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Madame Marie Tussaud

Madame Tussaud's self portait in wax, aged 42.

Anna Maria “Marie” Tussaud (née Grosholtz; 1 December 1761 – 16 April 1850) was a French born artist of German descent, who became known for her wax sculptures and Madame Tussauds, the wax museum that she founded in London.

Madame Tussaud's self portait in wax, aged 42.
Madame Tussaud “at the age of 42, when she left France for Great Britain”. Portrait study (1921) by John Theodore Tussaud.

Marie Tussaud was born 1 December 1761 in Strasbourg, France. Her father, Joseph Grosholtz, was killed in the Seven Years’ War just two months before Marie was born. Her mother, Anne-Marie Walder, took her to Bern where she worked as a housekeeper for Dr. Philippe Curtius (1741–1794), a physician and wax sculptor who Marie would call her uncle. Curtius initially used his talent for wax modeling to illustrate anatomy. Later, he did portraits.

The oldest display is that of "Sleeping Beauty", Madame DuBarry.
The oldest waxwork on display is that of the “Sleeping Beauty”, Madame Du Barry.

Curtius moved to Paris in 1765 to establish a cabinet de portraits en cire (wax portrait exhibition). In that year, he made a waxwork of Louis XV’s last mistress, Madame du Barry, a cast that is the oldest work currently on display. A year later, Tussaud and (more…)

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Madame Tussaud’s Waxworks in London

The wax statue of Voltaire on display at Madame Tussauds, London.

The making of life-size wax figures wearing real clothes grew out of the funeral practices of European royalty. In the Middle Ages it was the habit to carry the corpse, fully dressed, on top of the coffin at royal funerals, but this sometimes had unfortunate consequences in hot weather, and the custom of making an effigy in wax for this role grew, again wearing actual clothes so that only the head and hands needed wax models. After the funeral these were often displayed by the tomb or elsewhere in the church, and became a popular attraction for visitors, which it was often necessary to pay to view.

"Elizabeth of york - funeral effigy" by lisby1 -
“Elizabeth of York”, funeral effigy” by lisby1 –

The museum of Westminster Abbey in London has a collection of British royal wax effigies going back to that of Edward III of England (died 1377), as well as those of figures such as the naval hero Horatio Nelson, and Frances Stewart, Duchess of Richmond, who also had her parrot stuffed and displayed. From the funeral of Charles II in 1680 they were no longer placed on the coffin but were still made for later display. The effigy of Charles II, open-eyed and standing, was displayed over his tomb until the early 19th century, when all the Westminster effigies were removed from the abbey itself. Nelson’s effigy was a pure (more…)

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Jonas Hanway: A Man with a Plan

Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.
Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.
Portrait of Jonas Hanway by James Northcote, circa 1785.

Jonas Hanway (August 12, 1712 – September 5, 1786), English traveller and philanthropist, was born at Portsmouth, on the south coast of England.

While he was still a child his father, a victualler, died, and the family moved to London. In 1729 Jonas was apprenticed to a merchant in Lisbon. In 1743, after he had been some time in business for himself in London, he became a partner with Mr Dingley, a merchant in St Petersburg, and in this way was led to travel in Russia and Persia. Leaving St Petersburg on 10 September 1743, and passing south by Moscow, Tsaritsyn and Astrakhan, he embarked on the Caspian Sea on 22 November and arrived at Astrabad on 18 December. Here his goods were seized by Mohammed Hassan Beg, and it was only after great privations that he reached the camp of Nadir Shah, under whose protection he recovered most (85%) of his property.

His return journey was embarrassed by sickness (at Resht), by attacks from pirates, and by six weeks’ quarantine; and he only reappeared at St Petersburg on 1 January 1745. He again left the Russian capital on 9 July 1750 and travelled through Germany and the Netherlands to England (28 October). The rest of his life was mostly spent in London, where the narrative of his travels (published in 1753) soon made him a man of note, and where he devoted himself to philanthropy and good citizenship.

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In 1756, Hanway founded The Marine Society, to keep up the supply of British seamen; in 1758, he became a governor of the Foundling Hospital, a position which was upgraded to vice president in 1772; he was instrumental in establishing the Magdalen Hospital; in 1761 he procured a better system of parochial birth registration in London; and in 1762 he was appointed a commissioner for victualling the navy (10 July); this office he held till October 1783. He died, unmarried, on 5 September 1786 and is now buried in the crypt at St. Mary’s Church, Hanwell.
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Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles: Founder of the City of Singapore, Father of the London Zoo

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thomasSir Thomas Stamford Raffles, FRS (6 July 1781 – 5 July 1826) was a British statesman, best known for his founding of the city of Singapore (now the city-state of the Republic of Singapore) and the London Zoo. He is often described as the “Father of Singapore” and the “Father of the London Zoo”. He was also heavily involved in the conquest of the Indonesian island of Java from Dutch and French military forces during the Napoleonic Wars and contributed to the expansion of the British Empire. He was also an amateur writer and wrote a book titled History of Java (1817).

Raffles was born on the ship Ann off the coast of Port Morant, Jamaica, to Captain Benjamin Raffles (d. June 1797) and Anne Raffles (née Lyde). His father was a Yorkshireman who had a burgeoning family and little luck in the West Indies trade during the American Revolution, sending the family into debt. The little money the family had went into schooling Raffles. He attended a boarding school. In 1795, at the age of 14, Raffles started working as a clerk in London for the British East India Company, the trading company that shaped many of Britain’s overseas conquests. In 1805 he was sent to what is now Penang in the country of Malaysia, then called the Prince of Wales Island, starting his long association with Southeast Asia. He started with a post under the Honourable Philip Dundas, the Governor of Penang. He was appointed assistant secretary to the new Governor of Penang in 1805 and married Olivia Mariamne Fancourt, a widow who was formerly married to Jacob Cassivelaun Fancourt, an assistant surgeon in Madras who had died in 1800. At this time he also made the acquaintance of Thomas Otho Travers, who would accompany him for the next twenty years.

