When writing her novel, The Somnambulist, the VV wanted to introduce a perfume that would have been in production during the mid nineteenth century; a fragrance that might have been suitable for men and women alike - and the heady and glamorous concoction of Penhaligan's Hammam Bouquet fitted that need to perfection.

First created by William Penhaligon in 1872, this lovely fragrance, still manufactured today, 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, even though  it owed its provenance to the odours that were found in the Jermyn Street BathsThe VV finds it amusing that, considering the era's sexual repression, this seductive and musky fragrance intoxicated the senses with fantasies built on exotic romance, of naked sultans in steamy baths in Turkish harems and boudoirs.
The Turkish bath became very popular in later nineteenth century England, with the concept introduced by a man called David Urquhart; a foreign diplomat and sometime Member of Parliament who had travelled extensively throughout Spain and Morocco.
In fact, a Turkish Bath had more in common with ancient Roman custom. It consisted of first sitting for some time inside  a ‘warm room’, heated by dry air to encourage perspiration. A spell in a second hotter room and the bather would be splashed and cooled in baths of colder water. After this he would enjoy an entire body wash, a massage, then relaxation. 

 An advertisement for the Southampton Turkish Bath

The Jermyn Street Baths also employed a resident tattooist who was 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.
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.



The disturbing and immoral 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. In New York, P T Barnum set up his famed American Museum. 

Oh, how the Victorians loved a freak show - and although in the present day such an interest seems  sordid and exploitative there is no doubt that some performers were happy to be involved. Ironically, the 'protection' of the stage offered a degree of security and peace, whereas the reality of the outside world could be hostile and very cruel. The acts could also make good money. By the late 1890’s some of the most successful performers could earn as much as £20 a week – the equivalent of well over £1000 today.

Most productions depended on the skill of the manager or showman to draw in the paying crowds. Printed advertisements would stir up curiosity, although when witnessed in the flesh the wonders they boasted of could well lead to disappointment.

The mermaid in this poster above would actually be created by the arts of the 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 displays of these 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.

But there were also some performers who became so notorious they needed  little promotion; souch 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'd dance and sing, or perform 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 invited to meet Queen Victoria.

Barnum and Tom Thumb

Miss Rosina was another favourite. Appearing all over Europe, she was 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 posters developed to advertise freak shows, and which form part of a collection now held at the British Library.



In the Victorian era Dr Joseph Kahn's Anatomical and Pathological Museum was a great tourist destination. It ran for 22 years despite several court cases arising from anti-vice and medical campaigners who attempted to close it down.  But, in 1851, when the establishment was opened, despite it being named as a gloomy sepulchre of pathological horror, there was enormous interest in response to advertisements, such as this from the Daily News on April 2nd, 1851 ~

 DR. KAHN'S GRAND ANATOMICAL MUSEUM, 315 Oxford Street, is now OPEN from 10 o'clock in the morning till 10 o'clock at night. Popular Lectures, explanatory of the Structure and Functions of the Human Body, and illustrated by models, will be delivered daily by an English medical gentleman, at the following hours, viz., 11,1,3,5,7, and 9 o'clock - Admission 2s. 

There were explicit displays showing various defilements of the 'sacred body beautiful' from venereal disease. Visitors would be horrified and titillated at the same time. Some may have learned the facts of life, or else been lectured on the dangers caused to the lungs from smoking. There were also sensible rejections of beliefs that fetal abnormalities were caused by pregnant mothers having overactive imaginations. (This concept of 'maternal impression' was given as the reason for Joseph Merrick's deformities. Known as the Elephant Man due to the extensive tumours growing on his body, his family often recounted the story that his mother had been knocked down by a fairground elephant when she was carrying her son.) 

Such a museum was nothing new. John Hunter's famed collection, established in the 18th century, was purchased by the government in 1799 for the Royal College of Surgeons. Those exhibits were not opened up to the general public who still found their entertainment by gathering in great numbers to view anatomical wax models at Simmons's Waxworks in High Holborn. There an anatomical Samson with his torso opened up to reveal internal organs was a source of lurid wonder. Similarly, Signor Sarti's exhibition in Margaret Street had a wax Venus and Adonis. 

Anatomical Venus from The Wellcome Collection

Joseph Kahn followed this theme for his own museum. Having claimed to be a qualified medical physician, he opened a shop/Museum in Oxford Street. Here he displayed anatomical, surgical, and embryological collections with an emphasis on science, much recommended for the enlightenment of families and schools. The more morbid effects of venereal disease were kept in private rooms, supposedly only for eyes of trainee medical men. But, in reality, any adult who could pay the entrance fee could go along and see them. Eventually The Lancet expressed concern at female visitors observing such depravities, but Dr Khan then insisted they were  there in a professional capacity as midwives or nurses which left the editor satisfied, even  recommending the venue as a source of valid learning. 

