Category: British History

Ether for Every Occasion: Wedding Nights, Frolics, and Flammable Binges

The First Use of Ether in Dental Surgery By Ernest Board, 1846.
(Wellcome Images, CC BY 4.0)

Derived from ethyl alcohol, ether was a sweet-smelling, colorless liquid that came into medical prominence in the nineteenth century. When vaporized and inhaled, it produced varying degrees of unconsciousness. First employed as a general anesthetic by American doctors in the 1840s, its popularity quickly spread to Victorian England. But ether wasn’t only used during surgeries. It was also used recreationally, as well as to address myriad calamities of life in ways that ranged from the mundane to the outright creepy.[…]Continue Reading

The Value of An Introduction: Vouching for Someone Victorian-Style

Le Follet, 1848.
(Met Museum)

Today, introducing one stranger to another at a social or business gathering is simply polite behavior. But in the Victorian era, an introduction was a thing of infinite value. It was a voucher. A guarantee that the person being introduced was both respectable and worthy of knowing. As Mrs. Walter Houghton explains in her 1893 book Rules of Etiquette & Home Culture:[…]Continue Reading

Inside a Victorian Bathing Machine

Women bathing in the sea near their bathing machines. Wood engraving by J. Leech.
(Wellcome Images)

During the Victorian era, ladies visiting the public beach couldn’t simply wade out into the water and enjoy an invigorating swim. To protect their modesty, most ladies on a seaside holiday utilized a bathing machine. Though the name puts one in mind of a mechanized device, a bathing machine was really nothing more than a wooden dressing room set up on two wheels. The interior was usually equipped with both an entry and an exit door, and generally featured benches on either side, and hooks on the walls.[…]Continue Reading

Strawberry Water, Lemon Cream, & Grape Lotion: A Victorian Sun Care Primer

Portrait of a Lady with Hat by Anton Einsle (1801-1871), n.d.

Victorian women didn’t have our knowledge of ultraviolet rays and SPF, but like us, they had a healthy respect for the damage that too much sun could wreak on their complexions. A fair, unblemished countenance was one of the hallmarks of a lady. It helped to distinguish her from the lower classes. To signal that she wasn’t obliged to engage in any outdoor labor.[…]Continue Reading

Have Carpet Bag – Will Travel

Going into the World by Evert Jan Boks (1838-1914), 1882.

Victorian ladies have a reputation for tight-laced respectability, but not all women of the era were content with home and hearth. Some ladies traveled the world, living their lives in far off lands like Egypt or India. Getting to such places was an adventure in itself. For example, a journey from London to Darjeeling in 1860 often took as long as a month and required passage on a combination of railways, steamships, dak carts, and bullock trains.[…]Continue Reading

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