For many of us American history-nerds, the great British country houses seem to exist in an almost supernatural state of romantic perfection. They're the idealized places we imagine in Jane Austen's novels and see as backgrounds in films (among them: Brideshead Revisited, The Duchess, Pride and Prejudice, The Go-Between.) As an art history major in college, I sat in darkened classrooms and gazed in awe at slides of Palladio-inspired majesty, nestled in flawless green landscapes.
But reality is often not so kind. Taxes, war, changing societies, and shifting family fortunes all take their toll. Even houses made of stone become vulnerable over time (see Highclere Castle, playing the namesake of Downton Abbey.) Nowhere is this more tragically evident than at Mavisbank, a once-grand country house south of Edinburgh in Midlothian, Scotland.
Built in 1723-1727, Mavisbank, above, was one of those rare collaborations between the foremost architect of the day in William Adam and an artistic, appreciative client in Sir John Clerk. The magnificent house, grounds, and gardens (the painted view, right, features the canal that pointed towards the house) they created was the first Palladian-inspired villa built in the north, and instantly became known as one of Scotland's most important and beautiful country houses.
Yet by 1815, the house had already passed from the Clerk family, and in 1876 the once-elegant house became a lunatic asylum. For the next 70 years, insensitive renovations and additions further eroded the building's beauty. The famous gardens and surrounding fields went untended. Although the house was no longer used as a hospital, its last private owner was perhaps the most abusive of all, letting Mavisbank become a tattered haven for squatters and trailers, its front court used as an automobile junkyard, left.
A devastating fire in 1973 gutted the interiors and destroyed the roof. Threatened with demolition, emergency stabilization offered a temporary respite while preservationists fought to save what remained of the house. In 2008, Mavisbank was included on the World Monument Fund's list of the 100 most endangered historical sites in the world, increasing interest in preserving the site.
Mavisbank's salvation finally seems assured. Last month, the sale of the house was finally arranged by the Midlothian Council, which planned to transfer the house to its own preservation trust. What exactly will happen next, however, still remains undecided. Should the shell be further stabilized, but left in its romantic, derelict state, or should the goal be a complete restoration, a recreation of what Mavisbank once was? This video slideshow of Mavisbank as it stands at present shows how monumental (and costly) either task will be. What do you think Marisbank's future should be?
Top: Mavisbank House, Midlothia, Scotland, drawing by William Adam, from Vitruvius Scoticus (1812) Below: Mavisbank House, Midlothian, Scottland. Photograph from National Monuments Record Scotland courtesy of RCAHMS.
As anyone fascinated by fashion history can tell you, finding men’s fashions in the first third of the 19th century isn’t easy. Men’s magazines existed in abundance, but I haven’t yet come upon any that included fashion plates—not in England, at any rate. The ones I’ve found online are from Costumes Parisiens, whose plates were often copied into women’s magazines.
Even though men’s styles didn’t change as often or as obviously as women’s did—especially after Beau Brummell established a look that splendidly displayed a man’s assets—they were by no means static; and Englishmen, like Englishwomen, were interested in what their fellows in Paris were wearing. ~~~ My cousin sent me two drawings of the present Parisian fashions which I have forwarded to you. The most fashionable visiting dress consists of a suit of black, the waistcoat of velvet, and velvet collar to the coat. An underwaistcoat of satin with black spots on it. Cassimere trowsers, and black silk stockings. The leading fashionables wear a gold chain for their eye-glass instead of a ribbon. The walking-dress most common is a light blue frock coat and drab cassimere trowsers; and in wet, or very cold weather, camblet* cloaks are more commonly worn than great-coats.
—Gentleman’s Pocket Magazine, 1827
And here and here are some examples of men’s fashions from the Regency & Romantic eras.
*Camblet—18th and 19th century English and French, plain woven or twilled fabric, made with single or double warp of wool mixed with silk or goat's hair. It was woven in the gray and dyed in the piece; used for cloaks. Originally came from the Orient, where it was made of Angora hair.
