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The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged 1800s:

Mice of Philpot Lane
No one is quite certain why this carving of two mice nibbling a block of cheese adorns a mid-19th century building in London. However, one theory that is most widely propagated is that it is a memorial to two construction workers who fought over some lunch, each believing it to be theirs. Victorian health and safety being somewhat lacking this resulted in one man falling to his death, only for it to be later discovered that mice had likely eaten the missing food. 
I think that’s a lesson in the importance of sharing if ever there was one.
[Source: Location | Image (and other theories)]

Mice of Philpot Lane

No one is quite certain why this carving of two mice nibbling a block of cheese adorns a mid-19th century building in London. However, one theory that is most widely propagated is that it is a memorial to two construction workers who fought over some lunch, each believing it to be theirs. Victorian health and safety being somewhat lacking this resulted in one man falling to his death, only for it to be later discovered that mice had likely eaten the missing food.

I think that’s a lesson in the importance of sharing if ever there was one.

[Source: Location | Image (and other theories)]

The Real Moby Dick
In August 1819 the whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket heading for whaling areas in the South Pacific Ocean. With a history of successful and profitable voyages behind it, Essex had gained a reputation for being lucky, but there were soon problems. Two days into the trip the ship was almost sunk and sustained serious damage. It then took an excessive amount of time to round Cape Horn, and when they finally reached their destination they found it fished out.
Other whalers told the crew of Essex that there was a new hunting ground about 2500 nautical miles away. En route they picked up Giant Galapagos Turtles to sustain their stores. Some of these were acquired on Charles Island where helmsman Thomas Chappell decided to light a fire as a prank. It being dry season it did not take long before the entire island was on fire. The crew reported that after a day of sailing they could still see it burning on the horizon. A visitor later recalled how ”neither trees, shrubbery, nor grass have since appeared,” and the fire is thought to have contributed to the extinction of the Floreana Tortoise.Then, the ship was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. The whale, which was much larger than average, was first spotted behaving oddly. It lay motionless on the surface of the water before beginning to swim very quickly towards the ship and ramming into it. Apparently stunned the whale lay by the side of the ship and the captain prepared to harpoon it but realised in time that its tail was close to the rudder and it could quite easily have destroyed it if it became agitated. The whale then recovered a swam a hundred yards ahead of the ship before turning to face it again. The first mate told how the whale came “down with twice his ordinary speed [and] appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him with the continual violent thrashing of his tail. His head about half out of the water, and in that way he came upon us, and again struck the ship.”
The whale eventually disengaged his head from the wreck and was never seen again. The surviving crew set off in three whale boats but feared the closest island were inhabited by cannibals. Quickly they began to die of dehydration and resorted to cannibalism themselves to stay alive. There were, however, eight survivors. The image above was drawn by the 14 year old cabin boy.
[Sources: Wikipedia]

The Real Moby Dick

In August 1819 the whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket heading for whaling areas in the South Pacific Ocean. With a history of successful and profitable voyages behind it, Essex had gained a reputation for being lucky, but there were soon problems. Two days into the trip the ship was almost sunk and sustained serious damage. It then took an excessive amount of time to round Cape Horn, and when they finally reached their destination they found it fished out.

Other whalers told the crew of Essex that there was a new hunting ground about 2500 nautical miles away. En route they picked up Giant Galapagos Turtles to sustain their stores. Some of these were acquired on Charles Island where helmsman Thomas Chappell decided to light a fire as a prank. It being dry season it did not take long before the entire island was on fire. The crew reported that after a day of sailing they could still see it burning on the horizon. A visitor later recalled how ”neither trees, shrubbery, nor grass have since appeared,” and the fire is thought to have contributed to the extinction of the Floreana Tortoise.

