A Trip to the Dentist – Victorian Style

Vintage scrap art from the Graphics Fairy

So I went to the dentist yesterday, and completely forgot about the blog post I’d planned to write!

However, in an effort to assume an attitude of gratitude toward dentistry, I decided to research what it would be like to go to the dentist in Victorian times.

Now I am very grateful.

The watchword for the Victorian era was “progress.” Modernization through science and automation allowed our Victorian forebears to live longer and better than their parents ever did. From the beginning of the 1800s to the middle of the 19th century, dentistry had progressed from the local blacksmith’s side business in un-anaesthetized tooth extraction using pliers to less painful procedures with better health outcomes for the patient.

Even though the practice of brushing one’s teeth had been known and practiced since ancient times (either by chewing on a fibrous stick or twig, or using toothpicks or  little metal scrapers to clean the teeth, or brushing with a boar-bristle toothbrush and a paste made with salt and bicarbonate of soda), toothaches still happened – and often the only remedy available was extraction. In fact, problems with teeth were so common that in some areas, some people opted to have all their teeth removed just to avoid further pain.

Ad from the British library collection

This led to a good business in dentures which were made of wood (not a good choice since saliva would eventually turn the wood to mush), porcelain, animal bone, ivory, hardened rubber and even gold. Often real human teeth were used in the dentures: “Waterloo teeth” scavenged from the corpses on the battlefield, teeth robbed from graves, or the teeth of poor people who raised desperately needed funds by allowing someone to plunder their mouths.

In 1856, the College of Dentists of England was formed, largely through the efforts of a young dentist in Croydon, England named Samuel Lee Rymer. Across the Atlantic, by the 1870s American dentistry was being brought into the modern age by a Civil War-era practitioner named G.V. Black. Mostly self-taught, Dr. Black invented over 100 hand instruments and even developed silver alloys for restoring teeth. His system for classifying different types of cavities and how they should be filled is still in use today.

Dental anesthesia had also progressed from a swig of whiskey before tooth-pulling to other methods. Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, was the first chemical used for pain relief, but Horace Wells, the American dentist who pioneered the practice, was not able to reliably provide the correct mix of gas and air.

Other solutions, including chloroform (also unreliable and sometimes leading to death), and liquid cocaine injected into the jaw (less dangerous but the needles were huge), were also tried.

Foot-powered dental drill

As dentistry improved, practitioners were able to use drills to remove cavities – but the drills were operated by a foot-pedal, like sewing machines. This was better than extracting the whole tooth.

However, as one Victorian era writer noted, to avoid cavities one should eat whole-meal bread instead of refined white bread, and avoid sugary treats. Good advice even today!

Aren’t you glad that you didn’t live during the Victorian era? I am – at least in terms of dentistry!








Images: Foot powered dental drill : By Royalbroil – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,


Article Sources:


The Sullivan – Edison Connection

Sir Arthur Sullivan

The advent of sound recording both astonished and terrified Arthur Sullivan – astonished by its wonderful power, and terrified that “so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever.”

For this comment, which has been put on record forever, we can thank George Edward Gouraud, an American war hero and a 19th century technology wonk.

George’s father, a French engineer, came to America in 1839 to introduce daguerreotype photography to the United States. Young George was born in 1842, and he was orphaned when both his parents died five years later. He fought for the U.S. Army in the American Civil War, and received the Medal of Honor for his bravery as a captain with the 3rd New York Volunteer Cavalry. He was later brevetted as a Lieutenant Colonel. After the War he became affiliated with famed inventor Thomas Edison, who was based in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

In 1873 George moved his family to England, to be Edison’s agent in Europe. Gouraud loved all the new electric inventions – he had so many electric marvels installed in his house at Beulah Hill, Upper Norwood, in South London that it became known as “Little Menlo,” after Edison’s place.

One of the cool new electric gadgets that Edison created was the “Perfected Phonograph” – perfected after more than a decade of experimentation (1877-1888) by Edison and a number of rival inventors (including Alexander Graham Bell), who worked to discover ways to capture and play back sounds. The “records,” as the wax cylinders were called then, were developed by both the Gramophone company and Edison. A patent-sharing arrangement allowed both to market the cylinders.

Gouraud received the Perfected Phonograph from Edison in 1888, and on August 14, 1888 he held a press conference at Little Menlo to introduce this latest technological advance to London. The event included a performance of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “The Lost Chord” on piano and cornet – one of the first musical recordings ever made.

