Category Archives: Victorian

How to See Ghosts – A Victorian Guide

Many Victorians were fascinated with the supernatural, so it is hardly surprising to find a book describing ways to see ghosts. The only thing unusual about this volume is that it works!

I was immediately attracted to the title, Spectropia or, Surprising Spectral Illusions. Ghosts Everywhere, and of Any Colour.

The book attacks ‘modern’ superstitions.

It is a curious fact that, in this age of scientific research, the absurd follies of spiritualism should find an increase of supporters; but mental epidemics seem at certain seasons to affect our minds, and one of the oldest of these moral afflictions — witchcraft — is once more prevalent in this nineteenth century, under the contemptible forms of spirit-rapping and table-turning. The modern professor of these impostures, like his predecessors in all such disreputable arts, is bent only on raising the contents of the pockets of the most gullible portion of humanity, and not the spirits of the departed, over which, as he well knows, notwithstanding his profane assumption, he can have no power.

One thing we hope in some measure to further in the following pages, is the extinction of the superstitious belief that apparitions are actual spirits, by showing some of the many ways in which our senses may be deceived.

After a very interesting discussion of the physiology of the eye, as understood in 1865, it describes the phenomenon of Afterimage, and how it can produce ghosts.

To see the spectres, it is only necessary to look steadily at the dot, or asterisk, which is to be found on each of the plates, for about a quarter of a minute, or while counting about twenty, the plate being well illuminated by either artificial or day light. Then turning the eyes to the ceiling, the wall, the sky, or better still to a white sheet hung on the wall of a darkened room (not totally dark), and looking rather steadily at any one point, the spectre will soon begin to make its appearance, increasing in intensity, and then gradually vanishing, to reappear and again vanish; it will continue to do so several times in succession, each reappearance being fainter than the one preceding. Winking the eyes, or passing a finger rapidly to and fro before them, will frequently hasten the appearance of the spectre, especially if the plate has been strongly illuminated.

The colours in the plate will be found to reverse themselves in the spectres, the spectres always appearing of the complementary colour to that of the plate from which it is obtained. Thus, blue will appear orange, and orange blue, &c.

Many persons will see one coloured spectre better than the others, in consequence of their eyes not being equally sensitive to all colours.

Now for some pictures.

picture 2


As an apology for the apparent disregard of taste and fine art in the plates, such figures are selected as best serve the purpose for which they are intended.


picture 1


picture 4


picture 3

 And even ghost dogs.

picture 5

Try them and see ghosts in your own home.


Filed under Ghost story, Victorian

The Artist Escapes

“Señor we must leave.”

The Artist nodded, reluctantly he shut his sketch book, the last detail of the inlay pattern unfinished. Portfolio handing over his shoulder he followed his guide though the empty, ruinous palace.

It had been different when he had arrived, the palace had been full of people, living in the abandoned rooms. They had welcomed him as he had drawn the wonders of the lost palace – then the plague came.

Most were dead now, he had to escape, had he done enough? Could he convince the world of the need to protect, to save the Alhambra?

Detail from Alhambra Owen Jones

When the artist and architect Owen Jones visited the Alhambra in the early nineteenth century the palace was ruinous. It was his wonderful drawings that convinced people across Europe that it had to be saved. Whilst he was there cholera broke out, it killed his companions and many of the local people, he was lucky to escape with his life. He went on to become one of the finest designers of the nineteenth century.


This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an escape artist, so I have described an escaping artist, I hope you enjoy it.



Filed under Historical tales, Victorian

Monday’s child

Another poem illustrated by Regency pictures (and later genre pictures). A classic nursery rhyme.


Charles Amable Lenoir - The Pink Rose

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Eugene von Blaas — Feeding the Pigeons

Tuesday’s child is full of grace;

Frédéric Soulacroix Dissapointment

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Emil Brack - Planning the Grand Tour Emil Brack

Thursday’s child has far to go;

Leslie, George Dunlop, 1835-1921; The Gardener's Daughter
Friday’s child is loving and giving,

Marie-Denise Villers Self-portrait Young Woman Drawing
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;

Charles Haigh Wood - The Time of Roses

But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.



