New College of the Humanities

The Map: London, 1851

The landmarks of Victorian London, painted onto a fashionable leather glove.

Open between 1 May and 11 October 1851, over six million visitors managed to find their way to London’s Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

Overseen and spearheaded by Prince Albert, the Exhibition was meant to show off the best that Britain, and the world, had to offer – in culture, inventions and curiosities. It was hoped that some of its more fashionable female visitors would get there and back using this leather glove, designed by George Shove in 1851 and painted with London landmarks and roads.

The newly built Crystal Palace, the home of the Exhibition, takes pride of place in the palm of the hand. Other landmarks include Buckingham Palace, identifiable by its flying flag, Westminster Abbey and the British Museum.

This was a period when middle-class women were becoming increasingly visible, frequenting arcades, shops and events such as the Great Exhibition (tickets were £3 for gentlemen, £2 for ladies). The Great Exhibition would seem an opportune moment to cash in on the burgeoning market that these sightseeing women were proving to be, but there is no evidence the glove was ever mass-produced or sold. Lesley Murray and Hannah Vincent have suggested that the glove never entered mass production because, in encouraging female mobility, it was ‘considered too dangerous’. Although ostensibly intended for visitors, however, the sparse roadmap might have served most use as a novelty souvenir.

Never worn, this prototype survives because Shove registered it with the Registrar of Designs in January 1851 by submitting it as a sample.

Shove was an artist and decorator, originally from Kent but in 1851 based in New Oxford Street in London. His business was evidently unsuccessful because he
ended up in debtors’ prison. After a later career as a corn merchant he died, aged 37, in 1863.

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