If you’re passing through Bexley on the south-eastern fringes of London, then try to find time to seek out Hall Place, a Tudor hidden gem with extensive gardens a couple of minutes from the A2. We’ve had connections with Hall Place for some time through Bexley Heritage Trust, whose archive we represent, but more recently we’ve collaborated with them on a new exhibition that opened just a fortnight ago, The Last Curtsey. Inspired by one of Hall Place’s 20th century inhabitants, socialite Baba D’Erlanger, the exhibition aims to recreate the vanished world of that upper class phenomenon, the debutante.
Debutantes are something of a specialist subject here at the library. The magazines of the ILN archive, specifically The Tatler, The Sketch and The Bystander, were the bibles of the beau monde and consequently are filled each spring with every conceivable highlight of the ‘Season’ from the Royal Academy and Fourth of June to Ascot and Henley. Alongside these delights were published photographs of the annual crop of ‘debs’ that were to be launched into society together with adverts for court gowns, hair stylists, West End couture houses and catering companies. Source material doesn’t get much better.
And we have form in terms of writing on the subject. Some forty years ago, Mary and Hilary Evans were authors of ‘The Party That Lasted 100 Days’, a highly illustrated and wry look at the late Victorian season and more recently, in 2013 I wrote a concise history in, ‘Debutantes & the London Season’ for Shire Books.
The London Season, vestiges of which remain in some of today’s summer sporting and social fixtures, was the dominant feature of the social calendar, a three-month bonanza of events and parties during which the daughters of the upper classes made their ‘debuts’. The girls and their families descended on the capital from country piles all around Britain to take part in an elaborate and protracted marathon of social interaction that culminated in them being presented at court where they would make their carefully-practised curtsey in front of the King and Queen. Today, it’s a ritual that seems terribly archaic, and at times rather comic; an outmoded phenomenon that pandered to rigid class distinctions and judged the youthful participants purely on looks and breeding. And yet, it is also rather glamorous, romantic – and terribly British. After a modernising drive at Buckingham Palace in 1958, the last debs made their curtsey in March of that year, meaning 2018 marks the 60th anniversary.
At Hall Place, the exhibition rooms, painted in soothing and elegant tones of lilac pink, take visitors through the debutantes’ typical first season and introduce us to a few key debs from the past including Baba but also the ravishing Henrietta Tiarks, fabulously wealthy Mary Ashley, sister of Edwina Mountbatten and the rebellious Nancy Cunard. There are some exquisite gowns including a wasp-waisted example from the 1890, a cascading 1920s number and a glamorous strapless gown of mustard satin belonging to Elfrida Eden, one of 1958’s debs. Curator Kirsty Macklen, who showed us around last week told us that Elfrida’s dress was bought from America, in order to avoid the ghastliness of turning up at a party in the same dress as someone else. As well as the advertisements, magazine features and portraits lining the walls (50 of which come from Mary Evans, others from the archive at The Lady), there are some fascinating debutante accoutrements such as glove stretchers and papier poudre books (to keep a shiny nose at bay) as well as dance cards lent by Mary Evans and a couple of books from the inter-war period celebrating the debutante from my own collection at home. For the full deb experience, you can try negotiating the complicated array of cutlery that might face an Edwardian lady sitting down to dinner, or squeeze into a ballgown and practise your curtsey to the Queen. After just two weeks, the visitors’ comments at the end of the exhibition reflect a deeply felt nostalgia for this long-gone era, though no appetite for its revival in the 21st century. Like many aspects of history, it is fun to learn more but it should remain exactly where it was left – in 1958.
Click here to see a selection of images from our archive on the subject https://www.hallplace.org.uk/events/debutantes-london-season/
‘The Last Curtsey – Etiquette and Elocution, the life of a debutante’ at Hall Place, Bexley, runs until 18th March 2018 https://www.hallplace.org.uk/exhibitions/
Luci will be giving a talk on ‘Debutantes and the London Season’ at Hall Place, Bexley on 10th October at 7pm. Further details here https://www.hallplace.org.uk/events/debutantes-london-season/
Further reading: ‘Debutantes & the London Season’ by Lucinda Gosling, Shire Books 2013
I always love delving into the unusual here at the archive and from spooky spectres to spoon-bending we have it all, but one area I’m particularly fascinated with is the collection of imaginative illustrations dating pre-1960 which fantasise on what the future may hold in the year 2000 and beyond. These popular images regularly appeared in scientific and general interest periodicals, children books, collectables and magazines. Common illustrated themes included wonderful and complex infrastructure, high capacity and ultra hi-speed transport, space exploration and domestic living with machines for every chore you could think of.
Much of the ideas depicted were entirely plausible at the time, for example video calling, but equally some imaginations of the future were a good way off reality and really delved into the realm of fantasy; ideas such as life on Mars in 50 years time and underwater bikes being used for the casual commute across the English Channel!
