Poster advertising 'Harvey's Midges' at Picadilly Hall, London

Description

In the 1880s, Piccadilly Hall in London was famous for its ‘Human Curiosity’ shows, and performances by people of restricted growth in particular. A contemporary report of a show by the performers featured here describes it as follows:

The most interesting feature of the entertainment is the promenade of the Prince and Princess, the lady shaking hands with the visitors and saluting everyone with a gracious, 'How d’ye do?' Prince Midge can sing and dance, and General Tot, with a really powerful voice, wins applause by singing, in character, such songs as 'Hearts of Oak,' 'Scotch Lassie Jean,' 'Goodbye, Bridget'. The General is full of confidence and assurance, and may be called quite a saucy young rascal.

Exhibitions of live ‘human curiosities’ had appeared in travelling fairs, circuses and taverns in England since the 1600s. These included so-called giants, dwarves, fat people, the very thin, conjoined twins and even people from countries outside of Britain, who were perceived as 'exotic'. These shows were a particularly popular form of entertainment during the Victorian period, when people from all classes flocked to gawp at 'unusual' examples of human life. These posters from the 1870s show the kinds of acts that were on offer. 

Novelty acts relied a great deal on shock, therefore performers were not revealed in the flesh to audiences until money had changed hands. Titillating publicity was crucial, as the people described in these adverts often bore little resemblance to what lay behind the curtain or turnstile. Exaggerated and stylised illustrations lent age to dwarf acts, stature to giants, and plausibility to mermaids and bear boys. The advertisers of these shows aroused the curiosity of the audience by overplaying, often entirely inventing, 'true life' stories. 

Full title:
Tonight, the greatest Variety Entertainment in the Metropolis
Published:
1885
Format:
Playbill / Advertisement / Ephemera
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Evan.2682

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Article by:
Liza Picard

From music halls and waxworks to freak shows and pleasure gardens, Liza Picard looks at the variety of popular entertainment available in the 19th century.

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