Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Rare Wedding Dress for a Highland Bride, c. 1785

Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Wedding dresses are always special. Fans of the current miniseries Outlander were eagerly anticipating the wedding dress worn by the heroine, and when it finally appeared, social media was ablaze with reactions. While I'm not about to tackle whether Claire's gorgeous, glittering costume was appropriate either to 18th c. Scotland or to the book (although here's a thoughtful blog post with pictures, defending the costume designer's choices), I decided it's the perfect time to share a wedding dress that was undeniably worn for an 18th c. Fraser wedding in the Highlands.

Alas, I haven't seen this dress in person -  it's in the collection of the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery - so my observations are based on photographs and other sources. The dress was made around 1785 for the wedding of Isabella MacTavish to Malcolm Fraser, both of Stratherrick in the Scottish Highlands. Like the Elizabeth Bull wedding dress that I wrote about earlier this summer (see here and here), this dress has also been worn by successive generations of Fraser brides.

The dress was not made by a skilled mantua-maker. The style is simple, and a little old-fashioned for its time – though apparently there's allowance beneath the back skirts to accommodate a trendy false rump for extra volume. Nor is the stitching the work of a professional, with mismatched plaids and awkward seaming. For more details about the dress's construction, including sketches, see this article by Catharine Niven, curator at Inverness.

What fascinated me was the possibility that this dress, much like the Bull dress, had been made by the bride's family, and perhaps by the bride herself. It's unlikely that any scholar will ever discover the true maker's name, but it's tantalizing to imagine several women collaborating on this single, significant garment.

And it was significant - not only because of its ceremonial purpose, but on account of the fabric from which it was stitched. In this article, scholar Peter Eslea MacDonald notes that while the the dress was made around 1785, the wool plaid is likely much older, from c.1740-1760. Because of the amount of red dye used, this was originally an expensive and much-valued plaid. I've shared a number of 18th c. dresses (here and here) that were remade into new fashions, a thrifty way to recycle a costly fabric. But however beautiful the silks used in those dresses were, this plaid was different.

Traditional tartan plaids represented different clans in the Highlands, and were worn proudly. and rebelliously as well. After the disastrous Jacobite Rising of 1745,  England passed laws designed to further destroy the power of the clans, and to force the Highlanders towards assimilation. As part of the Act of Proscription of 1746, the Dress Act prohibited wearing "highland clothing" such as tartans. The penalties were severe, and included imprisonment and transportation. The forbidden textiles became even more precious, symbolic of all that had been lost, and were carefully hidden away for safe-keeping far from English eyes.

The Dress Act was finally repealed in 1782. This dress was made soon afterwards. The true story of Isabella MacTavish's wedding dress may be lost, but how easy it is to image a grandmother reverently bringing out this MacTavish clan tartan that she'd hidden nearly forty years earlier, and giving it to the bride for her wedding dress – a dress that would have symbolized love, and so much more.

Many thanks to our good friend costume historian Kimberley Alexander for sharing this dress with us. Her blog Silk Damask is one of our favorites!

Above: Isabella MacTavish's Wedding Dress, c. 1785. Photo courtesy of the Inverness Museum & Art Gallery.

Monday, September 29, 2014

A physican reports in autumn 1810

Monday, September 29, 2014

George Cruikshank, The Head-ache
Loretta reports:

I have, undoubtedly, an unhealthy fascination with medical practices of the past.  My not so hidden agenda is the certainty that whatever we think now is true, won’t be true in the next generation—or possibly next week—as reading about 19th C "cures" for cholera or typhus or tuberculosis or rabies has demonstrated.  Remember when peptic ulcers were supposed to result from stress?  And now it’s ... bacteria?  As a migraine sufferer, I’ve directly experienced the change in attitudes about the ailment and treatments for it.

Medical report 1810 at source
Medical report 1810 at source             

But beyond the morbid fascination with what was sickening and killing people once upon a time, I find the medical reports interesting for literary and philosophical reasons.  Note the dramatic style describing a fevered patient.  And also, please don’t skip the concluding lines.

George Cruikshank image courtesy Wikipedia.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of September 22, 2014

