Category Archives: 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

A Pattern for a Patten – Reconstruction

Pattens must have been very common, there would have been at least one pair by the back door of every house, farm or cottage across much of Britain. Then, in the early twentieth century, rubber boots became readily available and the patten was immediately superseded. Pattens had absolutely no advantages over rubber boots so they became instantly obsolete, and almost all disappeared.

As I mentioned previously, I had wanted to add a patten to my collection, but could never find one. Then a local metal detectorist kindly gave me a patten iron, the metal part of a patten.

It needed to be cleaned and the metal treated

Patten Reconstruction 1

Then a wooden sole was made

Patten Reconstruction 2

And fitted to the base

Patten Reconstruction 3

Finally leather straps were cut

Reconstruction 8

And I had a patten to add to my collection.

 

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Filed under Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Victorian

A Pattern for a Patten – Protection and Punishment

What’s a patten?

Well, here is a wet London day described by Dickens, and no one described a wet day better;

The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy. The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour. In the street, umbrellas were the only things to be seen, and the clicking of pattens and splashing of rain-drops were the only sounds to be heard. (Pickwick Papers)

Wet under foot.

Pattens were wooden soles on metal rings that raised the foot above the wet ground, they were usually worn by women, and the noise they made was a feature of urban life in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Everybody has their taste in noises as well as in other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their sort rather than their quantity. When Lady Russell not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon, and driving through the long course of streets from the Old Bridge to Camden Place, amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newspapermen, muffin-men and milkmen, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint. (Jane Austen, Persuasion)

It was the noise they made that was probably the reason they were banned from churches.

Trent, St Andrew, patten notice
Trent Church, Dorset

As the nineteenth century progressed the patten, which had been worn by women of all classes, gradually moved down the social scale. Though it remained in use in country districts until the end of the nineteenth century.

Patty
A fashionable woman in pattens in 1783

A woman had to learn to walk in pattens, wearing them was similar to a child wearing stilts, indeed child sized pattens were made so a girl could learn to wear pattens almost as soon as she learnt to walk. In 1872 Miss Berry Dallas and her sister Helen came to live with their uncle and aunt in rural Dorset. She not only kept a diary, but it was copiously illustrated and, on the first page, she shows how they learnt to walk in pattens.

Patten - Winterbourne St Martin 1

A teenaged Miss Berry helped to stand by an elderly gentleman

Patten - Winterbourne St Martin 2
Miss Helen smugly managing to stay upright.

Pattens were not just used to walk outside in wet weather, but were essential when wet jobs were to be done around the house, especially on washing days.

How are you off for soap

A cartoon of 1816, Vansittart was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who had just put a tax on soap!

There were other uses for pattens, Charles Dickens describes, at the end of Barnaby Rudge when the unpleasant Miss Miggs gets her dream job of a female turnkey (jailer) for the County Bridewell (jail).

Among other useful inventions which she practised upon offenders and bequeathed to posterity, was the art of inflicting an exquisitely vicious poke or dig with the wards of a key in the small of the back, near the spine. She likewise originated a mode of treading by accident (in pattens) on such as had small feet; also very remarkable for its ingenuity, and previously quite unknown.

Whilst in 1723 it was reported in the London Journal, that:

Some Days ago a Female Duel was fought at Greenwich, in which one of the Combatants kill’d her Antagonist with her Patten. The Coroner’s Inquest having sate upon the Body of the Deceased, brought in their Verdict Manslaughter.

I understandably wanted to get hold of one of these useful devices, but as something that was never really valued, I doubted that I ever would. How I managed to I will describe in my next blog.

 

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Filed under Charles Dickens, Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Jane Austen, Victorian