Thursday, 18 December 2014


What could be more festive than a Christmas white with snow and ice? What could be more magical than the photographs of snow flakes which were made in the nineteenth century by Wilson Alwyn Bentley?

Born in 1865, 'Snowflake Bentley' was raised on the family farm in Jericho, in the American state of Vermont where the annual snowfall was about 120 inches. From childhood he was fascinated by nature and when, at fifteen, his mother gave him a microscope, he was said to be captivated by the close-up views of snow crystals which he placed upon a black velvet base to see them as clearly as possible. But to try and preserve the sights he saw – with the ice flakes often melting before he could manage to draw their designs – he set his mind to finding a way to attach a camera to the microscope lens (this is called Photomicography, of which Bentley was a pioneer), from then on beginning to compile the body of work which is still today considered as remarkable – combining science with nature and art.

Bentley proved that every snowflake is something quite unique. He poetically describing them as "ice flowers" or “tiny miracles of beauty.” He captured over 5,000 of these ephemeral works of art during the course of his life–time, by the end of which his work was sought by the Harvard Mineralogical Museum and the University of Vermont. Today his photographs are held by academic institutions all over the world. The Smithsonian (to whom he sent 500 prints in 1903 to ensure that they were preserved for the sake of posterity), now keeps that comprehensive record in their institution archives.

His obsession with water in various forms also led him measure raindrops and to photograph forms of frost and dew

The VV finds it sadly ironic that he died after contracting pneumonia, when he’d walked for six miles through a blizzard of snow to try and find his way back home.

Before Bentley died a book of his snowflake prints was published by McGraw Hill. The book, in various forms, is still available today.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


Winking Santa by Essie Fox

The VV has found her old box of watercolour paints and created this greetings card of Santa Claus to say thank you and to wish a very Happy Christmas to each and every one of you who follow The Virtual Victorian blog.

While painting she started to ponder on how odd it is that, before Queen Victoria came to throne in 1837 there were no commercial Christmas cards – that tradition only beginning in 1843, after the introduction of the Penny Post, when Sir Henry Cole had the bright idea of printing up thousands of images and selling them in his London shop, priced at just one shilling each. 

What an industry that enterprise began!

The design for Sir Henry Cole's commercial Christmas card

But, as far as jolly santas go, very few people in England then would even so much as know his name. And yet, by 1870 most every child would have been aware of the magical sleigh drawn by reindeer, and a stocking full of precious gifts - if only an orange to signify a gift from Father Christmas.

The names Santa Claus, and Father Christmas have become somewhat interchangeable. But their origins are quite different.

Father Christmas, on whom Charles Dickens based his Christmas Present was derived from an old English festival when Sir Christmas, or Old Father Christmas, or Old Winter, was depicted as wearing green; a sign of fertility and the coming spring – which is why many homes were decorated with mistletoe, holly and ivy. He did not bring gifts or climb down the chimneys, but wandered instead from home to home feasting with the families and bringing good cheer to one and all - as described in the mediaeval carol printed below this illustration...

Illustration by John Leech from Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Goday, goday, my lord Sire Christemas, goday!
Goday, Sire Christemas, our king,
For ev’ry man, both old and ying,
Is glad and blithe of your coming;

Imagine the goblets being raised with the cheering rendition of 'Goday!

The image of Christmas Present which we are more familiar with today – Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas – arrived in America in the seventeenth century when Dutch settlers imported their own Sinter Klass. And it was there in 1822 that Clement Clare Moore wrote a poem to delight his little children, which still has an enduring influence -

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his sack.
His eyes how they twinkled! His dimpled how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up in a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed like a bowl fully of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, - a right jolly old elf –
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

A Visit from Saint Nicholas (now more popularly known as The Night Before Christmas) described the old man’s appearance – the very image that every child has come to know and love today. It is so beautifully shown in this woodblock print designed by the artist Thomas Nast, who based the illustrations on his childhood in Germany.

 Santa and his works by Thomas Nast, published in Harper's Weekly Magazine in 1866

Merry Christmas! Ho Ho Ho!