Saturday, September 27, 2014
Fresh for your reading pleasure! Our weekly roundup of fav links to other blogs, web sites, articles, & images, all gathered from around the Twitterverse.
Feline hideaway: Frank Lloyd Wright's amazing house for a stylish cat.
• Holy horseshoes.
Image: When it comes to a good old medieval joust, my money is on the dog riding a rabbit.
• The fifteen most bizarre sex tips from the Victorian era.
• Amelia Simmons, America's earliest cookbook author.
• The wonderfully ornate & extravagant gloves of 1625-35.
Animals in warfare from Hannibal to World War One.
• Industrial espionage and cutthroat competition fueled the rise of the humble harmonica.
Image: Seventeenth century comic? First he's a soldier, then a burgomaster, then someone falls down in a shocking display.
• Truly incredible paintings: the British artists who were witnesses to World War Two.
• The lost Grand Union Hotel in NYC; in 1905 a 22-year-old hotel phone operator wed a 70-year-old guest who dies four months later, leaving her $15 million richer.
• Fancy pants: skirmishes with the fashion police in 16th c. Italy.
• You've been warned about "bicycle face" - now there's the horror of "motor-car face."
Image: Cats on a Ridge of a Roof at Full Moon by Fedor Flinzer.
• Dining at the stylish 1901 Cafe Martin on Fifth Avenue, NY.
• Arsenic, cyanide, & strychnine: the golden age of Victorian poisoners.
• "The Algonquin Legends of New England," 1884.
• In praise of the humble knot.
• Collection of digitised Victorian and Edwardian medicine trade cards now online.
• Venetian glass trade beads and the global Renaissance.
Image: You've got mail! US Mail trolley in Harvard Square, Cambridge, c1900.
• The Scotch Giantess, the Spanish Giant, a jealous husband, and a quantity of arsenic, 1831.
• A lady's maid and her duties in the Georgian and Regency Eras.
• Following Outlander on tv? Interesting blog by the costume designer about Claire's 18th c. wedding gown - perhaps more accurate than you might think.
Image: Official substitute for ice cream during World War Two: carrot on a stick.
• Small stories: illuminating dollhouses at the V&A.
• Why was Robert Webster, a slave, wearing what looks like a Confederate uniform in this photograph?
• Seventeenth century remedies: how to banish bugs and avoid feeling "louzy."
• General Washington and the body-snatchers.
• What the 17th c. can teach us about vaginas. (Really)
Image: A bookstore romance, by Harrison Fisher, 1902
Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938): trapeze performer, model, artist, lover, and mother of an artist.
• How to attract a husband and be a good wife, 1960s style. Hint: how you eat cheese reveals a lot.
• Feeling peakish? Recipes for 16th-17th c. possets.
• Just for fun: a six-year-old's review of a favorite book (based on misunderstanding of the availabilty of multiple copies.)
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Video: An Extravagant Cabinet with Many Secrets, c.1790

Friday, September 26, 2014

Isabella reporting,

Lately the world has been all a-buzz about the newest iPhone, but innovative technology is nothing new. The late 18th c. cabinet in this video clip combines ingenious mechanisms to reveal hidden drawers and secret cubbies plus musical fanfares, and disguises it all inside a breathtakingly beautiful piece of cabinetry.

Here's the description:

One of the finest achievements of European furniture making, this cabinet is the most important produced  from Abraham (1711-1793) and David Roentgen's (1743-1807) workshop. A writing cabinet crowned with a chiming clock, it features finely designed marquetry panels and elaborate mechanisms that allow for doors and drawers to be opened automatically at the touch of a button. Owned by King Frederick William II, the Berlin cabinet is uniquely remarkable for its ornate decoration, mechanical complexity, and sheer size. This cabinet is from Kunstgewerbemuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.

As is the case with the wonderful clockwork automatons from the same era (such as this, this, and this), I'm amazed by not only the skill and artistry that created these pieces, but also that they have survived. I also wonder how all the buttons and triggers were discovered. Could there still be one more secret hidden somewhere inside?

Many thanks to our good friend Chris Woodyard for spotting this video first.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Matrimonial disputes in the early 1800s

Thursday, September 25, 2014
Doctors Commons
Loretta reports:

The matter of divorce in England in the early 19th century is much too complicated for me to attempt in a post.  I’m not sure I’d attempt it in a dissertation.  However, since we historical romance authors often send our characters to Doctors Commons for this, that, or the other thing, I thought I’d offer a Rowlandson image from the Microcosm of London and an excerpt describing one of its matrimonial functions. 

Doctors Commons-matrimonial

This is also the place we’d send our heroes to obtain the famous-in-Regency-novels special license, which is explained in the epigraph heading the epilogue of Vixen in Velvet:

"But by special licence or dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Marriages, especially of persons of quality, are frequently in their own houses, out of canonical hours, in the evening, and often solemnized by others in other churches than where one of the parties lives, and out of time of divine service, &c."
The Law Dictionary 1810

The image I’ve used is courtesy Wikipedia, because it’s of superior quality to the one in the Internet Archive version.  You can see truly splendid images from the Microcosm at the Spitalfields Life blog.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

High Fashion in Colonial America, c1760

Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Too often the perception of fashion in colonial America is skewed by patriotic myth, of no-nonsense people wearing plain, sturdy clothes they'd made themselves from cloth that were also spun and woven at home.

In truth the latest London fashions were only a few weeks away by ship, and fashion was important not only for self-expression, but also as a matter of status. (Fashion supported many trades; see this post for just how many craftspeople were involved.) Because of British trade regulations, the majority of clothing for every class was made of imported textiles, sewn and fitted by skilled mantua-makers and tailors, and even the most humble apprentice could tie his neckerchief in a stylish knot, and housewives wore gowns of printed cotton chintz to mimic the silks of grand ladies.

