Monday, 19 September 2011

Maria Manning - Hung For Murder 1849/50

I've had a bit of a problem with my back for years now. And last week it decided without my say so to have a bit of an "Episode". So I had to stay home from work at the day job.
To keep myself occupied I sat in my comphy upright chair, stayed warm, took my tablets, watched hours of period dramas, and sewed until my fingers hurt. Not only did I manage to finish my Maria Manning doll, but also managed to get my mothers Christmas present, a Spanish Flamenco Dancer doll, dressed and wigged. So here they both are.
Maria Manning was born in Switzerland and emigrated to Britain to work as a lady’s maid to the wealthy Lady Blantyre, who was the daughter of the Duchess of Sutherland. She developed a taste for a luxurious lifestyle amid the elegance of her employer’s homes and general finery. She dreaded the idea of poverty, and resolved she would never live like that. She met Patrick O’Connor while travelling with her mistress. And as a custom-house officer at London’s docks he was independently wealthy, as well as his being a well-known money lender. Maria was also involved with Frederick Manning, who did not have a very well paid job. Both men proposed to her at around the same time, and Maria had to decide which one of them would make the better husband and provide for her better. After promising Maria that he was soon to come into a large inheritance, the younger Frederick ‘won the day’, and he and Maria were married. At first the couple afforded a fairly stylish house, but she soon realised that the inheritance was not to come. She continued to see O’Connor, and renewed her affair with him; apparently with the acquiescence of Manning.
On 17th Aug 1849 two policemen discovered a body under the flagstones in the kitchen of Mr & Mrs Manning’s home in Bermondsey. The skull was fractured in two places, and a bullet protruded under the skin of the right eye. The deceased was Patrick O’Connor who had been a frequent visitor to the house, and had often joined the couple for dinner at their home. Maria had hatched a plan to kill her rich lover and take his money. It’s known that she purchased a sack of quicklime and a shovel before inviting him to dinner on the 9th Aug 1849. When he arrived she suggested that he might like to wash his hands before dinner. And as he did so standing at the kitchen sink, she shot him in the head with a pistol. The bullet did not kill him, and Frederick finished him off by battering his head with a crowbar. The couple then buried the body in a pre-dug grave below the kitchen flagstones, covering it with plenty of quicklime to try and speed the body’s decay. The following day Maria went to O’Connor’s lodgings and managed to con her way into his rooms where she systematically went through his belongings and stole railway shares and other valuables, returning the next day to take anything more she had missed. She was the power behind the murder, although her husband had helped.
Two days later two men claiming to be O’Connor’s colleagues came to the Manning home looking for him, giving them a nasty fright. They suspected that they were detectives, and so decided to leave London immediately. After sending her husband to try and sell their furniture Maria packed everything of value she could find and that she could carry and left for Edinburgh. Maria’s motive was pure greed, and while she was willing to grant O’Connor sexual favours it’s clear all she really wanted was his money. Mrs Manning was eventually found and arrested in Edinburgh, where she was trying to sell the railway shares she had stolen from the murdered man. Her husband was found in Jersey. The contrast between Maria and her husband was great, her with a proud, cold demeanour and he unimpressive and weak, which left him widely despised for hiding behind his wife.
At their trial each tried to blame the other, and as the verdict was passed Maria showed the only emotion that she had shown throughout the whole of her arrest, trial and finally her execution – She lost her composure and screamed and raved at the judge, shouting “Damnation Seize Ye All” as he tried to pass the death sentence. Although she apparently asked the wardens escorting her back to gaol how they had liked her performance in court. She was considered a suicide risk, and had 3 wardenesses that slept in the cell with her, very much to her disgust. She lulled them into a false sense of security, and after letting her nails grow long tried to strangle herself and puncture her own windpipe. To prepare her for the gallows her arms where bound behind her with cords, and her stiff starched and corded petticoats would have been taken away so that her gown and legs could be bound on the platform to prevent the wind causing her skirts to blow up. She asked to be blindfolded by a black silk handkerchief, and had her face covered with a black lace veil to conceal her features from public gaze. Walking to their death at a public hanging she walked to her doom with a firm, unfaltering step, while his step was ‘feeble and tottering, and he had to be supported by two turnkeys’. On their way a singular coincidence occurred. The Manning’s walked over their own graves, just as they had made their victim do in the kitchen.
Maria Manning made it into Madame Tussaud’s famous waxworks. And it’s likely that they were sold the actual dress that Maria had died in. She was an attractive woman. Her gown as she walked to her death was of black satin, and it was widely believed that it was because of this that black satin became unfashionable immediately after her execution and stayed so for nearly 30 years.
Charles Dickens described the sight of the hangings – “The man’s a limp loose suit of clothes, as if the man had gone out of them; the woman’s a fine shape, so elaborately corseted and artfully dressed, that it was quite unchanged in its trim appearance as it swayed slowly from side to side”.
My Maria wears white cotton bloomers and shift under a corset and lots of petticoats. Over her sage green under petticoat she has one with lots of cording sewn tightly tucked inside by hand to help hold out her huge skirts. This was before the introduction of the cage crinoline, and skirts were held out with as many petticoats as a woman could bear to wear or carry, sometimes as many as 20 plus layers of petticoats, all sewn to one or two waistbands, using different techniques to stiffen them and lots and lots of starch. After this corded petticoat (which actually lets this doll stand unaided if you get the balance right), Maria has a heavily flounced dark red petticoat before her black satin under- and over-skirts. She has a black lace shoulder covering small shawl and false sleeves, and a black satin bodice with fashionable almost off the shoulder low arm seemed shoulders. The sash she wears around her waist is purple satin, and her hair had a touch of navy blue to add some colour. A lady at this time would not have gone out in public without a bonnet or hat. And there are illustrations that picture Maria in a white cap trimmed with black lace. So I made my doll a similar cap of ivory silk cotton and trimmed it with black satin ribbon and lace. And I've made her her own rope noose to carry to the gallows.

