English gentlemen developed a liking for moustaches early in the 19th century. They thought facial hair improved their appearance of masculinity. This belief continued until the First World War, when it was compulsory for officers to wear a moustache.
By daveyll (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons
The Victorian moustache required a certain level of maintenance. Grease or wax was an everyday item in the Victorian shopping basket, and was used to smooth and shape the facial hair. Rudyard Kipling quotes a woman who described kissing a man who did not wax his moustache as “like eating an egg without salt.”
The Englishman enjoyed a nice cup of tea. This led him to consider ways to avoid wetting his facial hair when drinking. The result was the ingenious moustache cup. A ledge of porcelain with a gap between the ledge and the side of the cup allowed him to sip without melting the wax.
The first known example of a moustache cup was made around 1858 by Harvey Adams and Company of Longton, Staffordshire. Although the moustache’s popularity wained in the 20th Century, I remember my own grandfather (who retained his facial hair to the end) using a moustache cup in the 1960s.
I was delighted, as a left-hander, to discover the existence of left-handed cups, although they were naturally less common that the right-handed version. The Victorians left nothing to chance.
Language geeks may be interested to know that there is a word for the study or art of beards. I plan to drop Pogonology into my conversation soon. The word, which appears to combine the french pogon with the greek logia, is as rare as the left-handed moustache cup itself.
It’s difficult not to become a tiny bit obsessed with Victorian (ahem) personal habits and conveniences. With their combination of growing modesty (the myth of covering chair legs, keeping ankles hidden) and engineering talent, they developed some shining solutions.
Here’s a restored Victorian public toilet at Rothesay, in Scotland.
By Jonathan Nélis via Wikimedia Commons
These are for gentlemen, as you see. Just look at the delicate mosaic tiles on the floor and the delightful system of pipes leading from the overhead cystern. Could anything be more charming? I also think there’s something rather friendly about those central urinals.
By Tim Niblett via Wikimedia Commons
In 1851, at the time of the Great Exhibition, when large numbers were expected to flock to London, a rise in the number of street conveniences became necessary. These were not universally popular. The Times reported a complaint made against an early portable urinal set in a London Cheapside street, and another near The Monument, as they were painted in colours that were “too conspicuous” and surrounded by daily crowds. The inventor, Mr Davis, was required to move the vehicles to a vacant space of ground.
The price of entrance to the early urinal was 1d (one penny), leading to the expression “to spend a penny.”
If you’re fascinated, like me, have a look at a family privy here.
Lee Jackson’s Victorian London website is crammed with information and original source material.
What areas of Victorian life would you like to know more about?
This pocket watch, made in 1886, converts to a camera. Described as The Lancaster Watch Camera when it was sold by Bonhams, it contains four different catches that have to be released before the camera mechanism could be used.
By brett jordan via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons
So, maybe not the most useful piece of equipment for the Victorian James Bond, but what a fabulous item.
The first cameras
Although the camera obscura, a dark room with a hole in one wall that allowed an inverted image to appear on the opposite wall, was known in the days of Socrates, it was not until 1835 that the first daguerrotype was produced by L.J.M. Daguerre and Nicephore Niepce.
In 1841, Fox Talbot patented a process that produced more than one copy of a photograph, allowing the Victorians to enjoy the luxury of family photographs. Each exposure required half a minute, so most photographs are carefully posed. This has helped to suggest that the Victorians themselves were stiff and formal. Of course, they were nothing of the kind. They enjoyed all kinds of sports including cricket, cycling, croquet and golf and loved a little humour: Punch magazine began in 1841.
By Linda Spashett Storye book via Wikimedia Commons
Much of Victorian wealth was built on the mechanisation of labour, especially in the North of England. At the beginning of the 19th Centurt, looms were set up in houses, predating the factories that later used water wheels or steam to power the looms. By the 1870s, hand weaving had almost died out.
More than half the weavers were women, and young children often missed school to work at the loom.
Only men were allowed to work in the mule-room, where the cotton was prepared for spinning, because the work was hot and dirty, so men tended to strip off. In addition, the Victorians worried that the heat might inflame passions!
Late Victorian steam -powered loom, capable of weaving striped material. By Clem Rutter, Rochester, Kent. (self) via Wikimedia Commons
More on spinning and weaving from John K Walton – University of Central Lancashire on the BBC legacies page.
“The family that eats together, stays together.” Here’s a Victorian variation …
Image by Rodw, via Wikimedia Commons
Think it looks weird? Excuse me. I’ve sat on one of these. It was outside, in the privy, and very cold in winter. At least we also had a “gazunder” in the bedroom: a grown up china potty, called a gazunder because it “goesunder” the bed.
The Radio Times was the best source of paper, but we had to read it quick before tearing it into quarters and stringing the pieces together to hang handily in the privy.
Imagine the conversations you would have while sitting on one of these.
Anyone else remember these?