—Louis Harmuth, Dictionary of textiles, 1915
After Loretta's recent post on the proper way to walk along a Parisian street, I thought I'd offer video proof of how stylish New Yorkers strolled the streets of Manhattan c 1910. (The YouTube caption says 1900, but from the clothes, I'm guessing closer to the years directly prior to Word War I. Take note, Downton Abbey fans!) At this time, Fifth Avenue was still the grandest street in New York, the address of choice for Vanderbilts and Astors. There's a glimpse of city traffic – a confusing mix of trolley cars, bicycles, and horse-drawn carriages – followed by scores of beautifully dressed men and women strolling along the sidewalk in the sunshine in their Sunday best.
Not only are the women wearing spectacular hats, but the men, too, all sport a variety of top-hats and bowlers. True, this is an affluent neighborhood, but I'm still impressed by how everyone, young and old, is dressed with an elegant formality that's impossible to imagine in our modern t-shirts-jeans-and-sweats world.
This is a very short film clip, and completely silent, so please feel free to imagine whatever music you please.
Above: New York City Street Scene Easter 1900 Clip posted to YouTube by historycomestolife.
I spent my first visit to London, many years ago, in a state of swoon. As one who grew up in a Massachusetts mill town bent on tearing down all its old buildings (it's a world where late Victorian is ancient= decrepit), I couldn’t believe that so many of the famous Regency locales—the ones that came up in so many books—were still there.
Several London visits later, the thrill remains. On my last visit, I made yet another pilgrimage to St. James’s Street—this time with very clear purpose, because I was on Book Two of a series about some slightly French dressmakers, and I'd given them a shop at No. 56 (because there had once been a dressmaker at that address).
And so I walked the routes my characters would travel, and decided which of the buildings on St. James’s Street looked most like my idea of the dressmaker’s shop. It would have been nice had this been the actual building at No. 56, but the address seems to have been swallowed up, along with another number or two, by a large modern building with no personality I could discern. However, being an author makes me a god of sorts—and I can shape buildings to my will, among other powers—so I turned another more charming building into No. 56 for story purposes. I also created for it an adjoining court leading to the rear, on the principle that there could have been one. On the opposite side of the street there exists exactly the sort of court I required. And the back of a very famous shop runs along this court: Berry Brothers and Rudd.
This is one of the places that makes this NHG excited and swoony.
In Beau Brummell’s time Berry Brothers was already old. In its early incarnation, in the late 17th, early 18th century, it supplied customers with coffee, tea, snuff, spices, and such. In the early 19th century, it was the place where Brummell and his friends bought wine and went to be weighed. No, they didn't have bathroom scales. Even royal dukes had themselves weighed at Berry Brothers.
The scales are still there, as you can see in these photos, as are the records of who weighed how much.
Last week we looked at several satirical 18th c prints (here, here, and here) featuring Ann, the country girl transformed by London fashion into a creature her mother scarcely recognized.
But Ann was not alone in her transformation. Her brother Tom made the same trip to London, and he, too, has changed mightily. He's a true gentleman of fashion now, a fop, a macaroni, and the title of the print, left - What is this my Son Tom - says it all. (Click on the image to enlarge.)
The most prominent feature of his stylish self is his exaggerated wig that dwarfs his cocked hat. His wig is powdered white, his cheeks are rouged, and there's a huge bouquet of flowers pinned to his coat. He's covered with bows, embroidery, lace, and tassels, and his pale blue waistcoat and breeches are of a costly dotted fabric that may be an 18th c interpretation of an exotic leopard print. His phallic, low-slung sword is matched by a tasseled walking stick under his arm. He has a gold watch dangling at his waist and his shoes fasten with flower-shaped buckles glittering with paste (faux) stones.
By comparison, his incredulous father is the picture of a hale country fellow. His clothes are sturdy and unfashionably practical (his greatcoat looks very much like this one) and he wears his own straggly hair. He's even standing unfashionably, with his feet in boots and spurs wide-spread and a hand resting on his belly. Unable to believe what's become of his son, he prods at the towering wig with his whip.
True, this is another satire of fashionable Georgian dress, much like the Anne prints. But these, too, would have carried a secondary message that 18th c viewers would have understood. Tom's fashions would have been seen as French (Britain's near-constant enemy), and worse, effeminate. The older generation, represented by Tom's father, was convinced that modern young men were all soft and unmanly, a sure sign that the future of England was in terrible danger. Of course England didn't wither away because young men in the 1770s wore outlandish wigs and ruffles, any more than the country went to the dogs a generation later because Beau Brummel insisted on tall neck cloths and close-fitting trousers.
