Saturday, December 22, 2012

An "impression" on a king

The Chubb lock is something that seems to have been around forever and pondering the origin of the trade name, I came across an odd and amusing statement that is mentioned in the official history here on the company website and with slight variation in other places, such as this statement from a website devoted to Wolverhampton:
The Chubb lock supposedly became popular as a result of the interest generated when the Prince Regent accidentally sat on one which still had the key inserted.
"Prinny" would have made an impression on any chair
It is well known that the Prince Regent (George IV) was almost the size of a brick outhouse, but what was he doing sitting on a lock in the first place? What were the circumstances?
The Oxford Dictionary of Biography is prosaic about the story -

The detector lock rapidly became regarded as the best of its kind, and was recommended by the Admiralty, but the popular legend about its success arising as a direct result of the prince regent’s sitting on it during a visit to the docks is unsubstantiated.

Apocryphal perhaps, but more colourful detail can be found in this Australian newspaper article from 1951 in which the origins and history of the Chubb lock since 1818 were told by a descendant, the Hon. George Chubb. The article varies somewhat from other references but tells more about the episode with the Prince Regent.
Not only did it [the lock] defy the lock pickers, but it also told its owner, in some mute fashion, if an attempt had been made to pick it.
At the same time there was an epidemic of thefts of naval stores at Portsmouth.
George III [sic. IV] heard of Charles Chubb’s lock, and summoned him to Portsmouth for a demonstration (the monarch was at the time living aboard the Royal yacht).
Charles Chubb arrived with his lock, was ushered into a cabin, and instructed to await the arrival of the King. He placed his lock on a nearby chair, and started to wander round the cabin, examining the pictures.
While he was occupied in gazing at the seascapes, King George swept into the cabin and sat down right on top of the lock.
‘It’s an old joke in our family that that lock made such an “impression” on him that he granted us a Royal Warrant, which we’ve had ever since,’ said the Hon. George.
The article also tells how Chubb’s fame was sealed by the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851:
One of the great attractions of the exhibition was the Koh-i-noor diamond. It lay winking and glittering in a fabulous sort of birdcage, mounted on a pedestal-safe.
This strange contraption (reported Family Herald on May 31, 1851) ‘protects the Koh-in-noor diamond and two smaller diamonds. At night, on the touch of a spring by the custodian, these precious gems sink into a massive iron box of impregnable strength, prepared by Messrs. Chubb, and fall into a pedestal of solid masonry’.
The diamond cage at the Great Exhibition of 1851
Although the company has evolved and moved beyond locks and keys into security generally, everything else you might want to know about the Chubb family, its business in Wolverhamptom, and its locks in general can be found here:

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Napoleon of Sweet Scents

A question on early cosmetics on a recent TV quiz show sent me scurrying to find out about Eugene Rimmel, the founder of Rimmel Cosmetics. 
Image NYPL Digital Gallery
As with an earlier blog about Dison's lace, my search took me on various diversions beyond discovering that the first factory-made mascara, hair dyes and mouthwashes were all pioneered by Rimmel in London from the mid-19th Century. 
The Oxford Dictionary of Biography states that he was born in France in 1820 and served as an apprentice under his father (Hyacinthe Mars Rimmel) in London.
At the early age of 14 he established his own shop and laboratory at Gerrard Street, Soho, later moving to 96 Strand. Other branches were at Cornhill and in Regent Street, as well as in Paris. 
His father was declared bankrupt in 1837 and his partnership with his son was later dissolved, although it is not known whether this was amicable or otherwise.
Rimmel also claimed to be the first perfumer in England to use female labour and he eventually held 10 Royal Warrants including that of Queen Victoria.
Rimmel's "Toilet Vinegars" were very popular throughout the Victorian era and he also specialised in gift packs, scented Valentine cards, cushions and other perfumed objects. 
A case of his perfumery was displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition described in one newspaper ... 
"... at the centre of which is a beautiful little fountain sending forth delicate jets of eau de cologne with which the obliging exhibitor permits ladies to perfume their handkerchiefs". 
The famous French artist Jules Cheret designed for Rimmel
At the 1862 International Exhibition, Rimmel first encountered the pungent essential oils such as Australian eucalyptus and he successfully experimented in using these in toilet soaps and perfumes, although they proved to be a hazard as the Strand premises burned down in May 1875, the fire thought to have started in the huge quantities of these oils and other spirits stored on the premises. 
Rimmel was a great friend of the exiled French author Victor Hugo, often visiting him in his exile in Guernsey, and was fully fluent in English and French as well as various other languages. He translated Shakespeare into French and also wrote the Book of Perfumes and Recollections of the Paris 1867 Exhibition, both of which are profusely illustrated and can be found in various online free book websites.
The "Napoleon of Sweet Scents" as he was known, died in 1887 and his obituary in the Aberdeen Journal had little regard for how he made his money, but focussed almost solely on his altruistic side.
"He was the life and soul of every work which had for its object the amelioration of the condition of the afflicted and the poor."
"He was the most modest as well as the most charitable of men. Though decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honour, and with other insignia, he never wore them in public except when it was compulsory, and whenever possible he suppressed the mention of the honour."
He received this Legion of Honour in March 1872 from the President of the French Republic, not for his contribution to commerce or perfumery, but for founding the French (Shaftesbury) Hospital and other work on behalf of French and other foreigners in London. He also founded the Bureau de Bienfaisance (later Société Française de Bienfaisance) in Poland Street. He set up a fund to support the Society of the Professors of French. 
Although he died in London, Eugene Rimmel was buried in his family's vault at Varenne-sur-Seine.  His sons took over the business and the name continues to the present day, although it is now owned by Coty. Read more here.
This vintage Rimmel mascara currently for sale at Etsy.

