Without a shadow of a doubt …


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As the long winter evenings loom ahead, I thought that it might be fun to share some ideas on amusements to keep people busy. Recently I came across a book on shadow puppets which looked like it could inspire hours of fun! 

Hand Shadows

Hand Shadows

Hand Shadows : the Complete Art of Shadowgraphy by magician Louis Nikola outlines the principles of shadowgraphy, an art that was popular in the  early twentieth century. Most people have an idea of how to make basic shapes such as a bird or a butterfly, but with a little practice people can make some really creative shadows.

The art of shadow puppets died out  due to the rise in popularity of entertainments such as the cinema. People were also more readily able to afford nights out, meaning that they didn’t need so many home entertainments. The invention of the electric lightbulb also didn’t help since electric lights don’t cast the same depth of shadow as candles. But never fear, there’s still plenty of fun to be had by those willing to try!

Each shadow in the book is accompanied by step-by-step instructions on how to make it. The book starts off with quite simple animals such as a rabbit or an elephant:





The book then moves on to people in preparation for putting on a shadow pantomime. Some of the characters need props to make them work which could be considered cheating, but it would be impossible to create some of these figures any other way!





A little play is provided at the end of the book for people to perform. There are multiple characters in the play and a few need props, so it’s not for the amateur. However, I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunity to practice on those long dark nights before spring arrives!
Shadow pantomime

Shadow pantomime

 Hand Shadows : the Complete Art of Shadowgraphy: 1913.7.1578


A Boy’s Book of Battleships

A Boy’s Book of Battleships by Gordon Stables, pictures by Charles Robinson.

William Gordon Stables was a Scottish-born medical doctor in the Royal Navy and a prolific author of adventure fiction, primarily for boys.

He wrote over 130 books. The bulk of his extensive works belong to the genre of boys’ adventure fiction, often with a nautical or historical setting.

One book of notable interest is A Boy’s Book of Battleships, which is a beautifully illustrated history of battleships. The illustrator, Charles Robinson, presents the vessels using both simple line, and strikingly coloured, drawings that immediately attract the eye to this book. The text is written in an easily digestible format that concisely documents the evolution of the design of battleships throughout history. The author starts by describing a humble ‘War Canoe’, used by Head Hunters in the days of Homer, and then works through to the vessels of the Roman Empire, the Viking Age and up to the modern day, including battleships used in the First World War.

The book only lightly concerns itself with technical matters such as ship construction methods and materials, and focuses largely on the cultural history, usage, means of propellant and weaponry of the battleships. Early designs of battleships were powered by oarsmen, in contrast with modern ships powered by steam and mechanical power.

[Click on images to enlarge]

Warship of Ancient Greece


“The Greeks of the Homeric age were one of the first of maritime nations….”

Roman Trireme 

 “Even when at her Zenith, no one would ever have thought of accusing Rome of being a great naval power, nor her sons of being sailors in the true sense of the word; but nevertheless more than once she made an attempt to rule the waves.”

Phoenician Battleship

 “The Phoenicians were great traders and they visited every port of the Mediterranean. They even crossed the Bay of Biscay and bartered with the ancient Britons on the coast of Cornwall”

Viking Ship


“There is hardly a boy in Britain to whom the brave doings of the ancient Vikings do not appeal.”

H.M.S. Dreadnought

 “The Dreadnoughts are the most powerful battleships in the world. Not only are their guns terrible engines of war, but they are so well protected as to be invincible and unsinkable”

Classmark : 1910.11.10

A family of phrenologists

 When we think of seaside promenade attractions, such as fortune-telling, palm-reading and so forth, we tend to imagine stripey booths and bead curtains. I’ve recently been cataloguing a series of pamphlets written and published by the Ellis family, who advertised themselves as phrenologists and publishers (but who dabbled in a great deal more than that), and had impressive premises on the promenade in Blackpool.

The Ellis family establishment


Note the heads either side of the word “Phrenologists” above the door, and the slogan “Advice On Health” on the roof, between two particularly striking hands, palms facing outwards, in front of the chimneypots. Clearly the Ellis family, Ida, Albert and Frank, were successful enough to operate from a solid building rather than a beach hut. The 1911 census records that Albert and Ida Ellis (husband and wife), Frank Ellis (brother) and Annie Edwards (domestic servant) occupied a house with 11 rooms, not counting, as instructed on the census form,  “scullery, landing, lobby, closet, bathroom, nor warehouse, office, shop.” Looking at the illustration of their promenade premises (81/82 Central Beach, Blackpool) it is likely that the consulting rooms were on the ground floor and they lived in 11 rooms above on two further floors – quite an establishment. Albert originated from Canterbury, and Ida from Suffolk, but when they first arrived in Blackpool I could not discover. Blackpool, as a popular seaside resort, offered excellent opportunities for a business such as theirs. Albert and Ida were 42 and 43 respectively at the time of this census, and had been married for 21 years.  All three Ellises give their occupation as Palmist/Phrenologist and record that they work “at home.”

Each family member specialised in their own particular skill: Frank in physiognomy, Albert in graphology and phrenology, Ida in palmistry, crystal gazing, automatic writing and psychometry.  When customers consulted the Ellis family they would receive a booklet described as a “chart,” published by the Ellises themselves, packed full of information, with blank spaces in which a personal reading would be inscribed, with appropriate advice.  


Even babies could be taken to a consultation and have their own chart filled in with their potential characteristics, personality, skills and so forth.


Each chart has an index to character, so that after the initial phrenological consultation, the relevant Ellis, presumably Albert in this case, would mark in pencil numbers listed in a sort of tabular key at the front of the booklet, which the customer then relates to the characteristics correspondingly numbered in the following pages.  After that there are pages with blank spaces in which the Ellises would write customised advice (for an extra fee) on your health, occupation, relationships and so forth, even describing “persons likely to prove enemies.”  On a page headed “Summary of mental powers” the seven options provided include “You have inherited a very inferior nature, and will not think for yourself. You are low and vulgar in your habits.”

I can’t help thinking that anyone diagnosed in this category would feel pretty hard done by, parting with ready cash only to be told they were vulgar and inferior. The Ellis family obviously didn’t pull their punches; perhaps such brutal truths bestowed an air of authenticity on their readings.

The Ellises knew that they had to keep clients coming back for more. In their “Advice worth following” on p. 23 of “Stepping stones to success” they explain:

 “We would like you to consult us every year, because science is advancing so quickly that we are continually adding new features to our book. This enables our clients to obtain the latest information about themselves we can give, and also an opportunity to compare one chart with another, and thereby see what improvement has been made.”

Good idea to let your clients know that you keep up with the latest research in your field, there’s nothing so reassuring as a commitment to professional development in health practitioners.


In the lists of their books for sale at the end of their pamphlets, I noticed that the Ellises had initials  (F.B.I.M.S.) after their names, which my research tells me stood for Fellow of the British Institute of Mental Science (and before you ask, no, my researches have not succeeded in tracking that particular institution down.) The Ellises are careful to qualify their claims to scientific authenticity in “Notice to clients” at the beginning of “Palmistry chart” with an ingenious  explanation of why a client’s life may not unfold as read in their palm:

“It must be thoroughly understood that palmistry does not teach that things must absolutely occur, but that they possibly may unless steps are taken to hinder their occurrence. Thus it will be seen that if a voyage is marked on the hands, and efforts are made to hinder such an event, the mind will gradually register on the hands that the voyage was hindered, or the sign may fade away; whereas if events had taken their ordinary course the voyuage would have been undertaken.”

In other words, anything could happen.

The allusion to science is a canny ploy by the Ellis family – phrenology occupied a curious position in the public imagination during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, peddled on the one hand by fairground quacks, while being the subject of genuine academic research by respected thinkers on the other.  Significant British phrenologists included the Scottish brothers George and Andrew Combe, who established the Phrenological Society of Edinburgh in 1820. This group included such well-respected luminaries as the publisher/author Robert Chambers, the astronomer John Pringle Nichol, the botanist Hewett Cottrell Watson and psychiatrist and asylum reformer William A.F. Browne (who took part in debates at the Plinian Society, of which Charles Darwin was a member). However, phrenology enjoyed a chequered career as a serious academic discipline, was rejected by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and was eventually designated a pseudoscience.

