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A parlour in 1870

Victorian society was often taken over by different fads or crazes: from the collecting obscure ferns (pteridomania) to trying to contact the dead (spiritualism). These activities often took place at home, like the séance that is taking place in this room.

Busy room with green wallpaper, floral curtains, red upholstered chairs and indoor plants Photograph by Em Fitzgerald

What's happening

Anne and Daniel have sent their children to bed as they are preparing the room for a séance – a meeting at which people attempt to make contact with the dead.

Taking place in parlours across the country, séances were held for spiritual or scientific reasons, and reflected a Victorian obsession with death and the afterlife.

For Anne and Daniel, and many others like them, it has become a popular pastime – they have invited a professional medium to hold the séance for their close friends.

Anne often finds herself caught up in the excitement of new trends, the terrarium in the corner of the room is a reminder of her enthusiasm for the fern 'mania' of last year.

Objects to look out for

Armchair, about 1860

Armchairs such as this one created a cosy room for the family.

The room was used for a variety of activities, such as eating, entertaining guests, and playing games, so it was important that the furniture was versatile and comfortable.

Footstool, c.1850-1900

This highly decorative footstool was once part of a pair. It has ornate glass bead decoration and fringing depicting floral patterns.

Gasolier, about 1845

Gas was installed in new houses from the 1840s. Although a convenient alternative to lamps and candles, gas lights were not universally liked as they left dirty marks on surfaces and produced an unpleasant light.

Coal scuttle, c.1870

Coal was the main source of power in homes in the 1800s. Scuttles like these were used to store a small supply of coal close to the fire.

Fire screens, c.1860

Used to shield people from the embers and intense heat of the fire, these were also useful as decoration to cover up fireplaces when they weren't in use.

Jar, 1850-1880

A pink, hand-blown glass jar