Category Archives: Victorian

A Tradition Begins – and Ends

Truro Cathedral

The old singer watched as the happy crowd left the cathedral. The Bishop came over to him and shook his hand.

“I didn’t think it would be like this, it was just an old tradition.”

“Yes, but a wonderful one, you would go round the town singing carols and using them to tell the Christmas story. I just brought it inside.”

“But it was wonderful, will you do it next year?”

“And the next, and others will do it as well, soon there will be carol services everywhere. It was once your family tradition, now it will be everybody’s.”

In 1880 Edward Benson organised the first service of Nine Lessons and Carols in Truro Cathedral. Partly based on a local tradition of singing various carols around the city on Christmas Eve, it is considered the predecessor of the carol services now held and enjoyed throughout the world.

This is written in response to the Carrot Ranch December 3, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes family traditions. Go where the prompt leads! I have, of course, gone back in time to the creation of many family traditions,

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Filed under Christmas Musings, Historical tales, Victorian

The Vicar and the Sleeping Butterfly

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew

The Rev. Octavius Pickard-Cambridge walked briskly through the stooked wheat sheaves on his way to his tiny church of Winterborne Tomson. As the service commenced he saw a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly fluttering at the window, during his sermon it settled on one of the beams over his head, folded its wings and seemed to fall asleep. He smiled to himself at the idea that his sermons could even make butterflies sleep.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, pulpit

The following week the corn had been carted away, and his path ran through stubble. As he climbed into his pulpit he glanced up, and noticed in surprise that the butterfly was still there. It had settled by a small knot in the wood, so he could tell it hadn’t moved since the previous week.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, chancel roof

The following Sunday it was still there, and the next. Outside the church the seasons changed, leaves browned and fell. The first frost covered the ground, and made patterns on the church windows.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, South wall

But the butterfly slept on.

Christmas came, the singers packed into the West Gallery roared out the ancient Christmas Carols.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, west gallery

But the butterfly slept on.

Snow came, and it was hard to trudge to the church on a Sunday, the water froze in the font so a baby had to be christened with water brought in a kettle from the Manor House.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, font & cover

But the butterfly slept on.

The snow melted and February lived up to its country name of ‘fill-dyke’, water puddled on the church floor.

Winterborne Tomson, St Andrew, interior

But the butterfly slept on.

Until finally the seasons turned, flowers poked their heads through the brown leaves, blossom began to turn the hedges white. As the church door was opened the butterfly finally awoke, and during his sermon the vicar saw it find its way out of the door.

That evening the Rev. Octavius Pickard-Cambridge settled down and wrote an account of what he had seen, the first time anybody had watched a hibernating insect continuously throughout the winter.

Sleeping butterfly1

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Filed under Historical tales, Scientific History, Victorian

How to Tell a Comet

Last night, or rather earlier this morning we saw the comet Neowise, visible in the northern sky. It made me think of this delightful Victorian poem.

How to Tell a Comet, or Astronomy Made Easy.

Though you may not know a planet
From the bird that’s called a gannet,
Nor distinguish Sagittarius from Mars;
Though the beasts in that strange zoo
May all look alike to you,
And you lump the whole caboodle just as “stars;”

Though you cannot place the lion,
Nor correctly trace Orion,
Nor discern the jewelled belt he proudly wears,
Nor the big and little hounds,
Through those happy hunting grounds,
Nightly chasing up the big and little bears;

Though you cannot tell the Dippers
From your grandpa’s old felt slippers,
And to name the constellations you would fail,
There’s one thing that you may know
And be very sure it’s so,
You can always tell a comet by its tail.
Its airy, hairy, winking, blinking, flowing, glowing tail;
Its fiery, wiry, gleaming, streaming, flaring, glaring tail.

Unfortunately I cannot lay my hands on the book where I found it, so I cannot give you any more information about the poem.


The picture comes from, ‘Comets and their General and Particular Meanings, According to Ptolomeé, Albumasar, Haly, Aliquind and other Astrologers’ of 1587.

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Filed under Poems, Scientific History, Victorian

A Dream of Airliners

Men dream, these men dreamt of airliners.