Then, the ship was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale. The whale, which was much larger than average, was first spotted behaving oddly. It lay motionless on the surface of the water before beginning to swim very quickly towards the ship and ramming into it. Apparently stunned the whale lay by the side of the ship and the captain prepared to harpoon it but realised in time that its tail was close to the rudder and it could quite easily have destroyed it if it became agitated. The whale then recovered a swam a hundred yards ahead of the ship before turning to face it again. The first mate told how the whale came “down with twice his ordinary speed [and] appeared with tenfold fury and vengeance in his aspect. The surf flew in all directions about him with the continual violent thrashing of his tail. His head about half out of the water, and in that way he came upon us, and again struck the ship.”

The whale eventually disengaged his head from the wreck and was never seen again. The surviving crew set off in three whale boats but feared the closest island were inhabited by cannibals. Quickly they began to die of dehydration and resorted to cannibalism themselves to stay alive. There were, however, eight survivors. The image above was drawn by the 14 year old cabin boy.

[Sources: Wikipedia]

Postman’s Park’s Humble Heroes

George Frederic Watts’s Memorial to Self Sacrifice, situated in Postman’s Park, London, contains plaques outlining the details of the heroic deaths of those who died during an attempt to save the life of another. In 1887, the year of Queen Victoria’s jubilee, Watts wrote a letter to The Times in which he argues that “the history of Her Majesty’s reign would gain a lustre were the nation to erect a monument, say, here in London, to record the names of these likely to be forgotten heroes”. Watts, an artist and sculptor, was a believer that art could be used as a force for social change and that these heroic individuals provided models of exemplary behaviour and character. There are currently 54 tiles included in the memorial, the last of which was added in 2007. More information is available via The Everyday Heroes of Postman’s Park app. [More | Alice Ayres]

Dummy Boards

Dummy boards were life-sized wooden cut outs painted to resemble various figures found in upper-class homes between the 17th and 19th centuries. They would be stood in the corner of rooms and on darkened stairways to surprise unsuspecting guests.

[Sources: Images: 1-3 and 6, 4, 5, | V&A]

Pteridomania
Sometime in the midst of the Victorian era the prim, priggish society was gripped by a craze, or obsession even, for … ferns. Everything from ornaments to gravestones from the mid to late 19th century bear the decorative motif of the fern plant. Victorians just bloody loved ferns.
The term pteridomania, meaning fern craze or fern madness, was coined by a Charles Kingsley in 1855 to describe those whose ‘daughters, perhaps, ha[d] been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania’…and wrangl[ed] over unpronounceable names of species (which seem different in each new Fern-book that they buy) … and yet [it cannot be denied] that they find enjoyment in it, and are more active, more cheerful, more self-forgetful over it, than they would have been over novels and gossip, crochet and Berlin-wool.’
As an activity in which people from all social backgrounds could partake, fern collecting is believed to have helped form many unlikely friendships across the class spectrum - everyone could take part, from the serious scientist to amateurs who enjoyed collecting merely as a hobby. Fern plants would be pressed into albums, kept alive in wardian cases, painted, sculptured, used as stencils, and affixed to objects as decorations. As interesting as the everyday fern plant evidently was to the Victorians, odd-looking monstrosities, as they were called, such as the curled up Polystichum setiferum, were always of particular interest.
The sport was also potentially dangerous as people risked life and limb to get their hands on rare breeds. The body of William Williams, a botanical guide, was found at the foot of a cliff in Wales in 1861 after he attempted to collect Alpine Woodsia. The zealousness of the Victorians has also left a number of species in danger of extinction.
[Sources: Image: "Gathering Ferns" by Helen Allingham, from The Illustrated London News, July 1871 | Pteridomania]

Pteridomania

Sometime in the midst of the Victorian era the prim, priggish society was gripped by a craze, or obsession even, for … ferns. Everything from ornaments to gravestones from the mid to late 19th century bear the decorative motif of the fern plant. Victorians just bloody loved ferns.

The term pteridomania, meaning fern craze or fern madness, was coined by a Charles Kingsley in 1855 to describe those whose ‘daughters, perhaps, ha[d] been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania’…and wrangl[ed] over unpronounceable names of species (which seem different in each new Fern-book that they buy) … and yet [it cannot be denied] that they find enjoyment in it, and are more active, more cheerful, more self-forgetful over it, than they would have been over novels and gossipcrochet and Berlin-wool.’