Sunday, 14 December 2014


The royal Christmas tree at Windsor Castle

Queen Charlotte (the consort of King George III) had first introduced the tradition of decorating a  pine tree in the royal rooms at Christmas time. But it was Prince Albert who really encouraged and popularised the festive event; that habit soon adopted in every English parlour.

However, at Windsor Castle, on December 14th 1861 when the tree would have normally glittered and shone with hundreds of tiny candles, all such joyous plans were discarded and every decorative light was doused ~ because of Albert's sudden death at the age of only 42.

Victoria and Albert enjoying Christmas with their children

Following Prince Albert's death Victoria still celebrated Christmas day, but she hated to spend it in Windsor, the place of her husband's death. Instead, she travelled to the Isle of Wight and the Italianate palace of Osborne House where the family had previously spent happy times together.

The royal family in happier times

However, after 1861, Victoria no longer shared this time with her eldest son, the Prince of Wale who preferred to go to Sandringham, claiming that he found Osborne House to be 'utterly unattractive'.

Bertie, (Edward) the Prince of Wale, and his father, Prince Albert, on the right.

Perhaps an element of guilt influenced the young man's decision, for shortly before his father's death there had been a notorious scandal involving the future king and an actress by the name of Nellie Clifton. All of the press publicity had caused his father enormous distress. Albert wrote several letters to Bertie and then, in appalling weather, set off to Cambridge to meet his son, to implore him to change his decadent ways.

 Prince Albert's deathbed at  Windsor

The stress of that situation, combined with pre-existing poor health (and some say the state of the Windsor drains) led to a fatal illness. Diagnosed as suffering from Typhoid fever, Albert came home from seeing his son and died in the Blue Room at Windsor Castle.

Queen Victoria never recovered from the shock of Albert's loss. She entirely blamed the Prince of Wales, as illustrated by this line which is taken from a letter written to one of her daughters: "That boy...I never can, or ever shall look at him without a shudder."

In the VV's new novel, The Goddess and the Thief, Victoria's grief is dramatised - as is her ensuing interest in the hiring of spirit mediums. She continued to try and contact her husband from where he dwelled on 'the other side' throughout her remaining widow years. As time went on she relied more and more upon her closest friend, John Brown - the game keeper who also claimed to be a spirit medium. There were said to be many rumours of private seances being held, and that these were described by the Queen herself - a notoriously regular diarist. But these records were destroyed at the time of Victoria's own death; viewed by her advisers and family members as being an embarrassment.

What a shame that is!

Thursday, 4 December 2014


From the V&A Archives

The VV really loves this engraving. It reminds her of the time when she wrote The Somnambulist, her first Victorian novel which opened up with a theatre scene from a Christmas show at Wilton's Hall. But then a trip to a pantomime was such a traditional thing to do in the Victorian era: a mixture of story and music, with  rhyming couplets, double entendres, and lashings of topical wit.

From the V&A Archives

However, the name 'pantomime' derives from Ancient Greece, when an actor or 'pantomimus' told stories by means of mime or dance, and that act was often accompanied by music and a chorus line.

In the middle ages, the Italian Commedia dell’Arte (from whom we also owe thanks for the creation of Punchinello or Mr Punch) was a type of entertainment where travelling troupes performed dramatisations in marketplaces or fairgrounds. They improvised their story lines around the character Harlequin, who wore a diamond-patterned costume and carried a magic wand. Later, this part was famously played by Grimaldi the clown who died in 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne.

Joseph Grimaldi as Harlequin

As Victoria’s reign progressed the stories told by Harlequin became entwined with the antics of rural English Mummers. Eventually those events evolving into very much grander productions – although many pantomimes back then were still then based around Harlequin's character. 

From the V&A Archives

The proof of this is illustrated in elaborate titles for the shows, such as Harlequin and the Forty Thieves, or  Jack and the Beanstalk; or, Harlequin Leap-Year, and the Merry Pranks of the Good Little People (surely some dwarves had been employed). In 1863 W S Gilbert wrote Harlequin Cock Robin and Jenny Wren; or, Fortunatus and the Waters of Life, the Three Bears, the Three Gifts, the Three Wishes, and the Little Man who Wooed a Little Maid - though that particular production may have been somewhat ambitious in its scope and its complexity. Years later Gilbert was heard to confess that perhaps it was not the best title to use.

