Category: British History

The Scent of Violets: Perfume, Cosmetics, and Crime in the Late Victorian Era

“The fondness for violets increases with time, and many women of fashion will tolerate no other fragrance.”
American Soap Journal and Manufacturing Chemist, 1895.

The Nosegay Of Violets by William Worcester Churchill, 1905.

In 1893, a woman by the name of Margaret Gainer was arrested, charged, and ultimately sentenced to thirty days imprisonment for stealing a bottle of violet perfume from a hairdresser’s shop. The hairdresser had seen her take the bottle and slip it into her pocket, but when he gave her the choice of putting the bottle back or facing the consequences, Miss Gainer steadfastly refused to relinquish the violet perfume. Her motivation for the theft—and her subsequent unwillingness to part with her ill-gotten gains—is not entirely clear; however, I suspect it had more than a little to do with the late Victorian violet fad.[…]Continue Reading

The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Cover Reveal!

Pug Cover Reveal

At long last, I can reveal the beautiful cover of my upcoming book, The Pug Who Bit Napoleon: Animal Tales of the 18th and 19th Centuries. It was designed by Dominic Allen at Pen and Sword Books (UK) and features one of my favourite historical pug paintings. I hope you love it as much as I do![…]Continue Reading

Promiscuous Bathing at Margate: Victorian Outrage Over Indecency at the Public Beach

“Indecency among the Margate Bathers comes round as regularly as the season itself.”
The Era, 23 July 1865.

The Harbor, Margate, England, 1890-1900.
(Library of Congress)

In Victorian England, it was generally believed that the sexes should be kept apart when bathing. To that end, the gentlemen’s wheeled bathing machines at the beach were often kept as much as a quarter of a mile away from the ladies’ machines. This allowed both ladies and gentlemen to enter their respective machines, change into their swimming costumes, and descend into the waves for a swim all without exposing themselves to the lascivious gazes of the opposite sex. There was only one problem—many Victorian ladies and gentlemen actually wanted to swim in company with each other. When they did so, the scandalous practice was known as promiscuous bathing.[…]Continue Reading

The Etiquette of the Victorian Ballroom: Twenty Tips for Single Gentlemen

“Remember that a ball-room is a school of politeness, and therefore let your whole conduct be influenced by that strict regard to Etiquette such a place requires.”
Etiquette for Gentleman; or the Principles of True Politeness, 1852.

At the Ball by Albert Edelfelt, 1884.

Not every man who attended a ball during the nineteenth century did so with a lady on his arm. Some attendees were young, single gentlemen. For them, a ball was the perfect place to practice their dancing, polish their conversation skills, and meet eligible young ladies.  It was also a place which required gentlemen to obey strict rules of etiquette.  These rules are far too numerous to cover in a single article. Instead, I’ve gathered twenty tips from various Victorian etiquette books addressing the basics of ballroom etiquette for single gentlemen.  I present them to you below.[…]Continue Reading

Twelve Victorian Era Tips on the Etiquette of Ladylike Letter Writing

“The palm of good letter-writing has been universally awarded to the fair sex.”
Etiquette of Good Society, 1893.

Yes or No? by Charles West Cope, 1872.
(Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool)

For Victorian ladies, there was much more to letter writing than simply dashing off a note. There were rules for proper correspondence, encompassing everything from acceptable shades of paper and ink to penmanship, wax seals, and conditions under which a woman must write in the third person. I can’t tackle all of these rules in a single article. Instead, I’ve gathered twelve quotes from various Victorian etiquette books addressing the basics of ladylike letter writing. I present them to you below.[…]Continue Reading