One particularly charming example in the archive is the promotional sticker book published c.1950 by Belgian chocolate company ‘Aiglon’, titled ‘L’An 2000 / ‘t Jaar 2000’. The album features many unique future scenarios such as the dredging and reclaiming of the Mediterranean sea between France, Spain, Italy and North Africa, aeroplanes the size of cruise ships and post sent by intercontinental rocket. How I would have loved to collect each individual sticker with the purchase of a chocolate bar! At Mary Evans we are lucky enough to hold the full completed album (images below).
As much as some of the ‘guesses at futurity’ are hard-to-swallow, the images offer a fantastic insight into the vivid, thought-out and often humorous imaginations of our forefathers at what our world may look like by the new millennium. There are hundreds of images of the ‘future’ for your perusal on our website, which are available to license and you can find them here, but below you can see some favourites from a variety of sources – I do hope they delight!
Cityscapes of the Future:
Centre: Postcard showing the New York of the future, date unknown.
Right: A city street of the future by Henry Woolley in ‘The Wonder Book of Aircraft’, 1931.
Transport and Infrastructure:
Left: Transatlantic tunnel, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.
Right: Observation of the sea bed from transparent-bottomed boats, using atom-ray illumination, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.
Left: Reclaiming the Mediterranean for agricultural use, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.
Right: Transcontinental metro travelling underground beneath continents, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.
Left: Super-jumbo aircraft carrier, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.
Right: Submarine motorbike, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.
Left: Channel road bridge between Calais and Dover c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.
Right: Jet-propelled snow mobile, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.
Left: Traffic control centre, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium.
Right: Monorail proposal, March 1941. Illustration by B und H Romer- Munchen, in Delhagen und Klafigs Monatshefte.
Left: A prediction that aircraft will be guided to their destinations by beacons – vertical lights positioned beside motorways, indicating the route from town to town, c. 1935. Collectors’ card by Byrrh, French aperitif.
Right: A suggested central London overhead airport at King’s Cross showing aeroplanes landing on the runways of a huge wheel-shaped structure. Illustration by Charles W Glover in the Illustrated London News, 6 June 1931.
Left: Prediction of what the railway train of tomorrow will look like. Totally streamlined for greater speed and economy, c. 1935. Collectors’ card by Byrrh, French aperitif.
Centre: Future Transatlantic passenger liners, which will be aerodynamically shaped for faster travel. This vessel is based on a project by American designer Norman Bel Geddes, c. 1935. Collectors’ card by Byrrh, French aperitif.
Right: Landing spot for airplane, parking space for cars on every storey, France, circa 1930.
Above: Future vision un the year 2000, television-phone, colour lithograph, France, 1910.
Above: A futuristic home, with chores done automatically. The housewife’s life will be an easy one in which she can sit back, read the paper and listen to music. Allers Familj Journal (Sweden), 24 May 1929.
Left: A futuristic device to help a gentleman get dressed in the automatic home of the future. At the press of a button, a mechanical arm holds out his suit, top hat and walking stick, while a platform on wheels delivers his shoes. Allers Familj Journal (Sweden), 24 May 1929.
Centre: The servant of the future – a robotic servant polishes a man’s shoes while he sits reading in his armchair. Le Petit Inventeur (France) c. 1929.
Right: A futuristic invention for the lazy person — no need to leave your seat when you need a drink, in the automatic home of the future. A man sits in his armchair, smoking a cigar, while a mechanical arm drops through the ceiling to offer him a tray of drinks. Allers Familj Journal (Sweden), 24 May 1929.
Left: Suburban home with garage for family rocket, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium
Right: Kitchen of the future, c. 1950 for the Biekens biscuit company, Belgium
We’re all familiar with the closing credits of ‘Open All Hours’ when Arkwright, played by Ronnie Barker, goes through the daily chore of dismantling his display of wares before shutting up shop for the evening. Image then, if you will, the hours it might have taken to put together – and then dismantle – some of these shop fronts? While the art of retail display might still be seen daily on our high streets, very few can match the level of extravagance masterminded by some Victorian and Edwardian shopkeepers, whose penchant for fussy and highly populated displays mirrored conventional tastes in interior design and fashion. Butchers and poulterers seem particularly prone to boastful displays, while grocers err towards carefully composed symmetrical layouts using boxes of tea and soap powder. They obviously took pride in their creations as many photographs show employees, smart in long aprons, posed in front of gleaming windows or just visible among expertly butchered carcasses.
We’ve created a top 12 of our favourite shop front displays from history. Scroll down to see who occupies the top spot.
12.) The shop window of Schmidt’s famous German delicatessen on Charlotte Street, London, with a vast variety of tinned and preserved goods on display, a taste of ‘Germany in London’.
11.) Morecambe tourist shop selling everything from hoops to prams.
10.) Graham and Withers butchers shop, Bromley, Kent. Definitely wins the prize for most grisly.
9.) Shop front in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
8.) Mr Horner the Butcher sitting proudly in front of his magnificent display of flesh and fowl waiting for the Christmas rush.
7.) A little OCD evident from the look of the window of the Maypole Dairy in Greenwich.