We may scoff at the Ellis family’s methods, but aren’t they just cashing in on that enduring human need – to be listened to? Clients could enjoy the time and undivided attention of Albert, Ida or Frank at a consultation. What, after all, are psychiatrists and counsellors, if not people who will listen and dispense advice, for a price? And a much higher price than the Ellis family’s fees. Perhaps we should see the Ellis family as the poor man’s psychoanalysts, the working class alternative to the psychiatrist’s couch?People then, as now, were hungry for the promise of self-improvement, success, personal happiness. and fulfilment.

As for Albert, Ida and Frank, the bumps on their heads would surely have denoted sharp business brains. It feels a bit like booking with a certain budget airline, reading Ellis family booklets – you’re forever coming across extra charges.

“If at any time you require a more complete guide to success, you should send this book by post to the address on the cover, and enclose ten shillings.”

“We shall be pleased to fill up any portions of this book at any time from your photo or handwriting or impressions of hands. Our fee for doing so through the post is one shilling for each part.”

 “Palmistry by post or by personal interview. If by post it is necessary for the client first to send 6d. for a bottle of Transferine, a liquid composition for the purpose of making impressions of hands. Fees according to length and detail of description.”

I can’t help wondering what the ingredients of Transferine were. No doubt the entrepreneurial Ellises concocted it themselves in a back room of their headquarters.

The Ellises were careful to preserve their intellectual property, too. On the first page of all their publications is the following warning: 

“This chart is copyright, and legal proceedings will be taken against any person or persons who publish any portion of it without the written consent of the publishers, who have obtained an injunction and costs against a character reader who infringed the copyright of one of their charts.”

In other words, look out, any other “mental scientists” out there, and make sure you don’t impinge on the Ellis family turf.

Select bibliography

  •  Aids to self improvement. Classmark 1916.8.483
  • Guide to fame and fortune. Classmark 1916.8.572
  • Guide to health. Classmark 1916.8.484
  • Guide to success. Classmark 1916.8.509
  • Palmistry chart. Classmark 1916.8.617
  • Stepping stones to success. Classmark 1916.8.508
  • What baby is likely to become. Classmark 1916.8.621



The Birthday Book of Fate

As it’s now December and 2011 will soon be drawing to a close, many people will start to think about resolutions and aspirations for the year to come. But if we are to believe the predictions of Mrs Cecil Crofts in her book The Birthday Book of Fate (class mark 1916.6.266) then we may as well forget about any good intentions we may have, as Mrs Crofts asserts that our fate is decided by our birthday. And her fortune-telling motto seems to have been: you have to be cruel to be kind.

We have all kinds of fortune-telling books in the Tower collection, but this one in particular captured our attention for its dramatic boldness and lack of positive spin as is popular in modern fortune telling, where we are always told that great things will happen to us. In the Tower Project office some of us were left quite perturbed by our predicted fate, whilst others could sit back and take it easy as Mrs Croft had predicted wonderful things for them! As we read each other’s fortune aloud there were a few gasps of dismay when we heard what was in store for us, not to mention quite a few laughs.

Front cover

In the book the fortune for each birthday begins with an overarching symbol for that day, from which Mrs Crofts then elucidates further in the longer description below. This symbol supposedly describes the characteristics of the day of those born under it. These symbols in themselves are extremely bizarre. I quite like mine, which is “A party of men dining sumptuously” – I like to think that bodes well for a good fortune (how wrong I would be). Whilst a Tower Project colleague’s is “A man caning the hand of a boy.” She was not impressed. If you were born on December 5 it doesn’t look too promising either: “A man beating his head against a closed door”, and June 7 has to be the weirdest symbol: “A man shaving a poodle”. What can you make of that? These cryptic symbols had us in stitches, and we were impatient to find out more about our destiny …

Fond of breaking bad news, an ominous looking Mrs Crofts

The full description of one’s fate proved just as intriguing.  Apparently I lead “a very irregular life, in private such a one will be a “law unto himself”” and “would succeed best in a foreign land”. That really made my day. A colleague was similarly disappointed with their fortune, although it does describe their job role of cataloguing books rather accurately: “You will only excel in copying or perfecting the work, views, ideas, or dress of others.” Although none of us took the predictions particularly seriously, they do crop up in conversation from time to time, so we haven’t quite forgotten them. And at least if things start to look a bit rough I could always go and try my luck in a foreign land.

