Continental Travel: Luggage in Tow

A new well-illustrated book by Martyn Pring Boat Trains: The English Channel & Ocean Liner Specials explores how European travel in the railway era was conducted. The book uses much unpublished research material and rare archival images with many again taken from the Illustrated London News collection housed here at Mary Evans. Martyn’s blog is a fascinating discussion of luxury travel where, increasingly from mid-Victorian times, looking good, the luggage you carried, and the fellow passengers you associated with were just as important as how you got there, courtesy of the various competing railway companies operating cross-channel steamer routes. Boat Trains is published this autumn by Pen & Sword.

Since the Victorian era, specialist boat trains were an everyday phenomenon. Though not timetabled, they served ocean-going steamers as well as more regular English Channel paddlers which in the early days were highly dependent on correct tidal conditions. But when railway companies were allowed to run their own steamer operations from the early 1860s, they quickly established themselves at the forefront of port and harbour expansion. Within a few years the introduction of fast, new turbine steamers particularly aided the development of Continental travel.

Boulogne-sur-Mer: a crowded quayside as the Folkestone packet arrives Date: 1870s
Boulogne-sur-Mer: a crowded quayside as the Folkestone packet arrives Date: 1870s

One set of travellers that did not worry too much about luggage was the day excursionist. With Europe a comparatively short hop away, a day-tripper market rapidly established itself. ‘Trippers’ as opposed to ‘tourists’ returned on steamers the same day; for travellers to be classified as tourists, they were required to spend at least one night away. Nevertheless, fast boat trains to Channel ports from both London and Paris delivered a burgeoning trade either way. And with this progress, fashionable resorts flourished in Belgium, France and the Channel Islands. More importantly, however, cross-channel traffic delivered a steady stream of prosperous Victorians with time on their hands and an eagerness to explore what the Continent had to offer. Apart from Paris, the captivating routes south to the Riviera and Italy summoned the affluent traveller.

Poster, Peninsular-Express, London to Brindisi. A special train service calling at Dover, Calais, Pierrefitte, Villeneuve, Mont Cenis, Modane, Turin, Bologna, and Brindisi. Date: 20th century
Peninsular-Express poster: a special train service calling at Dover, Calais, Pierrefitte, Villeneuve, Mont Cenis, Modane, Turin, Bologna, and Brindisi. Date: early 20th century

European travel was progressively less irksome. But British visitors crossing the English Channel in mid-century were faced with a shock as French officials forced them to hand over luggage for examination. A ‘baggage master’ travelled with each train. Before railway journeys, luggage articles­­­­—the trunk or portmanteau—were handed over at an office from where the traveller was about to commence their journey with the intended destination clearly named. The baggage master strapped a brass disc to each piece, about the size of a penny-piece with a number engraved on it, handing to the owner of the articles corresponding discs, thus providing the passenger with complete confidence. The Railway Traveller’s Handy Book of Hints, Suggestions and Advice of 1862 advised readers the process should be left to the hands of a servant! Despite railway company initiatives, luggage still occasionally disappeared.

The boat train to Paris about to leave Charing Cross. Date: circa 1900
The boat train to Paris about to leave Charing Cross. Date: circa 1900

The Times during the summer season of 1872 reported on several incidents of luggage robbery citing the case of a family leaving Dawlish for Boulogne, travelling as far as Dover, over three different railway lines. On arriving at Boulogne, the keys of the boxes were handed over to a well-known and trustworthy commissionaire, when it was discovered the locks had been broken open and the cases ransacked; jewellery, silk dresses, and other articles had been stolen. The owner applied to the railway companies for compensation, all denied that the robbery could have been effected while the boxes were in transit on their respective lines. In a second case a robbed traveller gave his experiences of Germany, Belgium, and France. He advised travellers to examine their boxes before the commencement and end of every journey, and under no excuse permit their luggage to be left downstairs at hotels!

Leading French railway companies such as Compagnie des Chemins de Fer du Nord (Nord), who serviced the French side of the Dover Straights, and Chemins de fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée (PLM) were mindful of the needs of prosperous customers. PLM and their Wagon-Lits partners were one of the first railway organisations to eradicate the process of examining luggage. Transfer to the train wending its way to the Azur coast became a little less arduous.

Poster, Cote d'Azur, South of France, by overnight train. Date: circa 1930s
Poster, Cote d’Azur, South of France, by overnight train. Date: circa 1930s

From June 1895 new developments involved the registering of railway luggage on the Continent based on the American system of registering and forwarding travellers’ luggage so as not to encumber passengers with luggage on journeys. But it was not to everyone’s taste as The Sphere rather tongue-in-cheek reminded readers:

‘It is sheer nonsense to talk of the advantages that attach to the American “check” system, whereby a traveller is permitted to pay two or three shillings for the privilege of having his portmanteau “expressed” to his hotel, where it arrives too late to make dressing for dinner possible. Give me the good old British haphazard method, which allows a man to seize the nearest or newest Gladstone bag from the luggage van and bear it away in a taxi without suffering delay or incurring suspicion.’ (1)

One regular British visitor who did not have problems of managing personal luggage was the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. In late Victorian times he could be seen regularly in France as his entourage could rely on the Prince’s own railway carriage permanently parked up in Calais and available for travel at a moment’s notice. By special instruction this could be attached to trains heading to Paris, Biarritz or the French Riviera. One firm, Allen’s Portmanteaus, of 37 West Strand, London were one such organisation that carried a royal seal providing quality luggage fit for the well-heeled independent traveller. Whilst not exactly the shape of the modern suitcase, the company offered travellers sleeker portmanteaus constructed to a similar shape that could be placed under boat train seats or steamer berths and ideal for short trips. For travellers with an inherent dislike of water, one enterprising Liverpool steward came up with a portmanteau that was carried as a bag normally but could be transformed into a lifebelt in two minutes. The device even had secure compartments for wallets and other important personal possessions. In the normal course of events luggage restrictions had little impact on the combined rail and sea travel experience.

A jolly Victorian gent from the days when Britain unquestionably ruled the waves doffs his hat as he floats proudly in his safety device de jour - his portmanteau buoy! Exposure for one's legs seemingly of no concern when one's bowler hat remains dry... Date: late 19th century
A jolly Victorian gent doffs his hat as he floats proudly in his portmanteau buoy! Exposure for one’s legs seemingly of no concern when one’s bowler hat remains dry. Date: late 19th century

At the turn of the 20th century thousands of Americans crossed the Atlantic in the direction of the Old World. Philip Unwin writing in his 1979 book Travelling by Train in the Edwardian Age, (London, George Allen & Unwin) noted ‘Nothing was too good for the richest visitors to England.’ The London & North Western Railway Liverpool Riverside American Special boat train which surpassed all others in the luxury specification of the special stock, carried two luggage vans, ‘essential to convey the huge wardrobe trunks without which no well-dressed lady could cross the Atlantic then.’ (2) Paris was invariably included on the itinerary and practical solutions were always sought for the lady about-town seeking to make suitable Continental impressions.

By late Edwardian times smaller portmanteaus or suitcases—the word had started to creep into the lexicon—were designed specifically to cater for women’s needs. The Sketch magazine considered ‘The Gentle Art of Packing’:

‘We have grown infinitely civilised in our manner of carrying about our belongings. In the fearless old days people used to throw their clothes into a portmanteau and jump on them, or, at least, force far too many things into one receptacle than it could hold, so that frocks and skirts emerged crumpled, creased, and woebegone, and accounted largely for the strange appearance of the Victorian Briton in foreign parts. Then, again, they never took enough hats, and were apt to arrive at Boulogne on their return looking excessively odd about the head. But now we revel in all kinds of luggage, from the upright wardrobe in which the American girl hangs her dresses on a hook, to the neat suit-case or the narrow tin box, for all the world like a magnified sandwich-case, which is to hold our all on the motor-tour. Indeed, so convenient are all our travelling impediments nowadays that good temper, suave gestures, and much tissue-paper are now all that are necessary for us to look as neat as the proverbial pin, even on a rush across Europe.’ (3)

The Graphic even suggested ‘a professor of packing’ should be appointed whereby students undertook a curriculum that embraced proper packing from the smallest handbag to the largest portmanteau!

The South Eastern & Chatham Railway introduced a four carriage Continental Pullman boat train on the Dover-Calais route in 1910. Paris and Riviera bound travellers and their accompanying luggage were looked after with a certain degree of panache. After the Great War, first-class travel slowly recovered and by the early-1920s boarding London-Paris premier Pullman services, newly commissioned cross-channel ferries, and staying at Europe’s leading hotels became deep-rooted conversations especially amongst England’s chattering-classes. And little surprise there should be innovations and developments to aid the travel process. Practical and lighter-weight wardrobe-trunks became de rigueur with some reduced in size to fit easily in car boots, attached to the rear of a sports car or simply placed more easily on luggage racks in railway carriage compartments. As The Sphere noted ‘Fashion and the motor car…have reduced the luggage of both sexes to a minimum.’ (4) By this time there was an undoubted fusion between ladies’ luggage and fashion. Where ladies’ handbags ended and the specially designed travelling carrying bag started, occupied important news by the mid-1920s Riviera Seasons. The illustrated weekly titles were now increasingly supported by the inclusion of fashion photography. With these developments the proverbial hatbox was no longer the important item that it had once been in Victorian times.

Crossing to France? Travel with British Railways. Date: 1953
Crossing to France? Travel with British Railways. Date: 1953

Such travelling accoutrements symbolised holiday escapes, winter warmth and escaping the predictability of Britain’s everyday life. The Blue Train/Le Train Blue and the Golden Arrow/Flèche d’Or and Night Ferry/Ferry du Nuit boat trains summoned distinct images of glamorous travel. Hardly surprisingly pictures of luggage (their labels marked for the Promenade des Anglais) and their owners were added to highly refined travel promotion; the journey became an inspirational element of the total travel experience. Posters showing period travellers wrapped around their stylish luggage became familiar icons to British, Continental and American travellers, and indeed the general population who could only dream of such possibilities.

Three ladies are about to set off on a railway journey, while the porter copes with their ample luggage. Date: 1929
The porter copes with the ample luggage of three fashionable women. Date: 1929
  • The Sphere, 7 March 1914 p.26
  • Unwin, p.93/94
  • The Sketch, 27 July 1910 p.29
  • The Sphere, 27 July 1935 p.156

A Working from Home (Historical) Style Guide

Lady on Couch, Phone

Even if you’re just a little bit interested in fashion, it’s very likely that, at present, you’re getting inundated with emails from clothing companies suggesting ways to be stylish in self-isolation, offering hand-picked suggestions for your WFH (working from home) wardrobe. Pity the poor fashion content writer who has to try to flog midi dresses in the midst of a pandemic. We’ve all got other things on our minds. And yet clothes can be an uplifting distraction in tricky times. In fact, some people on Twitter are using Friday as an excuse to properly dress up for work (see#distancebutmakeitfashion) even if the commute only takes thirty seconds – to the kitchen table, the garden shed, or a desk in that alcove in the dining room. Whether or not you’re planning to join the Twittersphere, we thought a trawl through history might provide some inspiration for navigating those difficult WFH outfits.

‘At home’ tea gown

In the late 19th and early 20th century, a well-heeled lady would spend a considerable amount of her day changing from one outfit to another, in accordance with the time of day and activity. Tea gowns became a ‘thing’ designed to be worn when women would gather together for afternoon tea and ‘at home’ occasions. The dresses were light, delicate, feminine, frivolous and frothy with lace, in other words, not intended for outdoor wear, but were just the thing for pouring out a cup of Earl Grey and gossiping about Lady Darrington’s halitosis. Of course, any tea parties today would need to be virtual, but if you want to impress the girls, may we suggest a lovely gown from somewhere like Redfearns or Lucile?

Three elegant ladies modelling tea dresses and boudoir gowns from the World War I period. Date: February 1916

Rational dress

If you’re hunched over a laptop, the last thing you want is a whalebone corset digging into your ribs. Three cheers then, for the rational dress movement. Rational, or artistic dress, favoured looser styles in a palette of tasteful colours and allowed greater freedom, not only of movement but of artistic expression. It was sort of the hipster equivalent of the tea gown. Popular with arty, bohemian types such as the Pre-Raphaelites and Emilie Floge, Gustav Klimt’s other half, followers of dress reform even had their own magazine, Aglaia, edited by the stained glass designer Henry Holiday and with contributions from G. F. Watts, Walter Crane and Arthur Liberty.

A depiction of Winter: a woman in a reform style dress with uncorseted high waistline, fur-trimmed tunic & a skirt with embroidery. The back is reflected in the mirror. Date: 1903

Laura Ashley

A century on from the rational dress movement, Laura Ashley took inspiration from Victorian style and put a generation of romantic, whimsical types into ditsy print maxi dresses with puffed sleeves and pin tucks intended to channel your inner Tess of the D’Urbervilles. If your WFH vibe is to spend your lunch hour making daisy chains, milking your pet goat, or staring dreamily out of the window as you compose that marketing email, Laura Ashley is for you. Unfortunately, the company has failed to capitalise on this rich heritage and recently called in the administrators so you’ll need to visit ebay to find your Ashley fix. That’s if the millennials haven’t beaten you to it.

Fashion -- a woman and a girl, both wearing full-length Laura Ashley style dresses in floral fabric, looking out of a window. Date: circa 1970s

Homespun style

In between working a full day, queueing round the block just to get into Sainsbury’s and home schooling your kids, you will apparently have acres of time on your hands. Great! An opportunity to create your own make do and mend creations in order to keep up appearances. Have no fear, we have oodles of knitting and sewing ideas to keep idle hands busy during the long weeks of self-isolation. All eventualities covered, including knitting your own knickers.

Warm wool lies. . . Vest and pants for the long winter evenings. A 1940s knitting pattern providing instructions on how to make a woman's vest and pants. With the onset of World War Two and the introduction of rationing, many chose to knit their own clothes as a cheaper alternative. 1943

Blitz Inspiration

On the subject of wartime dressing, if you find a utilitarian approach is more your thing, so you can go straight from desk to allotment, kids’ bathtime or dog walking, then the First and Second World Wars might be where you’ll find your wardrobe solutions. Try a siren suit like Winston Churchill, the forerunner of the modern-day jumpsuit, or a natty turban so that nobody will notice during that video conference call that you’ve failed to wash your hair. Land girl jumpers and breeches are another practical choice for the busy multi-tasker.

Winston Churchill in his Siren Suit at Chartwell, Kent Date: 11th July 1944

Kaftans

Kaftans originated in ancient Mesopotamia and lavishly decorated examples were worn by Ottoman sultans from the 14th to 18th centuries. Today, the term is used to describe any loose, tunic style garment, though the voluminous examples that hide a multitude of sins are closer to the abaya. Either way, the ideal option if WFH biscuit nibbling has gone beyond control.  See also, monks’ robes, hermits’ cloaks, farmer’s smocks, nun’s habits, clerical dress.

Model on the left wears a white Grecian style kaftan with silver braiding down the front, by Simon Ellis. The silver sequin sandals are from Magli and the gilt bangles is from India Craft. Model on the right wears an exotic black cotton dress lined in silk with silver embroidery in 'Tree of Life' design from Thea Porter. Date: 1966

If you’re trying to save on the heating bills

Yes, you’re saving on your £5000 annual travel card, but it’s no fun working from home when the heating’s off is it?  Try the Vickery’s silk eiderdown travelling rug with foot muff, intended for reclining on a steamer chair on an ocean liner in 1928, but just as good for alleviating shivering in the spare room.

Advertisement for the Vickery's registered silk-covered eiderdown travelling rug with foot muff, ideal for reading on deck when it's a bit chilly! 1928

Smoking Jacket

We haven’t forgotten the chaps, and indeed, you do need to be a chap (or a very smart lesbian), to pull off a smoking jacket. This is for those remote workers who retire to the library for a scotch on the rocks after the lap top lid goes down. Don’t forget Brylcreem, pipe, slippers, several witty quips and some Cole Porter or Noel Coward on the gramophone.

THE BENSON MURDER CASE, William Powell, 1930 Date: 1930

Forward young woman wears a cerise pink & red pyjama suit - the jacket has a roll collar & cuffs & fastens with frogs. She has fur trimmed mules on her feet & a cigarette holder. Date: circa 1918

Pyjama suit

Pyjamas, yes, but these aren’t just any pyjamas. The 1920s pyjama suit might just be the ultimate WFH choice. Fashionistas on the Venice Lido first started this trend for louche loungewear, with the French Riviera quickly following suit, and the trend rippled through the decade and into the 1930s. While beach pyjamas need to be reserved for a time when we can all saunter down to the sea front once more, a silky pyjama suit, accessorised with a cigarette holder and some Turkish slippers is comfortable luxe dressing for the aspirational office flapper.

A 'pyjama' suit, comprising of a loose coat of crepe satin, and a jumper and trousers also in crepe satin. 1930

Food control fancy dress

Make a real statement when you visit the shops to fill your basket (NOT trolley) with essentials. Be inspired by these ladies who took the government’s food control policy in 1917 to a whole new level with their first-class fancy dress efforts.

Rationing was introduced into Britain at the tale end of World War One - in February 1918. Rationing was introduced in response to an effective U-boat campaign and during World War One, the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) was used to ensure that food shortages never occurred. 'Food Control' (another phrase for food rationing) only existed for six months (giving us a perfectly accurate date for this card!). Date: 1918

Cocktail dress

It’s been hanging in the wardrobe, glaring at you reproachfully for not giving it an outing. Go on, put it on. Go full on Mad Men for the day. Work hard and then play hard by hitting the drinks cabinet at 6pm. How about this silk taffeta dress by Neil ‘Bunny’ Roger for Fortnum & Mason, featured in The Tatler in 1956?  Chin chin.

A short sheath dress in black French silk jersey with a deep V back and d飯llet鬠and a swirling hem of black taffeta, designed by Neil (Bunny) Roger, in whose house the photograph was taken, at Fortnum and Mason. Date: 1956

Naturism

If all else fails and the washing powder runs out, then there’s always your birthday suit. Strictly for days when you’re not planning to go anywhere near Zoom. After all, one day you will have to sit in the same room as your fellow workers again. Anyway, this little book from 1930 will tell you all you need to know!

'LA CULTE DE LA NUDITE' a French book about naturism in Germany, described as 'a sensational report' Date: 1930

**The Mary Evans team are remote working at present, but we are continuing to provide our usual service, even if wearing our pyjamas. Email pictures@maryevans.com and we’ll get straight back to you. Stay safe and well.**

Tut-mania: When the world went Egypt mad

Egyptian style advertisement for Shell Motor Spirit - King Petrolemy Sendeth Unto Pharaoh Gifts of Precious Spirit. Date: early 20th century

This weekend, the Saatchi Gallery opened its long-awaited exhibition, “Tutankhamun – Treasures of the Golden Pharoah”. As blockbuster exhibitions go, it’s up there with the best of them. Having recently closed in Paris, the exhibition became France’s most visited of all time with attendance of over 1.4 million and is the last opportunity to see 150 objects from the boy-king’s tomb before they become a permanent exhibition at the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is currently under construction. We haven’t been yet but it’s certainly tempting, despite the eye-watering admission price.

When Howard Carter, sponsored by Lord Carnarvon, finally discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb in November 1922, it was one of the biggest news stories of the century. Even though it would be many more months before it was considered safe enough to begin to remove objects from the burial chamber, nevertheless, the discovery precipitated a global craze for Egyptian style.

Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign of 1798-1801 and the discovery and deciphering of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 was the catalyst for the first wave of Egyptomania in the early nineteenth century. Aristocrats commissioned their homes to be decorated in an Egyptian style and even whole buildings referenced its art and statuary. Examples include the Egyptian Hall in London (built in 1812, demolished in 1905), and the curious Egyptian House in Penzance, dating from the early 19th century. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, and the British occupation of Egypt from 1882 only served to increase interest. And when Thomas Cook began to offer Egyptian holidays and Nile cruises in the later 19th century, the exotic sights and cultural heritage of Egypt became a familiar style touchstone to a wider society.

Carter’s landmark discovery in 1922 led to a renewed and unprecedented Egyptomania boom.  Egyptian motifs and hieroglyphics were an ancient echo of more modern 1920s designs, and Tut-mania’s influence extended to music, fashion and much more. Here are a just a few examples from our collection, reflecting how when the world went Egypt-mad in the 1920s.

Fashion – A subtle take on Egyptian style by London couturier, Isobel from 1923; a dress, (according to The Tatler magazine’s description) “in Egyptian colours” that includes Egyptian embroidery at the waist, as does the more modest dress with the white collar. The page from The Sketch, July 1923 reports on a variety of outfits displaying the “Tutankhamun Touch”, while the colourful pattern is a fabric design from the 1920s, clearly incorporating Egyptian motifs.

A frock of fine black silk jerseylene featuring embroideries in 'Egyptian colourings' from Isobel, of 4 Maddox Street, London. Worn with a dashing hat and cane. The embroidery reflects the craze for fashion inspired by ancient Egypt following the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922. Date: 1923

Fancy Dress – Ancient Egypt certainly opened up some glamorous possibilities for fancy dress (debutante Mary Henniker-Heaton won a prize in Monte Carlo for her costume), but the photograph of a mother, father and daughter all getting into the homespun Tutankhamun spirit is particularly charming.

Princess Otto von Bismarck, formerly Miss Anne-Marie Tengbom, pictured in fancy dress as the Moon in an Egyptian tableau 'as produced by King Tutankhamen' at the Galaxy Ball in aid of St. John's Hospital, Lewisham at the Park Lane Hotel in November 1929. The costume was designed by Mr Robin d'Erlanger whose wife was organiser of the ball. 1929

Music – Popular music composers were often the first to absorb current events and topical skits into new tunes. In the Days of Tut-ankh-amen was written and composed by Reg Low and J. P. Long, and sung by musical comedy duo, Norah Blaney and Gwen Farrar in the Andre Charlot revue, ‘Rats!’ at the Vaudeville Theatre in 1923.

