This letter is held by the American Library of Congress. It dates from the 1850's, and whether the original version was genuine or contrived, it is a most delightful find. Do read the explanation at the bottom of this transcription to fully understand the true intention of the message.


The great love and tenderness I have hitherto expressed for you 
is false, and I now feel that my indifference towards you 
increases proportionably every day, and the more I see you 
the more I appear ridiculous, and an object of contempt, and
the more I feel disposed, inclined, and finally determined, to 
hate you. Believe me I never had the least inclination to 
offer you my hand and heart. Our last conversation has 
I assure you, left a wretched insipidity, which has be no means
possessed me with the most exalted opinion of your character. 
Yes, madam, and you will much oblige me by avoiding me. 
And if ever we are united, I shall experience nothing but the 
fearful hatred of my parents, added to an everlasting dis
pleasure of living with you. Yes, madam, I think sincerely. 
You need not put yourself to the smallest trouble or send or 
write me an answer ------ Adieu. And believe that I am 
so averse to you that it is really impossible I should ever be,
                                 Your affectionate lover till death.
                                                                               W. GOFF


There are two ways of reading it; the father compelled his daughter to show him all letters sent to her - the unsuspecting father reads straight forward, but the daughter having the clue, reads the first, third and fifth lines, and so on. Then the contrast will be discovered. 



Little Nap
Chimpanzee circus performer dressed as Napoleon, early twentieth century.

I found this photograph of a chimp dressed as Napoleon when I was writing my first novel, The Somnambulist. At the time I'd been searching for the image of a monkey wearing a monocle and cravat, and holding a copy of Charles Darwin's 'Origin of Species'. I felt sure I'd once seen something fitting that exact description. Perhaps I'd dreamed it. I'm not sure. But, I subsequently used it in a scene of the novel.
In other novels, I've imagined a stuffed mermaid, and a dog preserved in death so as to sit inside a Brighton shop. But in my latest Victorian gothic, which is called The Fascination there is yet another monkey in an anatomy museum ...

    Eugene glances warily towards the small capuchin monkey sitting on a nearby shelf. ‘He was my mother’s. Did I tell you? I’ve never had the heart to sell him, although in truth the blasted creature was a perfect misery. Jealous of me! Can you believe? Always biting or delighting in tearing out my hair. If not that, then he’d be busy with the oiling of his whistle. I really should have had him stuffed in the act of masturbation. That might have made him happier.’ 
    The hairless, all too human-looking face of the monkey does appear to hold a sneer of special malice for the doctor ...

Not a very pleasant monkey, but a delight when compared to other hybrid creations that appear in the novel. 

As for real-life experiences, I often recall an East End restaurant which has now closed to the public. Les Trois Garcons was a baroque experience; very exotic and unique. ... as you can see from the photographs I took during one visit. And yes, that is another monkey, and a stuffed dog in fairy wings.

Stuffed tiger and monkey on display in Les Trois Garcons

Stuffed dog with wings attached, as seen at Les Trois Garcons

Thinking of dogs, you might enjoy the true story of Owney...

Owney, a type of terrier, was a stray first discovered in 1888 sleeping among the mail bags at New York's Albany post office. Quite a career lay ahead for the scruffy little dog. Soon, he was riding on the trains that ferried mail across the states, and by 1895 he'd also sailed on postal steamships, as far Asia and Europe. Owney became a kind of mascot, always thought to bring good luck. No train or boat he travelled on had ever crashed or been lost. For each successful trip, a lucky charm was then attached to a collar he wore, although in time there were so many the postmaster commissioned a special jacket to be made.
Sadly, Owney was doomed to a rather tragic end. In old age, he grew bad-tempered and when a newspaper reporter was seriously bitten, Owney was put down. Afterwards the mourning mailmen raised the funds to have him stuffed, and today he's on display in the Smithsonian Institute.

Picture taken from the Smithsonian Institutes website.

In England we have Station Jim and London Jack.

Station Jim - on display on Platform 5 at Sough railway station

From 1894-1896  Station Jim collected funds that went towards the charities formed for needy railway workers, or the orphans of employees killed while working on the lines. Based at Slough Station in Berkshire, Jim can be found on Platform 5. His glass case even still has a collection slot attached. 

This noble chap is London Jack who worked at Paddington Station from 1894-1900. During his lifetime, Jack raised £450 for charities. But, much like Jim in Slough, he carried on collecting more when he was stuffed after death. 

Jack can be seen today at the National History Museum in Tring along with many more examples of nineteenth century taxidermy.



William Jackson Crawford was a paranormal investigator who the author A. J. West has brought to life in his novel, The Spirit Engineer ~ the winning title in the Historical Writers Association Debut Crown, 2022.

