Well, friends and fiends, tonight is All Hallows Eve, when restless spirits wander the earth, shaking down the neighborhood for treats. And just in time, a lucky buyer at last week’s QBO Estate Sale scored this Haunted Victorian Perambulator, AKA Cursed Antique Baby Carriage, AKA Spooooooky Vintage Stroller. It is likely a genuine antique, not a reproduction.
In spite of the fine detailing, quality materials and expert workmanship, this ‘pram’ is only half-sized, it was an expensive toy for some lucky child to push their beloved porcelain dolly or squirmy kitten around in! The wood, brass and metal armature is upholstered in black leather and trimmed with leather-covered buttons, soutache braid and upholstery tacks. The wooden handle was lathe-turned and the folding leather sunshade is lined in fabric. There is even a secret storage compartment fitted into the padded leather mattress. The weight of the main body of the pram is steadied by buckled leather straps and carried on flexible, curved spring steel which acts as a shock absorber, making for a comfortable ride even on metal wheels.
Perambulators were invented in Europe, with what some consider the first being commissioned by the Duke of Devonshire in 1733 when he had furniture designer William Kent build a scaled-down ‘carriage’ for his children. Prams were dependent on the expansion of cities with paved streets. Most early prams were basically standard wicker cradles set on wheels to be tugged behind you. By the 1860s their orientation had been reversed so that they were pushed from behind. Prams spread among upper class European and American families and there were many styles, including fanciful shapes such as boats, or later, sports cars. Most had four wheels but in England there was a fashion for 3-wheelers. Making a pram required the skills of professional basket makers, furniture builders, metal smiths, saddle makers and/or upholsterers, so it was natural that carriage-building companies ultimately took over. This toy pram is clearly based on horse-drawn carriages, much like today’s baby strollers share engineering with adult bicycles.
Eventually manufacturers introduced fold-up prams and features like fat rubber tires, brakes, and power steering, using new materials like plastic and fiberglass. By the 1920s prams had become economical enough that lower-income families could buy them too, and they were regarded as essential enough that charities began distributing them to the poorest mothers.
Prams even get a mention by one of the best-known characters in children’s literature, shown here in statue form. In the 1906 book ‘Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens’ by J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan brags to Wendy that his side-kicks, the Lost Boys “are the children who fall out of their perambulators when the nurse is looking the other way. If they are not claimed in seven days they are sent far away to the Neverland to defray expenses.” So nannies and nurses, watch out!
And as a further precaution for ‘perambulations’ in the park, Victorians might also cover their prams with snug netting to protect baby against spooky stray cats jumping in there to ‘steal the baby’s breath’. Cats mystically sucking babies’ breath away was something people back then took seriously, but in real life most cats lack such supernatural powers and the instances of a cat accidentally smothering a sleeping infant by cuddling too closely are fortunately very rare.
Believe in Haunted Prams and Breath-Stealing Cats, or not, either way Happy QBO Halloween!