Are you a fan of fans?

Packed away in the attics of Scotney Castle is a treasure trove of colourful fans. The collection consists of an eclectic mix of folding fans, some with finely carved ivory handles, whilst others depict Romantic scenes from popular literature of the time. They are rich in symbolism and are of great historical significance.IMG_3886

Large feather fan from Scotney Castle’s ‘hidden collection’

Japan and China are often credited with the creation of the folding fan. One historian claims that ‘[t]he earliest representation of the folding fan—the fan proper—is found in the hands of the Japanese god of happiness’.[1] In Japan, many believe that the structure of the fan was based on the construction of a bat’s wings. In China, the folding fan is thought to have derived from observing women fanning their faces with their hands to cool themselves.[2] Whatever the case, folding fans were introduced to Europe in the sixteenth-century via the Portuguese through their strong trade links with China.[3]

In Elizabethan times, fans were used as a symbol for exotic style and a representation of wealth. A list of presents presented to the queen includes a heavily embellished fan from the Countess of Bath:

‘By the Countesse of Bath, a fanne of swanne downe, with a maze of greene velvet, ymbrodered with seed pearles and a very small chayne of silver gilte, and in the middest a border on both sides of seed pearles, sparks of rubyes and emerods, and thereon a monster of gold, the head and breast mother-of-pearles; and a skarfe of white stitche cloth florished with Venis gold, silver, and carnacion silke.’[4]

The craftsmanship that went into making this particular fan, the rubies, pearls and emeralds hint at the value such items were given. Elizabeth I was often painted with fans, and although mostly feathered, she was also depicted with folding fans. For example, Marcus the Younger’s portrait of the Queen, painted in 1592, depicts Elizabeth in an immaculate white outfit, standing on a map or globe of the world, clutching a closed fan. Large pearls line the edging of the fan and a complex pattern painted on the fan’s leaves is suggested through a series of delicate brush marks. In an age where symbolism played a huge part in the presentation of oneself, the eye is drawn to the closed fan in this piece, suggesting a far-reaching and cultured queen, and by extension England.


Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger (1561-1636), Queen Elizabeth I (‘The Ditchley portrait’), 1592 (95 x 60in)

The purpose and symbolism of fans has fluctuated over the centuries. Indeed, fans could be used as a form of art. The Impressionist Edgar Degas (1834-1917) decorated fans with the intention that they be mounted and displayed in rooms. Degas was inspired by the Japanese style and started painting silk fans in the 1870s.

[5] They had no ‘practical’ use and their design created an atmosphere of night-time at the theatre. The warmth of these creations, in particular Fan: Dancers and the Stage Scenery (1878-1880), alludes to the flirtatious nature of fans and the sensuous atmosphere it creates. Degas used his fan work as a means of experimenting with composition, colour and surface.[6] As a decorative object, fans were a unique way to explore materials and styles from a unique, artistic standpoint.


Chinese inspired fan from Scotney Castle’s ‘hidden collection’

Even before Degas’s experimentation in the late nineteenth century, French fans created in the reign of Louis XV (1710-1774), were exploring other decorative ideas. For example small hand-screens, created by famous French fan-makers of the time, made humorous animated fans that moved certain figures when a wire was pulled. One such creation shows a musician playing the cello vigorously whilst rolling his eyes and another has a danseuse doing the high-land fling.[7] It shows a progression from the fan’s initial formation as a means to cool oneself, to a more fashionable and decorative object. Of course, fans were still in use during this time for their original purpose, with the contemporary essayist Joseph Addison describing the sometimes humorous use of fans in an article published in The Spectator:

‘[T]he angry flutter, the modish flutter, the timorous flutter, the confused flutter, the merry flutter, the amorous flutter… I have seen a fan so very angry that it would have been dangerous for the absent lover who provoked it to come within the wind of it’.[8]


Fan dating back to 1743 from Scotney Castle’s’hidden collection’

Fans could be used as a means of expressing oneself in an age where women were, to a large extent, seen and not heard.  Women’s fashion often determined the size and style of folding fans. At the start of the nineteenth century, the fashion for ‘simplicity’ meant as dresses got slimmer so too did its pockets.[9] Fans were adapted to fit the fashions of the time and were made smaller or larger accordingly. Fans by this period were primarily regarded as a fashion accessory and were made from delicate materials such as silk, ivory, sequins or tortoiseshell.793933

Ivory handled fan from Scotney Castle’s ‘hidden collection’

Fans could be used for a variety of reasons, for example fashionable, political or social, and could provide women with a communicative outlet otherwise denied to them. Scotney’s collection of fans most likely belongs to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where Romantic scenes were a common choice of decoration. They are a fascinating find and an important addition in piecing together Scotney’s social history. Come and see our display case, located in the Dining Room, to see first-hand a sample of our fan collection!

[1] L. Parr, ‘History of the Fan’, Victorian Magazine: Fashion and Accessories (2016)

[2] Ibid

[3] A. Geczy, Fashion and Orientalism: Dress, textiles and culture from the 17th century to the 21st century (London, 2013) p.52

[4] J. Nichols, New Year’s Gifts Presented to the Queen 1588-9  (New York, 1823) p.4


[6] M. Gerstein, ‘Degas’ Fans’, The Art Bulletin (March. 1982) p.105

[7] E. Barber, ‘Antique Fans’ Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum (Jul. 1905) p.50

[8] J. Addison, ‘The Exercise of the Fan’, The Spectator, no.102 (London, 1711)

[9] Some fans are even recorded as being no longer than the palm of a person’s palm.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mrs Hussey’s Wardrobe

To those who may have visited Scotney castle on a Thursday you may have seen our coming and goings through the house carrying various outfits of Betty’s. This has caused a great lot of interest with visitors getting a glimpse of individual items, and we have often been stopped and asked lots of questions about the project.

For those that have witnessed our presence over the months, many have asked: ‘What are you doing?’ So here’s a little insight into what’s been happening in the closet…

The textile group have had the great honour of working up close with these costumes of Betty’s, most are beautifully handmade garments and a few are from various fashion houses. We can’t help but imagine how elegant Betty would have looked wearing them.

Mrs Hussy’s clothes are going to remain on display, hanging in this wardrobe for years to come, therefore each costume needs to have its own custom made padded hanger to support it properly for the future.

Conservationist Zenzie Tinker has been here to give us full tuition and instructions on how to prepare and set up this conservation project. You can see the work her team has already completed with all the hat supports that are now in place.


Each hanger goes through 8 stages and there are 36 costumes that we are working on in this collection.

Stage1 – Study and select the correct shape and type of hanger for each garment.

Stage2 – Each wooden hanger has been sanded and pre-stripped of any finish/varnish covering it.

Stage3 – The hangers were then sealed, using 3 coats of Dacrylate, to avoid any acids from the wood migrating into the fibres of the garments. This would cause damage, discolouration, and embrittlement of their fibres.


Stage 4 – Using wadding, the shape was built up at the shoulders as required, we filled in all the gaps until the garment were fully supported. It has been interesting to see that one of Betty’s shoulders comes out quite differently, identifying postural changes between her left and right shoulder.


Stage 5 – The hanger was covered with conservation graded calico to hold the wadding in place and an under slip was prepared ready for the silk cover to sit on.

Most of this work is all hand sewn and each hanger needs its unique pattern before the cover can be made.

cotton cover

Stage 6 – The silk was boiled to remove any dressing from the dye used and ironed.

Stage 7 – We are continuing the task of fitting and sewing each unique personally made silk cover. This has been the slowest of all the processes, but very rewarding as they look beautiful when complete. Silk is a very tricky material to work with- I think the phase “sewing on jelly” has been used several times!



Stage 8 – Our final stage will be the covering of the hanger shank with ribbon.

We are now showcasing the dresses in the wardrobe with shoes and hat to match the ensemble! We are looking forward to display more garments under the title “frock of the month/frock of the season”.

We are sure both visitors and volunteers will enjoy seeing Betty’s clothes in more detail giving us further insight into Betty’s life and the house’s exquisite collection.

By Sally Whittaker, Textile volunteer









Posted in House, castle & collections | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The cupboard under the stairs

You might think you have discovered all the secrets of a place when you have been working there for a while but Scotney is still able to surprise you! Given the fact that we have several Attic rooms still to explore and the sheer enormity of drawers, boxes, crates, wardrobes and cupboards spread all over the house, it is possible to just overlook some things.

During one of our annual deep cleans in the Hall we rediscovered a hidden door in the wood panelling under the stair case. Even though we have noticed the door before, it somehow slipped our minds and was totally forgotten for many years. Of course we all were really excited about what might wait for us behind the door…

When we first opened it to look inside there was a huge amount of dust, with cobwebs and spiders covering every visible surface in the pitch-black cupboard. Once we found a torch to shine some light on the objects, it was like entering a treasure chamber. Although not stacked to the ceiling with golden goblets, silver coins or jewellery, it contained a huge variety of items, used by people from different times – you could say a treasure of a different kind.