6.) Undies galore at the Parisian Corset Company Ltd.
5.) Display of meat outside a butcher’s shop (unidentified location) with butcher, centre, brandishing a knife in case we should be in any doubt who’s responsible for all those first prize awards.
4.) Luggage shop in Paddington, London.
3.) Best foot forward. Cobbler’s shop front, St David’s, Pembrokeshire, South Wales.
2.) Butcher’s shop in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The turkeys (joined by rabbits & a lone pig) are so numerous they literally cover the entire building.
1.) Never knowingly underadvertised. The marvellously named Herbert Fudge, Newsagent, Stationer and Tobacconist of 313 Lee High Road, London.
The Great War was an unexpectedly dynamic period for fashion. While extravagance was frowned upon, there was also a social dislocation where for the first time women took the place of men in the work environment, and fashionable silhouettes changed in response. Skirts shortened and widened; military details proliferated and there was a new found confidence in clothing as it moved away from the winsome, restrictive styles of the pre-war era. But austerity in dress did not entirely eclipse luxury and one of the places where fashion fantasies could be played out, and where the leading designers of the day could showcase their creations was the stage. To dress leading actresses in high profile West End productions led to coverage in magazines such as The Tatler and The Sketch, generating the oxygen of publicity and ensuring a stream of well-heeled clients eager to sample such styles themselves.
Elspeth Phelps was a designer whose profile was one of the highest during this time and whose designs frequently ended up being admired by theatre audiences, and yet her fame has now faded to obscurity. She first came to my attention when I discovered an extraordinary series of advertisements for her brand published in The Tatler in 1920. They are unlike any other advertisements, fashion or otherwise, appearing at this time. Drawn in a spidery and occasionally sinister style reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley and Kay Nielson, the adverts feature a parade of fictional aristocratic and society types bearing names such as Lobelia Lobb and Priscilla Brinvilliers. Engaged in typical upper class pursuits, they are clad in the perfectly appropriate ensemble designed by Elspeth Phelps. Apart from their striking design, they are witty, playful, faintly acerbic and surprisingly self-deprecating. They gently poke fun at the advertiser and at the advertiser’s clientele, and they’re all the more brilliant for it.
Intrigued by this audacious promotional approach, I wanted to discover more about not only Elspeth Phelps but also the designer of the adverts, Eileen Orde. In fact Eileen Orde was Lady Eileen Orde, nee Wellesley, fourth daughter of the 8th Duke of Wellington and wife of the artist Cuthbert Orde. Eileen’s credentials as one of the leading arbiters of style can be in no doubt. A photographic portrait of her by E. O. Hoppe appeared in British Vogue’s debut issue, the first photograph ever published by the magazine. And her reputation is given a further boost with the knowledge she had an affair with the Adonis-like Rupert Brooke (she afterwards sold his letters and bought a car with the proceeds).
Lady Eileen was frequently referred to in our archive magazines as ‘a clever artist’ (‘clever’ being the catch-all adjective of praise in society magazines of the early 20th century). Yet she did more than dabble, seeming to make quite a career as an artist and designer. The Sketch ran a page of photographs showing Eileen and Cuthbert, who were married in 1916, at home in their Chelsea studio, together with their two daughters, Doonie and Jane. There are also other references to her creative endeavours. One photograph from The Bystander, 1931, shows her at work on wallpaper designs, and she seems to have specialised in painting fabric. There is a reference to the wedding train she decorated for her sister-in-law in 1922, and another mention, in The Tatler’s fashion column of October 1918 gives a rather dismissive critique of a dress she painted for Doris Keane to wear in ‘Roxana’ at the Lyric Theatre. The fashion journalist M. E. Brooke complained that, ‘However charming the gown may appear in the dressing-room, from the stalls it is a very ordinary affair and not nearly so effective as the cerise evening dress assumed by this clever actress in another scene.”
Lady Eileen Orde at work on wallpaper designs, 1931.
Lady Eileen Orde and Elspeth Phelps no doubt frequently came into one another’s orbit – it’s likely Lady Eileen was a client of Phelps. Phelps, who had launched her business in 1906, had by this time established herself as one of the leading dressmakers in London. Located in Albemarle Street in the heart of Mayfair, she was favoured by the well-to-do and mentioned in the same breath as Worth, Poiret and Lucile. Mrs Jack May, the fashion columnist for The Bystander, waxed lyrical on Miss Phelps’s talents in its 30 May 1917 issue:
“Elspeth Phelps is a name to conjure with. Nowhere are there to be formed more exquisite clothes, distinguished by taste above all criticism. The soft picture-frock is very dear to the heart of this fine couturiere, who is just now having a succes fou with some charming gowns or demi-toilettes. They fill an important gap now that evening dress en grande tenue is seldom required, while some would not be out of place for the smarter afternoon functions that now and again come along.”
