Mimi MatthewsMimi Matthews

Canines and Crinolines: Victorian Dogs Captured by Fashion

Portrait of Princess Dagmar of Denmark with her Dog, 1860s.

Portrait of Princess Dagmar of Denmark with her Dog, 1860s.

In January of 1865, a young charwoman appeared at the Lambeth Police Court in London seeking assistance from the magistrate after having been attacked by her employer’s favorite dog.  A January 7th edition of the Kentish Independent reports that her employer’s name was Miss Mary Baker, “a maiden lady of over 70 years of age.”  Two years prior, Miss Baker had inherited a substantial fortune, the bulk of which she now expended on “feeding and keeping” a large pack of dogs inside of her house.  As the article relates:

“The [charwoman] said that Miss Baker had been in the habit of spending 10s. a day in the purchase of beef and mutton of the best description to feed her dogs with, and that, in addition, she gave them French rolls, the best fresh butter, and the purest milk she could find in the neighbourhood; and her custom was to eat, drink, and sleep amongst the animals herself.”   

Among all of her dogs, Miss Baker had a particular favorite.  He was a small, reportedly vicious bulldog that she called “little Bobby” or her “little angel.”  A January 6th article in the Illustrated Berwick Journal states that, according to the charwoman, Miss Baker was in the habit of chaining Little Bobby to the foot of her bed and, each night, allowing him to sleep in the bed with her.

Bulldogs, The Book of the Dog by Vero Shaw, 1881.

Bulldogs, The Book of the Dog by Vero Shaw, 1881.

On the Saturday morning of the attack, Miss Baker suspected that Little Bobby was ill.  She sent her charwoman to the market to procure a “tender chicken” for his dinner, telling her “not to mind the price.”  When the young charwoman returned with the chicken, Miss Baker was in her bedroom with Little Bobby.  As the Kentish Independent reports:

“Miss Baker unlocked the door of her chamber to admit her, and for some reason or other locked the door again, and ‘Little Bobby’ observing the intruder within his reach, rushed at her and made a most ferocious attack upon her.”  

Unfortunately for the charwoman, she was wearing a wire cage crinoline.  Invented in 1856, wire cage crinolines were constructed of hooped wires and fabric tape that stood out from the body, supporting skirts that were (by the early 1860s) sometimes as much as 10 to 15 feet in circumference.  Beneath these skirts, there was plenty of room for a small dog to run amok and, according to the Illustrated Berwick Journal, that is just what Little Bobby did.

“The animal got under her crinoline and bit and tore her legs and one of her thighs in a frightful manner, so much so that she was obliged to go to the hospital and have the wounds cauterized and dressed, and she was then suffering severely from the injuries she received.”

Cutaway View of A Crinoline, Punch, 1856.

Cutaway View of A Crinoline, Punch, 1856.

The magistrate questioned the charwoman about Miss Baker’s behavior during the attack, asking specifically:

“Did your mistress not assist you in getting away from the dog or getting the animal away from you?”

The charwoman replied:

“No, Sir; all she did was to cry out ‘Do not injure my dear little Bobby, my dear little angel;’ and the door being locked I could not get away.  I screamed out as loud as I could, and a crowd having collected about the house, the room door was forced and I was released.”

After hearing another witness testify to the severity of the charwoman’s injuries, the magistrate sent one of his officers to see Miss Baker.  Upon returning to the court, the officer reported that Miss Baker’s home was just as the charwoman had described, with so many dogs in residence that the house was becoming “a perfect nuisance” to the neighborhood.  The officer went on to state that, despite her eccentricity, Miss Baker had shown herself quite willing to recompense her charwoman for the injuries she had received from Little Bobby.

In closing the case, the magistrate made no mention of Little Bobby facing the death penalty for his crimes–which, in this era, was a very real possibility.  Instead, he gave as his opinion:

“…that it was much to be regretted that the friends of Miss Baker did not interfere and cure her of her extravagant and eccentric fancies and indulgence of the canine species.”

Illustrated Police News, June 17, 1871.

Illustrated Police News, June 17, 1871.