(read about Gwen and Norah in a new biography by Alison Child here – https://www.behindthelines.info/tell-me-i-m-forgiven-gwen-farrar-norah-blaney/

Music cover, Tutankhamen One Step Song, by Hebe Mack. 1923

Jewellery – Even Cartier brought out new designs of jewellery inspired by pieces of Ancient Egypt. The Illustrated London News featured examples of the “Tutankhamun Influence” while Gazette de Bon Ton featured an illustration of a brooch and drop earrings in 1924.

Egyptian trinkets from 1500 to 3000 years old adapted as modern jewellery: brooches, pendants, earrings and hat pins set wtih real antiques and a tutankhamen replica. All by Cartier. The discover of Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter triggered a craze for Egyptian inspired fashion and jewellery. Date: 1924

Architecture – Cinema and theatre was one area where architects could let their imaginations run wild. A number of picture houses built during the inter-war years were an Egyptian riff on the art deco or ‘moderne’ style. The interior of the Egyptian Theater at Bala-Cynwyd, Pennsylvania is an exquisite example, while in London, the former Carlton Cinema on Essex Road in Islington (now a Mecca bingo hall) is pure and unapologetic Egyptian fantasy. The entrance to the Straussenhaus, Berlin Zoo, which is designed in the style of an Egyptian temple is Egyptian style at its most flamboyant and the fact that it was built in 1912, demonstrates that Tutankhamun simply fanned the flames of a craze that had never really gone away.  Of course, if you wanted a touch of Egyptian style in your own home, then you could always embroider some designs courtesy of Weldon’s Beautiful Needlework magazine.

Egyptian designs for home furnishings, an insert page from Weldon's Beautiful Needlework magazine. Date: circa 1920s

needlework

Graphic Design – This cover of The Graphic’s Egypt Number as well as the rather nice illustration by an Egyptian woman applying make-up by Marius Forestier in The Sketch, 1924, are just two examples of how magazine illustrators enjoyed playing around with Egyptian themes. The chic little trade card for an Egypt hotel, and perfume advertisement meld art deco with Egyptian style while the Houdini poster and ‘fortune book’ drew on the perceptions of Egypt as a place of mystery and spiritualism.

Front cover of The Graphic magazine specially designed in an Egyptian style for its number on the same subject. Date: 1930

houdini and fortune book

To see a full range of Tut-mania images, click here: https://www.maryevans.com/lb.php?ref=47265

 

The Man Who Ate Grass

Will Brexit happen?  When will Brexit happen?  But most importantly, if and when Brexit does happen, what on earth are we all going to eat?

This of course, was a far more pressing question eighty years ago in the first few months of the Second World War, when memories of food control and rationing towards the end of the last war, meant most people were prepared for the inevitability of food shortages.

'Sorry No Potatoes' - a British housewife has limited choice for her vegetable purchasing, as potato stocks dry up due to tight rationing control over supply - December, 1941.     Date: 1941

It was a scenario for which Mr J. R.B. Branson of Battersea was thoroughly prepared.  A retired lawyer and graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, Mr. Branson felt the dietary requirements of the nation on the home front could be met by the green, green grass of home – quite literally.

Mr J. R. B. Branson, who advocated a diet of grass to counter food shortages during the Second World War. The Bystander magazine ran a double page spread on him and his views. Picture of sixty-seven year-old Mr Branson eating flowers in his garden in Battersea.     Date: 1939

In November 1939, Branson was featured in The Bystander magazine in a photo spread proving his theory that humans could subsist adequately on grass. He was shown carefully transferring lawn cuttings into a paper bag, washing and preparing grass and then pointing out a number of boxes, each neatly labelled with a particular vintage of dried grass. “Bowling Green Short 1938” sounds particularly appetising.

Mr J. R. B. Branson, who advocated a diet of grass to counter food shortages during the Second World War. The Bystander magazine ran a double page spread on him and his views. Picture shows him creating an appetite by mowing the grass and bagging the sweepings ready to take indoors for preparation.      Date: 1939

Another photograph shows him mixing grass with sugar and then wandering happily around his garden masticating on a bowlful.  He claimed, at the age of sixty-seven, to have never felt better and to prove the point, was photographed on his daily 6am run around Wandsworth Common.

Mr J. R. B. Branson, who advocated a diet of grass to counter food shortages during the Second World War. The Bystander magazine ran a double page spread on him and his views. Picture shows Mr Branson weighing out his ration of grass and mixing it with sugar. The Bystander reports that Mr Branson changed his diet gradually to 100 per cent grass s     Date: 1939

A final picture of a bowl of grass was pithily captioned by The Bystander: “”We hope German propagandists don’t see this picture”.

So if the thought of post-Brexit chlorinated chicken makes you recoil, then perhaps go one better than becoming vegan and give the great grass diet a go. Mr J. H. P. Branson clearly thrived on it!

If you can’t get enough of Mr Branson and his turf-tastic chow-down, you can see more in this brilliant Pathé clip: https://www.britishpathe.com/video/the-man-who-eats-grass

Circle of Sisters – Madame Yevonde and her sitters

It’s International Day of the Girl today, and so it seems a timely moment to write about Madame Yevonde, one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable photographers.  Born in 1893 to a well-to-do family, she began her apprenticeship with the photographer, Lallie Charles, and soon set up her own studio in London’s Victoria Street in 1914, at the prodigious age of 21.

Young, innovative, ambitious and thoroughly modern, Madame Yevonde recognised that the demure romanticism of Edwardian photographic portraiture had had its day and soon began to experiment with light, props and backdrops to present her sitters in an individual, original and often unconventional way.  She quickly built up her reputation and with it, a prestigious client base, often offering complimentary sittings to famous actresses and dancers as a way to establish her studio.  As her work began to appear in the smart, glossy society magazines such as The Tatler and The Bystander, her reputation as one of London’s leading portrait photographers increased, and was confirmed after she was selected to take the engagement photographs of Lord Louis Mountbatten and Edwina Ashley in 1922.

The advent of the Vivex colour process in the 1930s, appealed greatly to Madame Yevonde’s creative and dynamic personality and she immediately adopted the process as her own, lecturing evangelically on its creative possibilities.  Her first exhibition in 1932 showed 70 pictures, half of which were in colour, while in 1935, her “Goddesses” project, a set of images of leading society ladies depicted as Greek goddesses might arguably be the zenith of Madame’s creative output.

We have represented Yevonde’s work for over a decade, with images scanned from the Yevonde Portrait Archive’s thousands of negatives and other images, many of them unavailable anywhere else, scanned from our run of society magazines in the ILN archive. We continue to discover more Yevonde images on a weekly basis, and in among the numerous society portraits, there are an intriguing number of portraits of women who were great talents themselves, whether as actresses and dancers, explorers, writers or sculptors.  So on International Day of the Girl, we thought we would hand pick a selection of Yevonde’s notable sitters, some well-known, others obscured by the passage of time, but all (or at least most) deserving to be immortalised through Yevonde’s camera lens.

Margaret Morris (1891-1980), dance pioneer – Yevonde and Margaret Morris were friends, a fact reflected in the number of photographs Yevonde took of her over the years. Morris’s avant-garde ideas about dance began at an early age when she rebelled against the formality of ballet lessons and became influenced by Raymond Duncan, the brother of Isadora Duncan. She established a dancing school, funded by the novelist John Galsworthy after a brief if intense love affair, and began to adapt her techniques so that all abilities could benefit from her ideas about movement and free expression, notably disabled children. Alongside this, during the First World War she established a social club in Chelsea akin to a salon called the Margaret Morris Club, frequented by luminaries such as Augustus John and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The Margaret Morris Movement system remains a touchstone of modern day dance.  Morris herself was still choreographing at the age of eighty-one for a production of ‘Hair’ in Glasgow, where she had settled in 1939 with her partner, the artist John Duncan Fergusson.

Margaret Morris (1891 - 1980), famous dancer and dance teacher.

Clare Sheridan (1885-1970), writer and sculptor – The cousin of Winston Churchill (their mothers were sisters) Clare Sheridan rebelled against her privileged and stultifying existence from an early age. The death of her daughter in 1914, led her to sculpt a memorial headstone and realise she had found a talent, but in addition to her work as a sculptor, she spent periods as a war reporter and writer, living for a time in Soviet Russia, travelling by motorcycle across southern Russia in the 1920s and building a retreat for herself in Biskra, Algeria. The photographs by Yevonde of her in a feathered headdress were taken after she had spent time at an art colony on a Native American reservation in the Rocky Mountains, the result of which was a London exhibition of Native American heads she had whittled from forest trees.

Clare Sheridan by Madame Yevonde

Elizabeth Cowell (1912-1998), TV broadcaster –  As one of the first three BBC television service announcers, Cowell was something of a poster girl for the corporation. She made her debut on 31 August 1936 at Alexandra Palace. This photograph from 1940, showing her examining a photograph of herself taken seven years earlier, is typical of Yevonde’s playful use of symbolic props in her work.

Elizabeth Cowell - television presenter by Yevonde

Barbara Cartland (1901-2000) – prolific novelist – Although in later years she was better-known for old-fashioned views on romance and an overpowering penchant for pink, as a young woman, Barbara Cartland began her writing career by providing gossip columns for the Daily Express, propelled mainly due to her family’s dire financial circumstances. By the 1920s, she had climbed to the top of the social pyramid, not only as a journalist but as an indefatigable organiser of fetes, balls and charity matinees. Yevonde’s portraits capture her at different periods of her life – as the fresh ingénue journalist and later, in her primped, glistering, bejewelled splendour in 1970. It’s interesting to note that one Yevonde image was a commission for one of Cartland’s numerous novels.

Barbara Cartland and Raine

Lady Broughton (1894-1968) –  the first wife of Sir Jock Delves Broughton was an intrepid traveller, and this colour photograph, published in The Sketch in 1939, shows her with her squirrel monkey, Mr. Winks, whom she brought from British Guiana in 1938. Previously Miss Vera Griffith-Boscawen, she married Jock in 1913 and divorced him in 1940 (he would go on to marry Diana Caldwell and stand trial for the murder of her lover, Josslyn Hay, Earl of Erroll in Kenya). Vera travelled widely in South East Asia and was known as a big game hunter and fisherwoman. She was also a highly regarded photographer of natural subjects.

Lady Broughton and Mr Winks by Madame Yevonde

Marie Rambert (1888-1982) – ballet dancer & founder of the Rambert Dance Company. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes Polish-born Rambert as “cultivated, dynamic, alert, witty, and chic” and this photograph by Yevonde of her with Frederick Ashton, which was published in The Tatler in June 1926, seems to sum up those qualities. The pair’s pose was to promote a new ballet, “The Tragedy of Fashion” which was written and arranged by Marie’s husband, Ashley Dukes, with music composed by Eugene Goossens.