A colonial lady with money to spend dressed much like her London counterpart. This gown from Winterthur belonged to a lady from the Montgomery family of Haverford, PA, which would have been about a day's ride from the international port of Philadelphia in 1760. The shimmering blue and silver silk was imported from London, and made up by a local mantua-maker. The softly flowing pleats of the gown's sack back, the waving flounces at the elbows, and the wide skirts to accommodate hoops are all in the latest fashion.

But it's the silk itself that must have made the real fashion statement. A gown like this required about 12-1/2 yards of silk that was only 19" wide. Silk of this quality could have cost as much as five shillings a yard for a rough total of  That may not sound like much, but when you consider (as we have here before) that the seamstress who stitched that silk likely earned only a shilling and a half for her entire twelve-hour workday, then this gown truly does become a costly fashion statement.

Above: Gown and petticoat, silk, made in America of English fabric, c.1755-75. Winterthur Museum. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A quilt tells a story

Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Story Quilt by Fannie Stebbins
Loretta reports:

Historic Deerfield has, among many other treasures, a remarkable collection of textiles.  In previous posts (here and here) I’ve shown you dresses from the exhibition Celebrating the Fiber Arts: The Helen Geier Flynt Textile  Gallery.*

What I very nearly missed was the splendid quilt collection displayed on racks in a corner of the gallery.  Luckily, my companions were more observant, and we discovered this fascinating work, made by a lady in her 80s.

I was able to photograph some of the sections, as you see below.  But the full quilt was beyond my camera skills, and it didn’t seem fair to you or the artist not to show the masterpiece in its entirety.  So I contacted the Historic Deerfield Curatorial Department, who very generously provided a photograph as well as detailed information, which I’ve excerpted below:

The figurative folk art quilt, by American Fannie Bouviere Stebbins (1846-1933), was made in 11 months (1925-26).  Materials are cotton, linen, wool, and silk.  It measures 86 in x 74-1/2 in; 218.44 cm x 189.23 cm.

“56 blocks laid out side-by-side, each with embroidered and appliquéd scenes ... a four-sided teacup border with embroidered edge in yellow thread; and silk backing.”

“Born in Hartford, Fannie [Bouviere] married George D. Stebbins (b.c.1847) of Hartford in 1867, and they celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary in 1929 when George was 82 yrs. and Fannie 84 yrs.”

“In 1997, one of the summer fellowship program students noted the block with a young boy holding a whip while seated in a wagon harnessed to a African-American man, which was copied directly from a 1921 Cream of Wheat advertisement captioned 'Giddap Uncle.'—Gift of Mrs. Mary B. Denslow."

Full quilt photo at top by Penny Leveritt, Historic Deerfield.

My thanks to David E. Lazaro, Collections Manager and Associate Curator of Textiles, and Penny Leveritt, Visual Resources Manager, Historic Deerfield, for responding so graciously and generously to my query.

*on view until 28 December 2014

Please click on images to enlarge them.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

In Praise of Historic House Museums: The Wing Fort House, c.1640

Sunday, September 21, 2014
Isabella reporting,

According to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, there are more than 15,000 historic house museums in America - which is more house museums than McDonald's restaurants (14,267 in 2013, if you're counting.)

A recent article in the Boston Globe suggested that there are perhaps too many of them, and that there had to be better ways to make use of historic houses than opening them to the public as museums. This met with a surprising amount of public indignation, but the truth is that people love these small, local museums in a way that they'll never feel about the Met or the Smithsonian.

I know I do. The lure of an old house with a historic marker beside the front door is nearly irresistible to me. Last month I visited one of my favorites on Cape Cod, the Wing Fort House, above left, in Sandwich, MA. The earliest portions of the house were built in the 1640s – only twenty years after the Pilgrims landed – which gives it status as the oldest home lived in continuously by a single family in New England. That family is the Wings, whose name is still attached to the house; the "fort" part comes from historical tradition that the house was originally built with fortified walls in case of attacks by Native Americans.

And that, really, is what has earned this house a place on the National Register of Historic Places. It's not an outstanding example of early architecture. No crucial battles took place on its grounds. No Wing became president. One member of the Wing family in the mid-18th c. prospered sufficiently to enlarge the house to its present size in 1760, but that's about all. It's simply a large New England farmhouse that hasn't changed much in the last three centuries. In fact, the last Wing to live here (into the 1940s) did so without modern conveniences like electricity.

Still owned today by the Wing Family of America, the house is maintained as a family heritage site, with displays of family papers and documents. The furnishings were all donated by the family, and are an eclectic mix, as is often the way in house museums. There are 19th c. hooked rugs, made by a seafaring Wing on long voyages, grim-faced portraits and porcelain teapots, toys and arrowheads and spinning wheels (because every old house museum in New England has spinning wheels and arrowheads.)

Most of all, all those Wings left something more valuable than any antiques. Like every house museum, this one carries the intangible essence of all the people who were born, lived, and died within its walls. Memories and experiences are powerful things, and – not to be too woo-woo here – it's easy to feel the presence of all those long-gone generations of Wings while walking through their house.

