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 The book uses much unpublished research material and rare archival images with many again taken from the Illustrated London News collection housed here at Mary Evans.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

Answers to Correspondents

BUSY CORRESPONDENT
The agony column is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 19th century, earnest readers of The Girl’s Own Paper wrote in to the weekly publication under pseudonyms asking for advice on all manner of problems. It’s unlikely that many girls today concern themselves with pressing issues such as how to remove ink stains from ivory piano keys, the correct etiquette of visiting cards, or, thankfully, how to remove a boil from the eyeball.

The advice they received in the ‘Answers to Correspondents’ page was prescriptive, stern, sometimes harsh and often astonishingly encyclopaedic. Any indiscretions involving the opposite sex were severely reprimanded, while those with poor handwriting usually suffered a withering critique.

The questions themselves were never printed which make many of the answers all the more intriguing, and, we have to admit, occasionally hysterical.  Whoever the Girl’s Own agony aunt was, she refused to suffer fools gladly and her advice perhaps tells us more than many other contemporary sources what life must have been like for a middle class girl in the 1890s.

The First Letter'

ALICE. – A crayon copy is not eligible for exhibition at the Royal Academy.

MADGE. – Yes, there is a verse in the Bible that has all the letters of the alphabet in it. See Ezra vii. 21.

Johann Strauss II
A DALSTONIAN
. – Why do you wish to whiten your face and neck? Of course you could dip your face in a flour-barrel, or get some whitewash applied by the cook next time she whitens the scullery. But what a coarse, orange-peel-looking skin you will soon have if you fill up the pores of the face!

BLACK TOM. – 1. The girl you name as being hopelessly attached to a man she has never met but only seen at concerts, should be sent away from the foreign town where you are both staying. The story is of a most humiliating character; she disgraces the sex, the members of which should be sought, not themselves the seekers. 2. We could not hazard an opinion on what was your disease. Your writing slopes the wrong way.

ALYS and MABELLE. – ‘Nigel’ is pronounced as it is spelt; the last syllable as the first in ‘gelatine’.

SHE READS A LETTER 1889

WORRIED (but not) TO DEATH. – We know nothing of the method advertised. We can only advise you not to try it without the opinion of your own family doctor.

PUSSIE. – We cannot tell you of the diseases induced by the bad habit of eating anything not designed for food. You must be already in a very unwholesome condition. The best means of curing yourself would be to tell your mother, and request her to put a stop to it at once, if you have no strength of mind and will to cure yourself of such nasty habits.

School class in Great Britain, 1930...

MARJORIE. – 1. Your heliotrope dress will probably fade if you wash it. 2. To raise his hat on the first meeting is all that is required of a man. To do so five or six times would be ridiculous.

CUSTOMS/ETIQUETTE

Going Under: Diving Suits through History

Serious exploration of the underwater world began in the early 17th century, when the first submarine was invented by Dutch physician Cornelis Drebbel.  Then, the environment beneath the sea was considered the most dangerous and mysterious on earth – long before the prospect of exploring environments, such as outer space, was even feasible.

The invention of individual diving suits in the early 18th century allowed a more refined exploration of the ocean depths.  The initial drive for the creation of diving suits was to aid salvage missions, at a time when many ships (carrying many treasures) were lost to the ocean on perilous journeys.  The first diving suits were designed in 1710s and in 1715, English inventor John Lethbridge created the first fully-enclosed suit, consisting of watertight sleeves, a pressurised air filled barrel and a viewing hole.

These basic elements formed the foundation for the design of future diving apparatus, the technological advances of which were covered regularly in illustrated scientific periodicals of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.  Expeditions to ships sunken in WWI and WWII, fueled by public intrigue and fascination, were often dramatically illustrated in the likes of newspapers such as the Italian Sunday supplement; “La Domenica Del Corriere” and the French illustrated supplement “Le Petit Parisien”, with bold and vivid interpretations of almost robotic-like diving suits placed in otherworldly environments.

Early diving suits, far away from today’s equivalent, continue to be well-received in popular culture as a representation of the quirky and bizarre, due to their odd appearance and design aesthetics and for their kitsch, retro-futurist elements.  Film and television characters in early diving suits have appeared in cult productions, think the Ghost of Captain Cutler in Scooby Doo – this eerie, glowing and growling deep sea diver is of the show’s most popular villains (Below: Captain Cutler in SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED, 2004, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection).

