Category: British History

The Victorian Case of the Turnip-Wielding Trick-Or-Treater

Carving the Pumpkin by Franck Antoine Bail, 1910.

Today, if you don’t wish to hand out candy on Halloween, you can simply switch off your porch light to indicate that you are not at home to trick-or-treaters. Unfortunately, not all trick-or-treaters accept this withdrawal from the holiday with good grace. Some even retaliate by smashing pumpkins in your driveway or against your front door. Disgruntled trick-or-treaters in the Victorian era had similar responses.[…]Continue Reading

Victorian Hairspray: A Brief History of Gum Solutions and Bandoline

Vanity by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, 19th century.

Long before the twentieth century invention of aerosol hairspray, Victorian women were using sticky hair products to fix their wayward locks stiffly into place. Of these, the most popular was a clear gum solution known as bandoline. Liquid bandoline could be purchased at most Victorian perfumers. It could also be made at home from ingredients like quince-seed, rose-water, cologne, and spirits such as rum or brandy. […]Continue Reading

The Learned Dog, Lily: A Whist-Playing Victorian Canine

A Spaniel on a Cloth by Friedrich Leopold Hermann Hartmann, 1869.

Recently, while researching Victorian pleasure gardens, I came across a listing of acts scheduled to appear at Cremorne Gardens in 1857. Among the humourists, contortionists, and tight-rope walkers were various animal attractions. Most notable of these was a little English spaniel billed as “The Learned Dog, Lily.” According to the 17 July edition of the Morning Chronicle, Lily’s “whist playing, arithmetical calculations, and general shrewdness” formed one of “the great attractions” of the gardens.[…]Continue Reading

The Spinster’s Numeration Table: A Guide for Nineteenth Century Men

An Encounter at the Spinning Wheel by George Goodwin Kilburne , n.d.

Recently, while researching, I came across a “Spinster’s Numeration Table” printed in the 1837 edition of the New Monthly Magazine. This table lists out the various ages of an unmarried woman and corresponds them to certain characteristics. It is meant to be humorous, but—as with all humor of this sort—there is a grain of historical truth to be gleaned from the descriptions. The table gives us insight into how spinsters were viewed and at what age unmarried women were deemed to be past their prime.[…]Continue Reading

The Etiquette of the Victorian Handshake: Advice on Opposite Sex Greetings

“Among friends the shaking of the hand is the most genuine and cordial expression of good-will.”

The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette, 1877.

Yes by John Everett Millais, 1877.

When we think of nineteenth century greetings, many of us naturally picture bows, curtsies, and subtle inclinations of the head. But these were not the only types of gestures with which to greet one’s friends and acquaintances. Fans of Elizabeth Gaskell will know that, in some cases, a handshake was equally appropriate. In her 1855 novel North and South, John Thornton, a northerner, regularly shakes hands with his friends. Southerner Margaret Hale, however, is unfamiliar with the custom. In one of the most memorable scenes from the novel, Gaskell writes:[…]Continue Reading