Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors in the 1800s

Philippe Mathé Curtius. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The forerunner to Madame Tussaud’s Chamber of Horrors was La Caverne des Grands Voleurs (The Cavern of the Great Thieves), founded by Madame Tussaud’s uncle and mentor, Philippe Mathé Curtius. At his Caverne visitors could linger and scrutinize the morbid and bloody details related to a murder, or they could view all the associated gruesomeness at the execution of the murderer.

In 1802, Madame Tussaud took several provocative wax figures of those condemned during the revolution and created a smaller version of Curtius’s Caverne in England. She then displayed these figures (such as the radical Jacobin leader Maximilien Robespierre) in the same room as Britain’s King George III. Some British visitors were offended, and “accordingly Madame Tussaud took the precaution of installing The Separate Room to which she could consign those who were not comfortably compatible with the portraits of the establishment – but were none the less interesting.”[1] Continue reading

British Hairdressers’ Academy First Hairdressing Contest and Ball of 1866

Various hairstyles from the “La Mode Illustrée” of 1864. Public domain.

The British Hairdressers’ Academy first hairdressing contest and ball of 1866 was scheduled after the academy was established on 2 November 1865 at 71 Davies Street. That is when British hairdressers unanimously passed a resolution to extend membership to any coiffeur (now more commonly called a hairdresser or hairstylist) of any nation. Employers were admitted as honorary members with a payment of one guinea annually and journeymen were charged an entrance fee of a half-a-crown, plus a subscription of one shilling per month. At the time of this resolution, the following was also mentioned:

“The committee appointed now appeal to the employers to forward their names and subscriptions for enrolment, and to their fellow workmen to aid them by their immediate subscriptions, … The cheering result of their first soirée encourages the committee to hope for the general support not only of the trade, but of perfumers, florists, brush and comb makers, &c., who are so intimately connected with the trade, to whom, also will be extended the privileges of membership. … The committee venture to hope that they will receive sufficient funds to warrant them in taking chambers in a respectable locality.”[1]

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Notorious Captain James Lowry

Captain James Lowry, Author's Collection
Captain James Lowry, Author’s Collection

In 1750, a Scottish Captain named James Lowry was commanding a merchant shipped named the “Molly” from London to Jamaica and back again. Although he possessed agreeable features, he was a cruel captain, and it did not take long for his crew of 14 to despise him because of his cruelty. It happened during the return trip, when one of the tars named Keninth Hossack tripped while on the quarterdeck and claimed he was sick. This infuriated the 5 foot 7-inch Lowry, and he “came like a fury” at Hossack and ordered that he be tied up so he could be flogged. Lowry had one of Hossack’s arms secured to the halyards and the other to the main shrouds, and then Lowry “took a rope in his hand, and beat him in a most unmerciful manner, telling him that he was an idle fellow, not willing to perform his duty; for although he pretended to be afflicted with sickness, yet the captain would not believe him.”[1] Continue reading

Three Mid-nineteenth Century Royal Beauties and Their Beauty Secrets

Franz Xaver Winterhalter. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Three mid-nineteenth century royal beauties served as the glamorous ideal for women in the Victorian Era. These three beauties were the Empress Eugénie (wife of Napoleon III, Emperor of the French), Princess Alexandra of Denmark (wife to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, and heir apparent to Queen Victoria), and Elizabeth of Austria (wife to Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria, King of Hungary, and monarch of other states in the Austro-Hungarian Empire).

Newspapers, journals, and fashion magazines regularly referred to the three women. Portrait artists, such as the German painter Franz Xaver Winterhalter, known for his portraits of royalty in the mid-nineteenth century, also captured their beauty on canvas. However, what all Victorian women wanted to know was the beauty secrets of these three royal women. Continue reading

The Calash Bonnet

Calash Bonnet: Large Calash of 1770, 1770s, with Fan-shaped Pleating and Ribbons on Either Side
Large calash of 1770s, with fan-shaped pleating and ribbons on either side. Courtesy of

The calash bonnet (known in France as the thérèse or caleche) was a popular and intriguing millinery item in the mid-1700s and were worn through the early 1800s. It came about because it protected the towering hairstyles that were popular at the time from inclement weather and it allowed for decency. Because it tied under the chin, it was considered more of bonnet than a hat. On the tall calash versions, ribbons were attached to the brim to allow the wearer to draw it up as required. Thus, it operated similar to the collapsible top found on the carriage by the same name. One description of how the bonnet operated was provided by Englishman Thomas Wright: Continue reading

Silhouette Artist and Prosopographus Inventor Charles Samuel Hervé II

Likenesses created from the prosopographus. Courtesy of Bonhams.