But Tom's father doesn't know that, and from the caption, he is WORRIED:
Our wise Forefathers would express Ev'n Sensibility in Dress; The modern Race delight to Shew What Folly in Excess can do: The honest Farmer, come to Town, Can scarce believe his Son his own If thus the Taste continues Here, What will it be another Year?
Above: What is this my son Tom by S.H. Grimm, 1774, published by Robert Sayer & John Bennett, London. Copyright the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Taking snuff was once the height of fashion—and like all things fashionable, it required the right accessories. Making an impression demanded an elegant snuffbox or a few hundred. Ursula Bourne’s Snuff, one of those small Shire publications jam-packed with information, tells us that “The very wealthy and fashionable not only had different boxes and flavoured snuffs for different occasions but some had a different box for each change of outfit.”
At the Victoria & Albert Museum, I was able to stare at several fine examples of some of the more expensive and elaborate snuffboxes royalty and aristocrats collected. Above is an 18th century one from the collection of Frederick the Great of Prussia. You can see others and learn more about them here. Bequests of snuffboxes feature in his will, which you can read here.
As to how to take snuff—
Beau Brummell “maintained that snuff boxes should be opened and the snuff taken from box to nostril with the use of only one hand. This required dexterity and concentration.” Clearly, this method separated the truly fashionable from the wannabes.
Bourne quotes a ca. 1800 (unnamed, alas) source for the following instructions:
1. Take the snuffbox with your right hand. 2. Pass the snuffbox to your left hand. 3. Rap the snuff box. 4. Open the snuffbox. 5. Present the box to the company. 6. Receive it after going the round. 7. Gather up the snuff in the box by striking the side with the middle and fore fingers. 8. Take a pinch of snuff with the right hand. 9. Keep the snuff a moment or two between the fingers before carrying it to the nose. 10. Put the snuff to your nose. 11. Sniff it by precision with both nostrils, and without any grimace. 12. Close the snuffbox with a flourish.
You may want to while away the time in a waiting room by practicing the procedure with an imaginary snuffbox. Not only will this keep you occupied but it will amuse the other people waiting as well.
The great country houses of the past required equally great staffs to support and maintain them. As always, there were good and bad masters and mistresses, and good good and bad servants – but surely the relationship between the Yorke family of Erddig, Wrexham, and their staff was unique.
Beginning in the 18th c, generations of workers loyal to the family were memorialized in verse and in portraits (first paintings, then photographs) that hung in the house. The portraits include coach boys, carpenters, butchers, footmen, and maids, and form a rare, respectful glimpse at the men and women rarely noticed by history.
Mrs. Jane Ebrell, left, was eighty-seven when her portrait was commissioned by Philip Yorke I (1743-1804) in 1793. One of the few women honored, she was a housemaid, and is shown sitting outside her cottage with the tools of her trade - a broom and a mop – as well as a pet dog. While Mrs. Ebrell is not specifically mentioned in family ledgers, other maids in the Yorke household at the same time were paid £2-3 a year, and likely Mrs. Ebrell's wagers were similar.
The over sized scroll draped across Mrs. Ebrell's apron is inscribed with a poem (one of a number of "crude-ditties") composed in her honor by Philip Yorke. What it may lack in literary merit it more than makes up for in admiration:
To dignifie our Servants' Hall Here comes the Mother, of us all: For seventy years, or near have passed her, since spider-brusher to the Master; When busied then, from room to room, She drove the dust, with burhs, and broom Anyd by the virtues of her mop To all uncleanness, put a stop: But changing her housemaiden state, She took our coachman, for a mate; To whom she prov'd an useful gip, And brought us forth a second whip: Morever, this, oft, when she spoke, Her tongue, was midwife, to a joke, And making many an happy hit, Stands here recorded for a wit: O! may she, yet some years, survive, And breed her Grandchildren to drive!
For more about the servants at Erddig, I heartily recommend one of my favorite books about life on a British estate from the 18th c to the mid-20th c: The Servants' Hall: The Domestic History of a Country House by Merlin Waterson. Though now out of print, it's widely available used. For more about Erddig itself (a National Trust property), check out the National Trust blog, Treasure Hunt - glorious pictures of a glorious old house.
