May 192020

At present I am researching milliner’s shops in the 1780s – an esoteric subject, I appreciate, but one which is fascinating. It is part of my research into the life of an actress who will be featured in my next-book-but-one, on whores, harlots and mistresses who made something of their lives. This particular actress started life as a milliner and I was aware that ‘milliner’ was often a euphemism for ‘whore’.

The term ‘milliner’ extended to far more than making hats and  originally described the range of accessories and fashion items sold by travelling salesmen  from Milan. By 1747 the The London Tradesman could  describe a milliner as a retailer who would ‘furnish everything to the ladies that can contribute to set off their beauty, increase their vanity or render them ridiculous’. They worked alongside others in the fashion industry: the haberdasher supplied the fabrics, the mantua-maker made up the gowns, the stay maker made the stays and the milliner brought everything together and actually made  things fashionable. If you wanted to be a la mode, you went to the milliner. It was the milliner who supplied the sashes and ribbons, the ruffles and other accessories. It was the milliner who dealt in tippits, gloves, muffs – and exotic headwear.

But working in a milliner’s shop was not without its moral dangers: the same article in The London Tradesman stated that ‘the vast resort of young Beaus and rakes to millinery shops exposes young Creatures to many Temptations, and insensibly debauches their Morals before they are capable of Vice’. It went on to warn that ‘Nine out of ten young Creatures that are obligated to serve in these shops are ruined and undone: Take a Survey of all common Women of the Town, who take their Walks between Charing-Cross and Fleet-Ditch and, I am persuaded, more than half of them have been bred milliners, have been debauched in their Houses, and are obliged to throw themselves upon the Town for want of Bread, after they have left them. Whether it is owing to the Milliners, or to the Nature of the business, or to whatever cause is owing, the Facts are clear, and the Misfortunes attending the Apprenticeship so manifest…it ought to be the last shift a young Creature is driven to.’

So I was particularly keen to locate a print I came across a few years ago, published by Carington Bowles in 1782. I found it again on the Lewis Walpole Library site at Yale University and it is entitled ‘A Morning Frolic, or the Milliners Shop’. A differently coloured version can also be found on the British Museum site which describes the scene as follows:

Interior of a milliner’s shop, the counter running across the print, behind it are three milliners, dressed in the fashion of the day with elaborately frilled muslin caps on their high-dressed hair. Two fashionably dressed men are on the near side of the counter, intent on a flirtation. One, wearing riding-dress, sits on the edge of the counter, his legs dangling, while he leans on his elbow and looks over his right shoulder towards a pretty young woman who is sewing, seated in profile to the right. The other visitor (right) lounges against the counter as he hands a “Masquerade Ticket” to a young milliner. The third milliner stands; she is sewing at one of the elaborately frilled muslin head-dresses of the day.
The print shows the arrangement of a shop at this period. The shop-window is partly visible on the left, with wares for sale suspended across it on cords. On the wall is an oval mirror in a carved frame, while on the right shelves fill a recess in the wall and support boxes, inscribed “Feathers, Love Coxcomb, Mode”. An arched-top coffer, such as milliners in street scenes are depicted as carrying, stands open on the counter, a piece of lace hanging from it. On the near side of the counter is a tall circular stool for customers. In the foreground is a Pomeranian dog. 1782

The mezzotint was hand-coloured and is based on a water-colour by the artist Robert Digby. At that stage Carington Bowles was a well-known map-printer who also produced etchings from his shop described as being a ‘Map & Print Warehouse, No.69 in St. Pauls Church Yard, London’. I rather like the idea of the pair of rakish young gentlemen debating what to do with their morning, and deciding to go and chat up the young milliners in the shop round the corner. Armed with a ticket to a masquerade, perhaps at Ranelagh Gardens, they would have thought that they were onto a sure thing – one of the girls was bound to leap at the invitation. And everyone knew  what went on in the dark recesses and quiet alleyways at Ranelagh….

