Category Archives: Fashion

Shopping in the 50s: the Kensington High Street experience

Although I spent my childhood far from Kensington, in the 1960s I did once visit the High Street and its famous triumvirate of department stores, Barker’s, Derry and Tom’s and Ponting’s. Even as a disinterested teenager I could recognize the distinctive high class air of the three establishments. Many people I’ve spoken to have reported that Kensington High Street was regarded as a cut above shopping destinations like Oxford Street, if not quite as exalted as Knightsbridge. The 1950s were the heyday of that shopping experience.

Barkers High Street Kensington 1955 K61-1003An artist’s impression of Barker’s in 1955 with Derry and Tom’s on the right. The slightly curved, prow of a ship frontage and the series of flags demonstrates the  absolute confidence of the John Barker company in its store.

This night time picture of Derry and Tom’s from 1933 shows a similar stylistic pride in its image.

Derry and Toms 1933 (Ponting’s on the other hand was very much the least prestigious of the three. But it was the first one I wrote about on the blog - link.)

The three stores catered primarily for the middle class woman who had shopping as one of the key activities in her job description. And as their customers came from far and wide the shops used in-house magazines and catalogues as part of their promotional efforts.

Shopping cover July 1954July 1954′s issues of Shopping was concerned with Barker’s satellite store in Eastbourne and was geared towards summer fashions.

Shopping pp10-11A bright summer’s day at the seaside but no beachwear in sight.

Copy of Shopping pp10-11It looks a bit windswept in fact.

Derry and Tom’s of course had its own exotic location:

Derry and Toms 1950s 009 cover - colourThe famous roof garden, an integral part of the store identity.

The 50s were also a heyday for the commercial artist.

Derry and Toms 1950s 006The store catalogues were not just about fashion. There were furnishings:

Derry and Toms 1950s 001Haberdashery  (note that there is a whole Hall devoted to linen::

Derry and Toms 1950s 002And Christmas gifts for all the family:

Dery and Toms Christmas 1957 gifts for all the familyIf you can’t make out  the small print what about the Triang Minic Garage Service Station or the Toy Fort, or the Chemistry Set (with Bunsen Burner)? There’s a His and Hers towel set (thick Turkish towels at 17/6), or some Beaver Lamb Back Gloves (32/6). The Pedigree Dressed Bunny  at 17/11 shows how soft toy technology has advanced since the 50s. For the curious, the Gilbert Harding Question Book (an early version of QI?) And for Her, a Novelty Nightdress Case or a Nylon Straw Evening Bag.

But for husbands, the best bet for a present for her indoors was something from the lingerie collection:

Dery and Toms Christmas 1957 gifts for the wife Most of the year the ladies were shopping for themselves, and the stores offered “a delightful experience”.

Derry and Toms 1950s 005 colour

The in house magazines had helpful hints as in these month by month suggestions:

Shopping pp18-19

And after all that shopping you might want to get away from it all back in sunny Eastbourne:

Shopping pp14-15 - Copy


Whenever I do a shopping related post someone always asks me when I’m going to do something about Biba? The  unfortunate answer is that the collection has almost no pictures of Biba in the period when it took over Derry and Tom’s. So it’s my turn to ask: does anyone have any photos of Biba in that era (particularly of the interior) that we could scan and use on the blog?

Curiously, while working on this week’s post I found some interior pictures of Pettit’s, the least known of the High Street’s shops, which I might use one of these days.

Costume Ball 4: Ladies only

It’s the time of year for parties so we’re back at that social event of 1897, the Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee Costume Ball which has proved to be one of the most popular subjects on the blog. The Duchess and her party organiser must have been well aware of the interest the Ball would generate. The Lafayette photography company set up their portable studio in a tent in the grounds of Devonshire House, and the photographers must have been working hard to get through nearly 200 subjects in the course of the evening. But it would have been worth it. They would have been able to sell postcards and prints of the guests to a public which was already generating an early version of what we now call celebrity culture. In addition there were expensive souvenirs. The book I’ve scanned these pictures from is a large heavy volume produced in a limited edition.

This selection features only female guests. Their costumes were the main focus of interest for the photographers so I’m following this example as any popular magazine edition would have done. As I’ve noted in previous posts (1st,2nd,3rd) the costumes were mainly historical with the 16th,17th and 18th centuries providing most of the subjects. But there were also literary, mythological and artistic costumes.

Lady Ampthill, as “a lady of King Arthur’s court”.

Lady Ampthill p219 as a lady of King Arthur's court

And here, Queen Guinevere herself:

Lady Rodney as Queen Guinevere p114

Lady Rodney’s costume designer has a slightly different take on fashions at Camelot. A similar free reign could be taken when creating costumes for characters out of antiquity.

Miss Keith Fraser as Delilah p152 (2)

Miss Fraser as Delilah, a Biblical character familiar to most people of the time.

Miss Muriel Wilson as Queen Vashti page 101

Miss Muriel Wilson as Queen Vashti, the first wife of King Ahasuerus in the Book of Esther. Vashti is sometimes called a proto-feminist icon for her refusal to appear before the King’s guests at a banquet.

Some of the costumes were more conceptual:

Lady Herschell as Night p251

Lady Herschell looking slightly unhappy as Night (costumes expressing ideas like night and day were quite common at fancy dress parties).

The Countess of Westmoreland as Hebe page 82

The Countess of Westmoreland as Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth, daughter of Zeus and Hera. Did she bring that bird herself, I wonder or did the photographer have it handy, in his box of props?

Lady Edith Villiers as Lady Melbourne after Cosway page 60

There were some costumes inspired by artworks including this one, Lady Edith Villiers as Lady Melbourne after a portrait by Cosway, and in a similar vein:

The Hon Mrs Reginald Fitzwilliam after a picture by Romney

The Hon Mrs Fitzwilliam after a portrait by Romney.

But as I’ve said, the majority of the guests came as historical figures. In this case the photographers were unable to identify the costume worn by Mrs Leiter:

Mrs Leiter p245

Suggestions welcome. Other ladies were more readily identifiable if sometimes a little obscure:

The Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos as Caterina Cornare Queen of Cypress p144 (2)

The Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos (a fine title) as Caterina Cornare, Queen of Cypress.

