May 312012
This review appears on  (and as far as I know it is genuine, and certainly not ghosted by me!).

A wonderful book! May 16, 2012

Format:Hardcover|Amazon Verified Purchase
This is a fantastic book!!! It is so well done, with illustrations of the original source materials (excerpts from the diaries, wills, inventories, etc.) as well as drawings, cutouts and silhouettes and portraits, and detailed information provided by the author. This is not only a fascinating family record, it is also prime information about daily life in the Georgian era. Mr. Rendell is to be commended for the readability of this book-it is clear, full of detail and explanation, and still a delightful read. Mr. Rendell’s humor and his affection for his subject add to the reader’s pleasure. This is a must-read for anyone who enjoys history, and an invaluable reference for a historian or historical fiction author.”
Well, thank you Lauren G, you have quite made my day! I don’t know who you are or where to contact you, but I am grateful to you. Nearly 18 months on from publication and it is great to get this sort of feed-back. My book will never sell  by the truckload, and for some reason no-one has asked me about the film rights, but it is nice to know that it is appreciated and enjoyed for what it is – a good read.
May 292012

For a man who had a Wedgwood plaque issued in 1980 commemorating his “invention” of the first tooth brush two centuries earlier, the information about William Addis seems a bit thin on the ground. Everyone is agreed that he was born in 1734, and that he became a rag trader (collecting rags and then pulping them to make high quality paper, which was then sold on to bookmakers) but I cannot see details of his exact date of birth, or his address. Suffice to say he was from the East End of London.

To give him credit for inventing the toothbrush is perhaps a little too strong a statement: after all the word ‘toothbrush’ had been around for some time (it first appeared in English in 1690 when Anthony Wood describes in his autobiography buying such an implement from a Mr J Barret (mmm, can’t wait to get my hands on that autobiography – sounds fascinating….). The point is: tooth brushes had been around for centuries. The Chinese made them from bamboo, with hog’s bristles. But in the Western world these had never caught on and people either used chewing sticks (in effect, twigs which had been chewed to give a splayed end which could be rubbed against the tooth) or else rags. Either way, these were used to apply a gentle abrasive such as coal dust, salt, brick dust etc. Tasty!

The story goes that in 1780 our rag-maker William Addis was picked up in Spitalfields and thrown into Newgate prison for causing a riot. People from the East End did that sort of thing apparently. Anyway, he was bored, and a bit fed up of rubbing his teeth with an old rag and a spot of brick dust when he thought he would come up with a better solution: modern hygiene was just around the corner. We are led to believe that he saved a piece of bone found in his prison meal, drilled half a dozen small holes in one end, and, inspired at seeing a broom standing in the corner of his cell, decided to thread bristles though the holes (“Guard, be so good as to go and fetch me the bristles from a Siberian boar, there’s a good chap”). The bristles were then glued or wired into place.

Early brushes, courtesy of the Addis website.

Now I am sure that Addis did all this, but not so convinced that he did it while in prison. For a start, hand drills are hard to come by in a prison cell, as is glue or metal wire for fixing the afore-mentioned boar bristles. Much more likely: Addis had a eureka moment and as soon as he got out of jail he experimented with materials until he ended up with a serviceable brush, in all probability using horse hair.

Later experiments involved badger hair, but the most efficacious was apparently hair from the Siberian boar or any other animal from the frozen North with a suitable strong stubble.

Imbued with a zeal to spread the word about oral hygiene (and to make a buck) Addis then started making the brushes commercially from his premises in Whitechapel in East London. He formed a company in 1780 and the brushes were an immediate success. It is said that initially he supplied them through his trade contacts in the book industry (“Buy my book and get a free toothbrush”). Whatever, the sales pitch worked and word soon got around that here was something of a ‘must have’ product. Other manufacturers quickly joined the band-wagon, cashing in on the problems of dental decay caused by the huge increase in the consumption of sugar.

This is borne out by my ancestor’s own records – I have some of his shopping lists in which he mentions buying “14 lbs of moist sugar” and blow me, only six weeks later he sent off for another 28 pounds! With a sweet tooth like that no wonder he needed to brush his teeth well ! In fairness, much of it went in making currant wine, but you get the picture….