In many ways William's life is a mystery, his story all but forgotten ~ until A. J. West began his own investigations.

He discovered that William, who'd been born in New Zealand, travelled to Glasgow in his youth and gained the qualifications to become a science teacher before he moved to Belfast.

William Jackson Crawford 1880-1920

Having found employment with the Belfast Municipal Technical Institute, William married Elizabeth Bullock Jolly. It was Elizabeth's own interest in the occult and afterlife that then led William to meet with Katherine Goligher. Along with other members of the Goligher family, Katherine was said to have a rare and natural talent for summoning the dead.

Although sceptical at first, between 1914 and 1920 William conducted several scientific investigations in an attempt to prove the fact that 'other worlds' did exist. His work appeared to be impressive and it came to the attention of the magician, Houdini, as well Arthur Conan Doyle. 

However, William began to lose his faith in the Golighers, and there are rumours that he'd suffered from a serious mental breakdown resulting in his suicide. He was reported as missing, and his body was discovered on some rocks beside the sea. There was foam around his mouth to indicate the likelihood of having taken poison. (Working at the Institute, he would have had easy access to potassium cyanide, with the powder being used for the developing of early photographic plates.)

William's corpse was found with a parcel and letter addressed to his wife. Whatever they contained was then supposedly destroyed by the policeman who first found them. But it is strongly assumed that he'd alluded to the fact that Kathleen Goligher had deviously tricked him. She had been the real fraud.

Whatever the truth, The Spirit Engineer offers a fascinating glimpse into the supernatural world of Edwardian spirit mediums, with many detailed accounts of the seances performed. 

The novel, with its stunning artwork, is a book to be cherished.

If you are already itching to learn more about this fascinating subject, I suggest you make a visit to A. J. West's own author website,  There you'll find more details of his research and Youtube films he has recorded in the process ~ including this book trailer. Watch on full screen. It's fabulous!

A. J. West ~ Author of The Spirit Engineer



Photograph by Sarah Whittingham, from a display at Sambourne House, in London


Recently, I was reminded by my friend and fellow writer, Sarah Whittingham, of the perfume I refer to in my debut novel, The Somnambulist. 

When I was writing this Victorian gothic, I wanted to introduce a perfume that would have been in production during the mid-nineteenth century, and also one that my character Nathaniel Samuels might actually have worn. The heady and glamorous concoction of Penhaligan's Hammam Bouquet fitted that need to perfection.

First created by William Penhaligon in 1872, this fragrance is still manufactured today, and is described as being ‘...animalic and golden... warm and mature, redolent of old books, powdered resins and ancient rooms. At its heart is the dusky Turkish rose, with jasmine, woods, musk, and powdery orris.  

Hammam Bouquet soon became a great favourite with respectable Victorian gentlemen. It owed its provenance to the odours that were found in the Jermyn Street Baths, a place often frequented by homosexuals. Considering this, and the era's repression of freedom of sexual expression, it is somewhat ironic that the seductive musky fragrance that intoxicates the senses should have been so popular. Or perhaps that's exactly why!

The Harrogate Turkish Baths

With their connotations of harems and boudoirs, the concept of Turkish baths became very popular in later nineteenth century England. The practice was said to be introduced here by a man called David Urquhart, a foreign diplomat and sometime Member of Parliament who'd travelled extensively throughout Morocco and Spain.

The Roman Baths in the city of Bath

However, the idea of communal bathing stems back to the customs of ancient Roman. It consisted of first sitting in a ‘warm room’ which was heated by dry air to encourage perspiration. A spell in a second hotter room and the bather would be splashed and cooled in colder water. After this the bather would enjoy an entire body wash, a massage, then relaxation. 

An advertisement for the Southampton Turkish Bath

The Jermyn Street Baths in London also employed a resident tattooist well known for his skill in producing artistic dragon designs, and ~ if the rumours can be believed ~ some of Queen Victoria’s sons were decorated in this manner after visiting the establishment.

Cooling room of the Jermyn Street Bath in London.
From the Wellcome Collection

What would their mother have thought of that? Perhaps she would have encouraged them to keep away from the Turkish baths and install a 'Quaker Cabinet' for their private use instead. 

With thanks to Malcolm Shifrin and information gleaned from his website: Victorian Turkish Baths: Their Origin, Development, And Gradual Decline.



Vincent Van Gogh 30 March 1853-29 July 1890 - self portrait: As an Artist

In 2010 the RA in London exhibited the work of Vincent Van Gogh, with the artwork being complemented by some of the countless letters he wrote during his adult life. Many of those letters showed quite a different side to the character captured in history - that of a tortured depressive who pickled himself in absinthe, cut off his ear in a spate of passion after an argument with Gaugin, and finally shot himself in the chest in a badly bungled suicide, after which he took two days to die. 

