Nº. 1 of  18

The Oddment Emporium

A Cornucopia of Eclectic Delights

Posts tagged 19th Century:

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)]

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]

Prince Leopold and Alice Liddell

What follows is one of my favourite titbits of history. Prince Leopold is my second favourite prince and I am very fond of Alice in Wonderland: 

Prince Leopold was the sickly youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. He positively repulsed his mother but she was overbearing and possessive of him. Alice Liddell was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. What’s marvellous is, the two were good friends!

Leopold, eventually managing to escape the clutches of his mother, and Alice, her father the Dean of Christ Church College, met at Oxford in 1872. Like princes before and after him, Leopold was drawn to the warm family life the Liddell’s shared and they quickly became a part of his inner circle.

Some have speculated that there was some level of romantic involvement between the pair; whilst others insist Leopold’s interests actually lay with Alice’s younger sister Edith. When Edith died in 1876, Leopold was a pallbearer at her funeral. Documents in the Royal Archives, such as the Queen’s correspondence regarding Leopold, mention no names, but there seems to be no doubt that Leopold was in love with someone, and a number of the pair’s Oxford acquaintances alluded to a link between the prince and one of the Liddell girls.

Some accused Alice’s ambitious mother of orchestrating the relationship. Lewis Carroll himself, whose own relationship with the Liddell’s had long since deteriorated, wrote a satirical piece called The Vision of Three T’s in which he characterised Mrs. Liddell as a ‘King-fisher’, suggesting that she was ‘angling for a royal son-in-law’. Whatever the truth, it is highly unlikely that Queen Victoria would have ever consented to her son marrying a commoner anyway. As Charlotte Zeepvat, Leopold’s biographer suggests, the ‘disappointed romance between Alice Liddell and Leopold has become a part of Alice [in Wonderland] mythology’, and indeed Leopold is often mentioned in Alice reboots, such as The Looking Glass Wars trilogy.

In the spring of 1873, any notions of marriage quashed, Leopold went to Balmoral with his mother and from then on saw the Liddells with increasing infrequency. Later Leopold married Princess Helena of Waldeck and Pyrmont and they named their daughter Alice, whilst Liddell, having married cricketer Reginald Hargreaves, called her second son Leopold. Leopold the prince was his godfather.

[Sources: Prince Leopold: Queen Victoria’s Youngest Son by Charlotte Zeepvat | Prince Leopold | Alice Liddell]

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.

Curls of Winston Churchill’s hair cut from his head when he was five years old. The locks are currently on display in The Birth Room at Churchill’s birthplace Blenheim Palace. 1879. [Source]

Curls of Winston Churchill’s hair cut from his head when he was five years old. The locks are currently on display in The Birth Room at Churchill’s birthplace Blenheim Palace. 1879. [Source]

Nº. 1 of  18