As many of you know, Loretta and I just returned from a frantic (but fun) short trip to New York in connection with the Romance Writers of America annual conference. For solitary writers from the hinterlands, NYC is a perpetual Wonderland, which is why this clip seems particularly appropriate for us today.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll has inspired numerous interpretations since it first was published in 1865, from Disney cartoons to music videos to the most recent dizzying movie by director Tim Burton. But in 1903, less that forty years after the book was written, two pioneering filmmakers – Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow - used the still-new medium to create the first Alice in Wonderland, the longest film (12 minutes and 800 feet!) produced at the time in Britain.
The film has recently been restored by the BFI National Archive from a badly deteriorated original. The damage is still apparent. But with its elaborate costumes and a few exciting special effects, the short, silent film has a magical power and dreaminess that the later, more elaborate ones can't match. This clip features the highlights; here's the link to the complete film, plus more information about the film.
Several times in Silk is for Seduction, I give attention to the dress of the heroine’s daughter. The descriptions may seem exaggerated. Or maybe readers think that, because she's a dressmaker, my heroine couldn’t help treating her child like a mannequin. But in fact, children’s dress in the ladies’ magazines is often a scaled-down version of adult wear.
FASHIONS FOR MARCH, 1830.
EXPLANATION OF THE PRINTS OF THE FASHIONS.
CHILD'S WALKING DRESS.
A Pelisse of Indian-red gros de Tours. The corsage is disposed in folds, the sleeve full at the upper part of the arm, and nearly tight at the lower; it is terminated with an ermine cuff. The skirt is bordered with a broad band of ermine; a second band, something narrower, is placed at some distance above it. A black velvet bonnet, worn over a white lace cornette; the form of the bonnet is somewhat between the French capote and the English cottage bonnet. It is trimmed with an intermixture of black velvet and geranium-coloured satin nœuds; the strings, and a single nœud, which ornaments the inside of the brim, are of the latter material. Morocco leather half boots; slate-coloured gloves; boa tippet of ermine.
For the past few days, you've been seeing posts related to my latest book (here, here, here, and here ). You can expect more as we celebrate the release of Silk is for Seduction, the first of my Dressmakers series.
Silk is for Seduction’s release today is a good excuse to revisit Longchamp (more here and here), this time sharing Fanny Trollope’s view in 1835, the year of my story.
I DARE say you may know, my friend, though I did not, that the Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of Passion-week are yearly set apart by the Parisians for a splendid promenade in carriages, on horseback, and on foot, to a part of the Bois de Boulogne called Longchamps.
. . .
From about three till six, the whole of this ample space is crowded; and I really had no idea that so many handsome, well-appointed equipages could be found collected together anywhere out of London. . . .
Nevertheless, the weather on the first of the three days was very far from favourable . . . *The next day promised something better . . . but the spectacle was really vexatious ; many of the carriages being open, and the shivering ladies attired in all the light and floating drapery of spring costume. For it is at Longchamps that all the fashions of the coming season are exhibited; and no one can tell, however fashion-wise she be, what bonnet, scarf, or shawl, or even what prevailing colour, is to be worn in Paris throughout the year, till this decisive promenade be over. Accordingly the milliners had done their duty . . . But . . . (t)he tender teinted ribands were soon dabbled in a driving sleet; while feathers, instead of wantoning . . . on the breeze, had to fight a furious battle with the gale.
It was not, therefore, till the following day . . . that Longchamps really showed the brilliant assemblage of carriages, horsemen, and pedestrians that I have described to you . . . though it was still cold for the season—(England would have been ashamed of such a 17th of April)—the sun did come forth, and smiled in such a sort as greatly to comfort the pious pilgrims.
—Fanny Trollope, Paris and the Parisians in 1835 (read the complete letter here)
*I employed artistic license, and improved the weather.
Illustration: Costume de Long-champs; walking dress, from The Lady's Magazine, Vol VI, 1835. (Description will appear on my In Other Words blog.)
There's nothing like a devoted dog to bring out the best in people. Queen Victoria could be chilly and distant with her human subjects, but her dogs always received considerable affection. The poet George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824) was better known more his many lovers than for his faithfulness – except when it came to his dog Boatswain, left.
