Why the Victorians saw ghosts: ten
Mrs Georgina Weldon (neé Thomas, 1837-1914) was one of those extraordinary, larger-than-life characters, London-born to landed gentry but with a fair soprano voice and a sense of theatre fairly pumping through her veins. Though she married for love in 1860, she soon found her talents stifled by her husband, William, who forbade her the professional life she craved and demanded she only appear in amateur theatrics and at charity benefits. In the fourth year of their marriage, which had fast turned loveless, William took a mistress to whom he stayed faithful for the rest of his life.
By the end of the 1860s Georgina's amateur croonings had fallen somewhat out of favour and her marriage was in trouble. She conceived a plan to open a musical training school for poor orphaned children, which she did in 1870, based in her own home, Tavistock House in Bloomsbury. Tavistock House was the perfect venue for such a venture: Charles Dickens, one of its previous occupants, had added a small theatre with its own stage. Georgina had some progressive ideas regarding the education of her orphans. In addition to allowing them to run barefoot for a quarter of an hour each day, they were to be taught singing, dancing and recitation from the earliest age, raised on a vegetarian diet, encouraged to join her in her amateur séances, and taken to see opera. In return they were to pay for their keep by performing at key society events—twee musical programmes that would include a recitation of the history of the orphanage—where the whole troop would arrive in a horse and wagon with the words "Mrs Weldon's Sociable Evenings" plastered along the side. Think of Rosalind Russell's stage-mother character in the 1965 film Gypsy and you'll get the idea.