Filed under Georgian, Poems, Regency, Victorian

An Uncomfortable Meal

Charli Mills gives us an unusual prompt this week
In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about comfort food. How can this familiarity influence a story or character? Is it something unusual, like Twinkies from the 1970s? Or is it something from home, from another place or time? Go where the prompt leads.
So I have gone for the exact opposite, a meal that led to an uncomfortable recollection – and an amazing end result.


Everyone else was asleep but he couldn’t settle.
“What had he eaten?” He felt uncomfortable.
His companions had caught the bird, a Rhea, a flightless bird that was good eating, but there was something wrong. He looked at the scraps that were left, then he saw it, the legs were the wrong colour!
He scrabbled around for what hadn’t been eaten, the head, wing, legs and feathers, but it was enough, it was a new species. In London they were impressed, perhaps this young man would make other discoveries, now they would honour him by calling it – Darwin’s Rhea!


All I have done is retold the account that Darwin gave of how he discovered Darwin’s Rhea.


The first illustration of Darwin’s Rhea, based on the bits that hadn’t been eaten (from Wikipedia)


Filed under Historical tales, Victorian

The Fossil Pit

Charli Mills has prompted us to quarry out a rocky tale this week;

January 19, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.


Samuel Beckles in his quarry

The professor looked into the quarry and gasped, he was impressed, and it took a lot to impress the man who had given the world dinosaurs.

When he had seen the tiny fossil, and told his friend he needed more specimens, now buried under thousands of tons of rock, he had never expected this. He climbed down.

“We have them.” Were his friend’s first words. He held out a rock, full of tiny black bones .

“It’s true – mammals did live with the dinosaurs.” The professor gave one of his rare smiles.

“Time to rewrite the text books again.”

Another true story.

In 1854 a tiny jaw was discovered at Durlston, near Swanage in Dorset. It looked like a mammal jaw but at the time it was thought that mammals had not existed alongside dinosaurs. Professor Richard Owen (the man who had coined the word Dinosaur) knew that this problem could only be solved with additional specimens. His friend, Samuel Beckles, a wealthy amateur, was looking for an interesting project. Owen suggested Durlston, not meaning it seriously but Beckles took him at his word. Removed over three thousand cubic metres of rock to reach the thin fossil bed – and rewrote the text books.


Filed under Historical tales, Victorian

A Flight of Fancy – Another Chance Meeting

A little while ago, I wrote an imaginary tale based on a possible meeting between two historical characters, some people found it amusing, so here is another one.

“It’s impossible!” Bursts of laughter echoed round one end of the table. At the other end the young poet looked up, curious to know what was happening. Everybody was looking at a middle aged gentleman with a round, tanned face, he looked like a prosperous farmer. But the poet was not so sure, he had seen this ‘farmer’ make a rapid, very rapid, calculation, he was a serious mathematician. Who was this farmer? And what were they laughing about?

“I am perfectly serious, I feel perfectly confident that the art of aerial navigation will soon be brought home to man’s convenience, and that we shall be able to transport ourselves and our families, and our goods and chattels, more securely by air than by water, and with a velocity of from twenty to one hundred miles per hour.”
“But Sir George, you mean flying, and that is impossible.”
“You have seen balloons, I am just saying that other means will be available, as soon as engines of suitable power can be developed.”
The poet listed for some time as Sir George made fantastic suggestions, trade would be carried through the air, that warfare would be fought there, that there would even be harbour masters and controls over ‘aerial navigation’.”
The rest of the diners listened in amusement. One said with a laugh.
“But for all that you need machines that can fly, and that is an impossibility.”
“So you think it is impossible to build a machine that can fly?”
“Of course,” the man looked around in amusement, “I could as just as easily walk on the ceiling like a fly.”

The man hadn’t seen what Sir George was doing with his hands, he had taken something from his pocket and was wrapping a cord around it. He leaned forward, pulled the cord, and the little machine buzzed and soared up into air. It sailed across the table and dropped down in a corner of the room. There was silence, Sir George smiled and pointed at the ceiling.

Caley Glider 3

A reconstruction of Sir George’s glider of 1804 – in flight

That evening the poet sat and thought, aerial navigation, now that was a wonder. He sharpened his pen and began to write;

For I dipt into the future, Far as human eye could see,
Saw the vision of the world, And all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, Argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, Dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, And there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies Grappling in the central blue;
Far along the world-wide whisper Of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples Plunging thro’ the thunder storm;
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, And the battle-flags were furl’d
In Parliament of man, The Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most Shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, Lapt in universal law.