Byron loved animals. As a student at Cambridge, he famously rebelled against a rule forbidding pet dogs in lodgings by keeping a pet bear instead. Throughout his life, he kept an ever-changing menagerie of pets that included cats, horses, peacocks, a badger, a goat, geese, a heron, a fox, a parrot, and four monkeys.
But Boatswain was his favorite. A black and white Newfoundland (though in paintings he looks more like a modern border collie), Boatswain was equally devoted to Byron. When Boatswain was tragically attacked and bitten by a rabid dog, Byron insisted on nursing Boatswain himself, heedless of the risk, and grieved deeply at the dog's inevitable death. "Boatswain is dead!" he lamented to a friend. "He expired in a state of madness...after suffering much, yet retaining all the gentleness of his nature to the last, never attempting to do the least injury to anyone near him."
Though in dire financial straits, Byron erected a costly marble monument over Boatswain's grave on the grounds of Newstead Abbey, and drew the inscription from his poem Epitaph to a Dog.
Near this Spot Are deposited the Remains of one Who possessed Beauty without Vanity Strength without Insolence Courage without Ferocity And all the virtues of Man without his Vices This praise which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human Ashes is but a just tribute to the Memory of BOATSWAIN a DOG, Who was born in Newfoundland May 1803 And died at Newstead Nov. 18 1808
It was Byron's great desire to be buried with Boatswain, and he expressed that wish in his will. But by the time he died, Newstead had been sold to another owner, who did not wish his home to become the final resting place of the famed poet, nor have it overrun with his grieving admirers. Byron was instead buried in his family's vault in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Hucknall. One hopes that he and Boatswain are finally joined in spirit, if not in fact.
The romantic painting, right, by Ford Madox Brown was completed long after the deaths of both Byron and Boatswain. Inspired by Byron's semi-autobiographical poem The Dream(1816), it shows Byron with his first lover, Mary Chaworth. While she represents lost love and thwarted dreams, it's ever-faithful Boatswain who stands for loyalty.
Above: Lord Byron's Dog Boatswain (1803-1808) by Clifton Tomson, 1808 Below: Byron's Dream by Ford Madox Brown, 1874
Another Sunday, and another week's serving of the freshest Breakfast Links – a selection of noteworthy tidbits gathered from other blogs, web sites, and news stories that we've discovered via the Twitterverse. Please join us if you’re on Twitter, too – we can be found at @2NerdyHistGirls.
• Fantastic new website for fashion history, full of gorgeous images. Check it out: http://bit.ly/iXnnkU
Inspiration and images can come from anywhere. When I began working on Silk is for Seduction, I watched several movies set in the time period. Movie can't be relied on for accuracy, but if one's already done some research, it's possible to use the images for a sense of place or for costume. This particular French film has nothing to do with my book, but it helped me develop a vivid image of the world my heroine fled.
Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798) is best known to history as a great lover, adventurer, and diarist. Certainly his vast History of My Life cemented his reputation with the ladies (as well as innkeepers' daughters, soldiers' wives, courtesans, nuns -- well, you get the idea hereandhere.)
But tucked amongst all the romantic conquests is this curious passage of an unexplainable phenomenon. Casanova had no rational explanation for what he described, and neither do we – yet it definitely does sound like a modern UFO sighting.
31 August 1743 An hour after leaving Castel Nuovo on my way to Rome under a clear and windless sky, I noticed, at some ten paces to my right, a pyramidal flame a cubit high keeping pace with me some four or five feet above the ground. It stopped when I stopped, and when there were trees by the roadside it disappeared, but I saw it again as soon as I was beyond them. I went towards it several times, but it withdrew as far as I had approached. I tried retracing my steps, whereupon it vanished from my sight, but as soon as I started on again I saw it in the same place. It did not disappear until dawn.
What a wonder for superstitious ignorance if I had had witnesses to this phenomenon and then had made a great name in Rome! History abounds in such trifles, and the world is full of intellects which still attach great importance to them, for all the s-called enlightenment which the sciences have bestowed on the human mind. Yet I must candidly admit that, despite my knowledge of physics, the sight of this little meteor gave me some singular thoughts. I was prudent enough not to mention it to anyone....