Sir Arthur Sullivan himself visited Little Menlo on 5 October 1888, as a guest at one of Gouraud’s “phonograph parties” for members of high society. After dinner, Sullivan recorded a speech to be sent to Thomas Edison, saying, in part:

I can only say that I am astonished and somewhat terrified at the result of this evening’s experiments: astonished at the wonderful power you have developed, and terrified at the thought that so much hideous and bad music may be put on record forever. But all the same I think it is the most wonderful thing that I have ever experienced, and I congratulate you with all my heart on this wonderful discovery.

In the years following, George Gouraud made several recordings of contemporaries, including Tennyson reading the Charge of the Light Brigade, and Florence Nightingale addressing her “dear old comrades of Balaclava.”

You may listen to the recordings online at

Experts tell us that technology is advancing at an ever-increasing pace. It is amazing to me that almost 130 years ago, there was no way to record the sounds of the world around us. My aunt lived to be 100 years old, and her husband, my uncle, lived to 102 – so the invention of sound recording was made barely more than one long human lifetime ago.

Today, we can capture not only sounds but moving pictures as well with a press of a button on our phones.

What technologies have developed within your lifetime? Let me know in the comments.





Credits: Phonograph by Norman Bruderhofer, – own work (transferred from de:File:Phonograph.jpg), CC BY-SA 3.0,

George Gouraud by Carlo Pellegrini – Published in Vanity Fair, 13 April 1889.This version from, Public Domain,


Victorian Women – Pioneers of Photography

View from the window at Le Gras

Although for centuries humans have known the principle of the “camera obscura” – in which light passing through a pinhole can throw an upside-down and reversed image onto the opposite wall of a darkened room –  it wasn’t until 1826 or 1827 that a Frenchman named Nicéphore Niépce figured out a way to preserve the images.

Photography was born.

Nicéphore Niépce’s photograph, View from the Window at Le Gras is believed to be the oldest surviving camera photograph. His discoveries were quickly followed by those of such photographic pioneers as Louis Daguerre and Henry Fox Talbot, who publicly announced their own photographic processes in January 1839.

To preserve a photographic image, the challenges included how to capture the image, and how to transfer the captured “negative” onto a positive surface. One of the ways to print a photograph from a negative was to make an albumen print, and another way was the wet collodion printing process.

Albumen, or egg whites, can be used with silver nitrate to produce a photographic print. The paper must be first dipped into a solution made with albumen, and then dried. Once it’s dried, the paper is taken into a darkroom and “sensitized” by being placed in a bath of silver nitrate, then dried again. Once that’s complete, then the negative plate is placed on the prepared paper and the whole thing is exposed to light until the picture develops. After that, the silver is washed off, a toner applied and then the print is dried. Finally your image is ready to be admired! The process is fully described in this interesting resource:

Alternatively, collodion – a highly flammable, gooey mixture of guncotton dissolved in sulfuric and nitric acid with ethyl alcohol and ether added – can be used in the place of the albumen. Less exposure time is needed with the collodion than with albumen. As the solvent evaporates, it dries to a clear, celluloid-like film.

For a step-by-step description, visit

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins

Most of the early pioneers of photography were male. The science of photography involved expensive, dangerous chemicals and new processes. Furthermore, dabbling in such advanced technology went against Victorian expectations of female behavior.

Nevertheless, there were a few women pioneers in those early days of the 1840s, 1850s and 1860s. Among them were Anna Atkins, Viscountess Hawarden, and Julia Margaret Cameron.

Anna Atkins (nee Children) was the only child of a prominent scientist, John George Children, who gave her “an unusually scientific education for a woman of her time.” It was her great interest in botany that led her to explore the cyanotype process – she was interested in using cyanotype to preserve images of various types of seaweed. She did this by placing the dried seaweed on the cyanotype-treated paper, and then exposing it to light.

Some say Anna Atkins was the first woman to produce a camera photograph. What we do know is that Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions was the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs. Only 17 copies of this historically important book are now known to exist.

One of Viscountess Harwarden’s photos of her daughters

Clementina Maude, Viscountess Hawarden, turned to photography in 1857 or 1858, while living in Ireland at her husband’s estate. In 1859 she moved to London, where she set up a photographic studio in her home in South Kensington. Considered an amateur photographer, her work was nevertheless praised for its artistic excellence. Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and also a photographer, was among those who admired Hawarden’s work.