Sir George Cayley(1773 – 1857), the ‘father of aviation’, was an incredible man. A Yorkshire landowner, as a teenager he worked out the physics of heavier that air flight and built and developed the first gliders, models then man carrying aircraft. His notebooks make it clear that, if he had had a powerful enough engine, he would have been able to build a man carrying aeroplane.

He always referred to ‘aerial navigation’ as people laughed when he talked about flying machines, and he carried a model flying machine in his pocket which he would launch at dinner when people talked of the impossibility of flight, Sir George’s words are his own.

Alfred Tennyson lived about a hundred miles south of Sir George Cayley, and wrote Locksley Hall, from which his description of flight comes from, in 1835. I don’t think they ever met, but perhaps?


Filed under Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Historical tales, Literary puzzle, Regency, Victorian

The Beginning of the Game, an Historical Tale.

All games must have a beginning, even if it has been lost in the metaphorical mists of time, but for one game there is a wonderful tale of how it was created ……..


The subaltern looked out of the window and swore, it was raining, not just a drizzle but a steady, heavy downpour. As he looked he saw a stable hand run towards the stable block, a sack protecting his head and shoulders, it was certain there would be no riding today.

Ostensibly it was a riding party, a group of people gathered together to enjoy a few days of riding in one of the best parts of the country. The unspoken reason for gathering together several young men and women was to ensure suitable matches were made, and the presence of several friendly, but observant, chaperones was to ensure that nothing unsuitable took place. But now it was ruined, the weather would prevent any riding out together.

They gathered in the great hall, several of the young women were very unhappy, they had ordered new riding habits, which hung unwanted in their rooms. One of them picked up a battledore and shuttlecock which lay on a bench and started to play, bouncing it up and down. One of the young men picked up a second battledore and called.

“To me.”

She lobbed the shuttlecock across to him and they knocked it to and fro, getting higher and higher.

“That’s too easy.” Called one of the men and, running downstairs, came back with a length of rope which he tied across the hall.

Knocking it over the rope made the game more fun and the couple continued to play until the girl knocked it very high, the man ran to hit it and almost stumbled into a cabinet beside the wall.

“Careful,” said one of the chaperones, “I think we should stop now.”

“Oh no!” said one of the girls, “We should just keep away from the wall.” She ran upstairs to the schoolroom and returned with some chalk. She drew a line on the flagged floor following the edge of some of the paving stones. She then paced out lines on the other side of the rope, and along each side. The game resumed.

Over the next two days, as long as the rain continued they kept on playing, developing the rules as they went, playing singles and doubles. The chaperones smiled approvingly as some pairs of players began to show a fondness for playing together.

By the time they left the house, two couples were engaged and the game was forgotten in the preparations for the weddings, the carefully developed rules languished in the pocket books of some of the participants.

Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema - Battledore and Shuttlecock

Battledore and Shuttlecock – Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema

A year later the subaltern found himself given the job of carrying dispatches to a governor of an Indian province, then staying in Simla, the summer capital of British India, high in the foothills of the Himalayas.

“At least you will be out of this dammed heat,” said one of his fellow officers, “at least for a few weeks. It’s only lucky devils who get a transfer to the hills.”

When he arrived, it was certainly cooler, but it was wet, it was raining incessantly. The governor greeted him cordially and invited him to dinner.

“It will be a couple of weeks before I can reply to these dispatches, I afraid you will have to remain here until then. And at the moment there is nothing much to do.”

“No, no games or parties or anything.” Said the governors eldest daughter, “we should all be playing outside, but there is nothing we can do indoors.”

“Last year,” replied the subaltern, “ I was with a party in a country house, it was weather like this and we made up a game, using battledores and shuttlecocks.”

Fascinated the governor’s wife and daughters listened as he described the game.

“Can we try?” asked the girls, laughing the governor agreed. An old hall was marked out and soon all the younger people of Simla were playing.

A few weeks later, the daughter was writing down the rules of the game to send to a friend of hers, along with the news of her engagement. She looked up at her fiancée and asked.

“What is the game called? we have just been calling it the game, but it must have a name.”

“We never gave it a name.” He replied.

“Then what was the name of the house where you invented it?”



And that, more or less, is the tale as told to me.