A selection of entries (apologies if your birthday falls on any of these dates!)

Are those born on March 23 destined to a life of loneliness?

Dare to dream? You probably shouldn't.

Oh dear, would you even want to know if this were your fate?

This book really is worth a look, and we all amused ourselves looking up family and loved ones’ fates. I certainly intend to spoil a few friends’ Christmases by writing their fortune in their Christmas card!

A school at war



 May Wynne’s “The honour of the school” published in 1918, has one of the most curious dustjackets I’ve ever seen. Who wouldn’t want to take this book off the shelf to find out what happens? The story begins traditionally with a new girl arriving at Polgrath school, which is housed in an old manor house on the Cornish coast, providing an exciting setting of wild sea, rugged cliffs,  and smugglers’ caves. The war intrudes mainly during meals: weak tea, no sugar and “war bread” which is unpopular. But the war is only the background to the real adventures: before a fortnight has passed the girls have been trapped in a smugglers’ cave and blown up a woodshed when practising chemical experiments. After a single morning recovering with her Latin grammar the heroine manages to fall down a cliff, and is rescued by a young man in khaki, who has come from Canada “to fight the Germans”, his ship has been torpedoed and he has swum ashore. Beat that.

Still wondering why the hero has been hiding behind the panelling in the picture gallery? I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the surprise ending. Read it and find out!

The holidays, 1917


I have to confess that I hadn’t given much thought to holidays during the First World War until I came across this volume The holidays – where to stay and what to see, 1917 – an annual publication,  first published in 1896. 


The 1917 edition is about half the size  of the peacetime volumes, but is still pretty substantial. There are well over 300 pages of text and advertisements, and there are hardly any references to the war.  Perhaps at the time it wasn’t necessary to continually mention the fact,  but anyone reading the guide today would find it hard to believe that at the time of publication Britain had been at war for more than two years.

As you might expect, with so many European destinations unavailable, the guide mainly features British seaside resorts and spa towns.  Blackpool, Brighton, Scarborough and Great Yarmouth all feature prominently – with no mention of risk of air raids, or the bombardment of East Coast towns by the German fleet.  Not surprisingly, inland destinations proved popular, though there are some unusual entries –  I hadn’t really considered Luton, Dunstable, Hitchin and Peterborough as prime holiday destinations!

It’s always interesting to find references to places that you know well, so I was pleased to find this advertisement for Thorpeness, a purpose built holiday “village” near Aldeburgh in Suffolk.  I stayed there several times in the 1990s, and the place has hardly changed. In fact there was far more to do there in 1917 than there is today.

Most surprisngly holiday cruises were still being advertised.  The Rotterdam Lloyd company were offering 18 day Mediterranean cruises, departing from Southampton, and calling at Lisbon, Tangier, Gibraltar and Marseille. Fares averaged about £1 per day in 1st Class, and 12s (60p) in 2nd class.  The Finland Line was also offering holidays in Finland, sailing from Hull.  I’m not an expert on the war at sea, but the Mediterranean and the North Sea must have been pretty hazardous in 1917 – certainly not suitable for a pleasure cruise.

A London Murder Mystery: Doctor H.H. Crippen and Ethel Le Neve


Now it’s getting slightly wintery (and foggy) I thought a nice murder mystery would be the best sort of read. I had looked at some of the tower’s classic authors like Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan-Doyle, but then I came across the real thing….

I had not previously heard of the infamous Dr. Crippen and his lover Ethel Le Neve. But the case appears to have drawn massive interest at the time and is still well-known today, especially with new evidence coming to light strangely in 2007!

The delight the Edwardians took in the case is highlighted by the tabloid-esque flyer I catalogued a few weeks ago. Its bold headline was horrific and showy: London murder mystery : Dr. H.H. Crippen committed for trial for the alleged murder of Belle Elmore (Mrs. Crippen) whose mutilated body was found in a cellar in London. Its contents were a mixture of court statements given by the accused and a selections of jolly songs composed about the case. One being the grossly understated “Naughty doctor”, which went along to the tune of “Lets all go down to the Strand”. If anyone knows it, here’s a taster:

Some time ago a naughty doctor
Had made a decent name, I do declare
They seemed to say a murder it was planned,
And Doctor Crippen he had the job in hand….