Above: The Shipwreck by Claude Joseph Vernet, 1772, National Gallery of Art True, the painting, above, is a fanciful shipwreck, not a UFO sighting. But if any 18th c artist had attempted to capture what Casanova saw, I'd venture it would have been French painter Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789.) Washed in other-worldly light and ripe with nature at her most lurid, his landscapes surely would welcome a UFO or two.
Because Marcelline, the heroine of Silk is for Seduction, (my new book) owns an up and coming dressmaking shop, she needs to advertise. In researching the story, my nerdy heart was thrilled when I found actual advertisements from the early 19th century. The book quotes several that have a bearing on the story, and in various posts here I've featured specific ads for hair products, cure-alls, corsets, and beauty aids.
I could quote more, but I think it’s a lot more fun to look at the ads themselves. These are from the 1835 Court Journal. You might have to zoom in to read them, but I believe it’s worth the effort. Maybe it's just my nerdiness, but on every advertising page, I find something that entertains or intrigues me. What about you?
An 18th c. French lady could take literally hours dressing for an important ball. Just like modern celebrities preparing for the red carpet, a Parisian court beauty required a team of experts to dress and powder her hair, apply her make-up and patches, fasten jewels around her throat and wrists, lace her into her stays, and pin and her into her gown.
But even this carefully crafted magnificence might need a touch-up or two in the course of the evening, and a lady had to be prepared. This little gold box, left, contained a looking glass, a tiny brush, rouge, patches - those black velvet faux beauty marks so well-loved in the 17th-18th centuries. (For a humorous look at 18th c. make-up, check out this video.)
Just as fashionable artifice reached new heights in the 18th c., so, too, did the craftsmanship that produced this box. This is the work of a master goldsmith: precisely cut and meticulously soldered, with inset hinges and perfectly fitted panels as well as separate compartments for the rouge and patches. The surfaces of the box are beautifully decorated as well in contrasting yellow and white gold. All of this is done on a miniature scale: the box measures only 2-1/8" x 1-1/2" x 5/8".
It's easy to imagine a lady using such a piece for artful flirtation, gracefully opening the little box and fluffing the brush over her cheeks, and, perhaps, coyly using its gleaming reflection to check the interest of the gentleman sitting behind her....
Above left: Box for Rouge and Patches, French (Paris), 1783-84, Varicolored gold. Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bequest of Kate Read Blacque. Photos copyright Susan Holloway Scott. Lower right: Les Adieux, engraving, Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune, 1777.
On 28 June my newest book, Silk is for Seduction, comes out. It’s the first of my Dressmaker series, about a trio of slightly French but mostly English sisters who set out to become London’s foremost modistes. Today and for some days to come, I’ll be offering a sort of illustrated guide to the book.
A series about dressmakers deserves, naturally, an opening blog about dress. Today I’ll show some Parisian fashions. Later there will be some English ones. You can compare and contrast, and see if you detect any of the differences that were so obvious to my heroine, Marcelline, & her sisters.
(No. 8.) TOILETTE DE SOIRÉE.—Black velvet dress, the corsage à la Sevigné, ornamented down the front with bows of ribbon placed at distances. Short full sleeves, with double sabots of white satin. The front breadth of the dress being of white satin broché* in gold, give it the appearance of an open robe (see plate). On the shoulders are the nœuds de page,** of black satin ribbon broché in gold; the ends are long and fringed; a white blonde goes all round the bosom of the dress. Chapeau Castillan of black velvet, with a broad leaf turned up in front, and ornamented with a bird of Paradise dyed black. The hair is in curls, very much frizzed, and a braid of the back hair is brought across the brow (see plate). Écharpe caprice of very wide white satin ribbon, broché à la Jardinière, in a rich pattern of flowers: the ends of the ribbon are fringed, and it is trimmed at each side with a narrow white blonde. Black silk gloves à jours,*** finished at the tops with a quilling of tulle. Black satin shoes, white silk stockings, necklace or cameos. The dress of the sitting figure, which is of pink satin, is precisely of the same make.