For though people might think this is just a normal cupboard, used by the family to store things they didn’t need anymore, it actually tells you a lot about the family life of the Hussey’s and the things they used to do for fun.

Some of the items we first got out of the cupboard were musical and arts equipment: a beautifully crafted music stand and an easel next to a very interesting looking foldable picnic table with a cushion attached to the underside. I would imagine the Hussey’s used to use the table to eat and paint in their garden. This shows they were talented painters, as you can see by the amount of lovely watercolours displayed all over the house.


music standstool and cushion

[One part of the music stand.             The picnic table, called “The Settor”]

They seemed to enjoy going fishing in the countryside, as we found a variety of fishing rods in the cupboard and there is lots of fishing equipment scattered around the house, including fishing nets and artificial flies. Who wouldn’t want to try to catch a fish in the moat?


Archery was another popular sport in the Hussey family. Edward Hussey III, who built the new house, played an important role in the revival of archery as a hobby. His children, grandchildren and other family members shared his enthusiasm for shooting arrows. The Hussey family built up a large collection of archery equipment, of which we found some arrows hidden in the cupboard under the stairs.


Interestingly, the finger taps (used to protect the archer’s finger from the bowstring) can be dated back to the 19th century, belonging once to the siblings of Henrietta Windsor-Clive, Edward Hussey III’s wife, according to the engraved initials and the family crest. We can assume both Mary Clive and William Windsor Clive were passionate archers, as well as their niece, Mildred Harriet Hussey, whose arm guard we found in the cupboard.


mildred finger tabfinger tab hussey crest


[Finger taps of Mildred Harriet Hussey; Finger tab with Hussey crest]

To go with the sports equipment we found a range of folding chairs, which the Hussey’s probably used in their beautiful garden to have a rest from doing exhausting exercise or maybe just simply to enjoy the garden views. Some appear to be more elaborately decorated, while others are less ornate, due to the fact they were produced in different times.

picnic chair

The most interesting and exciting find was a pair of very odd-looking roller skates. As mentioned before, the Hussey’s loved all kinds of sports, for example ice skating on the moat, so it is not surprising to find these roller skates hidden away. They have a wheel attached to the front and a metal base at the back, where you can place your foot and fasten it with a leather strap. It would be brilliant to see the roller skates in action!



roller skate

Unfortunately we don’t know much about them, only that they were bought or produced in Edinburgh according to the label. However ,after doing some research we came across a very similar looking pair of skates.

They were invented by Charles Choubersky, who was an engineer and inventor, he named them “PATIN BICYCLETTE” (French: ice skate bike) and they date to 1896! Apparently you can use them on the ice as well as on the ground. They are very rare to find in the 21st century, so we are really lucky to have them here.[i]

roller skate poster

[A 19th century poster showing the roller skates in action]

After cataloguing these different items and doing some research on them, a picture of the Hussey family begins to form of them gathered in the garden for summer, with the Ladies sitting around the moat in beautiful dresses and hats, the men fishing in the moat, others training to shoot with bows and arrows, someone wanting to impress the others by doing tricks on their brand new roller skates, another person trying to draw the Old Castle on the foldable drawing table and maybe there is a spontaneous concert, using the music stand …

A nice image, don’t you think?

Written by Henrike Philipp, Inga Risle and Rachel Finch

Conservation Volunteers









Posted in House, castle & collections | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Edward Hussey’s Etching Set


In the Attic on one of the many shelves, lay this unassuming wooden box; however inside was a treasure trove of items…This box contains the etching set of Edward Hussey III (1807-1894), the builder of the new mansion house at Scotney Castle.

Engraving on metal can be dated back to antiquity with etching on items such as armour dating to the middle ages. The use of etching on iron plates is seen to date back to the 16th century with the earliest etching being dated to 1513 known as ‘Girl bathing her feet’.[1] Other examples of etching from this time include five plates by Albrecht Drurer, such as this one titled the Canon.[2]


The use of etching in the printing process is attributed to be invented by one David Hopfer of Germany (c.1470-1536).[1] David Hopfer was a craftsman who worked on armour and transferred this skill to iron plates and printmaking. A change from iron to copper plates came later in Italy and this change to a softer metal made the process of etching a rival to the use of engraving in printmaking.

The difference between engraving and etching is that engraving requires the physical removal of metal using a burin (chisel) whereas in etching material is removed chemically from the metal plate using an acid. Therefore etching came to be used to artists who could draw rather than your metalwork specialist working with a chisel.