The Rimmel name and products can be found all around the world.  A couple of bottles said to be Rimmel from city archaelogical excavations can be seen at the Melbourne Museum.
Bottle 1. Bottle 2.

These images of Rimmel cards from the Fotolibra Collection

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Before you could say "Herman Boaz!"

Following on from research into forgotten female magicians on my other history blog, I came across several advertisements in late 18th/early 19th century newspapers that sent me scurrying for the dictionary.
Back then you didn't go to just some illusion or magic show, you went to an "Hurlophusicon and Thaumaturgick Exhibition" and were amazed by a self-acting Horologium machine powered by means of an Alhadida and a Cathetus and then had your thoughts transferred by Steganographical or Paligenesia operations not to mention experiencing Pixidees Metallurgy you probably would never forget ...
The perpetrator of these fantastically descriptive shows was one Herman Boaz, also known as Sieur ("sir" in Old French) Boaz and although he performed throughout Britain, he seems to have made Scotland his main base.
The Magicpedia entry on him is disappointing - and with inaccurate dates - and seems to conclude he was "small fry", yet the number of advertisements and articles about his exhibitions and displays in newspapers and magazines from 1777 onward would suggest he was very popular. 
Even late in the 19th Century many years after his death, tales or reminiscences by people who met him or saw his fantastic shows were still being published. 
Some of his more bizarre acts included a hen that laid twenty eggs in a row on a table in front of the audience and the withdrawing from the innards of a hot "roasted jigget of mutton" cards on which ladies in the audience had earlier written their thoughts. One wonders what state the cards would have been in?

An early advertisement, Hackney, London, 1788
Well into the 19th Century he was still at it. Cheap One Shilling seats in 1788 had inflated to Two Shillings by 1804 (about £3.40 in modern money).
Note the weird and wonderful words of the many "curious operations" in this next announcement that also included "Pyrotecknomancy with a Variety of Chartomantic Deceptions" in which will be found much to improve the mind, including a "most useful lesson to youth in against the pernicious and fatal consequences of gaming". What a pity there were no movies in those days, as the mind can only boggle at what it was all about!

From Caledonian Mercury, December 6, 1804

Boaz died in straightened circumstances in Edinburgh in his 84th year in January 1821 as this obituary in Blackwoods Magazine relates ...

... and the following is an advertisement for a benefit on January 19, 1821 to raise funds to help Boaz's widow. 

Note actress Mrs W. Barrymore.  No connection however to those other stage Barrymores, as according to Wikipedia on Maurice, the patriarch of the American family, he "borrowed" the surname - probably from the husband of this same Mrs W. Barrymore.