In the approximately 7 years that she was actively photographing, she created 800 photographs. Her photographs include images of her children, particularly her daughters – she had eight children in all.  Scholar Carol Mavor says the photographs raise “issues of gender, motherhood and sexuality.”

Probably the best known of the early female photographers is Julia Margaret Cameron. She created many portraits of Victorian aristocrats and artists, many of them dressed up as Shakespearean characters or legendary figures.

Parting of Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, by Julia Margaret Cameron

When she was 48, she was given a camera as a present, and thus began her photographic career which lasted from 1864 to 1875.

During the 11 years in which she was active in photography, Cameron treated photography as an art as well as a science, manipulating the wet collodion process to give her images a dreamlike feel. As a result, her soft-focus images and cropped portraits were appreciated more by the pre-Raphaelite artists than the photographic critics of the day.

Photography was in its infancy at the beginning of the Victorian era – as a pursuit, it was exacting, expensive, and high-tech. These women were among the vanguard of explorers in a new field that merged chemistry and art. They used their skills to express ideas about botany, family, and about how we present ourselves to the world.

Individuals living in 1850 probably felt like new technology and scientific information was being thrown at them so fast they could barely catch their breath. And yet, today’s scientific discoveries and inventions are being developed even faster than they were 170 years ago. But no matter what the historical age, men and women have been willing to explore ever deeper into the mysteries of our world.

How about you? Do you like exploring new ideas, or do you prefer the comfort of the familiar? Let me know in the comments.


Modest Maidens Captured by Kodak, by Bab



By Joseph Nicéphore Niépce – Rebecca A. Moss, Coordinator of Visual Resources and Digital Content Library, via email. College of Liberal Arts Office of Information Technology, University of Minnesota., Public Domain,

Public Domain,

By Clementia Hawarden –, Public Domain,

By Julia Margaret Cameron – HQGPeFPsjI99sA at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain,

Christmas with the Gilberts

Kate Terry Gielgud, mother of acclaimed actor Sir John Gielgud

Though William and Kitty Gilbert never had any children of their own, they both enjoyed the company of young people and loved to give lavish parties for the children of friends and family.

One young lady who enjoyed their parties was Kate Terry Gielgud – the daughter of actress Kate Terry and Arthur James Lewis (a silk merchant of the firm of Lewis & Allenby), and the mother of famed actor Sir John Gielgud.  In Kate Terry Gielgud: An Autobiography (1953), she explained, “Both author and composer were friends of my parents, and Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert invited us every year to Christmas parties in their house…”

Born in 1868, young Kate would have been between 10 and 14 years old when she attended the Christmas parties she described. The party held in  December 1881 included a special treat:

“…the Gilberts built a new house in Harrington Gardens with a model of the H.M.S. Pinafore as a weather-vane, and this house … had electric light installed in it, and here the Christmas tree, instead of being hung with candles and parcels, was a dazzling mass of tiny festooned globes, blue, red, green and yellow, a light within each. Parcels were heaped on the floor so as not to spoil the effect, but were disregarded in the clamour to be allowed to move the switch in the wall that could plunge the room into darkness and, reversed, restore the light in a dozen fittings at once. We gaped in wonder…”

It’s amusing now, to think that there was a time when the presents under the tree would be ignored in favor of turning the tree lights off and on, and off and on…

Children brought out Gilbert’s sense of fun. Many of his letters to children are especially playful and amusing. A few years before the awesome electric Christmas tree lights, on 20 December 1876, W.S. Gilbert sent a hand-written Christmas card to Miss Terry that read:

Christmas wish from WSG

“Wishing you both a decent, sober, temperate and respectable Christmas, undisfigured by extravagance and untainted by excess,

I am,

very truly yours,

WS Gilbert.”


Here’s hoping that your own Christmas celebrations are the opposite of all that, and very merry indeed!







Victorian Drawing Rooms – Private Refuges from Public Life


The well-decorated library at Grimsdyke, the home of Lucy and William S. Gilbert.

With more people today working from home, it’s interesting to note that, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian era marks the separation of the workplace from the domestic sphere.

In Dickens’ Great Expectations, the law clerk Wemmick  says, “The office is one thing, and private life is another. When I go into the office, I leave the Castle [his home] behind me, and when I come into the Castle,  I leave the office behind me.”

Ah, the Industrial Revolution! Who would have guessed that those “dark satanic mills” of Byron’s poem would have revolutionized every aspect of the way people lived, down to the very style of their houses?

Before the Industrial Revolution, many middle- and lower-class people had previously earned money by working on piece-work at home. But with the rise of industry, workers began to perform their work in the factory or the shop – separate from their living spaces.

Furthermore, the mass production of goods allowed the middle classes to finally have access to cheaper versions of the items that had previously only been accessible to the wealthy. All sorts of decorative items were available – rugs, furniture, wallpaper and artwork – which could be easily acquired and used to display the interests and personality of the residents. Therefore, a plain, unadorned home was considered a sign of bad taste. Victorian homes boasted as much décor as possible.

Life in the public world began to move faster, with telegraphs and trains and machinery of all kinds speeding up the pace of business. Workers, meaning men, had to move faster too, as competition demanded more speed, more efficiency, and more aggression.  Not only were homes now places of adornment and personal display, but they were also pools of domestic tranquility, as people sought to create in their homes a kind of stasis, a permanent refuge in which to slow down and rest.

But even in a private refuge, there must be a place for “the World” to enter, and that place was the drawing room, which was the central formal room in which the mistress of the house entertained visitors. Since homes reflected their owner’s status in life, it was extremely important that the drawing room was neither too modest (which would show a carelessness or lack of self-respect in the homeowners) nor too over-decorated. Sharp-eyed critics of the time were quick to deplore a scenario in which a lowly clerk would be expected to make himself at home in a room fit for the richest of bankers.

As Judith Flanders says in Inside the Victorian Home, “Extravagance was immoral, thrift was moral; the greatest good was knowing one’s place and living up to it precisely.”

This requirement to be exactly who you seemed to be might also have been a reaction to the increasing levels of social mobility – in ages past, everyone knew everyone else’s families, what role they played in the life of the community, and what their status was. But now that a train ride to the city might allow a person to shed their old identity and assume a new one, it became urgently important to have ways of knowing who one was dealing with.

The danger of accepting a person at face value is one of the central issues in Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now.  In that novel, the fabulously wealthy financier Augustus Melmotte arrives suddenly in London from the Continent, and many of the penniless English aristocrats of the day are dazzled by his display. They take him at his word, and welcome him into their homes even though they know very little about him.

Sadly, however, it turns out that he’s not the man they think he is—and the trusting aristocrats and bankers of London fall victim to his wiles. Of course, they are just as much to blame, since it is their greed that leads them to accept him without checking out his history.


The Awakening Conscience by William Holman Hunt

Therefore, even though new technologies, new systems and new ideas were cropping up every day, most Victorian people instinctively reacted negatively to new things, especially with respect to the home and private life. John Ruskin, one of the foremost art critics and taste-makers of the day, reviewed Holman Hunt’s painting The Awakening Conscience, which showed a kept woman in her lavishly decorated room, by saying that everything in the picture showed a “terrible lustre” of “fatal newness.” The woman is suddenly realizing the error of her ways and that error is visible, to Victorian eyes, in all the new things that she has surrounded herself with.

Contrariwise, things that were old, handed down, or slightly shabby represented the homeowner’s connection with the past, and therefore were virtuous. In the drawing room, the excess of memorabilia, souvenirs and decorations were meant to be a visual representation of the family’s connection with the past and stability.

From another angle, Victorians were beginning to appreciate the art and design of different cultures, notably the Japanese. One of the main influences came from artist James MacNeill Whistler introducing Japanese art and design ideas to pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rosetti, who adopted the ideas whole-heartedly. But of course, the craze for all things Japanese caught on in other ways, too, and by the 1880s, no Victorian parlor could be found without at least one Japanese fan mounted upon the wall.

And so the Victorian drawing room contained elements of both old and new, both domestic and foreign, and both cozy and formal. It was the public room of the house, where visitors could be entertained, but it was also the first step into the private domain of domestic tranquility—Victorian style.





By William Holman Hunt – eAEe8oI1HIMufA at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum Tate Images Public Domain,

Food, Glorious Food!


Food in the Victorian era advanced as a result of technology. In 1830, about 90 percent of all food consumed in Britain was grown in Britain. By 1900, the United Kingdom could enjoy food that came from around the globe.