Augustus Harris

For whatever the reason, as years went by the Harlequin character was used much less. Productions such as those put on by the manager Augustus Harris at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane were based on traditional fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk or Cinderella. These were extravagant stagings featuring ballets, acrobatics and grand processions of specially recruited children. There were magicians  and slapstick, cross dressing and innuendo. There was audience participation in the vein of the still familiar refrains of  'Oh no, he isn’t…Oh yes, he is'. 

From the V&A Archives

There were also the popular ‘skins’, when actors would dress in animal garb - quite scarily as insects in the version of Cinderella (above), or more often, and more comically, to play the back or the front end of a pantomime horse or cow – a role once undertaken at the Stockport Hippodrome by an aspiring young actor by the name of Charlie Chaplin.

Back in 1881 Augustus' Harris’ production of The Forty Thieves began at 7.30pm and ended at 1am the next morning. One scene lasted for forty minutes while the thieves (each of whom had his own band of followers) processed across the stage. The pantomime cost £65,000 – the equivalent of several millions today. But then, with popular music hall acts such as Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno employed to take the starring roles, Harris’ shows were always a success – artistically and financially. 

How the VV wishes that she could have been around to see one!

Monday, 24 November 2014


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (November 24 1864 - September 9 1901)

Today, November 24th, in the year of 1864, the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born in Albi, in France. He was to grow up and find his fame in the Post Impressionist period, inspired by all the Bohemian excesses of Paris in the 1890's. It was there he created his glamorous paintings - and in many of those creations he was to depict a dancer whose name was Jane Avril.

Jane Avril was a beautiful girl (though she was extremely thin, with pale skin and tresses of red gold hair) who had become quite infamous for performing the Cancan at the Jardin de Paris: a fashionable Parisian dance hall situated in the Champs-Elysees.

Lautrec had been employed to illustrate an advertisement for the hall, and the dancer who featured in his striking poster soon became very fond indeed of the diminutive artist - for whom congenital childhood illnesses resulted in legs which did not grow, with an adult height of around five foot.

The two friends came from very different backgrounds. Lautrec had been born into one of France's oldest noble families, and that family must have been disappointed when this talented young man's ambitions were not quite as lofty as they might have been - being so irresistibly drawn to night clubs such as the Moulin Rouge where he used his art to record the seedier side of Montmarte life; the area that was then a haunt of artists, writers and philosophers.

At the Moulin Rouge (1892-93)

There, amongst all the working girls, he was to meet Jane Avril. She was living in a Parisian brothel where it was said that she was the child of a famous courtesan, her absent father rumoured to have been a foreign aristocrat. She was originally named as Jeanne, but preferred to use Jane for her stage career - thinking it sounded English, and the epitome of 'chic'. Perhaps that renaming was also an attempt to forget an abusive past which resulted in her leaving home when she was only thirteen years old - very soon afterwards taken in by the Paris' Salpetriere psychiatric hospital.

While there, when attending a fancy-dress ball, Jane discovered her love of dance - the art form that would become her 'cure'. However, some nervous mannerisms exhibited during her illness (perhaps the condition St Vitus' Dance) were never quite lost when she performed, leading to some observers saying that she looked like a big jerky bird, or 'an orchid in a frenzy'. She was also known as 'La Melinite' (a form of explosive dynamite), and Jane La Folle (Crazy Jane).

Jane Avril (1891-92) - looking somewhat artistocratic

Lautrec saw Avril as more than a nickname, much more than another dancing girl. He viewed her as a complete being. Yes, she was the flame that shone in the darkness of his demimonde when he painted her in such glamorous poses. But he also presented her everyday - the somewhat more melancholic Jane. In those paintings she often seems to be somewhat older than her years, looking frail and tired, and nervous.

Jane Avril leaving the Moulin Rouge (1892)

Lautrec was prone to visit his muse at all hours of the day and night, often studying her features and mannerisms while taking her out to restaurants. In 1895, when she bore an illegitimate son, some suggested the child might be Lautrec's. But others think it doubtful that the friends were ever lovers. Lautrec had many insecurities, acutely aware of his physical defects. He took more and more to drinking (being particularly fond of cocktails with Absinthe and Cognac) and was also infected with Syphilis. He was only 31 years old.

