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For Jane Austen hats were important items of clothing. She took great delight in wearing and purchasing them, as this arch extract from her letter to her sister, Cassandra dated 18th April 1811 clearly demonstrates:

Miss Burton has made me a very pretty title Bonnet- & now nothing can satisfy me but I must have a straw hat, of the riding hat shape, like Mrs Tilson’s; & a young woman in this Neighbourhood is actually making me one. I am really very shocking; but it will not be dear at a Guinea.

The admirable new Subject Index to the Fourth Edition of Jane Austen’s Letters has copious entries for mentions of bonnets, caps, hats and veils. Understanding the differences between the type of hat Jane Austen and her characters would have worn, how and where she would have bought such hats, for herself or on commission, has recently been addressed in a new book written by Serena Dyer of Dressing History.

This is a slim but well written-volume packed full of fascinating early 19th century hat facts and information. Do you know the difference between a Calash or a Capote? You will after reading this very informative book. The book is illustrated with black and white renditions of period fashion plates and very clear, helpful line drawing by Christine Dyer. Here is a Gypsy Hat such as may have been worn by the odious Mrs Elton on the day of the Strawberry Picking Party at Donwell Abbey:

I love Lunardi bonnets but was not aware that this style of hat was named after Vincenzi Lunardi after he made the first hydrogen balloon flight in England. Fascinating.

Serena also gives a short account of  Milliners and how their trade was carried out in the early 19th century. An interesting snippet she includes in their section is that many ladies paid to learn how to trim their own bonnets: a Miss Elizabeth Woodhouse ( no relation I’m sure)

who would become the wife of a Yorkshire vicar,paid her milliner, Miss Volans, ten pounds to instruct her in the art

This small book is very reasonably priced at £5.00 and is available direct from Serena herself, go here to buy it. Serena,who is now studying at the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies at York University,  is an accomplished milliner herself and trims a mean bonnet. You can buy some of her examples from her shop, go here to see. This is one of her confections, a straw poke bonnet:

Hard to resist isn’t it?

In our last post in this series,we travelled up the stairs in the Gallery. This week we discover where those wonderfully pink stairs and their faked bamboo stair rail led…to the Gallery on the Chamber floor.  Below is John Nash’s view of the Gallery, painted circa 1816 (do remember you can enlarge all the photographs in these articles by clicking on them)

I love the way George IV is included in many of these watercolours, just to reinforce the impression that the place really was his…you can see him ascending the stairs with a lady upon his arm…the question of the moment being, of course, which lady? We can be certain  it was certainly not his estranged wife, Caroline of Brunswick, whose part Jane Austen took. As she wrote in a letter to her friend, Martha Lloyd,  which was dated 16th February, 1813:

Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband

The gallery is a central corridor, similar to the gallery on the ground floor. Doors lead from it to the different main bedrooms in the Pavilion,with the exception of the King’s Apartments, with which we will deal in our next post ;)

The gallery is lit by skylights, again painted in the oriental fashion by artists employed by Frederick Crace, the famed Regency designer. The bamboo pattern on the walls is created by pasting strips of printed paper onto the painted blue background, to give the effect of begin in a bamboo walled room set in the sky.  This airy  space was used not only for access to the bedrooms, but also as a place where breakfast was taken by the guests staying in the Pavilion. Madame de Boigne ,the daughter of the French ambassador wrote, while staying at the Pavillion in the 1820s that she was

much astonished when I came out of my room to find the table upon the staircase landing. But what a landing and what a staircase! The carpets, the tables, the chairs, the porcelain, the china as exquisite as luxury and good taste could find.

Books, newspapers and excellent fires were also provided. I think it must have been quite a delightful space  in which to breakfast. I have to point out to you one of my favourite aspects of the chamber floor : the recreated Brussels weave carpet, which covers the Gallery floor and is also in some of the bedrooms.

It has the most delightful floral pattern, and looks startlingly modern.  The original would most probably have been made in Axminster in Devon, by Thomas Whitty who began making his famed Axminster method carpets there in 1755. He made the other carpets in the Pavilion and had first come to the Princes of Wales attention when he was commissioned to made carpets for the Prince at Carlton House. For example, he made the carpets that graced the Throne Room, below:

He was also patronised by  George III and Queen Charlotte and also by the Duke of Devonshire at Chatsworth.

I do wonder what time the guests and the King would rise and exit from their bedrooms, however, if we consider they would have spent the previous night eating in the Banqueting Room and after enjoying after dinner entertainment in the Music room…I am convinced it would not be particularly early…

In one of the bed chambers, the last of the costumes in the Dress for Excess Exhibition are displayed. This was in fact the suite of rooms that the Prince Regent occupied until 1821,when he moved into a new suite  of private apartments in the north-west wing of the Pavilion. We will look at them in our next post.

I again apologize for the darkness of the these photographs. But I hope you can see enough detail to satisfy yourselves. The three dresses on show are interesting because they delineate the history of the rise and fall of the waistline on females dresses during the Prince’s life time.

The cream dress on the left dates from the early 1800s, and its waist is elevated, to lie under the line of the bust.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

In this much clearer photograph, which I have been given special permission to use by the Brighton Museum service, you can see the detail of the fabric, which is embroidered by tambour work. This  was made on a taut, drum-like frame, hence  the term “tambour”. This is the type of work Mrs Grant was undertaking at the Rectory at Mansfield in Chapter 7 of Mansfield Park.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

The dress in the middle of the trio, shown below, dates from circa 1825.

You can see that by this date the waist is moving back down towards the natural waistline, but in this case the corsetry involved is far more restrictive than in the early 1800s and a small waist is now becoming the more fashionable shape to attain.

The last dress on show dates from the mid 1780s to 1790s. The waist is beginning to rise from the natural line of the was it but it is not as high as the example of the 1800s dress. Do note the dark printed patterned fabric: not everyone wore white all the time!

Next in this series, we go back downstairs to the Kings Apartments on the Ground Floor of the Pavillion.

I read in the media today that, with the forthcoming release of two new films inspired by Bronte novels, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, that  this was the year of the Brontes and Jane Austen ought to move over for her time in the limelight was over.  Indeed? Well, someone should have told museum curators that, because I can report that yet another exhibition that concentrates on fashion in Jane Austen’s era has been commissioned and it  opened  yesterday at Fairfax House Museum in York. It will run until the 31st December.

 

Entitled Revolutionary Fashion, the clothes on show,some from the famed Olive Matthews Collection at the Chertsey Museum, demonstrate how fashion changed dramatically for both sexes during this era. For women, wide hooped skirts were no longer an option (save for court dress) and the slender columnar silhouette with a high waist became the order of the day. For men change was equally dramatic, with the adoption of simple, well-tailored clothes, in predominantly dark colours, a departure from the embroidered silks of all colours worn during the first three-quarters of the 18th century.

Go here to read a description of the exhibition on the museum’s most excellent blog. I do like the fact that the clothes are not only on show in the museum’s exhibition space,but are also to be seen in context, on display within its beautiful rooms. The cost of the exhibition is included in the normal admission price.