After all that darkness it was a real change to sew the bright red spotted cotton into loads of ruffles for my Mother's Rosy, a traditional Flanenco Dancer with a fitted long bodice, ruffles at her neck, sleeves, wrists and all over her trailing skirt, with a white lace shawl for good measure. She was fun to make, even though not really my style. And I really hope my Mam likes her :)

Monday, 12 September 2011

Maria Manning - The Killer of Black Satin

After having a total panic when I realised I have 3 commission dolls to finish by the end of October, and then another pair before Christmas, going on a shopping mission to gather all the fabric I need together, and planning out my activities so strictly I could tell you what I'm doing on the Monday in three weeks time, part of my brain decided that I had time to fit in one more doll before I had to start them.
I must be nuts!

To make things just a little more difficult for myself, the only doll I wanted to make right now was the scandalous Victorian Murderer Maria Manning.

Maria and her husband were convicted and hung in  1849 for the murder of Patrick O'Connor - Maria's Lover!
Maria was a Lady's Maid working for a great English lady. And she'd acquired a taste for the richer things in life during her career.
She had been in a relationship with both O'Connor and Manning when both proposed to her. She had to choose between the already rich customs officer and loan shark O'Connor, and the poor Manning who had told her he would soon be coming into a large inheritance. She chose the later, and soon found that the inheritance would never come, and she was stuck living a poor life without any of the extravagances she wanted.

She began her affair with O'Connor shortly after; some say with her husbands knowledge. He was a frequent visitor to their home, and one night when invited to dinner, Maria shot him in the back of the head, Manning battered him around the skull to make sure he was dead, and the couple buried him in a pre-prepared grave beneath the kitchen flagstones, covering the body with quicklime.

 After twice talking her way into O'Connor's rooms and stealing everything of value, Maria then tricked her husband and left for Scotland with all the valuables they possessed and her stolen loot.

She was a heartless, cold , and calculating woman who dammed the court as her sentence was read after trying to blame the whole murder on her weak, pathetic husband. As she walked to the gallows, ironically passing over her own grave site as she did so just as O'Connor must have walked over his in the kitchen, she held her head high and walked with a firm step. She chose to wear a fashionable black satin gown with black lace veil to her hanging. And as there was so much publicity and scandal surrounding the case, it being reported in every newspaper and journal throughout the country, the  popularity of wearing black satin suddenly declined, and it didn't come back into fashion for 30 years.

