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Bitten By Witch Fever

Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home

Lucinda Hawksley


An entertaining - and beautiful - hybrid of Victorian social history and design resource book, which delves into the dark history of 19th-century arsenic-riddled wallpapers

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Winner: Best Trade Illustrated Book, British Book Design & Production Awards 2017

A BBC Culture Design Book of the Year

Bitten by Witch Fever traces the arresting story of the manufacture, uses and effects of arsenic in the 19th-century home, in particular, the pigments ingrained in popular wallpapers. Lucinda Hawksley reveals how pigments, such as Scheele’s green and Schweinfurt green, were created using arsenic to produce more vibrant and durable dyes, which became instant favourites with wallpaper designers and householders alike. Drawing on contemporary case studies and reports in the press, she highlights how, by the middle of the century, manufacturers were producing millions of rolls of arsenical wallpaper, with devastating consequences for those working in their factories and for those living in rooms decorated with the deadly designs.

The wallpaper sections display dazzling long-lost work from the great designers and printers of the age, including Christopher Dresser, Corbière, Son & Brindle, Charles Knowles & Co., and Morris & Co. – whose owner was famously dismissive of the fatal effects of living with arsenic-laden wallpapers.

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'In Hawksley's engaging prose, Morris comes across as a contradictory figure - just like the poisonously beautiful wallpaper that adorned so many Victorian homes and like the sumptuous pages of this handsome book, hiding a dark social history within'
World of Interiors

'Lucinda Hawksley explores the fascinating history of the use of arsenic in textiles and wallpapers. The book is beautifully made'
It’s Nice That

'Like Horrible Histories, but for grown-ups with a keen interest in interior design'
Emerald Street

'A highly original and beautifully illustrated volume that contrasts alluring, poison-laden wallpapers with thought-provoking narrative'
Town Daily

'The bible on this topic – and gorgeous to boot'
BBC History

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 25.0 x 19.5 cm

Extent: 256 pp

Publication date: 20 October 2016

ISBN: 9780500518380

Contents List

Introduction: Arsenic & Victorian Paper Hangings • 1. Arsenic Murder & Myth 2. Madness in the Method; Poison in the Process • 3. Arsenic in the Home • 4. The Wallpaper Designers • 5. The Public Debate • 6. Getting Away From It All • 7. The Rise of Arsenic-free Wallpaper • Appendix

About the Author

Lucinda Hawksley is the author of three biographies of Victorian artists: Lizzie Siddal, Kate Perugini (née Dickens) and Princess Louise. She also writes about art history, social history, literature and the life and works of her great-great-great-grandfather Charles Dickens. Lucinda is a Pre-Raphaelite and Aestheticism expert and a regular lecturer at the National Portrait Gallery in London.