I may be able  to see it: sadly, on my day in York a couple of weeks ago the museum was closed, and this exhibit had not yet opened. But in the meantime here is a link to a six-minute long video of a tour of the the exhibition ,produced by the Yorkshire Post newspaper, which I know will only partially satisfy you, but I afraid it is the best I can do at the moment.

I do hope you enjoy it, and I think you might agree with me that the time is not yet ripe for Jane Austen to move out of the limelight, no indeed.

If anyone was in doubt of Jane Austen’s continuing appeal, they only have to look at the proliferation, this year, of costume exhibits that try to recreate the clothes of her era. Here at Austenonly we have seen part of Dress for Excess exhibit at the Brighton Pavilion, and Fairfax House in York  is also to hold an exhibition of “Revolutionary” clothing in the autumn.

Now visitors to Liverpool’s Sudley House Museum are in for a treat- they are staging a costume exhibit which will feature men and women’s  fashion from 1790- 1850. The exhibit,  which is free to all visitors, will be held  from  8th July  2011 to the 7th  May 2012. IThe Museum hopes the exhibit will appeal to readers of Jane Austen and Mrs Gaskell…..from the photographic evidence, I don’t doubt it.

The Curator of the exhibit,  Pauline Rushton,  seen above with two dresses from the 1840 and 1850s, and below with a dress dating from 1810, said of the exhibit:

“We cover the period from 1790 to 1850 so it’s about a 60 year span and during that time there were a lot of changes in costume in terms of the style, as you would expect. There were political changes going on, economic changes and many social changes where people were rising through the social levels and fashion was filtering down for the first time.”

Liverpool was of course one of the great West Coast ports associated with the triangular Slave Trade, and the city amassed much wealth from the profits of that trade. The costumes on show reflect that wealth, proudly displayed by its citizens.  I often wonder if the heiress that got away ,Mary King in Pride and Prejudice, had any associations with the trade, her  uncle hailing from Liverpool as he did…..

If you go here you can see six more examples of the dresses on display : I adore the black evening dress made of net….I do hope some of you are able to visit this exhibit which looks lovely. And is free!

In this fifth part of our journey around the Royal Pavilion , Brighton, George IVs pleasure palace, which would no doubt have been an object of scorn for Jane Austen , as averse to him as she most decidedly was……we are now nearing the end of the tour of the rooms on the Steyne Front on the ground floor. (You can see the ground-plan of the Pavilion, above).  After leaving the Banqueting Gallery, we move into the Saloon, which is the central room on the facade, numbered “1” in red on the ground-plan above.

This room was being restored when I visited, and so to see the interior we shall take a look at another of the watercolours by John Nash, the Prince Regent’s favoured architect. This is his  view of the room as it appeared in the 1820s.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This room was originally decorated in the Chinoiserie style but from the 1820s it took on a different character, and was re-decorated in the Indian style.  The gilded canopies above the wall panels, the overmantle mirrors and above the curtains are all derived from Mogul architecture. The scheme was designed by Robert Jones.

This room leads directly into the Music Room Gallery, seen below. Again this room has undergone many changes in style: it was first divided into two rooms-aneating room and a library. This was when the Pavilion took the form of the Marine Pavilion, designed by Henry Holland in the 1780s. The room was then made into its current large size and the dividing wall was removed. It was decorated in the Chinoiserie style in 1803. It was then used as a billiards room. It then underwent another change and  was decorated in the Egyptian Style. Accordingly  it was known as the Egyptian Gallery. But in 1815 the Prince reverted to type and Chinoiserie again was designated as the theme for the room, and in 1821 it was eventually decorated in the style we see today and in Nash’s watercolour, below.

The elegant columns are made of cast iron and support the floor above. Some of the furniture from the Chinese Drawing Room in Carlton House in London, the place Jane Austen visited in 1815, made its way here before that building was demolished. .This room was often used for small musical gatherings.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

It is in this room that some of the Dress for Excess costumes are on display.  A lady’s pelisse circa 1825…

And here is a better picture of it, remember you can enlarge all these photographs simply by clicking on them…..

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

Here is a close-up of the front detail of the pelisse

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

and here is a close-up photograph of the shoulder detail. I love the covered button detail……

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

Also on display was a very elaborate spencer made of fine silk

and a uniform worn at the Battle of Waterloo……which is quite ironic as the Prince Regent was so impressed by the Allies victory at Waterloo in 1815 that by the end of  his life he had convinced himself that he was actually there taking part. Which he decidedly was not.

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Next in this series, the magnificent Music Room.

I received my copy of this book as part of my Mothering Sunday haul of books last weekend ( You didn’t expect I would receive flowers, did you? Not in this household…) It is, of course, the catalogue to a rather intriguing costume exhibition that was held last year in Milan.

Cristina Baretto and Martin Lancaster, independent researchers and textile consultants of the Napoleonic period, have collected clothing from that era (1795-1815) for many years. They wanted to stage an exhibition of their costumes, all perfectly accessorized, in order to explain why this style of clothing was adopted in France and what influenced its development and spread; they also wanted to exhibit a variety of clothes, as worn by the different echelons of society in order to put into the context the reason why this fashion was so revolutionary.  The resulting exhibition, Napoleon and the Empire of Fashion, showcased fifty-one of their magnificent items after they had first been fully restored to pristine condition. The object of the restoration was to have them appear as they would have done when they were first made, over 200 years ago. I’m not sure whether this is the politically correct thing to do, but you have to admit, from the photographic evidence in this catalogue, that the results are breath-taking. And the chapter on the restoration in the catalogue makes for fascinating reading. A new mannequin was also commissioned for the exhibition ( one that looks very like the actor, Phoebe Nichols, shown below, who played Elizabeth Elliot in Nick Dear’s Persuasion, to me…)

The new mannequin was ordered so that the clothes could appear to their best advantage, by being worn by a model whose body shape reflected the measurements of ladies of the era, all taken from the clothing and,  further, who looked as if she was wearing the corsets/undergarments  of the day. Using this new mannequin meant that something akin to the original effect of these clothes could be achieved.

The catalogue has,  apart from magnificent and plentiful reproductions of the clothes in the exhibition themselves, many reproductions of fashion plates of the day, mostly taken from the Journal des Dames at des Modes and Costume Parisien. These are  also  from the Lancaster /Barreto collection.

From comparing the examples of both clothing and prints you can see very clearly how the designs were interpreted by the dressmakers and subsequently worn by their customers.

There are interesting chapters on men’s clothing in the period, with the emphasis on the growth of tailoring, and how early 19th century men’s clothes eventually became  the basis for the present 3-piece suit, now worn in many societies all over the world

Though the emphasis is on French fashion, many English garments and accessories are included in the exhibition and, indeed, in the catalogue  there is a special chapter on Jane Austen and her attitude to fashion. This chapter also  contrasts English fashions and habits with French fashions of the day.