The fashion for wire cage crinolines was widely criticized—and satirized.  Pamphlets warned of all sorts of dangers, up to and including death.  The possibility of a dog becoming trapped beneath the wire hoops of one’s crinoline did not merit a mention in most of these publications, but it was by no means unheard of during the Victorian era.

For example, an 1859 edition of the Bedfordshire Times reports the story of a man travelling by train with his little dog, Pincher.  Seated across from him were “two young ladies, dressed in the prevailing fashion.”  Shortly after the train left the station, Pincher disappeared.  At the same time, the man noticed one of the young ladies “moving and shifting her position.”  After calling for Pincher repeatedly—an action which provoked even more shifting by the young lady—the man realized his little dog was stuck under her skirts.  As the Bedfordshire Times relates:

“[Pincher] was fairly caught in the crinoline.  His fore paws and head had got through one of the small divisions which compose those frameworks of the outer attire of the lady, and, as he could neither proceed nor retire from the net, there he was.”

After some machination, the man was able to free Pincher from the crinoline.  The lady, meanwhile, was mortified by the scandalous experience and “covered her face with her handkerchief.”

In comparison, a woman mentioned in an 1863 edition of the Dunfermline Saturday Press was much more level-headed.  Upon discovering that her “fancy” dog had become caught in her crinoline:

“She had to walk a considerable distance, till she came to a narrow wynd, where she entered off the street, the dog walking all the distance on its hind legs, underneath her clothes.  Here getting rid of her encumbrance, she went on her way nothing daunted.”

Portrait of a Lady by Jean Léon Gérôme, 1866-1870.

Portrait of a Lady by Jean Léon Gérôme, 1866-1870.

There are other examples of dogs caught in wire cage crinolines, but rather than regale you with those, I leave you instead with the following dog and crinoline poem from the November 17, 1857 issue of the Morning Advertiser.

Crinoline in Rhyme.

A lady with a crinoline was walking down the street,
Her feathers fluttered in the air, her hoops stuck out some feet.
She walked the earth as if she felt of it she was no part,
And proudly did she step along, for pride was in her heart.

She did not see a curly dog which walked close by her side,
All save the curly tail of which her crinoline did hide.
His tail the dog with pleasure shook—it fluttered in the wind,
And from the lady’s crinoline stuck out a foot behind.

A crowd the tail did soon espy as it waved to and fro,
And like a rudder seemed to point the way the maid must go.
The curly dog right pleased was he the quarters he had got,
And walked beside the lady in a kind of doggish trot.

Each step the lady now did take served to increase her train,
While those who followed in her wake roared out with might and main.
Some held their sides, they laughed so hard, and others fairly cried,
While many even still confess that they’d ‘like to have died.’

But the lady sailed along in crinoline and pride,
Unmindful of the crowd behind, or dog close by her side.
But soon another dog espied the tail which fluttered free;
It so provoked his doggish ire he could not let it be.

But with a deep ferocious growl, for battle straight he went,
And ‘neath the lady’s crinoline both dogs were quickly pent.
They fought ‘tis said, one hour or more—the lady nothing knew;
But with her head erect sailed on, and did her way pursue.

Some say she never would have known at all about the fight,
Had not one dog mistook and gave her ‘limb’ and awful bite.
But since that day I’ve heard it said that lady ne’er was seen,
Upon the street with so much pride and such a crinoline.

Will you go out with me, Fido? by Alfred Stevens, 1859.

Will you go out with me, Fido? by Alfred Stevens, 1859.

Thus concludes another of my Friday features on Animals in Literature and History.  If you are interested in adopting a dog or if you would like to donate your time or money to a rescue organization, I urge you to contact your local animal rescue foundation or city animal shelter.  The below links may also be useful as resources:

The Humane Society of the United States (USA)

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home (UK)


“Crinoline in Rhyme.”  Morning Advertiser.  November 17, 1857.

“The Dog and the Crinoline.”  Bedfordshire Times and Independent.  September 24, 1859.

“A Dog Under a Crinoline.”  Dunfermline Saturday Press.  August 29, 1863.

“A Lady’s Pet Dog!”  Illustrated Berwick Journal.  January 6, 1865.

“A Lady’s Pet Dog.”  Kentish Independent.  January 7, 1865.

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