It is my great pleasure today to welcome Emma Carroll, the middle grade author of both Frost Hollow Hall and also The Girl Who Walked On Air. The Girl Who Walked on Air is being published by Faber on the 7th of August and the wonderful Jim from YA Yeah Yeah has organised this Countdown to 7th August blog tour.
Today, Emma Carroll is here talked about Victoria tightrope walkers, which forms the basis of this new book! It's fun and adventurous and I've loved what I've read. I'll hand you over to Emma now, but if you want to know more about Emma Carroll or her books, please do visit the following links:
Massive thanks to Michelle for hosting me on her beautiful blog to talk about famous Victorian tightrope walkers, the inspiration for my new book ‘The Girl Who Walked On Air’…
The Bigger The Danger, The Bigger The Crowd
by Emma Carroll
It’s a myth that the Victorians were prudish. Underneath those tight corsets and spotless top hats, they actually had pretty gruesome tastes. Dog fighting, rat baiting, freak shows, child acrobats- all were popular entertainment in the C19th.
Up until 1868 when the last public hanging in England took place, an execution might draw a crowd of 20,000-100,000. It was quite common to make a day of it with a picnic.
Nowadays, we get adrenalin kicks from movies or video games. The risk is imagined; in Victorian times they were very real. And this was all part of the thrill. Or as the Victorians’ called it, sensation.
Take Charles Blondin.
On 30th June 1859, Blondin became the first person to cross the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. When Nic Wallenda did the same stunt in 2012, it was a legal requirement that he wore a safety harness.
Blondin wore none.
Bets were placed on him falling 160 feet into the river below. Reports spoke of the crowd being’ visibly affected with palpitations of the heart.’
In the following weeks, Blondin crossed the Falls blindfold, in a sack, on stilts, carrying his manager on his back. He even cooked an omelette halfway across the rope.
Eventually, the crowds grew bored.
Back in the UK, Blondin’s name became synonymous with daring. On seeing his act, Dickens commented: ‘half of London is here, eager for some dreadful accident.’ In October 1861, one young tightrope walker calling herself ‘The Female Blondin’ crossed the River Thames in front of 20,000 people.
Yet for another ‘Female Blondin’ such daring came with a price. In January 1863 at Aston Park, Birmingham, her rope broke. She fell to her death in full view of the crowds; she was eight-months pregnant at the time. The show continued with ‘unabated gaiety’, ending with a firework display at midnight.
A public outcry followed. Queen Victorian voiced her disgust and the pressure grew to make performances safer. Laws were introduced. Eventually, tastes did change,. As for Blondin, he died in his own bed at the aged 73 of diabetes.