SCOOBY-DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED, 2004, (c) Warner Brothers/courtesy Everett Collection
For anyone enchanted by the exploration of the undersea world and have an appreciation for unusual design; the photographs and illustrations of early diving suits held by the Mary Evans Picture Library are a joy to behold.

FREMINET'S MACHINE

Above: French inventor Freminet’s ‘Machine Hydrostatique’ which incorporates something like a  modern diving suit combined  with an air tank.  Engraving by an unnamed artist in Pesce, ‘Navigation sous- marine’, 1772.

KLINGERT'S DIVING SUIT 1

Above: Klingert’s diving suit and apparatus.  Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la Science’ volume 4 page 637, 1797.


AMBER-HUNTER'S SUIT

Left: Cabirol’s diving suit combines effective protection with considerable ease of movement, the two basic requirements for working underwater.  Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la science’ volume four, page 639, 1856.

Above: Diving dress and equipment of an amber hunter.  Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la science’ volume four, page 639, 1856.

Right: A state-of-the-art diving suit of the late 19th century, made of rubber and fitted with an emergency air tank, just in case the unthinkable should happen… Engraving by an unnamed artist in Louis Figuier, ‘Merveilles de la science’ volume four, page 655, 1875.


DIVING SUIT 1922

Left: Diving suit designed for work on the ‘Lusitania’, sunk during World War One and lying at a depth of 80 metres.  Unnamed artist in ‘Le Petit Journal’ 17 December 1922

Right: Divers explore the wrecks of vessels torpedoed during World War One: the amazing suit on the left is specially designed for very deep dives.  Unnamed artist in ‘Le Petit Journal’ 23 May 1920.

 Deep-sea diving suit, for salvage work on HMS 'M1' subrine

Above: A German deep-sea diving suit brought from Kiel for examining the lost submarine ‘M1’. On 21 November 1925, while on an exercise in the English Channel. The ‘M1’ submarine sank with the loss of her entire crew, the crew members appear to have tried to escape by flooding the interior and opening the escape hatch, but their bodies were never found. At the time the submarine was lying too deep to use ordinary diving apparatus. So the decision was made to ask for the assistance of Messrs. Neufeldt and Kuhnke, of Kiel, who specialized in deep-sea diving apparatus.

Diver in metal diving suit attached to cable

Left: A diver in an iron diving suit developed by a German company in Kiel, seen here being lowered into the sea, 1922.

Centre: A diver in an electrically controlled metal diving suit attached to a cable, ready to be lowered into the sea, c. 1924.

Right: A diver in a special iron diving suit is lowered into the sea attached to a cable, c. 1920.

Diving suit used during Lutine salvage operation

Left: Full figure of man in underwater diving suit, c 1940.

Centre: A man holds up a rubber diving suit used during one of many salvage operations of HMS Lutine, which sank off the Dutch coast during a storm in 1799. Photograph c. 1934.

Right: American inventor H.L. Bowdoin with his deep-sea diving suit. On the shoulders are two 1000 watt automobil lamps. 15th August 1931.

DIVING SUIT STRUGGLE

Above: A German underwater photographer struggles to get into his rubber diving suit, with a little help from his friends. Unattributed photograph for Barnaby’s Studios Ltd c. 1930s.

Diver

Above: William Walker, diver, who worked under Winchester Cathedral between 1906 and 1912.

 

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”


ST BONIFACE/SACRED OAK

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.
1820s
– 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.

CHRISTMAS/TREE DUG UP

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.


CHRISTMAS TRUCE 1914 WW1

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.

TRAFALGAR SQUARE TREE

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

Christmas Tree Shopping

 

Festive old Father Christmas

Nowadays, Father Christmas and Santa Claus are a more or less interchangeable festive character, typifying the spirit of good Christmas cheer.

‘Twas not ever thus however. In Britain, the 19th century Victorian revival of Christmas customs reinvigorated a folkloric figure of old Father Christmas that owed much to mummers plays, the Merry England of Walter Scott’s 1808 poem Marmion, and Thomas Hervey’s 1836 Book of Christmas. Hervey’s Father Christmas is dressed in a long robe and wears a holly crown, while his followers include Roast Beef, Plum Pudding, Wassail, Misrule and the Lord of Twelfth Night.

