Horizontal history

I was totally blown away by this page and the amount of effort that was put into it. I don’t want to say too much to introduce it really, except to say that this page visualises historical events that took place around the same time, and that it’s AMAZING!

Go check it out: http://waitbutwhy.com/2016/01/horizontal-history.html



The 19th century and especially the latter half of the century is known for its obsession with ghosts, spirits, morbid things, and the subconscious. In fact, talking with the dead, being inspired by them or guided by them, as well as spirit photography and ouija boards were a big fad around the 1850s.

One artist interested in spirits was Georgiana Houghton. She began producing ‘spirit’ drawings in 1859 at seances. This is what she said about the process:

“the execution of the Drawings my hand has been entirely guided by Spirits, no idea being formed in my own mind as to what was going to be produced…” She explains that the spirits were definitely those of dead people, and after having heard of such possibilities of communication as early as 1859 set out to “obtain mediumship” by holding hands with her mother at a small table for some months on end waiting for contact—which of course she says happened. Sundays worked best, “as we should then be less disturbed by evil influences”

In 1871 Houghton rented a gallery and showed her watercolour drawings in London.The exposition was met with mixed reviews, and only one painting sold.

These days though, we can appreciate her paintings for what they are: beautiful, colourful abstract paintings, full of movement. Houghton was a pioneer in paingting, choosing this abstract and free-flowing way of working instead of meticulously working out historical paintings. For the first time in 150 years, these works will be presented to the public, so don’t miss out!

Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings is at the Courtauld Art Gallery from June 16 to September 11 2016. Admission £9. Open 10am – 6pm daily.

A very interesting book of spirit photography by Houghton can be viewed here: http://www.keithdelellisgallery.com/Exhibitions/Spirit/Spirit2index.html


Victorian Fashion bookRecently I read Victorian Fashion by Jayne Shrimpton, a small but very informative book! Read on for my review.

I’ve read a lot of books on Victorian fashion, and I’ve looked at many artworks and fashion plates. So I would say I’m a pretty tough customer to satisfy when it comes to fashion books. I loved this book by Jayne Shrimpton!

This book is fairly thin at 93 pages, but gives a really great oversight over the fashions between 1837 and 1901. While some of the bigger books go into detail more, this book really gives you the overview of fashion and how fashion depended on changes in society or inventions of the time. The book is specifically meant to be an introduction that will inspire further research. To do so, lots of sources and places to visit are included in the end, which is a really nice touch.

Victorian Fashion examines the principal fashions for women, men and children, talks about how clothes were acquired, and touches upon some special themes like eveningwear, sports wear, bridal clothes and mourning clothes.

The book is very rich in pictures, some well-known fashion plates but also lots of lesser-known advertisements and photographs. This really makes the book stand out and give it a very well-researched feeling. Also, I just love looking at images of great Victorian outfits :)

There is a lot of attention for how certain fashions emerged, and how they are tied to events or happenings at the time. For example: the book talks about how a newly discovered way of pleating, where more fabric could be gathered into a pleat than before, gave way to a trend of pointed bodices and dome-shaped skirts. Or how the prevailing idea of the woman as a demure, shy and perfect angel resulted in constricting and restrained fashions like large shawls, dainty boots that covered the foot very well, and funnel-shaped poke-bonnets. It tells how the first use of sprung steel, starting in 1857, gave rise to a big fashion of hoop skirts.

I would really consider this book as a great starter book, to get into Victorian fashion in general and start your research with, or if you’re just interested and want to read a little bit more. It would definitely make a great gift, as the book is good-looking, very informative, and light enough to be a very pleasant read for everyone! For real history-buffs, it might offer little new information, but it would still be a very nice book to read and brush up on your knowledge.


Here’s some fun news! Until May 31st 2016, you can get a 20% discount upon purchasing this book! Go here: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/victorian-fashion-9780747815082/ and use the code:  VFASHION20 


I really do love Victorian advice. Ususally you’ll find this advice in lady’s magazines, and it really gives an excellent peek into Victorian life.