Theo Van Gogh

Most of the letters were addressed to his brother, Theo, who worked as an art dealer. But, their existence, along with  the 65 paintings and 30 connected drawings displayed in the show, are still in existence today mainly because of Theo's wife.

Photograph of the graves of Theo and Vincent Van Gogh ©Suzette Raymond

Widowed only six months after Vincent's death, when her husband succumbed to the complications of syphillis (the two brothers are buried side by side in graves in Auvers-sur-Oise), Johanna Van Gogh took care to preserve every one of her brother-in-law's letters. And, rather than disposing of what had been Vincent's unsaleable paintings, all of which Theo had collected and stored, she devoted the rest of her life to promoting his talent and work.

Johanna Van Gogh

Many  of the letters are now in such a fragile state it is highly unlikely they'll ever be exhibited publicly again. Several of them contained sketches of paintings that Vincent was planning to make in the future, and although final pieces we know today are often composed using heavy and vibrantly coloured strokes of paint, these smaller preparatory works were very precisely executed, with fine straight lines and an element of realism. Entirely different to the Impressionist style of the larger canvasses. 

The letter found in Vincent's pocket after he shot himself is splattered with either paint, or blood, and the words that Vincent wrote there were: “I risk my life for my own work and my reason has half foundered in it  -”

But many of the artist's earlier letters are less tragic, and are made up of thoughtful and eloquent prose. In them we 'see' a cultivated man who is clearly well-read and whose words convey poetic imagery. He describes the light shimmering on the sea -“like a mackerel ... always changing — you don’t always know if it’s green or purple — you don’t always know if it’s blue — because a second later its changing reflection has taken on a pink or grey hue...”

Of his paintings of Cypress trees, he said: "The cypresses still preoccupy me, I’d like to do something with them like the canvases of the sunflowers, because it astonishes me that no one has yet done them as I see them. [The cypress is] beautiful as regards lines and proportions, like an Egyptian obelisk. And the green has such a distinguished quality. It’s the dark patch in a sun-drenched landscape, but it’s one of the most interesting dark notes... they must be seen here against the blue, in the blue, rather."

Imagine talking to the man whose thoughts were so inspired!

Vincent Van Gogh as a child

Sadly, the darker moments obliterated the joyful. Even as a youth, Vincent possessed a brooding, troubled look. 

As a young man he found employment was with a firm of art dealers; his profession taking him to England and Paris. But a series of disappointing love affairs, along with an increasing dissatisfaction with the unscrupulous art world led him to contemplate life as a preacher - the same profession as his father. 

That ambition was doomed to failure when Vincent failed to pass the necessary exams, though he did work as a missionary in Belgium, and it was there he produced The Potato Eaters - his first major painting. Like many of the earlier works, this was not a blazing of light, but suffused in dark and earthy tones to echo the paintings of Rembrandt. 

Vincent was also influenced by prints reproduced in English magazines that showed the toil of the working man. He purchased a ten-year run of the popular magazine The Graphic so as to study such gritty scenes which he then attempted to emulate.

 The Potato Eaters 1885-6

It was when Vincent travelled to the south of France that his obsession with colour began. Inspired by the French Impressionists he had hopes of founding a community of artists, but his sense of inadequacy and increasingly violent mood swings were far from conducive to such harmonious living arrangements. Even so, despite his 'sounds and strange voices...that cannot but frighten you beyond measure' the time he then went on to spend in an asylum did offer some security. Vincent said the close proximity of other people similarly afflicted was somehow reassuring. It soon became his daily routine to set up his easel and paint - either in the hospital gardens or the surrounding countryside, producing swirling images of corn fields and olive groves.


In the few years before his death, Vincent moved to Arles where he rented 'the Yellow House' - another subject of his paintings, and about which he was to write: "That's a really difficult subject! But I want to conquer it for that very reason. Because it's tremendous, these yellow houses in the sunlight and then the incomparable freshness of the blue." 

Well, however hard the task, there can be no doubt that Vincent succeeded in his ambition. And, how poignant it is that the artwork unappreciated during the course of his lifetime is now considered to be among the world's most sought-after.

The Real Van Gogh exhibition was curated by Ann Dumas. In this short BBC film you can hear her thoughts and view some more of the works on display.

If you have more interest in the letters of Van Gogh, Thames and Hudson have published them in a six-volume edition of books. They can also be viewed online at http://www.vangoghletters.org/.

Soon to be published in January 2023, the novel Mrs Van Gogh by Caroline Cauchi tells the story of Joanna Van Gogh, and her relationship with the Parisian art world and the two brothers who became so central to her life. 