No images can be found of Herman Boaz but other searches have located a Marriage Bond for his marriage to Elizabeth Killick in Surrey in 1774, also a romantic rebus poem on the city of Bath that he wrote to Craftsman Weekly that same month, and a note of his contribution in 1806 of three guineas towards the erection of a pillar to Lord Nelson at Edinburgh. 
There doesn't seem to be any Mrs Boaz listed in the Scotland's People archive and if he had any other descendants, they have done the usual disappearing act.

Some publications:


The second little advertisement attached to this Boaz one from 1801 captured my attention in that it informs me, by permission, Polish Nobleman, Count Boruwlaski, only 3ft 6ins high, 62 years old, is now available to receive company at Mr McRorie's at East Side for only One Shilling. His memoirs in French will cost you another Five bob.  No extra charge for English translation.

After reading his Wikipedia entry and some swift research, I realise I probably walked right past the Count's resting place when visiting Durham Cathedral last year and apparently his little grave can be seen near the main door, marked by a stone only 15 inches square that simply reads "J.B."  

Oh why did I know nothing of you before, dear little Count, you are just one of the reasons why I so love the quirks and serendipitous discoveries while digging in the dust of history.

More on Count Josef Boruwlaksi in Durham here and you can read those five bob memoirs for free at the Internet Archive.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Dison's. Her Majesty's Laceman

Update to previous post. From The London Illustrated News of 18 August 1849:

EXTRAORDINARY BARGAINS, until SEPT. 25th, at DISON’S, Her Majesty’s Laceman; when the shop POSITIVELY CLOSES. The lease being disposed of, it passes into another business. Twenty-seven years of Dison’s occupation of them is enough to guarantee the superiority of the articles left on hand, from which an immense reduction has been made. N.B. No. 237, Regent Street.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Buckingham Blonde Laceman

When researching history in old digitised newspapers, one comes across a plethora of weird and wonderful classifieds that vary from the slightly amusing to the outright hilarious, or even incredulous. If it wasn’t so time-consuming, I’d seriously think about a new blog featuring a collection of these old ads but I’m sure there are many other folk out there already doing similar. Instead, I’ll occasionally just select one at random and see if there is something historically obscure worth investigating in it.

The words in bold type, BY HER MAJESTY’S COMMAND and BRITISH BLONDES caught my eye in one from The Morning Post, of 17 February 1832. My mind racing with inappropriate explanations, I soon realised it was perfectly innocent and a careful reading revealed the Blondes to be a type of lace sold by London lace-maker, Henry Dison.

To learn more, I was off on quite an adventure.

I dipped into the pros and cons of bobbins, and machine-made lace vs. the hand-made variety. I visited (virtually) Honiton, Devon, and the Lace Market in Nottingham.

I found that British industry was in a precarious state in the 1830s and that the royal ladies of the day – Queen Adelaide, the Duchess of Kent and her daughter Princess Victoria (later Queen) - were all great supporters of British manufacture and showed the government up by insisting on the women at court wear British-made clothes.

I even ended up perusing law notices dissolving business partnerships to a trial at Old Bailey resulting in the transportation of an unfortunate Thomas Norrington to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) for robbery.

And this is what started it all:

The advertisement is one of many similar placed in British newspapers in the early to mid 19th Century by lace merchant Henry Dison, either on his own or in partnership with others. 

The relevant London Gazette notice referred to was as follows:
Office of the Vice-Chamberlain to the Queen, Queen’s House, St. James. February 9, 1832.  NOTICE is hereby given, that the Queen's Drawing-Room, on Friday the 24th instant, being for the celebration of Her Majesty's Birthday, no presentations will take place.It is particularly requested, that all Ladies attending the Drawing-Room will appear in dresses of British manufacture.
I wonder how they decided the Ladies were wearing British manufacture when they arrived at the Drawing Room. Did they have to provide labels as evidence? Was a particular lady-in-waiting seconded to check with a magnifier for evidence of Continental as opposed to British lace? What happened to any unfortunate woman who failed to heed the royal decree?

There are a number of engravings and prints available showing Dison’s shop in Regent Street, the originals done by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.  In these from a collection at, if the images are enlarged, the name Dison can clearly be seen over the shop to the right on the corner of Princes Street, bearing the royal warrant and with a couple of loiterers and what looks suspiciously like a woman begging out on the steps. I couldn’t imagine her being tolerated for long by such an up-market establishment!

