While many view the Victorian era as a time of civility and nobility, there was a decidedly strange and macabre side of things that is rarely addressed or acknowledged nowadays. From portraits of the dead (taken after death) to making keepsakes from each other’s hair, here are some of the oddest and decidedly creepy things that were once considered normal in Victorian England.
Playing Bindman’s Buff At Christmas
While a game of Marco-Polo nowadays is oftentimes fun, the annual tradition of playing Bindman’s Buff back in the day was a rather more boisterous and terrifying prospect for the average young adult. According to tradition and written sources, an adult would be blindfolded and have to run around in the room trying to catch partygoers, who often would end up buffeting them about to avoid being caught. Often, bumps and bruises were received by all partygoers since the game was decidedly rough.
Trinkets Of Human Hair
While we exchange jewellery or pictures with those we care about, it was a normal thing back in the day to create trinkets like necklaces, rings, bracelets, or even cut-off snippets of your best friend’s hair and keep them in a scrapbook as a way to show you cared. Hair art was a way to capture their essence and keep a part of them close at all times. And in an age before photography was done on a large scale, it was a way to have something to remember those close to you by.
Families even used to create hair wreaths so they could all be together. Not only was this tradition done by close friends and families who were alive, it also was done as a way to commemorate and also to mourn those who passed on as well. There is even a museum in the USA called Leila’s Hair Museum, which amassed over 700 individual pieces of hair art, some of which dated back to the 17th century.
The beautiful plumes attached to Venetian masks, and the booming Ostrich feather trade in the 16th century, are all well-known history markers. And someone, somewhere, looked at all those feathers and decided it was time to try and one-up everything. By creating real, taxidermized birds and attaching them to tall hats.
That wasn’t all, as some taxidermists often would sell animals like squirrels, bunnies, cats, and other small wildlife to hatters to have them affixed onto the increasingly large hats that were being worn. It became quite the symbol of the upper-class Victorians during the 1880’s.
Portraits Of The Dead
Nowadays we tend to put a prominent picture of a deceased friend or family member up at the funeral home or memorial of the person showcasing their best image or some of their top memories from when they were alive.
In Victorian England, however, this wasn’t always possible. Which is why portraits of the deceased were usually taken depicting the deceased with their loved ones and hobbies after they were dead. This, often, was a way to commemorate the young and sudden deaths of loved ones who would not have had a chance to sit for a formal portrait yet.
While some may find it horrifying to think of posing with a dead person, back then, it was a special last moment to treasure with their loved one.
It’s interesting to see how times change and cultures find new traditions to embrace and enjoy.