To create an etching plate you would follow this process:

  1. Take a metallic plate, usually in copper and zinc, and cover it in an acid resistant wax.
  2. Scratch into the metal using an etching needle to your chosen design.
  3. Place metal plate into an acid bath which will dissolve parts of the exposed metal
  4. Clean the plate
  5. Spread ink over the plate and print onto paper

Edward Hussey’s etchings box contains all the equipment required to make an etching, including another tool known as an echoppe created by James Callope (1592-1635). The echoppe is a tool like an etching needle with a curved end to swell lines which engravers were able to do in the rival technique.


The wooden box also contains several finished plates depicting the Old Castle as well as the view of the new house from the moat.

old castle copper

Some of these plates are accompanied by tracings and sketchings of the finished design and shows the amount of detail, planning and precision that went into making a plate.


This wooden box is full of delights of a popular pastime by the owner of Scotney Castle, Edward Hussey III. This highlights the gentleman’s fascination with precision and interest in design just as he worked closely with the architect Anthony Salvin in the design of the new house at Scotney Castle. The plate of the old castle and new house really captures what Edward Hussey III was trying to achieve in creating the picturesque view and Scotney as we know it today.


[1] Urs Grath ‘Girl Bathing her feet’; A.M.Hind, A History of Engraving and Etching, Dover Publications Inc, 2003: 106

[2] Albrecht Drurer ‘Canon’; A.M.Hind, A History of Engraving and Etching, Dover Publications Inc, 2003: 106 []


Posted in House, castle & collections | Leave a comment

Hedgerow management at Scotney Castle

Scotney Castle are delighted to be promoting…

The South Of England Hedge Laying Society (SEHLS)

Annual Hedge Laying Competition

Sunday 21 February, 9am – 4pm

Scotney Castle, Lamberhurst Kent TN3 8JN

“This is a great opportunity for the public to see some of the best quality hedge laying in the country and learn more about the craft which is enjoying something of a renaissance.” SEHLS President Peter Tunks

National Trust Volunteer Estate Guides will be running guided walks to the site throughout the day.

For more information please visit:

John Davis - Tilers Field Jan 2015

I thought that it would be a good idea to write a blog about hedgerows, their management and benefits on the Scotney Castle Estate.

Hedgerow history in the High Weald

Hedgerows have been an intrinsic part of the British landscape for thousands of years; their shape, function and history however differ in each region.

In the High Weald landscape, hedgerows were often relics of slow, small scale woodland clearance by the Anglo-Saxons, where boundaries were formed by leaving strips of woodland in-between the newly created agricultural fields1. These hedges, or Shaws, therefore were made up of mainly tree species and were not often straight or uniform, but were subsequently managed as hedgerows for livestock enclosure.

It wasn’t until the 18th and 19th Centuries that planted hedges, usually of Hawthorn, appeared through the Enclosures Act, although these are uncommon in the High Weald.

Since the mechanisation of agriculture post World War Two, hedgerows were removed to allow larger fields and therefore more efficient farming. Added to this, the invention of barbed wire fences has seen over 300,000 miles of hedgerow lost since 1945.2

Hedgerow Wildlife

When woodlands were cleared, wildlife was forced to seek sanctuary in the newly created hedgerows and many have become reliant on this ‘secondary woodland’ habitat for nesting, dispersal and food. Species at Scotney include Dormice, Great crested newts, Brimstone butterflies and Whitethroats. The RSPB claim that 80% of our woodland birds, 50% of our mammals and 30% of our butterflies utilise hedgerows.3 A hedgerow with a diverse mix of trees and shrubs provide more potential for different wildlife to flourish.

Hedgerow planting at Scotney Castle

Several kilometres of hedges have been planted at Scotney Castle over the last few years, this has enabled wildlife corridors to criss-cross the whole estate. A mix of species have been planted including hawthorn, blackthorn, field maple, spindle, hornbeam and hazel. Thank you to TCV and the Heritage Lottery Fund for providing whips and volunteers, alongside our regular volunteers, to fulfil this aim.

Hedge-laying at Scotney Castle

As hedgerows were established they then had to be managed, laying and coppicing are typical techniques, with regional styles developing across the country. The invention of the mechanical flail however has made hedgerows look uniform across our landscape. At Scotney Castle, alongside the South of England Hedgelaying Society (SEHLS) we have been laying hedges in order to preserve this ancient technique that goes as far back as Roman times.