Food preservation became more reliable and more widespread in the Victorian era. In the late 18th century, Emperor Napoleon, concerned about feeding his armies, had offered a prize to anyone who could develop a way of preserving food. The tin can was invented by Nicholas Appert, who realized that if food were sealed tightly enough and then heated, it wouldn’t spoil.

In 1810 Englishman Peter Durand found a way to seal food into unbreakable tin containers. Bryan Dorkin and John Hall, perfecting this technique, set up the first commercial canning factory in England in 1813.By 1839, tin-coated steel cans were widely in use.

Strangely, the can opener wasn’t patented until 1858. It was surely a vast improvement over a hammer and chisel, which was the way people had to open cans before its invention.

Eliza Acton published The English Bread Book in 1852, analyzing all the then-current research on wholesome food and warning against adulteration; she had visited some bakeries where alum was added to bread in almost equal quantities to flour. Acton’s book, Modern Cookery, contained an abundance of recipes using wholesome ingredients. She was the first cookbook writer to list the ingredients needed for the dish in an orderly way, which anyone who’s gotten half-way through an instructions-only recipe and come across an unexpected item will surely appreciate.

The closed range came down in price and became a kitchen staple in the 1850s and 1860s. Originally, an “open range” was an iron box with a flat top that sat beside the open fire in the fireplace (hence the “open” designation) so that a cook could bake something inside the box while cooking something on the flat top, and spit-roasting a joint over the open fire beside it. The closed range drew the heat from the fire through various flues, so the oven part would heat evenly. These new closed ranges were excellent, especially when they had hot-water boilers beside them to produce hot water for bathing, cleaning and laundry.

An Englishman named Grimwade takes out a patent for drying milk in 1855. Dried milk became a basis for infant and baby foods. Glass baby bottles with rubber nipples also became available.

nancy-on-his-kneeIn 1855, canned meat began to be imported into England from North America and Australia.

By the middle of the century, condiments and preserves, pickles and sauces were increasingly purchased from dry-goods grocers rather than being made at home. Worcestershire sauce, curry powders, marmelades, instant soup packets and Bird’s custard powder might all be found in the middle-class pantry by 1870.

Frenchman Hippolyte Mege-Mouries took out a patent in England for his butter substitute, oleomargarine, in 1869.

And continuing in the developments in the area of refrigeration begun by Bostonian Frederic Tudor in the early 1800s, in 1876, the S S Strathleven arrived in London, its refrigerated hold packed with fresh meat from Australia and New Zealand.

And of course, where would Britain be without tea? In 1833, the East India Company lost its monopoly over the China tea trade, and the next year a substantial drop in the tea duty went into effect. This made tea the beverage of choice in England. By 1857, the British people were consuming an average of 2 ½ pounds of tea a year, which averages out to one or two cups of tea a day.



The Victorian Cookbook, by Michelle Berriedale-Johnson, c. 1989

Food and Cooking in Victorian England: A History, by Andrea Broomfield, c. 2007


*Also, if you’re interested in a recipe for Spotted Dog, check out Lobscouse and Spotted Dog by Anne Chotzinoff Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas, c. 1997 (it’s not Victorian, because it’s a gastronomic companion to the Aubrey/Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, but it’s got some great recipes).



Victorian Valentines

Valentine image with caption

Valentine image with caption

Across the centuries, humans have loved to celebrate love. From the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, to the Renaissance vision of courtly love, to Ophelia’s sad mention of Valentine’s Day in Hamlet, February 14 and Valentines have been symbols of romantic love.

In Britain around the 1820s, specially-made papers for sending Valentine’s Day greetings began to be marketed. They became so popular that they were soon being made in factories. Often flat paper sheets printed with colored illustrations and embossed borders, they were designed to be folded up and sealed with wax for mailing.

Elaborate lace quarto: Double-layered, openwork, cameo-embossed lace by the English firm of Joseph Meek, circa 1850. Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury

Elaborate lace quarto: Double-layered, openwork, cameo-embossed lace by the English firm of Joseph Meek, circa 1850. Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury

A very fancy Valentine could be made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the 1830s. Books and pamphlets containing sentimental verses and appropriate messages could be purchased by those wanting help in creating their card.

In 1835, 60,000 Valentine cards were mailed in Britain, despite postage being expensive.

After the introduction of the Penny Post in Britain in 1840, when adhesive stamps costing only a penny made mailing letters easy and inexpensive, sending Valentine’s Day cards became even more popular. And as the century progressed and mail deliveries around London became more frequent, a card sent in London in the early morning might easily be delivered to another London address the same day.

