25/10/2009

THE CHARM OF WILTON'S MUSIC HALL

The Entrance to Wilton's Music hall

Wilton's is the oldest of London's music halls. It was built in the 1850's at the back of The Prince of Denmark bar, in Graces Alley, in the East End. The bar itself is still functional and, though sadly now stripped of what were once famed mahogany fittings, it is still  a wonderful place to drink, either before a performance or simply as a venue in which to meet friends.

The hall - which was known as the Temple of Apollo - is an intimate rectangular space. The floor rakes down to a stage which is low enough for everyone in the audience to fully engage with the performance. All around the walls are arched niches, once filled with glittering mirrors, and the high vaulted ceiling boasted a sun-burner chandelier which held hundreds of jets and dripped with thousands of crystals. There are scorch marks on the ceiling from the time when it actually burst into flames. And still in perfect condition today are the elegant, brass barley-twist pillars which support a balcony fronted with friezes or ornate papier mache designs.


John Wilton produced a variety of shows, often cramming well over a thousand punters into a hall which, today, is licensed to hold 300. He lured singers from the Royal Opera House, who stayed in stage costume and jumped into Broughams, driven at breakneck speed across town to perform their arias all over again - and no doubt to a more lively audience! There were circuses, ventriloquists and dancers, but perhaps Wilton's most famous artiste was George Leybourne - otherwise known as Champagne Charlie, after his hugely popular song.



Sadly, after John Wilton's death in 1880, the hall became less salubrious: a rowdy haunt of prostitutes, sailors, dockers and thieves, with many a naive punter being robbed, or found dead in the Thames with a knife in their backs. By 1888, it had been closed down and became the Methodist Mission hall - where, no doubt, Soup and Salvation was served up for free to many who previously paid to go in.

During the dockers' strike of 1889, the Mission provided 2,000 meals a day for the starving workers, and in 1936, the hall was used as the headquarters for those who demonstrated against Mosley and his fascists in the famous Battle of Cable Street.

Today, this magical, crumbling hall has been given Grade II* listed status and it is hoped that it may be preserved. I recommend a visit. I guarantee you will be charmed. There are many evening productions, along with regular open days when you can take a tour and learn more of its fascinating history - and see what all the fuss is about, and why Wilton's inspired the opening of my debut novel, The Somnambulist: a Victorian gothic mystery.

Addendum: For more contemporary images and a lovely article on Wilton's, do visit London Insight.

14/10/2009

EDGAR ALLAN POE'S SECOND FUNERAL


Edgar Allan Poe has been hailed by some as the genius who began the cult for detective and horror stories that the public still enjoy today. Of his fellowVictorian writers, Conan Doyle was very happy to confess how much he admired Poe' works, especially The Murders in the The Rue Morgue.

An illustration from Murders in the Rue Morgue


Since her teenage years the VV has been intrigued by the works of Poe, but also by his private life ~ especially when learning that he'd married a cousin, Virginia, when she was just 13 years old. Sadly, Virginia went on to die of Tuberculosis at the age of 27, her husband following her to the grave only two years after that, when he was 40 years old, with the causes of his death being variously attributed to alcohol, cholera, or drugs, syphilis, rabies, or murder.


Virginia Poe


But his influence lived on in time, even leading on to several low-budget horror films which were directed by Roger Corman in the 1960's. For many years afterwards these films were often repeated on late night TV. A particular favourite of the VV was The Fall of the House of Usher, a sinister and thrilling tale with the theme of premature burial, when the 'corpse' was really still alive but in a cataleptic state. 


Poster for The Fall of the House of Usher, in which Vincent Price took the lead role.


And thinking now of burial, it seems somewhat fitting that today, some 200 years after his birth, Edgar Allan Poe's funeral was re-enacted in Baltimore's Westminster Hall where, in scenes that could have actually sprung from the writer's macabre imagination, a coffin containing a mannequin fashioned on the man himself processed through the streets in a glass-sided hearse drawn by black horses. 

Mourners who came to pay their respects were even dressed as Victorians, and perhaps some of them also take part in a mysterious ritual in which, every January 19th since the time of the writer's death, a bottle of cognac and three red roses have been placed upon his grave - the original tombstone of which was engraved with the words: Quoth the Raven Never More.





09/10/2009

A RIGHT ROYAL PAIR OF BLOOMERS



In old age Queen Victoria was as stout as she was high. Only five feet tall, and yet she possessed a 50 inch waist - and a most impressive 66 inch bust.

But, I wonder if she would be amused to know that, in July 2008, a pair of her bloomers was auctioned at Mackworth in Derbyshire. Attracting interest from as far afield as Hong Kong, Brazil, Russia and New York, after much frenzied bidding they were finally sold to a 'lady of leisure' in Canada for the sum of £4,500.

I wonder if that lady was as large as Victoria. I wonder if she has tried them on.