Another view, with the shop shown in the middle in front of the dome.

What happened to Dison’s - or Henry Dison - eventually? I have yet to find out although the shops of Regent Street have changed countless times since his day. At least it’s all still about fashion, with a Karen Millen store now on the same corner where that woman once sat.

A bit of British Blonde and fashions of the Court ladies who probably frequented Dison's.

Links related to this blog:

From the Old Bailey online - the trial of Thomas Norrington featuring Henry Dison.

Norrington's death sentence was commuted and he was transported to Van Diemen’s Land:

Various on lace-making and the history of:

For the really serious student of lace, check out this booklet produced by Dress & Textiles Specialists in association with the Victoria & Albert Museum

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Waratah by any other name...

With the centenary of the sinking of the Titantic fast approaching and the events on the Costa Concordia still fresh in the mind, I wondered why certain maritime disasters are soon forgotten and others linger on.
Another ship also described as “unsinkable” had its loss centenary in 2009 but didn’t warrant quite the same amount of hysteria (admittedly the ship wasn't as glamorous nor the body count as high as for Titanic) and that was the disappearance of the SS Waratah in 1909. Not even the involvement of famous author Clive Cussler in the search for the vessel has solved the mystery. Other writers and  bloggers, including this excellent detailed website by a South African genealogist tell the story of the ship and its strange disappearance off Durban.

SS Waratah loading at Adelaide shortly before her disappearance. (State Library of South Australia)

A book has also been written by P. J. Smith.

The waratah is the flower emblem of the State of New South Wales and quite a number of vessels have been called Waratah over the years, but it looks as if it was a jinxed name, as can be seen by this list of official listed shipwrecks from the Australian Government environmental website.

Twin screw steamer
Bulli (north), nth of Illawara jetty, ashore
NSW - Illawarra
New South Wales
Sailing vessel
Newcastle, off
NSW - Hunter
New South Wales
Sailing vessel
Rocky Island, Wellesley Group, Gulf of Carpentaria
QLD - Gulf of Carpentaria
Sailing vessel
Near Nornalup
WA - South Coast (Walpole)
Western Australia
Sailing vessel
Off Cable Beach, Broome
WA - North West (Broome Area)
Western Australia
Sailing vessel
Cape Preston
WA - North West (Dampier Area)
Western Australia

But this doesn't show all of them. Disasters involving ships bearing this name go back to at least 1848 when Australian newspapers reported a “Dreadful Shipwreck”, being the loss of the Waratah, bound for Sydney from England, with the loss of thirteen lives, including the commander. It appears the ship got into trouble in a storm near Ushant, off the coast of Brittany, on 19 February with a total loss of all masts. Some of the passengers and crew were rescued by a passing Norwegian vessel, with other crew members left on board. Early in March, the ship "was got ashore at Molene, near Brest with eight men saved, but the cargo much damaged".

Thus, it was somewhat unnerving to read this Melbourne newspaper extract during the investigation following the 1909 disappearance of SS Waratah. Note the rather eerie connection to things going wrong also at Ushant:

W. Sharpe, able seaman, said that in April, 1909, he asked the chief officer of the Waratah for employment, but his answer was, "If anything better offers take it because the ship will be a coffin for some body." He shipped on the Waratah for a voyage to Australia. Off Ushant he noticed that the vessel would roll to leeward, stop, continue the roll, and recover. That was unusual in any ship. ….

One of the very earliest paddle-wheelers in Australia was called Waratah, built 1851 for Hunter Steam Navigation and sold in Shanghai 1862, its ultimate fate unknown.

Tug Waratah
A final happy and positive story is that of the tug Waratah rescued from the scrapheap of history and which is now a proud part of the Sydney Heritage Fleet. Long may she voyage safely on Sydney Harbour!