The catalogue contains  good explanatory chapters on life in early 19th century  France, how its society worked and how the clothes reflected this. And there is a fascinating chapter on Napoleon  and his manipulation and promotion of the French fashion industry,  all part of his intention to promote France as the leader of fashion industry in ther late 18th/early 19th centuries, thereby also stimulating  the French economy. All fascinating stuff, particularly regarding his proportion of the Jacquard loom and the wearing of linen.

The clothes exhibited in the catalogue range from the most sumptuous court dresses

and embroidered court trains

and wedding dresses

to the more comfortable and humbler clothes worn by women in pregnancy.

The catalogue is well written and very interesting, though I’m not sure I necessarily agree with all of its claims. For anyone who has the least interest  in the fashion of the period, it is a must buy. The exhibition has now closed but it’s website, accessible here, is still open. If you go here you have a chance to vote as to where the exhibition will next appear. I’ve already voted, and am prepared to go to France of London to see it! If you go here you can see hundreds of photographs of the exhibition taken by the photographer, Phil Thomason. And below is a short five minute video of the exhibition from YouTube:.

I know you are all going to enjoy this magnificent book and, if you are lucky in the ballot, will all rush to see the exhibition that inspired it.

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Occasionally , on reading Jane Austen’s novels or letters, a reference jumps out at you …and you are puzzled. You simply have no idea what she is referring to… It niggles and niggles away …You have sleepless nights wondering what she was meant…You follow the paper trail and read copious books and manuscripts trying to find out what it was…then, sometimes, just sometimes, it comes a-right. The Holy Grail is discovered and explained.

This happened to me with the Merlin Swing in the Sydney Gardens, and I still remember the joy I felt when I discovered exactly what it was, though not how it looked ( go here to read about it ). The same with the tea board in Mansfield Park, and when I finally found an illustration of one (in a portrait of a rather self-satisfied West Indian merchant M.P.)another enigma was lopped from The Niggling List with relish.

And this passage from one of Jane Austen letters to Cassandra Austen has set me (and many others) on another hunt:

I am not to wear my white satin cap to-night. after all; I am to wear a mamaluc cap instead, which Charles Fowle sent to Mary, and which she lends me. It is all the fashion now; worn at the opera, and by Lady Mildmays at Hackwood balls. I hate describing such things, and I dare say you will be able to guess what it is like.

( Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 8th January 1799)

Well, no actually Miss Jane, I cannot guess what it is like…and so the hunt begins.

First, shall we see what Hackwood Park looked like and why it was a hotbed of up-to-date fashion?

This is a print of Hackwood which appeared in Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions and Manufacture etc in September 1825. Below is a section from my copy of John Cary’s 1797 map of Hampshire which shows the estate’s position and dominance in the society centered around Basingstoke at the time Jane Austen was living near there at Steventon.  The estate appears on the map as the large green lozenge shape to the right of the section, and I have annotated the map so that you can see its position clearly.( You can also enlarge the map, and all the other illustrations in this post, simply by clicking on it)

This is the description from Ackermann’s Respository:

Hackwood is a contraction of Hacking Wood the original name of this place. It was the sporting retreat and occasional residence of the Pawlet family and their numerous relatives, when Basing-House was demolished in 1645 after a long and remarkable resistance. A lodge was then built for the residence of John the fifth Marquis of Winchester. Charles’s son, first Duke of Bolton, erected a splendid mansion in 1688; considerable alterations and improvements have been added since. The present carriage front on the north side is adorned in the centre with a noble Ionic portico, ascended by a flight of steps,and bearing in the tympanum of the pediment the arms and supporters of the family. An equestrian statue of George I mounted on a lofty pedestal and presented to that monarch to the family, stands at a small distance in front. It is this view of the mansions which we present to our readers. The south front was executed by the present nobleman from designs by Lewis Wyatt Esq. The rooms are spacious and magnificent and peculiarly adapted for comfort as well as display. In the saloon is a superb piece of carving by Gibbons. The family portraits are numerous…there are likewise two fine views of the Colosseum and ruins at Rome by Pannini.

The pleasure grounds are extensive and beautiful particularly on the south. Within these few years great improvements have been and are still in progress under the direction of the present Lady Bolton,whose taste in landscape gardening is generally admired, and is strikingly manifested in these grounds. The wood is wild and luxuriant in appearance. In its centre is a space of about four acres called the Amphitheatre, bounded by elms closely planted,  extending their branches over the sides and ends of the area, at the upper end of which are the ruins of a rotunda. The park is well stocked with deer.

At the time Jane Austen was writing about it, the house was owned by Lord and Lady Botlon.  Lady Bolton, Jane Mary Powlett , was the illegitimate daughter and eventual magnificently rich heiress of Charles Powlett, the 5th Duke of Bolton. Her husband  Thomas Orde-Powlett, took her name when she inherited the estate and others from the Duke. The Duke had failed to produce a son to inherit his title, and while the title could not be inherited by Jane due to her illegitimacy and sex, she could inherit the non entailed estates. She eventually inherited most of the Bolton estates on the death of her uncle,the 6th Duke who died without any legitimate male issue. Her husband was elevated to the peerage on 20th October 1797 by George III. He took the name of Baron Bolton of Bolton Castle in honour of his wife’s family. So I think we can assume that the latest fashions would have been worn at the virtual ducal home…

Which leads us to the conundrum in question…what exactly did Jane Austen’s mamalouc cap look like?

Constance Hill in her book,  Jane Austen, Her homes and Her Friends (1923) made the first  attempt at deciphering the riddle:

The word Mamalouc is given as Mamalone in Lord Brabourne’s “Letters of Jane Austen,” which is evidently a clerical error; the letters uc in the MS. having been mistaken for ne. The battle of the Nile, fought in the preceding August, had set the fashion in ladies’ dress for everything suggestive of Egypt and of the hero of Aboukir. In the fashion-plates of the day we find Mamalouc cloaks and Mamalouc robes of flowing red cloth. Ladies wear toupées, somewhat resembling a fez, which we recognise as the “Mamalouc cap.” Their hats are adorned with the “Nelson rose feather,” and their dainty feet encased in “green morocco slippers bound with yellow and laced with crocodile-coloured ribbon. (See page 76)

This was the explanation accepted by Dierdre le Faye in her edition of Jane Austen’s letters. However, in A Frivolous Distinction, a 1979 booklet about fashion in Jane Austen’s novels and letters, a slightly diffident description of the cap is given by its author, Penelope Byrde, who was the Curator of the Museum of Costume and Fashion Research Centre in Bath:

Caps worn in the evening could be quite elaborately trimmed like the one Jane Austen was altering in december 1798:

‘I still venture to retain the narrow silver round it, put twice round without any bow, and instead of the black military feather shall put in the coquelicot one as being smarter, and besides coquelicot is to be all the fashion this winter. After the ball I shall probably make it entirely black’.But a little later she adds, “I have changed my mind & changed the trimmings of my Cap this morning; they are now such as you suggested- I felt as if I should not prosper if I strayed from your directions”

Another cap familiar to us from her letters was a Mamalouc cap she was lent on one occasion and which she said in January 1799 ‘is all the fashion now’. The vogue for Mamalouc ( or Makeluk) caps robes and cloaks had appeared after the battle of the Nile in 1798. A fashion plate of 1804 illustrating a Mameluck cap shows a white satin turban trimmed with a white ostrich feather….