In 1787 (William Addis would have been 53 by then) Mrs Addis presented him with a son, whom he called William. It was William Mk II who was later to succeed his father in the business, and expand it when it moved to larger premises at Radnor Street, Hoxton, where he employed sixty workers mostly on the making of the bone handles. Quantities of ox and bullock thigh bones would be bought from the butchers, minus the ends (which were sold off to be cut into discs by the button makers). The bones, often a couple of feet long, would be boiled, cleaned and cut up length-wise to make strips which were then cut to length to make the four different sizes: Gents, Ladies, Child’s and Tom Thumb. The handles would then be shaped to create the head, which was then drilled with holes to hold the bristles.

At this stage in the manufacturing process (and apparently there were some 53 separate stages) the blanks would then be sent out for ‘filling’ i.e. securing tight bundles of bristles together, threading them through the drilled holes, and cutting them to the required length.

Rather than have a single large factory (all those nasty overheads!) William Addis followed a system used by many other trades (weaving, laundry etc.) – he farmed out the filling process to women working from their homes in Spitalfields and Whitechapel, and paid them on a piecework basis. In other words the women would be paid according to how many brushes they produced, but would have to supply their own tools and material up front. From the company’s viewpoint it was great – lower overheads and if the goods were not deemed ‘up to the mark’, no payment was made.

Advertisement, from the Addis website.

For the true connoisseur the hair used was badger, but Addis sourced pig, boar and sows bristles from as far away as Russia, Poland, Bulgaria and France.

In 1845 William Addis II moved production to larger premises in Herbert Street. Life carried on profitably and in much the same way for nearly a century, when in 1935 Wallace Hume Carothers of DuPont came up with the a molten polymer called nylon. Another eureka moment for the Addis family, now trading as Wisdom – they did a deal with ICI (the UK licensees of DuPont) and eventually used the polymer to make an entirely synthetic brush, complete with nylon bristles. Wisdom’s own site suggests that wartime rationing, whereby bones were always used in the home to be boiled down to make nutritious soups, stews etc. was the final death knell for the bone handle.

Wisdom toothbrushes can therefore claim to be part of a tradition going back over 225 years, even though the last Addis left the company fifteen years ago.

And what of dental floss? Look to the New Orleans dentist rejoicing by the name of Levi Spear Parmly, who in 1815 recommended to patients that they use strong silk thread between their teeth. The first commercially produced dental floss, using un-waxed silk, was in 1882 while a patent for the product was taken out by Johnson & Johnson in 1898.

And the toothpaste? One of the earliest recipes was from 1780 and involved burnt toast crumbs, Another from that same date calls for a mix to be made using one and a half ounces of dragons blood, the same amount of cinnamon, and an ounce of burnt alum with the mixture being used every other day (presumably too much dragon’s blood was considered to be a bad thing). Other recipes involved ground sea shells, cuttlefish and china, to which was added bicarbonate of soda and borax powder to produce a foaming effect.

Immediately after World War II, I remember toothpaste didn’t come in tubes – it was called dentifrice and came in tins, as a hard cake of powder which had to be worked with a moistened toothbrush. Today our toothpastes contain a myriad of ingredients: quite apart from the 20% to 40% which is plain water! So we have abrasives, fluoride, and detergents. Things called surfactants, bacterial agents, flavorants and re-mineralizers may be included, as well as strontium chloride or potassium to reduce sensitivity. And if you want to minimize the formation of tartar throw in a dollop of Sodium polyphosphate for good measure. Not sure about all that – I think I may just stick to powdered snail shells or a nice bit of brick dust…

May 272012

In an idle moment I found myself wondering about glassware. My ancestor kindly bestowed upon me a veritable museum of his everyday items – his chairs, his books, his silver cutlery, even his brass bed-warmer, but not a single piece of glass. Perhaps not surprising given the passage of time, but there again his shell collection has lasted unscathed, and it would have been nice to have the odd decanter and a dozen glasses…

I gave the matter more thought when I read his diary entry about having a quarter pipe of port delivered from London. Research tells me that there are rather a lot of bottles in a pipe – 550 litres is one estimate, whereas another refers to 48 cases of 12 (75cc) bottles. Either way, it seems to me that you need a prodigious thirst, a decent sized wine cellar, and a considerable number of bottles and decanters to cope with that volume of wine (137 one litre bottles!). Besides, the quarter pipe was in addition to the home-made currant wine he bottled off each year, and the ‘Mountain Wine’ he bought, or the ‘coniac’ for special occasions.

