Bitten By Witch Fever

Bitten By Witch Fever

Wallpaper & Arsenic in the Victorian Home

(Published in association with The National Archives)
  1. Lucinda Hawksley
  • ISBN 9780500518380
  • 25.00 x 19.50 cm
  • Hardback without Jacket
  • 256pp
  • Illustrated in colour and black and white throughout
  • First published 2016

Part social history and part design catalogue, this innovative book delves into the sinister historyof 19th-century wallpaper

‘Lucinda Hawksley’s intriguing 'Bitten by Witch Fever' is surely the most beautifully designed and produced book this year’ – The Art Quarterly
‘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
'The book is beautifully made, with 275 wallpaper designs from the Victorian period printed full-bleed in all their glory ...'– It's Nice That Click here to see the full review

Hear the podcast at theguardian.com


Bitten by Witch Fever

See Lucinda Hawksley's exploration of arsenic and wallpaper and review of the book in The Telegraph Review 7th October 2016


‘As to the arsenic scare a greater folly it is hardly possible to imagine: the doctors were bitten as people were bitten by the witch fever’ – William Morris, writing on the subject of toxic wallpapers


Beautiful to leaf through and compelling to read, 'Bitten by Witch Fever' is a highly original and captivating volume that interleaves facsimile sections of alluring, arsenic-laden wallpapers, all laboratory-tested for the first time, with thought-provoking narrative, tracing 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 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 within arsenic-laden walls.

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.