18th-century retail therapy

One of the things we really enjoy doing during our research is to look at the advertisements in the newspapers of the day to see what sort of items were for sale. Don’t you just wonder what it would have been like to go back in time and visit some of the shops? Perhaps a visit to the perfumier would be worth a visit, especially to get away from the pungent odours of eighteenth-century London.

From the late eighteenth-century onward, people would have carried a vinaigrette containing a sponge soaked in perfume or vinegar, to mask the unpleasant odours from the streets, such as this lovely one depicting Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of Lord Byron.

Perfumiers weren’t quite what we view them as today. Yes, they sold perfume, but they also catered for other essentials required by both men and women.

Trade card - Charles Sharp c1770. Yale Centre for British Art
Trade card – Charles Sharp c1770. Yale Centre for British Art

In this post, we take a look at some of the ‘essentials’ that every self-respecting man or woman would have owned.  In the late 1770s, Mr Lewis Hendrie owned a shop in the Haymarket area of London and these are some of the items he sold and it’s always great to see some prices bearing in mind that one shilling would have been the equivalent of about £5 in today’s money.

Wash Balls

These would have been priced at around one shilling each, usually white or brown almond and were used to whiten the skin and to prevent chapping. White almond was slightly more expensive than brown almond.

French School; Portrait of a Lady at Her Toilet Table, Dressed in a Peignoir; The Bowes Museum

French Powders

These came in a variety of fragrances, such as jasmine, orange, rose, violet or simply ‘common hair powder’. Also, tooth powder, powder bags, powder masks and puffs.

A powder for the face which answers all the intents of white paint, without having any of its pernicious effects. 8 shillings per pound (and sold in smaller quantities).

Colonial Williamsburg
Colonial Williamsburg

Brushes

And combs for hair, for shaving, toothbrushes and tongue scrapers. Body brushes and oil silk bathing caps.

 Soaps & Waters

These again came in several varieties such as Castille, Windsor, Naples. Improved soap for shaving with a brush. Double distilled lavender, Hungary, honey and other floral scents.

A shop lifter. Lewis Walpole Library
A shoplifter. Lewis Walpole Library

Oils

Almond, Rhodium, Jasmine, Rosemary and shaving oil.

We weren’t quite sure how shaving oil was used and found a reference to it some ten years prior to Mr Hendrie’s advertisement which described it as ‘the best thing ever invented for the purpose of having or washing fine lace and greatly useful where there is a scarcity of water. Price 6 pence or 1 shilling for a larger bottle’. Not a cheap product then!

Winterthur Museum, garden and library
Winterthur Museum, garden and library

Foreign Pomatums

Orange, lemon, bergamot and bouquet.

Miscellaneous items such as

Genuine Bear’s Grease:

the only certain remedy to make hair grow thick and to prevent it falling out – one shilling and six pence an ounce.

Tragically, yes it was made from the rendered down fat of young bears.

A composition to take off superfluous hair from the forehead and eyebrows. Takes off hair instantly, 6 pence a stick. For a while, in the eighteenth-century, it was fashionable to remove forehead hair, although we’re not quite sure as to why you would want to do that.

Best French rouge, two shillings and sixpence per pot, which is about the same amount as a skilled tradesperson would earn for one day’s work.

A pomatum that destroys nits in the hair, warranted without the least injury to the person. One shilling per pot.

A liquid, that without injury will dye grey or red hair to a glossy black or brown. This came with a money back guarantee, if it didn’t work!.

Pen knives, scissors, powder knives, tweezers, toothpicks, patches and patch boxes and snuff boxes.

Snuff shop. Yale Centre for British Art
Snuff shop. Yale Centre for British Art

Crimping, curling, nipping, pinching, toupee irons, hair rollers and hair ribbons, but no products such as heat protector or hairspray existed! In 1783, a Mr F Day advertised a new type of styling comb to replace the ‘frizzing comb and curling iron’ which he claimed produced a better result than either of the existing products. He was selling these newfangled combs at three shillings each.

A Hairdresser curling a lady's hair, one of the sketches made in Edinburgh and the neighbourhood after the rebellion of 1745. Paul Sandby. British Museum
A Hairdresser curling a lady’s hair, one of the sketches made in Edinburgh and the neighbourhood after the rebellion of 1745. Paul Sandby. British Museum

There was no such thing as a nail bar in the Georgian era, but if you wanted your finger or toenails to look good, you could visit a chiropodist. As well as treating corns and warts, they also offered products described as ‘ivory-nail models’. They were described as being as ‘portable as a tooth-pick case, which forms the nails on the hand into an agreeable shape’. They were priced at ten shillings and sixpence and came with directions for use. Were these the first false nails? If these weren’t for you then you could buy fine steel nail-nippers at five shilling per pair.