There's also one tiny feature of this house that's breathtaking because it's so rare. Because the house was so little changed over the years, it still had its original painted floor in the parlor. Designs were painted on 18th c. floors to mimic patterned carpets, but few survived due to wear and changing tastes.

Alas, well-meaning "restorers" in the 1950s believed that bare floorboards were more "colonial", and the painted designs were removed. The restorers, however, missed one little square of the floor that had been covered inside a later cupboard, right - a tantalizing hint of how impressive that original painted floor must have been.

All photographs copyright 2014 Susan Holloway Scott.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of September 15, 2014

Saturday, September 20, 2014
For your weekend reading pleasure - our weekly round-up of our fav links to other websites, blogs, images, and articles, collected via Twitter.
• "The make of his shoulders pleases me vastly": eight ill-advised reasons for getting married, 1792.
• King Silence: the lives of Victorian deaf children.
• When is a London street not a street?
• "Nothing exists but Thoughts!" the literature of laughing gas.
• Abandoned medieval villages seen from the air - and what they can teach us.
Keeping clean in the 18th c.
• Fashion styles & men's suit silhouettes in the 1930s.
Image: A World War One signature quilt, c1915; money collected from the signatures went to the UK's war effort.
• The Chinese Festival and the 1754 Riot at Drury Lane Theatre.
• The legendary ex-pats of Tangiers and their colorful homes.
• A sumptuous embellished "going away" dress for an 1870s bride.
Image: Removing the mat on this old photo reveals the lovely hidden 19th c. woman, unseen since the day of framing.
• Jack the Clipper - plus a rare Jacqueline: stealing hair for fun or profit.
• "Do take me to see the Pictures again": 1910s photo postcards show romantic possibilities of a visit to early cinema.
• Procuring pepper, a most important spice in early trading.
Video: making 18th c style mushroom ketchup.
• How to entertain with impromptu fruit sculpture, 1906.
Image: Dramatic lighting gives sculptural effect to an 1870 corset.
• Dog Days of summer with painter Mary Cassatt.
• The women behind one of the world's first computers.
• Beautiful embroidered dress given to Queen Victoria in the 1850s.
• Seventeenth-century spot sampler embroidered by daughters of Henry Chichester of Arlington, Devon.
• The world's oldest beehive discovered in a Scottish chapel.
Sophia Baddeley, 18th c courtesan, actress, and A-list celebrity.
• The black Victorians: astonishing portraits unseen for 120 years.
• "They glory in their infamy"; who else but pirates?
Image: 1838-1842 American cotton petticoat and chemise with eyelet borders.
• The myth of brushing your hair 100 times at night - or is it?
• Leggy ladies: 18th c attitudes towards legs.
• The British painters who were witness to World War Two.
• Stephen King has named his most hated expressions. What are yours?
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday video: Boston accent explained

Friday, September 19, 2014
Loretta reports:

I mostly shed my Wustah* accent sometime between high school and college, but it can pop up at times, startling me.  If I try to speak Wustah deliberately, though, I trip over my tongue.  It’s been a few centuries since high school, and while my present speech might be an acquired language, I’ve spoken it for longer than the original.

The Wustah and Boston accents probably sound the same to people from outside New England, but most natives can distinguish between them.  While this video (not as sharp as I’d wish, but the content compensates) stays rather more general, it points out some interesting links between the New England accent and that of certain regions of England.

After this, you might want to take a look at a previous post dealing with British Accents.

*Worcester, MA

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Elizabeth Bull's Embroidered Neckerchief, c. 1735

Thursday, September 18, 2014
Isabella reporting,

Earlier this summer I visited The Bostonian Society in Boston, MA to view a very special 18th c. embroidered wedding dress; my posts on the dress and the bride who made and wore it are here and here.

But that wasn't all I saw that day. Patricia Gilrein, collections manager and exhibitions coordinator at the Bostonian Society, had another example of Elizabeth Bull Price's embroidery to show me. Carefully laid in white preservation paper was this exquisite triangular neckerchief, or scarf, stitched about the same time as the wedding dress, in 1730s New England.

Made of fine green silk imported from China and embroidered with silk and metallic threads from Europe, this was another masterpiece of needlework art: the designs are perfectly composed and balanced, the colors still rich and well-chosen, and the embroidery itself is breathtaking. I was especially impressed with the serpentine border, a true test of any embroiderer's skill. The kerchief would have been worn around the shoulders of a gown with the narrow ends in front (much how women often wear triangular shawls today), and pinned in place to the bodice. It must have made quite an impression when it was new, with the metallic threads bright and sparkling by candlelight.

There's no question that time has taken its toll. The fine green silk cloth has deteriorated around the threads, with small holes and spots of wear that make the piece fragile, and the gold and silver threads have tarnished over time. But the quality of one woman's imagination, talent, and skill remains undiminished, and it's easy to imagine Elizabeth sitting beside a window for light, taking great pleasure in choosing her threads and patterns.

Many thanks to Patricia Gilrein, Kimberly Alexander, and the staff of the Bostonian Society for sharing their treasures with me.

