Thoughts on a Rainy Day

Thoughts on a Rainy Day

To escape Storm Freya I went to the Russell Cotes Museum in Bournemouth today. Both the house and its contents are an enormous splurge of Victorian bad taste. I couldn’t help noticing the buckets in the conservatory (see photo). Fair enough, I suppose, the wind and rain being so fierce, but I did wonder how watertight most Victorian conservatories were. According the memoirs of Hector […]

Read Me Leave comment

There and back : A tale of two pilgrimages

There and back : A tale of two pilgrimages

Those of you who know the Canterbury Tales will know that Chaucer originally intended each of the thirty-odd pilgrims to tell two tales on the outward journey and two on the return, making one hundred twenty tales in all. Either Chaucer died before completing the scheme or at some stage thought better of it and would have substituted a more modest commitment had he lived […]

Read Me 2 Comments

Pluckley

Pluckley

The mad wives, however, were delayed by an unscheduled stop at Pluckley. The train came to a halt between white clapboarded buildings, beyond which the rooks rose in a great clamour from the trees by the gravel pits. From our tub we could see porters assembling a goods train in the siding, a fly waiting in the station yard, its owner fast asleep on the […]

Read Me 2 Comments

A Victorian Canterbury Tales

A Victorian Canterbury Tales

Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium is a Victorian version of the Canterbury Tales in which the members of a Canterbury temperance society go on an excursion to the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. The shrine they go to worship at – the Crystal Palace, filled with the technological marvels of the age – is a thoroughly secular one, but like Chaucer’s pilgrims, they set off in […]

Read Me 1 Comment

Jane Eyre – A Victorian Shocker

Jane Eyre – A Victorian Shocker

The third story in Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium, ‘Miss Biddlecombe’s Proprieties’, describes what happens when sea bathing and a clandestine copy of Jane Eyre are introduced into a respectable young ladies’ boarding school. (You’ll have to read the story to find out what actually happens!) What is hard for us to imagine today is how shocking the Victorian reading public found Jane Eyre once its female […]

Read Me 1 Comment

A Wuthering Heights Original

A Wuthering Heights Original

Back in August I posted a blog about my artist daughter’s exhibition on the Lost Houses of the South Pennines in Halifax. (If you want to check it out, it’s the one that begins: Whilst I was nearing the end of Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium in early 2016, I had to take time out to write the text for Lost Houses of the South Pennines, the […]

Read Me Leave comment

Fern Mania

Fern Mania

In Mr Blackwood’s Fabularium Mr Malachi Brown, who gets on the train at Tunbridge, is introduced to his fellow passengers as ‘the eminent pteridologist’. So what was pteridology and how did one become eminent in it?  In 1855, the Rev Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies, wrote: Your daughters, perhaps, have been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania’…and wrangling over unpronounceable names of species (which […]

Read Me Leave comment

Railway Navvies

Railway Navvies

The first tale in Mr Blackwood is told by the Waterloo veteran, Corporal Costello, and the second by Stumps, the railway navvy. This pairing was intended to echo the first two Canterbury Tales, where the Knight’s tale, much to the irritation of the Host, is followed by that of the oafish Miller. The world of the navvies is a fascinating one. One of the most […]

Read Me Leave comment

A Short Biography of Dickens’s Face

A Short Biography of Dickens’s Face

Until the 1840s Charles Dickens was, like most early Victorians, clean-shaven. In 1842, he travelled for the first time to the United States where he met Edgar Allan Poe, at that time the owner of a fine but restrained moustache. Dickens was smitten and quickly grew one of his own.  (Moustaches were often referred to in the plural, as in ‘a pair of moustaches’). “The […]

Read Me 1 Comment

Exit through the Gift Shop

Exit through the Gift Shop

As far as I know there wasn’t a gift shop in the original Crystal Palace, thought there may well have been one in its successor in Sydenham. But if there wasn’t a souvenir shop, there was no shortage of souvenirs. My great grandfather, who was an exhibitor, brought home a paperweight. This object, which lived for many years on my grandparents’ mantel piece, first kindled […]

Read Me Leave comment