The silhouette artist and prosopographus inventor Charles Samuel Hervé II (hereafter referred to as Hervé) was christened on 28 February 1785 at the All Hallows London Wall. His father was a British-born French Huguenot merchant named Peter Daniel Hervé and his mother Margaret Russel. They had several sons Peter (born 1779), Henry (born 1783), Francis (born 1787) and Hervé, who was the youngest. Continue reading

Tales of Madame Tussaud’s Exhibition

Drawing by Francis Tussaud. Courtesy of Wellcome Library, London.

Madame Tussaud oldest son Joseph was wandering around the Baker Street exhibition one day. He saw an old gentleman standing in front of a display of Napoleon Bonaparte. At the time, to reduce the amount of dust in the display, the curtains over Napoleon’s camp bedstead were closed at night. The old gentleman appeared to be desirous of seeing the display and so Joseph raised the curtain. There was Napoleon lying-in-state on the bedstead. He was wearing a green uniform and the cloak that he wore at Marengo. His arms were crossed over his chest and he held a crucifix. At that point, the visitor removed his hat to study the figure more closely, and it was then that Joseph discovered that man was actually Napoleon’s nemesis, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

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George III’s Golden Jubilee

Today’s guests are authors Sarah Murden and Joanne Major. They have chosen to write about King George III’s golden jubilee:

King George III was 71 years of age and had reigned longer than any British monarch since Edward III some four centuries earlier. It was a momentous occasion but technically, as was pointed out at the time, 25th October 1809 marked the beginning of the fiftieth year of King George III’s reign – he ascended to the throne upon the death of his grandfather on that day in 1760 – and so the jubilee of 1809 celebrated his forty-nine years on the throne.

George III., Royal Collection Trust.

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Conjurors and Conjuring in the 1700s

William Hogarth’s a “Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism,” March 15, 1762. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Conjurors and conjuring existed long before the 1700s, and in its simplest form, conjuring was a performance of tricks that appeared to be magical and usually involved some sort of sleight of hand. Well before conjuring became popular in the 1700s, conjuring performances were given in antiquity and in the middle ages. However, there was never an overabundance of conjurors, even in the late 1800s, as one historian noted:

“I have said nothing concerning the manners and habits of conjurors, simply because there is nothing to be said. There are so few conjurors, as compared with circus performers, or members of the theatrical profession, that they do not contract those peculiarities of manner, language, and dress by which individuals of other classes of entertainers may almost invariably be distinguished. Performing singly, and each being (except occasionally in London or Paris) the only conjuror in the town which he is temporarily located, they have few opportunities of association, and those peculiarities which are the product of gregariousness are, in consequence, not developed. The conjuror, again, is very seldom trained to the profession from his youth, … and this being the case, as it has been with all the most eminent performers of legerdemain, they carry into the profession the habits and manners of the section of society in which they are born.”[1] Continue reading

Firsts Related to Ballooning

Chapeau à la Montgolfier and Chapeau au Ballon Aérostatique. Public domain.

In the late 1700 and early 1800s, there were a number of firsts related to ballooning, and all of these first caused the public to embrace what was called “balloonmania.” Clothing was printed with balloon images and fashions were styled au ballon that included rounded skirts and huge puffed-sleeved dresses. Hair was also coiffed à la montgolfier, au demi-ballon, or à la Blanchard. In addition, women began wearing what was called the “balloon hat,” described by one person as “worn low down on one side, and high on the other.”[1] Dresses, hair, and hats were not the only items that sported a balloon theme. People could buy almost anything decorated with images of balloons. For instance, numerous engravings were printed to commemorate balloon flights, chairs were designed with balloon backs, and silver and pewter plates were engraved with balloons, as were all sorts of snuff boxes. There were also the following items: Continue reading