Above: Neckerchief made by Elizabeth Bull Price. Collection of The Bostonian Society. Photographs copyright 2014 Susan Holloway Scott.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Furnishing your nursery in 1809

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Child's cot and nursery chair
Cot & chair description
Loretta reports:

One thing I noticed about the evolution of Ackermann’s Repository over the years:  In the early years of its publication, children appear occasionally in the fashion plates.  But in the later years they seem to disappear.  I wonder if this has anything to do with pregnancy being highly fashionable at one point, or whether it simply reflects one of those cultural swings of the pendulum.

I’ll leave you to speculate, while you contemplate placing a very special infant into a mahogany “cot-bed” tastefully draped in rich silk ...

Cot & chair description

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How Many Clothes Did an 18th C. Woman Own?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Isabella reporting,

There are many misconceptions flying around the internet about how many clothes an 18th c. woman owned. Between the two (false) extremes of "average women only had two outfits because they had to process and spin the fiber, weave the fabric, and make everything by hand" and "aristocratic women only wore a dress once" is the much more reasonable truth: women of every rank had their clothes made by professional seamstresses, and remodeled and refurbished older garments to keep up with the fashions. Much like today, the size of the wardrobe depended on the size of the budget.

And then, of course, there are the women of every age who just plain love clothes. Into this category I'd have to place Mrs. Ann Bamford.

This fascinating document, above, was recently posted on Twitter by the Lewis Walpole Library of Yale University. It's an "Inventory of wearing Apparel and other things the late property of the deceased Mrs. Ann Bamford," carefully itemized by a now-unknown clerk with very neat penmanship. Inventories such as this were made as part of settling the deceased person's estate.

This is only the first page of three, which I'm assuming means only one-third of her belongings are shown on this page. Even with just this first page to consider (and how I'd like to see the rest!), and that it likely represents a lifetime of clothes, it's clear that Mrs. Bamford must have been a stylish lady who enjoyed looking her best.

The variety of the items here is fascinating. Women's clothing at this time was complicated and full of detail, as the fashion plate form 1781, lower right, shows. To cut a fashionable figure, Mrs. Bamford owned at least a dozen gowns listed (a "night gown" is a style of dress at this time, not a garment meant for bed), ranging from brocaded silk to sprigged muslin. There's a "Goldlaced Jacket and Petticoat [of] Silk Grosgrain" which sounds very elegant,  and an equally stylish "Goldlaced blue Sattin Cloak." In fact there are quite a few cloaks listed, including five white silk cloaks, a "Green Sattin Cloak",  a "Black Sattin Cloak", and a "Gauze Cloak."

There are what we'd call accessories, "5 Handkerchiefs of different sorts for Wearing," "a Printed Muslin Shawle," and "A Black Velvet Bonnot," plus more personal garments, including "Three Pair of Stays" (corsets) and "A Pair of Pocket hoops." I'm also intrigued by "A Parcel of black Netting in a paper," which I'm guessing was how the netting was being kept from snagging.

There are also items that reflect how all 18th c. clothes were made to order: "One Brocaded Silk Night Gown, unmadeup" and "A Piece of Printed Muslin for a Gown," both that never were completed. I especially like that term "unmadeup" (having far too many handwork projects of my own in that same category), and I also like how the clerk was obviously corrected by whomever was doing the evaluating and dictating. You can almost hear that person crossly saying "no, no, not a NIGHT gown! Cross that out directly!" The clerk did have his problems with spelling some of the lady's wear, with "stomacher" phonetically spelled as "stummager."

I can't help but wonder what became of Mrs. Bamford's clothes after this inventory was done. Were they given to a sister, a daughter, or other relative? Was her lady's maid permitted to choose a few pieces as a memento of her mistress? Were they packed away and given to the poor, or sold into the thriving second-hand clothing market? I wonder....

To read the inventory more easily for yourself, click here to go to the Walpole's blog, and click again on the image to enlarge it.

Above left: Inventory of wearing Apparel and other things the late property of the deceased Mrs. Ann Bamford, manuscript, c. 1780? Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Lower right: Robe blanche de Mousseline unie, fashion plate, c. 1781. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Crime in 1830s London

Monday, September 15, 2014

Oliver Twist scene
Loretta reports:

Isabella and I were talking recently about the differences in London crime fighting in the times of our respective books.   One of the things I’ve found so interesting about the mid-1830s is the evolution of London’s police.

