grass, and moss of trees.” Moreover, prior to living in the forest the boy appeared to have been under the care of some person. This was based on the fact that he had “a shirt collar about his neck … when he was found.”

After he was found, Peter was “deposited in the house of correction at Zell, and in the same month … presented [dressed all in green] to George I … The king’s interest and curiosity were excited; but the wild boy was not favourably impressed.” He soon escaped, and when he was located again, he was hiding in a huge tree, which had to be sawed down. Conjecture as to how the Peter came to live in the woods was that he was the issue of one of the many criminals confined to work in Hamelin and had wandered into the woods and gotten lost “or, being discovered to be an idiot, was inhumanly turned out by his parent.” Continue reading

Bill Stickers

Bill Sticker, Author's Collection
Bill Sticker, Author’s Collection

There were many unusual jobs for Englishmen in the 1700 and 1800s. Among these was a job that started during the reign of Charles II known as a bill sticker. Bill stickers posted bills or advertisements for passersby to see. According to one source, the job prevented people from becoming “parish paupers” and eliminated “idleness … the root of all evil.” One eighteenth century author also claimed that bill-sticking “has been a great source of wealth to many thousands of industrious persons, in every part of this busy empire.”

Bill sticking first began in the 1600s and had to do with contortionists, known as posture-makers.  One poster read:

At the Duke of Marlborough’s Head in Fleet-Street, … is to be seen the famous Posture-master of all Europe, who far exceeds the deceased Posture-masters Clarke and Higgins; he extends his body into all deformed shapes, makes his hips and shoulder bones meet together; lays his head upon the ground, and turns his body round twice or thrice without stirring his face from the place; stands upon one leg, and extends the other in a perpendicular line, half a yard above his head; and extends his body from a table, with his head a foot below his heels, having nothing to balance his body but his feet; with several other postures too tedious to mention. Continue reading

The Lioness and the Exeter Mail

The Royal Mail on the Road by John Frederick Herring, Courtesy of Wikipedia
The Royal Mail on the Road by John Frederick Herring, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Mail coaches experienced all sorts of dangers. There were armed highwaymen hiding in shadows and pistol-packing robbers waiting in forests. They attacked coaches, stole mail, and robbed passengers. If that wasn’t dangerous enough, malicious items such as iron gates, doors, plows, carts, and branches  mysteriously found their way onto roadways and turnpikes. Not only did these items halt mail delivery but they also imperiled and endangered the lives of the coachmen and passengers, as coaches barreled down the roads at break-neck speeds. However, perhaps, the most unusual danger a mail coach every faced occurred one Sunday evening on 20 October 1816 when a lioness attacked the Exeter mail. Continue reading

Afternoon Tea Parties and Afternoon Receptions

Afternoon Tea: Tea Kettle, Courtesy of New York Public Library
Tea Kettle, Courtesy of New York Public Library

Tea parties grew out of necessity as tea was originally sold exclusively at coffee shops, and as coffee shops were a man’s dominion (a man’s club of sorts), women were not allowed to enter. The Victorian illustrated magazine Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly claimed:

“From these places of resort women were, of course, excluded; they could not more have appeared in them than in the taverns of the present day. Their frequenters gave a desultory tone to literature; a style so well suited to feminine capacity that we soon find that women, not wishing to let men have it all their own way, organized little tea-parties — or ‘tea-drinkings,’ as they were then called — where they retailed gossip, with this advantage, that they had the benefit of interchanging sentiments with the opposite sex.” Continue reading

Four Horse Club of the Regency Era

Four Horse Club: Drags of the Four-in-Hand Club passing Five Bells Tavern, New Cross, with Mr Holroyd, Lord Lonsdale and the Duke of Sutherland on the box of the drag in the foreground. Public Domain
Drags of the Four-in-Hand Club passing Five Bells Tavern, New Cross, with Mr Holroyd, Lord Lonsdale and the Duke of Sutherland on the box of the drag in the foreground. Public Domain

In the early 1800s, amateurs began driving coaches for amusement. The idea for this “amateur charioteering was first set by … ladies,” as some ladies were as good at driving as their coachmen. However, the coaching clubs that formed were strictly for men with one of the first clubs being the Bensington (pronounced Benson) Driving Club, better known as the BDC. BDC limited membership to 25 individuals, and when that number was reached, “Mr. Charles Buxton, the inventor the Buxton bit, together with one or two of his friends, … found[ed] a second society, called the Four Horse Club.” Continue reading

Cats’ Meat Sellers

Cats' Meat Seller, Author's Collection
Cats’ Meat Seller, Author’s Collection

One of the most popular street sellers of the 1800s was the cat’s meat man or cats’ meat woman (sometimes spelled cats-meat). If you think they sold cat meat, you are entirely wrong. What a cats’ meat seller sold was meat to cats. To be specific, it was horse meat acquired from horse slaughterers, known as knackers. In the 1860s, it was estimated there were 300,000 cats in London alone. To feed this multitude of cats, it was “stated that 26,000 horses, maimed, or past work, [were] slaughtered and cut up each year to feed … household pets,” and because it was a highly profitable business, it also involved some 1,000 cats’ meat sellers.