After the two posts this week featuring the 18th c satirical prints of daughter Ann horrifying her country mother with her London clothes, hairstyles, and morality (here and here, if you missed them), we heard from one of our readers, Cathy Kawalek, who had an Ann print of her own to share, left. The caption: Be not amaz'd Dear MOTHER...It is indeed your DAUGHTER ANNE.
Cathy bought the print at auction several years ago. The auction entry included this description: "One of a series of late 18th century 'droll' mezzotints which, like the Macaroni images, made fun of Georgian society. The image of a country woman meeting her daughter now in fashionable London dress was issued to exploit a popular joke. Mezzotints by Adams, Carington Bowles, John Bowles, and Sledge all appeared between 1773-75."
Once again there's the same theme - open-mouthed Mother is horrified by Anne's changed appearance - with a couple of differences. Anne's dress is even more extravagant, with sleeve flounces that fall clear to her knees and a richly embroidered gown. To look after her lap-dog, she's brought an attendant with her, an African or Indian servant, the perfect exotic accessory to a London lady of fashion. Mother is dressed in the same country-style apron, buckled shoes, and black hat that we've seen before, but with one surprising difference. She's also wearing a hooded pelisse, trimmed with ermine fur. Ermine is expensive, a fur used on noble and royal regalia as well as on fashionable clothes (like this.) So why is the country mother wearing it? Is the pelisse a costly, inappropriate gift from Anne to her mother? Or is there some now-forgotten joke connected to it that 18th c viewers would have understood immediately?
Above: "Be not amazed Dear Mother" after Samuel Grimm; printed for Carington Bowles, London, after 1774. From collection of Cathy Kawalek. Many thanks to Cathy for sharing this with us!
One of our most popular Friday Videos was 500 Years of Women in Art. Here we offer equal time to the gentlemen with (nearly) a century of film actors, from silent screen heart-throbs to today's Hollywood stars. From a historical viewpoint, it's interesting to see how what's considered a handsome man has changed – and what hasn't.
When we last saw daughter Ann (in this 18th c print), she was proudly displaying her new finery and fantastically fashionable hair to her outraged mother. I wondered exactly how a country girl like Ann had come by such stylish and costly attire in London, and from her mother's expression, I suspected her mother did, too.
Soon after I posted that print and blog, I stumbled across this second print. Different artist, different publisher, but here again is our archetypal country girl Ann, still dressed to the nines (maybe even the tens) and clearly up to no good. From the shape of her breasts, it looks like she's even left off her stays, leaving her a true loose woman. This time her mother has followed her back to the city, and discovered Ann and a gentleman leaving a "house of accommodation," as Fanny Hill would have called it. Just in case there's any doubt, there's the inscription LOVE JOY over the door.
Her gallant is as fashionably/ridiculously dressed as she is, a prime macaroni with his own towering wig and tiny hat perched on the crest. Outraged Mom is again dressed in stodgy country clothes and thick soled-shoes, her hands raised in shock. She's here representing good old-fashioned morality, ready to haul her scandalous daughter back to the clean-living country where there are no men with tiny clown-hats and suggestively-jutting sword-hilts.
At least that's how it appears to us in the 21st c, with intervening Victorian morality muddling things further.
But the caption at the bottom of the print tells a different story:
Is this my Daughter Ann The Matron thus Surpprised exclaims, And the deluded Fair One Blames, But had the Mother been as Charming, She had Thought the Mutual Sport no harm. This Moral's an undoubted Truth, Age envies Still the Joys of Youth.
In other words, an 18th c viewer would see the scene as a hilarious mockery of withered Mom and her envy of her beautiful daughter. Ann the Fair One isn't in trouble; it's Mom who's displaying her unbecoming jealousy. Maybe we should introduce her to the Old Beau.
I have to admit I'm stymied by the male figure in the background, and whatever it is he's holding. At first I thought it might be a looking-glass for vanity, but now I'm doubting it. The man wouldn't be in the print without a purpose. Any of you more learned folk than I have a guess what that might be?
Above: Is this my daughter Ann by J.H.Grim & James Watson printmaker, published in London by S. Sledge, 1774. Copyright the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
I particularly like the caution against economizing (last paragraph).
