Victorian London Fantasia

the subsalians go down to sea at greenwich | © Natalie Knowles 2017

The Subsaliens Go Down To Sea

This image riffs on the maritime and astronomical heritage at Royal Greenwich, London. Tall ships embarking on perilous journeys across the oceans, blown by the trade winds and guided by the stars. What strange creatures lurk in the depths? I represent the parallel between deep sea and space exploration with the submariners … and hint at what mutants might live at the bottom of the River Thames!

A Windy Day On The Garden Bridge

A Windy Day on the Garden Bridge by Natalie Knowles

It is not the swaying of the wobbly Millennium Bridge, but rather it is the Spring blossom that is caught in the wind on the Thames in Victorian London, 1884. The Garden Bridge spans the river from Bankside to St Pauls and the City of London. Brave cyclists on Penny Farthings struggle against the same breeze that propels sail-boats up the river to the docklands.

New Year’s Eve in London, 1884

New Year's Eve in London 1884 by Natalie Knowles

This is the first illustration in the Victorian London Fantasia collection. It is New Year’s Eve in London, 1884. There is masked ball in a crystal palace overlooking Westminster. The theme is fancy dress. Inspired by the illustrations in the Victorian issues of Punch periodical, this collection foregrounds fantastical characters, caricature and all the whimsy of London pre-1900.

London Victorian Fantasia

London, 1884. There were reports from the astronomers that the Earth was apparently revolving widdenshins; shadows were growing; the measure of time was ineffective and the Greenwich Meridian Line (which had marked the start of all things) was the beginning and end of nothing.

The Thames Submariners searched the bottom of the riverbed but found only the reflected stars and moon laying in the mud. Mutated sealife marched on the Thames estuary and submarines were launched to defend London itself from Subsalian invasion.

Penny Farthing bicycles were the most precarious contraptions to ride across the Garden Bridge on the Thames. A high wind funnelled up the river, bringing a swell from the sea. Blossom was stripped from the trees and white sails were full as the unusual gale whipped through London. Promenaders held on to their hats, their hair and each other! The peasouper murk of the industrial factories and squalid Thames sewage was blown inland, to Henley, Staines and Windsor.

The year continued strangely with Parliment insisting that people keep the measure of time to quantify the crazy dark and light periods that fell upon London without routine. Curiouser and curiouser still were the new people that walked among the Londoners. Dressed for Steam; dressed for carnival. One day, it was decided that this year simply must end and a New Year’s Eve party was planned for seven dark periods time.

The Crystal Palace was the focus of the celebrations. The magnificent glasshouse overlooked Big Ben and the Houses of Parliment. The master clocksmith had manually cranked the hands of Big Ben (by means of a widdenshins bike) to read Midnight. The masqueraders danced through the darkness; were they real feathers and fur?

Fireworks, to symbol the time when the Houses of Parliment was nearly blown up. Fireworks like a billion years of starbursts in one eye blink. No one had set off any fireworks …

Natalie Knowles


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