When the cats’ meat seller made their rounds, it involved “a dozen men … [navigating] the same street with the tempting morsels, crying ‘Meat, meat!'” One observer of this event noted that “only at those houses which they are accustomed to serve will the cats be roused by the call. No sooner does the proper man arrive in the street than every cat he is accustomed to serve rushes frantically to the door, or, if allowed, into the street, running mewing toward him rubbing against his legs, or sometimes sitting in a begging attitude before him, but never as far as I have observed, attempting to steal from the open basket.” Thus, in a matter of moments, the cats’ meat seller was surrounded by hundreds of hungry, unmelodious mewing cats hoping and wanting to sample his tasty treats. Continue reading

Teetotum in the 18th Century and the 19th Century

A Twelve-sided Teetotum, Courtesy of Wikipedia
A Twelve-sided Teetotum, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Teetotum or tee-totum appeared in the English language between 1710 and 1720, although it is believed to have originated during the Middle Ages in Germany where it was called a “torrel” or “trundl.” A teetotum refers to a gambling spinning top that was spun with the object of winning the pool. Teetotums were hexagonal or octagonal in shape, but early teetotums were four-sided and sometimes even a six-sided die with a stick through it. By the late 1800s, teetotums had more sides and were sometimes used in place of dice. Continue reading

Mail Coach Robberies

Mail coach robberies
Mail Coach. Author’s Collection.

Mail coach robberies occurred regularly because mail coaches carried passengers, as well as mail. It did not matter that by the early 1800s “the coachmen and guards [wore] the king’s livery, scarlet, faced with blue and gold lace; and [were] an intrepid and fearless class.” It also did not matter that at the rear of the coach, the mail box, which was supposedly large enough to “hold a man doubled up,” was tightly secured. The box, approximately “three or four feet wide and deep, and perhaps a couple of feet broad,” was where the mail bags were deposited, after which the lid was securely locked with a key. Continue reading

Table Etiquette for Gentleman in the Victorian Era

Table Etiquette: A Gentleman Not Being a Gentleman, Author's Collection
A Gentleman Not Being a Gentleman, Author’s Collection

“Nothing is more fatal to good table manners than haste; therefore be deliberate.” That was the first of nineteen rules of table etiquette listed by a newspaper in the Victorian Era, and if you thought it a simple matter to have a meal, it was not. One book noted:

“There are so many little points to be observed, that unless a person is habitually accustomed to observe them, he unconsciously commits some error, or will appear awkward and constrained upon occasions when it is important to be fully at ease. To be thoroughly at ease at such times is only acquired by the habitual practice of good manners at the table, and is the result of proper home training.”

Etiquette of all forms was popular at the time, but table etiquette was particularly important because as one author put it, “the distinction between the gentleman and the boor is more clearly noted at [the] table than anywhere else.” Another author clarified that sentiment further stating, “there is no occasion upon which the gentleman, and the low-bred, vulgar man are more strongly contrasted than when at the table.” So, to ensure a gentleman remained a gentleman, there were three main points of observance: etiquette before the meal, etiquette during the meal itself, and etiquette after the meal. Continue reading

Men’s Fashions Spring 1867

Frock Coats of the Late 1800s, Public Domain
Frock Coats of the Late 1800s, Public Domain

Spring fashions for men’s wear for 1867 showed various changes. For instance, although vests remained in style for spring, they were shorter than earlier styles. Pea Coats and Chesterfield Coats also remained popular and were often produced in brown with various new shades of bronze and green introduced. Additionally, the English style that afforded the wearer more room and “produce[d] an appearance of increased muscular development,” was gradually disappearing. It was being replaced with tighter, closer fitting garments, which could be seen in the new styles represented in morning coats and frock coats.

One difference between morning coats and frock coats was that a morning coat usually had a single button and frock coats generally had two or more buttons. Additionally, when the frock coat was first worn (not the frock, which was another garment of the 1700s and unrelated to the frock coat) daytime full dress was a dress coat and, so, initially the frock coat was considered a form of undress. Frock coats were also worn for smart casual wear, and sometimes the trousers matched the coat, even if they were stripped or checked. Keep in mind too that frock coats, which may have had their origins from the military, were also worn with top hats and white gloves. Continue reading