The Metropolitan Police came into existence in 1829, in an unfriendly environment.  In 1830, when the first policeman was killed trying to break up a drunken fight, the coroner’s verdict was justifiable homicide.  The history of the force
Crime statistics 1838
is fascinating—and I’m likely to acquire way too many books on the subject—but for today, I only wanted to give you an idea of what they were dealing with. 
Crime statistics 1834-39
Some readers may be surprised at the number of executions.  Others may be unfamiliar with the name of the penal colony.  New South Wales I was aware of.  But I had to look up Norfolk Island.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the captions will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of September 8, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014
Fresh for your weekend reading pleasure - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, blogs, articles, and images, all gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• "Few regret the loss of Atlanta, as it was a most wicked place": diary of a rebel nurse during the Civil War, September, 1864.
• The animals that served in the First World War in pictures.
• "Avoid, as intensely vulgar, any display of your position as a bride whilst traveling": a mid-1870s going-away dress.
• Blending past and present in photos.
• Lord Chesterfield's 18th c. advice to his son on how to be a gentleman still resonates.
Bathing in illuminated medieval manuscripts.
• Unexpected textiles & traditions: a hemp time ball, quilts, and miser's purses.
Image: From the Derby Mercury, April 5, 1751: It's number 28 for this lusty laborer.
Social disparity in a Victorian family - poverty vs. a life-style with governess & domestic servants.
• Dandies, masculinity, and fashion history from Renaissance to punk and rappers: an interview with Ulinka Ruback.
• New discoveries: did Viking women accompany male warriors on overseas missions?
• The medical realities of the Oregon Trail.
• What did the royal pages do at the Brighton Pavilion during the Regency era?
• The adventures of that daring 18th c. man of action, Friedrich von der Trenck.
Image: The beautiful rose window of Notre-Dame de Paris, completed c.1250.
• Explore online these friendship albums, rare artifacts of 19th c. middle-class African American history.
• A look inside the accidentally preserved 5 Beekman Street building, NYC.
• Bram Stoker's rare handwritten manuscript for the play version of Dracula to go on display.
• The wonder of man and the wonder of nature: a 17th c. nautilus cup.
• Secrets of 18th c. cosmetic art: applying the perfect patch.
Jeanne de Valois, 15th c. Queen of France and Duchess of Berri - and eventually a saint.
• Photos from the 1920s of long-lost London.
Margaret Nash, courageous World War Two POW navy nurse.
Image: Fashion Week Rotogravure: the latest styles from Paris, 1917.
• "Hopes of being with Child": an early modern guide to knowing you're pregnant.
• How beautiful steel-cut buttons could transform an 18th c.gentleman's suit.
• Free audio book for the Halloween season: "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" read by Tom Mison.
• Medicinal soft drinks & Coca-Cola fiends: the toxic history of soda pop.
• For the dog days of summer: early photos of favorite pets.
• The oldest known pair of pants discovered in China: 3,000-3,300 years old.
• Just for fun: how to make a towering 18th c. inspired wig of plastic wrap, sea shells, and cardboard.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Video: A Jane Austen Dance

Friday, September 12, 2014

Isabella reporting,

While we Nerdy History Girls make our living with words, it's still entertaining to consider how much can be expressed without them. This is a clip from the 2007 film Becoming Jane, a fictionalized interpretation of a romance between a young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) with a likewise young Irishman (James McAvoy). True, there's a sizable amount of speculation and wishful thinking in the film's storyline, but I thought this particular scene was quite wonderful. No matter how heavily chaperoned a dance may be (and no one chaperons like Maggie Smith!), young people can always find a way to make their feelings for one another known.

I also enjoyed how the sounds of the dance were accurately captured. Whenever I've attended a recreated dance, I've always been surprised by how audible the dancers' footsteps are, how the shush of silk can be heard over the music. Again, quite wonderful.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A real day dress for about 1835

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Day Dress c1834-36

Loretta reports:

More from my visit to Historic Deerfield and the exhibition Celebrating the Fiber Arts: The Helen Geier Flynt Textile  Gallery.*

Of course I was drawn to this dress, because it dates to the time of my Dressmakers series.  Though made of cotton, where most of the European fashion plates show muslin or silk, it shows that Americans followed the fashions popular in London and Paris.  The pleated bodice, for instance, was very popular, in both day and evening wear.  Dated 1834-1836, this is a good example of what the dresses looked like in real life, although we do have to use our imaginations a little.  We need to imagine sleeve puffs giving volume to the sleeves.  We also might want to replace the shiny green sateen ribbon at the waist with a belt made of fabric similar to that of the dress, although it could be in a contrasting color. Belts, like other accessories, are more liable to disappear than a dress is.  I was excited, for instance, to see that the pelerine had survived—and is much more attractive in person than in most fashion plates.

To aid your imaginings:  Isabella/Susan very kindly provided a link to some real dresses for this time, one with sleeve puffs and two (from the V&A) without.  The upper one shows the type of belt we’re likely to see in the fashion plates.

The fashion plate I’ve posted, whose dress has a similar look to the one from Historic Deerfield, will allow you to compare and contrast fashion illustration with actual clothing.  You will observe, too, that the lady who owned the Historic Deerfield dress did not have a teeny-tiny waist. 
Day Dress August 1835

I ought to note that many museums and even fashion history books refer to the big sleeves of the 1830s as leg-o-mutton.**  I’ve never encountered the term in 1830s magazines.  To my knowledge, they didn’t come into use until puffy sleeves revived in the 1890s.

Fashion plate courtesy Los Angeles Public Library.

