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 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


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.**

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



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


‘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

Hankies through history

Thought handkerchiefs were a bygone of yesteryear? Join the Inquisitive Archivist for a whistle stop tour of hankies through history and their many applications, via the pictures held in our fabulous archive.

  1. A good nose blow.

A man disturbing the peace in a residential area. 1935

2. For the prevention of the spread of disease.

WW2 - Coughs and Sneezes Bletchley Park.

3. For impromptu morris dancing.

A group of morris men performing a handkerchief dance in Town Street Date: 1948 - 1952

4. For moping your fevered brow.

A young sailor on a hot day in London, wiping his face with a handkerchief. Date: 15 June 1934

5. For locating your car.

A view across the car-parking field at the Royal Show, Oxford, with a car flying a handkerchief from its radio aerial in the foreground Date: Jul 1959

6. For crime scene cover ups…

Murder weapon Date:

7. …or as a weapon in itself, in this 1911 photo sequence from The Sketch showing, ‘the gentle mouchoir as a formidable weapon…for wiping the floor with an opponent’.

A series of photographs from The Sketch showing, 'the gentle mouchoir as a formidable weapon...for wiping the floor with an opponent'. Date: 1911

8. For expressions of allegiance or identity.

Printed cotton handkerchief. 'Rally round the flag' First world war souvenir. British Tommy with union flag. Surround of flags and allied forces. Zouave. Gurkha. Russian. Sikh. 1918

9. For a hobo’s bindle…

Three female hobos Date:

10.…or as a handy napkin for when dining al fresco on the road.

Illustration by Cecil Aldin, Jack and Jill. Jack the dog and Jill the cat, tired and hungry on their journey, are given something to eat by a friendly stonebreaker. Date: 1914

11. For a commemorative souvenir.

A silk handkerchief commemorating the Coronation of King Edward VIII, planned for 15 May 1937 but in fact, never staged due to the King's Abdication in December 1936. Date: 1936

12. As a thoughtful gift.

How Betty can make a Christmas hankie for mother, page of instructions in a brochure, Dy-o-la Dyes. Date: 1920s

13. For filtering out noxious fumes.

A lady is choked by smokers as she walks along the pavement Date: 1843

14. As a first aid tourniquet or(for larger hankies)a sling.

Temporary Treatment of Bone Fractures, including rifle used as a splint, cricket bat used as a splint, slings, triangular bandages, shawl caps, huntsman's whips used as splint, bayonet used as a splint and handkerchiefs used for bandaging purposes. All most practical applications of available resources at the likely site of such injuries occurring. Date: circa 1880s

15. As a seaside sun hat.

Holiday makers on an crowded beach with an elderly couple in the foreground and Blackpool Tower visible in the distance Date: 1946 - 1955

16. As a stylish fashion accessory.

Original design by Gordon Conway for a soft satin dinner dress, January 1930. The dress was designed on princess lines, ankle-length in front and longer behind. The jewellery was of white and yellow crystals with a matching colour chiffon handkerchief. Date: 1930

17. For having a good blub into.

1950s Woman With Handkerchief Sneezing Indoor

18. As a vehicle for eau-de-cologne.

advertising, cosmetics, 4711, real eau-de-cologne, slogan: Immer fruehlingsfrisch (anytime springtime fresh, made by: Ferd. Muelhens, Cologne, Germany, circa 1939, Date:

19. To perform magic tricks to impress your friends.

1950s, coin in handkerchief, trick, game, schooldays. Date:

20. For bidding fond farewells!

'The Aviator is the only man girls look up to' A very beautifully drawn and interesting postcard, with strong leaning toward the Women's Suffrage movement during this period in the United Kingdom. These strong and confident women see that the only time it is necessary to 'look up' at a man is when he is flying above in an aeroplane. Date: circa 1910