The museum was threatened again when a competitor (Reimers's Museum) encouraged a young boy to formally complain that Kahn had interfered with him. Once again the Lancet came to Dr Kahn's defence, although the editor, Thomas Wakely, was severely disappointed when Kahn went on to be known for promoting and selling quack medicines. 

The Jordan family, operating as Perry & Co, became involved in the business, providing cures for venereal disease. There were also appliances for treating young men suffering the condition of 'spermatorrhoea' or 'states of nervous exhaustion' brought on by masturbation. In other words, they were treating a natural bodily function as if it were an illness. 

The trade was lucrative. Kahn was soon able to rent a lavish home in Harley Street and to ride about the town in his own private carriage. The museum was moved to a new location in Piccadilly which was altogether grander. However, this proved too much for the more upstanding members of the medical profession. Kahn was charged and taken to court where it was found he had no right to call himself a doctor, or to give out medical advice. Representatives of the Lancet also claimed the museum's displays were sordid and immoral, and the owner sold what bordered on pornographic books and pamphlets - all of which led to Kahn being prosecuted on  grounds of obscenity. 

During this upheaval Kahn continued selling his guides on diet, hygiene and sexual health. He also gave lectures on human curiosities - such a tribe born with tails that had been found in Africa, or the mummified remains of a child born with several legs which he called The Heteradelph. 

However, by 1864, the General Medical Council struck again and accused him of working illegally in an unlicensed practice. At this point Kahn disappeared, perhaps returning to Germany.  

The museum carried on, supported by the Jordans who still sold quack goods and medicines. Kahn's name was even used to promote a new museum in New York. Books he had been claimed to write were still being published as late as 1917. 

In London the museum was permanently closed. The Society for the Suppression of Vice had been involved and, following another court case, the magistrate demanded that all the stock and exhibitions be immediately destroyed. Somewhat dramatically, the solicitor representing the Society was personally allowed to take a hammer to the models, breaking up what The Times described as items of 'the most elaborate character, most of which were said to be worth a considerable sum of money.' 

Thanks to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, and the Wellcome Collection for valuable information, and also to Lee Jackson of www.victorianlondon.com for the museum advertisement.



In 1892, by which time the bicycle had become an everyday sight in Victorian life, Henry Dacre composed a song that became immensely popular, both in the London music halls, and also in America.

The lyrics featured a tandem - a bicycle made for two - and the song was said to be based on the real-life Countess of Warwick, Frances Evelyn 'Daisy' Greville; a champion of women's rights, and also a mistress of the Prince of Wales. 

Daisy Daisy,
Give me your answer do!
I'm half crazy,
All for the love of you!
It won't be a stylish marriage,
I can't afford a carriage,
But you'll look sweet on the seat
Of a bicycle built for two !

It is always somewhat surprising that, despite centuries of mankind using the wheel, it took so long for the bicycle mode of transport to be invented. And, like so many other events that we tend to take for granted today, the main refinements of development occurred during the Victorian era.

However the main innovation dates back to 1817 when the German Baron, Karl von Drais, created his 'Laufmaschine' - basically little more than a foot-propelled running machine.

A year later, the English version (above) was patented by Denis Johnson, and became quite an overnight craze, though Keats was to call it 'the nothing of the day'. He was not the only one to initially ridicule the 'pedestrian curricle', also nick-named the hobby, or dandy horse due to the style of foppish young men who often took up the sport. And, as far as such prototypes were concerned, Keats was right to assume them a fad. The constant pushing along the ground quickly ruined the soles of boots, and riders who persisted in using the pavements or sideways were frequently stopped and fined two pounds. Quite an enormous amount at the time.

MacMillan's pedal operated bicycle

The Drais model did lead to future innovations, with the first pedal-operated machine believed to have been constructed in 1839 by the Scottish blacksmith, Kirkpatrick MacMillan. 

The Michaux Velocipede

Later, in 1861, the French carriage maker, Pierre Michaux invented his famous 'Velocipede'. This machine was nick-named the 'boneshaker' due to the terrible vibrations caused by riding on rough roads, with nothing beneath the saddle but wooden wheels bound in hoops of iron.

Man riding a 'boneshaker'. 
Image from The Brighton Museum

The new design was further developed to become known as the 'High Wheeler', the 'Ordinary' or the 'Penny Farthing', in which one wheel was a great deal larger as a way of attempting to reduce the trauma of the vibrations, as well as the risk of both wheels getting lodged in potholes in the road. 

Although it must have taken some nerve and skill to remain in place on such a machine, they were extremely popular. They could travel fast, and races were often held. They also afforded a measure of freedom that enabled city dwellers to venture out into the countryside. Clubs were formed for like-minded enthusiasts, and even included church-goers who used this means of transport for spreading the word of Christ. 

The turning point for general use came after 1890 when the 'safety bicycle' was produced, which included brakes and gears, but also equally-sized wheels cushioned on pneumatic tyres. This design has remained more or less constant and is the standard shape on which we wheel around today; though we rarely embark on the bicycles that are made for two.



The Little Mermaid meets the Prince - by Dulac

Hans Christian Andersen was the Danish author of many classic fairy tales such as The Snow Queen, Thumbelina, The Little Match Girl, The Ugly Duckling and The Little Mermaid.

Hans Christian Anderson 1805-1875

The child of a washerwoman and a shoe maker, Anderson’s childhood in Odense was steeped in poverty. His family life was motley and colourful with one grandfather said to be mad, and a grandmother who worked in a lunatic asylum. One of his aunt's ran a brothel, and a half-sister was a prostitute who, in later life, attempted to blackmail her famous brother. Even when Hans was young and unknown his father would often insist that his son was related to the Danish royal family. What this was based on, who can tell. No proof of the claim has ever been found.

After the death of his father, the somewhat prudish and self-obsessed boy who often played with dolls in the street while singing in a high tenor voice, left his home town for Copenhagen to study at the university. He hoped to pursue a career on stage, but when such dreams failed to materialise he worked on his writing instead. He rapidly produced novels, travelogues and poetry – eventually creating the fairy tales that would lead to the fame he craved, when, in his own words –‘My name is gradually beginning to shine, and that is the only thing I live for...I covet honour in the same way a miser covets gold.’

A recent Danish stamp in honour of Hans Christian Anderson

By the end of his life, the Danish government proclaimed him a national treasure, with designs for a statue approved of long before his actual death. In life he was feted by such luminaries as Balzac, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Dumas, Victor Hugo, Ibsen, Wagner and Liszt. Charles Dickens welcomed Hans into his own London home for a visit that lasted five weeks – though there was talk of it being a strain. Kate Dickens called him a ‘bony bore’, and when Anderson finally left Dickens pinned a note to a wall of the room in which his guest had slept: ‘Hans Anderson slept in this room for five weeks – which seemed to the family AGES.’

When it came to a love life, the lanky, gauche and effeminate writer had very little luck. He always felt himself an outsider, and his sorrow at the lack of a ‘companion’ is shown in this diary entry – ‘Almighty God, thee only have I; thou steerest my fate, I must give myself up to thee! Give me a livelihood! Give me a bride! My blood wants love, as my heart does!’

He cultured strange ‘love triangles’, in which  his wooing of a sister often hid a secret lust for the brother, as in the case of Riborg Voigt – a letter from whom was found in a pouch on his chest at the time of his death. 

Jenny Lind

His courting of the singer Jenny Lind, for whom he wrote The Nightingale, led on to her being nicknamed the Swedish Nightingale. But the ‘affair’ was purely platonic, and while the two ‘friends’ were staying in Weimer as guests of Duke Carl Alexander, it was said that Anderson was more entranced with the host than the woman. The affection was not unrequited. The two men were often seen holding hands, sobbing as they proclaimed a mutual adoration of the lovely Jenny. Meanwhile, Anderson wrote of the duke that he – ‘... told me he loved me and pressed his cheek to mine...received me in his shirt with only a gown around...pressed me to his breast, we kissed...’  

It was Andersen’s life-long love for a man called Edvard Collins (whose sister he also courted) that inspired him to write The Little Mermaid – a story of obsessive longing and pain, and with the intense desire to be ‘transformed’, which the author expressed in this letter – ‘I languish for you as for a pretty Calabrian wench...my sentiments for you are those of a woman. The femininity of my nature and our friendship must remain a mystery.

The VV is now inspired to read The Little Mermaid again - and no doubt to view the story in quite a different light.



Eadweard Muybridge (1830 ~1904)

Eadweard Muybridge was born in Kingston on Thames in 1830, when he was known by the somewhat duller name of Edward James Muggeridge.

At the age of 22 he left England for America to seek his fame and fortune. He first worked in New York as a bookbinder's agent, and then moved on to San Francisco where his interest in photography bloomed. Using a mobile darkroom that he christened The Flying Studio, he produced stunning stereoscopic landscapes, such as this one from within a volcano…

The fame that Muybridge desired finally came about when he was hired by the railroad baron, Leland Stanford. A passionate racing horse breeder commissioned the photographer to solve the age old argument as to the whether or not a running horse ever lifts all four feet from the ground - and Muybridge was able to prove that, yes it really did!

The method he used was to set up several cameras, each with its shutter attached to a thread. As the horse ran past and broke each thread, so an instant exposure was produced.

The public were amazed to see the results, and Muybridge went on to develop his art, producing a substantial body of work which was published in the books Animal Locomotion, and The Human Figure in Motion.