(Page 7).

This doesn’t help us resolve the mystery does it? In fact it rather muddies the waters. As Marsha Huff, the past president of JASNA remarked in her review of the reissue of Penelope Byrde’s book, now in hardback and entitled Jane Austen Fashion:


I read “Jane Austen Fashion” hoping to learn more about the famous Mamalouc cap. I was, however, unable to reconcile Byrde’s description of a satin turban, trimmed with an ostrich feather, with that of Constance Hill (quoted by Deirdre Le Faye in the notes to her edition of Austen’s Letters), who wrote that a Mamalouc cap was a toupee, somewhat resembling a fez. Since Austen chose not to describe the cap she wore that January night in 1799, a fashion mystery remains.

I so sympathise with Ms. Huff’s frustration….But, perhaps the answer  now presents itself to us. I have tracked down a reproduction of the fashion plate to which Penelope Byrde refers. It was published in the Costume Society’s report of their 1970 Spring Conference, on The So-Called Age of Elegance.

In an article, The Costume of Jane Austen and her Characters, written by Anne Buck, who was creator and the Keeper of the Gallery of English Costume at Platt Hall, part of the  Manchester Art Galleries, and author of such influential books such as Dress in Eighteenth Century England, the mystery is finally resolved. In a note to the letter by Jane Austen  which inspired our quest she writes:

The original of this letter, first published by Lord Brabourne was not traced by the editor who in a note to the letter gives Miss C Hill’s suggestion of mamlouc, one of the contemporary spellings of mameluke.This is no doubt what Jane Austen wrote.

And then, praise be, she included this illustration of a mameluke turban which appeared in The Fashions of London and Paris, in February 1804:

As you can see, the cap is a combination of two types of “oriental” headgear:  the part of the hat immediately surrounding the face resembles a turban, and  the crown of the hat is reminiscent of the conical shape of the fez, as referred to by Constance Hill.

So, finally we have it. The Mamalouc cap as worn by Jane Austen and by ladies of fashion at the Opera and at Hackwood Park.  Another niggle is crossed off the list.


Since I began the series of posts about Hugh Thomson’s illustrations for Sense and Sensibility, (accessible here and here) they have generated a number of emails and comments, both here and on Twitter, about the correctness or not of the costumes worn by the characters. What period do they reflect? Are they accurate ? And how do they relate to the text? I thought it might be helpful and interesting to discuss them and to compare them with costumes of the period.

The style of the clothes, particularly the clothes worn by the female characters in the illustrations, suggest to me that  Thomson set the novel very firmly in the period of the mid 1780s to the mid 1790s. To my eye none of the clothes worn by the female characters reveal any details of the fashions of the late 1790s, and certainly no one wears any dress that could  be described as having the raised waist of the revolutionary Empire style. These waistlines are defiantly placed  by Thomson along the line of a natural waist and are not raised to just below the bust line in any way.

So…why did Thomson use this period and not the costumes of the later period to reflect the time when Jane Austen was writing, adapting, revising the book in the mid to late 1790s and finally publishing her novel in 1811? It might be helpful, at this point, to look at the history of the evolution of this novel.

According to Cassandra Austen’s memorandum Sense and Sensibility was composed by Jane Austen in 1797.  James Edward Austen Leigh’s Memoir of his aunt , first published in 1869, contains this passage about the novel and the work upon which it was based:

It was, however, at Steventon that the real foundations of her fame were laid.  There some of her most successful writing was composed at such an early age as to make it surprising that so young a woman could have acquired the insight into character, and the nice observation of manners which they display.  ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ which some consider the most brilliant of her novels, was the first finished, if not the first begun.  She began it in October 1796, before she was twenty-one years old, and completed it in about ten months, in August 1797.  The title then intended for it was ‘First Impressions.’  ‘Sense and Sensibility’ was begun, in its present form, immediately after the completion of the former, in November 1797 but something similar in story and character had been written earlier under the title of ‘Elinor and Marianne;’ and if, as is probable, a good deal of this earlier production was retained, it must form the earliest specimen of her writing that has been given to the world.

It is thought that Jane Austen began Elinor and Marianne sometime in 1795:

If so she may have used it ( her writing desk-jfw) during 1795 when she embarked on her first full length project- ‘Elinor and Marianne’ the prototype ‘Sense and Sensibility’. Family tradition recalled that this too was written in letters and read aloud in this from….

(see Jane Austen: A Family Record by Dierdre le Faye, page 89)

Apart from the “flashback” scenes recounted  by Colonel Brandon, and possibly this passage in Chapter One of the novel which relates to events ten years prior to the beginning of the action in the novel, below, I cannot find any justification in the text for setting the novel as further back in time than 1795:

The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. But her death, which happened ten years before his own, produced a great alteration in his home; for to supply her loss, he invited and received into his house the family of his nephew, Mr. Henry Dashwood, the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom he intended to bequeath it.

However, I think that it may have been possible  that Thomson was aware in 1895 when he was working on the illustrations, of the novel’s history, and  that the novel had evolved from the first serious adult  work that Jane Austen wrote in 1795. This may explain why  he  chose to depict a period of fashion prior to the mid to late 1790s. It is my opinion that he chose an earlier time period, which had a distinctly different dress style to that of 1811 when Sense and Sensibility was first published, to pay tribute to the history of this publication.( Of course, I may be completely wrong in my speculations…..)

We ought now to consider if  the costumes as depicted were accurate for the time frame (1785-1795)that  Thomson chose.

Let’s look at some examples from the period and compare them with the Thomson illustrations. I think you will see that there are many similarities between them but some important differences.

This is a drawing by Rowlandson of the actress, Mrs Abingdon, reclining on a couch circa 1786.

These are real examples of clothing from 1785, the costumes are part of the Kyoto Costume Institute’s collection.

This is Gainsborough’s famous portrait of Mrs Siddons dating from 1783-5…

And here is thomson’s Lady Middleton wearing a very similar style, including the hat….One of the first comments I noticed made about the costumes on Twitter was that , the hats are bigger than you will recall. Not necessarily so, bearing in mind the period Thomson was using.

And this is another work by Gainsborough, again dating from 1785, showing Mr and Mrs William Hallett in their Morning Walk……

Mrs Hallett’s gown is similar in style to the gown worn by Fanny Dashwood in this illustration.

And again the flounces found on some of Thomson’s  dresses reflect those to be found in  this  Angelica Kauffman depiction of Lady Elizabeth Forster, companion of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, in 1786

Looking at the hairstyles we can see that Thomson tried to emulate the fashion of the pre- Revolutionary era, especially if we compare Marianne’s hairstyles with Gainsborough’s 1785 portrait of Miss Catherine Tatton, below.