Maria isn't the easiest doll to have decided to make in a limited time because of the period of clothing that she'll need. 1849 was still 5 or 6 years before the invention of the cage crinoline, and the huge bell shaped skirts favoured by women of the time were created by multiple layers of petticoats alone.

Two of Maria's petticoats are just finished. So along with her baggy bloomers and long scoop necked chemise and corset Maria now wears an under-petticoat of green cotton to protect her legs from the stiff coarse calico fabric of her corded petticoat.

As the two women were living during the same period, Maria's corded petticoat is constructed in the same way as I made one for my Mary Shelley. Just on a smaller scale as Maria is quite a bit smaller than Mary is. Each cord has been individually tucked into the calico and hand sewn into place, with the next cord folded in very close to the first with some gaps left between groups of rows to give some flexibility. When all the cords were in I then sewed a panel of calico to the back of the cording panel to stop them curling up and to keep them in the right shape. A real full-sized corded petticoat would have hundreds of lines of cording sewn into it to create the support needed to keep the voluminous skirts held out in the fashionable bell shape. And I really can't imagine having to hand sew one of these garments for myself as women did then. It must have taken months to complete, and must have been very tough on the fingers. I have a hole in my finger after just sewing in 21 cords, and remember having many small injuries after finishing Mary Shelley's larger corded petticoat.

Now I'm on to the next layer to help create bulk and soften the shape of Maria's skirts - a dark red flounced petticoat. I know that women during the 1840's would have worn any number of petticoats, from six to thirty in varying layers of plain, flounced, corded and ones stuffed with horse hair. But Maria's size is limiting me to how many I can get away with in her costume. After this next flounced layer I think there will only be room for one more plain one, and then her underskirt and gown. I'm looking forward to sewing in the nice floaty black sating I have ready for her. But that low scooped neckline is going to be a real challenge :)

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Terry's Grandmother

Terry’s family originates from Germany and Yugoslavia. They travelled as Gypsies throughout Europe, and through the stories told to him by his Grandmother it’s clear that the strongest sense of magic in his life came from her. In Terry’s Grandmother all of the knowledge and skills of generations came together, and sadly no name is given for her in the account I read in A Victorian Grimoire by Patricia Telesco.

She had many magical things around her home such as a Ouija board that was still used on occasion when Terry was a child. It was a unique object; round with protective symbols at the edge and a pentagram in the centre. The family believed that the best wood for such a board was oak or yew, and this one was oak. The most unique feature of this board was that instead of a planchette it employed a blue crystal hanging from a chain. In this way there was no real physical contact with it other than when setting it up. There were traditional alphabet letters imprinted on it, but it lacked the “yes”, “No”, and “End” seen on more modern boards, and it was stored away in a special velvet cloth and left undisturbed when not in use. The crystal itself was left sitting out as decoration. Another tool, a two-hundred-year-old Tarot deck was sadly destroyed when one family member converted to Catholicism. It was reportedly made of cloth and slightly larger than the decks we use today.

Terry’s Grandmother was known as a wise woman and a psychic reader, often employing flower petals for divination in a perfectly Victorian manner. She had a talent for communicating with spirits, seeing into the future, interpreting dreams, and of course, healing love-sick hearts. For pregnant women she often advised different types of teas for each month, and her commanding demeanour usually kept them listening. In matters of love she had a very special, distinctive recipe, passed down to Terry himself, for spaghetti sauce. Made as if one were arranging a blind date, and then given to those who needed it. Most of the herbs involved were for love, sex and longevity. And Terry remembers times when the sauce was specially prepared and given to people they knew – they being none the wiser of its attributes.

She had a way with animals, and like a majority of superstitions from the Victorian era, a particular way with birds. She could still feed the birds in the city environment she lived in when an old woman, by Hand! She had unusual pets, like a pet bull that only she could lead, cats with seven toes, porcupines and skunks. And she had kept a kitchen garden at her home when she was younger, stocked full of herbs and useful plants. She had shelves filled with jars of all types of spices, and did her own herb gathering and drying. Usually, the herbs were dried by hanging, but certain herbs had to be dried in the oven at very low temperatures. Unfortunately as she aged memory failed Terry’s Grandmother, and she was unable to recall which herbs these were when Terry had asked her.