Marie Rambert & Frederick Ashton - A Tragedy of Fashion

Jeni LeGon (1916-2012) – dancer and actress.  Jeni LeGon’s speciality was tap and she was one of the first African-American women to establish a solo career in tap dancing, working with Fred Astaire and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. This photo, which appeared in The Sketch in 1936, was taken at the time she was appearing in Charles Cochran’s Follow the Sun at the Adelphi Theatre. In 1935, she had been offered a contract by MGM, another first for an American woman of colour, but Hollywood casting prejudices meant no role was found for her and she found that, despite her generous salary, she was segregated, taking her meals at the studio separately from the rest of the cast and crew. MGM bought out her contract leaving her to travel to Britain to appear in Cochrane’s revue.  LeGon features as a pivotal inspiration in Zadie Smith’s novel, ‘Swing Time’.

Jeni Le Gon by Madame Yevonde

Marjorie Craigie (1888-1937), textile artist – Compared to other sitters in this list, little is known about Marjorie Craigie, and in fact, this picture, which was reproduced at a quarter page or so in The Sketch in 1930 isn’t the best quality, but I wanted to include it because of the confident modernism of Craigie’s personal style. The photograph was taken when an exhibition of her tapestries had just opened at the Bloomsbury Gallery, London. Working in silk and wool, she was influenced by the style of Picasso.

Marjorie Craigie, tapestry artist

The Mitford Sisters – Talented, eccentric, with wildly differing political views, the six Mitford sisters were regular visitors to Madame Yevonde.  We have photographs of Jessica as a debutante, and Nancy and Diana in mirrored portraits during the 1930s when Yevonde was experimenting with all kinds of artistic effects. There is Debo in regal splendour as the chatelaine of Chatsworth and then, there is Diana, who, portrayed as Venus, was one of Yevonde’s immortal goddesses.  The only one missing is Pam – but we live in hope of finding an image of her by Yevonde.

Jessica Mitford

Jill Thomas (1902-1974), racing driver.  In her smart red ensemble, Eileen “Jill” Thomas is a chic and confident symbol of the growing number of women who took to the wheel during the 1920s and 30s.  Introduced to motor racing by her first husband, William “Bummer” Scott, she took part in races at Brooklands, including the first women’s race in 1927, achieving a top speed of 113mph in a supercharged Sunbeam belonging to her husband. Remembered as a fearless and energetic driver, Jill’s wonderful portrait sits alongside other motoring females we have in the archive such as Mrs Victor Bruce, Violet Cordery and Kay Petre.

Jill Thomas - Motor Racing Driver - Madame Yevonde

Dacia (dates unknown) – dancer.  Dacia, the stage name of Miss D. Smallwood, caused something of a sensation when she appeared in the hit musical ‘Chu Chin Chow’ during the First World War. Yevonde photographed her a number of times, perfectly capturing her sensuous, sultry looks; the 1920 image of her, smoking from a curled glass cigarette holder, shows her out of costume but still exhibiting her trademark exotic allure. In 1919, she married Colonel Critchley Salmonson of the Royal Fusiliers, City of London Regiment and, as far as we can tell from our records here, she did not return to the stage.

The dancer, Dacia by Madame Yevonde

Eileen Bennett Whittingstall (1907-1979) – tennis player.  Eileen Bennett’s legacy suffers somewhat from playing at a time when Helen Wills Moody was dominating women’s tennis. Nevertheless, between 1927 and 1931 she won six Grand Slam doubles titles and was a finalist at the French Championship in 1928 and the US Championship in 1931, losing to Moody on both occasions. As a British player, she was the darling of the illustrated magazines and proved a willing sitter for Yevonde, whose circular portrait of Bennett is particularly inventive.

The Eileen Bennett Circular

For many more portraits of famous (and infamous) men and women, type ‘Madame Yevonde’ into our keyword search box.  Mary Evans Picture Library are copyright owners of all Madame Yevonde’s black & white photography and we are also able to license examples of her colour photography.  Do get in touch if you’d like to discuss a project.

Travelling in Style

This October sees the publication of a new illustrated book on luxury railway travel in Britain which features previously unpublished research material and rare archival images, many of them from the Illustrated London News collection housed here at Mary Evans. Luxury Railway Travel: A Social and Business History by Martyn Pring (Pen & Sword Transport, October 2019) chronicles the products and services shaped by railway companies and hospitality businesses for Britain’s burgeoning upper- and middle-classes in the interwar years. For our latest blog, Martyn explores the connections between women’s fashion and first-class travel.

At the 19th century’s tail end, a marketplace for men’s and women’s fashion accessories evolved; for designers it was not just an opportunity to create new attire but the notion of selling a ‘complete look’ made up of hats and footwear, jewellery, scarves, ties, gloves and bags. Throughout the Edwardian period, interest in fashion gained momentum as women from higher social classes found new freedoms. Not only were restaurants and hotels deemed suitable for groups of women, but a state of independence developed surrounding early forms of a retail or shopping culture.

High-quality suppliers and department stores sprung up around city centres; special malls and arcades of individual shops appeared in prosperous districts of London, Paris, Milan, New York and Chicago selling a variety of high-end products especially women’s fashions. Couturier and dress maker, Lady Lucy Duff Gordon, a female entrepreneur, was typical of the period trend setters. A Titanic survivor, she pioneered sexy underwear having established her credentials during the mid-1890s running a Mayfair shop selling (at the time) breath-taking lingerie. Courtesy of her investor husband, Sir Cosmo, she ran shops in several international cities. This was all part of the Edwardian garden party; historian Professor Bernard Rieger noted first-class passengers were ’part of an expanding market for luxury goods and services that, together with high-class hotels, spas and exclusive retail outlets catered for a clientele of aristocrats, members of the European haute bourgeoisie, and American plutocrats.’ (Bernhard Rieger (2005), Technology and the Culture of Modernity in Britain and Germany 1890-1945, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.)

Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon (1863-1935) English fashion designer developed an international business in London, Paris, New York, and Chicago, designing for stage and screen, as well as the wealthy. Ca. 1915.
Lady Lucy Duff-Gordon (1863-1935)  developed an international business in London, Paris, New York, and Chicago, designing for stage and screen, as well as the wealthy. Photo c. 1915.

Hardly surprising the world of fashion increasingly occupied the minds of publishers who fine-tuned individual titles targeting particular groups of women. The idea of ‘travelling in style’ gained ground. What women wore mirrored the high-class environments of homes, hotels, ocean liners and the first-class train carriage, but for publishers, editorial and advertising appeared side by side with railway holiday arrangements and the special supplements celebrating London society’s yearly sojourns to the Highlands for the grouse season and the mid-winter exodus to the French and Italian Rivera. The illustrated weekly titles were full of the latest fanciful frocks, advice on how to dress, the best possible dress for train travel, fashion tips and what to wear once madam had arrived at her intended destination.

Frocks, Frills and Furbelows by Mrs Jack May. The Neat Travelling Woman. An original design for a neat travelling dress, carried out in alpaca in a pretty mouse shade. 1908. Date: 1908
Frocks, Frills and Furbelows by Mrs Jack May. The Neat Travelling Woman. An original design for a neat travelling dress, carried out in alpaca in a pretty mouse shade. The Bystander, 1908.

Planning for holiday breaks morphed into a veritable industry, as undeniably did the old-fashioned travelling trunk’s replacement—the more modern suitcase reflecting the status of wealthy travellers. Trunks were once considered ideal since they could be stacked on top of each other in railway brake vans, but they outlived their use as they were heavy and cumbersome. By the end of the Victorian era, the suitcase acquired a luxury badge, and was considered as important as the designer outfits inside. For women, how they looked and arrived increasingly became benchmarks of civilized behaviour. The Great War put much on hold as country houses and estates were turned into convalescence homes. The McKenna duties of 1915 placed stinging duties on luxury product imports to fund the war effort. Likewise, the fashion industry took a back seat during troubled times.

A fashionable young woman from the 1920s wearing a fur trimmed coat and a green cloche hat, rest her sore feet while sitting on a very large trunk at a railway station. Date: 1927
A fashionable young woman rests her sore feet while sitting on a trunk at a railway station, by Van Abbe in The Bystander, 1927. And Bagages – Grands et Petits, by Douglas Wales in The Tatler, 1929.

Post-war, a new era was characterised by the dramatic lifting of ladies’ hemlines, though the trend was in fact evident by the outbreak of the First World War. Fiona McDonald suggested the 1920s ‘heralded in a shifting of attitude towards fashion that saw women being able to just about bare all and get away with it.’ (Fiona McDonald (2012), Britain in the 1920s, Barnsley, Pen & Sword Books.) They were the decade’s party face, but the main impact of changes for women (and men) was a trend towards looser fitting, more comfortable and casually styled clothes that made travelling so much easier. For ladies this meant an end to the squeezing and prudish fashions that had ruled Victorian and Edwardian lives.

Young woman showing the barrel-line silhouette of the period. She wears a wrap over coat with high fur collar & checker board motif on the hem & a high brimless hat. Date: circa 1920
Dressed for a trip by Luigi Bompard, c.1920. Ladies in travelling clothes, Art, Gout, Beaute, 1926.

In the inter-war years, long-distance train travel in Britain, Europe and America was de-rigueur, as up-to-the-minute new expresses were aided by railway company efforts to enhance passenger experiences with exciting ranges of on-board facilities. Travelling was considered a means to broaden minds and the opportunity to meet new people, providing the chance for railway operators to solidify a burgeoning luxury travel segment. By the end of the later 1920s fashion and luxury train travel were firmly embedded.

Women and their travelling experiences for the first time were put at the heart of much inter-linked marketing activity. LNER, a few years after its formation, ran a series of advertisements placing women on the centre stage of their promotion.

Page from The Bystander, 9th September 1925 featuring adverts for Phyllis Earle hairdressing salons, the millinery department at Marshall & Snelgrove, The Art of Arriving in Scotland from King's Cross by the East Coast Route by L.N.E.R., and Harvey Nichols of Knightsbridge. September 1925
Adverts in The Bystander, 1928 and The Bystander, 1925.