Richard regularly had casks of wine sent down on the wagon (what an inappropriate expression!)  in the latter years of the Eighteenth Century and then sent back the empty cask by return. So, on 31st December 1797 he mentions paying the carrier Mr Ward for “a small cask of 6 gallons”, charged for by weight at 6d per gallon i.e. three shillings for delivery.

I found it immensely reassuring to read that Richard was able to spend three times more on wine than he did on his taxes – at least he did until Income Tax hit him rather hard in 1800 ! His list of household expenses for 1797 shows a figure of £8/3/5 for wine and only  £2/8/ 3  for taxes. What a man! What a constitution! You try doing that 200 years later….

Mind you, even though the household was prodigiously generous, often noting casks of wine sent round to friends etc, there still seems to have been a lot left over for home consumption. Tantalisingly I have no idea if this consumption of alcohol was responsible for the sad litany of occasions when Richard noted that his dear wife fell over.

It just goes to show, with antecedents like that what hope is there for me staying sober and upright?

But back to glassware. Richard obviously had access to bottles for bottling off his wines – presumably looking like this one from the Museum of London’s collection and having a date of between 1771 and 1800.

But what of the decanters? In this I am indebted to the most excellent website belonging to Laurie Leigh Antiques

They are based in Stow on the Wold, the nearest town to where Richard lived, so I suspect he would have known their premises in Church Street well. They have these splendid decanters, described as being a “pair of Georgian barrel-shaped decanters with three plain neck rings over a band of engraved festoons, bows and pendants. Moulded target stoppers. Circa 1800.”

But I rather hope that Richard would have had the good taste (and the money) to go for the “Rare Georgian mallet-shaped decanter gilded with label for ‘LISBON’ surrounded by fruiting vines and scrollwork suspended by a chain. Cut disc stopper gilded en suite. Atelier of James Giles, London. Circa 1770”


What I find curious is that my offspring did not buy me it as a Christmas present – it cannot have been the price which put them off, a mere £4750, and yet I seem to recall that they chose to purchase some socks for me instead!


And what of the actual glasses? For my money I would go for a dozen of these at £375 each. Each is described as “Fine Georgian goblet with ovoid bowl decorated with large stars and festoons of ‘sprig and oval’ over basal cut facets, on stem cut with hexagonal hollow facets. Circa 1780”.





Or perhaps Richard would have preferred a “Lovely Georgian wine glass with trumpet-shaped bowl finely engraved with flowers, foliage and scrollwork, on multispiral airtwist stem. Circa 1750”.



Beautiful indeed, but I personally prefer something chunkier, like the “Rare Georgian baluster dram glass with round funnel bowl with basal tear on teared stem with inverted baluster knop and basal flattened knop on folded foot. Circa 1720.

Height: 4 inches. Price: £2400.00”

Even though it is only four inches high, that is a beautiful glass!



Again, for my money (though come to think of it, it is Richard buying these) I would go for something really delicate like the “Lovely Georgian Newcastle baluster goblet with round funnel bowl finely engraved with birds, flowers foliage and scrollwork, on stem with annular knop over elongated inverted baluster knop.

Circa 1730. Height: 7 inches. Price: £2850.00.”


Whatever, these glasses look exquisite and I look forward to calling in on Laurie Leigh’s emporium when I am next in the Cotswolds. Cheers my dears!


May 242012

In the Eighteenth Century we seemed to veer from slavishly following French taste and fashion in all things, to ridiculing them as chattering scrawny monkeys! The French Revolution gave English satirists the chance to be more vitriolic in their ridicule. I like these Gillray prints (shown courtesy of The Fitzwilliam Museum).

The split-screen format gives Gillray the ability to compare and contrast – French Liberty (the liberty to starve, as shown by the sans culotte munching on raw onions while sitting in front of the fire) with British Slavery ( a rotund and clearly well-fed John Bull stuffing his face with roast beef while complaining about the tyranny of high taxation).

