The American Traveler in Victorian Europe

Victorian Europe: Travel Poster of the 1890s, Author's Collection
Travel Poster of the 1890s, Author’s Collection

Travel was popular in the Victorian Era and among some of the most prominent travelers to Europe were Americans, nicknamed Yankees. Yankees crossed the seas by steamers and traveled throughout Europe primarily by rail. The most desirable season for Americans to travel varied on the destination. Winter travelers headed to Spain, Italy, or Egypt. June and July was set aside for special excursions to the North Cape or the Land of the Midnight Sun, stopping at ports in Norway and Sweden on steamship. London was the hot spot for American travelers in the months of May and June, Scotland was visited in the fall, and, as for Paris, it was claimed there was never a time not to schedule a visit. However, to accomplish these European trips, travelers needed tips and tricks to achieve a successful journey. Continue reading

The Bicycle and Fashions for Fall 1898

Victorian Bicycle Fashions: Typical Female Bicycle Costume for Fall 1898
Typical Female Bicycle Costume for Fall 1898, Author’s Collection

Bicycling was a popular pastime in the late 1800s, so much so, it ushered in the “bicycle craze,” a craze that was in full swing in Europe and North America by the 1890s. The original bicycling problems that were related to the penny-farthing — comfort, safety, speed, and steering — were essentially resolved by the late 1800s and that allowed for a suitable bicycle for ordinary female riders. Because of this, the bicycle soon went from an everyday fad to a hobby and thousands of women began riding the bicycle.

America’s devoted feminist and social reformer, Susan B. Anthony, coined the bicycle the “freedom machine.” Anthony noted how the bicycle allowed women unprecedented independence. Edward Sandford Martin, founder of The Harvard Lampoon and literary editor of Life magazine, noted the bicycle’s popularity among Victorian women too. He maintained women had claimed it and marked it as their own, which encouraged even more women to join in the bicycle craze and causing the bicycle to reach its pinnacle in 1900 when 1.4 billion bicycles were in use worldwide. Continue reading

Foster Powell – The Celebrated Pedestrian

Foster Powell, Public Domain
Foster Powell, Public Domain

Foster Powell was born in 1734, and when he left his little Yorkshire village of Horseforth, near Leeds, at the age of 26 and headed to London, village inhabitants thought little of him in respect to either his mental or physical capabilities. In fact, he had a reputation “of being a quiet inoffensive lad, shy, and somewhat unsocial, with nothing in the faintest degree remarkable in him, except his fondness for long, solitary walks.” However, it would be his long solitary walks that would take him from an ordinary man to extraordinary fame, and for 20 years he would add to his fame becoming one of the most celebrated pedestrians of the eighteenth century.

Powell was described by people as mild and gentle in manner. Physically he was described as

“tall and spare, rather over five feet nine inches in height, very strong about the loins, and with thighs of immense power … His costume was eccentric, consisting of leather breeches and a jacket and a tall hat — about the most uncomfortable garb, one could think … could be devised for a pedestrian.”

Continue reading

Bicycle Face – A Fictitious Disease of the 1800s

Bicycle Face: The Bicycle Craze, Author's Collection
The Bicycle Craze, Author’s Collection

Once the bicycling craze took possession of bicyclists, many wheelmen and wheelwomen supposedly began suffering from a disease known as “bicycle face.” Doctors soon gave warnings that women, girls, and middle-aged men should avoid excessive cycling. One explanation as to why bicycle face occurred was that it came about when a cyclist over exerted his or herself while also attempting to balance and maintain an upright position on a bicycle. However, in reality, bicycle face was nothing more than a fictitious disease invented by the medical community, The medical community wanted to discourage women from bicycling, as bicycling gave women a sense of independence and that threatened nineteenth-century men. Continue reading

Pistol Dueling, Its Etiquette and Rules

Portrayal of Fictional Pistol Duel Between Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky, Written By Alexander Pushkin, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Portrayal of Fictional Pistol Duel Between Eugene Onegin and Vladimir Lensky, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Duels of the seventeenth and eighteenth century were conducted primarily with swords, although by the late eighteenth century they were fought with pistols. Fortunately, pistol dueling fell out of fashion by the mid-nineteenth century. However, prior to its demise a “Royal Code of Honor” existed and was adhered to by dueling Principals and Seconds. The code stated, “No duel can be considered justifiable, which can be declined with honor, therefore, an appeal to arms should always be the last resource.” Continue reading

Road Etiquette for Victorian Bicyclists

Victorian Bicyclist Etiquette: Bicycle of 1868-1869, Public Domain
Bicycle of 1868-1869, Public Domain

The first real bicycle — a two-wheeled machine, operated by crank-action on a rotating axle — did not appear until the early 1860s, and cycling did not become a widely popular activity until the 1870s. However, once it did become popular it was touted as a way for a person to achieve independence, and, in fact, cycling was noted to allow “every man … [to] become his own locomotive.”