The nation was obviously gripped by the case. So much so that Ethel Le Neve produced a pamphlet of her own version of events  Ethel Le Neve : her life story ; with the true account of their flight and her friendship with Dr. Crippen ; also startling particulars of her life at Hilldrop Crescent / told by herself  hoping she claimed, to convince the public of her innocence.

The mystery goes as follows:  In 1900 Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen, a homeopathic physician from Michigan, came to England with his much younger, music-hall performer wife, Belle Elmore. After a few years here their relationship began to sour and Crippen began to suspect that his wife had started entertaining a certain gentleman called Bruce Miller. Yet in 1905 they moved to Hilldrop Crescent, Holloway in London and remained living there together until, after a dinner party on the 31st of January 1910, Belle Elmore vanished. When the police came to investigate, Crippen and Ethel fled, and fled in disguise, her as a boy and he without his moustache! This caused further suspicions and led to the uncovering of incriminating evidence.

Crippen claimed to the courts, that Belle who was openly conducting an affair, had flown into a rage, threatened to leave with her lover and preceded to do so the next day instructing him to cover up the scandal. This he did by spreading the word that she had returned to America. He later developed on this by adding that she had died there of pneumonia.

Ethel, according to her version, had also been told this and this she believed, being in love with Crippen and deeply trusting of him. She knew nothing about the post dinner fight at the time and reported that the day after the dinner party Dr. Crippen was at work as usual, calm and normal, not like someone who had poisoned, murdered and mutilated his wife.

Her landlady however reported to the judge that on that day Miss Le Neve returned home in a state of great agitation, trembling, fingers twitching and being unable to dress her hair. This Ethel assures us is fairly common: ‘the life of a typist-secretary is always a hard one’ and that she had many responsibilities mentally harassing to a girl of her age (27) and temperament.

Innocently Ethel then moved into Hilldrop. She noticed no sign of violence and though all Belle’s jewellery, clothes and furs remained in the house she was not suspicious for someone running away to a new life would not take such things with her would she? She admits she maybe made a mistake in wearing Belle’s jewellery out in public and persuading the Doctor to pawn the rest (though this was for safety not financial gain).

Their reason for flight was quite innocent, she tells us: Crippen forced to admit publically that he lied about Belle’s location and death feared a massive scandal and convinced her that leaving immediately and unnoticed was the only way to avoid it. She found this odd but went along with him. Ethel is shocked that some people suspected her guilt from these actions, I myself am not that surprised.

Yet were they all that innocent? For during their flight the remains of a body (non-identifiable remains) are found under the floor of the basement. The pathologist Bernard Spilsbury only identified the remains from a found piece of scarred skin which he claimed matched Belle’s medical history. Also large quantities of hyoscine were found in the remains, a drug Crippen had recently bought from a local chemist.

 Now this artful gay fellar he had a coal cellar.
And we hear it was covered in bricks
Twas the scene of the crime if they’d bold him in time
Twould have put a stop to his tricks ….

Due to these findings Crippen and Ethel were pursued by the Inspector Drew across the ocean to  Canada. Scotland Yard used wireless communications for the first time to aid the chase, signaling and slowing the boat, which allowed officers to board and apprehend the pair on July 31 1910. They were then later tried in England with Ethel being acquitted and Crippen sentenced to death by hanging.

To the tune of Yip-i-addy-i-ay:
Crippen, my laddie they’ll make you pay,
Whatever made you run away?
And pop off with your lover right over the sea,
Dressed as a boy, and so smart was she.
Soon the piper you’ll have to pay, hooray,
They’ll give you some physic one day,
At a end of a string, some day you might sing,

It’s hard to judge what really happened. Crippen showed no remorse while Ethel claimed innocence and also cleverly avoided any accusations or attribution of guilt or emotions about the murder. Nothing really identifiable of the body was ever found and recent DNA tests have shown it not to be that of Belle. Motives of money or syphilis have been put forward and alternatives about illegal abortions suggested. There is a lot out there on the web, more than this blog can handle, but it’s definitely worth a bit of research on a wintery night. On that note I leave you with a less than conclusive argument, all together now ….

