Tuesday, October 16, 2018

The Omnibus Comes to London

Tuesday, October 16, 2018
 Loretta reports:

Last year, during my visit to the London Transport Museum, I encountered a form of public transportation I hadn’t paid much attention to previously.

The omnibus was first introduced in Paris, and it was a Parisian coach-builder, George Shillibeer, who brought the concept to London.
“The route which Shillibeer chose for his first omnibus was from the Yorkshire Stingo at Paddington, along the New Road to the Bank. The New Road was the name by which Marylebone, Euston and Pentonville Roads were then known.

 ... On the morning of July 4, 1829, Shillibeer's two new omnibuses began to run. A large crowd assembled to witness the start, and general admiration was expressed at the smart appearance of the vehicles, which were built to carry twenty-two passengers, all inside, and were drawn by three beautiful bays, harnessed abreast. The word "Omnibus" was painted in large letters on both sides of the vehicles. The fare from the Yorkshire Stingo to the Bank was one shilling; half way, sixpence. Newspapers and magazines were provided free of charge. The conductors, too, came in for considerable notice, for it had become known that they were both the sons of British naval officers—friends of Shillibeer. These amateur conductors had resided for some years in Paris, and were, therefore, well acquainted with the duties of the position which they assumed. The idea of being the first omnibus conductors in England pleased them greatly, and prompted them to work their hardest to make Shillibeer's venture a success. They were attired in smart blue-cloth uniforms, cut like a midshipman's; they spoke French fluently, and their politeness to passengers was a pleasing contrast to the rudeness of the short-stage-coach* guards—a most ill-mannered class of men. Each omnibus made twelve journeys a day, and was generally full.”
— Henry Charles Moore, Omnibuses and Cabs 1902
Though his omnibus was a success, Shillibeer contended with fierce and often unscrupulous competition and the NIMBY inhabitants of Paddington Green—although “the threatened doom of Paddington Green did not deter the sentimental poke-bonneted young ladies, who resided in the charming suburb, from spending a considerable amount of their time in watching the omnibuses start. In the middle of the day many of them were in the habit of taking a ride to King's Cross and back, for the sole purpose of improving their French by conversing with the conductors.”

Anecdotes like this abound, including tales of theft by the paid conductors who soon replaced the gentlemen. Since space doesn’t permit me to quote at length, I recommend you read at least Chapter II of the first part for yourself.


*Short-stage coaches, which had been in existence from the mid-18th century, ran—slowly, expensively, and unpunctually—from the suburbs to the City and the West End.

Images: Photos of Loretta in omnibus at London Transport Museum, View of Exterior London Transport Museum Omnibus, and Announcement Marking the End of the Omnibus Era taken at London Transport Museum, copyright © 2018 Walter M. Henritze III.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it. Clicking on a caption link will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Recreating (and Wearing) a Pair of 18thc Pattens

Sunday, October 14, 2018
Susan reporting,

Writing about the past is an ever-changing (and ever-exciting) challenge, and research is one of my absolute favorite parts of the process. I'm always eager to read or hear of new discoveries or fresh perspectives on old ideas, and I never know what may inspire a new character or plot twist.

All of which has brought me back to pattens, a kind of 18thc under-shoe raised up on a metal ring. I've already written a post about them here on the blog.

But while on a recent visit with some of my friends in the Historic Trades program in Colonial Williamsburg, I've come to realize that the subject of pattens is much more complicated.

Fragments of c1770s pattens with a wave-like base, or ring, were discovered in several archaeological digs in Williamsburg, Virginia, and inspired a project at Colonial Williamsburg to recreate them. While pattens would have been the specialized work of a professional patten-maker in 18thc England, in 21stc Colonial Williamsburg they required the skills of several different tradespeople.

Aislinn Lewis, journeywoman blacksmith, made the wavy rings and hardware that held the ring and straps to the sole, and completed the final assembly. Jay Howlett, journeyman artificer and leatherworker, made the leather straps and leather laces. Paul Zelesnikar, journeyman wheelwright, carved the wooden soles from ash. Jenny Lynn, apprentice tinsmith, has worn the finished pattens as part of CW programming. All of them contributed historical research and construction suggestions.

While the fragments were clearly worn in colonial Virginia, no documentation has yet been found to prove that pattens were being made or even sold in the colony at that time. It's probable that the pattens were imported from England, and possibly considered such mundane objects that they weren't listed for sale in newspaper advertisements.

The replica pattens are based not only on the fragments, but also on other, more complete examples that survive in other museum collections. Pattens were inexpensive, workaday footwear that likely didn't have a long life. The flat wooden soles were carved to fit beneath the wearer's shoes, and were held in place by a leather strap that tied across the instep. The metal ring raised the wearer about an inch above the muck of 18thc life, protecting her shoes.

But as Jenny Lynn actually wore the pattens, she discovered a number of things that scholars hadn't realized. First of all, walking in pattens is an acquired skill. Jenny likens it to walking in high-heeled mules. Because there's no back-strap, the wearer's weight must push forward onto the ball of the foot, or she'll walk right out of the soles. An 18thc woman who wore pattens regularly would have been familiar with how best to walk in them, but a certain amount of shuffling must have been unavoidable.

While the assumption has always been that pattens were worn on the notoriously unclean 18thc city streets, Jenny found that this kind of patten would be almost impossible to wear on cobblestone streets, where the rings would slip and tip and lead to sprained ankles and falls. They seem much better suited to the softer surfaces of a more rural life, like an unpaved path or street. Jenny found they work particularly well in mud or wet grass, though if worn by a wealthier woman than a lowly apprentice (sorry, Jenny), the pattens also probably served for making a short journey from a house to a waiting carriage.