UPDATE! Another pair of Victoria's undergarments have just been given National Designated Status, having been purchased for display in the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. This particular item of clothing was originally found in the laundry rooms at Kensington Palace and has been 'held' in private hands for over 100 years before being  auctioned only this past Tuesday, for the far more reasonable price of £600.

The bloomers are open crotch, with a drawstring waist and a finely embroidered monogram.





08/10/2009

HERO...


The theme of this year's National Poetry Day is Heroes and Heroines. I've chosen Ulysses by Tennyson. Based on the classical Greek hero, the poem is a moving description of bereavement and loss, the inablity to accept old age and death, and how man is constantly striving against it. 



Ulysses was written in 1833 when Tennyson was 24 years old, looking a great deal less world-weary than he would in later years.

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.



Alfred Lord Tennyson

07/10/2009

LOST IN TRANSLATION...



My first novel, The Diamond was published in Russia late last year - under the title of Brilliant. This translated blurb makes me chuckle...

BRILLIANT
Description of the lot (should that be plot?)


Dashing twirled plot! Full story riddles! Gothic flavour soaked mystery and intrigue...Immerse yourself in the ghostly atmosphere of the novel, written in the best traditions of Thirteen Tales of Diana Setterfild!
The quiet life of a young  Alice Willoughby ends in the night when she becomes involved in a séance with the Queen Victoria...To his dismay at the time of contact with the spirits she saw this ghost.

Discover the true gift of Alice, bastard Gregory wants to take  possession of the will and the body of a clairvoyant. He intoxicating drugs and seduces her. Some time later, the girl discovers with horror that the abuser was contemplating using it to steal the legendary Indian diamond...
If you want more, you’ll just have to read it – that is if you can read Russian! I can’t.

Who knows what has actually been translated. But it’s still a real book.

And I like the cover.




06/10/2009

JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS (1829-1896)



Thanks to those of you who commented on my blog’s banner image. Hearts and Trumps is taken from a painting by John Everett Millais which can be seen at Tate Britain in London.

Millais’ art has had quite an influence on my writing to date – but before coming to the reason for that, I wonder how many of you saw the artist depicted in the recent television production of Desperate Romantics?  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00lvyq2


Based on a book by Franny Moyle – which I haven’t read, and I do know that screen adaptations can veer wildly from the original source material – the series was fun and I was hooked. But, it certainly strayed from historical fact and timing, being more of a cartoonish romp where the Brotherhood of the Pre Raphaelite painters behaved like the Four Musketeers, carousing around London – having first swallowed several Viagra tablets. And, I wonder how many people now believe that version of events to be The Truth? The same with that other dumbed-down and sexed-up BBC production, The Tudors ,in which the brooding, dark and extremely well-toned Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the part of Henry VIII.




In Desperate Romantics, Millais was depicted as a pretty but endearing wimp. He was actually quite a forceful looking character (see above). A child prodigy, he was enrolled at the Royal Academy at the age of 11, going on to rebel against the established structure of stylised Victorian painting to become a founding father of the Pre Raphaelite movement. His work rate was prolific, ranging from iconic sensual women, to society portraits, from serious landscapes to those twee images such as ‘Bubbles’ which was an enormous commercial success – being sold to advertise Pears Soap.




But, one of his paintings, The Somnambulist, has a special significance for me, having been the inspiration for a story I’m currently working on, which features sleepwalking and the occult – both subjects of fascination for the Victorians. Millais’ picture was thought by some to be based on Wilkie Collins’ novel, The Woman in White, but others presumed it was inspired by Bellini’s opera, La Sonnambula. I don’t know which explanation is true – but both caused sensations in his mid –nineteenth century world and, though I have no such hopes for my novel, if it were ever to be completed or published, I would love to see Millais’ painting on the cover – even though my wish may be as fanciful as those lives depicted in Desperate Romantics.

05/10/2009

JANE AUSTEN'S EMMA ON THE BBC

Last night, a new version of Emma was televised on BBC.

Jane Austen's book was published in 1816. Queen Victoria wasn't born until 1819 - but that's still in the nineteenth century, and close enough for me to take this opportunity to say congratulations to Letty Fox who created the opening credits.

Click onto the post heading and you'll find the link. It takes a while to start - about 3 minutes in - but the images are lovely.

WELCOME TO THE VIRTUAL VICTORIAN'S WORLD

My name is Essie Fox and this is my very first post, and - for anyone who happens to stumble upon it - hello!

A few years ago I decided to try and write a novel. My story was going to be contemporary but I wanted to use my own home as a setting and, while looking into its history, I soon found myself lured into a virtual Victorian world...from which I have yet to break free.

In this blog, I'm hoping to share some of the facts and fictions that I've discovered during my research. Some will be serious, some less so, but most will be based on, and in, the Victorian era - a fascinating age which often still influences the way we live today.