But……despite being mainly true to the period he decided to adopt, there is something slightly amiss, isn’t there? To my eye the silhouettes drawn by Thomson reflect those of the women of his own era, the late Victorian. The Sense and Sensibility ladies are corsetted within an inch of their lives, and their waists seem far smaller than the more realistic waistlines of the clothes of the period, as is shown in this robe a l’anglaise circa 1790, again from the Kyoto Costume Institute’s collection:

And I do think that there is something indefinably late 19th century about the faces and the hats of the characters Thomson depicts.

Joan Hassell, the marvelous illustrator of Jane Austen for the Folio Society volumes which were published  in the 1970s, had quite a lot to say about illustrator’s desperate attempts to be historically accurate, in an address she gave to the Jane Austen Society Annual General Meeting in 1973. Her comments which are pertinent to this discussion, and if you will allow I will quote her here:

It is a fact that the artist cannot detach himself from the period in which he lives. However hard he persuades himself that everything is historically accurate, there is always a give-away somewhere even though it takes a later generation to see it. It is most often to be seen in the ladies hair styles and a general favour in the type of figure; and this is also true of theatre productions where Edwardian ladies in carefully designed historic costume have discarded neither hair padding nor corsets. Nowadays we may pride ourselves as having more specialised knowledge ,but I have a suspicion that future ages will be able to spot the date of our work by the 70s-ish slant to which we ourselves are blind

(Folio,the Quarterly Magazine of the Folio Society, Summer 1975 pp 3-4)

And this I think is what has happened here. The hair styles are nearly correct, but not quite. The wasitlines are smaller than corsets of the 1780s-1795 would allow….the same with the crowns of the hats…and the flounces.

Thomson quite rightly tried to convey to the reader the fact that  the novel was of a long gestation period, and dated the clothes from the period immediately proceeding its composition and publication to reflect this. Though he was generally accurate in depicting the clothes of the period 1785-1795, in my view he could not escape the influences of his own period, that  of the late Victorian, and it is the tiny differences in the stylistic details that do not ring true to us today.

I was lucky enough to  receive this book as a gift at Christmas, and since then I’ve been savouring its marvellous detail. Though it covers a longer period than the Long 18th century, there is ample information to interest us within its pages.

The book is in fact the catalogue of a new exhibition which is currently on show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exhibit celebrates the acquisition by the museum of a major collection of European men’s, women’s and children’s clothes and accessories. I have no hope of getting to Los Angeles to see it ( the exhibit runs untill 27th March, 2011) and so it is truly wonderful to be able to pore over the very good photographs- highlighting some wonderful details- and the interesting text, including a very intriguing Preface by fashion’s current enfant terrible, John Galliano.

Let’s have a look at some of the items that interest me. First a waistcoat which would surely have appealed to Mr Knightley, though it is actually French-  Shhh! Don’t tell him- as it’s subject matter is so rural:


Is this Harriet’s own dear welch cow?

And look at this beautiful dress form 1818, the overdress made of handmade lace, “Bucks” so-called because it was made in Buckinghamshire, a traditional area for bobbin lace making.

Here is a close-up detail of the lace:

In fact I am reading this book  it in conjunction with the Museum’s marvellous and most excellent website: some of the items in the book are available to view in greater detail on the internet. Let’s do it together now….

This is a gentleman’s three piece velvet suit dating from 1800. The close-up of the embroidery is breath taking. Some areas of the embroidery are padded slighty to add a raised area and  texture to the embroidery, almost like stumpwork. The dandelion heads are padded in this way.

If you go here however you can see more images of the suit and can zoom in on the details.

This beautifully detailed Spencer dating from 1815 is also available to view online here

So even if you can’t get to the exhibit, the museum’s excellent website and the book are beautifully presented and allow those of us sadly separated from it by thousands of miles to enjoy these wonderful clothes at one remove.

A final note: the website actually includes a wonderful free gift to talented needleworkers: free downloadable patterns which have been created from some of the garments in the collection. Go here to see. I love the banyan.

I thought you might like to share a wonderful new resource I have found (and have just added to the “My Links Section” in the left hand column to this page), the Dressing History web-site owned and created by Serena Dyer.

Serena has been studying historical costume since 1999, developing her knowledge through reproduction and recreation of historical pieces. She has spent time in the Textiles department at Christie’s, as well as with the wonderful Snowshill Manor Costume collection.

(©SerenaDyer)

She is currently working towards studying for a BA in History, which she hopes to develop into an MA in Fashion History. Her voluntary work with the National Trust has led to the development of her historical interpretation skills, which she now does regularly at Wimpole Hall, near Cambridge,appearing as various characters from the Hall’s history.

(©SerenaDyer)

Serena makes and sells fabulously accurate reproductions of historic clothing for re-enactors, museums and the heritage industry.  She is able to supply thoroughly researched, highly accurate reproductions or recreations of historical garments from any era, and from a variety of social classes. Importantly she only uses natural fibres for the garments, and tries, wherever possible, to use authentically woven fabrics. Many of her pieces are based on original garments, portraits or fashion plates, and a research portfolio is available for each garment.

Here is her marvellous recreation of a 1797 open robe:

(All ©SerenaDyer)

For part of her dissertation on the dissemination of fashion in England c. 1770-1820 Serena made this dress-from beginning to end:

(©SerenaDyer)

She explains that:

I am using this dress to explore how closely the best sorts of dresses owned by the ladies of ‘polite society’ followed the plates of the period. Unlike simply looking at extant garments, this process allowed me to emulate aspects of the process through which a contemporary lady would make her decisions.

(©SerenaDyer)

Serena also gives talks, all vividly illustrated with her own reproduction garments. Her talks currently include Bonnets to Boots: A Regency Lady’s Wardrobe complete with garments reproduced from the 1810-1820 era which she recently performed at the 2010 Jane Austen Festival in Bath and, one for Henry Tilney, Knowing Your Muslin complete  with reproduction garments and fabrics from 1780-1820 which Serena performed at the 2009 Jane Austen Festival.

(©SerenaDyer)

She also performs a talk which is of special interest to us, Dressing Jane Austen with reproduction garments representing the period 1780-1820. In Serena’s own words:

This presentation examines both Jane’s personal attitude to fashion, and her use of it as a literary device, using the portraits, letters and novels as evidence. Reproductions of gowns described in the letters and novels are also used, as well as an examination of the Pelisse which is believed to have belonged to Jane, providing the audience with a talk that is both visually interesting and provides an insight into how Jane viewed herself and others

Serena also provides an historical interpretation service, in which she portrays  a wide range of characters, both in third and first person, and covers the 16th to 19th centuries.

Many of the characters portrayed are real historical people, and are presented as my interpretation, after thorough research, of what that person was truly like. I can also offer more general services, using a constructed character of my own, for any era, or alternatively I can give various demonstrations. Please contact for details and fees applicable.