John Hassall – 150th anniversary of the Poster King

As a historical picture library, anniversaries frequently punctuate our working year, but there’s a significant anniversary this week which will probably pass most people by.  One hundred and fifty years ago, on the 21st May 1868, one of the most popular artists of the early 20th century was born – John Hassall. I’ve been a fan of Hassall’s work for some time and, having written a number of books and articles about illustrators, hope to make John Hassall’s life and career the subject of my next book. But mention of this to most people usually illicits the response, “Who? I don’t know him.” The penny drops when I ask if they know Hassall’s most famous work, his ‘Skegness is SO bracing poster’ featuring a carefree, jolly fisherman prancing along a beach and designed for the London North East Railway in 1908, but by and large, John Hassall’s name has disappeared from public consciousness.

skegness, liversalts, colmans

A century ago, every man and woman knew who John Hassall was; he was ‘The Poster King’ and, although he was an artist talented in many disciplines, it was the advertising hoarding that was his kingdom and which was to make him a household name. An article in Answers magazine from 1912, entitled, ‘The Poor Man’s Picture Gallery’ gives some indication of the impact of the picture poster in the early years of the twentieth century.

“The development of British poster art in the last few years has been altogether astounding. Not many years ago, the mention of the word ‘art’ in connection with the hoarding would have raised a smile. Poster advertising has gone on in leaps and bounds until today it has been fitly termed, “the poor man’s picture gallery”

Later in the article: “Probably no poster artist has enjoyed so great a success as John Hassall…The mistake that too many poster artists make is crowding too many figures into one picture. This is never a fault of Hassall. His faces are good-humoured and a feature of his work.”

Born in Walmer, Kent, John Hassall was educated in Worthing and then, as a young man, after failing to gain entry to Sandhurst tried his hand at farming, moving to the remote wilderness of Manitoba in Canada with his brother Owen. During that time, he began to draw, and on successfully entering several local art competitions, realised he had a talent. Returning to England in 1890, he befriended fellow artists Dudley Hardy and Cecil Aldin, both of whom would become lifelong friends, and travelled to Paris and Antwerp to study art, there becoming influenced by great poster masters such as Cheret and Mucha. His career took off in 1895 when he was engaged by the poster printing firm David Allen & Sons, a relationship that would last for most of Hassall’s lifetime. Aside from the ubiquitous Skegness poster, Hassall produced designs for well-known brands such as Bovril and Colman’s Mustard, countless posters for theatrical productions (600 alone between 1896 and 1899) and, intriguingly, a number of posters and postcards for the anti-suffrage campaign, including the famous, ‘A Suffragette’s Home’ in which a working class man returns home at the end of the day to find his home in disarray due to the activities of his politically enlightened (but apparently neglectful) wife. Developing an eye-catching and engaging style, Hassall’s designs used bold outlines, flat colour and made spatially confident decisions demonstrating not only the influence of Japanese art on British design at the end of the nineteenth century, but how this technique could translate into bold and effective advertisements.

suffragette, santa, snowballing

frys, shaws, vacuum cleanersleeping beauty

Aside from posters, Hassall, a prolific artist and lifelong workaholic, worked across a variety of media and disciplines, showing himself to be a designer of great versatility. He was a painter in oils in the traditional manner who exhibited at the Royal Academy; a book illustrator, and a humorous ‘black & white’ artist for magazines, particularly for The Sketch, which is held here as part of the Illustrated London News archive. In 1905, he founded the New Art School which could count H. M. Bateman and Annie Fish among its illustrious alumni. When war broke out, the school continued as a highly popular correspondence course. He was a designer of toys, figurines, pottery and nursery décor and ever the innovator, he was keen to push boundaries, working with the Animated Hoardings Company before the Great War to create mechanised advertising posters.

art course, Hassall himself


Journalists flocked to his studio, built in the garden of his home at 88, Kensington Park Road, to interview the poster king who was a generous and talkative host, full of stories and anecdotes about his life and working methods. Last year, I visited the University of Essex where the archives of John Hassall are held including his diaries, log books and photograph albums. With only a brief day to skim through the wealth of material, it nevertheless soon became clear that John Hassall was a man of great charm and energy with a wide circle of friends, acquaintances and admirers. A long-serving member of both the Savage and Sketch Club, he was at the very centre of London’s artistic community and his home was always busy and open.

