Miss Highkicker at the Coronation: 1902

Miss Belle Bilton, later the wife of the Earl of Clancarty. [National Portrait Gallery]

Miss Belle Bilton, later the wife of the Earl of Clancarty. [National Portrait Gallery]


The coming coronation is looked forward to by all loyal Britons with enthusiasm, and by a large number with a more commercial interest, for they hope that it will in some measure compensate for recent stagnant times. The London photographers should certainly have a busy time, for there will be few among the fashionable folk who are privileged to witness the ceremony who will not wish to have their portraits taken in their coronation costumes, so that the pictures can be handed down to posterity as memorials of their connection with a great historical event.

Of course, the bulk of the photographers’ clients will be ladies, and most of these will have rich ultra cerulean blood flowing in their aristocratic veins so that nothing short of “the blue process” will do their pictures justice. But there will be a few whose vital fluid is of the more ordinary color, and whose former visits to the photographer’s studio have been under far different circumstances. We refer to those ladies of the stage, and chiefly of the music-hall stage, who have been fortunate enough to find partners among our old nobility. These ladies take precedence according to the rank of their husbands, and we shall have therefore the curious spectacle of Miss Highkicker, late of the Frivolity Theater of Varieties, who is doubtful as to the identity of her grandparents, taking her place, as a matter of right, in front of grand dames who can trace back their ancestors, without a break, to the time of Noah. Perchance the same photographer who takes her portrait in her coronation finery can find among his stock negatives some of the same young lady in costumes which would hardly be in keeping with a sacred edifice like Westminster Abbey.

We seem to remember the story of such a risen star, who, after her marriage, treasured up a stage costume as a memento of a former histrionic triumph. She kept it in a cigar box. But times have changed for the new peeress, and a rich dress, with a train long enough for half a dozen ordinary dress lengths, compensates, in some degree, for the shortness of material which was such a distinguishing feature of her former apparel. Our late revered Queen did not invite these recent additions to the peerage to her drawing-rooms, but no one can dispute their right to seats in the Abbey to view the coronation ceremony. The old adage says, “Poverty makes strange bedfellows,” but poverty is not in it with a coronation in bringing queerly assorted folk together. The wise photographer will endeavor to entice as many as possible to his studio, and if he should recognize a previous customer in some lady of high degree he will do well to keep a discreet silence as to the past.

British Journal of Photography. 1902

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “The blue process,” referred to above as the best method of capturing the essence of noble blood, was the photographic printing process called “cyanotype,” known more prosaically to builders as the “blueprint.”

The picture of a theatrical costume sentimentally kept in a cigar box is a diverting one. Such mésalliances have always caused controversy. Here is a notorious example of a peer marrying an actress during the Great War. And a delightful site about stage beauties, with stories of happy actress/peer marriages and vintage articles such as “Do Actresses Make Suitable Wives for Noblemen?” Mrs Daffodil’s readers will undoubtedly recall how the British monarchy suffered a crisis when the Prince of Wales became enamoured of that American woman, all Cartier and too-sleek hair, memorably described by Cecil Beaton as “compact as a Vuitton travelling case.” And, of course, recently there were complaints when the Duke of Cambridge married a young person of no title at all.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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