Princess Lottie

In my new Victorian gothic novel, The Fascination (published by Orenda Books in June 2023), I have a character who never grows in size beyond the age of five.


There are many different forms of restricted growth, or dwarfism, but to generalise there are two main groups ~ disproportionate (achondroplasia) when the torso is generally much longer than the limbs, and due to malformed bone or cartilage the spine and legs can be curved, or bowed, and the forehead can be very prominent ~ or proportionate, when the body looks much the same as a fully-grown person's, but is simply much smaller.


My Tilly Lovell's proportionate condition first becomes apparent in the months and years after a serious blow to the head. It is then emphasised even more because her identical twin sister continues growing to reach a full adult size. In Tilly's case, the stress of losing her mother, combined with an addiction to opiates, and the trauma to her brain and pituitary gland has led to a deficiency in the production of growth hormones. However, this is never diagnosed as such in the novel. She is simply little, and therefore becomes something of a curiosity to be displayed in a travelling fairground show, before being hired as a fairy for the London pantomimes.


In the Victorian era, and for hundreds of years before that, such little people were often displayed in royal courts, circuses, travelling shows or taverns as jokers or as wonders of nature to provide entertainment for the masses. 


A real-life character such as Tilly was to be found in Princess Lottie who, at the age of 14, was only 20 inches high and weighed 9 lbs. In the later 1800's she belonged to a troop known as Harvey's Midges. In this photograph from the Welcome Library's Collection she can be clearly seen as perfectly proportioned, and despite her minute size her character is shining out as she looks straight towards the camera.


In the poster above (from a collection at the British Library) we see an advertisement for a show at the Piccadilly Hall in London. Princess Lottie is seen balanced in the palm of the showman's hand, with other members of Harvey's act standing in the foreground.


Today, it is very rare to see such small people, most probably because children are diagnosed with a specific deficiency at a time in their life when they can be offered growth hormones to address their conditions.

For another novel featuring a proportionate dwarf, The Smallest Man by Frances Quinn is based on the true story of the dwarf, Jeffery Hudson, who was also known as Lord Minimus after being gifted to the wife of Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria. The portrait below is displayed in the National Portrait Gallery in London. For more information, this article from History Extra may be of interest.



The disturbing trade in human disability as a form of entertainment has been around for centuries, with physical 'curiosities' being displayed in circuses or travelling fairs. However, during the nineteenth century, such exhibits became so popular that permanent venues were established. London had the Egyptian Hall, and there were 'museums' with lurid waxworks or pickled specimens. In New York, P T Barnum set up his famed American Museum. 

Oh, how the Victorians loved a freak show, although in the present day such an interest seems immoral, sordid, and exploitative. However, at the time some performers were happy to be involved. The 'protection' of the stage offered a degree of security when an outside world could be hostile and cruel. The acts could also make good money. By the late 1890’s some of the most successful performers were earning as much as £20 a week – the equivalent of nearly £2000 today.

Most productions depended on the skill of the managers or showmen to draw in the paying crowds. Printed advertisements would be circulated so as to stir up curiosity, although when witnessed in the flesh the wonders that they boasted of could lead to disappointment.

The mermaid in this poster above would actually have been created by a taxidermist. Rather than seeing a lovely woman, the audience would be faced with the stuffed head and torso of a monkey attached to the body of a fish. 

There was quite a craze for what were known as the Feejee Mermaids, more of which you can read about in a previous blog post. You'll also find this particular freak featured in the V V's Victorian gothic novel,  Elijah's Mermaid, and more recently in the opening pages of The Fascination which will be published in June 2023. This new novel is very much based on people who are 'different', and who find themselves involved in the Victorian entertainment worlds ~ the country fairgrounds, the London Pantomimes, and an anatomy museum in Oxford Street, all based on places and events that really did exist.

There were also some performers who became so notorious they needed little to no promotion; such as Chang and Eng, the Siamese twin brothers linked at the chest by a thick band of skin. 

Midgets were always a lure, sometimes appearing in groups or ‘troops’ in which they danced, sang, or even performed as acrobats. One of the most famed of the little men was the American General Tom Thumb who travelled with P T Barnum’s show and proved to be so popular he was even invited to meet Queen Victoria.

Barnum and Tom Thumb

Miss Rosina was another favourite. Appearing all over Europe, she was also invited into aristocratic and royal homes. Despite having no hands or fingers she managed to crotchet by using her feet, and was said to produce fine paintings by holding a brush between her lips.

For more information the VV recommends John Woolf's marvellous book, The Wonders.

Below are some more posters developed to advertise freak shows, and which form part of a collection now held at the British Library.