Hassall Archive

He was someone who was generous with his time and took delight in his family. Hassall was married twice with three children by his first wife (Isabel Dingwall who died in childbirth in 1900), and two by his second, Maud Webb. The daughter of his second wife was the renowned book illustrator and engraver, Joan Hassall; his son by that marriage was Christopher Hassall, actor, poet, lyricist and dramatist. The family would spend each summer at a holiday cottage at Walton-on-the-Naze on the Essex coast where he took a keen interest in finding and accumulating a world-class collection of prehistoric flints.

When war broke out in 1914, Hassall was approaching 50 and too old to join up. Instead he served as a special constable and increasingly gave his time for free producing countless sketches and drawings at the request of stage stars such as George Robey to promote or sell at charity auctions, matinees and shows. His log books from this period are something to behold – full to the brim with commissions, at least half of which he carried out without charge. Although Hassall’s style would begin to fall out of fashion, in 1939 he was granted a civil-list pension for services to poster art and he continued to work until shortly before his death in 1948.

soldier, VAD, hippodrome

Here at the library, John Hassall’s work crops up frequently, either in illustrated magazines, in children’s books and, more recently, in the numerous theatrical posters making up the Michael Diamond Collection. This week, to mark the 150th anniversary of Hassall’s birth, it seems like a timely moment to share and celebrate the work of an artist whose talent gave so much pleasure to so many. It’s time for the Poster King to return to his throne.

A group of children in fancy dress standing in a line Date: circa 1900



Searching for Jumbo – an Elephant in the Archive

The body of Jumbo the elephant

In honour of the recent documentary entitled Attenborough and the Giant Elephant, we’ve delved into the archive to share these lesser seen Jumbo gems.

Captured as a calf in the Sudan, Jumbo toured with Menagerie Kreutzberg in Germany and was exhibited at Jardin des Plantes in Paris before arriving at Regent’s Park Zoological Gardens in 1865(he was traded for a rhino, fulfilling London Zoo’s desire to have both an African and an Indian elephant in their collection). He became a great favourite with visitors, giving rides to children on his back. Amongst the treasures in the archive is an original handwritten letter from Jumbo’s keeper Matthew Scott, accompanied by a photograph, replying to a fan enquiring as to circumference of the elephant’s feet.


Jumbo the elephant at Regent's Park, 1865

Jumbo the elephant in his younger days

When P.T Barnum, the American showman and businessman, purchased Jumbo some seventeen years later in 1882 for £2,000, there was widespread public outcry in England, summarised in this cartoon by Alfred Bryan, published in March of that year, with the caption “If you take Jumbo, Mr Barnum, and he should revenge himself, don’t expect any sympathy from the English people.” Punch magazine cheerfully published a cartoon suggesting Barnum take an altogether different beast, the MP and atheist Charles Bradlaugh(caricatured as an incalcitrant wild boar), instead of the much loved Jumbo.

Jumbo’s departure from England was covered in great detail in the press; the logistics of transporting such a large cargo even to the docks, let alone across the Atlantic, aroused great interest. Pleasingly for the English, Jumbo showed great patriotism in his reluctance to leave the country, with much cajoling required.

Jumbo the elephant: on the way to St Katherine's docks

On Jumbo’s departure from Millwall docks, Mr. A.B Bartlett the superintendent of the Zoological Gardens gave a speech, quoted at the time in The Illustrated London News, which interestingly alluded to Jumbo’s occasional violent outbursts.  “He was an extraordinarily good-tempered beast…at the same time he was subject to periodical outbreaks, which from his immense strength made him, although the most amicable, the most dangerous animal Mr Bartlett had ever known.”

Barnum reportedly recouped the money from the purchase within just three weeks with the takings from exhibiting Jumbo in America. Jumbo became a star attraction, and on 30th May 1884 took part in a publicity stunt by Barnum, where 21 of his elephants marched across the newly built Brooklyn Bridge, to assure members of the public that the bridge was safe following a stampede just six days after the bridge was opened, in which 12 people were crushed and killed during a panic.

