On the set of 19th Century Governess Theresa Berkley's salon for Sky TV History

On the set of 19th Century Governess Theresa Berkley's salon for Sky TV History

Last year I undertook the historical research and set design of Theresa Berkley's early 19th Century salon, and appeared as Dominance expert and historian on the filming of Sky TV's Sex: A Bonkers History

So, want to know WHAT a Dominatrix Governess of the 1820s had in her salon? Want to know about the Berkley Horse? The instruments and equipment of a historical Dominatrix?

And want to know how UK celebrity Amanda Holden looked in all-leather attire? (Fabulous, obviously!) Then this blog post is for you. And because I'm all tease-and-denial, I'm only going to share this obscured behind-the-scenes snippet photo for now of Amanda and myself in costume.


Amanda Holden and Dominance studies expert Anne O Nomis on set of Sex A Bonkers History

Amanda Holden & Anne O Nomis, on the set of Sky TV Sex: A Bonkers History


Behind the scenes Theresa Berkley set created by Anne O Nomis

A sneak preview of Anne O Nomis's historical Governess Dominatrix salon based on historical sources listing Theresa Berkley's equipment in the 1820s London, filmed at the Freud Museum London.



The "must have" of the shoot if I was to create and honour Theresa Berkley's salon was of course - a "Berkley Horse". There is a reproduction of the illustration of the original Berkley Horse in my book, 'The History & Arts of the Dominatrix' (which is just being printed as a 10th Anniversary limited edition, out soon!). It was made for Theresa Berkley in the Spring of 1828, and would make her name well-known and become a "must have" for the "Governess" Dominatrix female flagellants of the era.

Berkley Horse from The History & Arts of the Dominatrix book by Anne O Nomis

So where does one buy a Berkley Horse, you may ask? Well these are not off-the-shelf items, but have to be specially commissioned.

I came across a wonderfully characterful antique trestles ladder with wrought iron folding mechanism, on eBay UK. And I had a thought.

Anne O Nomis eBay purchase of a trestle ladder for conversion into Berkley Horse

Various historical texts reference the use of trestles ladders as a whipping frame. There is an image of putti (cherub-like figures) whipping against such a ladder, in illustration frontispiece for Henry Spencer Ashbee's Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books). See below picture.

  Putti whipping

Instead of commissioning a brand new Berkley Horse, what if I was to instead purchase this antique trestle ladder with its wonderful over-engineered iron folding mechanism - and convert it into a Berkley Horse? 

Think I'm mad? Well Chris from Wicked Woods didn't. And he agreed to receive the eBay UK purchase and lovingly restore the trestles ladder, keeping its patina and character intact, re-doing the wedges, and then see about its conversion into a Berkley Horse. (Thank you Chris!)

Trestles ladder for Berkley Horse

Images of Berkley Horse arrived outside garden of Chris at Wicked Woods, UK

And you feel like you seeing this trestles ladder conversion process, sped up and set to Nirvana's Sounds Like Teen Spirit track?

Yes? Well so did Chris. So here it is:


While you're visiting Chris's instagram, there's another of his posts showing the pop-in panels going in and its implied whipping usage, set this time to the "Boogie Shoes" song. I note that part of the Berkley Horse commission for TV brief - meant that the modern version had to be: 

* easily transportable to get onto the set

* strong and safe to set-up and use

* disinfected / sterilised easily 

* sized to modern day human proportions (rather than 1820s human proportions)

So the resulting Berkley Horse honours the spirit of the original version, but the modern panelling serves these functional and safety requirements. 

We certainly didn't want Amanda Holden or another star to have it collapse on them if they were to use it, and we wanted no DNA lingering on the panels.

You never know what antics might go on - on set. (Wink)

Berkley Horse by Anne O Nomis with photo by Maitresse Nuit

Equipment set design Berkley Horse made from an antique trestles for Sex: A Bonkers History - Anne O Nomis set of Theresa Berkley's salon. Image credit: Maitresse Nuit, London.

The end result is a practical, safe and usable piece which honours the original, with modern adaptions for practicality, and dark brown finish matched to the trestles frame, which has gone straight off after the shoot to a large manor near Cornwall for Dominatrix use. I think Theresa would have immediately recognised our adaption of her design, and been happy to see it.


There were no BDSM equipment shops back in the early 19th Century. So what was a Dominatrix Governess to use as her equipment then, and furthermore how do I know what she used?

Theresa Berkely's equipment is described by Mary Wilson in a Foreword she wrote around 1840, to an edition of Venus School-Mistress. (The Foreword was written after Berkley's death in 1836, but before Ashbee's Index Librorum Prohibitorum in 1876 from which he quoted her.) I've reproduced the relevant original source material in my own book, The History & Arts of the Dominatrix.


Theresa Berkley had more than a dozen cat-o'-nine tails. I diligently set about researching the historical types used in the era, from a combination of British Museum prints and surviving artefacts in museums in the UK and Commonwealth collections. These included:

* admiralty cat-o'-nine-tails - made of drum sticks as handles, or wooden spoon handles;

* prison cat-o'-nine-tails - with cylindrical handles and standardised at Wandsworth prison;

* juvenile punishment cat-o'-nine tails made from one piece of leather cut into 9 tawse tails and nailed to a handle;

* rope cat-o'-nine tails made from ropes on ships.

This variety of cat-o'-nine-tails whips would have provided suitable variety and scope for her differing client requests and role-plays, and varying intensity levels. There's a whole blog post on historical cat-o'-nine-tails here for those interested in reading separately about this topic.


Cat-o'-nine-tails by Ouch UK for Anne O Nomis shoot

Reconstruction cat-o-nine-tails with two made of vintage drum sticks, by Mike of Ouch! (UK)

  Cat-o'-nine-tails by Demitrio Monteverde for Anne O Nomis shoot

Reconstruction cat-o'-nine tails made by Demitrio Monteverde (Twitter @nola2nyc1) in USA, recreating cod line of admiralty cats.


Also amongst Theresa Berkley's equipment, listed in Mary Wilson's Foreword to the Venus School-Mistress - were curry combs. These were traditionally used for combing the mud out of horses' coats. Unfortunately there are no surviving images or sources for what exact style of models these may have been, but I sourced two antique curry combs as examplars. 

Curry combs for set of Theresa Berkley designed by Anne O Nomis

Above: Antique curry combs as exemplars for set design

Interestingly when I gave a talk later in the evening at the Freud Museum London, and some London-based Dominatrix / corporal punishment disciplinarian specialists attended alongside psychologists, a couple commented they actually use modern curry combs in their practice. So there you go - not as strange as it may sound.


I initially presumed that battledores were the racquets of the badminton-like game of the era, made of vellum stretched across a frame. However my further research evidenced that the term "battledore" was used more broadly for a paddle or bat - including a laundry paddle for example being known as a battledore. The text describes Berkley's battledores as being made of thick sole leather, with inch nails run through to docket. 

I believe the most likely scenario is that Theresa Berkley was having her paddles made of thick leather soles for shoes - that were readily accessible to her.


Anne O Nomis replica of battledores for historic Theresa Berkley salon

Anne O Nomis's reconstruction Theresa Berkley battledores made from thick sole leather, with inch nails variation, crafted by Mike at Ouch! UK.



Birch rods were of course the most famous implement of the era. They are mentioned in some texts as having been tied with different coloured ribbons at the handles to make them easily identifiable, to call for the right one by thickness and intensity.

These were made from twigs of the birch tree and other trees, used for corporal punishment by Governesses and School-Mistresses, and by parents - for discipline punishment.

The adult sized birch rod (made of 12 branches) was 48" long, and weighed 12 ounces. 
For adolescents aged 10 - 16 years old, the birch rod was 40" long, and weighed 9 ounces.
And for young boys under 10, the birch rod was 34" long and weighed 6 ounces.


Birch rod

Flagellation print from Library of Congress

Flagellation (1752) London print held in collection of Library of Congress USA describing a School-Mistress birch discipline punishment in an erotic role-play in which a remarkably well-known gentleman is playing role of school-boy. 


Alongside birch rods, Berkley was said to have had china and glass vases filled and restocked with a range of prickly, ouchy and medicinal botanicals:

* holly (Ilex aquifolium)

* furze (Ulex - also known commonly as gorse)

* butcher's bush (Ruscus aculeatus - also known as butcher's broom)

* stinging nettles (Urtica dioica - noted as being seasonal)

Botanicals prickly and stingy

Detail: stinging nettles, holly and ruscus (butcher's broom)

Theresa Berkley had apprentices working for her that she could send out to locate and replenish these, not to mention rich aristocrats travelling in from landed estates whom she could ask to bring particular sprigs and branches in.

The botanicals I sourced with help of Gel from Hanging Wood in Kent, and I placed the branches into replica and authentic Masons ironware hydra vases with serpentine handles. (I note Berkley would have likely had much finer vases, and there's no historical evidence they were hydra. It was a matter of what I could get my hands on without spending thousands trying to replicate Theresa Berkley's gifts of her well to-do clientele with antique pieces.) 


Botanicals on display for set of Theresa Berkley salon by Anne O Nomis

Console unit with botanicals, on set at Freud Museum London, featuring vases with butcher's brush, furze (gorse), holly, large birch rod, and on the top of console is a small birch rod in purple ribbon and curry combs.



Thin, bendy canes are mentioned in the texts as being used by Theresa Berkley.  These remain very popular still today with school punishment role-plays, particularly for those who received it during during childhood and adolescence and remember the experience with excitement and arousal. A variety of straight and crooked canes thus went into the display.

Junior dragon cane

Junior crooked cane



Purple gloves were mentioned in a number of flagellation texts of the era, and most particularly in letters published in Bon Ton Magazine in 1792. In one story, a Mrs James removes her white gloves, and puts on purple gloves - which symbolises the shift from everyday life into Dominant flagellator mode. There are a number of stories that featured purple gloves made of leather or kid skin, perhaps by the same author who had a fetish for them, and whose letters spread the association of purple gloves with flagellation.

You can see the purple gloves laid out on the right side of the table, beside my antiquarian book of flagellation texts, birch rod and nosegay bouquet. 

Detail image courtesy of Sardax

Reproduction battledores, cat-o'-nine-tails, my 19th Century antiquarian 'forbidden book' of flagellation texts, purple gloves, nosegay bouquet and birch rod. 


Behind the scenes

Set of Theresa Berkley's salon by Anne O Nomis for Sex: A Bonkers History, at the Freud Museum London. Image credit: courtesy Sardax

Do I think Theresa Berkley would have been happy with the outcome and reconstruction of her salon, if she was looking down from the stars?

I certainly hope so. I feel like we honoured her in spirit.

And what would the late Sigmund Freud think? The famous 20th Century psychologist, whose dining room table I took over, and portrait temporarily unhung in order to film?

I hope he would have had a good chuckle, and seen the humour. In place of a feast of dinner at his table, was a feast of flagellation equipment once wielded by Dominant women who were themselves specialists in the psychosexual realm.

Thank you to Freud Museum London staff. Thank you Mistress Iceni, Chris from Wicked Woods, Mike from Ouch!, Demitrio Monteverde from USA, Gel from Hanging Wood (Kent, UK), wardrobe Mistress Maria-Eva who sourced ribbons and fabrics on which to display the equipment, and Just John, amongst others who aided me and toiled for me behind the scenes.

And thank you to Amanda Holden and historian Dan for being such good sports. 

Until then - Tally ho!

x Anne O Nomis

PS For those wondering why the attire resembles more the 1780s than the 1820s - that's because Theresa Berkley was time-travelling to the era of her clients' childhoods. Roleplaying the authoritative women who had the most affect on these men as boys - their Governess, School-Mistress, Step-Mother, Strict Aunt, Maid and so forth.

There is a blog post about the costume choice here, and another on the hat for Theresa Berkley here.

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