Terry’s Grandmother’s home showed a rich magical tradition. There were candles of every shape and colour wherever you went. Tables throughout the house where adorned with hand crocheted doilies, which, if examined closely, contained tiny magical symbols. There is still a brass vase in the family that no one is allowed to touch, but it draws children and adults alike to stare at it; energy radiates from the metal like a beacon. Visitors to her home still remember Terry’s Grandmother warning them of fairies in nearby fields.

I was so inspired by this account of a strong, caring, true Victorian Witch that I couldn’t resist making her as one of my dolls. I pictured her as a smart, intelligent lady. As mentioned in the full account I dressed her as she would have been at the turn of the century. And my Terry’s Grandmother wears sweet lace frilled long knickers and a mid-length white cotton chemise that has a lace frilled front to help emphasise the fashionable shape desired at the time. After a tightly laced corset to show off her still tiny waist Terry’s Grandmother wears a plum coloured petticoat that has a slight train and is gathered in back. Her crisp, high-necked, cream cotton lawn blouse is trimmed with lace to match the lace frills on the three-quarter sleeves of her dress. Which is made of a soft sage green checked fabric, and has a pleated cross front, tailored skirts with an elegant train, and a contrasting purple satin sash.
For this special lady I’ve made her own little scene to sit in, surrounded by some of the things she would have used in her daily life. Tiny jars of spice sit next to jugs of mysterious liquid, with her cauldron nearby ready to cook up the pumpkins picked fresh from her garden. Tucked away behind her handmade stool are two jars of her special spaghetti sauce, and her distinctive Ouija board can be set up for use by setting the curved twisted metal arm holding the blue crystal into the hole right next to the A.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Terry's Grandmother Sneeky Peek

I've been busy all day today getting all the little bits and pieces put together for Terry's Grandmother.

She's now all dressed in a smart gray / green check gown with a cream blouse and rich paisley shawl. And she looks really sweet sat on her little stool with all her magical bit's and bobs spread around her.

After getting Terry's Grandmother dressed I sculpted three tiny pumpkins to go along with the other little things I had ready for her. And this morning I sat down at my table, woke up while I looked through some e-mails, and got to work getting everything together so she can be finished this weekend.

I've stained a plinth base a dark brown and added a delicate patterned rug from a dolls house to make my little scene seem a little more homely. Then  painted the pumpkins and the little stool that I made for her last week. Adding faux liquid and sealing spices and seeds from my kitchen cupboard to the tiny jars and bottles.

Woodwork is really not my thing. And it took me a while to figure out how to make just a simple four-legged stool.
My handy Husband helped me figure out how to fix everything together, and I started with a few lengths of thin hardwood dowel, a wooden disc, and a real of vintage carpet thread.

Cris helped me to drill four angled holes through the wooden disc, then helped me again to hold the dowels still while I cut them into the four legs and four cross pieces. After gluing in the legs I shaped the ends of the cross bars with a small round file so that they fitted against the legs, and then glued them into place too. When everything had dried I cross wrapped each joint with the vintage thread to make them stronger.

Now that it's painted and ages this little stool looks quite sweet. And underneath I've hidden two jars of Terry's Grandmother's Love Potion Spaghetti Sauce.

Scattered around my smart Victorian Witch are three pumpkins grown in her abundant kitchen garden, a small black cauldron, a jug and bottle filled with mysterious liquids and a few tiny jars of spice and dried herbs.
Leaning against the leg of her stool is her unusual round Ouija board with the beautiful blue crystal hanging from a twisted metal hook, just as Terry described it himself in his account of her in the Victorian Grimoire.

Tomorrow just to finish everything off I'm going to add some tiny labels to the bottles and jars, find something to put in her cauldron, and cut some tiny herb bunches from my garden to add in among the pumpkins (you can still see the varnish drying on this one).

I've really enjoyed creating a tiny piece of Terry's Grandmother's world. and I'd love to make more little scenes for my dolls in the future. My only problem will be trying not to get too carried away with making more and more tiny little things to add in to tell their stories :)