It seemed that Jane was luckier, for a little while at least. At the age of 42 she met and married the German artist, Biais. The couple duly set up home in the Parisian outskirts. But her husband soon began to stray and when he died in 1926 she was left to live in poverty, eventually dying in an old people's home when she was seventy-five years old.

But her youth will always be preserved in the portraits created by Lautrec, along with his other visions of the French late nineteenth century nightlife. His brave and original style is filled with suh colour and vibrant life which still continues to lure us now - as does the life of Jane Avril, more recently reinterpreted when, in 2001, Nicole Kidman played the part of the dancer in the film Moulin Rouge.

Signature of Toulouse-Lautrec

Thursday, 6 November 2014


Hidden beneath the oak-beamed roof of St Thomas' church in historic Southwark, you will find a 300 year-old garret once used by St Thomas' apothecary for the storage and curing of the herbs that were used for medicinal purposes.

Some wards of St Thomas' hospital were built around this baroque church - and connected to the garret itself is the Old Operating Theatre; the only such theatre to survive from the 19th century, complete with its wooden operating table and also the observation stands from which spectators and medical students could witness the surgeries being performed.

It was in this unique historical venue that The VV presented the following talk entitled: Drugs, Blood and Human Skulls - with some truly haunting music provided by Kirsten Morrison.

While you were in the Herb Garret earlier on tonight, while surrounded by hanging skeletons, and those instruments of torture once used as a matter of course in the treatment of many ailments – whether cupping, or bleeding, or trepanning – which is boring holes into human skulls – and more of skulls later on ...well, perhaps you also chanced to stand beneath one of the attic rafters, where, back in 1821, the dried heads of opium poppies were found – just one of the herbal ingredients in common use for centuries to alleviate pain of the body, or mind.

When it comes to Victorian London, and drugs, we often think of opium dens - those fetid, fuggy Limehouse shacks in narrow alleys by the docks where Chinese dealers supplied addicts with pipes. Chasing the dragon. Lost in dreams. 

But, such scenes were never that common in real Victorian life, more likely to be found within Sensation novels of the time. Or, as in Charles Dickens’ Edwin Drood - a powerful condemnation of the evils of addiction, when at the very start we see a character who is: "Shaking from head to foot, the man whose scattered consciousness has thus fantastically pieced itself together, at length rises, supports his trembling frame upon his arms, and looks around."

He wouldn’t have to look too far for his daily dose of opium. Victorian England was awash with the drug – and yes, opium did come from China, but the poppy was also processed into resin in Indian factories before ending up upon the shelves of every English pharmacy – and mostly ingested though powders or potions, and often leading to overdose, with many children lost while doped with supposedly innocent tinctures of cough medicine, or teething drops.

Mrs Winslow had much to answer for, with advertisements which offered: 

ADVICE TO MOTHERS!—Are you broken in your rest by a sick child? Go at once to a chemist and get a bottle of MRS. WINSLOW’S SOOTHING SYRUP. It is perfectly harmless and pleasant to taste, it produces natural quiet sleep so that the little cherub awakes “as bright as a button.” It soothes the child, it softens the gums, allays all pain, regulates the bowels, and is the best known remedy for dysentery and diarrhoea. Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup is sold by Medicine dealers everywhere at 1s. 11⁄2d. per bottle. Manufactured in New York and at 498, Oxford- street, London.

First marketed in 1864, one fluid ounce of this soothing syrup contained 65 grams of morphine! No wonder the child on the left of this advert appears to be in a comatose state – not knowing what it wants the most – mother’s milk, or Winslow’s syrup!

Among the adult offerings there was Gee’s Linctus, or Collis Brown’s Chlorodyne, and for more recreational pursuits ‘confections’ were packaged like boxes of chocolates, with individual twists of powders sweetened with sugar or syrup. They do look quite appealing!

But perhaps the most popular potion to sit in Victorian medicine chests, or to lie close at hand on bedside stands, were the ladylike bottles of laudanum, which even Queen Victoria used for headaches and her menstrual cramps. A potent narcotic it was as well, containing all opium alkaloids, including morphine and codeine.

