Thursday, 24 August 2017

West End shopping (with footman), in 1846

Where does a young Victorian lady go shopping for things for her new doll?  Why to the Pantheon in Oxford Street, as related by 'Maria Poppet', a painted wooden London doll, in her Memoirs of a London Doll:


"At four o'clock my new mama went out for a drive in her carriage with her governess, and chiefly to buy several things for me.  Of course I went too…..we drove to a toyshop in Oxford Street and there the little Lady Flora bought me a cradle of delicate white basket work,  with a mattress and pillow covered with cotton of pale pink and lilac stripes.  She wanted a featherbed, but they had not got one..."

Illustration to George Sala's Twice round the Clock  1859

The Pantheon began life as a fashionable winter Ranelagh, or assembly rooms in in 1772, then became variously a concert hall and a failing theatre until it was reopened in May 1834 as the Pantheon Bazaar.  Marks and Spencer's Oxford Street store now stands on the site. 

But 'Maria Poppet' still lacks a feather bed:

"We next went down Regent Street, and sent the very tall footman with the gold-headed cane and powdered hair into every shop that seemed likely, to ask if they had a doll's feather-bed. But none of them had.  We passed the Regent's quadrant, and then turned up Piccadilly, and got out at the Burlington Arcade. But no such thing as a doll's feather-bed could be found.The little lady, however, bought me a small gold watch and chain, which cost a shilling.  We then drove down Waterloo place ...[without success] ...so we turned round and drove up Bond Street, and [again sending the very tall footman] tried at several shops with no better success; then we passed again down Oxford Street and went to the Soho Bazaar."

The Soho Bazaar stretched from Dean Street to Oxford Street, and was opened in 1816 by John Trotter.  He had grown rich supplying the army during the Napoleonic wars, but after Wellington's victory at Waterloo in 1815 he converted his vast Soho Square warehouse into a fashionable 'Bazaar', initially a place where army wives and widows could sell their handicrafts.   It was 'conveniently and comfortably fitted up with mahogany counters,  having at proper distance flaps or falling counters... the walls are hung with red cloth and at the end are large mirrors.  The principal sale is jewellery, toys, books, prints, millinery &c. ' 

And there the very tall footman has his moment of glory: 
"There, at the top of a long room -- on the lefthand side--in a corner -- there, at last, we did find a doll's feather-bed, and of a very superior quality.  No doll in the world, and particularly a wooden doll, could have wished for anything softer.  At the same place were also many articles of furniture, such as dolls of the higher class are accustomed to have, and some of these were bought for me.  That which I was most pleased with was a doll's wardrobe made of cedar wood, with drawers for clothes in the middle, and pegs to hang dresses upon at each side, and all enclosed with folding doors, and smelling so sweet.  All of these things being carefully packed up in silver paper, were given to the very tall footman with powdered hair, who receiving them with a serious face, and carrying them balanced on the palm of one hand,  and holding up his long gold-headed cane in the other, slowly walked behind us, with his chin raised high out of his white neckcloth, to the admiration of everybody in the bazaar, as we returned to our carriage."

Memoirs of a London Doll, Written by Herself
Edited by Mrs Fairstar (otherwise Mr Richard Henry Horne)  1846



'Maria Poppet', our narrator and heroine, begins life at a doll-maker's in Holborn,  and describes many London scenes as she passes from 'mamma' to mamma', in homes rich and poor. She has a narrow escape at the Opera when she is dropped from the box into the pit and falls into a gentleman's top hat, or when she is lost in the crowd and bundled up with Mr Punch's puppets, but later in her adventures she sees a Drury Lane pantomime and the Lord Mayor's Show, described in colourful detail:  "We had an excellent view of the Lord Mayor in his robe of scarlet, with gold and coloured stripes over it, and wearing a beautiful necklace hanging down upon his breast.  He gave a sigh as he passed us, and laid a hand upon his fine stomach, and then he gave a smile".

This forgotten Victorian doll's story was read to us at primary school, and long remembered, so I was delighted in 1967 when it was edited by Margery Fisher, the widely respected writer on children's literature and republished by Andre Deutsch.   Maria Poppet's creator merits a blog of his own, as do the various London bazaars (there was even a Crystal Palace Bazaar of iron and glass designed by Owen Jones in 1858), but for now, I give the last word to Punch describing the Soho bazaar in 1842:

"the Soho Bazaar, chiefly remarkable for the diverting and expert manner in which the young ladies who keep the stalls run about backwards and forwards through certain apertures, under the counter, like rabbits in a warren. It is generally presumed that this degree of perfection is obtained by much practice, at home, under a shutter placed on the backs of two chairs; but this appears to be a popular error."

(and see victorian london.org or british-history.ac.uk/survey-london and others)





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