They were nothing if not entrepreneurial, for example, in 1794 we have Mr Nosworthy of Queen Street, Norwich, a perfumier, who expanded his business to include everything you needed for sewing, toys for children, crockery and cutlery, stationery, fashion accessories such as purses, fans, parasols, umbrellas and perfumed gloves.

A barber's shop. Lewis Walpole Library
A barber’s shop. Lewis Walpole Library

Perfumed gloves date back at least a century and there were very two distinct types:

The streets would have had a pretty unpleasant odour and a lady would always wear gloves, so scenting the glove with an almond based perfume, was a way  of creating a product that would give the lady something pleasant to smell.

These glove were often known as known as ‘Frangipani gloves’. The first reference we came across for such gloves was in an encyclopedia of 1734. It is reputed that the scent was developed by a Italian nobleman, Marquis Frangipani, who created a perfume used to scent gloves, purses and bags back in the 16th century. However, it is more likely that this was actually a synthetic product based upon the plant discovered somewhat earlier by Charles Plumier, a French botanist.

The other type of perfumed gloves had an altogether more sinister use and were coated in arsenic and would have made had a more sinister use,but we’ll leave the rest of that to your imagination.

Adult only items!

Although we haven’t spotted any adverts for them, condoms would have been readily available for sale from the likes of Mrs Phillips and Perkins, on Half Moon Street in London or from Miss Jenny who sold second-hand, washed ones. The other retailers would have been apothecaries or barbers. They were made from lamb’s caecum and often tied with a ribbon.

Blackguardiana: Or, A Dictionary of Rogues by James Caulfield c 1793
Blackguardiana: Or, A Dictionary of Rogues by James Caulfield c 1793

The same went for sex toys, relatively recent discoveries have shown that there was a demand for dildos too, these were often purchased by upper-class women and made of wax, horn or leather, wood or ivory.

Blackguardiana: Or, A Dictionary of Rogues by James Caulfield c 1793
Blackguardiana: Or, A Dictionary of Rogues by James Caulfield c 1793

If only we could have gone back in time to visit their shops. They almost sound like modern-day department stores, where you could spend hours buying everything you didn’t realise that you needed.  Oh, and of course perfume!

Part of the reason we started looking at shops, apart from our own curiosity, was that we were lucky enough to have discovered the inventory for Dido Elizabeth Belle’s husband, John Davinière and whilst it’s still in the process of being translated into English with the help of Etienne Daly, we can share with you some of the items listed within the jewellery section of it. Sadly, it is simply a list of items that he owned at the time of his death with very little by way of description, but the fact that they were silver implies that they would have been quite expensive.

There were 3 rings, two kept together and one on its own which we suspect was more than like Dido’s wedding ring. A carriage clock, a silver enamelled toothpick; a silver necessaire, scissors, a type of silver braid, perhaps John received an honour of some sort, but there are no further clues as yet to indicate what it related to.

Whilst it isn’t clear as to whether the silver necessaire was a man or woman’s it would have been a small container which held small items perhaps for sewing such as small scissors, a thimble, possibly a vial of perfume. For a man, it would perhaps contain scissors, a small knife and an earpick.

Sources used

Public Ledger or The Daily Register of Commerce and Intelligence, October 13, 1761

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 14 November 1793

Bury and Norwich Post, 06 August 1794

Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, November 15, 1783

Chambers, Ephraim. Cyclopædia: or, an universal dictionary of arts and sciences. … By E. Chambers, F.R.S. With the supplement, and modern improvements

1734. The dictionary historical and critical of Mr Peter Bayle

Papplewick Dam, Nottinghamshire; John Rawson Walker; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

The Murder of Bessie Sheppard 1817

Many people in Nottinghamshire will have travelled past the stone marking Elizabeth Sheppard’s death in 1817 and not even noticed it as it is now hidden in the undergrowth.  As a teenager I passed the stone every day on my way to school but never really knew anything about who she was or why there was a stone there, but I had heard about her ghost that was said to haunt the A60 where she died with reports of motorists stopping to offer a girl a lift, when she simply disappeared.

The story was well documented at the time and has continued to fascinate ever since. Stories normally only make it onto our blog if they contain at least one new fact, however, we have made an exception in this case as it’s such a tragic story that we think will be of interest and also quite simply because we can!

Newspapers of the day described the girl in this story as Elizabeth Shepherd, not Sheppard which seems strange that they should have got her name wrong in such an important trial. There was a baptism in 1799 for an Elizabeth Shepherd which I think was in all likelihood her, daughter of Richard and Molly. Her burial in the parish records at Papplewick also recorded her as Shepherd.