Lady Aileen Wyndham Quin as Queen Hortense  p139

Lady Aileen Wyndham Quin as Queen Hortense. I’m assuming that this is Hortense de Beauharnais, stepdaughter of Napoleon and daughter of Josephine. She was Queen of Holland as the wife of Louis Napoleon and the mother of Napoleon III.

The Hon Mrs Lowther as Madame de Tallion - Incroyable p186

The Hon Mrs Lowther as Madame Therese de Tallion an “Incroyable” according to the caption in the book, one of the fashionistas of post Reign of Terror Paris, although my cursory research indicates that the Incroyables were the male ones and that the correct term for the women was Merveilleuses (marvellous women). Hortense de Beauharnis was also a Mervelleuse in her younger days.

Lady Fitzgerald as Marie Josephe Queen of Poland

Lady Fitzgerald as Marie Josephe Queen of Poland.

Lady Moyra Cavendish as Countess Lazan page 62

Lady Moyra Cavendish as Countess Lazan, a person I haven’t been able to find out anything about, but it’s a good costume.

Lady Lister Kaye as Duchesse de Guise, time Henri III p131

Lady Lister Kaye as Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchesse de Guise and maternal grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots.

The Duchess of Hamilton as Mary Hamilton Lady in Waiting to Mary Queen of Scots p207 (2)

The Duchess of Hamilton as Mary Hamilton, a lady in waiting to the same Mary Stuart, and possibly one of her own ancestors.

Lady Alington as Duchesse de Nevers, Dame de la Cour de S.M. Marguerite de Valois p213

Lady Alington as the Duchesse de Nevers, a lady from the court of Marguerite de Valois. She looks to me as if she has been very patient with the photographer but is now ready to go.

The Hon Marie Kay as Mademoiselle Andree de Taverney AD1773  page 240

The Hon Marie Kay as Mademoiselle Andree de Taverney, another 18th century lady who has evaded me today.

And finally, posed as if walking away:

The Hon Maud Winn as Madame la Motte page 59

The Hon Maud Winn as Madame la Motte, possibly the thief and adventuress who was involved in the complicated affair of the Queen’s diamonds in the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It’s an incongruously disreputable note on which to finish with this grand and respectable event.


The Ball took place in July, which must have made some of those heavy costumes uncomfortable. Not really appropriate for this time of year either. One of the other characters who’ve appeared in the blog, Jerry Cornelius held a spectacular party in the Final Programme. So from him I take this message: a happy new fear to all my readers.

Title page - Copy

Rite of spring: Mr Ruskin’s May Queen

Ruskin and Rossetti VAW copy

John Ruskin wouldn’t sit down for this picture. However poor the state of his health he felt it was unthinkable for him to sit in the presence of Rossetti so the great artist held him up. Ruskin was a man of high ideals and aesthetic principles. He had been one of the early supporters of the Pre-Raphaelites so Rossetti’s loose morals and the strange ménage at Tudor House wouldn’t have bothered him. But nevertheless it would have been hard to find two more unlikely companions in the whole of Victorian England. Rossetti represents the sensual side of the Victorian imagination let loose about as much as it could be. Ruskin of course represents the repressed imagination and it was that respectable side of his nature which drew him into collaboration with John Faunthorpe the Principal of the teacher training establishment in the King’s Road, Whitelands College.

Copy of Whitelands College PC109C

1902 John Faunthorpe from 1924 WA

[John Faunthorpe 1902]

Faunthorpe was a fan of Ruskin’s. He admired the great man extravagantly, idolised him even. So in1880 inspired by Ruskin  he floated the idea of starting a May Queen Festival at the College. Ruskin had form in this area, he had tried to start something similar at a school in Cheshire but parents had objected (Ruskin’s divorce / annulment from his marriage with Effie Gray and her subsequent marriage to Millais had been a great scandal). Between them the two men worked something out which combined Ruskin’s love of picturesque old English ritual and Faunthorpe’s desire for high Anglican ceremony. The notion of a may queen may also have appealed to  Ruskin because it involved pretty young women for whom he had a sentimental regard after the failure of his marriage and the derailment of his romance with Rose La Touche. The Victorians in general were given to sentimentalizing youth (perhaps because they frequently saw it snatched away by sudden disease and death, the very fate of Rose la Touche who died at the age of 27).

Ruskin donated a set of his books each year to be handed out by the new Queen, and paid for the design of the first in a series of crosses which were given to each Queen. The May Queen was chosen by the votes of the students (she should be “the lovablest and the likeablest” was Ruskin’s mawkish guidance to the voters). The first was Queen Ellen I.

1881 Queen Ellen I

Unfortunately for the ceremony Ellen was in mourning at the time and wearing black so a white shawl was found for her to wear. Ruskin pestered Faunthorpe for a photograph and then rather ungraciously said the Queen looked like she was 38. (She was 20). Although he did visit the College regularly he never attended the May Day ceremony. Perhaps he preferred the festival as a romantic ideal. After Queen Ellen the Queen and her maidens had dresses made for the occasion.

Ruskin had his protégé Kate Greenaway design a dress for the Queen which was passed on for four years.

1891 Queen Jessie 02

[Queen Jessie 1891]

But as the Festival continued it became customary for former queens to return and take part in the festival so the Queen needed a unique outfit.

1892 Queen Elizabeth II 02

[A small and faded view of Queen Elizabeth II, 1893]

1895 Queen Annie Bawden May 1895 CM259

[Queen Annie II, 1895]

May Day is a festival dating back to pre-Christian times. It’s related to the Celtic festival Beltane and the Germanic Walpurgis Nacht. Faunthorpe wanted to emphasise the Christian elements, and Ruskin had exalted ideas about feminine innocence and purity. But despite that this version of May Day still had its May Pole, and retained the flowers, garlands, branches and wooden staffs which still have their older pagan connotations. Here’s Queen Annie again in her throne room.

Queen Annie II 1895 CM258 Queen enthroned - Copy

They look like they’re starting to get the hang of it. Some former queens are present (see if you can spot Elizabeth II). They’re beginning to look a little like a female Masonic lodge.