Jumbo died in tragic circumstances when hit by a train at a marshalling yard in Ontario, Canada in 1885. Barnum encouraged a story that suggested Jumbo has died trying to protect a junior elephant, Tom Thumb, from an oncoming train, but examination of Jumbo’s bones in Attenborough’s documentary suggest a less altruistic version of events, where Jumbo may have died simply whilst trying to escape from the train himself.

Even in death, Jumbo was a source of fascination and revenue; The Graphic depicted the plans to have Jumbo’s hide stuffed and displayed, with his skin reportedly being stretched to enhance his stature even more. The Graphic reported that the day after Jumbo died, “Mr Ward of Rochester, New York State, aided by half a dozen butchers, skinned the monster in three pieces, which were placed in a warm bath of salt and alum, and together with the bones, sent off to Rochester, where a special house was constructed in which to mount the skin and skeleton.”

His skeleton was sold separately and also exhibited, with his heart being sold to Cornell University. Poor stuffed Jumbo continued to tour as a stuffed exhibit for two years, when he ended up on display at P.T. Barnum Hall at Tufts University, Massachusetts. In 1975 much of stuffed Jumbo was destroyed by fire, but his bones, stored separately in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, escaped destruction and proved a valuable asset in Attenborough’s research for his documentary.

Poster for P.T. Barnum & Circus featuring

Jumbo the elephant stuffed

The diverse material in the archive here at Mary Evans offers a fascinating on-the-spot look at how Jumbo was portrayed in the British press at the time, and is a compelling evocation of the great public interest that was taken in Jumbo.


The GREAT Mary Evans Christmas Gift Guide

Tatler Christmas Shopping Guide

Combing the archive to reveal this season’s best buys for all the family.

We’re sorry but it’s becoming unavoidable.  There are just eighteen oh-so-short shopping days to go until Christmas.  As panic buying sets in the length and breadth of the country, FEAR NOT, for help is at hand.  Fling away those gift guides in Sunday supplements, forget about jostling for a parking space in Westfield, throw caution to the wind and CANCEL that Amazon Prime subscription. You don’t need it.* We’ve trawled through history itself in order to help you solve any festive gift-giving dilemmas.  Read on for some vintage inspiration and watch your family’s faces light up this Christmas.

*Did we mention you WILL need a time-travelling machine?

For discerning Uncle Jeremy, the ultimate in loungewear – a velvet smoking jacket from Peter Robinson with silk collar, cuffs and frogging.

Advert for Peter Robinson, gentlemen's clothing 1895

For your tech-loving teenage son – the twin-lens artist hand camera from the London Stereoscopic Company.  He’ll be extra-impressed that it’s the same one used by the Princess of Wales.

Top of any little girl’s wish-list – a toy roadside pub.  Yes, that’s right.  Complete with beer pumps, ashtrays and pork scratchings , this boozer offers instruction in basic arithmetic courtesy of the darts board.

For dear mother, what can be more thoughtful than an electric vacuum cleaner or state-of-the-art Frigidaire?  No more daily shopping, no more drudgery of carpet beating.  Now she can clean carpets all day to her heart’s content.  How kind of daddy.

Frigidaire fridge advert

Stumped again about what to buy Aunty Irene?  The answer is staring you (quite literally) in the face.  Who doesn’t want a cat telephone cosy from Selfridges in their life?  Aunty Irene need fret no more about her phone getting chilly during those winter months.

Cat telephone cosy from Selfridges, 1919

For seven-year-old Nicholas, a Tri-ang model motor car is just the thing.  But how to choose between the Rolls Royce, the Brooklands or the Chevrolet Regal?  Buy all three (they’re just £15 15 shillings each) and you needn’t feel so guilty about packing him off back to Harrow on Boxing Day.

Advertisement for Tri-Ang toy model motor cars

Ever since Grandpapa singed his moustache while using a toasting fork, the need to modernise has been apparent.  Treat him to this 1909 Elkington plate stand and lamp for making flame-free crumpets and toast at the breakfast table.