With every nineteenth century man having his own locomotive, etiquette rules soon developed, and bicyclists were encouraged to follow them. Some of these rules are listed below: Continue reading

The Jockey Club 1750-1773

The Jockey Club by Thomas Rowlandson, Public Domain
The Jockey Club by Thomas Rowlandson, Public Domain

The Jockey Club was established as a high society social club, somewhat similar to a gentleman’s club but for horse owners. It is claimed to have been founded in 1750, although there are some claims it may have been established much earlier. Exactly how it was formed is unclear, but what is clear is that it was established during “an age of clubs, which were springing up like mushrooms on all sides.” The club’s main purpose was for members to have a good time, but earliest club members, more than anything else, “promoted the improvement of the thoroughbred and the prosperity of the Turf.”

They also formed the Jockey Club for several other reasons. Noblemen and gentlemen could enjoy each other without fear of mingling with ruffians or blackguards, and they could “win one another’s or anybody else’s money by acquiring, whether for a price or from breeding, the best horses in creation. And a further object,…was apparently to knit together the horse-loving, horse-breeding, and horse-racing nobility and gentry.” They could also ride their own horse or other member’s horses but, subsequently, decided against it and confined their racing to professional jockeys. Continue reading

Ice Skating Etiquette

Skating in the 1820s, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Skating in the 1820s, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Ice skating was a popular pastime among Britain’s upper and middle classes by the mid 1800s. It was so popular the first attempt at creating artificial ice skating rinks occurred in England in 1841. It required using a mixture of hog’s lard and salts. But these artificial rinks were so smelly, they quickly fell out of fashion. Some thirty years later, in 1876, the first mechanically frozen ice rink appeared in London. Although it was a vast improvement over the smelly rinks of the 1840s, most people still relied on local frozen ponds, rivers, or streams. Continue reading

Kit-Cat or Kit-Kat Club

Kit-Cat or Kit-Kat Club: Jacob Tonson by Sir Godfrey Kneller
Jacob Tonson by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Kit-Cat or Kit-Kat Club was an early eighteenth century London club, both “literary and gallant, as well as political,” and it was the stronghold of the Whigs. An eighteenth-century English bookseller and publisher, Jacob Tonson, sometimes referred to as Jacob Tonson the elder, is claimed to have founded the club. But how the club got its name seems unclear. One possibility is that the name came from where the Club meetings were first held, which was “a house in Shire Lane, … at the sign of the ‘Cat and Fiddle.'” The second possibility is, “The cook’s name being Christopher, for brevity called Kit, and the sign being the Cat and Fiddle, they very merrily derived a quaint denomination from puss and her master [resulting in Kit-Cat].” The third suggestion comes from The Spectator asserting that the club’s name was derived “not from the maker of the pie, but from the pie itself, which was called a Kit Kat.”

At any rate, Christopher Cat (although some sources claim Cat’s last name was Katt, Catt, or Catling) was the pastry cook or tavern keeper who furnished club members with “delicious mutton pies … [until] they became a standing dish at the meeting of the club, which at length, in 1708 obtained the name of the Kit Cat Club.” Continue reading

Tom Cribb – The Bareknuckle Boxer

Tom Cribb the Bareknuckle Boxer - Tox Cribb
Tom Cribb, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Tom Cribb was born on a hot summer’s day on 8 July 1781 in the township of Hanham situated about five miles from Bristol. Whether Hanham belonged to Gloucestershire or Somersetshire was in dispute and may have been one reason why Cribb eventually chose a life of contention and became England’s first uncontested champion of bare-knuckle boxing.

When Cribb was 13, he moved to London, and under the tutelage of a relative he worked as a bell-hanger. However, he found the job boring and restrictive, “not exactly meeting his ideas, and being a strong athletic youth, he preferred an out-door calling.” This led him to the wharves in Wapping where twice he was nearly deprived of his life, as indicated by the following events:

“[The first time] in stepping from one coal barge to another, he fell between them, and got jammed in a dreadful manner; and … [the second time he was] carrying a heavy package of oranges, weighing nearly 500 lbs … He slipped down upon his back, and the load fell upon his chest, which occasioned him to spit blood for several days afterwards.”

Fortunately, Cribb was a strong youth and soon recovered. Continue reading