                                   Ophelia by Millais - the painting is owned by Tate Britain.

The beautiful Lizzie Siddal, the Pre-Raphaelite model who married Rossetti (and in the image above she is shown when she  posed for the tragic role of Shakespeare's Ophelia for a painting created by Millais) was hopelessly addicted. And her own sad fate may well have inspired her sister in law, Christina Rosetti, to write the disturbing poem known as Goblin Market - a subversive, so called fairy tale which is full of longing for sex, and drugs, and in which another Lizzie is seduced by the juice that the goblins sell – those goblins like devils come from Hell: ‘Their fruits like honey to the throat, But as a poison to the blood.’

Goblin Market - illustration by Arthur Rackham

That poison may have been the cause of the stillbirth of Lizzie Siddal's daughter. The next child she conceived was never born, when Lizzie slipped into a coma one night, following an overdose... after which Rossetti painted his wife with a poppy flower in her hands; the source of the drug that killed her.

Beatra Betrix by Rossetti 

And at this point I'd like to introduce a truly haunting, mournful song called GONE, from a poem by Lizzie Siddal, and with music composed and the words then sung by the talented Kirsten Morrison -

A sweetly touching, poignant song for a life with such a bitter end – after which something quite ghoulish occurred, because at the time of her burial in London’s Highgate Cemetery, Rossetti melodramatically wound a book of his poems through Lizzie's hair, and there it remained for seven years, until, when in need of money, and in something of an artistic rut, he returned to the grave at the dead of night, dug up the coffin, untangled the book, and was said to be shocked to see the corpse, and the way his wife’s lustrous red locks had continued to grow so much in death – almost appearing as Undead – a character from a vampire tale inspired by the use of Opium – when subconscious imaginations might conjure lurid fantasies. 

Dreams of blood. Dreams of death. And, drugs inspired many Victorian writers; writers like Bram Stoker, who may well have suffered dreadful dreams after seeing this Crusader’s mummified corpse in the crypt of St Michin’s Dublin church; a corpse which almost looks as if some blood might bring it back to life again – despite having met its end getting on for a thousand years before. And when writing his novel, Dracula, the middle aged Stoker may well have known that his own death was then close at hand - because of the blight of syphilis.

With no antibiotics to cure the contagion, the Victorians only had Mercury – the side affects of which could be as vile as the disease itself – with ulcers, hair loss, headaches, weight loss, fatigue, disfigurement, paralysis, blindness, madness too. A nightmare! A real life horror tale! And I often think of Dracula as being a vivid allegory for the sexually transmitted blood disease that could even be spread to a child in the womb. It was therefore an eternal threat, never to die with the victim’s flesh – and perfectly personified in the character of the vampire.

But The Undead existed in literature well before Bram Stoker’s Dracula. James Malcolm Rymer created his demon in 1847, when writing Varney the Vampyre, a macabre literary best-seller with a great deal of sexy sucking and slurping which was serialized in Penny Dreadfuls; cheap newspapers sold upon the streets that the urban poor snatched up in droves ... and how they would have thrilled to read the start of Varney’s Feast of Blood  - “How the graves give up their dead... how the night air hideous grows with shrieks!” –

The grave in question holds the corpse of an English aristocrat who, having been hung for some heinous deed, is then revived by a medical student, with echoes of Frankenstein perhaps? Sir Francis Varney then becomes the embodiment of the living dead, who is each night revived again when bathed in rays of moonlight, and immersed in darkest shadows he carries out depravities, feasting on young virgins' blood, until he eventually ends this spree – an end that I refer to in my novel, The Goddess and the Thief, where my narrator - a virgin herself - is suffering with a sore throat and wanders into her grandmother’s bedroom...and sees a bottle on the stand of Mrs Winslow’s Soothing syrup -

What harm could it do to sip at that ... such a tingling warmth in my throat and breast, and – well – how soothed I seemed to be when I lay on my grandmother’s quilt a while.... and soon became entirely lost in some musty yellowed papers. Had my grandmother read those ‘Feasts of Blood’? Such salacious tales they were! And Varney’s fate – how terrible – when, in the final installment, when consumed by guilt and dark despair, the vampire ended his own life in the flames of a volcano ... there to burn for the whole of eternity...