Lillah McCarthy (left) and Mrs Morrison-Bell (right) in costumes designed by Elspeth Phelps for the Nymphs of the Forest tableau at the Petticoat Lane fundraiser at the Albert Hall, 1917
Her creations were escapist fantasies, confections of tulle, chiffon, soie de peau, embellished with lace, sequins, beading – perfectly suited to the pages of the smart, society magazines of the day, and to delight theatre audiences when worn by the prettiest and most popular actresses. Among the women in the public eye who wore her designs were Binnie Hale (in 1920’s ‘The Kiss Call’), the dancer Madame de Kurylo and socialite Paula Gellibrand, pictured in ‘an effective headdress in The Tatler in 1920. The actress Shirley Kellogg was photographed wearing a magnificent ‘diamond dress’, designed for her part in ‘Razzle Dazzle’ in 1916. The following year, Kellogg was dressed by Lucile for the show ‘Zig-Zag’ (one cannot help speculating about the rivalry between these two fashion houses – one suspects it was fierce). For the ‘Nymphs of the Forest’ tableau performed at the Petticoat Lane Bazaar, a wartime fundraiser held over several days in December 1916 at the Albert Hall, she designed costumes for a selection of society’s most beautiful women including Sheila, Lady Loughborough, a love interest of the future George VI. Another client was Irene Castle, the dancer and unrivalled style icon, for whom Phelps designed her entire wardrobe for a trip back to America. “It is the exception, nowadays, to find the name of Elspeth Phelps absent from a theatrical programme. She seems to be carrying all before her in the theatrical work of dress, as she has for so long done with those of the haute-monde,” wrote Mrs Jack May in 1917, clearly something of a fan.
Irene Castle, dancer and style icon posing with her pet monkey, Rasmus. Elspeth Phelps designed her entire wardrobe for a tour of her native America in 1917
Actress Shirley Kellogg posing in the magnificent diamond dress designed by Phelps for her to wear in ‘Razzle Dazzle’, 1916
Elspeth Phelps would also have had a prestigious client list, providing wedding dresses, trousseaux for the Season and, every top designer’s bread and butter, court gowns. She was renowned for her ability to take the latest ideas from Paris and to add her own original twists and to tailor them to individual customers. She was not only an assured dressmaker, but she was an adept publicist. In addition to those extraordinary advertisements created by Eileen Orde, whenever one of her designs was published in the press, the accompanying caption featured her name printed prominently in capital letters. Any misattribution it seems was swiftly dealt with. On more than one occasion, apologies were printed including one in The Tatler which had managed to attribute the stage costumes in ‘Maggie’, playing at the Oxford Theatre in 1919, to Poiret of Paris. “We are informed, however, that they are made by the famous dressmaker, Miss Elspeth Phelps of 29 Albemarle Street. We beg to sincerely apologise to her for giving the credit of these beautiful costumes elsewhere,” the magazine grovelled.
It doesn’t take much to imagine Miss Phelps marching into The Tatler’s office and reducing the sub-editor responsible to a gibbering wreck. Certainly, if a portrait of Elspeth, published in The Bystander in 1916, is anything to go by, then her appearance suggests a shrewd, steely and redoubtable personality. Other pieces of evidence hint at her forthright views and pioneering approach. In 1920, The Tatler credited her with being, “instrumental in annihilating the superstition against green,” and in 1925 she spoke out against the worrying trend for increasingly thin models. The Tatler quoted her as saying, “we ought to have some nice, plump girls in the mannequin profession…but no monstrosities”. Not a woman to mince her words then. Ever the canny businesswomen, she set her sights on the American market in 1920, travelling on the Aquitania and touring the major American cities where she gave mannequin shows of her exquisite designs. Not until Edward Molyneux shipped British fashion to America during the Second World War did a British designer do as much to woo the wealthy American market. Naturally, news of this expedition was reported widely in the press.
Elspeth Phelps featured in The Bystander in 1916. Inset is a photograph of her designer Reggie de Veulle, who was implicated in a scandal in 1918 for supplying drugs allegedly leading to the death of actress Billie Carleton.
In 1923, it was announced that Elspeth Phelps, offering ‘original gowns specially designed for each client’ was amalgamating with the famous Parisian fashion house of Paquin. Paquin bought her out, used her name and she was retained on a handsome salary, continuing to design her bespoke gowns for clients. With new showrooms in nearby Dover Street, the Paquin-Phelps partnership launched with a splash, placing new advertisements in the press and holding a ‘soiree dansante’ – the dresses on display described in mouth-watering detail by the papers.
Things unfortunately turned sour only a few years later. A rather public court case saw Elspeth Phelps (described as Mrs Fox-Pitt; she had married Lionel Fox-Pitt in 1920) suing Paquin for breach of contract. Meanwhile, Paquin claimed there had been some underhand dealings by Mrs Fox-Pitt who had engaged apprentices for a fee of £50 while pocketing £20 of the money herself. It is significant that, during the course of the hearing, Elspeth Phelps’s argument that her reputation and skill was an asset to Paquin was boosted by the fact she had no fewer than fifty press books full of cuttings. It was undoubted proof of her PR wizardry, even if her business dealings had taken an embarrassingly awkward turn for the worse.