The stationery manufacturers Marcus Ward and Company helped to popularize printed Valentine cards. Specializing in stationery and general publishing, the firm won a medal for their color lithography in the Great Exhibition of 1851. In the 1860s, the firm was well-known for its calendars and greeting cards decorated by the likes of Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane.

Valentine by Kate Greenaway: England, circa 1870. Design from an illustration for the book, Melcomb Manor, a Family Chronicle. Printed by Marcus Ward, London,1875. from Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury

Valentine by Kate Greenaway: England, circa 1870. Design from an illustration for the book, Melcomb Manor, a Family Chronicle. Printed by Marcus Ward, London,1875. from Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury



The Laura Seddon Greeting Card Collection at Manchester Metropolitan University gathers 450 Valentine’s Day cards dating from the early nineteenth century, printed by the major publishers of the day.

Nancy Rosin’s Victorian Treasury contains a wealth of information about the history of valentines and information about the National Valentine Collectors Association.

Here is a lovely collection of Victorian Valentines assembled by The Guardian.

And who wouldn’t relish receiving a Victorian Valentine with a picture of Cupid on roller skates?

For those who like their Valentines snarky, check out these “vinegar Valentines. ”



Young Arthur Sullivan at the Crystal Palace

sullivan-young-manIn the fall of 1866, young Arthur Sullivan (he was just 24) got one of his first big breaks: The chance to show off his orchestra-conducting skills as the guest conductor in place of Herr August Manns at the Crystal Palace in Sydenham on September 17, 1866.

Sullivan excitedly wrote, “I am to conduct the Ballad Concert on behalf of Manns—it may lead to greater things.”

The Crystal Palace began its existence as The Great Exhibition of 1851, featuring a wide variety of exhibits of art, crafts, manufacturing, and novelty items from around the globe.

Presided over by Prince Albert, the Great Exhibition was originally built in Hyde Park where it was open for 6 months. It was such a success there that a new, permanent building was built in London’s Sydenham area, south of the Thames. The permanent building opened in 1854.

The Crystal Palace was a breathtaking combination of museum, trade show, and entertainment venue, complete with refreshment courts and – a special innovation in those days – public toilets.

An old-time printer marvels at the wonders of the Crystal Palace in this educational YouTube video.

It was the Place to Be from its opening in 1854 until the 1890s, when it began to fall into decline. The impressive iron-and-glass structure burned to the ground in 1936.

There were Egyptian, Roman, Renaissance, Greek and Pompeiian art exhibits. Giant dinosaur sculptures, displays of tropical fruit, handicrafts, and steam engines all could be found within the immense glass walls. Special events included a circus – the famous tightrope walker Blondin did a high-wire act inside the Crystal Palace that included him cooking an omelet 180 feet in the air above the crowd – the Shakespeare Tercentenary Festival, Christmas pantomimes, and weekly concerts at the 4,000-seat concert hall equipped with a complete concert orchestra and a 4,500-pipe Great Organ.

Here is a terrific collection of drawings, colored images and paintings of the exhibits (9 mins):

Beginning in 1855, Herr Manns took over the musical program at the Crystal Palace and stayed there until 1901. He expanded the orchestra from a small wind ensemble with an additional four string players into a full 34-person concert orchestra.

Manns was a mentor and friend to Sullivan for decades. He was the first to introduce Sullivan’s concert music to the English public, when he conducted Sullivan’s Tempest music – Sullivan’s first major work, consisting of incidental music designed to be played during Shakespeare’s The Tempest – in 1862.

The BBC radio show “In Our Time” has a 41-minute radio program on the Crystal Palace





19th C. Britain’s Changes Under Unchanging Queen Victoria

Queen_Victoria,_1847Queen Victoria was born 24 May 1819, the only daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent. A year later her uncle, the Prince Regent, became George IV. He reigned for 17 years. When George IV died 20 June 1837, Victoria became queen. She was crowned on 28 June 1838, a mere 18 years old.

Thus began the second-longest reign of an English monarch – Queen Victoria ruled for 63 years and seven months, a length of time which has only been surpassed by the present Queen, Elizabeth II.

During those six decades and more, England underwent great social, political, economic and technological changes.

The English Regency, which lasted from 1811 to 1820, marked the beginning of the end of the old agrarian and feudal social structures. The Industrial Revolution had its roots in the inventions which were pioneered in the late 1700s. By the early 1800s, advances in steam engines, textile-making machinery and iron founding processes made possible the development of efficient new factories.