~~~ FASHIONS FOR JANUARY, 1817 ENGLISH. No. 2—Carriage Costume. A velvet pelisse of a bright carmine red, superbly trimmed with ermine; the tops of the sleeves caught up à-la-Mancheron,* with rich military silk chain work, the colour of the pelisse. Russian hussar cap of ermine, ornamented with gold military chain. Limerick gloves and half-boots or shoes of kid, of a correspondent colour.
GENERAL OBSERVATIONS ON FASHION AND DRESS. The truly elegant and costly carriage costume of which we have given so beautiful a specimen in our Plate, while it confers the highest honour on the taste of the inventress, is likely to be a most prevailing out-door covering for the carriage amongst ladies of wealth and fashion, begin particularly adapted for the open barouche, as the manner in which it is made, with the warm hussar cap of light and valuable fur, shields the fair wearer from all the severity of the pinching frost or cutting north wind.
For the close carriage nothing is reckoned more elegant than a pelisse of pearl grey velvet trimmed with ermine; and with this we would advise, as elegant and appropriate, a bonnet lately imported by Mrs. Bell, entitled the Netherland bonnet: its brim is of white satin, ornamented at the edge with carmine red velvet, of which latter material the whole crown is composed, and surmounted by a full plume of white feathers.
For walking dresses black pelisses are much in requisition, and a velvet wrap of peculiar elegance forms a comfortable home costume when the weather is severe, and serves, with a tippet of ermine, as an outdoor covering when the weather is mild.
But we would not wish the wealthy to economize too much lest the labours of the loom should fail, and the industrious artizan be disappointed in the improving of his talents. We rejoice to see that silks are becoming almost universal, and when the ladies at the theatre throw off their carricks** or wrapping cloaks, that their dresses underneath are generally of that material. —La Belle Assemblée, December 1816
*Mancheron. A cap like trimming at the top of sleeves often slashed; 1810 and after.
**Carrick. A long loose cloak fashionable in 1817 and after. —Elisabeth McClellan, Historic dress in America, 1800-1870.
Mothers and daughters warring over clothes is nothing new, with each generation pushing the limits of fashion to the horror of the previous one. Young Anne, left, has returned home to the country after a sojourn in London. She's dressed in the literal height of fashion, with towering hair and a richly trimmed gown displaying considerable bosom, and even a trendy little lapdog. Her modestly dressed mother is justifiably shocked, and cannot believe that this expensive creature is her daughter. (We've also seen country boys morph into macaronis in London, like the one here.)
Of course, with young country women in 18th c prints, there's always a more sinister (or at least cynical) explanation for wearing the latest London finery. In John Cleland's infamous 1748 novel Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, the orphaned and impoverished yet still innocent Fanny desires to go to London to "seek her fortune" ("a phrase, which, by the bye, has ruined more adventurers of both sexes, from the country, than ever it made, or advanced") only after admiring the stylish clothes of a visiting friend, Esther Davis:
"Nor can I remember, without laughing, the innocent admiration, not without a spice of envy, with which we poor girls, whose church-going cloaths did not rise about dowlass [coarse linen] shifts and snuff [thin wool] gowns, beheld Esther's scower'd sattin-gown, caps border'd with an inch of lace; taudry ribbons, and shoes belaced with silver! all of which we imagined grew in London....[I believed Esther when she explained how] several maids out of the country had made themselves and all their kin for ever, that by presarving their VARTUE, some had taken so with their masters, that they had married them, and kept them coaches, and lived vastly grand, and happy, and some, may-hap came to be Dutchesses: Luck was all, and why not I as well as another."
Once in London, Fanny soon learns that "VARTUE" was not rewarded nearly as profitably as sin, and receives her satin gown and carriage only after becoming the mistress to a wealthy lord. Could that be what the horrified mother in this print suspects, too?
Above: Heyday! Is this my daughter Anne! by F.E.Adams, published 1779 by Robert Wilkinson, with an early version published 1771 by Carington Bowles. Copyright the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
The art of negotiating city streets in bad weather, modeled on the Parisian method.
~~~ You must pay attention to your manner of walking, for fear of throwing mud around you, and spattering yourself as well as those who accompany you, or who walk behind you. Any person, particularly a lady, who walks in this improper manner, whatever her education may be in other respects, will always appear awkward and clumsy.