Stand and lamp for making toast 1909

For that opinionated great-aunt you loathe.  Buy her a horrific dinner gong or match holder.  Do be mindful that these will be re-gifted back to you in her will when she pops her clogs.

Chain smoking Aunty Lil would love a new Ronson lighter.  And why not also buy her a Perfu-mist scent dispenser at the same time?  We can only hope she doesn’t get the two muddled up after one too many gin and dubonnets.

Advertisement for Ronson lighters, 1931

For the newest member of the family, how about a winter bassinette or a wooden horse on wheels from the 1888 catalogue of Dunkley’s of London and Birmingham?  Strictly no actual playing with them though; it’ll seriously affect their valuation on Antiques Roadshow in 130 years’ time.

And finally, you know last year, when your sister bought you that Brian Connolly CD for Christmas and you vowed revenge?  Remember when you dreamed of finding a present that would give her nightmares at night?  Here you go.

Pssst… for actual Christmas presents you can buy today featuring Mary Evans images, visit; Prints-Online.

Sprucing Up – The History of the Christmas Tree

Bringing home the Christmas tree

On 23 December 1848, The Illustrated London News published an engraving by J. L. Williams of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their five children gathered around a twinkling Christmas tree at Windsor Castle.  The publication of the picture was to mark the defining moment for the Christmas tree and within a short few years, it had, despite Dickens dismissing it as, “the new German toy,” become a widely adopted and accepted part of festive celebrations in Britain.  But the history of the Christmas tree stretches far further into previous centuries.  Allow our timeline to take you on a pine-scented journey back in time.

Christmas Tree

8th century – European legend attributes the origin of Christmas trees to the English St. Boniface, aka Winfrid of Crediton, a missionary in Germany.  Its rather grisly genesis stems from Winfrid’s chopping down of a tree before a crowd of barbarians, used previously as a site for human sacrifices.  According to legend, the blood-stained tree, “fell like a tower, groaning as it split asunder” but close by, a young fir tree stood miraculously unharmed leading Winfrid to lecture his audience, “This little tree, a young child in the forest, shall be your holy tree tonight”


1533 – There is a belief, particularly in Germany, that Martin Luther invented the custom.  One Christmas Eve he was so apparently moved by a firmament of shining stars that he recreated the spectacle for his family by standing a young fir tree in their darkened house and placing candles on its branches.

1605 – The earliest authentic record of Christmas trees as we known them today is in a manuscript in which a Strasbourg merchant wrote, “At Christmas, they set up fir trees in the parlours of Strasbourg and hang thereon roses cut out of many coloured paper, apples, wafers, gold-foil, sweets etc.”

Martin Luther with his Family and their Christmas Tree

1737 – A member of the University of Wittenberg describes a country lady who distributed little trees bearing lighted candles to children, together with gifts laid beneath them.  Later in the century, Samuel Coleridge visited Germany and was intrigued by the delight his hosts took in their Christmas tree, which he described as, “a pleasing novelty”.

1800 – Queen Charlotte, German wife of King George III, hosts a children’s party at which a large yew tree is centre stage, decorated with, “bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins, in papers, fruits, and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles.”

Decorating the Christmas tree, 1938.
– In the household of Queen Caroline, maligned consort of George IV, Germans set up Christmas trees bright with candles and hung with presents for English children of the palace.

1840 – A thriving market for pine-tops are sold at a market in Manchester by German immigrants.


1841 – Prince Albert introduces a bedecked tree into seasonal royal festivities writing, “Today I have two children of my own to give present to who, they know not why, are full of happy wonder at the German Christmas tree and its radiant candles.”

1845 – First illustration of a Christmas tree in The Illustrated London News on 27 December 1845 accompanying a report on a celebration given by the London Mission Society at the Temperance Hall in Cripplegate for the benefit of 400 London children.  Their enjoyment “was crowned especially by the exhibition of a German Christmas tree, or Tree of Love, which was erected upon the stage of the Hall.”