**a bow knotted in a particular style—our dressmaker-historian readers may know exactly what it means
What better way to spend a lazy Sunday than with our latest collection of Breakfast Links? We’re offering the freshest gathering of the Twitterverse, from an Edwardian servant’s day to Mod Queen Mary Quant to a video tour of Chatsworth, the country home of the Duke of Devonshire.
• Weary of ebooks? Check out this rare 16th c book, with notes in the margins by its owner Ben Jonson: http://bit.ly/kHn9HD
• An 18th c cook's link to modern American cookouts: Hannah Glasse's Connection to the Hamburger: http://wp.me/p6Mf3-4sE
• The ancient Knollys Rose Ceremony takes place this morning near the Tower of London http://bit.ly/jIIBH6
A tour of Hampton Court Palace took me through the Tudor-era kitchens. The fire was on, but nothing was cooking. There were bowls and utensils and some representations of food, but these only whetted my appe—curiosity.
As our readers know, the Nerdy History Girls are fascinated by the ordinary details of everyday life, even (or perhaps especially) when we’re talking about those who are not everyday people. Monarchs, for instance. That’s why, while visiting Hampton Court Palace, I admired the magnificent architecture and the paintings, yes. But my camera was also strongly attracted to some of the more mundane articles about me.
Part of the palace is clearly Tudor era, bearing the distinct imprint of Henry VIII. Another part belongs to the reign of William and Mary (reigned 1689-1702 and 1689-1694 respectively).
Unlike other furnishings in the king’s (that is, William III's) apartments, these two braziers are plainly utilitarian. The other pictures give a sense of their context: the King’s Presence Chamber, the first reception room of the King’s apartments. I did like their homely look, among the rich tapestries from King Henry VIII’s collection, the silver chandelier, the mile high canopy, and the grandiose equestrian portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller.
Servants could roll the braziers to wherever his majesty, who was frail and asthmatic, required the most warmth, or roll them away if he was too hot. Not that he spent much time here. Apparently, the Presence Chamber had become something of a relic by his day, and courtiers were more likely to bow to a chair as empty as the one we visitors see.
This part of the palace was still being built when Queen Mary died, at which point the work was abandoned. Five years later, the king came back to complete the work and furnish the rooms. He personally selected the art and tapestries for his palace—and I have a poignant image of a solitary man (he was not an extrovert) carefully choosing this and that for a palace his wife hadn’t lived to see finished, which he had no children to pass on to—and which he’d live to enjoy for only two years.
Just as the country has traditionally represented a pure and wholesome life, cities everywhere are most often depicted harboring sin and wickedness on every street corner. As the focus of the 19th c. American economy shifted away from farms to factories, young men became increasingly eager to leave rural homes for the proverbial bright lights of the big city. Cautionary tracts were quick to appear, doubtless far more popular with worried parents than ambitious youth. The warning below comes from The Temptations of City Life: A Voice to Young Men Seeking a Home and Fortune, in Large Towns and Cities (New York, 1849):
"On almost every corner, some saloon brilliantly lighted, opens its attractive portals. It is furnished on a scale of the richest luxury, with splendid mirror, costly divans, easy lounges, and tables covered with late journals and pictorial works. Paintings of great artistic merit, arranged on the walls, and exhibiting the nude and seductive forms of female beauty, appeal to the ardent passions of youth; and corresponding music in sweetest strains steals upon his senses. Often, to add to the attractions of these places, varying entertainments, of the buffoon, danseuse, and the ballad-singer, are furnished. Captivated by such scenes, unsuspecting youth repeats his visits, finds other similar resorts, and finally is in the habit of being abroad every night, and is found at his boarding-house only for his meals and late lodgings. He visits all the distinguished saloons, refectories, bowling-alleys, theatres, gambling-hells, and other abodes of affiliated infamy."
As we've written here before, old diaries and journals are finding their voices (and readers) thanks to the new social media. I discovered the above excerpt on the blog of the American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA; the Society is currently publishing a 19th c. daily diary in their collection in its own blog. Clerk and the City: A Young Man's Search for Love & Culture on the Streets of Philadelphia features an annotated entry each day from Nathan Beekley, a young clerk in 1849. Nathan seems to find the big bad city a quite sociable place, since his entries often include "the pleasure of seeing" various young ladies, and he seems much more interested in them than his job. Fun reading for us history nerds! You can also follow Nathan on Twitter, @TheIronClerk.