A bit ago, this article was circulating, which features some excellent strange advice: http://historybuff.com/5-pieces-of-bad-advice-from-victorian-womens-magazines-p4r1DvaQAoPl

There were some complaints on this post because the advice picked is rather ridiculous, and the tone of the article is very mocking. There is also some really good advice, however. I loved this one since we on this blog have been puzzling about how people know all of the exact etiquette of the 19th century:

Marian says: “ I have frequently had calls from fashionable ladies who have sent their card in, or left them, with one or more corners turned down. Can you tell me the meaning of it? Pride prevents me asking any one else. By answering the above, through the Lady’s Own Paper, you will much oblige a friend.”  The turning down of the corner of the card means that the ladies or gentlemen, as the case may be, left them in person, instead of sending them by messenger or otherwise.

Often, advice was given anonymously, and without printing the letter. Only the answer was given. As in this case:

What you complain of is difficult – nay, impossible – to cure all at once, but they can be subdued in the manner given below; although, iI tell you honestly, you have to be patient, and allow time to help you. They do not arise from a bad circulation, as you  surmise, but are due to the blocking up of the sebaceous glands of the skin.

Whew! Pimples? Acne? Freckles? Something else altogether? Noone knows.

Some makeup advice:

You must apply friction to your lips, and be continually moistening them slightly and biting them. I do now recommend you to tint them, as it is always unmistakable, and by the above simple method the skin of the lips becomes thinner and the blood shows through. Seawater is injurious to the hair, and you should certainly wear an oilskin cap when bathing.

And some advice against red noses (still a problem even today):

If you are able to walk for an hour, you should certainly walk five or six miles a day, and you will find that the more brisk exercise you take the less you will have to fear your enemy – the red nose.


All advice from this post was found here: https://books.google.nl/books?id=DvlXXsmlW2sC&pg=PA166&lpg=PA166&dq=advice+victorian+womens+magazines&source=bl&ots=6dEurKHpng&sig=_rz_v_daaeGiHzPSA5qNvRRzN3o&hl=nl&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjHwd-6x9LLAhWFJZoKHWz8BqwQ6AEIQDAG#v=onepage&q=advice%20victorian%20womens%20magazines&f=false

Ready to read some lady’s magazines? Go here: http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-englishwomans-domestic-magazine

Now that spring is afoot, I thought it was time for a tale of creepiness. Turn down your lights, shut the drafty windows, and let’s read a bit about Graveyard security and the Resurrection Men.

Graves, burials, and dead bodies, were seen entirely different in the 19th century. And to understand this, you have to view it in the light of the emerging health care and medicine studies.


The anatomy lesson, not a 19th century painting but a 17th century one by Rembrandt

First of all, healthcare was less developed. A patient that today would be in a coma, might be declared dead in the 19th century. There was no or little knowledge of resuscitation. Still, people were aware that someone might appear dead but be, in fact, alive.

Secondly, the profession of surgeons was developing rapidly. But, in order to learn more about the human body, a dead body was needed to perform anatomies on. But there was no legal way to obtain a dead body.

Enter the body snatching. Body snatching is the secret disinterment of bodies from cemetaries. In the 19th century this was done in order to sell the corpses for dissection and anatomy lessons in medical schools, more than grave robbing. Those who practiced body snatching were often called “resurrectionists” or “resurrection-men”.

In 1832 the Anatomy Act came to pass, but before that the only legal supply of corpses for anatomical purposes in the UK were those condemned to death and dissection by the courts. Those who were sentenced to dissection by the courts were often guilty of comparatively harsher crimes. The problem was, by the 19th century only about 55 people were being sentenced to capital punishment each year. With the expansion of the medical schools, however, as many as 500 cadavers were needed annually.

Body snatching became so prevalent that it was not unusual for relatives and friends of someone who had just died to watch over the body until burial, and then to keep watch over the grave after burial, to stop it being violated. Iron coffins, too, were used frequently, or the graves were protected by a framework of iron bars called mortsafes.

In fact, the securing of graveyards heavily impacted the design and layout of graveyards. Some graveyards were secured by walls or railings, some were secured by watchhouses. Sometimes great iron cases were erected over the case, either permanently or for the first few weeks, until the body was safe from body snatchers.

