Awful Appearance of a "Wopps" at a Picnic. — Drawn by John Leech. Punch; or, The London Charivari, 1849. 7.6 cm high by 11.6 cm wide, vignetted. [Click on image to enlarge it.]


Picnicking was uncommon at the beginning of the nineteenth century in Great Britain, but rapidly gained in popularity among the rising middle classes after the Napoleonic Wars, as the nation became increasingly industrialized and urbanized. As more and more Victorians went to live in the new industrial cities of Manchester, Liverpool, and Greater London, labour became increasingly an indoor affair, as blue- and white-collar workers toiled during the week in urban offices and factories. No wonder, then, that young people began to feel the need to get back to nature, or at least enjoy some time out-of-doors in the English summer, especially on the one leisure day available: Sunday. Many cities in Great Britain accommodated pic-nicing by setting up suitable groves in municipal parks.

This Victorian phenomenon permitted young members of the burgeoning middle class to circumvent, albeit only temporarily, the societal strictures implicit in parlour etiquette. However, picnics did have certain moral standards and anticipated behaviour, given in the household management manuals of the period. The activities involved in a Victorian picnic were supposed to illustrate one's good breeding, and rules governed appropriate clothing and games, as well as the degree of intimacy permitted to unmarried couples.

John Leech's Punch cartoon of the Dickenses picnicking near Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight in the summer of 1849 offers a glimpse into the socializing of young upper-middle class Victorians. The congenial gathering include illustrator Hablot Knight Browne (foreground, wearing a straw hat), Charles and Catherine Dickens (the husband, waving a butterknife at the gigantic "wopps," attempts to protect his wife), artist Frank Stone, John Leech, and Augustus Egg — a rather more Bohemian group than that depicted by Cruikshank. According to Valerie Lester in Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens, the cartoon reflects an actual 1840s picnic rather than, as is the case with Cruikshank's satirical portrait of the dubious hero of Mr. Lambkin at a picnic.

At Bonchurch, the author soon surrounded himself with an array of guests, including his artist friends: Phiz, Leech, Frank Stone, and Augustus Egg. Leech commemorated the event with a drawing of a picnic and the arrival there of an 'enormous wopps', which threw the party into much consternation. Most of the characters are recognisable, and Phiz appears to be seated front and centre, with his back to the artist, evidenced by the particular kind of flat hat that he pictured in many of his self-portrait sketches. [Valerie Browne Lester, page 143]

Related Material


Lester, Valerie Browne. "John Leech's Awful Appearance of a 'Wopps' at a Pic-nic." Phiz: The Man Who Drew Dickens. London: Chatto and Windus, 2004. Page 143.

Created 19 May 2019