Above: Unknown Young Woman Lacing Her Corset, c. 1890
Purses as we know them – accessories for the holding of Stuff – are a relatively new invention. Women in the 18th c. wore over-sized pockets, sewn to a ribbon that tied around their waists, that were hidden beneath their hoops and voluminous petticoats (examples here and here).
But when skirts narrowed to a slender column by the end of the century, there was no place on a fashionable figure to disguise a pocket bulging with necessities, and small drawstring purses soon made their appearances in Paris and London. Often called reticules (a French version of the Latin word for a small mesh or net bag), 19th c. purses could take whimsical shapes and designs, and might be beaded, fringed, embroidered, crocheted, or netted - every manner of handwork embellishment. This was not the place for understatement.
Then as now, a purse was a chance for a lady to exert her personal style, whether the purse was bought at great cost from a Parisian shop or fashioned at home. They weren't large, holding only the essentials. Just as a modern woman will carry a tote along with a purse, her earlier counterpart might have carried a handled work basket or workbag for the excess - or, if she were wealthy enough, she'd simply turn over the extra things to her servant.
The drawstring purse, above, must have made a sizable fashion statement dangling from a chic wrist. The flowers are created from wired chenille - think pipe-cleaners - that make the petals of the flowers curl outward, the drawstrings are tasseled, and the green silk bag is still vibrant after nearly two centuries. (See here for a detail of the flowers.) That long-ago owner clearly took excellent care of her purse, and with such a prize, who can blame her?
I'll freely admit that I'm as sentimental as most mothers, and that like a lot of us, I squirreled away my children's first lost baby teeth as mementos. They're tucked in my desk, inelegantly sealed in business envelopes, preserved for...something.
When Victoria's oldest child, the Princess Victoria, Princess Royal (1840-1901), shed her first baby tooth, it, too, was preserved, though not in a lowly envelope. The seven-year-old princess's father, Prince Albert(1819- 1861)tugged the tooth free himself in 1847, while the royal family was visiting Ardverikie, by Loch Laggan, as a guest of the Duke of Abercorn. As a memento of both the enjoyable visit (Victoria was so smitten with Scotland that she soon purchased Balmoral Castle as her own retreat in the Highlands) and to commemorate the landmark event in Princess Vicky's young life, Albert had the tooth made into a special brooch, left, for Victoria. Set in gold, the tooth forms the blossom of a gold and enamel thistle, the symbolic wildflower of Scotland. A "private" piece of jewelry as opposed to royal jewels for state occasions, the small brooch had never been shared with the public until last fall, when it was included in the Victoria & Albert: Art & Love exhibition at Buckingham Palace.
It's easy to dismiss a brooch featuring a baby's tooth as one more example of slightly macabre 19th c. taste, but in some circles, such mother's jewelry is still made and worn. Check out actress Susan Sarandon's custom-made bracelet, featuring her children's assorted baby teeth as the charms.
Above: Brooch, gold, enamel, & tooth, 1847. Commissioned by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria. Photo copyright The Royal Collection.
Here's the latest serving of weekly Breakfast Links, our favorite links to this and that from miscellaneous blogs, web sites, and news stories from the farthest reaches of the Twitterverse. If you’re on Twitter, please follow us – @2nerdyhistgirls – just click on the little bird in the column to the right.
• Great news story, 1737: After "poor" widow of bankrupt man dies, £1300 in gold & notes discovered sewn into her stays! http://bit.ly/kdOD2H
• Wonderful small set of vernacular photos - Sally's shoe store, Salem, late 1800s http://bit.ly/lOJ3MG
Our Friday silly video again comes from one of our favorite English shows, Horrible Histories. (If you know a child you're trying to lure towards history, the Horrible History books - here and here, among many - are also excellent.) While the complexities of 19th c. fan-language have likely been exaggerated since the time it was used in drawing rooms and across crowded theaters, it's still entertaining to consider how much a lady might have conveyed with only a skillful motion of her fan. Or, as in this case, what she didn't get quite right.
In the mid-19th c., there was no bigger celebrity in the world than Charles Sherwood Stratton (1838-1883), better known by the stage name of General Tom Thumb.