Here is another Gillray, from 1794. No attempt here to show French fashion  – instead we recoil at the ugly brutishness of the new ruling elite, where the lower orders have seized  control.

 Gillray expresses his horror at the overthrow of Monarchy and Church in this 1793 cartoon, entitled “The Zenith of French Glory  – the Pinnacle of Liberty” in which the revolutionary sans culotte gets a better view of the guillotining of Louis XVI by sitting in all his glory atop the  contraption used for hanging the clergy.

At least when Napoleon came to power Gillray had a specific person he could ridicule (both on account of his stature, and his monstrous hat). Here he shows Napoleon and Talleyrand turning out Gingerbread Kings from the bread oven so that their master-plan for control of Europe can be realized:

James Gillray was born in 1757 and died in 1815.

May 232012

Dr Franz Mesmer

If Richard was in the astonished audience watching Mozart, the eight year old child-prodigy, perform in London in 1764 would he have been mesmerized at the skills of the young Wolfgang Amadeus? If Richard went to see Daniel Mendoza box Richard Humphries in 1790 would he have marvelled at the mesmeric style of boxing, which Mendoza himself called “side-stepping”, (darting to one side, ducking, blocking, and, all in all, avoiding punches through speed and quick reactions)?

No, most unlikely , because ‘mesmerize’ and ‘mesmeric’ are words which owe their existence to an Austrian doctor called Mesmer and there is no evidence to show that his surname was used either as a basis for a verb or as an adjective before 1800.

The Oxford Dictionary gives these definitions:

Mesmeric: Pertaining to, characteristic of, producing or produced by mesmerism.

Mesmerism: the doctrine or system popularized by Mesmer according to which a hypnotic state, usually accompanied by a insensibility to pain, and muscular rigidity, can be induced by an influence (at first known as animal magnetism) exercised by an operator over the will and nervous system of the patient.

Franz Anton Mesmer was born near Lake Constance on 23 May 1734 and lived until 5 March 1815. In 1759 he attended Vienna University and a few years later published a dissertation entitled ‘De planetarum influxu in corpus humanum’ (‘On the Influence of the Planets on the Human Body’). He was convinced that there was an energy flow, which he believed was a type of magnetism, running through all living creatures. He surmised that it was blockages to this flow which caused illness.

It must be remembered that magnetism was the new ‘big thing’ in science. Mesmer distinguished his magnetism, which he termed animal magnetism, from planetary magnetism and mineral magnetism (such as could be found in lodestones). He would experiment by bleeding patients and then running a magnet over the wound, noting that this would staunch the flow. Later he experimented with waving a wooden ‘wand’ over the cut and achieved the same result. But he did not consider that the waving of the stick to and fro caused hypnosis (indeed the concept of hypnosis had not been articulated until 1843 when James Braid, a Scottish physician, coined the word).

Dr Mesmer's Paris salon

Instead he thought that the wand and laying on of hands demonstrated ‘animal magnetism’ at work. In this he was much influenced by the work of Father Gasser, an Austrian priest who was, unwittingly, a great hypnotist. Mesmer studied Gassner’s work and carried out his own experiments but found himself up against a large amount of opposition and ridicule. He headed for Paris, reasoning that the inhabitants would be far more receptive to new ideas. He was right, and he quickly became famous. To start with he would treat patients individually, but realized that he could make more money if he treated people as a group.

Patients in a row under the magnetized oak

He used two different approaches: in one he sat his patients beneath the branches of a ‘magnetized’ oak tree, while those seeking an indoor treatment were crowded in around a baquet or magnetized tub.

An English physician who witnessed the scene around the baquet wrote:

“In the middle of the room is placed a vessel of about a foot and a half high which is called here a “baquet”. It is so large that twenty people can easily sit round it; near the edge of the lid which covers it, there are holes pierced corresponding to the number of persons who are to surround it;

Mesmer’s baquet

into these holes are introduced iron rods, bent at right angles outwards, and of different heights, so as to answer to the part of the body to which they are to be applied. Besides these rods, there is a rope which communicates between the baquet and one of the patients, and from him is carried to another, and so on the whole round. The most sensible effects are produced on the approach of Mesmer, who is said to convey the fluid by certain motions of his hands or eyes, without touching the person. I have talked with several who have witnessed these effects, who have convulsions occasioned and removed by a movement of the hand…”

A slightly more detailed description is given in Issue 21 of the journal Cabinet (Spring 2006) by Christopher Turner:    “….a group of patients would sit or stand around this device in such a way as to press the afflicted areas of their bodies against these moveable metal wishbones and, bound to the instrument by the ropes, would link fingers to complete an “electric” circuit. The atmosphere in which these sessions took place was heavy with incense and séance-like; the music of a glass harmonica …. provided a haunting soundtrack, and thick drapes, mirrors, and astrological symbols decorated the opulent, half-lit room.

Franz Anton Mesmer, the legendary Viennese healer, hypnotist, and showman, would enter this baroque salon of his own invention wearing flamboyant gold slippers and a lilac silk robe. He would prowl around the expectant, highly charged circle, sending clients into trances with his enthralling brown-eyed stare. By slowly passing his hands over patients’ bodies, or with a simple flick of his magnetized wand, Mesmer would provoke screams, fits of contagious hysterical laughter, vomiting, and dramatic convulsions. These effects were considered cathartic and curative. When a patient’s seizures became so exaggerated as to be dangerous or disruptive, Mesmer’s valet, Antoine, would carry him or her to the sanctuary of a mattress-lined “crisis room” where the screams would be muffled.”
Conventional physicians were alarmed at the success enjoyed by Mesmer – and in 1784 petitioned the French King to convene a board of inquiry. The board included the French chemist Lavoisier, the American inventor/diplomat Benjamin Franklin and the French scientist Dr Guillotin. They tested Mesmer’s theories and dismissed them as nonsense – concluding that if patients got better it was not because of ‘animal magnetism’ but auto-suggestion. Patients got better because they wanted to be better.

Mesmer’s reputation was in tatters. His patients kept away and he became mired in lawsuits and libel cases. Eventually he was forced to leave Paris for Switzerland, where he lived in relative obscurity until his death in 1815. But he deserves to be remembered – he may not have known that he was experimenting with hypnotism, but his work enabled later research to be made into the way the human body could sometimes heal itself  when the subject was put into a trance-like state. He pioneered hypnotic therapy and certainly deserved his very own gold medal.


May 222012

It has to be said: the French cartoonists gave as good as they got from the likes of Richardson and Gillray.

I like this etching, dated 1816, showing two English soldiers walking in an effeminate manner, arm in arm. One is a corpulent John Bullish figure, his belly hanging out, and the other dragging his sword along the ground, wears an ill-fitting jacket. This etching, and the following ones, are shown courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum.










This print, dated two years earlier, reflects the French perception of the English as being more fond of their horses than their wives: there has been an accident and both horse and female rider are injured. The English husband rushes to attend …. the horse.And just to show that the French thought English dining manners a trifle strange (especially by sending the ladies from the room after the food has been consumed, so that they could drink to excess) here is a splendid print. So there we have it: the English were renowned drunken p*ss artists. A Frenchman would, of course, have preferred to have spent time with the ladies than in the company of other men! The English males love each other, then their horses, and then their women, in that order!


May 212012

Today the spotlight is turned not on a well-educated man, or a wealthy daughter with aristocratic connections, but on a girl who was amongst the poorest of the poor; who in many ways led a miserably hard and short life; who could barely read and write, and yet was someone who amazed the scientific world in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Her name was Mary Anning, born in Lyme Regis in Dorset on 21st May 1799. She cannot be said to have had an auspicious start in life. She was one of ten children – but eight died in childhood. An elder sister had already been called Mary but she had perished in a fire when her clothes were ignited from some burning wood shavings. Our heroine was born five months after this tragic death, and was named Mary in memory of her dead sibling.