As an activity in which people from all social backgrounds could partake, fern collecting is believed to have helped form many unlikely friendships across the class spectrum - everyone could take part, from the serious scientist to amateurs who enjoyed collecting merely as a hobby. Fern plants would be pressed into albums, kept alive in wardian cases, painted, sculptured, used as stencils, and affixed to objects as decorations. As interesting as the everyday fern plant evidently was to the Victorians, odd-looking monstrosities, as they were called, such as the curled up Polystichum setiferum, were always of particular interest.

The sport was also potentially dangerous as people risked life and limb to get their hands on rare breeds. The body of William Williams, a botanical guide, was found at the foot of a cliff in Wales in 1861 after he attempted to collect Alpine Woodsia. The zealousness of the Victorians has also left a number of species in danger of extinction.

[Sources: Image: "Gathering Ferns" by Helen Allingham, from The Illustrated London News, July 1871 | Pteridomania]

The Red Flag Locomotive Act
The increasing popularity of the ‘horseless carriage’ in the late 19th century meant that in highly populated metropolises such as London, where there was genuine concern that these new-fangled contraptions would cause fatal injuries, there was a definite need for new rules and regulations. Between 1861 and 1898 a number of Locomotive Acts were put into place, but that of 1865 was undoubtedly the most bizarre. 
'The Red Flag Act', as The Locomotive Act 1865 became known, required that self-propelled vehicles, or automobiles, travel at no more than 4mph in the countryside and no more than 2mph in cities. Furthermore, such vehicles must have a 'crew' of three people - one of which had to walk 60 yards in front waving a red flag (or carrying a lantern) to warn people that the automobile was coming. 
So, basically, one could travel in an automobile so long as one travelled the precise speed one would travel by foot…
[Sources: Image | Locomotive Acts | Red Flag Traffic Laws]

The Red Flag Locomotive Act

The increasing popularity of the ‘horseless carriage’ in the late 19th century meant that in highly populated metropolises such as London, where there was genuine concern that these new-fangled contraptions would cause fatal injuries, there was a definite need for new rules and regulations. Between 1861 and 1898 a number of Locomotive Acts were put into place, but that of 1865 was undoubtedly the most bizarre. 

'The Red Flag Act', as The Locomotive Act 1865 became known, required that self-propelled vehicles, or automobiles, travel at no more than 4mph in the countryside and no more than 2mph in cities. Furthermore, such vehicles must have a 'crew' of three people - one of which had to walk 60 yards in front waving a red flag (or carrying a lantern) to warn people that the automobile was coming. 

So, basically, one could travel in an automobile so long as one travelled the precise speed one would travel by foot…

[Sources: Image | Locomotive Acts | Red Flag Traffic Laws]

Coffin Races in Memory of Emma Crawford
Towards the end of the 19th century Emma Crawford moved to Manitou Springs, Colorado seeking a cure for her Tuberculosis. For some time the fresh air and clean water helped and Crawford, having this new found strength, decided she wanted to climb the nearby Red Mountain. She was successful and upon reaching top tied a handkerchief around a tree, saying that when she did die, she wanted to be buried there.
Crawford was in the middle of planning her wedding a short while later when she succumbed to her illness but her fiance, William Hildebrand, saw to it that her final wishes were carried out. He had twelve men carry her coffin to the top of the Red Mountain on a journey which took two days.
Crawford was buried at the top of the mountain but she did not rest in peace. Some years later torrential downpours in the area dislodged the earth around her grave and washed her coffin down the side of the mountain. Her remains were found by some children playing in the nearby Ruxton Canyon. They first found her skull, then the handles of the coffin, and finally her name plaque which they handed in to the sheriff. Her remains were reinterred in the local cemetery.
Now the town holds an annual tribute to Crawford known as The Manitou Springs Coffin Races, reenacting Crawford’s journey back down the side of the mountain. People dress up and decorate coffin-shaped boxes on wheels. One team member, the ‘Emma’ is required to sit in the vehicle, while the other members wheel them down the hill.
[Sources: Fox21News | Find A Grave | Images from the race | Thanks to LadyTudorRose]

Coffin Races in Memory of Emma Crawford

Towards the end of the 19th century Emma Crawford moved to Manitou Springs, Colorado seeking a cure for her Tuberculosis. For some time the fresh air and clean water helped and Crawford, having this new found strength, decided she wanted to climb the nearby Red Mountain. She was successful and upon reaching top tied a handkerchief around a tree, saying that when she did die, she wanted to be buried there.

