History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Madame Tussaud leaves France for England, never to return—Early days in London—On tour—Some notable figures—Shipwreck in the Irish Channel.
MADAME TUSSAUD arrived in this country with her Exhibition some time in May, 1802. There is considerable difficulty in tracing her movements during the first few years after her arrival. The information points to her having remained in London with her Exhibition for some six or seven years. In London there is some amount of evidence of her having shown her exhibits in Fleet Street and also at the Lowther Arcade in the Strand.
However, it is fairly clear that she first showed her collection at the old Lyceum Theatre in the Strand, then known as the English Opera House, which she vacated in 1803 that Mr. Winsor might make the experiment of lighting the place with gas. It was the first house of entertainment to be illuminated in this way, and the innovation was regarded as dangerous.
Then she went on tour, and visited the more important places in England, Scotland, and Ireland. Wherever the town visited boasted a Mayor, the Exhibition was almost invariably opened by him, or under his auspices.
The figures that Madame Tussaud modelled and the dates when she executed the work give some idea of her activities at the time.
She modelled from life Queen Caroline in 1808, George III in 18o9, and Alexander I, Emperor of Russia, in 1814. In that year the Emperor and the King of Prussia visited England in connection with the centenary of the House of Hanover, which took place on the 1st of August.
Madame Tussaud also modelled from life Mrs. Siddons, the famous actress, who retired from the stage in 18o9, and died at her residence in Upper Baker Street in 1831.
Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of George IV) was married on the 2nd of May, 1816, and on that day Her Royal Highness sat to Mr. P. Tumerelli, the sculptor, for what was called "the Nuptial Bust." From this Madame Tussaud modelled a figure of the Princess for the Exhibition, and it drew large numbers of people to see it when the young Princess died in the year following her marriage.
For blooming Charlotte, England's fairest Rose,
The Duke of York was modelled from life in 1812, Leopold I, King of Belgium, in 1817, the Bishop of Norwich in 1820, and George IV a few days before his coronation in July, 1821. Sir Walter Scott's figure in Highland costume was taken from life in Edinburgh in 1828, a year after George Canning's likeness had been similarly obtained.
It was in 1828 that Madame Tussaud took a portrait of the miscreant Burke, immediately after his execution; and she modelled from life his accomplice, Hare, while he was in prison in Edinburgh.
Prince Talleyrand's figure was modelled from life by Madame in 1832, Lord Eldon in 1833, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel in 1835, and Lord Melbourne in 1836.
In that year Madame Tussaud took from life a model of the Duchess of Kent, the mother of Queen Victoria, which proved a great attraction. By this time the Exhibition had found a home in Baker Street, where it became established in the spring of 1835.
Concerning the travels of the Exhibition, it is on record that Madame Tussaud visited North Shields on the 2nd of December, 1811, and Edinburgh in 1811-12. Early in the latter year we find her on the 28th of February at 4. The Market Place, Hull, just opposite the Reindeer Inn." She was in Leeds on the 28th of September, and in Manchester on the 2nd of December, 1812. There is an entry in an old account-book which says, "Left the house in Criggate, Leeds, Monday, November 16." It is pretty clear that the Exhibition was located in Newcastle in January, and in Liverpool on the 13th of April, 1813.
In 1817 the Exhibition was shown at "Mr. Spar-row's Upper Ware Rooms, Old Butter Market, Ipswich, having lately arrived from the Concert Rooms, Canterbury, and lastly from the Assembly Rooms, Deal."
It was probably when the Exhibition was visiting Cambridge in 1818 that a worthy Don made the suggestion that the figures of criminals should be placed in a separate room. Too long would be taken even to name all the places that were visited by the Exhibition, but there is an account in the Coventry Herald that on the 14th March, 1823, the cordial thanks of a meeting of school managers were presented to Madame Tussaud for her "unsolicited and handsome donation of a moiety of the receipts of her Exhibition on Monday evening last."
Among the figures taken on tour at this time were models of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the Dauphin, Voltaire, and Madame St. Amaranthe (Tussaud's "Sleeping Beauty"), taken a few months before her execution. These identical figures, as already stated, are still in the collection.
To trace the travels of the Exhibition there is no need. For some years Madame, with her sons, Joseph and Francis, went on tour throughout the country. A misadventure in the Irish Channel, when she was on her way to Dublin, threatened the enterprise with disaster. The vessel which carried their precious belongings was partially wrecked, and many valuable exhibits were lost. Undaunted by the buffetings of Fate, and helped by friends, Madame replenished her Exhibition and brought it up to date.
The current of events did not run smoothly for Madame Tussaud; but the little woman possessed a brave spirit, and struggled on against adversity, being upheld by the conviction that she would eventually triumph.