Ruskin died in 1900 but the Festival no longer needed his blessing and seemed to grow in importance and complexity. If you remember I first dealt with the May Queen in Games for May. In that post I linked the Festival with the Chelsea Pageant just because I found the pictures together but the more I find out about the two events the more I think they belong together as part of the same current in the first decade of the 20th century. The Edwardians seemed to have a propensity almost amounting to mania for dressing up and engaging in theatrical rituals and performances, especially out of doors. In an age of technological innovation perhaps they were reliving the myths and legends of an older England. An England of their imagination.

Behind the stern walls of the College was a quadrangle with ivy-covered walls where the ceremonies could take place out of sight of the busy streets outside.

1899 Queen Agnes I and bodyguard CM259

[Queen Agnes I 1899]

The May Day festival took a whole day and required much preparation. The entire student body of about 150 got white dresses paid for by the college. There were services in the college chapel, a procession, an abdication ceremony, an election (although it became expedient to have the election before May Day so the new queen could be fitted for her dress) a masque, or some “revels”, and the crowning of the new Queen who would give out gifts of copies of works by Ruskin to selected students.

In 1906 there happened to be three queens in the College at the same time, the new Queen Florence, her predecessor Evelyn and the 1904 Queen Mildred.

1906 Queen Florence with Queen Mildred -left-and Queen Evelyn

Mildred in particular looks like she’s just come off the set of one of those 1970s Hammer films like the Vampire Lovers. Or (as I’ve said before) the cover of an album by a 70s English folk rock group, especially in the masque picture below.

They pulled out the stops on this one. Florence proceeded to her coronation with her maidens in tow.

1906 Queen Florence and maidens

And Mildred took the lead in a masque in which the students played flowers and trees and paid homage to her.

1906 masque featuring Queen Mildred and the cast of flowers and trees

In 1909, the year after the Chelsea Pageant there were more elaborate ceremonies. Here is Agnes II, with her chamberlains.

1909 Queen Agnes II & chamberlains

On the throne with the Dowager Queen Dorothy.

1909 Queen Agnes II & Dowager Queen Dorothy 1902 painting behind

Behind them is a painting of the 1902 ceremony. Check out the leopard skin.

There was even a special appearance by this lot:

1909 nuns

Not real nuns of course, just some of the Pageant performers from 1908 who just couldn’t resist coming back for an encore. It might have been their last chance to join the procession with the women in white.

1908 procession 02

And oddly, it seems to me that at that point they had peaked. The May Queen Festival continued of course, carries on to this day in fact, but in the second decade of the century the ceremonies gradually became less elaborate and the College slowly seemed to stop making quite such a big thing of May Day. Or it could be that young women were getting more serious about their profession and less serious about quixotic ritual. I heard someone on the radio recently saying that the Edwardians had a kind of innocence based on hope, the hope that the new century was going to bring progress and prosperity. By 1910 perhaps the zeitgeist was looking a little less hopeful than before and the revellers decided it was time to put the costumes back into the dressing up box.

Still, there were many more May Queens at Whitelands and when they gathered together for the ceremonies there was quite a bunch of them, now engaged in charitable works as well as Christianised neo-pagan rites. They even had a leader, the Mother Queen who was the oldest of this select group.

1912 Queen Ellen the mother queen

The first May Queen, Ellen I, now out of mourning, in her own robes, leading the procession again in 1912. She died in 1923, mourned by her fellow queens, but never forgotten.


That was quite a long post. Just as with the Chelsea Pageant I discovered a lot more material than I had imagined we had. Enough for another post next May Day if you can wait that long. I showed the pictures to a colleague and she said “it looks so pagan” – so it isn’t just me who thinks that.

The picture of Ruskin and Rossetti comes from the book the Victorian art world in photographs by Jeremy Maas. There is supposed to be a copy of it in William Rossetti’s memoirs but our copy had that page missing. There was an interesting picture of Maria Rossetti though which I intend to use in a future post.

Whitelands College moved to Putney in 1930 and has since moved again. It is now part of the University of Roehampton. The May Day Festival continues and they have May Kings now as well as May Queens. This year’s festival is on May 18th.

Postscript to the postscript

See comment below. Queen Thyra (1890) from Malcolm Cole’s book on the May Queen Festival,

1890 Queen Thyra

Return of the Edwardian sartorialist – Sambourne’s Kensington street style

I have good reason to be grateful to Edward Linley Sambourne. My original post about his street photography (Street Style 1906) has been the most popular single item on this blog and has brought in many readers who might not otherwise have heard about the Library Time Machine. What is it about his street photography which is so compelling?

The first point is one I made on that first post. We are used to thinking of the Edwardian period as the last great period of formal dress for women and men, the last gasp of 19th century fashion and the ancien regime of costume before the revolution of the Great War and the 1920s. Sambourne’s pictures show another side to the early years of the 20th century, a casual attitude to dress demonstrated by the mostly young women in them. The roots of the dress revolution are apparent from the 1890s onwards in candid photographs and picture postcards. Sambourne’s pictures are one instance of this movement.

The other point is another one I have made on previous occasions. We shouldn’t think of these photographs as curious items from past times. These pictures are of the present. When Linley Sambourne roamed the streets of Kensington with his hidden camera between 1905 and 1908 he was catching images of the now.

Have I spent too long on opening remarks? Let’s look at some pictures.

LSL39 Notting Hill 20 Jul 1906

20th July 1906 in Notting Hill Gate – even in summer gloves are worn and one of these two women carries a muff. They’re in a hurry, striding along, oblivious to the photographer.

Back in May of the same year in nearby Kensington Church Street:

LSL43 Church St 2 May 1906

This woman is slightly more formally dressed than the first two. Perhaps she is on her way to work. Sambourne liked to record women at work as below:

LSL45 Cheniston Gdns 29 Jul 1906

This picture taken in Cheniston Gardens shows a young maid engaged in the perennial and tedious task of cleaning the steps. You might think this is another example of Sambourne’s secretive gaze, spying on her working life but to me it has the look of a posed picture. Sambourne had many contacts in the Kensington area across the social classes – people he used as models for his studio photography and the young maid may have been one of them. I think it’s more obvious in this image:

LSL46 Cheniston Gdns 26 Jun  1906

A different set of steps, and (I think) a different woman but she looks to me as though she is responding to a request from Sambourne to hold that pose for a moment.

There is probably a great deal to be said about the interest shown in maids by gentlemen of Sambourne’s age and class but in the absence of firm evidence we can probably acquit him of improper thoughts. As has also been discussed on the blog and in comments, the concept of privacy with regard to photographs taken in the street was underdeveloped in Sambourne’s time. It’s probably true that as an upper middle class man he thought that his right to pursue his art outweighed any violation of his subjects’ privacy. (Some photographers still believe that today.)

To complete a trio of servants here is a maid taking a break, no doubt well deserved:

LSL47 Cromwell Road 26 Jun 1906

The next subject is someone much closer to Sambourne’s own class, a distinctly middle class married woman.

LSL60 Cromwell Road 15 May 1907

In May 1907 she is escorting her two sons along a tree-lined Cromwell Road with just a few horse drawn vehicles in the background. Cromwell Road looks more like a prosperous wide street of upmarket houses as it was originally intended than the major transport artery of today.

LSL19 Kensington 26 Jun 1906

This is one of those pictures where the woman is looking right at the photographer as though she knows what he is doing.

LSL20 Kensington 26 Jun 1906

I think this may be a picture of the same woman from behind. They were both taken on the same day in the same place so that may be a reasonable assumption.

Perhaps you recognize this woman:

LSL04a  21 Jul 1905 720

I think it’s the same woman who featured in the first Sambourne post photographed in Earls Court Road in 1905. (I’ve looked back and forth comparing details of dress and features. I know that some of my readers are very eagle eyed so I won’t commit myself absolutely.) It’s a slightly less flattering image but that is a feature of candid photography. Everyone has seen poor pictures of people who normally look good in photographs. I would say she had been caught by the flash but I’m not sure if Sambourne’s camera had one. Actually the detail I like is the dog sniffing something out in the background so I hope she would forgive me for showing her not quite at her best.

This picture is another example of the big hat, still a common fashion item at the time:

LSL48 Church St 2 Aug 1906

This view is of Kensington Church Street, with some horse drawn buses in the background.

Another family group, from the front and the side:

LSL62 St Albans Road May 1907

LSL61 St Albans Road 10 May 1907

This was in St Albans Road, well off the main streets of Kensington and well out of Sambourne’s main patch.

Another of his pictures from the rear:

LSL21 Kensington 27 Jun 1906

Finally, I’ve been saving one of Sambourne’s best pictures till last. This picture is simply captioned Kensington. It looks a little like one of the streets running off Notting Hill Gate but really it could be any number of streets.

LSL24 Kensington 3 Jul 1906

Sambourne captures a young woman of the early twentieth century walking confidently forward looking straight into the eye of the camera. Forget the photographer. She is looking out at us.


Just as this time last year I’m about to start a month of posts related to this year’s CityRead campaign. The book is A week in December by Sebastian Faulks. The posts will all be transport related and the first will be A tale of two tube stations.

One of the many bloggers who wrote about Sambourne after my first post coined the phrase Edwardian Sartorialist to describe him. I can’t remember which one, but my thanks to her/him.

The Sambourne pictures belong to Leighton House Museum. If you would like to reproduce any of them in a book or magazine ask my colleagues there.

The other Linley Sambourne posts are here (Holland), here  (Paris)and here (at the beach).

The text is written by me so if you run a website based in Spain which likes to reprint vintage photographs why not write your own words?

Trelawny at the Royal Court 1898

Currently playing at the Donmar Warehouse in London’s West End is a modern version of Arthur Wing Pinero’s play of 1898, Trelawny of the Wells, directed by the well know film director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice, Hanna). Here are two of the actors:

Rose Trelawny and Imogen Parrott

The characters of Rose Trelawny and Imogen Parrott , played by Amy Morgan and Susannah Fielding. Back in 1898 the play was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square. Rose Trelawny was played by this up and coming actress:

T05 Oh, this dreadful half-hour after dinner

Irene Vanburgh,  who had known Lewis Carroll when she was 16, became one of the most famous stage actresses of her day and was later made a Dame,  here in a picture captioned “Oh, this dreadful half hour after dinner, every, every evening.”

The 1898 Imogen Parrott looked like this:

T16 Look at the sunshine!

The interesting thing about Trelawny for me is that it has always been a historical play. We’re used to costume dramas on television and film so the two modern actors don’t look odd to us – it’s just the past, when quaint costumes were worn. But the costumes the 1898 cast were wearing were also old fashioned to the “modern” audience. The play is set in the 1860s and one of the themes is how the old melodramatic styles of theatre were giving way to realism. But a large part of the comedy in 1898 was the 1860s themselves – “the scarecrow period of British taste” as Malcolm C Salaman calls it in the official souvenir programme of Trelawny. He looks back at the 1860s in much the same way as modern commentators look back at the 1970s (the decade that taste forgot etc). The principal target of the comedy is the costumes of the women, specifically the crinoline dress to which he devotes the first six pages of his text. Here is a typical sample:

“..and see winsome Rose Trelawny, pretty Imogen Parrott and comely Aviona Bunn …in their flounces and frilled frocks of enormous circumference, to their pork-pie hats with feathers, or coal-scuttle bonnets, their back hair hanging in baglike nets of chenille, their elastic-sided boots, and their garish parasols assisting an incongruous complication of colours, are not our aesthetic sensibilities tempered with tender complacency, as we realise a sense of old-fashioned quaintness we remember that our mothers used to be garmented even so, while in such apparel were our maiden aunts wooed and won?”

Salaman goes on at some length even listing different varieties of crinoline and quoting from old catalogues. I realised that for him and his readers, crinolines were not only amusing but also unfamiliar. After all they weren’t able to watch adaptations of Dickens or Trollope every evening on TV as we can, and none of them had ever seen The King and I or the Innocents (the film of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw) for me two of the most striking examples of crinoline wearing in cinema (oddly both of them starring Deborah Kerr). So maybe we can forgive Mr Salaman’s obsession.

Unfortunately we can’t see the colours he mentions but here are some more of the costumes:

T02 I'm hitting them hard this season

Imogen Parrott again, I think.

T03 Ho, ho, ho Oh don't Mr Colpoys

A bit of comedy going on there with some other members of the cast.

T07 Frederick, dear, wake

The man’s whiskers attempting to compete with the crinoline in this picture, and below a distinct touch of melodrama:

T08 Is this whist, may I ask

I’m at a bit of a disadvantage having never seen or read any version of the play so I don’t know who the white haired actor is playing but he certainly looks like he’s in a melodrama.

Here he is in two scenes with Irene Vanburgh:

T12 Read no more! Return them to me!

Good pointing there, and a touch of Svengali in this one:

T10 Cordelia! Cordelia - with Kean!

There were sub-plots involving comic servants:

T09 I discovered 'em clustered in the doorway

And a number of scenes involving several cast members sitting around:

T11 Life, a comedy by Thomas Wrench

This is a scene from the play within the play – “Life: a comedy, by Thomas Wrench”. I think this would be another ( or a rehearsal):

T17 Oh! My dears! Let us get on with the rehearsal!

As you can imagine it all ends well, with a toast:

T00 Trelawny! Trelawny of the Wells!

The lovers are happily united:

T01 He forgets everything but the parts

Did Arthur Wing Pinero imagine that in 2013 he would have two plays on in London? (The Magistrate, featuring John Lithgow recently finished a run at the National Theatre). Did he think that audiences would still be enjoying Trelawny of the Wells over a hundred years after its first performance? He would have been pleased I’m sure but perhaps not entirely surprised. The caption for this picture reads: “Isn’t the world we live in, merely a world – such a queer little one!”

T15 Isn't the world we live such a queer little one!


I’ve written a companion post to this one – A brief history of the crinoline, which is on the RBKC Library blog here

If  like me you like to consult imdb while watching TV you may appreciate the fact that  John Lithgow appeared in a production of Trelawny as a young man in which the role of Imogen Parrott was played by Meryl Streep. Here is a picture to prove it:

trelawney-of-the-wells-1975 meryl streep as imogen john lithgow as gadd

No crinoline visible there.

Pictures from the current production of Trelawny are from the Donmar Warehouse website where there is an excellent gallery of images.

Try Googling Trelawny for more, including a colourful version staged in Pitlochry and the version with Lithgow and Streep.

18th century escapades: the votaries of dissipation at Ranelagh

In April 1776 the gentleman who called himself Momus, the Laughing Philosopher went on a ramble and wrote an account of it in the Westminster Magazine. After a walk in the park he found the day so salubrious that he proceeded down the Chelsea Road. Carriages went to and fro so he concluded that “the Rotunda was open for the reception of the polite world.” He was not incommoded by dust “in consequence of the road being watered”. Nor was he prevented “from joining the votaries of dissipation by not being dressed au dernier gout”.

He fell in behind two ladies who were complaining at having to arrive at so early an hour.

Empty vol1

He was fascinated by the head of one of the ladies “which appeared to be fluffed out to an enormous size but what chagrined me the most was to see it decorated with a prodigious quantity of cherries which looked most invitingly plump and juicy”. For himself he had no desire to taste the fruit. It seemed to him they were set in a “dunghill composed of hair, wool, grease and powder”. But another woman nearby “being in a longing condition [i.e.pregnant] cast such wilful glances at them that I actually believed she would have snapped at them had she been tall enough to reach them”

Fruit stall

When the first woman took her seat in the Rotunda the pregnant lady sat as close as she could. Reaching out to touch the fruit she could not contain herself and “tore the whole superstructure to pieces”. As it turned out the fruit was not fit to “be pressed by her lips” and she was obliged to pretend to faint to cover her embarrassment. Momus reports that another lady with a vegetable based hairdo suffered a similar mishap.A hairdresser was summoned to effect repairs. (was this a common occurrence?)

Momus drew a moral from the occasion: “the first beauty in the kingdom will gain more real admiration by the enlargement of her mind than the expansion of her head.”

I don’t suppose he really believed that.

Miss Comeingueout of Opera

I’m assuming the giant hairdos in this  picture are exaggerated for comic effect. This might be closer to actuality:

Ladies magazine

Momus’s night at Ranelagh was evidently pretty typical. Far from that was an event which took place some eighteen years later advertised below:

Chevalier d'Eon announcement from vol 2 crop

The Chevalier D’Eon is history’s most famous transvestite. Or is it as easy as that? The more you look at his life the more disagreement there seems to be. The simplest view is that after a career as a soldier, diplomat and spy he seemed to have fallen out with the French government and agreed to live as a woman for some reason which is not entirely clear. After the French Revolution he lost his government pension and made a living selling off his possessions and engaging in demonstration duels such as the one illustrated below:

Chevalier D'Eon  2

This picture is of a classic D’Eon duel at Carlton House in front of the Prince of Wales, the future Prince Regent.

Far more sensational accounts of his life exist however. Giacomo Casanova wrote in his memoirs: It was at that ambassador’s table that I made the acquaintance of the Chevalier d’Eon, the secretary of the embassy, who afterwards became famous.  This Chevalier d’Eon was a handsome woman who had been an advocate and a captain of dragoons before entering the diplomatic service; she served Louis XV as a valiant soldier and a diplomatist of consummate skill.  In spite of her manly ways I soon recognized her as a woman; her voice was not that of a castrato, and her shape was too rounded to be a man’s.  I say nothing of the absence of hair on her face, as that might be an accident.”

Later in his memoirs the great lover takes the opposite view and recounts the story of a 20,000 guinea bet on the gender of the Chevalier. The bet was never won or lost as the Chevalier refused an examination.

The Chevalier lived in London in the role of a middle aged lady even though his pension had dried up. Perhaps he’d settled into the role.

Chevalier D'Eon

There are more sensational stories though such as the disputed account of a spying trip to Russia in female clothes as “Lia de Beaumont” in which guise he infiltrated the maids of honour to the Czarina. As a young man D’Eon was a member of the King’s Secret, a clandestine group of agents working for Louis XV.