Church of St James, Papplewick (Geograph; Richard Vince)
Church of St James, Papplewick (Geograph; Richard Vince)

On Monday the 7th July 1817 Elizabeth left her home in the village of Papplewick, Nottinghamshire, to walk to the town of Mansfield some 7 miles away, to seek employment as a servant. She was successful in her mission and began the long walk home – but she never made it back. About 4 miles from home Elizabeth, known as Bessie, was attacked by a Charles Rotherham.

Charles Rotherham, aged about 33, was a former soldier from Sheffield, who having fought in the Napoleonic Wars had taken up the occupation of a scissor grinder, so was presumably earning a living by travelling around the country sharpening knives. There was no reason offered in the newspaper reports as to why he was in that area so we can only presume his trade had led him there.

According to the newspaper reports Rotherham, without a word and with no apparent motive, attacked Bessie with a hedge-stake. He beat her until she died. The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser described Bessie as being ‘an interesting girl of 17’ and Rotherham as ‘a monstrous assassin’.

Having found no money upon her person, he stole her new shoes, ones she was wearing for her interview, and her umbrella and threw her body into a ditch. Apparently, shortly after having committed such an appalling crime he continued his journey toward Nottingham, stopping at The Hutt, an Inn, (opposite the entrance to Newstead Abbey, which was until 1816, owned by Lord Byron), for a drink, having passed Bessie’s mother who had set off in search of her daughter who was later than expected. According to the newspapers Bessie’s mother had seen a man with an umbrella on his arm.

Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire by J.C. Barrow, 1793.
Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire by J.C. Barrow, 1793.

When her body was found the following day in a ditch, it was described as being in a dreadful state with her brain protruding from her skull, one eye knocked out of the socket. Rotherham was quickly pursued and arrested, by Constable Benjamin Barnes, at which time Rotherham allegedly said ‘I am guilty of the crime and must suffer the course of the law’. He was taken to the scene of the crime and showed the officer the stake he had used, but could offer no explanation as to why he had done it, but his clothes showed signs of blood stains. He had money, 6 shillings in fact, in his pocket, so possibly money was not the motive, but he had successfully sold both her shoes and her umbrella.

The Hutt
© Copyright roger geach and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

At his trial he entered a plea of guilty, but for some reason the judge persuaded him to change his plea to not guilty. The case was heard, with ‘a considerable number of people called’ including Bessie’s mother; the newspapers reported him as being ‘resigned to his fate’. Right up to the time of his death Rotherham said he had no idea what made him commit such a heinous crime. He was visited by the Rev. Dr. Wood prior to the hanging and seemed to show remorse for what had happened.  His fate, however, was sealed and he was hanged on the 28th July 1817 in Nottingham. Some 20,000 people attended the execution, after which his body was given over to a surgeon for dissection and was then interred at St Mary’s churchyard, Nottingham.

Rotherham left a wife, but no children, plus a brother and two sisters. According to the newspapers he had served as a solider for 12 years in the Artillery Corps and had been present in battles in Egypt, Portugal, Spain and France. Apparently on the day of the murder he had drunk 7 pints of ale in Mansfield before walking to the spot where the crime was committed.

Elizabeth was buried on the 10th July 1817 at St James’ parish church, Papplewick. The Lancaster Gazette and General Advertiser of 13th March 1819, a little under two years later, reported that the local community was so shocked by this murder that money was raised to purchase a stone so that her memory would live on.

On Tuesday night a neat monument was erected on Sherwood Forest, on the spot where this unfortunate female was murdered and on which was engraved the following inscription ‘this monument was erected in memory of Elizabeth Sheppard, of Papplewick, who was murdered on this spot by Charles Rotherham on the 7th July 1817 in  the 17th year of her age.

bessie sheppard

The Bessie Sheppard Stone

Was he guilty? My view is that despite the evidence he was not guilty, surely if he had just beaten someone to death he would not have simply carried on walking to an inn, with blood stained clothes surely he would have wanted to avoid being seen. Wouldn’t Bessie’s mother have recognized the umbrella? Some reports state that Bessie was travelling from Mansfield towards Nottingham and that Rotherham was travelling towards Mansfield when the incident happened i.e. in the opposite direction, if that were the case, did he change his mind and head back toward Nottingham, if not then he could not have passed Bessie’s mother. It also raises the question as to why people felt compelled to mark her death with the stone, not many murders are marked in such a way.

The story of Bessie’s murder lingers on and there are still reported sightings of her ghost and as I grew up I was always aware of the legend that if the stone were ever moved from that spot that she would appear – to answer your question, no, I never saw her ghost.

 Header image: Papplewick Dam, Nottinghamshire; John Rawson Walker; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries