Category: British History

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

Fashionable Frocks of 1860

Flounced Dresses, Journal des Jeunes Personnes, 1860.
(Met Museum)

When it comes to Victorian fashion, it is often difficult to choose a favourite year—or even a favourite decade.  The romantic gowns of the 1830s vie with the enormous crinolines of the 1860s which, in turn, rival the sleek, bustled skirts of the 1870s. As someone who researches and writes extensively on historical fashion, choosing the year in which to set my new romance novel, The Lost Letter, had as much to do with the style of dress as it did with other considerations. In today’s post, we take a brief look at some of the styles which were popular in 1860, the year in which The Lost Letter begins.[…]Continue Reading

The Tottenham Station Railway Disaster of 1860

“Great injury was done after the engine ran up the platform. The brickwork was swept away, and a large portion of a wall was thrown down; in fact, one carriage was thrown completely through the platform wall by the violence with which it was hurled over the line.”

The Era, 26 February 1860.

First Class by Abraham Solomon, 1855.

On 20 February 1860, at seven o’clock in the morning, a passenger train belonging to the Eastern Counties Railway left Cambridge heading for Tottenham station in London. The train was quite full and, as it approached the station, it was travelling at a speed of thirty-five to forty miles per hour. The 26 February 1860 edition of The Era reports that, at approximately 10:20, “the train began to oscillate in a peculiar manner.” It was then that the passengers heard a loud crash as the train derailed. It ran off of the platform, hurtling through the brickwork with such violent force that one of the railway carriages was “thrown completely through the platform wall.”[…]Continue Reading