Every one knows that the Parisian ladies are celebrated for their skill in walking: we see them in white stockings and thin shoes, passing through long, dirty, and blocked up streets, gliding by careless persons, and by vehicles crossing each other in every direction, and yet return home after a walk of several hours, without soiling their clothes in the least.
To arrive at this astonishing result, which causes the wonder and vexation of provincial visitors on their first coming to Paris, we must be careful to put the foot on the middle of the paving stones, and never on the edges, for, in that case, one inevitably slips into the interstice between one pavement and another: we must begin by supporting the toe, before we do the heel; and even when the mud is quite deep, we must put down the heel but seldom. When the street becomes less muddy, we can compensate ourselves for this fatigue, which, however, in the end, leaves us hardly sensible.
Here's the second part of the series on Victorian ladies, this time featuring a lady from an altogether different class. I have to admit that these American ears couldn’t catch more than half of what Princess Alice said.
Photograph of Princess Alex of Teck (aka Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone), courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA (editing mine).
Please note: Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a black rectangle where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on this link to the Two Nerdy History Girls blog.
Take of garlic two cloves, of ammoniac one drachm: blend them, by bruising, together; make them into two or three bolusses, with fair water, and swallow them, one at night, and one in the morning. Drink, while taking this medicine, sassafras tea, made very strong, so as to have the teapot filled with chips. This is general found to banish the rheumatism, and even contractions of the joints, in a few times taking.
Mix two ounces of finely-pounded gum guaiacum, with three quarts of the best rum, in a glass vessel; stir and shake it from time to time. When it has remained for ten days properly exposed to the sun, distil the liquor through cotton or strong blotting paper, and bottle the whole, corking it up tight. The more is made of it at a time the better, as it improves by keeping. The dose is a table-spoonful every morning fasting. The bottles should be corked as closely as possible; but should not be quite filled, lest the fermentation of the liquor should make them burst. This medicine must not be made with brandy, or any other spirit but good genuine rum.
Illustrations courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Clicking on captions will take you to the Wiki page.
Collections of historic clothing are usually filled with the clothes of the rich and famous, which can give the misguided impression that everyone in the past wore silk and lace. Not quite; but the dress of ordinary folk is much harder to find (and, for us writers, to imagine) because not much of it survives. Clothing was expensive, and most was worn until it was worn out. Garments were patched and mended and handed down, refashioned (see here) and recut until there was often nothing left. Even rags were useful, with a gentleman's fine linen shirt eventually ending up as bandages or rags for the paper maker.
All of which is why I especially enjoy seeing what our mantua-maker friends in the Margaret Hunter Shop, Colonial Williamsburg, are wearing to work. While they might be stitching fine silk, for the most part they're dressed as their 18th c. counterparts would have dressed. A shopkeeper's assistant or apprentice in the fashion trades was expected to dress as stylishly as possible within her means, and their clothes often reflected the latest fashions sewn in more modest fabrics. Stylish was good for trade - she was, after all, a walking advertisement for the shop - but not so stylish that she rivaled the customers by dressing above her station. (As always, please click on the photos to enlarge to see details.)
Here Sarah Woodyard is dressed as a mantua-maker's apprentice c. 1775. Her gown is a reproduction of a closed-front English gown with the skirts looped up into two puffs in the back. While this style would have been most fashionable in silk, it's here made up in block-printed cotton. The printed pattern features a meandering vine and tassel motif which would also have been copied from expensive woven silks. The single color would have made the fabric more affordable, too, but the design of the gown – carefully cut to make the most of the cloth's pattern – more than compensates.
While the gown has no costly silk ribbons or trimmings, the apprentice's fine linen cap features not only a wide silk bow, but also extravagant pleating for maximum effect. Her kerchief and apron are also fine white linen, and her white thread stockings and quilted petticoat also contributes to the impression of a neat and tidy assistant. I like the subtlety in the white-on-white textures; if you look closely, you'll see that there's a woven check in her neck kerchief, and diamond-patterned quilting in her petticoat. There's another spot of color in the heart-shaped red pincushion - an essential part of the trade - that hangs ready at her waist, and more in her red ribbon garters. Everything except the stockings was cut and stitched by hand by Sarah herself, just as any good apprentice should.