In the ‘southern’ style the stem of each individual tree is ‘pleached’ and laid in the same direction, providing a thick barrier beneficial for wildlife and livestock control. Then hazel or willow stakes and binders, coppiced on site or from local woodlands, are added giving the hedge extra height and strength.

Thank you for reading.


1 – Hedges in the Weald,

2 – Hedgerows in the High Weald landscape

3 – Value of hedgerows for wildlife,

Posted in Estate & wildlife, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The High Sheriff of Kent


Flag cropped

When I hear the word Sheriff, my mind turns to the Sheriff of Nottingham overtaxing his subjects for which Robin Hood set out to rectify by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. One of the responsibilities of a Sheriff of a County was to in fact collect taxes; although perhaps not going to the extremes as the famous Sheriff of Nottingham.

The term Sheriff comes from the word ‘Shire Reeve’ or the Anglo Saxon ‘Scir-gerefa’, a person of authority (reeve) appointed by the Crown to keep the peace over an area or county (shire).[1] The practice of appointing Sheriffs has been going for over 1000 years, dating back to the Anglo-Saxon times. Sheriffs were recorded in the Battle of Hastings as well as being referred to in the Magna Carta of 1215.[2]

These agents of the Crown had many responsibilities including overseeing courts, collecting taxes, and looking after land. These responsibilities have been restricted over the years with the introduction of new law and revenue structures, for example Henry I transferred the tax collecting role from the Sheriff to the Exchequer.[3] Today the High Sheriff has an honorary position within a county and supports voluntary work and crime prevention schemes.

Sheriffs are nominated annually for the position. From the Sheriff’s act of 1887, nominations should be made on the 12th November with three nominations for each county.[4] The list of candidates is drawn up and presented to representatives of the Sovereign in March at a meeting of the Privy Council.

The successful candidate is chosen by the process of ‘pricking’. This is done by pricking the parchment with a silver bodkin next to the name of the chosen candidate. The practice of ‘pricking’ is said to date back to Elizabeth I; when she was employed in embroidery and was asked to choose the Sheriffs she pricked the vellum parchment with her silver bodkin.[5] However, the process of ‘pricking’ may have come before this anecdote as parchments from Henry VII’s reign, Queen’s Elizabeth I’s grandfather, have also been pricked.[6]

Another explanation for the pricking of the vellum was that it could not be repaired, whereas a mark in ink could be removed, as being selected as the High Sheriff was not always well received. When elected as the High Sheriff there were financial implications, shouldering some of the cost as well as trouble in duties such as collecting taxes. The pricking of the vellum therefore could not be erased and the chosen Sheriff was obliged to carry out their post, with cost being one of the reasons that the post was only for a year


The post of the High Sheriff also comes with its own ceremonial uniform, known as the Court Dress. The dress includes a black or blue velvet coat, breeches, sword and a cocked hat. When Court Dress is not worn, The High Sheriff wears a badge of office on a ribbon.




Country life -Christopher Sheriff

Country Life Magazine, May 1979




Two members of the Hussey family at Scotney Castle have been appointed High Sheriff of Kent. Edward Windsor Hussey was appointed Sheriff in 1907,[7] while his nephew Christopher Hussey was appointed Sheriff in 1963.[8]

We currently have Edward Windsor Hussey’s coat and hat and Christopher Hussey’s badge on display this month in our Hidden Collection display case for you to see. Watch this space for more of our hidden collection items coming on display soon…







[7] The London Gazette: no. 28000. p. 1462. 1 Mar 1907.

[8] The London Gazette: no. 42955. p. 2823. 29 March 1963.


Posted in House, castle & collections | Leave a comment

Nervous Disorders


This small and unassuming box squirreled away in our attics contains something rather interesting. Aside from an unusual handle on the outside, the wooden exterior does not elude to the intricate contraption inside. Once opened, instructions attached to the lid of the box in bright, bold letters reads:



My first reaction to the box was one of mixed emotions. I was immediately struck by the sophistication of the machine’s compact design and of the technology needed to make the device. I then thought of the theories surrounding the creation of such a machine for ‘nervous disorders’ and wanted to find out more…

The late nineteenth century saw advancements in electrotherapy in a therapeutic setting. This growth was due to numerous experiments conducted in the early 1800s, which were based on the idea that nerves were electrically excitable.[1] This logic led some physicians and scientists to believe that electrical stimulation could correct a nervous defect.[2] It was widely thought that the body had a natural amount of electricity and that nervous disorders caused an upset to this balance. The magneto-electric machines attempted to stabilize the body’s believed electrical nervous energy.