The photos here show Jenny (in the blue petticoat) and Aislinn (in the red petticoat) holding the various components to the pattens, as well as close-ups of the soles and rings, and the pattens both on and off the foot. Perhaps my favorite photo is lower right, with the distinctive marks left by the patten-rings mingling with the modern sneaker-treads of CW visitors. The video, below, shows Jenny walking in them.

Many thanks to Jenny Lynn and Aislinn Lewis for their assistance with this post!

All photographs ©2018 by Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Breakfast Links: Week of October 8, 2018

Saturday, October 13, 2018
Breakfast Links are served! Our weekly round-up of favorite links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• Enormous farm animals: the history behind an "absolute unit."
• Williams & Sowerby, silk mercers of Oxford Street who produced tissue de verre, or "glass cloth. More about tissue de verre here.
• Ectoplasm and Helen Duncan, the last British woman tried for witchcraft - in 1944.
• "I have heard some of the Democratic rejoicing": Abigail Adams' last letter to husband John, 1801.
Image: Know Your Pugs, from Strand Magazine, 1892.
• An 1820s shooting coat, worn for hare-coursing.
• Dozens of costume history books to read on line via The Getty.
• The challenges of war to a woman: Baroness Frederika von Riedesel describes the second Battle of Saratoga,
1777.
Image: Gorgeous diamond and emerald parure designed by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria.
• A 12thc relic meets 21stc technology.
• Frances Gabe and her amazing self-cleaning house.
• In the 1870s, a radical journalist and a photographer documented London street life with these images.
• Late 19thc silk Chinese woman's surcoat features flying cranes against mountains and clouds.
Image: Unusual Georgian mourning brooch c1780 with hairwork tomb, weeping willow, and urn.
• Every Marine carries the flag: a brief history of the US Marine Corps flag.
• Little ladies: Victorian fashion dolls and the feminine ideal.
• The twenty-five most famous residents of New York City's cemeteries.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday Video: Getting Dressed during World War One: A VAD Nurse

Friday, October 12, 2018

Susan reporting,

Our friends at Crow's Eye Productions have ventured into the 20thc for this video. Featured in this video are the nurses who served in the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) run by the British Red Cross Society during World War One. The VAD was a voluntary unit of civilians who provided nursing care to British military personnel; the majority of the volunteers were women and girls from the middle and upper classes who wished to contribute to the war effort. While most of these volunteers (over 60,000 by 1918) lacked the medical training of professional nurses, by the war's end many had proven that they were not mere "society ladies."  They served bravely and competently not only in auxiliary hospitals at home and in the field, but as ambulance drivers and cooks as well.

The accomplishments of the VAD are especially impressive in light of their uniforms - no easy-care scrubs here! This video shows the staggering amount of clothing that these women were expected to wear as they performed their duties. In time the war would mark a dramatic shift in the role of modern women and how they dressed, but these uniforms clearly belong more to the Edwardian era than to the 1920s flappers.

An additional note: the video was filmed on location at Stanhope Hall, Horncastle, the site of a former VAD Hospital.

Many thanks to producer and costumer Pauline Loven for sharing this video with us!

If you receive this post via email, you may be seeing an empty space or black box where the video should be. Please click here to view the video.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Dickey, or, Abominable False Front

Thursday, October 11, 2018

August 1873 Men's Fashions
Loretta reports:

The author of this 1876 guide to men’s dress did not mince words when it came to false shirt fronts. One can only imagine what he'd have to say about, oh, man buns or low-hanging trousers.
~~~
BEAU BRUMMEL said, “A gentleman should show clean linen, and plenty of it.” The first part of this sentence is strictly true, the second less so. There is no need, having a clean shirt on, to publish the fact, or to lead the public to infer you wear it as a disguise by undue exhibition of it. “Virtue is its own reward :” so the assumption of clean underclothing generally, even if its light be kept beneath a bushel, should afford the wearer the same pleasure as if ostentatiously paraded. When I see a man placarding his chest with a wide expanse of lawn, and exhibiting an unnecessary amount of cuffs, I infer he has got on neither a clean nor white shirt. The surmise generally proves correct.

Interlined Shirt Bosoms 1912
I often see in haberdashers' shops an exaggerated collar and lapel in one, designed to cover manly bosom. The commercial name of this impious fraud is called a Dickey. This felonious impostor must be made away with. No one with any self-respect can wear a dickey. A man clad in such an unmitigated imposition is a whited sepulchre of the very blackest type. If the reader knows any so depraved even to possess one, let him persuade the wretched man to pause, ere too late, in his headlong career—to burn the spurious rag, and he can then exclaim, with regenerated heart, “Richard” (not Dickey, mind) “is himself again!”
Many say, however, when this charge is brought against them, that they suffer from neuralgia, lumbago, and tic-douloureux and ... various other ailments ... Well, what excuse is this? I do not prohibit flannel —wear an under flannel shirt—two if you like; but you must cover it with an entire white shirt, not an aliquot part of it. If hypocrisy be the homage which vice pays to virtue, then the assumption of dickey is a sneaking admission of the necessity for showing clean linen, and a discreditable way of making a sham composition with the subject.
The Gentleman's Art of Dressing with Economy. By a Lounger at the Clubs (1876)

The Lounger's disapproval did not lead to the rapid extinction of the dickey. On the contrary, it lived on into the 20th century, and it isn't dead yet.

Images: August 1873 Men’s Fashions, from the Gentleman's Magazine of Fashion, via Google Books.
Interlined Shirt Bosoms (1912), and Arrow Donchester shirt 1915, courtesy New York Public Library.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.


 
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