When the traffic is bad there is a little cut through from Kingsway to Holborn via Lincoln’s Inn Fields. One passes the Seven Stars public house, always popular with the legal profession. It’s where barristers bring their clients for celebratory champagne or a stiff commiseratory short. Next door is one of London’s oldest jewellers; it’s not in Hatton Garden, but Carey Street just behind The Royal Courts of Justice.
[A]fter proudly proclaiming to have been in business since 1690 A. Woodhouse & Son have a sign above the door of a silver mousetrap.
At this juncture a little bit of French history is necessary. The Marquise of Fontange, a mistress of King Louis XIV lost her cap while hunting with the king. The lady tied up her hair using a ribbon in a manner that pleased him. This style of headdress became known as a fontange and the fashion quickly spread across Europe.
As with these things a simple ribbon became taller coiffure and infinitely more complex.
Despite its courtly origins fontanges were forbidden to be worn at French state occasions. But the English embraced the fashion. Georgian ladies had their hair piled up into vast sculptures built around wire frames.
Small pillows stuffed with wool were inserted and the assembly decorated with jewellery, lace ribbons, feathers, flowers, cow’s tail, horse hair and someone else’s human hair. The creation was rubbed with sticky pomade made from wax and beef-marrow then dusted with flour to disguise all the different hair and create a white, powdery look.
All this coiffure took a painfully long time so ladies tried to make the expensive handiwork last for as long as possible – a week at least.
But this caused particular difficulty when in bed. To begin with, ladies had to sleep sitting up and many complained of headaches from the constant weight.
But more distressingly, warm, dry unwashed hair combined with diverse vegetable and animal products was a mouse’s idea of heaven.
So every night before going to sleep, ladies placed elegant silver mousetraps around their bed and beside their pillows.
It is this fashion accessory that a little jeweller proudly advertises above their shop at the sign of The Silver Mousetrap.
Mice weren’t the only price to pay for making a fashion statement. Though silver mousetraps may have stopped small mammals, ladies simply had to endure the plague of lice and other bugs that took up residence on their head.
Photo: Sign for The Silver Mousetrap Mike Quinn (CC BY-SA 2.0)