In England, the first ‘static’ machines were used in 1767 at Middlesex hospital and later at St. Bartholomew’s in 1777.[3] An important figure in support of these machines was the founder of the Methodist Church John Wesley (1703-1791), who was also an aspiring physicist. He believed that there was ‘no remedy in nature for nervous disorders of every kind, comparable to the proper and consistent use of the electrical machine’.[4] He also stated that fifty to one hundred shocks should be used in one session to cure a particular ailment.[5] In 1787, a description of these electrical machines further claimed that ‘nervous head-aches are often mitigated and entirely relieved by the electric wind from a metallic or wooden point applied at successively round the head’.[6]

Ideas surrounding electricity and its use on the human body inspired novelists such as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (1797-1851). Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818, the famous story of a ‘mad’ scientist creating a life form by piecing together human body parts and using electricity as a stimulant. Shelley was only twenty-one at the time of publication and was clearly intrigued by the scientific experiments of the day. On writing Frankenstein, she wrote:


‘[P]erhaps a corpse could be re-animated … galvanism had given token to such things’[7]

Galvanism (the contraction of muscle by the use of an electrical current) was an important element to the story of Frankenstein. Named after Luigi Galvani (1737-1798) the discovery did much to capture the imagination of the public. In 1780, Galvani revealed that dead frog’s legs jumped when an electrical spark was introduced.[8] His findings contributed to early bio-electric studies and with Shelley’s galvanism inspired novel, the public’s fancies soon turned to images such as cartoons of corpse’s coming into life.


Shelley wrote about her monster Frankenstein:

‘I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion’.[9]

The story is famous even today –  with many film adaptations, most notably Universal Studio’s Frankenstein (1931) and Victor Frankenstein (2015) starring Daniel Radcliffe, revealing the fictional horrors of creating life through the power of electricity.

In some ways it is surprising that despite such fanatical media attention, the use of electricity as a means of curing an illness was widely taken up. Above is a photograph of the Magneto-Electric machine found in Scotney Castle’s ‘Hidden Collection’. There are instructions attached to the inside lid of the wooden box that outline how to use the contraption to cure toothache, tie-doloreux and neuralgia (to name a few). There are also quotes written on these instructions, including one from a famous contemporary doctor, Dr. John Abernathy (1764-1831). The quote was taken from a lecture of his that was published in the popular newspaper The Lancet, and says ‘all other means operate on the surface of the body but electricity will pervade the very centre of the body’.[10]

Portrait of Dr John Abernathy

Abernathy had a celebrity status, not onlydue to his unique lecturing style, but also through his eccentric and blunt delivery when treating his patients. Originally conducted in his house, his lectures became so popular that he had a theatre built to keep up with demand, which led to Abernathy becoming the founder of St Bartholomew’s medical school.[11] The instructions further promote Dr Abernathy as ‘World Celebrated’ in an attempt to give the machine credibility. Indeed many would have known of his status and with his quote endorsing the magneto-electric machine, patients would have trusted its capabilities.


The drawings that feature on the top left and right hand corner of the instructions depict how the machine and its components should be used. There appears to be a variety of ways in which a person can apply the machine, such as either standing up, sitting down or even attaching the wires to your foot. It surprises me that toothache should be deemed an ailment curable by the ‘electric’ machine – it sounds like a rather unpleasant solution to the problem!

There is much to say about this strange and unique object. It embodies theories and scientific understandings that have now become outdated. For me, the machine is terrifying and fascinating at the same time. It has a history that is shrouded in misguided scientific perspective and mystery. It is an interesting item in the Hussey’s ‘hidden collection’ and an important symbol of scientific discovery in the early twentieth century.

[1] S. Finger, Origins of Neuroscience: A History of Explorations into Brain Function (Oxford, 2001) p.434

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid, p.432

[4] J. Weasley, Primitive Physik (1761, London) p.87

[5] Ibid

[6] S. Finger, Origins of Neuroscience, p.431

[7] M. Jenkins, Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend (Washington, 2010) p.68

[8] Wikipedia, Luigi Galvani (Last Accessed 6 January 2016)

[9] Wikiquote, Frankenstein (novel) (Last Accessed 6 January 2016)

[10] The Lancet, ‘Surgical Lectures delivered by Mr. Abernethy’ (5 November 1824) p.105

[11] Wikipedia, John Abernethy (surgeon) (Last Accessed 6 January 2016)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment