Not quite the Olympics

With all the excitement of the recent Olympic games it would be nice to be able to write about sportsmen of the Victorian era. However, I have very few photographs that reflect an interest in sport and certainly not the vast range on offer today.

But, one image (see below), not very inspiring at first glance, shows the face of a 19th century woman who went on to achieved amazing things. And she did them all by walking. Ada Anderson was a sometime music hall artiste who decided to branch out somewhere round about 1875. At the time, England was seeing a fashion for races, whether man, beast or machine, pedestrian races, those run or walked on foot, were particularly popular. So this is what Ada did. She reinvented herself as a pedestrienne, and made a name for herself as a feat worth witnessing.

Ada organised walks in towns around the country, setting up venues, presided over by a huge chronometer to time the walks that she took. The plan was to walk a while, then rest, then walk again, through both night and day. Following this pattern she was able to achieve great distances without actually going anywhere. There were suspicions of cheating but the chronometer did not lie. Ada stuck to her routine, entertained the crowds, found fame and took in a fair bit of cash along the way.


The illustration above shows the costume she wore for her perambulations, a costume that was considered rather risque for the time. When she took her show to America, the walks got longer but the skirt got shorter. Thunderous applause turned to howls of outrage and Ada’s pedestrian career was over.She returned to England but never gained the same level of fame again. The end of her life is shrouded in mystery, as so far I have not been able to find a definitive date of death.Ada’s star shone brightly for a few short years then disappeared into obscurity. This is her in her heyday, wither trade mark pigtail over one shoulder and her bare knees covered by a cloth or blanket. Ada Anderson, I salute you!


P S to see Ada’s life in slightly more detail, go to the Lives From a Family Album site


Published by qvictoria

A collector of Victorian photographs for many a long year. I'm interested in both the individual photographs and the studio advertising on the 'backs' of the images, Victorian graphic design at its most varied and interesting. My collection of "cartes de visite" photographs is housed in plastic pockets within a series of albums, numerically arranged in order as they are acquired. There are now roughly 3000 photographers and images in all. I use directories, newspapers and genealogical information to research the life and work of each photographer and their studio but there aren't enough hours in the day. This photo is one of my collection, chosen for the gentle expression in the face of the sitter.

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