The characters available are:

(©SerenaDyer)

Jane Austen (1790s, or 1800s),Charlotte Bronte (1830s), Jemima Yorke, Marchioness Grey (1740s), Lady Amabel Yorke (1770s), Marion Syratt (C16th),Molly Young, aMaid( C18th) and Mary Zouche (1540s)

I have to admit I am so very tempted to order one of Serena’s magnificently trimmed bonnets….

(©SerenaDyer)

But when to wear it?…would it look at all eccentric if I gardened in it? Of course not (!!) Details of Serena’s bonnet trimming service is available here and if  you like to trim your own bonnet ( or like Lydia Bennet, just like to pull something to pieces) you can buy plain straw bonnets and ribbons from Serena too, here, in her Haberdashery section.

If you want to contact Serena to buy some of her wonderful merchandise, book her for a talk or interpretation or view her fabulously interesting website, then go here and she can also be contacted (and “liked”!) via Facebook.

I do hope I get the opportunity to hear one of her talks soon and I hope you have enjoyed reading about her.

The Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square is to hold a fascinating exhibition entitled Threads of Feeling. The Foundling Museum was established as an independent organisation in 1998 by the childcare charity the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, which is today known as Coram. Coram is the successor organisation of the original Foundling Hospital.

I confess I’m very excited to be going to see this exhibition and I will of course report back in late October, but I thought you would appreciate advance notice of what is to be on show.

Its curator is Professor John Styles who has written about the Coram Foundation’s collection of rare 18th century fabrics in his magisterial book, The Dress of the People which I reviewed here.

The exhibition will showcase some of the thousands of pieces of 18th century fabrics in the Coram Foundation’s collection and will also  put on show some garments specially made to recreate the type of garments from which these scraps were taken.

(©Coram)

The story behind these scraps of fabrics is intriguing. When a mother left her baby in the care of the Foundling Hospital (see here for a little of its history) they often left a token with the baby, to be kept as an identifying record. In a few cases the babies- if they survived-were later claimed by their mothers and this identifying token assisted in the reunion process, especially if the mother was illiterate.

Sometimes the token was an object, such as these  also in the Coram Foundation’s collection:

But often it was a small piece of fabric taken from the clothing worn by mother of the child which was then affixed to the child’s registration form and was subsequently bound in ledger, as shown below

Flowered Cotton(©Coram)

Or the token could merely have been some ribbons which had once been attached to the mother’s dress, as in this example here:

(©Coram)

As Professor Styles comments:

The process of giving over a baby to the hospital was anonymous. It was a form of adoption, whereby the hospital became the infant’s parent and its previous identity was effaced. The mother’s name was not recorded, but many left personal notes or letters exhorting the hospital to care for their child. Occasionally children were reclaimed. The pieces of fabric in the ledgers were kept, with the expectation that they could be used to identify the child if it was returned to its mother.

And  this where they have been preserved for over 200 years, and now form the largest surviving collection of textiles worn by the ordinary people of London in the 18th century. Historically they are very important, providing fascinating insights into the type of fabrics and clothing worn by ordinary people, clothes which rarely survived more than a few years before being recycled into children’s clothes, cleaning cloths and rags etc.

The exhibition will be held in the Foundling Hospital Museum which is in Brunswick Square. Which was the foundations original home and also note, the home of John and Isabella Knightley in Emma on account of its good air ( which was an important part of the decision in assessing the  location of the Foundling Hospital too) and was also the home from which the foundling Harriet Smith was reunited with Robert Martin.How appropriate.

The exhibition runs from the 14 October 2010 until the  6 March 2011, and I do hope some of you will be able to visit it.

On my recent jaunt to Bath I paid my usual visit to the Museum of Costume which is to be found in the basement area of the Assembly Rooms. This place is always a delight to visit: the staff are helpful and knowledgeable and the collection  is magnificent.

Because of its situation-in the heart of the rooms peopled by the fashionable set of 18th century Bath- there are always examples of 18th century/early 19th century costumes on show to satisfy people obsessed with our era, but there are always many other  interesting clothing related exhibits too. This year the exhibits (which are constantly changing to give  the dresses time to rest and to provide different points of interest to frequent visitors) have no examples of costumes  prior to the 18th century on show other than a marvellous exhibit of 17th century gloves,so I missed seeing my favourite 1660s dress made of shimmering silver tissue: but there were special exhibits of The Diana Dresses showing some of the late Princess of Wales’ iconic clothes, which brought back many memories, and as ever, the fascinating Dress of the Year exhibit, a dress chosen by the staff as being most representative of that particular year.

This picture shows the current winner for 2009 by Antonio Baradi. All the previous winners are on show:  including the winner for 2005, by Versace and made famous by Jennifer Lopez

and this beautiful Karl Lagerfeld ensemble which won the accolade in 2008.

The museum was founded in 1963 by the scholar, designer and collector,  Doris Langley Moore

She favoured a phorensic approach to researching fashion history and  encouraged examining real examples of clothing to discover the truth about fashion from the pst. She also encouraged the collecting of modern classics, as well as collecting and preserving clothes from the past. She was friends with Anne Buck and C. Willet Cunningham and their combined scholarship has transformed our understanding of historic clothes.

The 18th and early 19th centuries were well represented in the galleries, and I would like to show you some of the dresses that were on show.

A marvellous sack dress made with silver thread: this would have surely fascinated quietly in the candle-lit assembly rooms of Bath of the 1760 and 70s

A pair of stays circa 1775, the year Jane Austen was born. Worn over a linen sift and made of stout linen.The corset was stiffened with whalebone and a rigid busk of wood or horn or even ivory was inserted into the centre front to keep it rigid. No, thank you…..

A sack back gown of silver-embroidered silk circa 1770

Some more dressed from the 18th century


A court dress of brocaded silk circa 1760-1765.

Though wide skirts of this very rectangular shape had passed out of fashion in the early 1750s the style was retained for court dresses. This is an example of such a dress made of French silk covered with a gold strip and brocaded with coloured silks and chenille thread.

A printed cotton dress of the circa 1795, fashionable at the time Jane Austen was writing her first draft of Pride and Prejudice, First Impressions. A late example of the 18th century style of dress, of the  open robe and petticoat type which was to be superseded by the type of dresses seen below, a one piece dress, put on by  placing it over the head of the wearer, unlike this style, which the wearer put on like a coat, sleeves first.

These are two embroidered cotton muslin dresses, one having tambour work embroidery , both circa 1800

The dress on the left, above,  is made from  plain and undecorated white cotton, which reflects a shot lived fashion for severe plainness in dress in England dating from around 1800. Cotton, grown in America was imported into England and produced in mills such as those owned by Samuel Oldknow of Stockport( more on him later in the year!)

This is a stunningly simple dress, circa 1806, made of cotton muslin embroidered with tiny sliced cylinders of white glass which produced  a shimmering effect: marvellous in a candle lit room, don’t you think?

Additional fabric has been pleaded into the centre of the back of the dress to create a small train and to allow the skirt of the dress to drape gently around the legs of the wearer.

