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

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

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

Frisky Matrons of the Victorian Era

A ballroom scene by James Tissot in 1873 titled “Too Early.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One reporter declared in 1863 that there were too many “frisky matrons” of the Victorian Era. He claimed that married women were become all too common a sight at London balls and at English country houses. To justify his position, he wrote the following piece that he titled “Frisky Matrons,” which is provided nearly verbatim:

Whoever had charge of the Japanese Ambassadors last year must have attempted to explain to their puzzled Excellencies the object and meaning of a ball. It is intended, he probably said, to enable the youth and beauty of each sex to mingle in the dance. Hither fair maidens flock, for the purpose of captivating their future husbands. Their mothers attend, at the cost of much physical suffering, not so much from the promptings of parental instinct, as from a high, perhaps exaggerated, sense of decorum. Continue reading

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

Victorian Four Penny Coffins or Penny Beds, Homelessness, and More

Applicants for Admission to a Casual Ward by Sir Luke Fildes. Public domain.

In the Victorian era, the homeless created a persistent problem for Londoners. Industrialization was one reason for an exploding homeless population. Part of the problem was that in order to accommodate the railroad, neighborhoods had to be demolished. That resulted in fewer houses, caused crowding in other neighborhoods, and drove up rents. In addition, workers from out of town flocked to London looking for work. The jobs they took gave them money, but these workers created an even greater demand for housing and caused rents to rise further, which then made it impossible for some workers to afford housing. Continue reading

Victorian Beauty and How to Retain It

“On the Thames,” by James Tissot in 1882. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Victorian women were highly body conscious. They wore corsets to create tiny waistlines and bustles and petticoats to enhance and improve their buttocks. Victorian women were also idealized in paintings by popular nineteenth-century artists, such as James Tissot. These idealized images of body conscious Victorians, helped to contribute to Victorian women wondering what they could do to retain their youthful beauty as they aged.

One Victorian magazine published an article on beauty in 1893, and it is provided below almost verbatim: 

The physical beauty of women should last until they are far past fifty, says a writer in Siftings. Nor does beauty reach its zenith under the age of 35 or 40. Helen of Troy comes upon the stage at the age of 40. Aspasia was 36 when married to Pericles, and she was a brilliant figure 30 years thereafter. Cleopatra was past 30 when she met Anthony. Diane de Poitiers was 35 when she won the heart of Henry II. The King was half her age, but his devotion never changed. Anne of Austria was 38 when described as the most beautiful woman in Europe. Mdme. de Maintenon was 43 when united to Louis, and Catherine of Russia was 33 when she seized the throne she occupied for 35 years. Mdlle. Mar was most beautiful at age 45, and Mdme. Récamier between the ages of 35 and 55. The most lasting and intense passion is not inspired by two decade beauties. The old saw about sweet sixteen is exploded by the truer knowledge that the highest beauty does not dwell in immaturity. For beauty does not mean alone the fashion of form and colouring, as found in the waxen doll. The dew of youth and a complexion of roses sometimes combine in a face that is unmoving and unresponsive, as though lacking utterly the life spark. A woman’s best and richest years are from 26 to 40. It is arrant error for any woman to regard herself as passé at an earlier day.

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English Miscellany in the 1860s

Pike Perch, Author's Collection
Pike Perch. Author’s collection.

Sometime in the 1860s, a farmer in Scotland hooked a large pike, weighing twenty-one pounds. He left it for dead upon the bank of the river, opposite his house; but his dog happened to brush past it. The fish caught the dog by its tail, and despite the dog plunging into a river and swimming across, the pike did not let go. It took the assistance of the farmer to loosen the fish. However, this was not the only miscellany reported in the 1860s. There were other interesting miscellany such as the following reports: Continue reading

How to Make the Most of a Victorian Christmas Tree

A Christmas tree on a table, painted by Ludwig Blume-Siebert in 1888. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

By the late Victorian Age, Christmas trees had become a big part of celebrating Christmas. One newspaper published an article about how to select a Christmas tree and decorate it. Here is the article almost verbatim:

In selecting the Christmas tree … for a family party, choose one that is not too large. The effect will be much better if a medium-sized tree, say five feet from the pot to the top-most branch be selected, and this tree is placed on a good-sized round table.

The reason of this is, as anyone will soon find who attempts to dress a tree, that very few of the presents can be actually tied to the branches. Anything at all bulky or heavy must be laid underneath, and the branches themselves decorated only with light, small parcels, or better still, with the presents hung on to the tree without paper, with bags and boxes of sweetmeats, with silver and glass balls sold for the purpose, and with the tiny wax tapers which are so important a feature in the dressing of a tree. Continue reading

Rules for Preserving Health in Victorian Times

health in Victorian times
Victorian ad for Smedley’s Chillie Paste that cured all sorts of ailments. Author’s Collection.

Victorians considered themselves to be health conscious. Because of their concern for their health, one Victorian publication provided a list of rules for Victorians to help preserve their health. Here is that list almost verbatim:

Habitual cheerfulness and composure of mind, arising from peace of conscience, constant reliance on the goodness of God, and the exercise of kindly feelings toward men. Peace of mind is essential to health as it is to happiness.

Strict control over the appetites and passions, with a fixed abhorrence of all excess, and all unlawful gratifications whatsoever. He that would enjoy good health must be “temperate in all things,” and habitually exercise the most rigid self-government; for every sort of vicious indulgence is highly injurious to health; first, directly, in its immediate effects on the body; and next, indirectly, in the perpetual dissatisfaction and anxiety of mind which it invariably occasions. Continue reading