Infant’s Cabinet of Birds and Beasts

Some pages and illustrations from the Infant’s Cabinet of Birds and Beasts, published in London in 1820:

These illustrations are just wonderful and I had it in my head that the children looking at these drawings at the time would have very little chance of setting eyes on live elephants and zebras. But that is not necessarily so, because a visit to the circus was a popular pastimes during the  mid 1800′s (when Victorian children may have taken this book down from a bookcase).

The Victoria & Albert museum has an excellent page on the Victorian circus. Here are a couple of images from the V & A  website:

and it can’t be a circus without a clown;

A visit to the zoo was possible too, although London Zoo did not open to the public until 1847. Children could ride an elephant or a camel:


And they could see animals which are now extinct, as as a type of zebra called a Quagga:


A Victorian Heatwave

During August and part of September 1906, Britain experienced a heatwave which drove a large number of the population to the beaches on the coastal resorts. These photographs were taken by Edward Linley Sambourne who — in addition to being the chief cartoonist for Punch — was also a keen amateur photographer. It seems that most of the subjects of these and some other of Sambourne’s photographs were unaware they were being photographed, as he used a concealed camera for non-studio images. This means we get to see Victorians looking a lot less formal than we’d get in a ‘posed’ situation — though the filming-without-consent aspect is slightly unsettling.

These images are from The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Library Time Machine blog, which has lots of beautiful photographs  — including this one of two Parisian women in mourning dress:

– isn’t that photograph totally wonderful? The outfits are amazing — probably the best I’ve ever seen of mourning garb being worn in an everyday situation (most photographs of people in mourning attire are very posed and formal).

But the blog is not just worth checking out for the images — there is a great amount of really fascinating information on there. I’ve spent ages on it and will go back time and time again. I wish more libraries had blogs like this one — I find most library sites to be fairly off-putting — it is almost as if they’re trying to prevent people accessing the information.I really believe that informal photographs like these ones help promote an interest in history and lessen the whole the-past-is-another-country feeling.

Also see this page of the Time Machine blog for some of Sambourne’s street photography.


Victorian Bride

This Victorian bride looks beautiful — despite the rather horrible hairstyle:

Her dress and veil are lovely but her choice of jewellery surprises me. I like it — but it looks more like mourning jewellery than something that would be worn on a wedding day. The object by her right hand is possibly a prayer book or similar (it does look like a mobile phone…).


Smiling Victorian Children

I’m obsessed with Smiling Victorians just now and have in fact just left my other blog after posting a photograph of a group of smiling Victorians at a picnic. But I couldn’t leave you guys out, so here’s some happy Victorian children, playing on the beach:

It’s so refreshing to see this — most images I’ve seen of children taken during the Victorian era show them to be miserable and unsmiling.

Another Scary Victorian Doll

A photograph of a little girl, with her doll in the background. This might be from the Victorian era or it may be Edwardian. Once again, the doll looks as if it should be haunting a room somewhere or making inexplicable reappearances after the family got rid of it in a deep dark hole (just like my monkey-thing).

Most old dolls, especially Victorian ones, look pretty sinister in photographs. I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that the doll were designed to look like adults, as opposed to babies or children. But even the baby doll ones can look menacing after they’re been kicking around for a while and have lost an eye or two. The exception are Norah Wellings dolls, which always look cute.

Victorian Era Hairstyles

This photograph of a woman from the Victorian era is the first one I’ve come across were is sitter has a short hairstyle. I know the ‘Victorian era’ covers roughly a 100 year time span and that there were a wide variety of hairstyles within that time but I think it was very unusual for a woman to have short hair then.

There was a trend during that time to have shorter hair at the front, with most of the hair was pulled back in a bun — but this woman seems to have a genuinely short hairstyle. Many woman had their hair so severely damaged by hot curling irons that it either broke off or it was so damaged it had to be cut — so perhaps that is what happened here.

Also, I’ve read that some working class women in Victorian times kept their hair short but her outfit looks quite expensive so I don’t think  she looks poor — though you never can tell (she may have been a talented seamstress, who made her own clothes). Her top looks mostly lovely — but not so much the cuffs.

The woman’s name was Lina Bird, the photographer Alvan S Harper and the source here.

Victorian Picnic

A photograph of a Victorian picnic from 1893.

I really love this old photograph for a number of reasons — number one being the informality of it. It’s not often we see the Victorians at play  — photographs are usually very formal affairs and we rarely see Victorians in a relaxed situation (though admittedly the little picnic group here are not exactly engulfed in smiles). The women in the middle of the image is almost certainly there as a chaperon and looks to be in widow’s weeds. Notice the fingerless gloves the girls are wearing and the bystander looking from afar at the group being photographed. I like the way the standing man is leaning nonchalantly against the tree and the fact that behind him is a lovely avenue of trees.

What I also like about the photograph is that — because the men are young — they are not encumbered by those ghastly whiskers favoured by most Victorian men. So these men don’t look so very different to a man in the street you could see today — this somehow helps to close the gap between the past and the present, for me anyway. In fact, I guess I love just about everything about this old photograph — most of all that we can get to see one moment of time in the lives of a group of strangers on that summer’s day so long ago. Seriously, that’s magical to me.


Historical Hotties: Robert Cornelius

Excuse me if you’ve seen this image before — and I’m sure this man is a number one candidate for Historical Hotties posts — but where my blogs go, so does this image of Mr Cornelius. I’m sure you’ll understand why.

Robert Cornelius took this self-portrait of in 1839 and it is thought to be one of the first ever photographs of a human (some sources suggest that this was not merely one of the first human photographs — but the very first).

Strange Victorian Photograph

I wasn’t entirely sure if this was a photograph or a painting when I first saw it but I’m pretty sure now that it is a photograph, taken sometime in the Victorian era. The woman looks totally out of it — I don’t think she’s dead (eyes widen open) but it’s as if she’s on some sort of … medication (not uncommon in Victorian days).

Colour photography was in its infancy in Victorian times but it did exist then  — perhaps the woman was just bored senseless waiting for the exposure time to be over.

I’ve misplaced the source of this image — will put it here when I locate it.