Mary had luck, of a sort, on her side. When she was eighteen months old she was being held in the arms of a neighbour called Elizabeth Haskings who was in a group of women watching a travelling show. A storm sprang up and the group took shelter beneath an elm tree, but a bolt of lightning struck the tree, killing three of the women including Elizabeth. Yet Mary was apparently unscathed. Fate had something quite remarkable in store for the young girl…

Mary’s parents were Dissenters, meaning that education opportunities were limited and the family were subject to legal discrimination. A member of the Congregationalist Church, she attended Sunday School and here learned the rudiments of reading and writing. The Congregational Church, unlike the Anglican Church, attached great importance to education, particularly for young girls, and she was encouraged in her development by the pastor Revd James Wheaton. Her prized possession was apparently a copy of the Dissenters’ Theological Magazine and Review in which the good Reverend had apparently written two articles; one reiterated the importance of understanding that the world was created by God in seven days, and the other, somewhat curiously, suggested that a study of the new science of geology was to be encouraged.

Father was a carpenter and cabinet maker and business was tough. Even worse, her father died when Mary was eleven, leaving the family without any apparent means of support.

After the father’s death the destitute family eked a living finding fossils along what is now termed the Jurassic coast in Dorset. In 1811 Mary’s elder brother Joseph found a fossilized skull of what was thought to be a crocodile protruding from the crumbling cliffs of Blue Lias. Mary was given the task of slowly exposing the ancient creature, uncovering not just the skull but 60 vertebrae. It was difficult work, scrambling to reach the exposed rock face, at risk from the tides and rock falls, but the young girl showed an aptitude for the work. Besides, there were rewards: the skeleton was bought by the local Lord of the Manor called Henry Hoste Henley for £23. He in turn sold it to a private collector called William Bullock, and he exhibited it in London with the rest of his fossil collection in his Museum of Natural Curiosities. In 1819 it was bought as a ‘crocodile in a fossil state’ by the British Museum, for £45. The creature was eventually called Ichthyosaurus (‘fish lizard’) by the scientists Henry de la Beche and William Conybeare. It was the first specimen of Ichthyosaurus ever recorded, and both men went on to make their name on the back of Mary’s efforts.

The find was to change Mary’s life and, in time, her studies of anatomy, geology, paleontology and scientific illustration were to propel her to considerable fame (but never fortune). The world of scientific discovery was not just dominated by men, it was dominated by Anglicans, people of good education and usually privilege. An ill-educated, impecunious, girl from her background was never going to find acceptance easy.

She did however have supporters. Her big break came in 1820. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch had previously got to know Mary and her brother Joseph and had bought a number of items from them. He decided to auction off some of these specimens and the sale generated huge interest from all over the country and indeed throughout Europe. The specimens were sold for £400, a huge sum at the time, and the generous Lieutenant-Colonel handed the entire proceeds over to Mary.


In time she became the focus of attention – not just collectors and scientists would visit her tiny beach-front shop, but also socialites keen to see and speak with this witty, knowledgeable but poorly-educated woman.


Throughout the 1820’s and 30’s she hammered away, discovering the long-necked plesiosaurus or sea dragon in 1823, a ‘flying dragon’ i.e. the pterodactyl (in 1828) and hundreds, upon hundreds of other fossils. Squaloraia a cross between a shark and a ray, was discovered in 1829. In the winter of 1830, she found a new, large-headed Plesiosaurus, and sold it for £210. She became an expert on the delightful subject of bezoar stones (now known as coprolites, that is to say, fossilised faeces!). She also proved that belemnite fossils contained fossilised ink sacs, by grinding up the fossilised remains and mixing them with water to produce an inky substance similar to sepia ink in squids. Her brother Joseph demonstrated this with his drawing of one of Mary´s fossils, shown here.

She helped show the astonished world what marine life looked like in the Jurassic period, some 140 to 200 million years ago, before mammals ruled the earth. Scientists such as Henry de la Beche helped her financially when he handed to her the proceeds of sale from his engraving entitled Duria Antiquior, a more ancient Dorset – a scene of prehistoric life based upon fossils which she had found and identified.