The Great War and the 1920s marked the zenith of Elspeth Phelps’s career. She re-launched her business and continued to design into the 1940s, but, as is the caprice of fashion, there is scant mention of her after the late 1920s, at least not in our archive of magazines. There were younger, brighter new stars on the scene – Hartnell, Molyneux, Victor Stiebel – Elspeth Phelps was no longer the fashion pioneer she had been. Lady Eileen Orde died in 1952, aged 65.
I like the idea of these two women, these creative forces, joining together almost a century ago to create some advertising magic. It is intriguing to imagine their conversations and to think how such a strategy was dreamt up. Who knows what happened to the original designs but in their absence, I’m ordering one of Eileen Orde’s fantastic advertisements as a framed print, and each time I look at it, I’ll be reminded of two fascinating women and a creative partnership far ahead of its time.
With thanks to Randy Bryan Bigham for providing additional source material on Elspeth Phelps.
To order prints of Elspeth Phelps advertisements follow this link.
The concept of flower symbolism goes back many centuries, and examples of it can be found in many countries. One theory for its origin is that in some countries where women were not taught to write they used flowers instead to convey their messages.
A famous example from English literature is the madness and death of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Having handed out some meaningful herbs and flowers to various characters during her mad scene (rosemary, pansy, fennel, columbine, rue, daisy, violet), she drowns in a stream with weeds and flowers in her hands (crow flowers, nettles, daisies, long purples). In his painting Ophelia (1852), the Pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais combines flowers from both scenes, and adds a few more of his own (roses, forget-me-nots and poppies).
In the 19th century there was a huge surge of interest in the language of flowers or ‘floriography’. By the end of the century many ‘floral dictionaries’ had emerged, both in the UK and in America, some including poetry and illustrations. A book entitled Flower Lore: The Teachings of Flowers, Historical, Legendary, Poetical and Symbolic (1879) by a Miss Carruthers of Inverness became a standard source, and one of the best known examples, thanks to its illustrations, is Kate Greenaway’s The Language of Flowers (1884), still in print today.
All of this came at a time when flowers were part of a coded language of courtship—a man giving a woman snowdrops, for example, could be an expression of hope, while violets would signify faithfulness. The nosegay (a small bouquet) was very popular with the Victorians, either as a gift or as a wedding bouquet. Flower symbolism also appeared on greetings cards (especially Valentine’s cards), postcards, in embroidered form, as well as in accessories such as fans and ephemera such as soap wrappers.
Roses to most people’s minds signify love, but the different colours, and whether in bud or full flower, have different shades of meaning: single rose (simplicity), deep red (bashful shame), damask (brilliant complexion admired), cabbage (ambassador of love), white (I am worthy of you), white and red together (unity), white bud (girlhood), red bud (pure and lovely).
But some flowers have negative connotations. Here are a few which are perhaps best avoided: aconite (misanthropy), columbine (folly), lavender (distrust), morning glory (affectation), narcissus (egotism), oleander (beware) or yellow carnations (rejection).
With all this floral activity going on there was bound to be a cynical backlash sooner or later. The scientist and novelist H.G. Wells wrote a humorous essay (circa 1897) ridiculing romantic flower symbolism: ‘There was no downright “No!” in the language of flowers, nothing equivalent to “Go away, please,” no flower for “Idiot!” The only possible defence was something in this way: “Your cruelty causes me sorrow,” “Your absence is a pleasure.” For this … you would have to get a sweet-pea blossom for Pleasure, wormwood for Absence, and indicate Sorrow by the yew, and Cruelty by the stinging-nettle. There is always a little risk of mixing your predicates in this kind of communication, and he might, for instance, read that his Absence caused you Sorrow, but he could scarcely miss the point of the stinging-nettle.’
Whether we agree or not with H.G., the flower industry seems to be still flourishing nicely!
“Married in month of roses – June- Life will be one long honeymoon”.
The month of June, and the mind meanders towards thoughts of summer; to exotic holidays, to chaotic family day trips, and frequently to weddings, and all that they entail.
I recently had the pleasure of perusing the pages of ‘Every Woman’s Encyclopedia’, c. 1912, a magazine very much of its time, when many considered that a woman’s place was in the home and her abiding concerns and interests were all things domestic. The articles within this volume are overflowing with information on, amongst other things, home furnishings, table decorations, cookery, embroidery, fashion, children, and last but certainly not least, marriage. The magazine contemplates all aspects of the lead up to matrimony, but principally focuses on wedding tradition and lore, which seemed an interesting subject for a blog.
The magazine is a wealth of information on how one can actively enhance one’s chances of a successful marriage, divulging all manner of scenarios which should either be sincerely welcomed or avoided at all costs by the bride-to be. Who knew that if the bride came across a spider in the folds of her wedding gown she would never lack for money, or that if she was awoken by a robin on the morning of her wedding, or saw swallows come to the eaves for the first time on the big day, she would be eternally blessed?