The young Chevalier D'Eon aged 25 crop

This picture of the Chevalier from a biography published in 1895 shows a much younger version of his female alter ego which would make the Russian story slightly more plausible (though still unlikely). Was this picture part of the fantasy or evidence that some of the wilder stories were true?

Most accounts agree that a postmortem examination of D’Eon confirmed that he was a man. The psychologist Havelock Ellis referred to cross-dressing as Eonism possibly on the basis that forms of sexual deviance should always be named after a European aristocrat.

D’Eon has also been described as an early celebrity – a manipulator of his own public image. He wasn’t altogether successful but fantasies and images have floated around during his lifetime and long afterwards.

Discovery of the Female Freemason - Copy

“The discovery of the Female Freemason” 1771.

lia de beaumont from deviantart

A cosplay version of the Japanese anime character Lia de Beaumont, the Chevalier’s sister.

One thing is clear however. The Chevalier seems to have been a favourite at Ranelagh:

Chevalier d'Eon announcement from vol 2 crop 2

In the engraving below he is again described as the Chevaliere D’Eon.

Chevalier D'Eon from vol 2

So the votaries of dissipation had a sentimental side.

Images from this post are from a scrapbook in the Local Studies collection about Ranelagh compiled in the 19th century, except for the picture of the young Chevalier which is from Ernest Alfred Vizetelly’s The true story of the Chevalier D’Eon (1895), the Female Freemason which is from Edna Nixon’s Royal Spy: the strange case of the Chevalier D’Eon (1966), and the photo of “Lia de Beaumont” which is from NadiaSK’s DeviantArt gallery ( ).

Party time again: Costume Ball 1897

For those of you who are not especially interested in the Duchess of Devonshire’s Jubilee Costume Ball of 1897 my apologies. But according to my blog statistics there are many of you who can’t get enough of the photographs taken by the Lafayette Company to record the costumes worn by the guests, so I hope the others will forgive us another visit to the party.

I’ve done a small amount of research on Victorian fancy dress. There was an entire book on the subject, Fancy Dress Described by Ardern Holt which ran to six editions of detailed descriptions of costumes for every occasion in alphabetical order. The Duchess’s guests didn’t stop with written descriptions. According to an account in the Times they haunted the art galleries of London making notes and sketches for their dressmakers.

It was often customary to organise the guests into groups of related costumes called quadrilles who could then dance together in a pre-arranged routine. Holt suggests seasons, constellations, Noah’s Ark, packs of cards and shepherds and shepherdesses. But the Duchess had loftier ideas – “allegorical or historical costume dated earlier than 1820” was her brief for the guests. They responded by sorting themselves into four Courts – Elizabethan, Louis XIV/XVI, Maria Theresa of Austria and Catherine II of Russia with other groups of “Italians” (which included characters from history and literature) and “Orientals” (this group headed by the Duchess herself as Queen Zenobia included characters from antiquity and classical literature.)

Some of the guests stuck with the plan:

Mrs William James as the Archduchess Elizabeth of Austra p282 a

Mrs Elizabeth James as the Archduchess Anne of Austria. Or below:

double 01

Two of those Italians – Lady Robert Cecil as Valentine Visconti and Lady St Oswald as the Duchessa di Calaria. From the French court came the Countess of Kilmorey.

The Countess of Kilmorey Ellen Constance nee Baldock as Comtesse du Barri p267

She is playing La Comtesse du Barri, the mistress of Louis XV (and of course a character in Doctor Who). Coincidentally Ellen Constance Needham was herself a royal mistress, the lover of Prince Henry of Teck, brother of the future Queen Mary (wife of George V). There was a minor scandal when Prince Henry who died quite young left some family jewels to the Countess. The will was suppressed and the jewels quietly bought back by the Royal Family. Nellie, as she was known, in her late thirties at the time of the ball, lived on until 1920 just reaching that other decade of conspicuous pleasure.

As we’ve seen before the greatest interest then as now was in the costumes worn by the lady guests. Occasionally the men could play a supporting role.

Sir Charles Hartopp as Napoleon I, Lady Hartopp as the Empress Josephine p270 (2)

The Emperor Napoleon and Josephine as played by Sir Charles and Lady Hartopp. They, or the photographer have caught the ambiguous relationship of the people they are portraying. I wonder if Sir Charles was as short as the original?

These two are not so well known as a couple:

Lord Charles Montagu as Charles I, Lady Chelsea as an Italian Flower girl p221  (2)

Lord Charles Montagu as Charles I, with Lady Chelsea as an Italian flower girl. It could have been just a random combination. Perhaps no-one came as Charles’s wife Henrietta Maria.

Still roughly part of the plan for the ball:

Mrs Von Andre as Desdemona p129

Mrs von Andre as Desdemona. Other guests strayed out of the strict historical plan.

The Hon Mrs Reginald Talbot as a Valkyrie p183

Another Valkyrie (there were several of those knocking about at the ball) played by Mrs Reginald Talbot. The spear and the shield must have been quite a burden to carry around.

In the previous post I showed you a lady dressed as Alecto, one of the Furies and I wondered where the others were. I did find Megaera:

Lady Sophie Scott as Megaera p150a

Lady Sophie Scott. I’ve also managed to find a picture of the two of them together not from the book I’ve been using but from another source .

2 furies

Lady Scott is on the right I think with Lady Lurgan on the left. They look a little alike (apart from the costumes). Were the two of them related? I haven’t been able to find out. I expect the torches were extinguished in the ballroom itself.

There were also more costumes from the realm of art:

The Hon Mrs Baillie as Mrs James Baillie from the family group by Gainsborough

The Hon. Mrs Baillie as Mrs James Baillie from a Gainsborough portrait. She was playing one of her own ancestors. Is that being a bit too clever? This lady did the same thing:

The Countess of Dalkeith as Helen Countess of Dalkeith p236 (2)

The Countess of Dalkeith playing  Helen, a previous Countess of Dalkeith.