These are interesting dresses date from 1815. They are both made of  brown silk gauze with yellow and blue stripes. They are reputed to have been worn by the Misses Percival at the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball held in Brussels in  June 1815 immediately prior to the Battle of Waterloo. There is no conclusive evidence to support this claim but  the museum ‘s curator did make the point that long-sleeved dresses were fashionable as evening dresses at the time so they could quite possibly qualify as having been worn at that event. If only they could talk!!

This is a wedding dress from America made at the turn of the 19th century which took my eye…

And because the staff understand that everyone likes to dress up, children’s sporting clothes from the 1880s are available  for all to use…

As are some wonderfully swish-y crinolines and different types of corsets from differing eras. We had great fun trying them out and  watching other people play….

So there it is, my impressions of a trip to the Costume Museum in the summer of 2010. Do go if you ever have the chance, for you will not regret it. And of course you can also visit the Assembly Rooms at the same time. More on those next week ;-)

She knew enough to feel secure of an honourable and speedy establishment, and her imagination took a rapid flight over its attendant felicities. She saw herself at the end of a few weeks, the gaze and admiration of every new acquaintance at Fullerton, the envy of every valued old friend in Putney, with a carriage at her command, a new name on her tickets, and a brilliant exhibition of hoop rings on her finger.

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 15

Ah, Isabella Thorpe, one of my favourite of all Jane Austen’s adventuresses…imagining with some relish, the materially rich life she will enjoy with James Morland as his wife and helpmeet.

A severe reality check is needed: and Jane Austen duly gives her one.

What Isabella is imagining in this passage are the trappings of a very rich woman,-the establishment, the household, the new carriage, the whole package, if you like. Sadly for her what she is imagining, and very prettily so may I note, is the life of a rich woman, not the life of a wife of a lowly curate, or rector of a living with a small income….Ahem.

Let’s consider the type of Jewellery she was fantasizing about, shall we?

and a brilliant exhibition of hoop rings on her finger.


Hoop ring is a generic term for rings set with stones in the manner pictured above, or simple, plain gold hoops like a plain wedding ring. In Jane Austen’s era that they were not necessarily given to mark one event, like an engagement ring. That term is very Victorian, by the way , and that is one of the reasons Jane Austen would not have referred to it as such- “engagement ring” : its first usage in the English language according to the Oxford English Dictionary is in 1861 (by George Elliot in Slias Marner) ,well after our time period.

Rings were undoubtedly given as tokens of love during our era.

Sentimental Jewellery, as it as known, was very popular:

In the eighteenth century the ring was still the most significant of all love tokens, its unbroken circle continuing to stand for mutual commitment and eternal regard. From the 1790s the message was sometimes reinforced by a clever arrangement of coloured stones, the initial letters of which spell a term of endearment. Typically they are as follows:

Ruby, Emerald, Garnet, Amethyst, Ruby and Diamond for Regard;

(A REGARD ring from my own collection)

Amethyst, Malachite, Jacinth, Turquoise and Emerald for Amite;

Lapis, Opal, Vermeil (a misnomer for a hessonite garnet) and  Emerald for Love.

Sometimes the stones would be arranged in the form of a pansy flower called pensee in French, standing for “think of the giver”.

(See: The Triumph of Love: Jewellery 1530-1930 by Geoffrey Munn, page 57)

Plain gold hoop rings( like modern plain wedding rings) could be inscribed with lovers messages, and were known as “posey rings”. There is an 18th century “posey” ring- the term meant “little poems”-in the collection at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire with an inscription engraved on the inside as follows:

THO FARE (sic) APART YET NEAR IN HEART

That the tradition continued ( but with not much effect, in this particular case ) is illustrated by the fact that a gold hoop ring romantically engraved with the motto, SANS PEUR” which alluded to the ideals of  knights in the age of chivalry, was given to Lord Byron by Anne Isabella Milbanke in 1815.

Posey rings were also used as wedding rings.

Interestingly George III began the trend for an additional “keeper ring”( and it is from this that our modern eternity ring has evolved). On his marriage to Queen Charlotte on the 8th September 1761 in addition to a wedding ring, (and a magnificent collection of other types of jewellery) he gave her what was known as a “keeper ring” pictured below. It is still in the Royal Collection:

Mrs Papenidck , assistant keeper of the wardrobe and reader to Queen Charlotte, recorded in her diary that it was the King’s

“particular present to his bride”

and that it was a diamond hoop ring of a size designed not to stand higher than the wedding ring to which it was to serve as a guard. She added that:

On that finger the Queen never allowed herself to wear any other in addition although fashion at times almost demanded it.

Throughout the whole Georgina era, fashion certainly demanded that a profusion of rings be worn. Here is what William Taylor, a footman in service with Mrs Prinsep, a widow of a rich London business man, had to say about her and her friends fashion for wearing many rings:

Dressed up monstrous fine with their jewellery I took notice  how many rings there were on th fingers of four of these old cats as I call them, and there were no less than thirty one,  some wedding some mounring, and others set with diamonds and precious stones of great value.

(see The Dairy of William Tayler, Footman (1827)

The construction of hoop rings positively encouraged the  wearing of many rings at one time. As Diana Scarisbrick notes in her magnificent book, Jewellery in Britain:

The new style of the Georgian era, emphasizing width rather than length meant that more than one ring could be worn on the finger, and hoops, enameled or set with stones or pearls round half the entire circumference were very popular.

(See page 362-3 Jewellery in Britain 1066-1837 by Diana Scarisbrick.)

Here are some  example of  “what fashion demanded”: first, Ingres’ portrait of Marie Marcoz, Vicontesse de Senonnes (1816).

And here is a close up of her hands so that you can see the plethora of fashionable rings clearly:

This is Sir Thomas Lawrence’ portrait of Princess Sophia, daughter of George III and sister to the Prince of Wales

and a close up of her hand

and finally  his portrait of Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire in 1819

and a close up of her hoops, at least one on every finger, note:

So, there you are…hoops, posey and “regard” rings and other rings in profusion , yes , should Isabella marry a rich man ;-) I wonder if she ever managed it……

Authors of sites, far more qualified than me,  write about fashion in the Gregorian /Regency era, and I would never presume to step on their toes.

But occasionally if there is something different  but relevant on  that topic which interests me  and that I can discuss, I will, and I hope you will indulge me.

Today I want to   talk about a book which is fascinating , not just for the  descriptions of clothing in Jane Austen’s  time, but for the historical perspective it gives : The Dress of the People by John Styles.

This book is currently  one of my favourite  books on the history of the era, because it tackles an  area that has been very neglected: the clothing of the poor, the working class and servants in the long 18th century.

Jane Austen gives us some ideas of the puritanical attitude some held towards servants clothing in Mansfield Park : Mrs Norris and her sister, Mrs Price, share the opinion that servant girls ought not to show any extravagance in dress:

The family were now seen to advantage. Nature had given them no inconsiderable share of beauty, and every Sunday dressed them in their cleanest skins and best attire. Sunday always brought this comfort to Fanny, and on this Sunday she felt it more than ever. Her poor mother now did not look so very unworthy of being Lady Bertram’s sister as she was but too apt to look. It often grieved her to the heart to think of the contrast between them; to think that where nature had made so little difference, circumstances should have made so much, and that her mother, as handsome as Lady Bertram, and some years her junior, should have an appearance so much more worn and faded, so comfortless, so slatternly, so shabby. But Sunday made her a very creditable and tolerably cheerful–looking Mrs. Price, coming abroad with a fine family of children, feeling a little respite of her weekly cares, and only discomposed if she saw her boys run into danger, or Rebecca pass by with a flower in her hat.