Muybridge's study of wrestlers

Francis Bacon's 'Two Fighters'

Such systematic studies of the science of motion went on to inspire Francis Bacon, as seen in the painting above. 

In his own time Muybridge's work also inspired early film makers, many of whom would have been aware of his development of the Zoopraxiscope which involved printing a series of images onto a circular base that was then made to spin around so as to give the illusion of movement. In other words, animation. The basis of moving film.

A Zoopraxiscope a couple dancing
Click HERE to see the animation in process

A sweet and romantic picture can be seen in the image above. But Muybridge's own love life was beset by violence and tragedy.

He married somewhat late in life, falling in love with Flora Shallcross Stone, a young woman aged twenty-one. While Muybridge was often absent, travelling with his cameras, Flora was wooed by another man, a threatre critic called Major Harry Larkyns. When Muybridge discovered the affair and suspected that Larkyns had fathered his wife's seven month old son, he confronted his rival in person, addressing him with the words: "Good evening, Major, my name is Muybridge and here is the answer to the letter you sent my wife." The answer was a bullet. The major was shot dead.

Muybridge was tried for murder, but was then acquitted on the grounds of justifiable homicide, after his lawyers successfully argued that a head injury resulting from a stage coach accident some years before had affected their client's rationality.

For Flora, the nightmare was far from over. Not only had her husband divorced her, but she became very ill with typhoid. Before she tragically died, she placed her child, Florado, into the care of a French couple. However soon after this Muybridge had the child removed and sent to a Protestant orphanage. Years later when 'Floddie' was a man he worked as a ranch hand and gardener, and was often said to bear an uncanny resemblance to the famous Eadweard Muybridge.

This tragic period in Muybridge's life inspired an opera by Philip Glass. Composed in 1982, The Photographer's libretto is drawn from transcripts of the trial, and also letters written by Muybridge to his wife.  Act 1 - A Gentleman's Honour - can be heard on youtube.

In his later life Muybridge returned to Kingston on Thames where he died in 1904. His equipment and photographic prints were bequeathed to the Kingston Museum.

Muybridge's historically significant animated view of a buffalo galloping over the plains can be seen here.



In Michel Faber’s novel The Crimson Petal and the White, the subject of some previous posts – the male character of William Rackham has inherited a soap ‘empire’ The product he sells is famed for its lavender perfume, and also because it has his face printed on the packaging.

What an ingenuous decision it was for Faber to select the industry of soap on which to base his industrialist’s wealth, because his novel tells a story reeking of filth and degradation: the selling not just of soap, but also of women's bodies.


A contemporary Victorian model for a business such as Rackham's could very well have been that of Pears. 

The company which won a medal at the Great Exhibition in 1851 was named after Andrew Pears. He originally hailed from Cornwall before travelling to London to set up in trade as a barber. But in 1789 he also began to manufacture cosmetics based on glycerine and natural oils. He used ingredients purer and kinder than many others sold to enhance what was then the fashionable look of an ‘alabaster’ complexion - but which also contained harsh ingredients such as arsenic or lead.

As the years went by, Pear's cosmetics business prospered and was eventually handed down to Andrew's grandson, Francis. Francis built a factory in Isleworth, on the outskirts of London. His son-in-law, Thomas J Barratt then helped to promote the family brand even more when he headed up the firm. 

Barratt is sometimes spoken of as the father of modern advertising after he took to buying the rights to artworks which were then reproduced as posters. If you look for Pears Soap in Google images you will find a huge selection of prints. Why, even Mr Millais, one of the VV’s favourites, provided his painting of ‘Bubbles’ which is still well-known today.

Bubbles by Millais

Another publicity tool was to use the soap as an emblem of cleanliness abroad in the expanding British Empire. Images such as the one below would be rightly be construed as being racist today, though it is actually quite mild compared with some of the posters used. 

Another rather ingenious method of marketing the product was to buy up unwanted coins from France and then re-press the metal with the words of ‘Pears Soap’. Many of theses coins were often passed off as common currency. 

Celebrity endorsement was also brought into play when Lily Langtry, famed for her ivory skin, also advertised the brand. For this she was handsomely paid - a fact noted by Punch magazine in various cartoons. 

Between 1891 and 1925 Pears printed Christmas Annuals in which many pages were filled with the company's advertisements. 

In the early twentieth century the 'Miss Pears' competition was born, with families entering their little girls in the hope that they might then become the next pretty 'face’ of Pears. 

Pears soap is still available to buy. The almost transparent amber bars are unique and widely loved; so much so that when Unilever, the company that now owns the brand, attempted to alter the perfume there was an enormous public outcry for it to return to the original. How proud Andrew Pears would be to know that his original recipe still endures to this very day.