Not everyone accepted her without question: the French anatomist Georges Cuvier dismissed one of her finds as a fake, but Mary was able to refute the allegation of forgery and, in fairness, Cuvier acknowledged his error and became a fan of hers. For some, they simply couldn’t bring themselves to give credit to the achievements of a mere woman – and a poorly educated one at that. Even her own gender seemed amazed at her skill and knowledge, as in this diary entry, made in 1824, by Lady Harriet Sivester, after visiting Mary Anning:

“. . . the extraordinary thing in this young woman is that she has made herself so thoroughly acquainted with the science that the moment she finds any bones she knows to what tribe they belong. She fixes the bones on a frame with cement and then makes drawings and has them engraved. . . It is certainly a wonderful instance of divine favour – that this poor, ignorant girl should be so blessed, for by reading and application she has arrived to that degree of knowledge as to be in the habit of writing and talking with professors and other clever men on the subject, and they all acknowledge that she understands more of the science than anyone else in this kingdom.”

Ah, so that was it: Divine favour, not skill and hard work ….

For years she carried on chipping away at rocks with her hammer, accompanied by her faithful dog Troy, who always appears beside her in paintings of the day. Eventually in 1833 Troy was killed in a rock-fall when the tide undermined the ledge he was standing on, but Mary was unharmed. She was however distraught at the loss of her constant companion. She knew only too well the irony that it was the really high tides in winter which revealed the fossil deposits, just as it was the same tides which made the rock face unstable and liable to collapse.

Hers was not to be a long and happy life. She died of breast cancer at the age of 47 on 9th March 1847. In her lifetime success and recognition evaded her. She had been barred from admission to the Geological Society on account of her gender (women were not admitted to their ranks until 1904). At one stage she wrote “The world has used me so unkindly, I fear it has made me suspicious of everyone” and only one journal ever published anything from her – and that a letter to the editor, not an article. And one, only one, other geologist named a specimen after her in her lifetime, when the Swiss-American naturalist Louis Agassiz named two fossil fish after her, Acrodus anningiae and Belenstomus anningiae.

The gravestone marking where Mary & her brother are buried.

In fairness to the Geographical Society they did help her financially through her final illness. She was buried in St Michael’s Church in Lyme Regis.

The Mary Anning window

Recognition came after her death: three years later the Geographical Society paid for a stained glass window at the church in her honour. The inscription reads “This window is sacred to the memory of Mary Anning of this parish, who died 9 March AD 1847 and is erected by the vicar and some members of the Geological Society of London in commemoration of her usefulness in furthering the science of geology, as also of her benevolence of heart and integrity of life.”

Finally, more than a hundred and fifty years after she died, the Royal Society included her in their 2010 list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science. Some might say: better late than never.

Many happy returns of the day, Mary!

Post script: I particularly enjoyed doing this post because my ancestor Richard Hall was an avid fossil collector. I still have some of the items he collected along with his booklet of fossil drawings. I especially liked the way that he believed that the ammonites were actually long worms, curled up in death, with their mouths in the centre of the spiral, turned to stone. More details appear in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman.


May 202012

It is about time I did justice to those enormous head dresses which dominated the latter part of the 18th Century – those monstrous edifices which defied gravity and good taste in equal measure! I remember the absurd millinery examples favoured by Gertrude Shilling – hers were dowdy skull caps in comparison!

First let us look at these two charming ladies appearing facing each other in a cut-away picture (copyright of British Museum) of a carriage known as a vis-à-vis. They are forced to sit on the floor of the coach because their hair pieces, adorned with what appears to be fruit and veg and plumed feathers, are too high to fit under the roof of the vehicle. The roof of the carriage is ornamented with two ducal coronets. The engraving is dated 25 May 1776.

Twenty years later the fashion for wigs may have moved on, but the range of choices facing the lady who wished to stay ahead in the fashion stakes was huge: as evidenced by this cartoon from 1798 illustrating women trying on their wigs.

And of course no two women look the same in the same outfit, as shown in this parody by Gillray dated 1794 (also from the British Museum). But if we are into ostrich feathers, how about this lovely print of a phaeton, whose small body is raised on springs high above the wheels. It is drawn by four absurdly small horses being driven by a lady standing up and wielding an enormously long whip; next to her sits a hatless man terrified out of his mind, his hands held up, his face contorted with fear.  On the side of the carriage is a crest – a stag’s head in an oval, with the motto “Fashion”.

Beneath the design is engraved;

“Talk not to me Sir of yr old Fashion’d rules,

E’en laugh’d at by Children, the Joke of the Schools:

They might do for yr meek minded Matrons of old,

Who knew no use of Spirit but thier Servants to scold.

