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.
Initially established with 140 wax figures at the Golden Salmon on St. Martin’s-le-Grand, Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks next moved near St. Dunstan’s Church before it relocated to the Horn Tavern, No. 17 Fleet Street. This building had been the office of the Duchy of Cornwall during the reign of James I, but sometimes erroneously called “the palace of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey.” Horn Tavern operated in the rear of the building and in the front was Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks.
At the entrance to Mrs. Salmon’s were two wax figures that bid visitors entrance and stood watch. One of the wax figures, Anne Siggs, was based on the real life Anne Siggs, an old, grey-haired match-woman. The wax figure was clad in a gingham gown, supported on crutches, and holding a basket of matches. Siggs alternated greeting customers with a Beefeater described as a burly figure, “truncheon in hand, sword at waist, a ruff round his neck, a velvet cap with a black feather, a well-laced scarlet surtout, shoes with roses for buckles; very red in the face, staring like the match-woman.”
In the late 1700s, it took 6d to gain entrance to Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks. Inside there were two floors with numerous rooms and filled with a variety of wax figures. There was also a pastoral scene in one room complete with sheep, shepherds, and shepherdesses, and, in the center of the room was a miniature man-of-war sailing on a sea of glass. Many of the wax figures that visitors viewed were of royalty or famous people. For instance, visitors could see King George III, Queen Charlotte, and the Prince of Wales (later George IV), as well as the Princess Amelia lying in state. There was also Dr. Samuel Johnson, Admiral Horatio Nelson, and two famous political adversaries, William Pitt and Charles James Fox. The actress Mrs. Sarah Siddons was dressed as Queen Catherine, actor John Philip Kemble was clad as Rolla, and the English soothsayer and prophetess of the 1600s, Mother Shipton, offered a kick to visitors as they exited.
In 1812, Mrs. Clark fell while taking the sacrament and, after being confined to her bed for several weeks, she died. The exhibition was then sold for less than 50l to a person by the name of Templeman. Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks then moved to Water Lane. In 1827, while at Water Lane, thieves broke into the building and caused extensive damage. They stripped numerous effigies of their finery, smashed half of the wax figures, and threw the mangled pieces into a heaping pile that almost touched the ceiling.
Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks recovered, but a few years later, the business found itself unlucky again. The English public decided waxworks were unsophisticated and, perhaps, even foolish. Attendance was down and nothing could save Mrs. Salmon’s: not the famous beefeater or the well-known Siggs or even the hideously ugly Mother Shipton. Thus, in 1831, Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks closed her doors for good.
- —, The Public Advertiser, 13 November 1786
- Harvey, William, London Scenes and London People, 1863
- Smith, John Thomas, Nollekens and His Times, Volume 1, 1829
- The Bookseller, 1872
- Thornbury, Walter, Old and New London, Vol. I, 1873