Lady Margaret Innes-Ker as Lady Eglinton, Lady Victoria Innes-Ker as Elizabeth Linley after minatures by Cosway p169

Two sisters, the Ladies Margaret and Victoria Innes – Ker as two unrelated ladies out of miniatures by Cosway. Richard Cosway was a celebrated painter of miniatures but so was his wife Maria.

We’ll end this week with some more characters from the ancient world which had just as much of a hold on the Victorian imagination as it does on our own.

The Hon Mrs Maguire as Dido Queen of Carthage (Major Wynne-Finch with her) p239

The Hon. Mrs Maguire as Dido, Queen of Carthage anachronistically accompanied not by a man dressed as Aeneas but by a Major Wynne-Finch, whose role is not recorded as far as I can tell. Actually they don’t look too odd together as her costume is not likely to be particularly accurate.

No more than that of Lady de Trafford:

Lady de Trafford as Semiramis Queen of Assyria p261

She is playing Semiramis Queen of Assyria.

Finally a couple who look like they actually enjoy each other’s company.

Mr and Mrs Hall Walker as Merlin and Vivian p265 (2)

Mr and Mrs Hall Walker as the magician Merlin and Vivian the Lady of the Lake who enchants him in some versions of the story. It’s good to finish on a couple of Walkers.

It was also good to take the time machine back to familiar territory but we’ll be somewhere quite different next week.

Three of the many editions of Fancy Dress Described can be found in the Costume Collection at Chelsea Library and the 6th edition can be downloaded online. The descriptions are nothing if not exhaustive.

More pictures from the costume ball here and here.

An Englishman abroad: Sambourne in Holland

This week we’re travelling with Edward Linley Sambourne again. Sambourne was an active man even in his later years. He thought nothing of taking a train to Scotland on a Sunday for a couple of days shooting returning for lunch with his Punch colleagues on Wednesday. So his tour through Holland in April 1906 is quite typical. He was with his wife Marion and maybe his daughter but as always he took photographs of women in the street. In the cities The Hague and Amsterdam he saw women dressed in the usual middle class day wear as seen in his pictures of London and Paris.

Here in The Hague a lone woman waits outside a grand building. Is that a bag in her hand or a large muff?

On a quieter street a group stop to talk, in a poorly composed picture (but understandable if Sambourne was using his right angle camera)

One of the districts of The Hague is Scheveningen, a seaside area where Sambourne found young women dressed in traditional working class costume.

They would have sparked off Sambourne’s desire to catalogue different kinds of costume. The Sambourne archive at Leighton House is full of pictures of military and civil uniforms and all kinds of working dress. He also catches the seaside architecture in the background. I think the domed building is the Kurhaus, a hotel and restaurant opened in 1886.

One of this trio is giving him a suspicious look. But the pair below seem happy to pose for a picture with part of the pier behind them.

Sambourne and his party didn’t linger long in one place. They moved south on to Delft, home of the celebrated pottery and the artist Vermeer and just as picturesque in 1906 as it is today.

An excellent view of a woman crossing over one of the canals and below, more tall windows, traditional costume and curious glances.

The next stop was Haarlem. Although the picture below is also badly composed, Sambourne has inadvertently captured a tram line and a group of women carefully crossing it, along with his main subjects the two women in the foreground.

And in this picture, his interest is probably in the uniform of the nursery maid, but we can also see some characteristic Dutch architecture.

The next two pictures were taken in Amsterdam. Although the picture has faded with age it is still a good street scene especially the curious man in the background not looking where he’s going.

Another picture taken the same day which catches activity in the background.

There’s a clear contrast with some of the pictures taken in London and Paris – it’s obviously not a warm April.

From Amsterdam they went south to Utrecht where he met these three, who stopped long enough for a picture.

Can I throw in an entirely gratuitous reference to Dr Strabismus (whom God Preserve)?

Utrecht may have been an excursion as the same day they make their way back towards Amsterdam.

This is a river or canal side view taken in Muiden, a suburb or district of Amsterdam.

This woman was photographed having difficulty in the wind another place near Amsterdam, Marken then a peninsula in the Zuiderzee, an inland sea which was turned into the freshwater lake called the Ijsselmeer in the 1930s.

The party turned south again and a few days later were in the city of Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland. Here he found another traditional costume.

He found further examples in the seaside resort of Domburg.

This group look fairly serious but the final picture was taken in Westkapelle, a small city surrounded on three sides by water. A group of teenagers pay no attention to Sambourne but what three of them are looking at and the other one is ignoring we’ll never know.

Thanks to Sambourne expert Shirley Nicholson for some insights into his character.


Last week’s excursion into an alternate reality was illustrated with some pictures of the world we know. One reader expressed an interest so here is a list as they appeared in the post:

Weymouth Street 1993

Hampton Court, Great Fountain Garden 1984

The Garrick Club 1962

Chiswick Park 1962

Chiswick House 1984

Crystal Palace Park 1984

Laeken Royal Glasshouses, Belgium

Interior – North Audley Street 1962

Woman in black: private collection

Dance company in Lausanne 1916: library collection

Hampton Court 1962

The first fashion photographer: Clementina, Lady Hawarden

I first came across this photograph in a history of 19th century costume. It’s been widely published in print and online so you may well be familiar with it.

The author in that book said that the woman on the right has been posed with the crinoline of her dress removed to fit into the picture. My immediate thought was that this was incorrect. In the first place there is clearly plenty of room for a full crinoline, and more importantly while Isabella Hawarden is wearing a conventional day dress her sister Florence is wearing some kind of fancy dress or theatrical costume around which a piece of white material has been draped in a way which echoes the shape of Isabella’s dress. Take a closer look.

I think you can see the same piece of material in this photograph:

That’s their sister Clementina sitting at the window with the same material draped around her. You’ll see it again in other pictures.

But before we go any further what about that title, the first fashion photographer? You let me get away with calling Edward Linley Sambourne the first style blogger but surely a woman who took photos of her family which were never published in her lifetime can’t really be called a fashion photographer? Well not strictly speaking but as I’ve said before the early photographers may have been limited by the technology at their disposal but had already grasped most of the uses of the new medium. Lady Hawarden was possibly the first photographer to be obsessed with the way fabric hangs on the female form.