*on view until 28 December 2014
**Thanks to Deb Salisbury for alerting me to an error about gigot sleeves in an earlier version of this post.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the fashion plate link will allow you to view at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Daring French Ladies of the Chariots, c. 1883

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Isabella reporting,

In these days of blockbuster movies exploding with the latest special effects, it's easy to forget the live blockbuster performances that delighted audiences of the past. A wonderful small exhibition at the RISDMuseum (now through February 22, 2015), Circus, captures the golden age of circuses from 1850-1950, both in America and in Europe.

I loved this painting, which was new to me. It's by the French painter James Tissot (1836-1902), who more usually painted lovely, languid ladies in beautiful dresses much like the one Loretta shared yesterday. Here, however, Tissot has captured one of the more celebrated circus-style acts of 1880s Paris: Ces Dames des Chars, or the Ladies of the Chariots.

The painting shows one of the performances that took place inside the Hippodrome de l'Alma, right, an enormous indoor arena of iron and glass that in itself was an engineering marvel of the time. Built in 1877 at the corner of Avenues Josephine and Alma, the Hippodrome hosted extravagant entertainments with horses and other circus animals, performances that were a combination of circus, rodeo, and music hall. The Hippodrome featured lavish appointments and paintings, and had a glass ceiling with sections that could be opened to the night sky on warm evenings. Shows could include special effects like drifting mists and indoor fireworks, all beneath electric lighting that was still a new-fangled novelty.

The Hippodrome's performances were also famous for their beautiful performers in daring costumes, and from some of the posters, lower left, it's obvious why so much of the audience appears to be male. Tissot's painting is less titillating, but still emphasises the glamor and daring of the women, who, with long hair flying, raced their chariots at top speed around the indoor track. As the museum card notes:

"Known as Amazons, the charioteers wore costumes of shimmering scales. Their diadems resembled the crown on Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi's new statue, Liberty Illuminating the World, completed in Paris in 1884 and soon to be installed in New York's harbor. Like actresses, dancers, and models, the Amazons belonged to the social class known as the demi-monde, available women whose society enlivened Parisian nightlife."

Ces Dames des Chars was an ambitious painting for Tissot. Returning to Paris after living and working in London for eleven years, Tissot had created a grand series of fifteen paintings (including this one) celebrating the modern women of Paris. He had not only planned to use the paintings to re-establish his reputation among French artists, but also to offer prints of the paintings to collectors with matching stories written by prominent authors. But he was unable to interest the writers, and with only a few of the etchings complete, he abandoned the project.

Even more discouraging was the reception of the paintings when exhibited. Critics found them awkward and unappealing, and worse yet, complained how all the women appeared to have the same face – which does seem true. When Tissot left London for Paris, he was also mourning the loss of his long-time mistress Kathleen Newton, who had recently died of consumption. Compare these paintings of Mrs. Newton with the Amazons, and the likeness is sadly unmistakable.

Upper left: Ces Dames des Chars, by James Tissot, 1883-1885. RISDMuseum.
Right: Poster of the Hippodrome de l'Alma, French school, 19th century. Musee de la Ville de Paris.
Lower left: Front cover of La Caricature featuring the Hippodrome de l'Alma. Bibliotheque nationale de France.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A real dress for c 1885

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Loretta reports:

Last week I presented fashions for September 1880.  My motives were ulterior, because I had a real dress to show you from the decade, having recently visited Historic Deerfield, to view the exhibition Celebrating the Fiber Arts: The Helen Geier Flynt Textile  Gallery.*  In the course of our perambulations, my companions and I came upon with this beautifully made silk taffeta dress. We were struck especially by the carefully matched stripes. 

It's always instructive to compare actual clothing with fashion plates.  Among other things, this reminds us that women's figures seldom bore a resemblance to those in the plates.  Though we rarely see fashion illustrations today, I'd use the analogy of store mannequins, who do not resemble the majority of women.  

The identification card doesn’t indicate what the dress’s function was, but I think we can safely rule out evening wear.  As to day wear, a dress for visiting or walking? Without accessories, it's hard for me to tell.  Our historic dress experts familiar with this era will probably be able to point out clues invisible to amateurs, no matter how nerdy we are.  In any event, feel free to propose your theory.

For more later-Victorian-era dress, please see posts here, here, and here.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it, but this is about as light as it gets.  The Flynt Textile Gallery permits photos, but without flash, and the lighting is subdued, to protect the fragile materials.  If you are in the area, a visit will show you this and other items in all their rich color and texture.

*on view until 28 December 2014


Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Towering Hair of "The French Lady in London", c. 1771

Sunday, September 7, 2014
Isabella reporting,

After our recent blog posts (here and here) on recreating the exaggerated hair styles of the the 1770s, I've been seeing more examples of the Georgian big-hair everywhere I look. This caricature comes via one of our Twitter friends, historian Sarah Murden of the blog All Things Georgian.

The drawing, left, was made to be engraved as a popular satirical print to be sold in the print-shops of the day. The artist is a Swiss caricaturist, working in London, with the wonderful name of Samuel Hieronymus Grimm (We've seen his prints before on the blog here and here.)  This drawing is called The French Lady in London; in some of the print versions, it also has the additional title of Or, the Head Dress for the Year 1771.