But for me Z——ds & Blood am not I fit to command,

I can swear Sir, & What’s more drive four Horses in Hand.” 29 June 1781

The British Museum suggests that the lady may be Agnes Townshend, a noted courtesan, known as vis-à-vis Townshend, who drove her coach and four all over the country. Personally I favour the Lewis Walpole Library suggestion that the lady in question is the Duchess of Devonshire (hence the ducal coronet). Besides why would vis-à-vis Townsend be driving a phaeton as opposed to a vis-à-vis?

While on the subject of the gorgeous Georgiana, you remember the scene in The Duchess where her wig is set alight by a candle? I rather like this Rowlandson take on the risks of self-immolation entitled a Doleful Disaster, or Miss Fubby Fatarnmin’s Wig Caught Fire.

Gillray meanwhile mocks the penny pinching ladies of fashion who seek to save a guinea by missing off the  wig powder:

And unless I am very much mistaken, the hairdresser on the left of the picture is a bit of a ringer for the picture of the French hairdresser running to get to his next customer, who featured in my blog 2 days ago:

On the other hand, I think I would prefer to have the French hairdresser cut my locks than this one of the English Village Barber,whose board advertises not only categories of wigs but also food and drink, washing aids, and cures for various ailments: “BOBS, BOB-Majors SCRATCHES [plain wigs] & other wigs made here, also SAUSAGES, WASHBALLS[soap] Black Puddings Scotch Pills, Powder for the ITCH, RED HERRINGS, BREECHES BALLS & small BEER by the maker

Mind you, hairdressers have never been thought of as entirely trustworthy – hence this lovely warning entitled The Boarding School Hairdresser. Note the leg placed  indecently between the girls thighs!  Still. she looks happy…            .

Men of course had to suffer a full head shave if they wanted their wigs to fit snugly, and without head lice causing endless itching! Hence, in this delightful etching by the splendidly named Mr Bunbury we see the hapless man getting lathered up in The Shaver and the Shavee:

 But let us return to the full horrors of the high fashion wig as worn by the ladies of taste and discernment, and at the same time have a subtle dig at the French who were always considered just a bit too far off the graph when it came to subtlety!

Dated 1771 it shows the lady bending forward and terrifying the living daylights

out of the cat, dog and parrot – and the hapless male!



















And to end with, a couple of quite quite delicious prints of dubious taste (all brought about because I have an appointment to have my hair cut this week!:


May 182012

A quick follow-up to yesterday’s post on 18th Century muffs. First, a delightful image of a young woman called  Madame Molée-Reymond by Vigee Le Brun  (the original portrait is in the Louvre).

And. if we return to the subject of muffs in satire, a curious cartoon entitled “The Fox Muff” dated 1787, ridiculing Charles James  Fox, 1749-1806. It comes courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale.

I also came across this print (below right) of The Peasant of the Alps (courtesy of Grosvenor Prints) which is suitably absurd, and, combining this post with my blog about how the English view the French, a rather nice etching entitled “A French hairdreser” which according to the excellent Lewis Walpole Library site, reflects the fact that by the turn of the century there were some fifty thousand hairdressers in Britain, the best of them French. I certainly wouldn’t trust him with my barnet (well, if I had one…)!













And finally, an image from Christie’s auction house: “Portrait of Louise Henriette de Bourbon, Duchesse de Chartres and Duchesse d’Orléans (1726-1759) in a fur trimmed cloak and muff. French School.” Nice muff, shame about the face…



May 172012

A couple of  prints from the British Museum, so I must acknowledge their copyright:

The Muff was a fashion accessory which got larger and larger throughout the 1700’s. They clearly went to a huge size, and satirists were never slow to ridicule  fashion.

And where would you buy your muff? From a muff shop of course!








This print is entitled “Such things are” and  contains the caption ‘That SUCH THINGS ARE most strange yet Common. What things? For sure they are not Women’

The muff, a cylinder of fur or fabric, was in fact worn by both men and women in the 18th century.












This is a splendid  silk one (from the Metropolitan Museum of Art) dated 1780.

and another, made of feathers and fur, from the same source and stated as being from ‘the third quarter of the eighteenth century’.