Crawford was in the middle of planning her wedding a short while later when she succumbed to her illness but her fiance, William Hildebrand, saw to it that her final wishes were carried out. He had twelve men carry her coffin to the top of the Red Mountain on a journey which took two days.

Crawford was buried at the top of the mountain but she did not rest in peace. Some years later torrential downpours in the area dislodged the earth around her grave and washed her coffin down the side of the mountain. Her remains were found by some children playing in the nearby Ruxton Canyon. They first found her skull, then the handles of the coffin, and finally her name plaque which they handed in to the sheriff. Her remains were reinterred in the local cemetery.

Now the town holds an annual tribute to Crawford known as The Manitou Springs Coffin Races, reenacting Crawford’s journey back down the side of the mountain. People dress up and decorate coffin-shaped boxes on wheels. One team member, the ‘Emma’ is required to sit in the vehicle, while the other members wheel them down the hill.

[Sources: Fox21News | Find A Grave | Images from the race | Thanks to LadyTudorRose]

Charvolants
The Charvolant was an early 19th century invention of a carriage drawn entirely by kites. The inventor, George Pocock, had been interested in the power of kites since youth, experimenting first by attempting to move small objects such as rocks and then later using larger kites to transport people. For example, in 1824 he used a 9metre kite to lift his daughter 82metres in the air, and a year later his son successfully ascended a 60metre cliff in a chair.
Pocock now turned his attentions to moving loads, namely carriages filled with people. After much experimentation he determined that a small number of large kites would work, and he patented his invention of the Charvolant in 1826. Two kites on a single line between 457 and 459metres long was enough to pull the buggy at a considerable speed of 32km/h. The buggy was, however, exceptionally difficult to steer, which may account for why it never became popular. The driver would have to control both the kites and the wheels of the carriage through the pulling of various ropes and bars.
Three Charvolants embarked on a journey of 182km from Bristol to Marlborough and one kite-drawn buggy sailed passed the mail coach which was, at the time, the fastest mode of transport. On another occasion a Charvolant passed the carriage of the Duke of Gloucester, an event considered exceptionally rude, and so the occupants of the Charvolant had to stop and wait for the Duke to pass them again. Another benefit of the Charvolant was that it avoided tolls which were worked out by the number of horses a carriage had.
[Source]

Charvolants

The Charvolant was an early 19th century invention of a carriage drawn entirely by kites. The inventor, George Pocock, had been interested in the power of kites since youth, experimenting first by attempting to move small objects such as rocks and then later using larger kites to transport people. For example, in 1824 he used a 9metre kite to lift his daughter 82metres in the air, and a year later his son successfully ascended a 60metre cliff in a chair.

Pocock now turned his attentions to moving loads, namely carriages filled with people. After much experimentation he determined that a small number of large kites would work, and he patented his invention of the Charvolant in 1826. Two kites on a single line between 457 and 459metres long was enough to pull the buggy at a considerable speed of 32km/h. The buggy was, however, exceptionally difficult to steer, which may account for why it never became popular. The driver would have to control both the kites and the wheels of the carriage through the pulling of various ropes and bars.

Three Charvolants embarked on a journey of 182km from Bristol to Marlborough and one kite-drawn buggy sailed passed the mail coach which was, at the time, the fastest mode of transport. On another occasion a Charvolant passed the carriage of the Duke of Gloucester, an event considered exceptionally rude, and so the occupants of the Charvolant had to stop and wait for the Duke to pass them again. Another benefit of the Charvolant was that it avoided tolls which were worked out by the number of horses a carriage had.