The company by the 1930s had introduced a raft of iconic travel posters featuring well-dressed women enjoying themselves at hotels owned by LNER as well as on their Anglo-Scottish expresses. Norman Hartnell in Spring 1930 launched a tweed outfit called the Flying Scotsman with matching tweed golf bag, hatbox and suitcase. In 1933 The Bystander ran a 12th August fashion feature for ‘those lucky people who are about to board the Flying Scotsman on their way to moors and glens [who] would do well to visit the showrooms at Marshall and Snelgrove before they leave for the North.’ Overseas travel mirrored changing fashion trends as cruising and partying created in today’s terms ‘celebrity destinations’ where top fashion personalities such as Gabrielle ’Coco’ Chanel famously made suntanning on the Riviera fashionable. Travelling and entertaining were features of upper middle-class life during the second half of the 1930s as glamorous trains, liners, and in time, aircraft played their part as essential film settings.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS, Joan Marsh, Ray Milland, 1934 Date: 1934
Comedy film Many Happy Returns with Joan Marsh and Ray Milland, 1934.
A Portfolio of Fashion by Madge Garland, featuring an outfit suggested for travelling on the Flying Scotsman. Date: 1933

Cinema was the most potent image of the age as Hollywood and British film-makers satirised London life. Whilst society was seen to exploit media attention, it also worked the other way as by the end of the decade the media deployed its own agenda. As Dr Ross McKibbon advised ‘the relationship between them and the wider audience for whom these glamorous rituals were intended was never stationary.’ (Ross McKibbin, (2000), Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951, Oxford, Oxford University Press.) Thus, a modern media celebrity industry was born driving a market for luxury consumer goods with vigorously protected brands for perfume, handbags, stockings and haute couture—fashion and luxury brands closely entwined.

Fashion impacted on other dimensions. Britain possessed a comfortable middle-class whose social horizons were similar to those of the upper-middle-classes but demonstrating growing occupational and residential mobility transforming society and the way one dressed. They bought property around Surrey’s stockbroker-belt areas whilst Sussex and surrounding counties played host to many stylish architecturally designed houses with quick commuter access to the capital aboard Southern’s new Electric Pullmans. Extensions beyond north London became home to John Betjeman’s celebrated ‘Metroland’ living, maintaining standards in dress and diet as well as where people choose to live.

Little surprise inter-war trains, boats and planes and fashion played such a central role. Even by the early 1950s, the nationalised rail system was in on the act cultivating a ‘travelling in style’ fashion stage utilising its crack West Country expresses as a backcloth. A lot has happened in the intervening period, but most travel connoisseurs today would love to harken back to the days of civilised train travel for that long-awaited leisure trip. Not the onerous commuter jaunt, but a delightfully slow tempo (even if the modern train is speeding along at 100 mph plus), where the journey is the destination itself. Of course, the style of a train trip with those little luxuries has changed a little and would perhaps be characterised by mom jeans, esplanade sandals, a well-being book under one’s arm, and a Burberry vintage check trunk in tow, not to forget the odd Instagram story!

Travellers' Joys: the Right Clothes for the Journey. Talking to driver F.W. Page, who leans from the cab of a West of England express, the girl on the left is wearing Jaeger's pure camel hair top coat. On the right is Koupy's 'Romeo', a check wool tweed coat with clever set-on-the-cross back panel. 1950 Date: 1950
Travellers’ Joys: The Right Clothes for the Journey. The girl on the left is wearing Jaeger’s pure camel hair top coat. On the right is Koupy’s ‘Romeo’, a check wool tweed coat with clever set-on-the-cross back panel. The Tatler and Bystander, 1950.

 

 

Murray’s Cabaret Club: Discovering Soho’s Secret

Benjamin Levy’s book Murray’s Cabaret Club: Discovering Soho’s Secret (published by The History Press, with a foreword by Dita Von Teese) is out next week, and tells the tale of a unique institution in the history of British entertainment. Here the author explains why Murray’s was so special, and introduces the hundreds of costume designs that lie at the heart of the book, images that are now available for licensing through the Mary Evans Picture Library website, courtesy of the collection of poster dealer and expert, Charlie Jeffreys.

 

Cabaret Club Menu' - from Murray's Cabaret Club, 16-18 Beak Street, Soho, London.     Date: 1950

“Working at Murray’s left you in an unreal world: at night-time you entered this fantasy place, where the rich and famous queued for your attention; the days were an endless series of dinner and party invitations, and the social life was truly amazing. It was only after I left Murray’s and returned to the real world that I realised the strange underground fantasy life I had been leading” – Christine Keeler

Night after night, Murray’s Cabaret Club set imaginations ablaze, forged fantasies for deadened aristocrats and Arab businessmen, and provided refuge for the hounded celebrity. In that intimate basement beneath the pavements of Soho’s Beak Street, sexy was never sordid, and nude never naked. That is until the Profumo Affair—a sex-and-spying scandal that involved a love triangle between Murray’s showgirl Christine Keeler, Britain’s Minister of War John Profumo, and a Soviet spy Yevgeny Ivanov—erupted in 1963. In the middle was Murray’s regular, Stephen Ward, an osteopath and socialite who had taken Keeler under his wing. The furore resulted in the eventual downfall of the British government, the advent of the permissive society, and the birth of the Swinging Sixties. London would never be the same again.

 

(left) Christine Keeler, early 1960s. (centre) British Minister of War John Profumo retuns home after admitting an affair with Christine Keeler, June 18, 1963. (right) Stephen Thomas Ward (1912-1963), the high society osteopath who introduced Christine Keeler to John Profumo, 1963.
(left) Christine Keeler, early 1960s. (centre) British Minister of War John Profumo retuns home after admitting an affair with Christine Keeler, June 18, 1963. (right) Stephen Thomas Ward (1912-1963), the high society osteopath who introduced Christine Keeler to John Profumo, 1963.

 

The club began life in 1913, making it one of London’s very first modern nightclubs. In the Roaring Twenties, it spearheaded the craze for the Folies Bergère and tango fever. London’s Soho district was then a hotspot for gambling dens and clip joints—anywhere to fuel the demand for out-of-hours drinking—but Percival Murray’s nightclub was never part of this druggy underworld. During World War Two, the nightlife aficionado entertained off-duty officers with ingeniously costumed and choreographed cabaret floorshows, and Murray’s was soon employing a 130-strong staff including classically-trained choreographers, inventive lyricists, celebrated bandleaders, and skilled seamstresses.

 

Programme for Murray's Cabaret Club

 

The racy and respectable numbered amongst its illustrious roster of members: royalty (Princess Margaret, King Hussein of Jordan), film stars (Jean Harlow), politicians (Winston Churchill), and all sorts of louche business tycoons and shady sales executives. Racketeers like Peter Rachman, who dated showgirl Mandy Rice-Davies, rubbed shoulders with diplomats such as Henry Kissinger. Many showgirls, including Kay Kendall and Gertrude Lawrence, became household names. Not all for the right reasons; Ruth Ellis danced at Murray’s before shooting her lover, and becoming the last woman to be hanged in the UK. The tragic glamour model Vicki Martin, the peroxide blonde bombshell Carole Lesley, and even the founder of a satanic cult, Mary Ann MacLean, were all once in Mr Murray’s employ. The long-time companion of the actor John Hurt was a showgirl at Murray’s. Her death at a young age was the reason for Hurt’s decision to portray Stephen Ward in the 1989 film Scandal. Similarly, the mother of singer Sarah Brightman was a dancer at the club; this brought it to the attention of Sarah’s husband Andrew Lloyd Webber who, years later, staged the musical Stephen Ward.

 

The exterior and interior of Murray's Nightclub, Beak Street, London (1920s)
The exterior and interior of Murray’s Nightclub, Beak Street, London (1920s)

Though the enduring fascination of Murray’s Cabaret Club is borne out by the attention it has received in the press, in exhibitions, and on stage and screen, all physical remnants of the club apparently disappeared without trace – the whiff of exotica extinguished. “There’s nothing much left of [Murray’s] except the legend and memories,” wrote Keeler, years after the Profumo Affair. She was wrong. In 2014, two albums containing hundreds of costume designs were unearthed at an obscure auction in Surrey. After research, it became clear that this treasure trove, hidden away for decades, was of great value, capable of illuminating the untold history of post-War cabaret in London.

 

Murray's Cabaret Club costume design

 

Soon, hours of film footage documenting the floorshow routines in glittering technicolour, as well as hundreds of photographs showing life amongst the showgirls off-premises, were discovered sitting in the archives of major public collections, such as London’s V&A Museum. Scores of surviving dancers were tracked down and interviewed and their stories have been preserved in the book: of late-night adventures with businessman Paul Getty; and spy meetings held in the club itself by movie producer Harry Alan Towers. Film footage was found that captured Percival Murray and his wardrobe mistress Elsie Burchmore sifting through those very same portfolios of designs that were revealed sixty years later.

First and foremost, Murray’s Cabaret Club: Discovering Soho’s Secret celebrates the ingenuity and inventive wit of the costume designers who chose Murray’s as their stage. Ronald Cobb’s costumes celebrate the Latin craze that was rife through London’s dance clubs of the Fifties, and played out through the sambas of Carmen Miranda and mambos of Perez Prado. Visions inspired by the aesthetics of space exploration and sci-fi movies of the period mingle with costumes that predate the style of Cecil Beaton’s idiosyncratic attire for My Fair Lady and that reflect the glamour of Horst P Horst’s Vogue models. Naughty nurses, stern-stockinged policewomen, racy Bo Peeps, and women wearing nothing but chandeliers don G-strings that incorporate all sorts of sexual puns from fans to violins. Many of these designs are still covered in glitter and gold foil. Michael Bronze’s lithe vamps complement Cobb’s Deco pin-ups. They reflect the costumier’s dual profession of theatre designer and chic dress designer for London’s high society. Hilda Wetton’s ‘fan dancers’ extended a form of entertainment seen at the popular Windmill Theatre to the nightclub scene; historically, the dancers dodged censorship laws that forbade nudes to move on stage by skilfully manipulating a set of ostrich feathers so as to titillate though never reveal all.

 

'Little Bo' - Murray's Cabaret Club costume design

 

The overheads were enormous; at half a million pounds in today’s money for each show, the club’s performers were some of the most expensively-clothed showgirls ever to grace the West End stage. Each costume took around 300 hours to construct, and were made by a team of six seamstresses who worked all year round in permanent employment from a workshop on Percival Murray’s country estate. The extremely elaborate jewelling and ornamentation was intricately stitched by hand. The headdresses were often comprised of thousands of tiny beads or sparkling sequins, and the expense of the fabrics matched the level of craftmanship; for example, only real furs were used. It all made Percival Murray a very rich man indeed. Yet the fleet of Rolls Royces, sumptuous flats in Whitehall and Mayfair, and the country house in Surrey weren’t to last. The Playboy Club arrived in London in 1966 and was sexier and edgier, though—to Mr Murray—unacceptably artless. The writing was on the wall; the club closed, and the dream ended.

Today, 16-18 Beak Street is a burger bar. Step downstairs to the basement and the waitresses, most of whom were born long after the club’s closure in 1975, flit between the tables serving the tourists of Carnaby Street. The wood panelling has been whitewashed, resembling the muddy grey of ‘Bombsite Britain’ in the Fifties. Post-war, the West End may have been blighted by austerity, but underground, the oak walls of Murray’s once shimmered as they reflected the sparkle of costumed showgirls dancing.

