Dr Bob Nicholson, Senior Lecturer in History at Edge Hill University, will be sharing his love of all things Victorian with the nation, when he features on BBC Radio 4 this week.
Making History is a topical history programme which explores the latest historical and archaeological research and the first episode of the new series will be aired on Tuesday 2nd August.
During the programme, Bob will be exploring the Victorian’s fondness for cocktails, heading to Liverpool on the lookout for Bosom Caressers, Corpse Revivers and a real Eye Opener, which are all names of cocktails described in a Victorian song discovered by Bob during his research.
Our perception of the Victorian middle class is that they are abstemious and upright citizens, and the song in question has led Bob to question this, and further his historical research.
“A few years ago I happened upon a Victorian music hall song called American Drinks,” said Bob. “In it, the singer Arthur Lloyd recalls a boozy night-out when he visited a bar in London and ordered a round of exotically-named cocktails. I was quite surprised to discover American drinks on offer in Victorian Britain, but it turns out that our ancestors had a real thirst for these imported Yankee tipples. Indeed, bars and hotels in London and Liverpool began offering them as early as the 1840s.
“Crucially, this was part of a much broader fascination with American life and culture that began to emerge in Britain during the second half of the nineteenth-century. Drinking ‘Corpse Revivers’ and ‘Rattlesnakes’ offered the Victorians another way to explore the United States from a distance; the Atlantic was shrunk down to the size of a cocktail glass – one sip and you were transported to New York or the Wild West frontier.
“Ever since I found the music hall song I’ve been dying to give some of these drinks a try.
Unfortunately, most of them aren’t on offer at modern pubs. So, I unearthed some old recipes, took them to a specialist cocktail bar in Liverpool, and asked if they could mix some up for me. They did a great job – I tried a ‘Corpse Reviver’, a ‘Rattlesnake’, a ‘Coleen Bawn’, and the classic ‘Mint Julep’. They were all surprisingly delicious – I can see why our Victorian ancestors developed such a taste for them!”
Bob specialises in nineteenth-century Britain and America, with a focus on journalism, popular culture, jokes, and transatlantic relations and his research has been published in a range of academic books and journals. He researches the history of Victorian popular culture and is particularly interested in the history of Victorian jokes. His recent project to create an online archive of one million Victorian jokes was awarded the British Library Competition prize in 2014.
If you missed the programme on Tuesday, click here to listen.