Chapter 42

and

That Mrs. Whitaker is a treasure! She was quite shocked when I asked her whether wine was allowed at the second table, and she has turned away two housemaids for wearing white gowns.

Chapter 10

I leave it to yourselves to determine if we should have shared that view…

Surviving costumes as worn by the poor etc in the long 18th century are , of course, very rare .They were worn, re worn and adapted till they fell apart into rags. That  makes a study of them very difficult. John Styles the Research Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire has tackled this problem head on and resolved it by referring to various sources of information. Unusual written sources are sourced by him in this book: criminal records are invaluable as the theft of clothes and clothing material was one  of the most frequently prosecuted set of offences in the criminal courts during the long 18th century. Newspaper advertisements for fugitives inevitably contain descriptions of the clothes the fugitive was wearing when last seen.

For visual and material sources, Professor Styles refers to the prints and paintings of the era, of which this is one:

It reminds me of the family to whom Emma dispenses practical charity in chapter 10:

They were now approaching the cottage, and all idle topics were superseded. Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse. She understood their ways, could allow for their ignorance and their temptations, had no romantic expectations of extraordinary virtue from those, for whom education had done so little; entered into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave her assistance with as much intelligence as good-will. In the present instance, it was sickness and poverty together which she came to visit; and after remaining there as long as she could give comfort or advice, she quitted the cottage with such an impression of the scene as made her say to Harriet, as they walked away…

And for evidence of the type of materials worn by the poor he refers to the magnificent but sad collection of textile scraps preserved by the London Foundling Hospital. Here is a picture of the building from my collection of early 19th century topographical prints:

The Foundling hospital was  the  first intitution in England where  children abandoned  by their desperate mothers could be  cared for, brought up and finally set out into the world suitably educated for a trade. Go here for a detailed history of the Foundling Hospital.

The Foundling Hospital was founded by Thomas Corum , a seafaring merchant, born in Lyme Regis. While living at Rotherhithe and pursuing his business interests in London, Coram regularly travelled a route on which he saw abandoned children, some dead, others dying. In 1722, motivated by an enduring blend of Christian benevolence, practical morality, and civic spirit, he decided to take action.

Inspired by the examples of the foundling hospitals on the continent, he advocated one for London. However, failure attended these first efforts, but in 1739 Thomas Corum obtained a royal charter for a Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children. Orphanages for such children had not been adopted in England, unlike in Europe, due to the prevailing puritan outlook : it was considered that young women would be encouraged into immorality and vice if facilities were provided for the succor of unwanted children.

Thomas Corum and his supporters- including Hogarth who painted this stunning portrait of him above- combined pity of the unwanted child with a certain commercial pragmatism.

The care regime for the child was as follows: after four years of wet nursing and foster care in the country among suitable families, the foundling children were taught useful skills in the Hospital that would benefit them and society. Girls were brought up to be domestic servants and boys to be employable in husbandry, seafaring or as household servants or placed with London shopkeepers( their ability to write and keep accounts assisted them in this). Boys were apprenticed at the age of 12 or 13, girls at 14.

Here  is its position in London from a section of my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809)

You can see the Foundling Hospital quite clearly I hope, with Brunswick Square set around it- for the square was in fact built on land owned by the Foundling Hospital and was developed by the Governors of the Hospital:

The Foundling Hospital, which, like so many institutions of the 1740-60 period, stood out in the fields. Unlike other hospitals, however, the Foundling possessed the freehold of much of the land surrounding it and it was seen that, as London expanded northwards, this could be made a considerable source of wealth.” When the Governors talked of building in 1788 there was an immediate outcry against the invasion of more open country; it was also considered that the children’s health might suffer. Two years later, however, the hospital architect was instructed to make a report. This architect was Samuel Pepys Cockerell, a pupil of Sir Robert Taylor and a man who, like Taylor, combined artistic ability and scholarship with a real grasp of practical affairs and an unimpeachable professional character.

In his Report to the Governors of the Foundling, Cockerell recommended the formation of the open spaces which we now know as Mecklenburgh and Brunswick Squares.” In this he had the support of Thomas Bernard, one of the Governors, whose name became much associated with public improvements in the Regency. The objects of the squares were, first, to retain for the hospital ‘the advantages of its present open situation’ and, second, to provide an architectural setting so ‘as rather to raise than depress the Character of this Hospital itself as an Object of National Munificence’.

The Report sets out that cardinal principle of Georgian town planning, the creation of urban units containing accommodation for all classes. Cockerell proposes:

“That there shall be such principal features of attraction in the Plan as shall not be too great for a due proportion to the whole but yet sufficient to draw Adventurers to the subordinate parts and that these subordinate parts be so calculated as to comprise all Classes of Building from the first Class down to Houses of Twenty-five pound pr. annum without the lower Classes interfering with and diminishing the Character of those above them, and particularly that the Stile of the Buildings at the several Boundaries, be (in order to ensure success to the intermediate parts) as respectable as possible consistent with their situations and with prudence in the Adventurers.”

(from “Georgian London” , p184-5 by Sir John Summerson)

By 1802 nearly 600 houses had been built on the estate owned by the foundling Hospital. Of which Mr John Knightley’s in Emma was one. This makes sense- for the air on the outskirts of London was considered good: and Isabella Knightley ,very much her father’s daughter  would surely have settled no where else. For John Knightley’s comfort-and we  know that was very important to him-he was not far from the law courts and Barristers chambers , and finally I think Jane Austen was making an indirect  reference to the illegitimate and abandoned state of Harriet Smith, who found happiness in Brunswick Square while staying with the Mr John Knightley’s there. A trip to Astley’s Amphitheatre was the scene of her reconciliation with Robert Martin.

Back to the book…..

The hospital’s admission or billet books which were meticulously kept form 1741 to 1760 contain the worlds largest collection of everyday  fabrics. This is one example of  a blue and white striped cotton turned up with purple and white linen ,made up into a baby’s sleeve, accompanied by a pink ribbon.

The child who wore it was as you can see about 3 weeks old when it was accepted into the Foundling Hospital. Heatrending.

However Professor Styles users them very carefully, describing the type of cottons and linen the preserved scraps represent and the type of clothes from which they came.

It all makes for an absorbing and  facinating read.

The book is published by Yale and it is sumptuously and carefuly produced, the illustrations are clearly  reproduced, an important point other publishers may have fudged.

I thoroughly recommend it, not only for its history of plebeian clothing in our era,  but for its examination of that part of society which,i s certainly referred to by Jane Austen but is not usually covered in history books.

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