[Source]

Thief Caught in the Jaws of Death
In his new book The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton, Jeremy Clay showcases a collections of the strangest stories from Victorian newspapers, including this gem:

A burglar in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, was recently caught in a remarkable manner. Breaking into a closed and unoccupied office of a physician of that town, the burglar opened a closet (while his companion with a dark lantern was in another part of the room), and, feeling for clothing at about the height of closet hooks generally, got his hands between the jaws of a skeleton, which being adjusted with a coil spring and kept open with a thread, closed suddenly on the intruding hand by the breaking of the thread.

A sudden thought striking the burglar, of his being caught by a skeleton in the doctor’s closet, so terrified him that he uttered a faint shriek, and when his companion turned the lantern toward him and he beheld himself in the grim and ghastly jaws of Death himself, he became so overpowered by fear that he fainted, fell insensible to the floor, pulling the skeleton down upon him, and making so much noise that his companion fled immediately, and the doctor, alarmed at the noise and confusion, hastened into the office and secured the terror-stricken burglar still held by the skeleton.

Other stories can be read here.

Thief Caught in the Jaws of Death

In his new book The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton, Jeremy Clay showcases a collections of the strangest stories from Victorian newspapers, including this gem:

A burglar in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, was recently caught in a remarkable manner. Breaking into a closed and unoccupied office of a physician of that town, the burglar opened a closet (while his companion with a dark lantern was in another part of the room), and, feeling for clothing at about the height of closet hooks generally, got his hands between the jaws of a skeleton, which being adjusted with a coil spring and kept open with a thread, closed suddenly on the intruding hand by the breaking of the thread.

A sudden thought striking the burglar, of his being caught by a skeleton in the doctor’s closet, so terrified him that he uttered a faint shriek, and when his companion turned the lantern toward him and he beheld himself in the grim and ghastly jaws of Death himself, he became so overpowered by fear that he fainted, fell insensible to the floor, pulling the skeleton down upon him, and making so much noise that his companion fled immediately, and the doctor, alarmed at the noise and confusion, hastened into the office and secured the terror-stricken burglar still held by the skeleton.

Other stories can be read here.

The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke
The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke is an example of a Fairy Painting, that is, a fantastical painting depicting fairies and other fairy tale creatures in extreme detail, painted by Richard Dadd between 1854 and 1866. At the time Dadd was a suspected schizophrenic and resident of Bethlem psychiatric hospital.
In response to rapid industrialisation and more widespread scientific thinking, which was disconcerting for some, Fairy Paintings were popular forms of escapism in Victorian England. The head steward at Bethlem was impressed by Dadd’s artistic talents and commissioned the above piece.
Over the nine years it took to complete the painting Dadd payed microscopic attention to detail and used a special layering technique to create a 3D effect. In an attempt to show that the characters within the painting were not random, Dadd also composed a poem called Elimination of a Picture & its Subject—called The Fellers’ Master Stroke, throughout which each figure is given a name and purpose.
[Sources: Fairy Paintings | The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke]

The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke

The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke is an example of a Fairy Painting, that is, a fantastical painting depicting fairies and other fairy tale creatures in extreme detail, painted by Richard Dadd between 1854 and 1866. At the time Dadd was a suspected schizophrenic and resident of Bethlem psychiatric hospital.

In response to rapid industrialisation and more widespread scientific thinking, which was disconcerting for some, Fairy Paintings were popular forms of escapism in Victorian England. The head steward at Bethlem was impressed by Dadd’s artistic talents and commissioned the above piece.

Over the nine years it took to complete the painting Dadd payed microscopic attention to detail and used a special layering technique to create a 3D effect. In an attempt to show that the characters within the painting were not random, Dadd also composed a poem called Elimination of a Picture & its Subject—called The Fellers’ Master Stroke, throughout which each figure is given a name and purpose.

[Sources: Fairy Paintings | The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke]

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