Factory work prompted a shift in the overall social structure of the nation, since individuals could now sell their labor for hire to the highest bidder, rather than occupy an unchanging position in the hierarchy of a feudal system. Distinctions between social classes began to erode. An individual’s birth and family origins became less important to their later success in life.

The first British steam railway locomotive was built in 1811, and by 1830, the first intercity route, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, was opened. A mere twenty years later, by the early 1850s, Britain boasted of over 7,000 miles (11,000 km) of railways. Now people could move more freely around the country.

In 1838, the first commercial telegraph in the world was installed on the Great Western Railway over the 13 miles (21 km) from Paddington station to West Drayton. This made it possible to accurately communicate messages over long distances anytime day or night. By the mid-1840s, commercial mass communications systems enabled personal long-distance communications, with telegraph instruments being installed in post offices across the country. By the 1870s transoceanic telegraph lines were able to connect the UK with America and Australia.

Queen Victoria married Prince Albert on 10 February 1840. She loved him dearly, and they had 9 children together. Victoria survived 4 assassination attempts and one assault, but the greatest blow she sustained was the death of Prince Albert on 14 December 1861. Queen Victoria was inconsolable and wore black for the rest of her life. However, after several years of mourning, she was convinced to return to public life. Although British society was changing, they still wanted their monarch.

In January 1878, inventor Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated his recently developed telephone to Queen Victoria. A few days later the first telephone in Britain was installed, under licence from the General Post Office. From 1878, the telephone service in Britain was provided by private sector companies. In 1896, the service was taken over by the General Post Office.

Wireless technology, including Marconi’s system, began to be possible in the 1890s, but a regular transatlantic radio-telegraph service was not begun until 1907, several years after Victoria’s death.

Queen_Victoria_by_BassanoIn the 1890s, horseless carriages began to appear on the British scene. Frederick Simms, a London-based consulting engineer, became friends with German engineer Gottlieb Daimler, who had invented a high-speed petrol engine in 1885. In June 1895 Simms and his friend Evelyn Ellis promoted motorcars in the United Kingdom by completing the first British long-distance motorcar journey from Southampton to Malvern in July 1895.

The world’s first moving picture was shot in Leeds, England by French inventor Louis Le Prince in 1888. The next year, the first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made in Hyde Park, London by William Friese Greene, a British portrait photographer and inventor. He patented his celluloid film process in 1890.

Queen Victoria reigned until her death in 1901. Her oldest son, Bertie, then became King Edward VII, ushering in the Edwardian Era.

Queen Victoria lived to see a great many changes in the lives of her subjects and in her own life. What changes in society, politics, and technology have you lived through in your life?

Leave me a comment and let me know!

[Tweet theme=”basic-full”]Queen Victoria and the parade of history [/Tweet]


21 Good Books on Art, Crime, Women, and Life in Victorian London

Here are a few favorites from my personal list of reference books. Have I missed any books that you particularly enjoy? Let me know!


1. The Aesthetic Movement, by Lionel Lambourne (2011)
In the second half of the Victorian era, artists of all varieties became inspired by the writings of Baudelaire and Walter Pater to focus more on ornamentation and aesthetic concerns. The pre-Raphaelite artists, Queen Anne architectural styles, blue-and-white china and Japanese influences all were part of the Aesthetic Movement in both fine and decorative arts. The text of this book provides fascinating insights into the historical personages – such as Oscar Wilde, James McNeill Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Ellen Terry – who led and shaped the Aesthetic Movement and the color photographs are beautiful. Lionel Lambourne was Head of Paintings at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from 1986-1993.


2. The Cult of Beauty: The Victorian Avant-Garde 1860-1900, Eds. Lynn Federle Orr and Stephen Calloway (2011)
Lively, interesting essays on various aspects of Victorian life and art, coupled with gorgeous color photographs of art by pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic Movement artists, along with items from other decorative arts: vases, furniture, wallpapers, books and architectural elements, as well as satirical cartoons and drawings.



3. Life in Victorian Britain, by Michael Paterson (2013)
A big subject, but the wealth of material is summarized and presented in a very readable and engaging way. A great introduction.

4. The Victorian Studies Reader, Eds. Kelly Boyd and Rohan McWilliam (2007)
Excellent collection of essays by historians on various aspects of Victorian life, including religion, gender and social mores.

