Waxing lyrical at Calke…

Mme Tussaud's wax works exhibition catalogue (ca. 1890)

“How could you be so stupid?” King Alfred looking sheepish after burning those cakes…

Phew, it’s been hectic since I lasted posted an entry in August (yes, I know…) – I’ve been kept rather busy with Kedleston’s Pleasure Grounds and have only recently started another round of book cataloguing. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been storing up some interesting nuggets for you!

So, are you ready to continue exploring the world behind the spines? This time, we’re off to Calke once more for a visit to Madame Tussaud’s wonderful wax works exhibition.

A potted history of Madame Tussaud's wax work exhibition

John T. Tussaud (“present artist”), who died in 1943

Madame Tussaud, or Marie Grosholtz as she was originally (1761-1850), made her first wax figures in 1770s France and was involved in the creation of death masks during Revolution. She left France in 1802 for Britain to exhibit wax works of the (in)famous men and women she had immortalised this way. Unable to return to her home country after the start of the Napoleonic wars, she travelled around Britain with her show and ultimately settled down in Baker Street, London. After her death, her descendants continued the business and in 1884, the exhibition moved to a new location close to Baker Street Station

By the time of this exhibition catalogue (which I think may date from around 1900, but is certainly not earlier than 1884),  John Theodore Tussaud (1856-1943) was the principal artist.

Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

Execution of Mary Queen of Scots

The exhibits in the catalogue range from the historic to the evocative – all intended to be educational. Hence, the tableaux of King Alfred’s low point (another 12th-century invention of tradition) and the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, but also of a great court scene, the moment of Nelson’s death, a gathering of worthies, and this: Henry Irving and his leading lady, the actress Ellen Terry in Shakespearian costume.

Ellen Terry (1847-1928) was one of the most celebrated actresses of her time and joined Henry Irving’s theatre company at the Lyceum in 1878. There she performed to great acclaim a number of Shakespearian heroines, such as Ophelia, Portia, Juliet, Desdemona, Beatrice, but also Lady Macbeth – a more powerful figure as depicted by John Singer Sargent in 1889 than she seems to have appeared on stage.

Photo of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth

Painting of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth by John Singer Sargent (1889) now at Tate Britain

Madame Tussaud’s in the meantime still draws in the visitors, although the educational element of the exhibits is probably much smaller than it used to be…


  • Undine Concannon, ‘Tussaud , Anna Maria (bap. 1761, d. 1850)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/27897, accessed 25 Nov 2015]
  • Michael R. Booth, ‘Terry, Dame Ellen Alice (1847–1928)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2011 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36460, accessed 25 Nov 2015]
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