Claws and Petticoats: The Victorian Lion Queens

In a recent article I wrote about Maccomo, the first black lion tamer in Victorian England. But working with wild cats was not only just for men. Several Victorian women became famous in their own right for braving the lion’s cage. The earliest mention of a female working with wild cats appears in the Liverpool Mercury on 1 August 1845: ‘A Mrs. King, who takes the title of the Lion Queen, has been exhibiting her foolhardiness at Glasgow, by going

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Mask Rage: The Modern-Day White Feather Campaign

From 24 July 2020 to 19 July 2021, it was a legal requirement to wear masks in indoor spaces in England. On the whole, people have adhered to this regulation and now it has become second nature for us to grab a mask, along with our phone, wallet and keys, before leaving the house. However, the law recognises that individuals with certain physical or mental illnesses, impairments or disabilities may not be able to wear masks and are, therefore, exempt.

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“Pull off this lady’s breeches”: The Case of Mary Newell

Little is known about Mary Newell before 1860, and perhaps she might have remained a relatively anonymous woman in mid-nineteenth century England. That is, if not for the events of the autumn of 1861 and her subsequent trial that winter, where her story shared newsprint with one of England’s most galvanizing tragedies.[1] Born in 1839, Mary Newell’s name appears on the April 1861 census record in the household of William J. Barker. Residing with the Barker family at 29 Bessborough

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Crafting in the Classroom: Hands-On Approaches to Victorian Material Culture

This is the third post in the ‘Crafting Communities’ series on JVC Online. See Part One and Part Two. At a virtual roundtable on Victorian material culture held in February 2021, Andrea Korda presented on The Plough, a large-scale print published by London’s Art for Schools Association in 1899 for classroom walls. By large-scale, we mean enormous—five by six feet, to be exact, a height that would tower over most schoolchildren, and even over the teachers, once mounted on a

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Podcasting (and) the Victorians

This is the second post in the ‘Crafting Communities’ series on JVC Online. See Part One and Part Three. When Thomas Edison debuted the phonograph in 1878, he circulated an ambitious list of possible uses. In addition to the reproduction of music, the use we most readily associate with his invention, Edison anticipated the creation of phonographic books for blind people. He also proposed applications with notably less traction, such as phonographic clocks designed to announce meal times. Noteworthy among

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Martini Maccomo, the African Lion King

Of all the different circus disciplines, the one that appears to have been seen as the most ‘exotic’ was that of the lion-tamer. This was man triumphing over nature, and travelling menageries, in which these lion-tamers initially worked, were an embodiment of British imperialism, showing how Britain had dominion over its empire and all that was in it. Big cat shows were also intended to thrill and excite, as the lion-tamer faced nature red in tooth and claw. It fed

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Spotting Wildlife in Arts and Crafts Textiles: The Red Squirrels of Morris & Co.

Red squirrels had reason to be wary of the Victorians. Nineteenth-century culture popularised the animals – they were even kept as pets – but the Victorians also unwittingly caused the decline of the red squirrel population by introducing the rival species, the grey squirrel, to Britain.[1] Today, sciurus vulgaris stands at the centre of an emotionally charged debate about the conservation of native habitats. The red squirrel’s persistent appeal most likely has to do with its endearing looks. But in

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Curry Tales of the Empire

Indian curry is an extraordinarily popular genre of food, visible not only in the shape of curry houses across the world but also as take-aways, frozen curry meals and curry powders sold in grocers’ stores. But what is the history of the Indian curry? Was it Indian to begin with or a colonial imposition evolving from a simplified and over-generalized understanding of local food cultures?  This essay traces the history of Indian curry as we know it today and the

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The Lost Circuses of Victorian Leeds

The Victorian era was the golden age of the circus. By the time that Victoria came to the throne, the circus, as we might recognise it today, was barely seventy years old. Founded in London by Philip Astley in 1768 with displays of horsemanship, military, and trick riding, the circus had expanded rapidly in the following years. Astley travelled throughout England giving performances in many northern towns and cities until he eventually made his way to Dublin. Performances were either

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Crafting Communities: Rethinking Academic Engagement in Pandemic Times and Beyond

This is the first post in the ‘Crafting Communities’ series on JVC Online. See Part Two and Part Three. It is July 2020, the summer of Covid. Libraries are closed. Museums are closed. University courses and conferences have moved online. A small group of Victorianists gathers on Zoom to learn how to make hair art. Led by Vanessa Warne (U of Manitoba), the event is a test run for the upcoming semester, when Vanessa plans to make hair art with

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