Christmas tree at the Temperance Hall, 1845

1848 – One of the ILN’s most famous pictures is published in its 23 December issue and leads to the popularisation of the Christmas tree.  The engraving is accompanied by the following explanation of the tree as, “that which is annually prepared by her Majesty’s command for the Royal Children.  Similar trees are arranged in other apartments of the Castle for her Majesty, his Royal Highness Prince Albert, her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, and the Royal household.  Her Majesty’s tree is furnished by His Royal Highness Prince Albert, whilst that of the Prince is furnished according to the taste of her Majesty.”

Queen Victoria's Christmas tree

1851 – Although Christmas trees have been introduced to America by German immigrants in Pennsylvania, the tradition becomes widespread in this year when a woodsman called Mark Carr begins selling trees from Catskills at what will become Mark Carr’s Corner in New York.

1854 – A giant Christmas tree is erected at Crystal Palace.  Christmas trees for sale in Covent Garden market pictured in The Illustrated London News.

Christmas trees in Covent Garden Market, London

1864 – William Chambers writes of the Christmas tree, “the custom has been introduced into England with the greatest success”

1914 – On the Western Front in December 1914, small decorated Christmas trees are used as signs of a temporary truce by German soldiers.


1930 – Artificial Christmas trees were made from dyed goose feathers in 19th century Germany, but in 1930 a British-based Addis Housewares Company created the first artificial Christmas tree made from brush bristles. The company used the same machinery that it used to manufacture toilet brushes.  (Aluminium foil Christmas trees appear in America in 1958).

1947 – A large Christmas tree is gifted to Britain by the city of Oslo as a token of gratitude for British support to Norway during the Second World War.  Given annually, the tree is the central focus of Christmas carol-singing in Trafalgar Square every year.


2017 – Mary Evans Picture Library has almost 2000 pictures on their website charting the legends and history of Christmas trees

Christmas Tree Shopping


Postcards from the nursery: the collection of Peter & Dawn cope

The magical collection of postcards and ephemera amassed by Peter and Dawn Cope has been represented by us here at Mary Evans for almost eight years.  We quizzed its owners, the authors of ‘Postcards from the Nursery’ (Cavendish Publishing, 2000) on the origins of this incredible archive.  Read on to discover more:


Children with tangled kites
What sparked your interest in postcards and their illustrators?

Good question. It comes down to the fact that Dawn trained as an architect and I was trained as a graphic designer, so we love visual imagery. In the early seventies when we were raising our family, we were attracted to a very shabby copy of Kate Greenaway’s ‘A Apple Pie’ at the Saturday antique market held behind The Standard pub in Blackheath. From there we built up an good collection of Greenaway books which were fashionable at the time.

Then we began to attend book auctions at Sothebys, then held at Chancery Lane. Here we met plenty of book people who opened our eyes to other illustrators including Willebeek le Mair, Charles Robinson, Rackham, etc, etc. I recall that we bid for and bought for £470 a set of 10 watercolours by Millicent Sowerby, illustrated by her for publication in Humphrey Milford children’s annuals. This led us into collecting 1920s children’s books.

On a rainy holiday trudging round a market in Truro we stumbled on a postcard album brim full of postcards illustrated by Humphrey Milford artists like Lilian Govey, Eileen Hood, Susan Pearse and Millicent Sowerby. Contained in the album were 500 postcards sent to two children living in Plymouth by their parents (who were away a lot) and their grandma. This fed our appetite for more, so countless postcard fairs then ensued.

Nursery land

It’s a pretty extensive collection. Do you know how many postcards you have?

About 10,000.

And are you still collecting?

Yes. The collection has broadened to include various artists and publishers whose illustrative work epitomises social taste and the activities of the period 1900-1930 – the years covered by our collection.

Do you have a particular favourite illustrator?

One of our many favourites is Florence Hardy, sister of Dudley Hardy and daughter of marine painter Thomas Bush Hardy. She trained at the Sorbonne as a miniaturist. But by the time she graduated there wasn’t much demand for miniature painting. And when her father drank himself to death in 1897 leaving his new young wife (formerly the family housemaid) with a baby, Florence was obliged to seek work as a postcard and greeting card illustrator, to support the large family. I was told she worked with a magnifying glass. If you look at one of her postcards you will appreciate that it is carried out with the precision of a miniaturist.

