A Georgian Era Tragedy at a Puppet Show

Location of Burwell within Cambridgeshire. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A Georgian Era tragedy at a puppet show in 1727 resulted in 78 people dead, many of them children. The story begins with a man who owned a family-run puppet show who was named either Richard Shepherd (or perhaps Richard or Robert Sheppard). As he was passing through the village of Burwell, about 10 miles (16 km) north-east of Cambridge, with his wife, his daughter, and two servants, he decided to put on a show and rented a barn on 8 September.

Word quickly spread that Shepherd was going to perform that evening in a barn built of Warble stone and thatched with straw. (The site where the barn stood is today located in Cuckolds Row.) Young people and children were particularly excited to see the show, and attendance promised to be high because people would not have to travel far and because Shepherd was charging an entrance fee of 1d. Continue reading

Francis Tussaud: Madame Tussaud’s Son

Francis Tussaud, from his great-grandson’s book of 1920, “The Romance of Madame Tussaud’s.”

Francis (François in French) Tussaud was Madame Tussaud‘s son. He was born to her and her husband François on a Saturday, 2 August 1800. Two years later, Madame Tussaud decided to promote her waxworks in England, and she left her son Francis behind in the care of her husband, mother, and aunt, and took her 4-year-old son, Joseph, with her. Madame Tussaud eventually broke it off with her husband but continued to write to Francis, her mother, and her aunt from England.

Francis grew into a young man who had a strong desire to be an architect. However, his father must have thought otherwise because he obtained an apprenticeship for him with a grocer. The apprenticeship proved costly, and once François discovered this, he then found an apprenticeship for his son with a billiard table builder. For a time, Francis unhappily pursued that career, and, perhaps, that is why he finally joined his mother and brother in England. Continue reading

Prince Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens

Prince Albert photograph by J. J. E. Mayall, 1860. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

On 14 December 1861, Queen Victoria’s beloved husband and consort, Prince Albert, died of typhoid at Windsor Castle. Albert was diagnosed with the disease by William Jenner, who, at the time was the world’s acknowledged expert on typhoid fever. Jenner noted that Albert’s abdomen displayed the characteristic purplish-pink or rose spots associated with the fever. A few days after the Prince’s death, talk began about creating a suitable memorial to the popular consort. There were various ideas about what a suitable memorial consisted of and the final decision was written about in a newspaper article that was published in 1863:

“A Royal Commission, composed of the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Clarendon, Sir Charles Eastlake, President of the Royal Academy of Arts, and the Lord Mayor of London, was appointed by the Queen to investigate the obelisk scheme; and the result of their consultations was a report to her Majesty in which such a form of monument was recommended to be abandoned in consequence of the insuperable difficulties which seemed to surround the project – the chief one being the hopelessness of procuring a monolith of sufficient size in a durable material. The commission appended a suggestion that her Majesty should appoint a council of the most eminent artists of the day to investigate the subject and report as to the most fitting and practicable form which the monument to the Prince Consort should assume. The ultimate result was a competition between seven of the architects who had composed the deliberative council; and … they accordingly completed their work, and a magnificent series of designs was laid before her Majesty, who, in conjunction with members of the commission, selected the design … [by] Mr. George Gilbert Scott.”[1]

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What Did Jane Austen Look Like?

Watercolor portrait of Jane Austen by Cassander in 1804. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

There are few images of Jane Austen drawn when she was alive, and because she never sat for a professional portrait, people often wonder what did Jane Austen look like? To answer this question, there are some published descriptions by those who knew her best.

One description of Jane comes from a relative of Anne Lefroy, better known as Madame Lefroy. She was Jane’s closest neighbor, and despite being twenty-six years older than her, Madame Lefroy respected young Jane’s intelligence and encouraged her. However, it was not Madame Lefroy who left a description of her but rather her brother. He was an English bibliographer and genealogist named Sir Egerton Brydges, and years after Jane had grown, Brydges stated: Continue reading

Breastfeeding or Nursing with Wet Nurses in the Eighteenth Century

Visit to the Wet Nurse by Belgian painter Basile de Loose. Public domain.

Breastfeeding or nursing with wet nurses in the eighteenth century was a common occurrence. That was because by medieval times the idea of breastfeeding was often regarded as too menial a task for royal women and they began to use wet nurses. Other reasons for the use of wet nurses was that mothers sometimes were unable to produce enough milk, died during child birth, or suffered some physical ailment. There were also some women who claimed breastfeeding was time consuming or they argued that it ruined their figures. Sometimes a woman’s husband might not support her breastfeeding activities, or sometimes a woman wanted to quickly get pregnant again and thought it would happen faster if she didn’t nurse. Continue reading

William Corder and the Red Barn Murder

William Corder. Author’s collection.

In 1827, 24-year-old William Corder committed a notorious murder when he shot his lover, the daughter of a mole-catcher, 26-year-old Maria Marten. The murder came to be known as the Red Barn Murder because it happened after Corder arranged to meet Marten at a local landmark in Polstead, Suffolk, England, called the red barn. Corder pretended that he was going to elope with Marten and go to Ipswich to marry her.

Corder and Marten began a relationship in March of 1826. At the time Corder was well-known for being a ladies’ man and for being a fraudster. One fraud he committed was against his own father, when he sold his father’s pigs, and another fraud occurred when he helped a local thief named Samuel “Beauty” Smith steal a pig. There was also a third incident where Corder passed some fraudulent checks. Nonetheless, no sort of punishment by his father or anyone else seemed to induce Corder to behave, and, so, his father finally shipped him off to London.

Shortly after Corder arrived in London, one of his brothers drowned. Corder’s father then recalled his son so he could help on the farm. However, misfortune again occurred because within 18 months of his return, Corder’s father and three other brothers died. This left Corder and his mother to run the farm. Continue reading

Jane Austen’s Novel Persuasion

Jane Austen. Public domain.

The first draft of Jane Austen’s novel “Persuasion,” a romantic novel that examines human foibles and flaws, was completed on 18 July 1816. Apparently, however, according to her nephew and biographer, James Edward Austen-Leigh, she was unhappy:

“[H]er performance did not satisfy her. She thought it tame and flat, and was desirous of producing something better. This weighed upon her mind, the more so probably on account of the weak state of her health; so that one night she retired to rest in very low spirits.”[1]

Her low spirits encouraged her to revise it and she finished it on 6 August 1816 (two chapters of her manuscript that were cancelled can be viewed by clicking here). However, according to Jocelyn Harris, Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Otago, New Zealand, Jane continued to tinker with it and probably didn’t actually finalize it until 27 January 1817. After it was completed, Jane made a cryptic mention of “Persuasion” in a letter she wrote to her niece, Fanny Knight that was dated 13 March 1817: Continue reading

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