It was considered good practice for the bride to step over the Church threshold with her right foot to safeguard her future happiness. Any jewellery could be worn except for pearls- which symbolise tears- and the wedding ring must not have been tried on prior to the ceremony. Orange blossom was a popular flower at weddings and had, since the time of the Crusades, been regarded as an emblem of prosperity (owing to the fact that in the East, the orange tree bears ripe fruit and blossoms simultaneously); the flower being white was also regarded as symbolic of innocence and chastity.
With regards to when to marry, June has always been considered the month for weddings, and Roman maidens preferred it to any other, because it was the name month of Juno, the goddess who took love matters, and all feminine interests especially, under her protection.
There is a paragraph on when not to marry too, which marks out May as the worst month of all: “So ancient is the dislike to May marriages that Ovid refers to it as the evil month of May”. The church forbade weddings between Rogation and Whit Sunday, pious and nervous folk originating the familiar adage, “Marry in May, and you’ll rue the day”. It was also considered indecorous to marry on a Sunday, the day of worship, and in England the prejudice against a Friday marriage may be traced to Good Friday, a most sorrowful and unfortunate day. And finally, spare a thought for those intending to marry in April, who would have had to live with the following ‘poetic’ line haunting them forever more: “An April bride will be inconstant, not very intelligent, but fairly good-looking”. Charming.
A few other bizarre rituals explored include the drawing of a piece of wedding cake through a ring (preferably a wedding ring) and placing it under the pillow three nights in succession, and the inquirer would then be rewarded by a vision of their future spouse. If no one appeared in their dream, they would need to resign themselves to life as a singleton. There was also an unusual custom in connection with the youngest daughter, which decreed that all her elder sisters must dance at her wedding without shoes in order to counteract the bad luck which would otherwise befall them if they married in “wrong order” of age. Another custom recounted was the throwing of a plate (full of bride-cake crumbs) down from an upper window as the bride alights from her carriage. If the plate reaches the ground unbroken, it was an unfavourable omen, but if it shattered in pieces (the more the better) good luck was sure to attend her.
The colour of one’s wedding attire was also under considerable scrutiny. Wearing red was frowned upon at this time, “Married in red, you will wish yourself dead”, whilst the traditional colour of white was very much the favourite, “Married in white, you’ll be alright”, though in fact, frugality meant that many brides would simply marry in their Sunday best frock. It was Queen Victoria’s unusual choice of a white lace gown for her marriage to Prince Albert in 1839 that was to set a trend among Western brides that continues to this day.
The familiar saying, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” is also mentioned and an explanation is given for each line: something old in order to retain the love and affection that was the bride’s in her old life; something new, for success in her new life; something borrowed so that friends may ever be helpful and faithful, and something blue, an emblem of loyalty and constancy.
It was considered unlucky for the bride to break anything on her wedding day; such an unfortunate act would almost certainly lead to a lifetime of discord with her in-laws. The magazine also underlines the importance of feeding one’s cat on the wedding day (should the bride have one of course); in addition, one must not read the marriage service prior to the wedding taking place, and if the bridal party should encounter a pig (or several) en route to the Church, they must turn back with immediate effect and begin their journey again.
On marriage etiquette and protocol, the magazine is also a rich source of information. When relating details of the man’s proposal, it suggests that for some, writing a note may be the best option, “When courage to speak is utterly lacking, a proposal by letter is a good way out of the difficulty. Even though much note-paper and brainwork may be wasted on the document, at least it may be counted on to do the business; and after several failures to manage it by speech, there is consolation in this reflection.” The female recipient of the proposal is given the following words of wisdom, “A girl does not wish to appear too ready with her “Yes”. She thinks that this may cheapen her in the eyes of the person whom she would like to value her more highly than anyone else in the world”.
Focus then turns to the wedding itself. The bridal bouquet should be small and elegant as “the huge bouquet with which brides in the end of last and the beginning of the present century were burdened was not at all a graceful adjunct, for several reasons. Its bulk obscured the outline of the figure. It interfered with the pretty folds of the wedding veil. It hid the front of the gown, often very charmingly trimmed with lace or embroidery, and its weight tired the arm of the bride, already quite tired enough with the arduous work of the previous weeks in connection with the trousseau, the correspondence with regards to presents, and other preparations”.
The bride-to-be is offered advice on the cutting of the wedding cake, which at this time, was the sole duty of the woman: “There is occasionally a little difficulty in cutting through the sugar icing, but the bride should not let anyone help in her task. A straight, downward thrust, the knife held perpendicularly, will manage the business and the rest is easy”.
The tossing of the bouquet, very familiar to us all, was already firmly entrenched in bridal ritual at this time: “The bride must not forget to distribute sprays of her bouquet among her bridesmaids and other girl friends. There is an idea that this may lead to other weddings”. It goes on to describe how the bride must toss the bouquet high above the heads of wedding guests and the one who caught hold of it was destined to marry within the year.
Amusingly, the best man’s prime duty is as follows: “If his friend should be nervous in anticipation of the coming ordeal, it is the business of the best man to inspire him with courage and to infuse into him that spirit of resignation which is his best armour against tribulation”.