In Scotland, where the demand was even higher, watchmen were employed to guard the burial-grounds. Graveyards would sport big towers at the entrance like a Medieval castle, to house the watchmen. (Source: http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/1586841.pdf?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents)

So what about the buried-alive issue from earlier in this post? The solution was simple. Some graves were outfitted with bells. The bell was operated by a string, tied to the buried person’s body. Should you find yourself alive in a coffin, a simple ringing of the bell would do:

A bunch of bleak pictures of body snatchers can be seen here: http://thechirurgeonsapprentice.com/2012/03/06/grave-matters-the-body-snatchers-unearthed/

Victorian jokes

This, and other (questionable) Victorian humour, can be found here.

19th-century Jewelry

Today’s post is sponsored by Christie Stratos and her book Anatomy of a Darkened Heart.


19th-century Jewelry

Spray ornament, maker unknown, about 1850. Museum no. M.115-1951. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London


The 19th century was a time of great changes in jewelry. The increasingly industrialised society, the growing middle classes, and the increase in available materials, resulted in a lot of changes in jewelry use and wear.

Symbolism in jewelry

At the start of the 19th century, jewels were rare, mostly worn by upper classes, often heirlooms, and deeply symbolic. A piece of jewelry would be made or bought to commemorate a birth, a wedding, or a death. An example of this are mourning rings (simple pain rings with a name and two dates), jewelry with hair of a loved one worked into it, or cameos with a loved one’s profile on it. Seed pearl jewelry became fashionable during particularly as gifts to a bride. This jewelry, made from hundreds of tiny pearls imported from China or India, remained popular into the early twentieth century.

Working Title/Artist: Necklace Department: Am. Decorative Arts Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1845-50 digital photography by mma, DP110369 touched by film and media (jn) 5_11_05


In Christie’s book, you can find another example of jewelry having a symbolic meaning:

A painted eye motif on ivory set in ornate gold. A brooch the child could wear at her neck, over her heart, throughout her life. A symbol of Mr. Whitestone’s infidelity.” (paperback version, page 20)

The lover’s eye in Mrs. Hinsley’s eye color was bad enough, but the pearls represented tears – everyone knew that.” (paperback version, page 21)

Normally a lover’s eye is a gift between lovers or something worn in mourning for a lover, but in this case it’s a baptism gift to a baby. It’s a message to the baby’s mother to tell her – in front of mutual friends – about the affair her husband is having. It’s interesting because the gift says everything instead of the gift giver saying anything. While the jewelry has its own symbolism, it’s also very telling of indirect methods of communication in that time period (1840-1861).


Jewelry styles

In the first decades, classical styles were used for jewelry designs. Grecian and Roman styles were favoured for styles, because they were seen as in good taste and lasting style. Archaeological discoveries stimulated these styles even more. An interest in botany and flowers was also seen in jewelry designs, with jewels resembling flowers and leafs.

By the late 1850s, styles started to change. Following along with Victorian fashion, jewelry became more exuberant, more intricate, and larger in size. As for flowers, certain colours were used to convey messages.

Around this time, jewelry became accessible for more people so it was easier to buy a piece for any occasion. Newfound sources of gold and silver (mostly in America) and diamonds (mostly in Africa) made for lower prices. The process of making jewelry became more efficient, and easier to make jewelry (like round brooches, die-stamping, faux ancient coins) helped lower jewelry prices even more.


Arts & crafts jewelry


Pendant-brooch (detail), designed by C.R. Ashbee and made by the Guild of Handicraft, about 1900. Museum no. M.31-2005. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The last decades of the 19th century saw the rise of the Arts and Crafts movement. This movement felt an unease with the industrialised world and rejected the machine-led factory system. The movement longed to go back to a more simple time, where jewelry was made by hand. This would improve both the item, and the workman’s soul.

Arts and Crafts jewellers avoided large, faceted stones, relying instead on the natural beauty of cabochon (shaped and polished) gems. They replaced the repetition and regularity of mainstream settings with curving or figurative designs, often with a symbolic meaning.

If you want to look at some beautiful pieces, go here:



This post was brought to you by Christie Stratos, our sponsor for this month! Christie is an author of historical fiction, writing mostly dark psychological historical fiction. Her latest book is Anatomy of a Darkened Heart (Book 1 in the Dark Victoriana Collection). If you liked the excerpt, you can buy the book Anatomy of a Darkened Heart on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, or buy a signed version from the author herself.

Interested to read more about Christie, or see what she’s up to? You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, YouTube, Pinterest, and Google+


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