5. Daily life of Victorian Women, by Lydia Murdoch (2013)
A scholarly tome – but still interesting to read – on Victorian women’s life and experiences, covering such areas as family and home, politics and the public arena, health and welfare, and beauty, status and wealth. Interesting insights that present Victorian women as more actively engaged in the culture at large than one might think.

6. Daily Life in Victorian England, by Sally Mitchell (2008)
Another easily readable and engaging text on Victorian life in general, covering how people of all classes lived and celebrated the milestones of life.

7. Inside the Victorian Home, by Judith Flanders (2005)
I really enjoyed this book – the topics covered are organized according to the rooms in which those activities might be expected to occur: Cooking and food in the dining room, courtship in the parlor, and so on.

8. Victorian London, by Liza Pickard (2007)
Liza Pickard has authored a number of very interesting and entertaining books on life in London during various periods of history – Elizabethan London, Restoration London, Dr. Johnson’s London – and she brings her trademark wit and insight to the Victorian era. This is about the city, its expansion and development into a modern urban center, as opposed to a domestic view of life.

9. A History of London, Stephen Inwood (1999)
This covers all of London’s 2,000-plus year history from Roman times to the present. But it’s worthwhile reading and helps to get a perspective on the city as a whole.

10. London The Biography, Peter Ackroyd (2003)
A sprawling book covering London’s two millenia of history and development, with lots of anecdotes and perspectives on how the past has left its mark on the present.

11. London Past and Present, by Chiara Libero (2005)
A nice hardcover book with glossy photos of London.

12. London, by Iain Thomson (2000)
Another nice book of photographs of London landmarks.

13. London, by John Russell (1994)
An idiosyncratic memoir of London told through witty anecdotes by a distinguished art critic. Plenty of gorgeous paintings, interesting photographs and other depictions of life in London.

14. Crime and Society in England 1750-1900 (2d Edition), by Clive Emsley (1987)
A densely-written history of crime with statistics and graphs. The second edition has a new chapter on crime and gender.

15. City of Dreadful Delight, by Jane Walkowitz (1992)
A history of gender, exploring the experiences of women in the city. From poor streetwalkers to well-off “shopping ladies,” women have become more visible in the public areas of the city, and that leads to changes in the relationships between men and women.

16. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale (2009)
Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher is Scotland Yard’s best investigator in their new criminal investigation division, but his conclusions about who committed a shocking murder in 1860 challenged public perceptions so much that it cost him his career. Fascinating true crime story.

17. Scotland Yard Casebook, by Joan Lock (1993)
By the 1870s, Scotland Yard’s Detective Branch was discredited and corrupt, and in 1878 it was replaced by the Criminal Investigation Division. Police officer and historian Joan Lock tells the story behind the change, and the new division’s successes and failures including Ernest Southey’s four murders, the dockland killings of 1869, and the Neill Cream and Jack the Ripper murders.

18. Rise of Scotland Yard, Douglas G. Browne (1956)
Starting with the very beginning of the Metropolis, around about 1050, Browne covers the origins of policing in England – the posse comitatus, the hue and cry, the Bow Street Runner, and on up to the creation of an actual publicly-funded police force. He details the early years of Scotland Yard – the cases and the scandals – and then continues on to the events and dealings of Scotland Yard in the mid-1950s.

19. Calling Scotland Yard, by Arthur Thorp (1954)
Chief Superintendent Arthur Thorp wrote this book about his own career at the Yard, and discusses cases that he personally handled in the 1940s and 1950s. So even though it’s not from the Victorian era, I found it interesting to look at how cases were investigated and solved.

20. The Marlborough House Set, by Anita Leslie (1973)
The author, a great niece of Jenny Jerome Churchill, had a ring-side seat when it came to observing life in the highest echelons of British society – and here she’s collected a wide variety of anecdotes and photographs from her Edwardian-era relatives, who intimately knew the scandalous goings-on of the friends of the Prince of Wales (Queen Victoria’s son, later Edward VII), known as the Marlborough House set. Fun to read.

21. The English Companion, by Godfrey Smith (1984)
I picked this up on a whim at a used book store, because I figured it would help to understand some “Englishisms” that an American might not otherwise learn. It’s a fun and lighthearted look at English culture, circa 1984.

So that’s my list! Make sure to add any suggestions you may have in the comments below.