In summary, if you had been hoping to get married in 1912, you would be wise to avoid marrying on a Friday or Sunday, especially in May; best not to wear red, and a good idea to keep one’s head down on the journey to Church so as not to chance upon a pig! The final paragraph on wedding lore in this volume concludes very eloquently indeed and is a fitting end to this blog: “Let the cynics and pessimists sneer and declare what they will, they will never convince the world that Love is not the light of life, its crown and completion, and God’s highest gift to man”.
A vivid and eclectic lightbox of wedding imagery from our archive can be viewed here.
‘The Life Guardsman Who Dropped It’, published in The Tatler Christmas Number, 1935.
It’s the Epsom Derby this weekend, one of the highlights of what was once widely known as ‘the Season’ – a round of social events beginning with the Summer exhibition private view at the beginning of May and ending with Cowes Week in early August. Many of the key events of the Season still remain of course; the Derby, Ascot, Wimbledon, Henley, but equally plenty of traditions have disappeared. Court presentations, when the daughters of the upper classes made their curtsey to the King and Queen, were stopped by the Palace in 1958. The famous clubs like Ranelagh, where society flocked to enjoy polo, gymkhanas and tea on the lawn disappeared long ago, and the whirligig of parties, balls and cocktail parties that any self-respecting debutante would stoically endure have been replaced these days by music festivals and roof bars – open to all and not just the privileged few. Nevertheless, though a shadow of its former self, the Season remains a sort of mythical blueprint for the quintessential British summer.
A quintessential British cartoonist was H.M. Bateman (1887-1970), whose cartoons poking fun at polite society were to make him a household name. Bateman contributed to many magazines during his long career, including Punch and The Strand (both held here at Mary Evans) but is most closely associated with The Tatler, who published hundreds of his cartoons during the 1920s and 30s. Many of them were prefixed with ‘The Man Who…’ and portrayed all kinds of nerve-shredding, toe-curling social faux pas, much to the delight of its readers who, in a typically self-deprecating English fashion, rather liked Bateman’s acerbic take on the pettiness and pedantry of their privileged world. H.M. Bateman’s style, using quick-fire, efficient line, and frequently bold colour, instilled a frenetic movement in his characters and firmly equated appearance with feelings. Thus the wretched chap who dares to wear a bowler hat in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot visibly shrinks in the looming presence of those correctly attired in top hats and tails. Blustering colonels go puce with incandescent rage, quivering men go green with fear of their imperious mother-in-laws. And the shock of one small Etonian, who is aghast to see his parents arrive in a charabanc for the Fourth of June celebrations, is only magnified by the disdainful and snobbish profiles of his fellow pupils. Who better to portray the London Season? We give you here, ten of Bateman’s best cartoons on the subject. They may parody the posh crowd but form a peculiarly appropriate celebration of the London Season.
‘The Horse that Took the Wrong Turning at Epsom’, published in The Tatler, 6 June 1933.
‘The Outrage – or Someone Throws Confetti at a Society Wedding’, published in The Tatler, 21 June 1933. June is of course, the wedding season. Bateman’s wedding sees a bride, groom, guests and assembled spectators look on in shock as one lady does something that can only be described as vulgar – she throws confetti.
‘Light Refreshments – The Private View’, published in The Sketch, 1 July 1914. The opening of the summer exhibition at Burlington House was the starting pistol for the summer season though visiting other art exhibitions would be one of the many sources of amusements for those doing the Season. This Bateman cartoon is taken from The Sketch in 1914, so earlier than others (and hence in black & white). Bateman brilliant conveys the silent, isolated fury of an artist who discovers guests at his exhibition are shamelessly more interested in the canapés.
‘My Hat! The Winner, Ascot’ published in The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, 16 June 1928.
‘The Dirt Track Rider Who Appeared in Rotten Row’ published in The Tatler, Christmas Number, 1929. Rotten Row in Hyde Park has traditionally been the place to see and be seen, particularly on horseback.
As custodians of the Illustrated London News archive, containing The Bystander, The Sketch, The Tatler and The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News (all of which Bateman contributed to), we have one of the biggest collections of H. M. Bateman cartoons, and it’s growing all the time. To see a wider selection click here.
All cartoons © H. M. Bateman Designs Ltd/Illustrated London News/Mary Evans Picture Library
In 1946, photographer Jean Straker formed a short-lived photographic firm known as Photo Union at 12, Soho Square in London. It specialised in the photo-essay, a form of pictorial journalism undertaken mainly with miniature cameras with lots of detailed images and bridging shots. Four years later, in 1951, the agency went into receivership when Straker sank capital into colour photography, which was to prove too costly. The archive, now at Mary Evans, consequently documents a particularly brief period of time but in many ways, it is all the more fascinating for it.