Though born a large baby, Stratton mysteriously stopped growing at the age of six months, and remained 25 inches tall and fifteen pounds for most of his life. His diminutive size made him a curiosity, and at the age of five, he was taken under the enterprising wing of showman P.T.Barnum, a distant cousin. Barnum taught the boy to sing, dance, and impersonate famous people, and soon he launched young Charles - now renamed Tom Thumb - on a hugely successful American tour as an entertainer. In 1844, Barnum and Tom Thumb crossed the Atlantic and took Europe by storm. The tiny boy was an instant sensation in London, where he performed twice before Queen Victoria.
Barnum concocted elaborate stunts to create interest in his young protege. In London, Barnum ordered the famous miniature Tom Thumb carriage. Though perfectly proportioned for its occupant, the body of the carriage was only twenty inches in height, painted blue and white, and drawn by a team of Shetland ponies. The coachman and footmen were boys in livery.
Barnum was delighted by the crowds the small carriage attracted as it traveled slowly through the London streets."His carriage, ponies & servants in livery...kill the public," he boasted gleefully to a friend. "They can't survive! It will be the greatest hit in the universe, see if it ain't!" Barnum's prediction wasn't empty hyperbole; it was reported in 1847 that the receipts of the European tour were an astounding £150,000.
But at least a few Londoners failed to see the charm in Tom Thumb's carriage. This sour letter appeared in The Times on 24 December 1844, during that first European tour:
STREET NUISANCES. To the Editor of The Times.
Sir – I was passing along the Poultry this morning upon business of importance when my progress was arrested by a crowd of people, and the roadway was also blocked up by a confused mass of vehicles of all descriptions.To my surprise I found that the cause of all this stoppage and crowd was the wretched dwarf, called by his showman Tom Thumb! who was being slowly drawn along in a little carriage. Surely the police ought to interfere to prevent such nuisances as these. Here, at the busiest time of the day, under the very nose of the Lord Mayor, was the whole traffic of the city impeded by a showman's cart.... Tumblers and mountebanks are not allowed to exhibit their feats in public thoroughfares; but what do we gain in point of convenience if they are permitted to evade the law by creeping along at a snail's pace? The "Obstruction" to traffic constitutes the nuisance, whether that obstruction be complete or partial. Both Her Majesty's Government and the coporation of London are exerting themselves at the present moment to facilitate the buisness of this great town; but twice as many new streets as are now being made will not suffice, if they are to be invaded ad libtum by dwarfs and giants, cheap tailors and disinterested upholsterers, vendors of native oysters and dispensers of miraculous pills....
Above: Portrait of the Dwarf Tom Thumb, Stepping into his Carriage, c. 1870, London Stereoscopic Company Below: P.T. Barnum and General Tom Thumb, c. 1850
This very elegant floating bath is stationed near the north end of the Waterloo-bridge, and has recently been built and completed with entirely new and substantial materials, in a style of superior accommodation, at a very considerable expense: it contains a plunging-bath, 24 feet long by 8 feet wide, and two private baths, 10 feet long by 8 feet wide. The depth may be regulated at pleasure by machinery, which raises or depresses the bottom as required, secured by cross timbers, and bound with iron. To each of the baths are attached small dressing-rooms, commodiously fitted up, with proper persons to attend upon visitors. These baths are so constructed, that the water, being a running stream, is changed every two minutes. The advantage of bathing in a flowing stream is obvious, and gives a decided preference over a cold still bath, which is frequently dangerous from the violence of the shock. The terms of bathing, as our readers will see, are extremely moderate: they are—
£ s. d.
In the plunging-bath . 0 1 0
For the season . . . . . . 1 11 6
In the private baths . 0 1 6
For the season. . . . . . 2 2 0
Constant attendance at Waterloo-bridge to convey visitors to and from the bath.
Bathing is so essentially connected with health, that we cannot but congratulate the public on this new establishment. It is singular that so few of the kind should be known in London, while there is scarcely a street in the French metropolis that has not its cold, warm, vapour, Chinese, and Tuscan baths, with a variety of others, suiting the capricious tastes of the inhabitants. Yet how deficient they are in the most important article connected with bathing everybody knows, while we have a noble river filled with the purest and most wholesome waters in the world. The want of baths in London has led to the incommodious and indecorous practice of public exposure in the Thames.