A Christmas parade by Alfred Crowquill
A Christmas Parade by Alfred Crowquill, from the Illustrated London News, December 1844, shows some of these characters processing through the snow.

 

We have other similar depictions of Father Christmas in the mid-19th century from the Illustrated London News and the Illustrated Times, which show the holly-adorned merrymaker having a pretty hedonistic time.

"Heaven Bless you Merry Gentlefolks let Nothing You Dismay," Page of Victorian men and women getting into the Christmas spirit! indulging themselves in food, drink and dance.
(Left) Jolly Old Christmas by Smyth in the Illustrated London News December 1844. (Right) Merry Christmas! by Kenny Meadows in A Holiday Book for Christmas and the New Year, 1840s

 

The figure of Santa Claus originated in the Dutch-American communities of the USA, with the 4th century Saint Nicholas giving us the name from the Dutch dialect word Sinterklaas. He was associated with the present-giving theme for good children much more than the English Father Christmas. Santa’s character was developed by Clement C. Moore’s 1823 poem A Visit from St Nicholas, otherwise known as ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. Many familiar motifs appear in this poem, including Santa’s sleigh and reindeer, his toys-via-chimney delivery preference, and his rosy cheeks, round belly and white beard. But his diminutive stature described in the poem (which logically he’d need for a trip down the chimney) hasn’t survived to the present day.

SANTA FILLING STOCKINGS
Arthur Rackham’s illustrations of 1931 depict the ‘jolly old elf’ St Nick

 

The later 19th century started to see a blurring of distinctions between Father Christmas and Santa Claus, and the crown of holly was sometimes replaced by a hood. In 1879 the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News commented, “he is generally a rollicking, robust old gentleman, with a wreath of holly round his head, a warm robe of brown trimmed with fur…I have also seen him in the window of a sweet-stuff shop with a hood over his venerable head”. In the States, caricaturist Thomas Nast’s version of Santa in Harper’s Weekly in the 1860s, further refined the image of modern Santa although it’s notable he still has the holly crown.

A pot-bellied Father Christmas with lots of presents. Date: circa 1870
Merry Old Santa Claus by Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly, 1860s

The vibrant red that Santa has worn exclusively since around the 1930s was not his sole colour choice in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. Father Christmas on cards and scraps can often be found in a rainbow of colours from green to blue to violet, as well as in brown and white. Red, the colour associated with St Nicholas (and a Coca-Cola advertising campaign in the early thirties), won through convincingly in the end.

Portrait of Father Christmas on a Christmas card
(Left) In green on a Christmas and New Year card, c.1890s. (Centre) In blue on a Christmas card with holly, C.1900s. (Right) In purple delivering presents on a postcard, 1908.

Santa Claus on a Christmas card

(Left) In white on a Victorian scrap. (Centre) In brown on a Christmas card, c.1890s. The goat is an interesting inclusion, chiming with Thomas Hervey’s 1836 personification of Old Father Christmas riding a yule goat. (Right) In red delivering presents, Lizzie (Lawson) Mack in ‘Old Father Christmas’, 1889.

Open All Hours – 12 amazing shop front displays from history

We’re all familiar with the closing credits of ‘Open All Hours’ when Arkwright, played by Ronnie Barker, goes through the daily chore of dismantling his display of wares before shutting up shop for the evening.  Image then, if you will, the hours it might have taken to put together – and then dismantle – some of these shop fronts?  While the art of retail display might still be seen daily on our high streets, very few can match the level of extravagance masterminded by some Victorian and Edwardian shopkeepers, whose penchant for fussy and highly populated displays mirrored conventional tastes in interior design and fashion.  Butchers and poulterers seem particularly prone to boastful displays, while grocers err towards carefully composed symmetrical layouts using boxes of tea and soap powder.  They obviously took pride in their creations as many photographs show employees, smart in long aprons, posed in front of gleaming windows or just visible among expertly butchered carcasses.

We’ve created a top 12 of our favourite shop front displays from history.  Scroll down to see who occupies the top spot.

12.) The shop window of Schmidt’s famous German delicatessen on Charlotte Street, London, with a vast variety of tinned and preserved goods on display, a taste of ‘Germany in London’.

SCHMIDT'S SHOP WINDOW

11.) Morecambe tourist shop selling everything from hoops to prams.

MORECAMBE TOURIST SHOP

10.) Graham and Withers butchers shop, Bromley, Kent.  Definitely wins the prize for most grisly.

Graham and Withers butchers shop, Bromley, Kent

9.) Shop front in Malmesbury, Wiltshire.

Extraordinary array of game and fish with local butcher

8.) Mr Horner the Butcher sitting proudly in front of his magnificent display of flesh and fowl waiting for the Christmas rush.

BUTCHER'S SHOP

7.) A little OCD evident from the look of the window of the Maypole Dairy in Greenwich.

MAYPOLE DAIRY, GREENWICH

6.) Undies galore at the Parisian Corset Company Ltd.

PARISIAN CORSET CO. SHOP

5.) Display of meat outside a butcher’s shop (unidentified location) with butcher, centre, brandishing a knife in case we should be in any doubt who’s responsible for all those first prize awards.

BUTCHER SHOP DISPLAY

4.)  Luggage shop in Paddington, London.

PADDINGTON LUGGAGE SHOP

3.) Best foot forward. Cobbler’s shop front, St David’s, Pembrokeshire, South Wales.

Cobbler's shop front, St David's, Pembrokeshire, South Wales

2.) Butcher’s shop in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. The turkeys (joined by rabbits & a lone pig) are so numerous they literally cover the entire building.

Turkeys galore outside a butcher in High Wycombe

1.) Never knowingly underadvertised. The marvellously named Herbert Fudge, Newsagent, Stationer and Tobacconist of 313 Lee High Road, London.

Herbert Fudge Newsagent 1922

Bizarre Best Wishes – the Weird & Wonderful World of Victorian Christmas cards

Children attacking a large pudding on a Christmas card. Date: circa 1890s

10997093: Children attacking a large pudding on a Christmas card. Date: circa 1890s

For any student of Christmas festive facts, they will know that first Christmas card was designed in 1846 by John Calcott Horsley at the request of Sir Henry Cole, later Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum.  About one thousand hand-coloured copies were produced, printed by Mr. Jobbins of Holborn and published by Joseph Cundall of Old Bond Street.  The design incorporated two scenes of charity flanking a central picture of a typically Victorian family cheerily raising a glass to toast the recipient of the card.  Although Horsley’s card is the acknowledged ‘first’ Christmas design, another, even earlier card, was designed by Mr. W. N. Egley, and sent by the artist to friends and family in 1842.  Whichever can claim to be truly the first Christmas card, they triggered a trend that became a festive tradition as familiar as trees and mince pies.

These early examples had been private ventures but by the 1860s the firm of Messrs. Goodall had begun to issue Christmas cards to the trade.  In the decades that followed, Christmas card sending rose to prodigious proportions.   During the Christmas period of 1882 for example, more than 14,000,000 letters and packages were delivered in the London area alone.  Such was the demand for new designs of good quality that in 1879, card publishers Raphael Tuck held an exhibition at the Egyptian Hall in London, with well-known Academicians as judges and 500 guineas in prizes.  The contest attracted nearly 900 entrants and was so popular that a second and grander competition, judged by Sir John Millais and Marcus Stone, was held in 1882.  This time £5000 was awarded in prizes.  The result was that many famous artists, including Stone, George Clausen, G. D. Leslie and W. F. Yeames, entered the Christmas card market, with one firm paying out £7000 for drawings in a single season.  Years later, a 1936 interview with Desmond Tuck of Raphael Tuck published in The Sphere, revealed that each season the company rose to the challenge of creating no fewer than 3000 original Christmas card designs, achieving this with a permanent staff of fifteen designers, freelance commissions from outside artists and licensing works from art galleries and museums.  Tuck were undoubtedly market leaders.  They exclusively produced the royal family’s Christmas cards each year and ensured that the designs were distributed to the press who duly published them (many featured patriotic scenes or historic royals from the past), and they pioneered novelty cards alongside more sedate, traditional designs.  In 1901, The Tatler magazine commented on a box of Christmas cards sent by the canny marketeers at Raphael Tuck:

“All Raphael Tuck’s cards are pretty and artistic, but what struck me as the most ingenious were the expanding cards, i.e., those cards by which a slight manipulation can be transformed into ships, soldiers and horses of a real shape and form.”