Jean Straker was born in London in 1913 to an émigré Russian father and English ballerina mother. He began his career in journalism during the 1930s, specialising in film and launching ‘The Talkie’ magazine. A conscientious objector during the War, he combined duties as an ARP warden with working as a surgical photographer in London’s hospitals. But it was in the 1950s, that fame—or perhaps infamy—finally found a foothold. With the failure of Photo Union, Straker abandoned commercial photography to pursue personally satisfying projects. He set up the Visual Arts Club and as part of this, organised nude photography sessions for members. In 1959, ‘The Nudes of Jean Straker’ was published by Charles Skilton Publications, one of the first art photography books of its kind. Despite his activities being pretty similar in practice to life drawing classes, sensibilities were shocked and he was prosecuted in 1962 under the Obscene Publications Act. Arguing that there was nothing depraved or corrupt about the naked human body, Straker spent the rest of the decade refusing to curtail his activities or compromise his artistic integrity leading to a continuous cycle of prosecutions and appeals. By the late 1960s, Straker had given up photography but continued to campaign and lecture on censorship until his death in 1984.
Though Straker’s Photo Union collective was a commercial venture, whose subjects were necessarily more conservative, some of the images seem to hint at Straker’s background and personal interests. There are backstage shots of showgirls and candid shots of jobbing musicians, evocative images of Soho streets and long-gone West End restaurants while guileful London girls are pictured on dates with American GIs. They hint of freedom and a certain type of seedy glamour in an age of rationing and austerity. There are other pictures too, which project a more innocent nostalgia: apprentice carpenters, Kentish apple pickers and the 1947 Royal Wedding. But occasionally, the odd, artistic nude reveals the agency founder’s true, fleshy metier. The Photo Union collection is an eclectic and evocative picture of post-war Britain, and particularly London. To see a selection of images from the archive on the Mary Evans website, click here.
A devout railway enthusiast at heart, I regularly enjoy any images here in the archive that celebrate the railways throughout history. The library’s railway holdings span an eclectic array of subjects and media; from striking 1920s Art Deco travel and advertising posters, through to detailed technical drawings of early locomotives from the archive of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. The railway-themed content available at Mary Evans is wholly unique and ideal for publishing projects, greetings cards and merchandise with that railway enthusiast in mind – a selection of my favorites you will find here.
Whilst locomotives have been marveled since the birth of the railways, the more formal hobby of ‘trainspotting’ began in the early 1940s when Ian Allan, (of Ian Allan Publishing), worked in the PR department of the Southern Railway at Waterloo Station. The department was regularly inundated with requests from ‘railfans’ for numeric information on locomotives. As a solution to the requests and their increasing demand on time, Allan sought to compile a book of locomotive numbers as a handy resource for the enthusiasts and thus, the ‘ABC of Southern Locomotives’ was published.
The popularity of the ‘ABC of Southern Locomotives’ acted as a spring-board for many more titles relating to different locomotives and other railway companies and resulted in the creation of Ian Allan Publishing. By the mid-1940s, trainspotting had become a national pastime and a particularly charming and nostalgic set of images are the illustrations and photographs in the archive relating to the enthusiasts themselves – evocative of the thrill and excitement of seeing a majestic locomotive roll-by.
As well as out on the platform or by the track, railway enthusiasm is equally as popular in the home and was first introduced to households during the first half of the 1800s, in the form of model railways.
The ‘Birmingham Dribbler’ was the first relevant and popular model locomotive which would simply run over a carpet or surface rather than a track. As enthusiasm for the railways grew, so did the demand for quality and realistic models, not only for locomotives, but also for intricate landscapes and environments to create scaled versions of ‘real-world’ railways. “The first mass market railway sets where made by Marklin in Germany in 1891 but it was a group of English hobbyists who in 1904 began model building” Gerald, BBC A History of the World 2010.
In the UK, Hornby Railways (founded in 1901, Liverpool) carved its way as industry leader for railway modelling throughout the 20th century and to the present day continues to be a well-known household name. The growing popularity of model railways spanned all age groups and classes and they were even enjoyed by aristocracy, which included the 9th Earl of Lanesborough, who was photographed with his train set for The Tatler, 26th March 1958 issue.
Denis Anthony Brian Butler, 9th Earl of Lanesborough (28 October 1918 – 27 December 1998), Irish aristocrat pictured with the large model-railway he had set up in his home, Swithland Hall. A railway enthusiast, he applied to British Rail to be a train driver but was unsuccessful!
With the development, modernisation and upgrading of the railways, discarded and outdated railway artifacts, objects and printed material, collectively ‘railwayana’ started to become highly popular among collectors and hobbyists. This continues to be the case with vintage British Railways travel posters, for example, regularly selling for thousands of pounds at auction.
Dr. David Lewis Hodgson, whose archive we represent here at Mary Evans, created a number of photo essays during the 1960s which often focused on unusual events, experiments and people. A couple of excellent examples relating to railway enthusiasm include a series of photographs covering a British Railways memorabilia, or ‘railwayana’ sale, and an enthusiast couple who operated a model railway from their home complete with uniforms, a workshop and a Station Master’s office! More images relating to railway enthusiasm can be found here.