But it's her shoes that are truly eye-catching. As we've seen before, the 18th c was a glorious time for women's shoes, and these are no exception, made from red silk with yellow leather-covered heels and brass buckles. Sarah is particularly proud of these shoes, since she made them herself while working in CW's shoemakers' shop – see her carving the heels from wood here.
Many thanks to Sarah Woodyard!For more pictures of her shoes in progress, see the Margaret Hunter Shop's Facebook page. All photographs here copyright 2012 Susan Holloway Scott
Some time ago, while researching a London-set story, I was astonished to discover how many hackney coach stands existed during the early 19th century. Which leads us to another lost occupation—the hackney coach waterman.
The following excerpt is from my much-loved, hard-to-find Pyne’s British Costume (originally published 1805 as The Costume of Great Britain), a book I cited a while back in my post about London’s Dustmen. Hackney coachmen, who drove individuals to specific destinations, mainly in London, are not to be confused with stage coachmen, who traveled the King’s highways according to preset routes and schedules.
~~~ Hackney coaches appear upon the stand for hire, at seven o’clock in the morning in summer, and at eight in winter: twelve hundred are allowed to be kept in London and its vicinity, and each is numbered. The prices of fare are regulated; and no coachman can refuse to carry passengers for any distance short of ten miles, however stormy the weather, or however the horses may be fatigued. A certain number are reserved to relieve those that have been employed during the day, which are called night coaches, and they attend at their stands till sun-rise. Public houses are kept open during the night for the accommodation of the coachmen. The figure represented upon this plate is employed as waterman to the stand, who is licensed, and wears a badge with his number engraved thereon: his business is to feed and water the horses, and to open the door for the passengers, that the driver may remain upon his box: he also has charge of the coaches during the time that the coachmen take their meals.
The office for licensing hackney coaches was erected in the year 1696, under the direction of commissioners; they have a code of regulations, which subjects the drivers to penalties for extortion, carelessness, rude behaviour, &c. by which the public is much benefitted; as the mode of redress is rendered simple and expeditious.
As we've noted here before, the dramatic change in women's fashion in the late 18th and early 19th c not only meant the temporary end of wide skirts with hoops, but also the invention of a necessary new accessory: the purse. Gone were the days when a woman could tuck all her little necessities in an over sized pocket that tied around her waist and was hidden beneath voluminous petticoats. Much as purses are today, the new bags were often as stylish as they were utilitarian, and added a touch of bright color and whimsy to the ubiquitous white muslin gowns.
Many of you mavens of historic dress (and I know we have many among our readers) will recognize the picture of the gown, left. It has appeared in several of the excellent fashion books featuring the holdings of the Kyoto Costume Institute, including this and this.
The gown is French, c 1800, of silk taffeta with a drawstring waist. The shawl is silk net with an embroidered floral motif and silk fringe, and the hat is also silk net and pongee with a tassel.
But it's the pineapple dangling from the lady's wrist that has always intrigued me. Little bags like this were called reticules, from the French and earlier Latin for a small net or mesh bag. (There's another charming, if unsubstantiated, explanation that the word is a mocking derivative from ridicule, the French word for ridiculous.) Pineapples and other exotic fruit had become a fashion-forward motif thanks to the trendsetting Josephine de Beauharnais Bonaparte, born on the Caribbean island of Martinique. This pineapple-shaped reticule was knitted in yellow and green silk with silver beads for accents, and the top with the leaves pulls open with the tasseled drawstrings. It's a wonderful, witty example of three-dimensional knitting, whether the skilled workmanship of a professional knitter or a dedicated lady.
For a zoomable view of the bag on the Kyoto web site, click here.
The fashion for knitted and crocheted pineapples outlived Napoleon, with directions or "recipes" for them appearing in lady's magazines well into the mid-19th century. One version of the "Pine Apple Bag" appeared in The Lady's Assistant, for executing useful and fancy designs in knitting, netting, and crochetwork, published by Mrs. Jane Gaugain in 1840. Contemporary needleworker/blogger Isabel Gancedo has adapted this pattern for modern knitters, and posted both her version and Mrs. Gaugain's on her website here. Be forewarned: this is a challenging pattern for experienced knitters – but if you're game, the results are delightful!
Above: Photo from Revolution in Fashion 1715-1815, copyright 1990 The Kyoto Costume Institute Many thanks to Janea Whitacre for pointing me towards Ms. Gancedo's on-line instructions.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.