The wings vibrated as the tiny steam engine spun.
“Good to go.” Called Henson.
Stringfellow released the tail and the Aerial ran along the line gathering speed, as it came free at the end the wings lifted it and the machine flew across the room, dropping into the catch net at the far end.
For a moment the engineers looked stunned, then grinned and shook each other’s hands.
The world’s first powered flying machine, the first aeroplane (albeit a model), had flown.

The first step to realising their dream had been made.

Stringfellow Monoplane 1848
The First Aeroplane

John Stringfellow and William Henson built the first working model aircraft in 1848, and flew it in a large room of the mill Stringfellow owned in Chard, Somerset.
They dreamt of building a massive steam powered airliner.

ariel-steam-carriage-pscc
The Aerial over London

This was written in response to this week’s prompt at the #carrotranch. Apparently the reference has something to do with pop music, however my knowledge of popular music is limited, particularly after the beginning of the last century, so a true historical tale instead,


June 18, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes good vibrations. What is unfolding? Is someone giving off or receiving the feeling? Where is the story situated? Gather some good vibes and go where the prompt leads!

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Filed under Flight, Scientific History, Victorian

Welcome at Last

A brick smashed through the window, glass fell on the praying sisters.
“Why do we stay, Mother?” Asked one of the newly founded Anglican Order of Sisters. “No one seems to want us.”
Then – Cholera.
No one knew how it spread, people fled and the rest died alone, no one helped – until the sisters took charge.
They cared for the dying, comforted the living, and became beloved by the people of Plymouth.
A little later a small women came and asked.
“Can you help me? I desperately need nurses.”
The Mother Superior smiled “Of course we can – Miss Nightingale.”

 

A terrible, wonderful and true tale.

In the 1840’s a High Anglican order of nuns faced massive abuse, encouraged by Evangelical Anglicans, when they established a house in Plymouth. Until there was an outbreak of cholera, in which hundreds died. There was little help for the poor, apart from the nursing care of the sisters. After this they were understandably regarded as heroines.

A few years after this Florence Nightingale asked the nursing sisters to join her in the Crimea, where they formed the core of the nurses in her hospital at Scutari.

 

This in response to this weeks Flash Fiction Challenge from the Carrot Ranch

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Filed under Historical tales, plague, Victorian

Presents of Christmas Past

Today is Epiphany, the day on which we remember the visit of the Magi, and the traditional date for present giving. People have been giving and receiving presents at Christmas for centuries, but it was during the revival of the celebrations at the beginning of the nineteenth century that people came up with a novel idea – make something just intended to be a Christmas present.

The ones that are easily identifiable are books, such as this;

clearly labelled as ‘A Christmas and New Year’s Present for 1826’. It contains stories and poems,


Including, of course, ghost stories.


My next, from six year later, is a collection of comic stories and poems.

Illustrated with punning illustrations and some rather good jokes about the Great Reform Act.


Before my final Christmas Book, here is a Victorian Christmas card from the collection I mentioned in my previous blog.

Showing someone delivering Christmas presents. Also from the collection are examples of another minor Victorian Christmas invention, gift tags!


Now for the last book, a beautifully illustrated volume ‘Christmas with the Poets’ which was given as a present as it has the inscription ‘From Miss Millicent Brady to Miss Ada Stephens Christmas 1849′.

And now for the sting in the tale.

The book had been on my shelves for some time when I noticed how bright the cover was compared with other books of the same period. I knew what the Victorians had used to make high quality green dye, so I had the book tested. The cover contains enough arsenic to kill a man!

 

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Filed under Christmas Musings, Georgian, Victorian

A View of (Father) Christmas Past

As Father Christmas is preparing for his annual task I thought I would look at a couple of Victorian illustrations of the great man, taken from my own collection, both of which show Father Christmas, but not the Father Christmas we are used to.

 

 

The first is a Christmas Card, printed on a flat sheet, like most Victorian cards, and shows an elderly gentleman in a white, fur trimmed robe, with a satchel full of presents and a small Christmas tree.

The second is much more unusual, it is a complete Christmas Decoration (which was sent as a card ‘from Fergie’).

