One Visitor’s Tale of Madame Tussaud’s 1883 Exhibition

Madame Tussaud. Author’s collection.

Heavy rain showers induced one Londoner who had been reading William Black’s Macleod of Dare to ponder about a better way to spend his time. When he looked out his window and saw wet streets and large splashing raindrops, instead of staying inside or following Black’s advice to enjoy an art pilgrimage to the National Gallery or South Kensington Museum, he decided to do something entirely different. Something that he had never done before.

What he decided to do was visit Madame Tussaud’s well-known establishment located on Baker Street. He hailed a hackney cab and gave this report of his visit that was published in November of 1883 in the Aberdeen Press and Journal: 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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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

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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Kensington Gardens in the 1700 and 1800s

Map of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Public domain.

Kensington Gardens sits west of Hyde Park, which it once adjoined. Kensington Gardens were created when they were cut off from Hyde Park by George II’s wife, Queen Caroline, in 1728. Henry Wise and Charles Bridgeman were tasked with the job of creating the gardens. Bridgeman created the recreational lake known as the Serpentine between 1726 and 1731 by damning Hyde Park’s River Westbourne on the eastern outflow. Queen Caroline enclosed Kensington Gardens by using the West Carriage Drive (The Ring) and the Serpentine Bridge to form a boundary between the two. Kensington Gardens consists of 270 acres, but at one time, Kensington Palace was surrounded by 30 acres of private gardens and shaded by fine old trees. Continue reading

Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks

Mrs. Salmon's Waxworks, Public Domain
Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks, Public Domain

Before the famous Madame Tussaud’s there was Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks that was owned and operated by Mr. and Mrs. Salmon. Mrs. Salmon made and sold toys — Dutch, English, and French — and was said to be highly eccentric, even sleeping in a burial shroud. Mrs. Salmon’s also had modelling skills and used them to create life-sized dolls that resembled living people. Her waxworks became an instant hit and were publicized in the Tatler of 1710 and mentioned several times in the Spectator.

Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks’ were also distinguished by the sign of a salmon. Addison noted, “It would have been ridiculous for the ingenious Mrs. Salmon to have lived at the sign of the Trout, for which reason she erected before her house the figure of fish that is her namesake.” Mrs. Salmon, who later became Mrs. Steers, ran the business until she died in 1760, at which time a man named Clark purchased the business and when he died it went to his widow. Continue reading

What are Stables and Other Similar Associated Buildings?

Stables Built in 1802, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Stables Built in 1802, Courtesy of Wikipedia

By the 1800s, in the city, most houses were devoid of stables, whereas most country homes were equipped with one. Stables offered lodging for horses, protected them from the elements, and provided them with a ready food and water supply. Stables could also be detached or attached to a house depending on an owner’s preference, and they came in a variety of sizes, with the size of a Stable usually being commensurate with the size of the establishment. Continue reading

What are Servant Bedrooms?

painting1-JosephCaraudLadysMaid - servant bedrooms

Besides the upper and under servant offices used by domestic staff to accomplish their jobs, there were special sleeping quarters allotted to servants. Such sleeping quarters consisted of Under-servant and Upper-servant Bedrooms and Stranger-servant Bedrooms.

  • Under-servant Bedrooms: Male and female domestics had separate quarters for sleeping. Female domestics were usually provided with bedrooms either in the attic, uppermost story, or over servant offices, which were accessible by a back stairway. These rooms were usually small and not suitable for more than two domestics. They were also meagerly furnished with a single bed and, perhaps, a nightstand. It was also desirable that such quarters have a fireplace or some way to help keep occupants warm during cold nights. Under-servant Bedrooms for men were similar to the sleeping quarters used by women. Sometimes, however, men might be housed in a dormitory like atmosphere. In that case a high partition separated each bed. If there were enough male servants, their rooms might be accessed by a special staircase that ascended from servant offices. However, if there were just two or three male servants, their rooms might be placed on the ground floor for added protection against intrusion at night. Continue reading

What are Wash-houses and Laundry-Related Rooms?

A Laundry Maid Ironing, by Henry Robert Morland, Eighteenth Century, Public Domain

Because eighteenth and nineteenth century houses generated lots of laundry, laundry facilities were an important part of any home. Sometimes laundry facilities were completely separate from a house and located near the Stables, but it was a chore to move the entire laundry of household to an area far from the house. One reason laundry facilities might be located next to the Stables was because it was difficult to attach Drying or Bleaching grounds near a house. Part of the decision about laundry locations was often based on the number of inferior servants tasked with accomplishing the chore. Additionally, if the mistress of the house or the head laundress wanted to supervise laundry operations more closely, and if drying outdoors was dispensed with, indoor drying might be used it. Among the areas associated with laundry were the Wash-house, Laundry, Drying-room and Hot Closet, Linen-room, and Soiled-Linen Closet. Continue reading

What are Cellars, Storage, and Outbuildings?

Stocking an Ice House, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Stocking an Ice House, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Cellars were used for storage, and outbuildings were small buildings separated from the main house that also provided some sort of storage. There were a variety of cellars and outbuildings. These included such things as beer-cellars, bins, coal-cellars and wood-houses, fruit-stores, ice-houses, lumber-rooms, miscellaneous cellars, and wine-cellars.

  • Beer-cellar: Superior residences often had a Beer-cellar. Beer-cellars were not necessarily located next to Wine-cellars—despite the convenience it would have afforded—because unlike Wine-cellars, Beer-cellars required light and ventilation. Access to Beer-cellars also depended on whether or not the beer was brewed at home or delivered. Beer-cellars were usually also sparsely furnished and contained nothing more than beer casks and some stools. Sometimes there was a Receiving-cellar that accommodated both wine and beer and was used for unpacking beer or wine, washing bottles, stowing hampers, etc. In small residences the Beer-cellar was often placed in front of the Wine-cellar due to space restrictions. Continue reading