—Ackermann's Repository, 1819 (June)
While examples of 18th c. ladies' silk shoes like the pair, left, aren't rare (like these, these, and these), shoes with a lurid ghost story attached certainly are. Know as the Papillon Shoes, this pair has a fascinating provenance that's more ghost story and legend than historical fact.
David Papillon (1681-1762) was a wealthy courtier and the master of Papillon Hall, Leicestershire, lower right. "Old Pamp"'s reputation for drunken debauchery was enhanced with whispers that he was friends with the Devil, and that he possessed demonic powers sufficient to paralyze his enemies with a single glance. Other rumors claimed he kept a beautiful Spanish mistress at the Hall. There she was a virtual prisoner, locked away in the attic, and only permitted to walk along the roof for exercise. She disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1717; one story had her die in the attic, cursing the house and promising death and disaster to any owner who dared remove the shoes in which she'd walked the lonely roof.
Soon afterwards, Papillon left the Hall permanently to marry and live with his new wife in Kent. Some judged his haste suspicious, especially considering that he left strict instructions that certain items should never be taken from Papillon Hall. Among them were these shoes.
Over the years, the Hall changed hands many times. In the mid-19th c., however, the contents (including the shoes) were left to the old owner's daughter, and removed from the house. The new owners were at once plagued with unexplained loud thumps, crashes, and voices coming from the attic rooms, violent enough to terrify the family and servants. A local clergyman recalled Old Pamp's stipulation. The shoes were found and restored to the house, and peace restored with them. On several other occasions in the next century the shoes were removed from the house. Each time poltergeist activity began and continued until the shoes were returned.
The Hall was renovated in 1903, and a long-dead body was found hidden in the walls near the attic. While there was no way to know for sure if this was Old Pamp's mistress, the discovery fueled the legend, and more reports of paranormal activity with it. Even after the Hall fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1950, the mistress's curse seemed to shift to the remaining outbuildings, terrifying their inhabitants. The site was studied by paranormal investigators, who definitely came to believe in the curse.
After the Hall was knocked down, the shoes were left first to a Papillon descendant, and then to the local museum. Yet even that mundane transfer had its mysteries. The driver of the truck carrying the shoes became inexplicably lost. The short trip took him hours instead of minutes to complete, and when he finally did arrive, he was confused and disoriented, without any knowledge of where he'd been or what had happened. Ahh, the power of the shoes....
Above: Papillon Shoes (with single patten), silk with red leather heels, c. 1715-30. Collections Resources Centre, Heritage Services, Glenfield, Leicestershire Below: View of Papillon Hall, built c. 1622, now demolished. Photograph courtesy of Lost Heritage.
James Beresford’s The Miseries of Human Life, originally published in 1806, was reprinted many times. And I’ve offered excerpts many times: here, here, and here. This one is from the section, The Miseries of Traveling.
A coach-window-glass, that will not be put up when it is down, nor down when it is up.
On arriving, with a foundered horse, at a lone inn, with the intention of taking a bed,—every room occupied; so that you are under the necessity of passing a frosty night in a chair by the side of a sullen fire, while you solace yourself, hour after hour, with a succession of abortive attempts to feed it into a blaze;—
. . .
In travelling on horse-back through an uninhabited country, enquiring your way, as you proceed, of different rustics, each of whom, besides giving you unintelligible directions as to your road, represents the place in question as many miles farther off than it had been reported by the last; thus making you seem to recede in your progress;—not to mention your expence of time and temper, from their anxious and useful enquiries as to the point from which you started, together with their rigmarole wonderings and lamentations at the number of miles which you have travelled out of your way.
After having, with the utmost difficulty, closed, and locked, and corded, your crammed trunk— being obliged to undo all, in order to get at something which lurks at the very bottom :— this, two or three times over.
Attempting to pencil memoranda in a curricle, on a single piece of paper placed in the palm of your left hand :—cross road.
The moment of discovering that you have dropped a highly-valued hereditary whip or stick out of an open carriage, without knowing when or where.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.