Pub: Humphrey Milford, 'Postcards for the Little Ones'. Sky Fairies series. Fairies frolicking in the sky. Artist: Amy Millicent Sowerby Date: 1920

A lot of postcard artists in this genre were women. Why do you think this is?

There is a section on the rise of women artists in our book (see pages 22-25). Briefly, towards the end of the nineteenth century more girls had the freedom to attend art school at a time when women were campaigning for greater independence. Enterprising women, mainly from the middle class, found that they could combine freelance commercial illustration without compromising their family duties. And when World War 1 came along they contributed to the war effort by creating patriotic postcards featuring children, aimed at spreading propaganda to the youngest members of society.

Four little girls dressed in identical red capes and carrying matching fur muffs step out looking very festive. Date: c.1920

Did you meet any of the artists featured in ‘Postcards from the Nursery’?

We met Molly Brett, René Cloke, Kay Nixon, Susan Pearse, Joyce Plumstead, Jenifer Rickard and May Smith. We also met many of the next generation whose artist relatives were by then deceased.

Other than postcards, do you collect any other types of ephemera?

Post-Victorian greeting cards (many illustrated by our favourite postcard illustrators)
Illustrated children’s books including:

Dean’s Rag Books and Rag Sheets 1902-1940 (about 300+ rag books and 100+ rag sheets) Miniature children’s books published by Humphrey Milford (about 300 books)
Kate Greenaway (extensive collection)
Henriette Willebeek le Mair (extensive collection of books, postcards and china)**

Paintings and drawings by children’s book artists including:

Florence Mary Anderson, Maude Angell, Honor Appleton, Edith Berkeley, Edna Clarke-Hall, Muriel Dawson, Charles Folkard, Lilian Govey, Kate Greenaway, Florence Hardy, Helen Jacobs, Helen Grace Marsh Lambert, Ethel Larcombe, Joyce Mercer, Ethel Parkinson, Susan Beatrice Pearse, Rosa Petherick, Agnes Richardson, Millicent Sowerby, Fred Spurgin, Margaret Tarrant, Dorothy Wheeler.

Nursery china
Penguin Books published 1960-1980 (about 2200 books)
Books on art and design

**During the nineteen seventies and eighties I acted as design consultant to a London-based publisher,
reproducing the illustrations of Henriette Willebeek le Mair into books and on to porcelain in a more modern format. As a result we were introduced to the son of her original publisher, Augener. He sold me several signed limited edition copies of her famous books.

Do you have any plans for your collection?

Our prime concern is deciding how best to keep the collection intact after we depart. Currently we are at an advanced stage of building a Filemaker database for the postcard collection which may be extended to our greeting cards and other ephemera in due course. Ideally, we will want to sell the collection as a single entity to a university library or national institution either in the UK or abroad.

Delineator July 1929 - Cover in Art Deco style depicts a woman by the sea with cruise liner. Date: 1929

Have you ever considered an exhibition?

We have held a successful three month exhibition entitled ‘Postcards from the Nursery’ at Bethnal Green Museum in 1979, which was widely reviewed in the national press. One of our guests was Susan Pearse, artist of the Ameliaranne series of books from the twenties, thirties and forties, who was approaching 100 years of age by the time the exhibition opened.

We would love to mount another exhibition and create another book with a fresh presentation, make corrections and add new material and information gleaned over the ensuing years since ‘Postcards from the Nursery’ was published 17 years ago. Ideas and suggestions would be most welcome.

Christmas scene

Can you explain the obsession among postcard artists with Holland?

In Edwardian Britain people began to venture abroad for their summer holidays. Holland was the popular destination of choice. The Dutch were friendly and welcoming and most of them spoke English, whereas the French, after many years battling with the British, tended to be less welcoming towards British holidaymakers.

Spain and Italy were too distant for all but the wealthy. Consequently, the Dutch responded to this surge of British visitors by creating a huge market for souvenirs for the British to take home, and postcards that they could send back to their loved ones. At this time children seldom went abroad with their parents, but remained at home with their governesses, so they would receive postcards from their parents depicting Dutch children.