 

Original costume design for one of the performers at Murray's Cabaret Club, 16-18 Beak Street, Soho, London.     Date:
Original costume design for one of the performers at Murray’s Cabaret Club, 16-18 Beak Street, Soho, London. Date:

 

Murray’s Cabaret Club: Discovering Soho’s Secret preserves the wonderful visuals and is an invaluable resource for fashion students; retro enthusiasts; cabaret and burlesque fans; and professional designers looking for fresh source material.

 

 

 

 

How High The Moon

APOLLO 11 CREW, NEIL ARMSTRONG, MICHAEL COLLINS, EDWIN (BUZZ) ALDRIN, prior to their mission to the moon, July 1969.
Apollo 11 crew, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, prior to their mission to the moon, July 1969.

 

 “Do not swear by the moon, for she changes constantly. Then your love would also change.” ― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Throughout history, the moon has held a particular place of importance throughout societies, sometimes as a God, sometimes a protector, sometimes the harbinger of change, sometimes a fantastic land of opportunity. As the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing approaches, it seems an ideal opportunity to take a haphazard low-gravity leap into the varied and fascinating references to “La Lune” to be discovered amongst the picture collections here at the Mary Evans Picture Library and see how perceptions of our closest astronomical body have evolved over time.

Two young sixteenth century astronomers contemplate the sun, moon and stars while their elderly colleague contemplates the consolations of philosophy Date: 1537
Two young sixteenth century astronomers contemplate the sun, moon and stars while their elderly colleague contemplates the consolations of philosophy Date: 1537

As a very young child, I was apparently rather taken by the Nursery rhyme ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’, a delightful panoply of surprising events, none more so than the cow, who suddenly decides the only way to react to seeing a cat strike up a tune on a fiddle was to take a leap right over the moon. This rhyme, and many other illustrative references in children’s literature, cast the moon as a benevolent and friendly character and one always close to hand or certainly not too far away to jump over. Baron Munchausen, a fictional German nobleman created by the German writer Rudolf Erich Raspe in 1785 was able to climb up to the moon on a rope and in nursery and fairy tales the moon often takes on the fully anthropomorphic identity as the ‘Man in the Moon’. The origin of this representation is embedded in longstanding European traditions that the ‘man’ was banished to the Moon for some crime. Some Germanic cultures thought he was a man caught stealing from a neighbour’s hedgerow to repair his own and a Roman legend alludes to a sheep-thief banished into the heavens. One further medieval Christian tradition claims him to be Cain, the Wanderer, forever doomed to circle the Earth.

(left) The artist has got cow, cat, fiddle, dish, spoon and dog into his picture, but the connection between them remains obscure. (centre) Baron Munchhausen climbs to the Moon. Date: First published: 1785 (right) 'So here in the misty moon I pine As long as the fairy wills.'
(left) The artist has got cow, cat, fiddle, dish, spoon and dog into his picture, but the connection between them remains obscure. (centre) Baron Munchhausen climbs to the Moon. Date: First published: 1785 (right) ‘So here in the misty moon I pine As long as the fairy wills.’

A popular Biblical illustration shows Joshua beseeching God to command the moon to stand still to extend daylight as he defended the city of Gibeon against the five kings of the Amorites. Other traditional cultures placed the moon as a key facet of their mythologies and beliefs, with representations of the moon’s ‘face’ appearing in varied material culture, from totemic carvings to masks and paintings. A superb Inuit mask, used in shamanistic rites, bears the (sad) face of the Moon set in a white sky with attached feathers representing stars. Norse myths went further than visual representations, touching on the transit of the heavenly bodies – as wolves Skoll (repulsion) and Hati (hate) pursue Sol (sun) and Mani (moon) across the skies; if they should catch them, the world will be plunged again into darkness. In Greek legends, the savage monster the Nemean Lion fell from the moon to the Peloponnese (Greece) as the offspring of Zeus and Selene and in the later Roman pantheon, the Goddess Luna provides a divine embodiment of the Moon, riding across the sky in a two-yoke chariot.

(left) Luna crossing the night sky in her deer-drawn chariot. (right) The wolves Skoll (repulsion) and Hati (hate) pursue Sol (sun) and Mani (moon) across the skies; if they should catch them, the world will be plunged again into darkness.
(left) Luna crossing the night sky in her deer-drawn chariot. (right) The wolves Skoll (repulsion) and Hati (hate) pursue Sol (sun) and Mani (moon) across the skies; if they should catch them, the world will be plunged again into darkness.

On August 25, 1835, The Sun, a New York newspaper, published the first of six articles about the supposed discovery of life and even civilization on the Moon, falsely attributed to Astronomer Sir John Herschel. These articles became known as the “Great Moon Hoax” and described fantastic creatures living on the Moon surface alongside bat-like winged humanoids (“Vespertilio-homo”) who had built temples. The articles seem to have been conceived both to create a sensational story to increase sales of The Sun, whilst also ridiculing and satirising some of the more extravagant astronomical theories that had recently been published, such as the outlandish Universe ‘population studies’ of “The Christian Philosopher” Rev. Thomas Dick.

THE GREAT MOON HOAX A scene of life on the Moon, alleged to have been observed by Herschel through his telescope ; it was a journalist's fabrication Date: 25 August 1835
The Great Moon Hoax – A scene of life on the Moon, alleged to have been observed by Herschel through his telescope ; it was a journalist’s fabrication Date: 25 August 1835

David Bowie’s recommendation we “Freak out in a Moonage Daydream” in 1972 was not a novel suggestion. Many references to the moon concern what one could broadly term ‘Luna Influence’ – the direct physical, geographical and social changes wrought by the passage of the moon across the sky, or the light reflected from its surface. The most well-known and oft-depicted examples of this influence are shape-shifting werewolves – savage, half-man half-wolf monsters, which appear when exposed to the light of the full moon. From early 16th century woodcuts to modern film stills, this bogeyman has gained mass recognition throughout global folklore and the Gothic horror genre. At the positive end of the spectrum in regard to luna influence is the moon’s close association with love and romance. This is best shown within our archive in a series of sheet music covers, as lovers are reflected in the moon’s surface, couples stand bathed in a loving lunar glow and ‘Mister Moon’ has the envious (or confusing) privilege of having a ‘Million Sweethearts’!

(left) 15th century werewolf (centre) Full Moon has a sensuous influence Date: 1954 (right) 'Mister Moon you've got a Million Sweethearts'. Date: 1946
(left) 15th century werewolf (centre) Full Moon has a sensuous influence Date: 1954 (right) ‘Mister Moon you’ve got a Million Sweethearts’. Date: 1946

The Moon is the 18th trump or ‘Major Arcana card’ in most traditional Tarot decks, used in game playing as well as in divination. The card itself shows a night scene with a frowning (sometimes annoyed) moon gazing downward between two large pillars. A wolf and a dog look upward howling as a crayfish appears out of a pool. This assemblage is today almost indistinguishable from the centuries-old Tarot de Marseille pattern, showing a clear purpose in the representation of the card by occultists. The card’s interpretations deal with a fear and anxiety of the moon as well as feelings of inspiration and enchantment which it radiates – all aspects which are mirrored in traditional interpretations of luna influence.

Tarot Card 18 - La Lune (The Moon).
Tarot Card 18 – La Lune (The Moon).

Different means to achieve the “giant leap for mankind” by reaching the lunar surface have been suggested in literature, mythology, folklore and on the big screen in myriad different ways. These include travelling by Zeppelin, sailing boat or rudimentary rocket craft. The 17th century traveller Domingo Gonzalez allegedly reached the Moon by accident, towed there by trained swans (their place of hibernation). Jules Verne in his 1865 novel ‘De la Terre a la Lune’ (‘From the Earth to the Moon’) proposed a giant gun to fire a moon rocket from the earth. Although his means of atmospheric departure may have been a little off-course, his suggestion that man would travel in a small capsule which would ultimately return to earth by splashing down in the ocean was remarkably prescient.

(left) Count Zeppelin's next destination - the Moon! Date: 1908 (right) 17th century space traveller Domingo Gonsales, who has trained wild swans to tow a burden through the air, is carried by them to the Moon, where they are accustomed to hibernate. Date: 1638
(left) Count Zeppelin’s next destination – the Moon! Date: 1908 (right) 17th century space traveller Domingo Gonsales, who has trained wild swans to tow a burden through the air, is carried by them to the Moon, where they are accustomed to hibernate. Date: 1638

It was of course not until July 20, 1969 at 20:17 UTC that finally the dreams, stories and legends finally became reality as Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on the moon’s surface, bringing our fascination with our permanent natural satellite full circle.

© Tom Gillmor

(left) One Small Step for Man, One Giant Step for Mankind. Neil Armstrong exits the Lunar Module Eagle to the surface of the Moon. Armstrong was the first human to ever stand on the lunar surface. July 20, 1969. (right) Apollo 11 Astronaut Edwin Aldrin on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and the Lunar Module are reflected in Aldrin's gold visor.
(left) One Small Step for Man, One Giant Step for Mankind. Neil Armstrong exits the Lunar Module Eagle to the surface of the Moon. Armstrong was the first human to ever stand on the lunar surface. July 20, 1969. (right) Apollo 11 Astronaut Edwin Aldrin on the Moon. Neil Armstrong and the Lunar Module are reflected in Aldrin’s gold visor.

Painting the Picture – Art of Feminism

 

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Just over a week ago, I was invited to take part in a panel discussion at one of the Tate Britain’s ‘Tate Lates’ evenings.  Tate Publishing have recently brought out in the UK a new title surveying feminist art called, ‘Art of Feminism’ of which I had been one of the contributing writers, putting together the first section covering women’s art broadly from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century.  About a third of the images for the section came from our archives here at the library.  The discussion at this particular Friday late, focused on women artists, past, present and future, and I spoke alongside Sofia Karamani, curator of the Tate Britain’s ‘Sixty Years’ annual exhibition which this year focused on work by women artists in the Tate’s collection.  Also involved were researcher and curator, Helena Reckitt who teaches at Goldsmith’s.  Helena had been consultant editor on the book and chaired the panel, which also included artists, Michelle Williams Gamaker and Tamara Al-Mashouk.  It proved a thought-provoking discussion on the past challenges and present issues still facing women artists in the 21st century.  My job, as the writer of the first part of ‘Art of Feminism’ was to look at the past, set the scene, and map out the obstacles facing women artists a century before a defined feminist movement emerged.  Packing a century of art into 25,000 words and around 75 pages proved difficult, and inevitably it was impossible to include everything I wanted to, but I hope my section presents a balanced and thoughtful overview on the female experience of the art world during this time.

A life class at the Slade Date: 1881
A life class at the Slade Date: 1881

Over four chapters, I cover women artists and photographers during world conflicts, who overcame marginalisation and prejudice to record their, often unique, view of war.  I wrote about the inter-war period with its explosion of experimental art movements and the rise of the modern woman, some of whom achieved economic agency and independence through their art.  And of course, there is a chapter devoted to the art of the suffrage campaign, a political movement which harnessed art and design – mainly by women – to create a distinctive brand and visual identity, still exuding a powerful pull a century since it was conceived.  Forming the foundations of the section, I try to convey the struggle women artists faced in the nineteenth century, and the obstacles they had to overcome to achieve parity with men.  It is not only about WHAT they painted, but also how they managed to become artists at all.