An 1842 design for a Christmas card by Mr W. N. Egley, though the general consensus is that the first was by John Calcott Horsley for Sir Henry Cole in 1846. There is some debate over whether this one was designed in 1842 or 1848. Nevertheless, a very early example, perhaps the earliest! Date: 1842

11657256: An 1842 design for a Christmas card by Mr W. N. Egley, though the general consensus is that the first was by John Calcott Horsley for Sir Henry Cole in 1846. There is some debate over whether this one was designed in 1842 or 1848. Nevertheless, a very early example, perhaps the earliest! Date: 1842

Reputedly the first Christmas card, this was designed by Horsley in 1843, and a coloured version sent out by Sir Henry Cole in 1846 Date: 1843-1846

10021527: Reputedly the first Christmas card, this was designed by Horsley in 1843, and a coloured version sent out by Sir Henry Cole in 1846 Date: 1843-1846

The designing room at Raphael Tuck & Sons, fine art publishers of prints, cards, Almanacks and postcards, staffed largely by women. Tuck were one of the leading card and postcard publishers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Date: 1903

11657260: The designing room at Raphael Tuck & Sons, fine art publishers of prints, cards, Almanacks and postcards, staffed largely by women. Tuck were one of the leading card and postcard publishers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Date: 1903

Several examples were shown but it is notable that not one single card appears to us to be particularly festive – there are donkeys on the sands of a coastal resort, a Chinese pleasure boat, circus horses and their riders,  a man-o-war in full dress and eighteenth century dandies carrying a lady in a sedan chair.  Not a single snowflake or twinkling bauble in sight.

211657259 (left): Adolph Tuck, Sir Adolph Tuck, 1st Baronet (1854-1926), fine art publisher and chairman of Raphael Tuck & Sons, pictured with his son passing a design for a Christmas card in 1903
10999514 (right): Invoice from Raphael Tuck & Sons Ltd, to Mr Frank Blackley, for the supply of one hundred greetings cards, total cost ten shillings and ten pence.

We have an eye-bogglingly varied array of historic Christmas cards in the archive representing this rich period in card publishing.  Many have arrived via our representation of the fabulously bonkers David Pearson Collection featuring designs that range from the mildly inappropriate to the unashamedly weird, most from the late 19th and early 20th century.  We may blame our modern-day sensibilities and taste for laughing at such unfathomable festive themes, but even in 1894, Gleeson White, editor of The Studio, wrote a monograph on Christmas cards in which he commented on the increasingly bizarre and inappropriate styles of card available to consumers.

“It is amusing to note the pictorial accompaniments, considered fit to illustrate the very mundane wish for a ‘A Happy Christmas’.  To accompany this prosaic and wholly carnal greeting we find, often, monsters of nightmareland, pictures of accidents dear to the farce writer, and in short, the subjects, which are in vulgar parlance weird and alarming on the one hand and distinctly uncomfortable on the other.”

Gleeson White, aesthetically sensitive, might have been particularly averse to ‘jokey’ and strangely macabre cards but there was undoubtedly a market at a time when the scale of card-sending meant that designers had to cast about for novel ideas and not all card buyers were discerning enough to prefer the worthy work of an Academician.   Nevertheless, whoever came up with murderous frogs and dead robins, cards in the shape of a hand gun or plucked turkeys lying limp and lifeless on kitchen scales, had perhaps spent rather too long at the drawing board, scraping the brandy barrel of festive ideas.  We don’t care.  Whether it’s Christmas or not, weird Christmas cards continue to be a source of great mirth and amusement at the library.  We’re just waiting for a mischievous someone to select some for a cool and off-beat Christmas card selection box.  We’ll be at the front of the queue.

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A saw on a Christmas card -- the basis of a fairly excruciating pun. Date: circa 1890s

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Little dog with a toy gun on a New Year card. circa 1890s

4  A frog murders another frog for money - a somewhat bizarre Christmas subject ! Date: circa 1880

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