Here’s a lightbox of 100 images from the Peter & Dawn Cope collection.

Dutch boy and girl in blue

Top 10 spookiest photos in the archive

It’s October, the spookiest month of the year and Halloween is only four weeks away.   At Mary Evans Picture Library we have plenty of images to give you a good scare, thanks to our collection of several thousand images on the subject of the ‘paranormal’.

Co-founder of the library, Hilary Evans (1929-2011) was a leading voice and author on the paranormal and helped to co-found the Association for the Study of Anomalous Phenomena in 1981.  Due to Hilary’s extensive research on the subject, the library amassed many thousands of images on all things otherworldly. In addition he also formed relationships with external paranormal collections which we continue to represent, including the renowned Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, which we exclusively represent along with other collections from independent paranormal investigators and collective societies.

Here are the top 10 most creepy and unsettling images from our paranormal archive, guaranteed to send a chill down your spine.


1.) The ghost of Raynham Hall, Norfolk.  This figure is not seen but is unknowingly photographed on the staircase; it may be the ghost of Dorothy Walpole, known as ‘The Brown Lady’. 
The image was first published in the December 26 edition of Country Life Magazine 1936 and has since become one of the most famous ‘ghost photographs’ in the world to date.

Image courtesy of the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, University of London.

Phantom priest in the church at Arundel, Sussex

2.) Phantom priest photographed in the church at Arundel, Sussex, date unknown. 
Image courtesy of the Harry Price Library of Magical Literature, University of London.


3.) Eastry Church Ghost, Kent, 1956. 
When Bank Manager Mr Bootman took this photograph of Eastry Church in 1956, he claims it was empty.  Image courtesy of the Andrew Green collection.

Ghosts on the Tulip Staircase of the Queen's House

4.) Ghosts on the Tulip Staircase of the Queen’s House, Greenwich, London 19 June 1966.

Figures photographed on the Tulip Staircase of the Queen’s House during normal opening hours of the museum, though the photographer saw nothing.  This image was taken by Rev. R W Hardy of White Rock, British Columbia, Canada whilst on holiday in the UK.  Image courtesy of Peter Underwood.


5.) Enigmatic Figure, 23 May 1964. 
When J P Templeton photographed his daughter on Burgh Marsh, Cumberland, this enigmatic figure appeared behind her.  Image courtesy of Peter Underwood.

Ghost of Lord Combermere

6.) Ghost of Lord Combermere 5 December 1981. 
Sybell Corbet’s photograph of the library at Combermere, taken between 2-3 pm, seems to show a figure, resembling Lord Combermere, at the time he was being buried.  Image source: Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol V December 1895 page 167.


7.) Ancient Ram Inn Ghost, 5 June 1999.  This photograph appears to show an apparition just before an ASSAP (Association for the Study of Anomalous Phenomena) night vigil at The Ancient Ram Inn, Wotton- Under-Edge, Gloucestershire.  A murder was committed years earlier on this staircase.  We like to fondly refer to this image as ‘The Malibu Ghost’!  Image courtesy of Julie and Mark Hunt.


8.) Watertown Photo, 1924.  When sailors Courtney and Meehan of American ship S.S. ‘Watertown’ are accidentally killed, then buried at sea, their faces are seen following the ship and photographed.  Image source: Captain Tracy, the vessel’s captain, reproduced in Gaddis, ‘Invisible Horizons’.


Ealing Ghost

9.) Ealing Ghost, date unknown. A figure seen at an upstairs windows of a house where murder and 20 suicides have taken place (possibly the ghost of Ann Hinchfield who killed herself in 1886).  Image courtesy of the Andrew Green collection.


10.) Leeds Poltergeist, 1970.
The photograph seems to show papers flying through the air.  This was photographed during a case investigating the disturbance in the offices of Air Heating company, Leeds, centred around  a 16-year old typist : the phenomena continued for six months.  Image courtesy of the Andrew Green collection.