Engraving after the painting by Emily Mary Osborn, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857 and subsequently at the 1862 International Exhibition. A young woman, recently bereaved, visits an art dealer in order to sell a painting. The picture conveyed the isolation felt by women artists at the time in the male-dominated world of art. Date: 1862
Engraving after the painting by Emily Mary Osborn, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857 and subsequently at the 1862 International Exhibition. A young woman, recently bereaved, visits an art dealer in order to sell a painting. The picture conveyed the isolation felt by women artists at the time in the male-dominated world of art. Date: 1862

As part of the discussion, I chose to show, ‘Nameless & Friendless’ by Emily Mary Osborn, a painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1857, and on display at the Tate Britain (in the 1840 room if you’d like to go and see it  https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artists/emily-mary-osborn-12441), which speaks very eloquently about the isolation of women artists in a male-dominated world.  Our version shows  an engraving of the painting which appeared in The Illustrated London News in July 1862, at the time the picture was on display at the International Exhibition.  In many ways, the painting follows a traditional Victorian narrative tradition, and mines the rather bleak but popular themes of poverty and destitution.  The central figure of the painting is a young woman who brings in a painting to sell to an art dealer.  Her black dress suggests she has been recently bereaved, and the little boy at her side is most likely a younger brother, for whom she is now responsible.  Consequently, the painting she brings to be assessed, is a device that seems to embody her future, making for a nerve-wracking scene.  What Emily Mary Osborn is very good at is making us, the viewer, feel as uncomfortable as the subject herself.  Here she is, entering a male domain, one in which she, inexperienced, nervous, grieving, has to attempt an economic transaction.  As well as the disdainful look of the art dealer, who isn’t going to give her nearly as much as she’d hope for the picture, there is the pity of his assistant looking down on them from the vantage point of a ladder.  Worse still, a couple of wolfish city swells, lounge around looking at prints of dancers with their shapely legs; they appraise the modest looking young women and we can imagine what they are thinking.  Her only potential ally, another woman, accompanied by her son, is already bustling out of the shop, making her isolated position seem even more acute.   It shows us that the art world is not a kind or encouraging place for a woman to be.  It’s somewhere where she must find her own way.

A still life class at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London Date: 1881
A still life class at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College, London Date: 1881

In the nineteenth century, there was a dichotomy when it came to women and art.  It’s not that women didn’t paint.  In fact, middle and upper class women were positively encouraged to do so.  Art was an accomplishment that a young lady should take pains to develop.  Godey’s Lady’s Book, with a circulation of 150,000 in the United States during the 1860s and 1870s, featured “A Course of Lessons on Drawing,” though more pages focused on needlework and decorative art for the household.  British writer, Sarah Stickney Ellis addressed the subject of art and its benefits to young women in Daughters of England, (a copy of which we have in the library alongside Godey’s), one of four popular advice manuals she authored. “Amongst these advantages” she wrote of drawing “I will begin with the least – it is quiet.  It disturbs no one; for however defective the performance may be, it does not necessarily, like music, jar upon the sense.  It is true, it may when seen offend the practised eye; but we can always draw in private, and keep our productions to ourselves.”  Stickney’s suggestion that art could be carried out by women quietly, and without disturbing anyone, speaks volumes about the idea that any learning or cultivation of talents should be exercised purely within the framework of family obligations.  But, to turn a benign hobby into a successful career?  To exhibit and sell pictures?  To BE a professional artist?  That’s where the encouragement stopped and the barriers went up.  There was an implicit & collective belief that woman’s designated role was to be the ‘angel of the home’.  An unmarried woman’s ambition was to marry, and then, once married, her prime focus was to raise a family in a good & Christian way.

A life class for female art students, Paris. Date: 1894
A life class for female art students, Paris. Date: 1894

If women wanted an art education in the 1800s, they had to fight for it.  Some were lucky, like Emily Mary Osborn, who had a progressive family who encouraged her to become an artist. She had a strong support network, not only familial, but she was a central figure in female networks including the Society for Women Artists, which formed in 1857.  She was also involved in the early suffrage movement (it is notable, though perhaps unsurprising, that a number of women artists were also suffrage supporters), but other women would not have the same advantages.

The Art Class. Sullivan, Edmund Joseph 1869 - 1933. Date:
The Art Class. Sullivan, Edmund Joseph 1869 – 1933. Date:

Two art schools opened for women in London in the 1840s – the Female School of Art, and the National Art Training School.  Both emphasised training in the applied arts for manufacturing and industry.  While this suited many women, for those who wished to become ‘fine’ artists, opportunities were scarce.  Central to an art education was the study of the human form in life classes.  And in most cases, women were denied access to a life class with a nude model in the interests of propriety.  The Royal Academy, the hub of the art establishment, would not admit women to their school, despite two women, Mary Moser and Angelica Kaufmann being among its founding members in the eighteenth century.  In 1860, artist Laura Herford submitted a picture signed only with her initials, which was judged of sufficient standard to gain admittance for its artist.  When her identity was revealed, the Academy could find no rules to prevent her entering the school.  To say Herford opened the floodgates for women at the Royal Academy would be to exaggerate.  The RA remained reluctant for several decades and did little to encourage women students, some years putting a stop to their entry altogether.  Not until 1922, did they admit a female associate member (Laura Swynnerton) and finally, in 1936, Laura Knight became its first woman Academician since the institution’s founding.  The opening of the Slade School of art in 1871 was to mark a watershed moment, in that men and women both attended. It offered a serious alternative to the Royal Academy school as part of a liberal arts university, and could count Kate Greenaway, Evelyn de Morgan, Gwen John and Winifred Knights among its female alumni.  Life classes however, remained segregated and for women attending the nude model was not actually nude but draped.  Some women art students, in both Paris and London, felt so frustrated at the obstructions to this, they paid for their own anatomy classes, or life classes where the model was undraped.  It goes without saying that privilege also played a part in women gaining access to an art education.  In the latter part of the 19th century, hoards of American women art students travelled to Paris to seek training in artists’ ateliers, or at the Academie Julian, or Academie Colorossi, both of which opened up their studios to female students.  Clearly an art education was impossible for any woman without the means to fund it.

Art Studio - Queen's College, Harley Street. Ladies sketching a model, with the teacher alongside. Various classical busts surround the studio as inspiration and examples of the finest classical form and structure... Some of the women have chosen these to draw instead! Date: circa 1910s
Art Studio – Queen’s College, Harley Street. Ladies sketching a model, with the teacher alongside. Various classical busts surround the studio as inspiration and examples of the finest classical form and structure… Some of the women have chosen these to draw instead! Date: circa 1910s

As I picked my way through this century of women artists, what became very clear is that, in many ways, there was no such defining feature of ‘women’s art’.  The images I chose had to be as much about the experience of being a woman in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, as the feminist signals within their work.  On one of the first pages, an impressionist portrait of two sisters by Berthe Morisot, sits alongside the muscular dynamism of The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur.  Two women working at a similar time but with vastly differing styles.  After all, why should women artists be lumped together into a homogeonous mass, and produce only one ‘type’ or style of painting? Their work was as individual (and as good or bad) as male artists.    But if women wanted the freedom to paint what they wished but be taken seriously and perhaps forge a career, they had to have that training.

Six girls in art a high school art class drawing plaster casts of classical sculpture. 19th century art training immersed students in classical aesthetics. 1899.
Six girls in art a high school art class drawing plaster casts of classical sculpture. 19th century art training immersed students in classical aesthetics. 1899.

By the turn of the century, schools such as the Slade, and, in Paris, Academie Julian had far more female students than men, and the idea of the art student as female had become much more accepted.  Magazines in our archive such as The Sketch and Lady’s Realm (with a largely female readership) ran regular in-depth articles on various art schools and their specialities.   Women continued to fight to gain equality in the art world.  For instance, women students were charged 30 per cent more in fees than their male counterparts in some schools.  One of the reasons for this argued the Academie Colorossi was because women insisted the place was clean and the floors were swept!  At the Academie Julian however, the weekly art competition, where paintings were submitted anonymously, were frequently won by woman.  Interviewed in The Sketch in 1893, Rodolphe Julian, founder of the school, praised his female students as hard working and diligent.  He added, in a comment that would have been considered radical a few decades earlier, “People often say that, with only one or two exceptions, no woman has made a great name in art; but they were given none of the opportunities which each artist claimed as his right.”

The women's class in an art school in Schwabing while Nude drawing, probably in the women's academy in Barer Street 21.
The women’s class in an art school in Schwabing while Nude drawing, probably in the women’s academy in Barer Street 21.

By the Second World War, a quarter of artists commissioned by the War Artists’ Advisory Committee were women.  This was some sort of progress, but nowhere near equality, especially as most were paid less and given fewer commissions.  Only one woman – Evelyn Dunbar – was salaried.

A class of female students at the London County School of Sculpture modelling clay busts based on live models. Date: 1930s
A class of female students at the London County School of Sculpture modelling clay busts based on live models. Date: 1930s

So where are we now?  The evening’s discussion was rounded off listening to the experiences of Tamara and Michelle, both of whom still encountered issues when creating their work, whether related to funding, or finding that, as women artists of colour, they were often limited by perceptions of identity, and offered fewer opportunities to exhibit.  Afterwards, I wondered what the women artists of a century and a half ago would have thought about those of today.  Would they view them as lucky with opportunities and freedoms they could only have dreamt of?  Would they be in awe that in the last decade, women Turner Prize winners have outnumbered men.  Or would they still feel frustration that male artists still vastly outnumber female artists in almost every gallery around the world?  The women who broke convention to seek an art education, and who painted pictures that proved they were the equal of male artists, were an integral part of the history of the women’s rights movement, and laid strong foundations for future generations of female artists.  It was a fascinating and illuminating experience to be able to tell their story.

A sculpture student works on a clay model on a tripod, while a nude model poses for her, at the Central School of Art and Design (now Central St Martins College of Art and Design), London. Date: 1957
A sculpture student works on a clay model on a tripod, while a nude model poses for her, at the Central School of Art and Design (now Central St Martins College of Art and Design), London. Date: 1957

© Lucinda Gosling

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‘The Art of Feminism’ is published by Tate Publishing, edited by Helen Reckitt, and written by Lucinda Gosling, Amy Tobin and Hilary Robinson.

Students at the Painting School, Pelham Street, nr. South Kensington Station, London. Principals: A. S. Cope, A.R.A and J. Watson Nicol. Date: 1910
Students at the Painting School, Pelham Street, nr. South Kensington Station, London. Principals: A. S. Cope, A.R.A and J. Watson Nicol. Date: 1910

The Grit in the Pearl: Margaret, Duchess of Argyll

Next week marks the publication of a new biography of one of British society’s most infamous figures, Margaret, Duchess of Argyll.  Our archive has proved a rich source for material on the woman who was once the country’s most celebrated debutante in her 1930s heyday.  For our latest blog, we invited Lyndsy Spence, author of ‘The Grit in the Pearl’ (The History Press, 11 Feb 2019) to choose images that explore her subject’s rise – and fall.