And ship names aside, there is also a Waratah Bay in Gippsland, Victoria. The Encylopaedia of Australian Shipwrecks lists 15 separate incidents involving foundering, collisions, stranding or sinking taking place in  Waratah Bay with the earliest believed to be an unknown French barque wrecked early in the 19th Century. But that's quite another story.
Waratah Bay

Monday, January 9, 2012

"The wide world for a kingdom, and the saddle for a throne" *

Leading on from the previous post on The Golden Treasury, I started thinking about other narrative poets whose work is now unfashionable.
Much of Rudyard Kipling's poetry is timeless, but there is no getting away from the fact some of it is jingoistic or otherwise seen as controversial by modern eyes. 
The English-born Robert Service is still celebrated in Canada and Alaska but he may be no longer as familiar elsewhere as he once was. 
In Australia, A. B. (Banjo) Paterson and Henry Lawson are still recognisable names but apart from "Waltzing Matilda" and perhaps "Clancy of the Overflow" in the case of the former, it's unlikely younger generations would know much about them or their poems.
Another Australian writer who gained fame for something quite removed from his poetry and who was also born in England was Harry "Breaker" Morant, who was executed by the British during the Boer War. He only remains in the public consciousness due to the successful film of 1980 and a vigorous campaign to have him pardoned.  

And then there is Will H. Ogilvie (William Henry Ogilvie).

From Ogilvie's memoir, "My Life in the Open", 1908

He is often claimed as one of Australia's greatest poets, but spent most of his life in Scotland. He was born in Kelso in 1869 and died in 1963. He actually lived in Australia for only 12 years (where he was coincidentally a great chum of "Breaker" Morant) but swiftly established himself there as a wonderful interpreter of the bush and the drover's life.

A summary of his life and work can be read in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and collections of his poetry are to be found in various sites online and via the Internet Archive

While he is probably more famous for his Australian bush verse, for me personally with family heritage in the region, there is nothing more goose-bump-inducing than his lyrical poems about the historical Border region of Scotland and England included in the collection, "The Land we Love". 

Having recently experienced the sacred beauty of Dryburgh Abbey and paid homage at the tomb of Sir Walter Scott, I was pleased to discover an Ogilvie poem that so accurately touches on the atmosphere of the place:

... Here in the stillness sleeps the Bard,
Where the shadows are flung from the Eildons three,
Hush! Step light, lest the peace be marred
Of the sweet spot's silent witchery

With footfall soft as the wind in the tree,
And light as the dew on the bluebell's breast,
Come, come to the rail of his tomb and see
Where the Wizard of Old Romance takes rest ...

And I know of no other poem that conveys that "old romance" of the legendary Border Reivers as fittingly as Ogilvie's highly evocative, "The Raiders".


Last night a wind from Lammermoor came roaring up the glen
With the tramp of trooping horses and the laugh of reckless men
And struck a mailed hand on the gate and cried in rebel glee:
"Come forth. Come forth, my Borderer, and ride the March with me!"

I said, "Oh!  Wind of Lammermoor, the night's too dark to ride,
And all the men that fill the glen are ghosts of men that died!
The floods are down in Bowmont Burn, the moss is fetlock-deep;
Go back, wild Wind of Lammermoor, to Lauderdale - and sleep!"

Out spoke the Wind of Lammermoor, "We know the road right well,
The road that runs by Kale and Jed across the Carter Fell.
There is no man of all the men in this grey troop of mine
But blind might ride the Borderside from Teviothead to Tyne! 

The horses fretted on their bits and pawed the flints to fire,
The riders swung them to the South full-faced to their desire;
"Come!" said the Wind from Lammermoor, and spoke full scornfully,
"Have ye no pride to mount and ride your father's road with me?"

A roan horse to the gate they led, foam-flecked and travelled far,
A snorting roan that tossed his head and flashed his forehead star;
There came the sound of clashing steel and hoof-tramp up the glen
... And two by two we cantered through, a troop of ghostly men!

I know not if the farms we fired are burned to ashes yet!
I know not if the stirks grew tired before the stars were set!
I only know that late last night when Northern winds blew free,
A troop of men rode up the glen and brought a horse for me!

Memorial cairn to Will H. Ogilvie in the Scottish Borders

Another view of the cairn and its location can be found here.

While researching this topic, I came across a couple of most encouraging news stories regarding the inaugural Will Ogilvie Night held very recently in Eckford, Scottish Borders. It is great to know that he hasn't been forgotten and that there is in existence a Will Ogilvie Memorial Society that has plans to bring Ogilvie back to the A-list of both Scots and Australian poets where he belongs.

The Cheviots
* From the poem inscribed on Ogilvie's memorial.