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John William Polidori : Author of The Vampyre

800px-John_William_Polidori_by_F.G._Gainsford

800px-John_William_Polidori_by_F.G._Gainsford

John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was an English writer and physician, and Bath native. He is known for his associations with the Romantic movement and credited by some as the creator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the 1819 short story, The Vampyre, the first published modern vampire story. Although originally and erroneously accredited to Lord Byron, both Byron and Polidori affirmed that the story is Polidori’s.

Polidori was one of the earliest pupils at recently established Ampleforth College from 1804, and in 1810 went up to the University of Edinburgh, where he wrote a thesis on sleepwalking and received his degree as a doctor of medicine on 1 August 1815 at the age of 19.

In 1816 Dr. Polidori entered Lord Byron’s service as his personal physician, and accompanied Byron on a trip through Europe. Publisher John Murray offered Polidori 500 English pounds to keep a diary of their travels, which Polidori’s nephew William Michael Rossetti later edited. At the Villa Diodati, a house Byron rented by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their companion (Mary’s stepsister) Claire Clairmont.

One night in June, after the company had read aloud from Fantasmagoriana, a French collection of German horror tales, William Beckford’s Vathek and indulged in quantities of laudanum, Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley, in collaboration with Percy Bysshe Shelley,produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Shelley wrote “A Fragment of a Ghost Story” and wrote down five ghost stories recounted by Matthew Gregory (“Monk”) Lewis, published posthumously as the Journal at Geneva (including ghost stories) Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron’s, Fragment of a Novel (1816), also known as “A Fragment” and “The Burial: A Fragment”, and in “two or three idle mornings” produced “The Vampyre“.

Dismissed on bad terms, by Byron, Polidori travelled in Italy and then returned to England. His story, “The Vampyre” was first published on 1 April 1819 by Henry Colburn in the New Monthly Magazine with the false attribution “A Tale by Lord Byron”, much to both his and Byron’s chagrin. Byron even released his own “Fragment of a Novel” in an attempt to clear up the mess, but, for better or worse, “The Vampyre” continued to be attributed to him. The name of the work’s protagonist, “Lord Ruthven”, added to this assumption, for that name was originally used in Lady Caroline Lamb’s novel Glenarvon (from the same publisher), in which a thinly-disguised Byron figure was also named Lord Ruthven. Despite repeated denials by Byron and Polidori, the authorship often went unclarified.

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The tale was first published in book form by Sherwood, Neely, and Jones in London, Paternoster-Row, in 1819 in octavo as The Vampyre; A Tale in 84 pages. The notation on the cover noted that it was: “Entered at Stationers’ Hall, March 27, 1819”. Later printings removed Byron’s name and added Polidori’s name to the title page.

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The Dandy Chargers

The Dandy Chargers

dandy chargers

In 1817 Baron Karl von Drais created the Lauf-maschine (running machine) / Draisienne / Mechanical Horse, the first human powered land vehicle to mount a serious bid for public acceptance. Satirically named the Dandy Charger.
Then in 1818 Dennis Johnson, a coachmaker, of London developed an improved model that he called the Pedestrian Curricle / Hobby Horse / Velocipede / Dandy Horse / Accelerator / Swift Walker. Both of these contraptions were wooden, with two wheels that were pushed along with the feet. The activity of riding was not confined just to gentlemen as a model for the ladies was also said to be available.
The Dandy Chargers at the Jane Austen Festival.
This group made their first appearance at the Jane Austen Festival in 2009, the year of the world record ‘Regency Dress’ bid. They made quite a stir with their brightly coloured vehicles and costumes. They were a hit with the crowd and put on a demonstration ride as part of the Grand Promenade around the streets of Bath.

Take a look at this lovely little video of part of the ride of the Dandy Chargers during the Festival

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Hannah Snell: The Famous “Woman In Men’s Cloaths”

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In his diary entry of May 21, 1778, Parson Woodforde (Diary of a Country Parson) notes a trip that he took to Weston in order to see a “Famous Woman in Men’s Cloaths”:

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This curiousity was none other than Hannah Snell, subject of The Female Soldier; or The Surprising Life and Adventures of Hannah Snell, 1750.

Born in Worcester, England on 23 April 1723, locals claim that she played a soldier even as a child. In 1740, Hannah moved to London and married James Summs on 6 January 1744.

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Charles Wesley: Methodist Minister

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Charles-Wesley-preachingAs the daughter of an Anglican minister, Jane Austen would have grown up in a family whose daily life centered around the doings and needs of the church. As music was always important to her, she no doubt took an interest in the psalms and hymns sung during each service, and would probably have been familiar with the works of Charles Wesley.

Wesley, a contemporary of Jane’s father, was influential in the founding of the Methodist movement (a group Austen was aware of, considering Mary Crawford’s remarks in Mansfield Park.)

“A pretty good lecture, upon my word. Was it part of your last sermon? At this rate you will soon reform everybody at Mansfield and Thornton Lacey; and when I hear of you next, it may be as a celebrated preacher in some great society of Methodists, or as a missionary into foreign parts.”
-Mansfield Park

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