It is free standing as the ‘fence’ at the front folds out. Here Father Christmas is shown as another old gentleman in a fur trimmed white robe, but this time with two little girls, the older has a music book open, so perhaps they are carol singers. The girls are wearing warm winter clothes of the late nineteenth century, this would have been sensible at this time as the end of the century was a period of very cold winters.

On the fence in front of the are a number of birds, again very apt for the period of these cards. The cold winters were very hard for wild birds and so people (especially the members of the newly formed
Society for the Protection of Birds) started putting out food for them.

The card is still speckled with glitter, a typically unsafe Victorian embellishment, probably made of powdered glass and lead ore.

 

As for where these cards came from.

Earlier this year, after I had given a talk to a local historical association, an elderly lady asked if I would be interested in a Victorian Scrapbook. I naturally said yes, and the following day I was given an incredibly tatty scrapbook, full of a families collection of Christmas Cards. From the dates on some of the cards the collection was made between about 1885 and 1902, and contains over a hundred cards. The paper was so fragile that I had to carefully remove the cards, the collection is so diverse that they will undoubtedly be the subject of future posts.

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Filed under Christmas Musings, Victorian

A Victorian Ghost – in Three Dimensions

Two years ago I described how a Victorian author described how to see ghosts everywhere, and of any colour. Now a three dimensional Victorian ghost.

 

Almost as soon as photography had been invented, stereo photography, followed, giving a view of the world in three dimensions. This involved taking a pair of photographs, each showing a slightly different view, then looking at them through a special viewer.

I have quite a number of stereo photographs, but I want to talk about just one. It has the snappy title of; Entrance to Necropolis, Glasgow. It dates from about 1880 and shows, as it says, then entrance to Glasgow Cemetery.

Now look closely, immediately in front of the gate is a shadowy figure, apparently a semi-transparent young woman.

Glasgow Necropolis1a

This is, of course, a photographic trick, a double exposure. Exposing the photographic plate with half the necessary light, with the model standing by the gate, then again without her there. This is difficult enough in a studio, but to manage it outside is amazing, particularly in the latter part of the nineteenth century when an efficient light meter had not been invented, almost as hard a photographing a real ghost.

 

Interestingly, the idea of a ghost you can see through, does not occur before the invention of photography, when it became possible to create a fake ‘ghost’ photograph.

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Dorset Buttons – Saving a lost craft

Lady Lees couldn’t stop looking at it, a large, button, unlike any she had ever seen before, it seemed to have been created by sewing. The farmer’s wife, saw where she was looking.

“Funny old button isn’t it. They used to make them Shaftesbury way, but no one knows how to make them anymore. Have it.” She bent, and cut it from her apron.

She sought out more buttons, and at last a frail old lady, who said.

“Buttony, of course my dear.” And picked up a needle and a tiny brass ring. The lost craft was saved.

A follower of Lady Lees, practicing Buttony

The true tale of how the craft of Buttony, making Dorset Buttons, was saved. This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story including buttons. Hope you enjoy it.

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Filed under Historical Reconstructions, Historical tales, Victorian

A Hospital Sketch

The title might suggest something from a Carry On film, but instead tells of an amazing collaboration between two of the greatest Victorians.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

‘I will bring a sketch’, he said.
The train left Bristol, maximum speed, the genius on board could command anything. But now he would be tested to the limit.
‘A hospital, prefabricated, weatherproof, well ventilated, easily heated’, designed by the time he reached London. By Bath he had the idea, by Swindon he was drawing, in London he rushed to her house, papers in hand.
“Mr Brunel”, Miss Nightingale.”
“Perfect, this is more than a sketch. When can you have them ready? The ship sails in six weeks.”
“They will be ready in five.”
They saved hundreds of lives.

 

 

Yet another true story. After seeing conditions in the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale returned to London to get the supplies she needed for her hospital in Scutari. This included prefabricated hospital buildings, she wrote to Isambard Kingdom Brunel asking him to design them. As soon as he received the letter he went straight to London, designing the hospital on the way.

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Filed under Historical tales, Victorian