What made him kill his darling wife,
To us it seems so funny,
I suppose it’s like a lot more things,
She had a little money.
He found that he was going wrong,
His crime he tried to smother,
He chopped her up and buried her
Then hooked it with another ….

Know your nose


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The nose is the most prominent feature of the face, and the art of reading character by the nose is one of the most interesting of human studies

Noses and What They Indicate is one of many books that were published on physiognomy, or the art of understanding personalities based on facial features. This blog has already covered books on moles and moustaches but this work obviously concentrates just on the nose.

Noses and What They Indicate

The author claims that the nose is the one facial feature which can’t be hidden (by either a large hat or facial hair) and is always on show for the world to see.  Therefore it is one of the most important indicators of character and its study should not be taken lightly.

Examples of noses

Examples of noses

The Roman nose is described as being “the nose of a conqueror” and people who have this type of nose often make natural leaders, with examples such as Queen Elizabeth and Gladstone. The cognitive nose is found “among men of all pursuits” but especially those who “gain the highest kind of excellence in every department”. Famous theologians Luther and Wesley are prime examples of this type of nose. Celestial noses, which are often slightly upturned at the end, are admired in the fairer sex but not very popular in men due to their somewhat feminine appearance.

 The book also points out the importance of nose breathing in order to prevent disease. It talks about the small hairs inside the nose which help to trap germs and can be particularly useful in preventing consumption. Proper and full breathing is advocated as is drawing water up the nostril, although to be honest I’m not sure that last one is very healthy…!

Although volunteers were sought from the Tower Project office to have their noses analysed, sadly there were no takers. Instead we’ve decided to look at some famous noses, based on the principles laid out in the book:

Barry Manilow: his slightly hooked nose indicates that he’s a talkative individual whilst the rounded tip equals a good character

Barbra Streisand: her famous nose indicates tenderness and shows that she’s a sensitive soul

Stephen Fry: the shape of his nostrils show that he has a high I.Q. whilst the wings of his nose show that he’s a curious individual

So far I would like to think that these books seem pretty accurate. Next time you are sizing someone up (for whatever reason!) maybe you should pay more attention to the shape of their nose. It could be telling you more than you think…

Noses and What They Indicate: 1912.7.3037

Image credits: ladybugbkt, JCT(loves)Streisand, lewishamdreamer on Flickr

The war at home: telling the children

What information was given to children at the time of the first world war? The world had changed. “We see khaki everywhere now, because we are at war” explains the author of “The army told to the children.” (classmark 1916.6.20)  No space is given to discussing the causes of the war, the book simply describes how the army works and what it does. The book’s presentation makes it clear that the book is aimed at older children. It has a text-book like clarity and focuses on the practical. The photographs are the highlight of the book for me: the trenches are shown in detail but in their newly dug, tidy state. The text coolly explains what needs to be done. Soldiers need trenches so that they can shoot at the enemy without being seen themselves. Emergency ‘shelter’ trenches, less than a foot deep with a low ridge of earth at the front, could be dug in half an hour.  But each day the army stays in one place, the trenches are improved, deepened so that men can stand upright. Sandbags are used to create a barrier at the front of the trench through which the soldiers can fire.  “In the present war hundreds of miles of these trenches have been made, with tunnels between them so that men can move about under cover.”

I can imagine that in war-time even children became theroretical experts about fighting battles, that some child would confidently repeat to others that “There’s danger from shells and bullets, but shells are really not so dangerous because it is difficult to judge the range and take a good shot”.

However, some of the descriptions are more graphic than I would judge suitable for children “men crouching behind a bank of earth, with showers of shrapnel bullets crashing down upon them, and high explosive shells bursting in and around the bank in front, blowing men to pieces, smothering all the front in clouds of smoke and dust and flying fragments …”

So, not suitable for children but a brilliant explanation of how the war was fought – how it was fed, supplied and armed. For most children the war was seen chiefly through fiction – to be covered next week …