 

The rise and fall of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll can be chronicled through photographs. Beginning in 1930, when she was named Debutante of the Year, she would become the most photographed women in English society. ‘Miss Margaret Whigham goes everywhere, and photographs of her have appeared so often they are as well known as any film star,’ wrote the News Chronicle. Gracing the pages of The Tatler and The Sketch, she became known as ‘The Whigham’, and her daily life was fair game to the reporters who followed her around and waited patiently outside the Cafe de Paris and the Embassy Club. ‘I was my own little star in a very social world,’ she later said. Reflecting on her talent for using the press to her advantage, she said, of her blue-blooded contemporaries, Jeanne Stourton, Rose Bingham, and Primrose Salt, ‘I was the one that lasted, the others faded after three years.’

Mrs Charles Sweeny, formerly Miss Margaret Whigham and later the Duchess of Argyll (1912 - 1993), pictured as Astrae, the Star-Maiden for the Olympian Party at Claridges on 5 March 1935 in aid of the Greater London Fund for the Blind. The Olympian Party featured a pageant of Olympians consisting of an entertainment of dancing and singing with orchestral accompaniment. Date: 1935
Mrs Charles Sweeny, formerly Miss Margaret Whigham and later the Duchess of Argyll (1912 – 1993), pictured as Astrae, the Star-Maiden for the Olympian Party at Claridges on 5 March 1935 in aid of the Greater London Fund for the Blind. The Olympian Party featured a pageant of Olympians consisting of an entertainment of dancing and singing with orchestral accompaniment. Date: 1935

She was born Ethel Margaret Whigham in 1912, at Broom House, in Newton Mearns, Renfrewshire, to Helen and George Whigham, a self-made millionaire and chairman of the Celanese Company. In her own words, she was, ‘a very vain little girl’. Studio photographs of the infant Margaret set the premise for her future (to quote the Mitfords) ‘photography face’ – taken in profile, she had short, permanent-waved hair, a slouched posture (later known as the ‘Deb Slouch’) and a lantern jaw. The disinterested look is recognisable in photographs taken of her, as a debutante and an elderly woman, and perhaps it was attributed to what a psychiatrist diagnosed as lacking a sense of humour – ‘my . . . unsmiling face’.

Margaret, Duchess of Argyll (born Ethel Margaret Whigham) (19121993), a notorious British Socialite, infamous for her marriage and subsequent divorce to Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll. Date: 1980

As a child she was often reminded, by her mother, of her shortcomings, particularly her stammer and the unsuccessful attempts to cure it . ‘No matter how pretty you are Margaret, and however many lovely things we give you,’ her mother told her,  ‘you will get nowhere in life if you stammer’ It was hardly surprising that she gravitated to the camera lens; it did not capture the flaws of her personality or her voice, and the finished product, the photograph, warranted praise from strangers. ‘She always had this, don’t touch me, don’t disarrange me aura about her,’ said her friend, Moira Lester. It was as though Margaret was always picture-perfect, always waiting to be immortalised as an inanimate object.

Mrs Charles Sweeny (1912-1993), formerly Miss Margaret Whigham, and later, on her second marriage, the Duchess of Argyll, pictured with her parents, Mr and Mrs George Hay Whigham at the film premiere of Jew Suss in London in October 1934, an event also attended by Prince George (Duke of Kent). Date: 1934
Mrs Charles Sweeny (1912-1993), formerly Miss Margaret Whigham, and later, on her second marriage, the Duchess of Argyll, pictured with her parents, Mr and Mrs George Hay Whigham at the film premiere of Jew Suss in London in October 1934, an event also attended by Prince George (Duke of Kent). Date: 1934

It would be dismissive to think of Margaret as little more than a woman who loved the camera. In hindsight the photographs of her offer a glimpse into the past, and into the life of a privileged woman throughout the decades, as society changed. The setting, the clothes she wore, the company she kept, are valuable source material for the social historian or casual onlooker. ‘I wasn’t aware I was rich,’ she said, and therefore she appears completely natural in the medium, not afraid to enhance her beauty with make-up or to appear well-dressed, qualities that her grandmother’s generation would have thought artificial and therefore unacceptable. It also reflects the attitude of the public, and how Margaret satisfied their curiosity for snippets of her private life, on the town, at her parents’ country house in Ascot, or skiing in St Moritz.

Miss Margaret Whigham, later Mrs Charles Sweeny and then Duchess of Argyll, pictured at St. Moritz with the Marquess of Donegall (Edward Chichester) in the year she was presented at court. Date: 1930
Miss Margaret Whigham pictured at St. Moritz with the Marquess of Donegall (Edward Chichester) in the year she was presented at court. Date: 1930

From 1930 until 1933 Margaret had a hedonistic romantic life and was often seen with a male companion or on the arm of her latest fiancée – she was engaged to Prince Aly Khan, Glen Kidston, Max Aitken, and Fulke Warwick. As with Margaret’s preference for artifice, she did not shirk from being photographed with the men in her life – a daring stance in a society that expected a young woman to be discreet.

Photograph showing Miss Margaret Whigham (1912-1993), later Mrs Charles Sweeny and then the Duchess of Argyll, with Charles Guy Greville, 7th Earl Brooke, 7th Earl of Warwick (1919-1984), pictured c.1932. Whigham and Warwick were engaged at the time of the photograph, but later broke it off. Date: 06/04/1932

 

In 1933 Margaret married Charles ‘Charlie’ Sweeny, an Irish-American stockbroker and amateur golfer, and their wedding at Brompton Oratory halted traffic for three hours. ‘No film star has had a more enthusiastic welcome from her fans than this debutante of a season or two ago,’ a newspaper reported. Two-thousand guests were invited to the nuptials, and a further two-thousand gatecrashers came to see Margaret’s Norman Hartnell wedding dress, with its star appliqués, seed pearls, and glass bugles, that were stitched by thirty seamstresses.

The society wedding of the year in 1933; society beauty and media darling, Miss Margaret Whigham, later Duchess of Argyll, to Mr Charles Sweeny, Oxford University golfer at Brompton Oratory in February 1933. The bride's dress with exquisite pearl star embroidery was designed by Norman Hartnell and its fifty foot train stopped the traffic in Knightsbridge where thousands of people turned out to catch a glimpse of the wedding. Date: 1933
The society wedding of the year in 1933; society beauty and media darling, Miss Margaret Whigham to Mr Charles Sweeny, Oxford University golfer at Brompton Oratory in February 1933. The bride’s dress with exquisite pearl star embroidery was designed by Norman Hartnell and its fifty foot train stopped the traffic in Knightsbridge where thousands of people turned out to catch a glimpse of the wedding. Date: 1933

Although during her fifteen-year marriage to Charlie, Margaret thought of herself as the ‘model wife’, she continued to hold the public’s fascination and when her children, Frances and Brian, were born in 1938 and 1940, respectively, the press were invited to chronicle her family life.

Mr and Mrs Charles Sweeny at the christening of their younger child, Brian at Brompton Oratory on 7 May 1940 with their daughter, Frances (later Duchess of Rutland). Mrs Sweeny was the former Miss Margaret Whigham and later the infamous Duchess of Argyll. Date: 1940
Mr and Mrs Charles Sweeny at the christening of their younger child, Brian at Brompton Oratory on 7 May 1940 with their daughter, Frances (later Duchess of Rutland).

In 1947 Margaret divorced Charlie and in 1951 she married Ian Campbell, the 11th Duke of Argyll. Becoming a duchess gave Margaret status outside of being, to use a modern term, a celebutante, and her two identities merged to offer the public a new image: chatelaine of Inveraray Castle, her husband’s family seat in Western Scotland, restored with her father’s money, and her work in promoting the Highland’s economy. Despite being one-hundred-percent Scots, and married to a Scottish Duke, Margaret does not look at ease in what should have been her natural environment. Photographs taken during this period reflect her problematic marriage to Ian, a man dependent on alcohol, gambling, and prescription drugs, for although her signature pose remained, she looked brittle, and there was a distance between herself and the lens.

Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll, together with his third wife, the former Miss Margaret Whigham and Mrs Charles Sweeny, pictured standing by a portrait of Lord John Campbell, later the 7th Duke, which they had lent for a portrait exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1956. The Duchess was a scion of society, worshipped by the press in her youth, but the scandalous 1963 divorce case between the Duke and Duchess featuring the notorious 'headless man' photographs, ruined her reputation and plunged her into lifelong penury. Date: 1956
Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll, together with his third wife, the former Miss Margaret Whigham and Mrs Charles Sweeny, pictured standing by a portrait of Lord John Campbell, later the 7th Duke, which they had lent for a portrait exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1956.

In the mid to late 1950s Margaret was often photographed with her children, particularly her daughter, Frances. It signalled a change in the style of photograph she was accustomed to, for although the setting remained much the same, she was preparing to launch her daughter as a debutante, and for a period she became a secondary figure. Mother and daughter photographed side by side does not indicate rivalry (unlike Margaret and Helen), but a symbol of the generation gap and how photography styles had changed– Margaret, at Frances’s age, was far more intense, whereas Frances looked the epitome of a 1950s teenager.

Margaret Whigham (1912-1993), British society figure, debutante of the year in 1930. Later Mrs Charles Sweeny, after marrying the American golfer, and then Duchess of Argyll, whose scandalous divorce case, involving the photographs of the "headless" man plunged her into disgrace and penury. Pictured when she was Duchess of Argyll with her daughter, Frances Sweeny, who would become Duchess of Rutland - and their pet dachshund, Max. 1953
Margaret Whigham (1912-1993), British society figure. Pictured when she was Duchess of Argyll with her daughter, Frances Sweeny, who would become Duchess of Rutland – and their pet dachshund, Max. 1953

Given the controlled environment of the photograph, it therefore came as a surprise when a series of explicit Polaroids, featuring Margaret and a male companion, photographed from the neck down, and known as the Headless Man, became known to the public. They were stolen by Ian, along with her diaries and letters, and used as evidence in his divorce case, in 1963, as proof that Margaret had been unfaithful.  ‘I shall spare her the indignities of what those photographs depict,’ said Lord Wheatley, the judge presiding over the divorce case. For thirty years her social record had been impeccable, and no longer was she in control of her public image, despite having taken the photographs herself.

The camera, once serving to enhance her fame, later assisted in her betrayal.

Margaret, Duchess of Argyll (born Ethel Margaret Whigham) (19121993), a notorious British Socialite, infamous for her marriage and subsequent divorce to Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll. Date: 1986
Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. Date: 1986 © Tim Mercer/Mary Evans.

The Grit in the Pearl: The Scandalous Life of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll by Lyndsy Spence is published by The History Press .