Filed under Historical Reconstructions, Historical tales, Victorian

A Woman’s Work

A little while ago I posted a blog illustrating the traditional poem ‘Dashing away with the Smoothing Iron’ with eighteenth and nineteenth century illustrations of women at work. Some people criticised the illustrations as offering an idealised image of working women, I hope they like this better. Here is a traditional couplet, the first line less well known than the second

Man’s work lasts till set of sun

Harvest Moon Helen Allingham

Woman’s work is never done

The Sleeping Kitchen Maid by Peter Jakob Horemans 1765


Filed under Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Victorian

Dashing Away With The Smoothing Iron

 unknown artist; Portrait of a Lady in a Floral Dress Washing ClothesHenry Robert Morland

‘Twas on a Monday morning
When I beheld my darling
She looked so neat and charming
In every high degree
She looked so neat and nimble, O
A-washing of her linen, O

Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

 Henry Robert Morland A laundry maid leaning out of a sash window

Henry Robert Morland

‘Twas on a Tuesday morning
When I beheld my darling
She looked so neat and charming
In every high degree
She looked so neat and nimble, O
A-rinsing out her linen, O

Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

Clothes Line Helen AllinghamHelen Allingham

 ‘Twas on a Wednesday morning
When I beheld my darling
She looked so neat and charming
In every high degree
She looked so neat and nimble, O
A-hanging out her linen, O

Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

Franz Xaver Simm Seamstress

Franz Xaver Simm

 ‘Twas on a Thursday morning
When I beheld my darling
She looked so neat and charming
In every high degree
She looked so neat and nimble, O
A-mending of her linen, O

Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

Morland, Henry Robert, c.1716-1797; Domestic Employment: Ironing
Henry Robert Morland

‘Twas on a Friday morning
When I beheld my darling
She looked so neat and charming
In every high degree
She looked so neat and nimble, O
A-ironing of her linen, O

Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.
William Henry Margetson The Laundry Maid

William Henry Margetson

‘Twas on a Saturday morning
When I beheld my darling
She looked so neat and charming
In every high degree
She looked so neat and nimble, O
A-folding of her linen, O

Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

Emil Brack - The bonnet
Emil Brack

‘Twas on a Sunday morning
When I beheld my darling
She looked so neat and charming
In every high degree
She looked so neat and nimble, O
A-wearing of her linen, O

Dashing away with the smoothing iron
Dashing away with the smoothing iron
She stole my heart away.

Henry Robert Morland A Servant Girl Ironing

Henry Robert Morland

I have recently been looking at eighteenth and nineteenth century paintings looking for images of people working. These include a fascinating series of paintings of working women, which I have used to illustrate the traditional rhyme.


Filed under Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Regency, Victorian

To see a World in a Grain of Sand – The Origin of Ideas

Charli Mills has challenged her fellow bloggers to write about erosion (details here). I have cheated slightly and written two separate, but linked, stories.

He looked at the strange pattern on the rock that had fallen from the cliff, then bent to make notes.
Hours later he returned to his wife, “I’m sorry I was so long.”
“I married you for better or worse, if the worse is you geologising whist I paint, I don’t mind. What did you find?”
“More evidence,” he pulled out his notebook. “Ripples, fossilised in rock. Which shows that sand, washed down into the sea has been compressed into rock, then lifted up and eroded yet again.”
“What does that mean?”
“That the earth is old, immeasurably old.”

It was on his honeymoon in the Mediterranean that Sir Charles Lyell found the final evidence he needed, that the earth was incredibly old. His book The Principles of Geology, was very controversial.

“What do you think?”
“Well written, it’s full of interesting material, but his conclusions.”
“They will certainly provoke argument, they strike at centuries of study.”
“What will you do?”
“Nothing, for now, the matter will be fully discussed at the next meeting of the British Association.”
The professor paused, smiled and added.
“I am sending a copy to Charles, it is perfect reading for a long sea voyage.”
“Are you sure? He’s young and impressionable.”
“Oh I will advise him to learn from the observations and ignore the conclusions.”
It reached the Beagle just before she sailed, and then?

Professor Adam Sedgewick, who profoundly disagreed with Lyell, recognised the importance of his book and sent a copy to his student Charles Darwin just as he was about to set sail on HMS Beagle, with the advice I mentioned. Darwin ignored the advice, and later acknowledged that The Principles of Geology was the inspiration for On the Origin of Species.


Filed under Historical tales, Victorian