It is, obviously, a satire of the extreme hairstyles and caps that fashionable ladies adopted in the 1770s. The woman's towering headdress not only forces her to bend to enter the room, but it also unsettles the gentleman (who drops a scroll featuring G.A. Stevens's Lecture upon Heads), and terrorizes the cat, the parrot, and the fat little dog on the floor. Behind her on the wall is a large drawing featuring a The Pic [Pico, or Peak] of Tenerife, a famously tall volcano in the Canary Islands whose distinctive shape echoes the lady's headdress.

While her hair is tall, it's her cap that really adds to her height, an elaborate construction of pleated ribbons and lace and what appears to be giant butterfly wings in the front. I'm not sure what the two large posts or pegs thrust into the cap are supposed to be (they don't appear in the engravings.) I'm guessing they're some sort of extra-strong supports - rather like tent-stakes - that the size of the headdress requires to stay upright.

But there's another level of satire here, too. The lady is French, and her exaggerated hair is just one more way that the English can ridicule that country across the Channel. To the average Englishman, French ways and fashions were effeminate and subversive, meant to undermine sturdy English values and fortitude. For much of the 18th c. Britain was at war with France, and prints like this carry a patriotic message as well. Grimm has made sure that his French lady is an easy target, for what better way to treat the enemy than to mock them?

(As a side note: some 18th c. English ladies writing or speaking to close friends used the phrase "the French lady" as a slangy euphemism for their menstrual period - "I'm feeling low this week with a visit from the French lady." Which is, of course, Not a Compliment.)

But as a professional satirist, Grimm knew the value of pleasing all his possible markets. The companion print to this one is called The English Lady at Paris, and he's no more flattering to the sturdy, stolid English lady than to the French one.

Above: The French Lady in London, by Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, c. 1771. Yale Center for British Art.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Breakfast Links: Week of September 1, 2014

Saturday, September 6, 2014
We're back with a fresh batch of Breakfast Links for you - our weekly round-up of fav links to other blogs, web sites, images, and articles, all gathered from around the Twitterverse.
• A rare 16h c. stone bridge in Tintern, Wexford.
• The mill girls of Lowell, MA, 1835-48.
Hannah Norsa, the first Jewish actress to take the London stage in the 18th c.
Image: The language of stamps: angle of fix carried a message, and this one meant "Accept my Love", sent August 4, 1914.
• The past and the future: two early 20th c. court presentation dresses from the Chicago History Museum.
• You're not old enough to read this steamy erotica written by an American president.
• Bums, tums, and downy calves: fashionable 18th c. female whimsicalities.
• New discovery: very rare 1860s Matthew Brady photograph of Edgar Allen Poe's mother-in-law.
• Boston art collector Isabella Stewart Gardiner: the lady, the legend, the legacy.
Image: Sunshine in a shoe: silk brocade mule with silver metallic thread, c1660.
• Celebrating the end of Silly Season: vintage pix of sea serpents.
• Elegant lingerie: Paquin's version of the modern slip in silk chiffon and alencon lace, c. 1930.
• "There is no sign or trace of insanity about a number of them": feigning madness and Broadmoor asylum, 1890s.
Image: Kissy-face knitter: 1950s advertisement for long-lasting Pond's lipstick.
• Wonderfully weird and ingenious medieval books.
• The importance of sewing classes for Japanese-American internees during World War Two.
• Dry grass hints that Stonehenge was once a full circle.
Bartholomew's Fair in London, which dates from the 12th c., was held for the last time in September 1855.
• The top ten codpieces in art (though we don't want to consider what the criteria were....)
Image: The oldest public library in the English-speaking world: Chetham Library, founded in 1653 in Manchester, England.
• An ingenious 19th c. pair of forgers: Billy and Charley's Shadwell Shams.
• Once a Gothic-style confection, a 1909 apartment building in New York is stripped of its charm in a  mid-century update.
• The saddest place in London: a story of self-sacrifice.
• Is this early recipe for Shrewsbery Cakes really the Georgian version of snickerdoodles?
• "Ladies, I will pay you. I mean business. Must be accomplished and pretty. No blondes need apply": finding love in 19th c. personal ads.
• Beautiful restoration of John & Dorothy Hancock's 18th c. "chariot."
• Women's work: 1850s diary of an Indiana farm mother.
Image: Dragon firework, 1635. Described as "troublesome to compose."
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday video: Georgian history & politics according to Thomas Rowlandson

Friday, September 5, 2014
Rowlandson, Portsmouth Point
Loretta reports:

Since we Nerdy History Girls are so nerdy about the Georgian era, certain names are as familiar to us as current celebrities are to normal people.

One of our historical celebrities is Thomas Rowlandson, who often illustrates our posts.

This short clip gives a little summary of early 19th century England politics & scandal, with Rowlandson providing the show & tell and the wonderful Brian Blessed narrating.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Image:  Thomas Rowlandson, Portsmouth Point, courtesy Wikipedia.
Clicking on the caption will take you to the source of the image, where you can enlarge it.

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