She took atmospheric pictures of her three daughters which are not far off the work of a modern fashion photographer in the way she treats her subjects and are in many ways just as good.

This picture of Isabella was used by Penguin for the cover of an edition of Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White. It’s an appropriate choice. The image has an air of the loneliness and mystery which is a feature of Lady Hawarden’s work.

Isabella and Clementina in bohemian dress. As we’ve seen before when you take the Victorians or the Edwardians out of their conventional clothes they start looking modern. They even have the attitude.

Here’s Clementina on her own giving off an air of twentieth century ennui in front of some curious wallpaper.

Lady Hawarden posed her daughters in a variety of fanciful or melodramatic situations.

Isabella and Clementina playing out some psychodrama as if they were in a narrative painting.

Clementina channelling high emotion in a study of light and shade.

Clementina dressed as a man with Isabella in period costume.

Below, two pictures of Clementina in an elaborate dress playing another tragic heroine, first with a veil (a deserted bride?)

And back in that corner by the window, one of her mother’s favourite locations.

Have I made my case? In quiet sparsely furnished rooms young women solemnly pose, looking slightly overwhelmed by their extravagant clothes. The outside world is dim and distant. They’re in a kind of dream. It’s tempting to see these pictures in terms of Victorian gothic / sensation novel fantasy and the three sisters as grown up versions of Alice (Lady Clementina knew Lewis Carroll as a photographic colleague). But imagine these same images in colour with a famous fashion brand name underneath published in Vogue or one of those new fashion magazines like Love. Imagine the Cocteau Twins, or Tamaryn or 2:54 playing in the background. You’d pause to appreciate the styling or the set or the model and flick to the next page without thinking you’d seen something from the first days of photography.

Clementina becomes timeless and you see the image of a woman which could have been created any time in the last hundred and fifty years.

On either side of the mirror another world.

Clementina, Lady Hawarden died aged forty two in 1865. It has been suggested her health was badly affected by the chemicals used in photographic processes. Had she lived she might have developed her artistic vision and become one of the greatest photographers of the 19th century.

This week’s photographs come from various sources including the excellent book by Virginia Dodier published by the Victoria and Albert Museum whose collection includes the original Hawarden photographs. The book is out of print now I believe but still available second hand and in good libraries. I avoided reading it again when I decided to write this post in case the author had far more clever things to say than I could manage..

I’ve wanted to write about  Clementina’s photos ever since I first came across them. The Kensington connection is slight – the Hawardens’ house at 5 Princes Gardens was just over the border in the City of Westminster but I believe the houses in the background of the balcony views might be in Kensington. As Lady Hawarden worked on her dreamlike interiors a few miles away James Hedderly was setting up his camera in the street. Two people from different social classes with the same obsession both taking part in the creation of a new art form.

Back to the party: the Duchess of Devonshire’s Costume Ball 1897

After nearly a year of blogging I’ve been looking back at the most popular posts of the last twelve months and at number four was the original post about the Duchess of Devonshire’s Diamond Jubilee costume ball in 1897.  The photographers of the Lafayette Company photographed 200 guests that night as souvenirs for guests and to turn into collectible cards. There are still some remarkable pictures left to see.

Lady Alexandra Acheson strikes a pose in a hunting costume of the Louis XV period, when the French aristocracy also enjoyed dressing up.

Count Omar Hadik as his own ancestor Field Marshall Count Hadik, easily the least embarrassing male costume.

The Countess of Gosford as an 18th century version of Minerva, goddess of wisdom. Check out her owl, which later appeared in the original Clash of the Titans film.

Many of the guests leaned towards the 17th and 18th centuries.

Lady Meysey Thompson as Elizabeth Queen of Bohemia the aunt of Charles II and wife of the Elector Frederick V, who has become a significant figure in esoteric history.

Another of her Stuart relatives:

Lady Katharine Scott as Mary Queen of Scots, with the look of a martyred saint in a religious painting.

None of these costumes are entirely accurate although the look of the eighteenth and seventeenth centuries was probably well known to historians and costumiers at the end of the nineteenth but they had to look attractive too, just like costume designs in films and television.

It was probably easier to work with more obscure characters from history, literature and mythology which gave more scope for artistic license as in this costume:

Lady Alice Montagu as Laure de Sade, an ancestor of the Marquis de Sade, and possibly the Laure who inspired the poet Petrarch in the 14th century. We saw a gentleman portraying Petrarch himself in the previous post.

Another poetic muse who was brought to life at the Ball by two different guests:

The Countess of Mar as Beatrice Portinari the woman who inspired Dante, who has I think the edge over Lady Southampton’s more contemporary version:

Instead of playing a muse Viscountess Milton opted for a creator, Marie Antoinette’s court painter Madame Le Brun.

Other guests chose mythological identities, where the costume designers had free reign:

Lady Gerard, describing herself as the Moon Goddess Astarte. Astarte is a goddess who was worshipped over many years in many different countries in the ancient world under several names. She isn’t exactly a moon goddess but we can let that go.

Lady Lurgan, surprisingly nonthreatening as Alecto, one of the Furies (“the implacable or unceasing anger”).  Megaera (Jealousy) and Tisiphone (Vengeance) appear to have had another party to go to that night. Alecto has also made a film appearance, in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.

Mrs Ronalds as Euterpe the Muse of music – her costume has many clues to her identity.

On the musical front Wagner was still very popular in the 1890s so it is not surprising that there was a Brunhilde (Mrs Leslie):

And a couple of narrow waisted Valkyries (Two sisters, the Mademoiselles de Courcel):

Turning from northern European mythology to British legend and literature, here is a King Arthur out of Tennyson’s Idylls of the King played by Lord Rodney:

And finally a royal character out of Shakespeare:

The ethereal beauty of Mrs J Graham Menzies in the role of Titania, Queen of the Fairies who can now get back to the party with the rest of the guests. Shall we leave them to it?

No wait, one more. The patroness of bloggers and other storytellers everywhere played with some conviction by a lady with no title, Miss Goelet.


More pictures from the costume ball here and here.


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