For all that excitement I fell asleep...but the vampire’s tale caused me to dream, and in that dream I saw a skull, a skull all burned and charred and black, which then began to speak to me. And its voice – it seemed familiar – when it asked, ‘Why dost thou shrink from death?’

That reference to a burned black skull is heavily linked to vampiric themes of a far more real nature - when I write of a religious sect, still in existence to this day: the Aghori, who worship Shiva, the god who dances and beats his drum to conjure realms of life – and death – to create all the good and the bad in the world'. And to purify their human souls, to achieve a oneness with their Lord, the Aghori see no horror in immersing themselves in the foulest decay, inhabiting Hindu burial grounds while consuming drugs and alcohol – even eating human excrement. It is also a custom - a trial of sorts - for every new member of that sect to find himself a human skull, from which he must drink human blood. And it is the drunken prophecy spoken by one such cannibal that we hear at the very opening of The Goddess and the Thief , when an English woman in India writes -

Benares, painting by Goodwin

There was a temple that looked like a palace. It gleamed like silver against black skies where a bright full moon was shining down upon the domes and balconies, and the ornate marble arches, and in every arch a deity, and every deity shimmering in the flare of torches set below. A pair of golden fretwork doors drew back to show a golden god... hailed by a thousand beating drums, the crashing of cymbals, the blaring of conches. I could not drag my eyes away, even though the god’s were closed. I kept thinking, ‘He cannot see me’. And yet, I knew he could, as if he could look into my soul through the gleaming ruby in his brow, or the ruby eyes of the cobra that coiled around his throat. That put me in mind of the devil in Hell, as did the trident in one of his hands. But then, the way he raised one palm – that seemed a benediction – and when a gust of air rose up, it was the strangest thing, because, I thought, “A gift, a blessing. A kiss from the lips of Shiva.” 

Such sacrilegious thoughts I had...I forced myself to turn away, to run on down the steep stone steps that led me to the river’s shore...How wide it is, that river? I could barely see to the other side where the flames of fires were burning and such strange shadows dancing. It must be one of the funeral ‘ghats’, where the Hindoos go to cremate their dea... If only I’d not noticed that. The sudden stench of burning flesh ... and then, the hand upon my wrist... a hand with fingers more like claws, with nails filthy, cracked and long. And there the horror did not end. In the other hand he held a staff, a drum, and what looked like a human skull. He wore nothing more than a loincloth. His flesh was black and wrinkled. And the toothless face that leered above... I could only watch when he dropped my wrist, unable to speak when his fingers spread and lowered to rest on my belly. And just at that moment my baby kicked and that motion so sudden and violent that I gasped at the very shock of it. But it did bring me back to my senses again. I screamed. I pushed that wretch away. And he made no attempt to prevent me, only smiled as his hand was lifted, the palm extended forward, just like the golden god’s before. And then, he said the queerest thing: ‘Do not fear thine death. Death is the blessed sacrifice with which to glorify The Lord. The Lord will claim thy womb’s new fruit, the goddess thus to be reborn.’

Poor woman! To hear such a prophecy; a prophecy that will soon come true, to curse her, and the child in her womb – a child who then grows up to see gods, and ghosts – and human skulls – and thinking of skulls for one last time, I’ll end my talk with one more tale that may well have graced the pages of those Penny Dreadful magazines.

I wonder how many people today will have heard about ‘corpse medicine’. It was once practiced here in England, though it was in the 16th and 17th centuries when you would have been most likely to find certain types of medical men prescribing the eating of human remains as a cure for almost everything - never mind the way that body fat could be used in bandage poultices, or rubbed onto the feet for gout. The idea was crudely based upon what later became homeopathy - so blood for ailments of the blood – intestines for any belly complaints – and, as late as 1847 there is the report of an Englishman grinding up a human skull and mixing it with treacle, that culinary delight then spooned into his little daughter’s mouth - to stop her epileptic fits. Sadly, the cure was to fail! But where did he find the ingredients?

Well, Egyptian mummies were one source, not quite two-a-penny, but common enough for Victorian travellers to find if they really wanted to. And there were men nearer to home who were not at all averse to making a living from robbing graves. But I think that particular delight should be saved until another time...