2012 is an auspicious year, as it witnesses not only the centenary of organised chiropody in the UK but also the bicentenary of the birth of one of our most illustrious literary figures, Charles Dickens.
It may seem a stretch to find a way of linking these two disparate events but anyone who has read David Copperfield may remember the character of Miss Mowcher, who was chiropodist/hairdresser to David’s friend, Steerforth. Controversially, Dickens was accused of basing this character on his family chiropodist and neighbour Jane Seymour Hill.
Dickens introduces Miss Mowcher in Chapter 22; he describes her as ‘a pursy dwarf, of about 40 or 45, with a very large head and face…throat she had none; waist she had none, worth mentioning…’ Copperfield’s reaction to this unusual person was to say ‘altogether I was lost in amazement and sat staring at her, quite oblivious, I am afraid to the laws of politeness.’ Miss Mowcher then proceeded to produce from her bag ‘a number of small bottles, sponges, combs, brushes, bits of flannel, little pairs of curling-irons and other instruments which she tumbled in a heap upon the chair’. She then says ‘look here…scraps of the Russian Prince’s nails…I keep his nails in order for him. Twice a week! Fingers and toes.’ She then goes on to explain ‘they are the best introduction. If Miss Mowcher cuts the Prince’s nails, she must be all right. I give ‘em away to young ladies. They put ‘em in their albums. I believe. Ha! Ha!’ Miss Mowcher then proceeds to trim Steerforth’s hair and whiskers but afterwards Copperfield declines her offer of similar treatment. After she leaves, Steerforth and Copperfield laugh for some time but Copperfield then says, ‘when we had our laugh quite out, which was after some time, he told me that Miss Mowcher had quite an extensive connexion, and made herself useful to a variety of people in a variety of ways.’