Lost London – Mrs Salmon’s Waxworks…

April 19, 2013

Before Madame Tussaud arrived in London, there was Mrs Salmon and her famous waxworks, one of several such establishments in London.

Prince-Henry's-RoomsFirst sited at the Sign of the Golden Ball in St Martin’s Le Grand – where it filled six rooms – in 1711, the display was relocated to the north side of Fleet Street where it remained until 1795 when it moved across the road to number 17 Fleet Street, now housing Prince Henry’s Room (pictured, room takes its name from Prince Henry, eldest son of the king, who died at the age of 18 and was apparently the inspiration for an inn which previously occupied the building called The Prince’s Arms).

The waxworks were apparently originally run by Mr Salmon – there are references to him being a “famous waxwork man” – but his wife, Mrs Salmon, continued it alone after his death in 1718 until her own death, variously said to have been in 1760 or as late as 1812. At some point after his death, Mrs Salmon is said to have remarried, to a Mr Steers.

Described in a handbill published soon after its initial move to Fleet Street, the exhibitions were said to include a scene of King Charles I upon the scaffold, another of the ill-fated Queen Boudicea, and more exotic tableaux including one showing Canaannite ladies offering their children in sacrifice to the god Moloch, another of a Turkish seraglio, and another of Margaret, Countess of Heningbergh with the 365 children she is said to have given birth to (all at once!). There was also a mechanised figure of the “famous English prophetess” Old Mother Shipton, who is said to have given a boot to visitors as they left.

While some accounts say the waxworks – which, according to the City of London website remained at the site until 1816 – were taken over by a Chancery Lane surgeon named Clarke after Mrs Salmon’s death (and by his wife after his death), it is also suggested that at some point they moved to Water Lane in east London where they were ruined by thieves.

Whatever its fate, it’s generally accepted that the famous waxworks were visited by the likes of James Boswell and artist William Hogarth. They were also mentioned by author Charles Dickens in David Copperfield. 

For more of London’s past, see Philip Davies’ Lost London 1870-1945.

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