Oct 212018

Image shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

A rather nice  engraving from one of the clan of Dightons who helped illuminate the Georgian era  – this one by Robert Dighton who lived between 1752 and 1814. The version shown is on the Lewis Walpole site  and is also in the British Museum collection where it is described in the following manner:

“The design is partly bisected by a vertical line. The same lady sits (l.) directed to the left, at her dressing-table, wearing only a long chemise or petticoat, and slippers. On the r. she sits, in the same attitude but directed to the right, fully dressed at the same dressing-table. In undress she is almost bald; a wig of naturally-dressed hair is on a stand on the table. She has an over-long neck and skinny arms. On the  table (l.) are her fan, a locket suspended on a ribbon, cosmetic-boxes, and a bottle labelled ‘Wrinkles’.

When dressed her neck is concealed by a lace ruffle on a chemisette, she has long rucked sleeves, in her gloved hand is her fan. She wears a high-waisted gown under which her legs are defined; she wears elaborately embroidered stockings with flat slippers. Her wig seems to be luxuriant natural hair; she wears an ear-ring. On the dressing-table are boxes, a bottle of ‘Lavender’, and tickets inscribed ‘Opera’ and ‘Cards’. She looks young and handsome, the dress (not exaggerated) effectively concealing her weakest points.”

Actually, the Lewis Walpole site attributes the engraving to Robert Dighton Jnr, who lived between 1786 and 1865 but at that time (ie 1800-1810) he was mostly doing illustrations with a military theme and I suspect the whole family made use of the plates, and this one probably emanated from Robert Dighton Senior. Dad led a somewhat chequered career, having been caught pilfering original artworks from the British Museum, but had a good reputation as a caricaturist. He was a fine artist, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and sold prints and artwork from his shop in Spring Gardens, Charing Cross. Maybe he lacked the bile and viciousness of Gillray, but his gentle satire, as here, can still hit the mark. Above all, it reflects the prevalent view amongst men in the 18th century that women were in some way behaving unfairly by using wigs and make-up to disguise their imperfections – leaving men to find that they had hitched themselves to a balding old maid instead of a nubile young bit of stuff. The men of course had no such imperfections…

I am thinking of including Robert Dighton Snr in my next book which profiles Georgians who have had a raw deal from history – men (and it is generally just men) who played an important part in 18th century history but whose reputations have largely disappeared in the mists of time. We all know of Hogarth and Gillray – but there is a whole panoply of other artists who helped society let off steam by enabling the public to mock, ridicule and above all laugh at the foibles of others. One of those was Robert Dighton – and another was the young Richard Newton. Together they provided a great escape mechanism for public displeasure!

Jun 032017

I came across this scene depicting a wedding ceremony in the eighteenth century and it reminded me of the various times Richard Hall mentions weddings – both his own, his friends, and his family. Nowhere does he say anything helpful – like what the bride wore – but he rarely forgot to mention the weather….

I am aware that there was no set idea that the bride must wear white – and for servants there was never any question of having a dress that could only be worn on one occasion.

But it is interesting to see how many of the paintings of weddings of the time do show the bride in an ivory coloured satin concoction. Take the painting  by artist Joseph Highmore used to illustrate to Pamela’s Wedding – one of four scenes  from Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’.

The picture appears courtesy of Tate Britain, and the explanation with it states “On Pamela’s left is her humble but dignified father, who gives her away. In the background, behind the groom, is the housekeeper Mrs Jewkes, now also a reformed character. She grasps a bottle of smelling salts in case she is overwhelmed with emotion.”

Next up, a rather splendid wedding dress from around 1775 and which appears on the V&A site- now that really is a statement dress! Talk about tassels and bows….Pippa Middleton eat your heart out

However popular ivory may have been, some of the single colour dresses were rather special, none more so than this American wedding dress from 1776 which appears on the Metropolitan Museum site.

The last picture I wanted to include is one I have used in various talks ,but for the life of me cannot remember where I first saw it. I like to think it is a fair representation of what Richard Hall would have looked like when he married a wealthy heiress in 1754:

 And to end with, a couple of caricatures from the Lewis Walpole site on the topic of weddings, both entitled “Three weeks after marriage”. The first appeared in 1786 and is by Inigo Barlow:

The second appeared in 1822 and is by J L Marks.  Cynics, the pair of them!

Oct 012016

Today I am delighted to offer a guest  spot to someone who edits a splendid blogsite called Dirty, Sexy History, which you can find here.  It is of course my sort of history – all the bits which get missed out of conventional history books. Jessica Cale is the award-winning author of the historical romance series, The Southwark Saga. Originally from Minnesota, she earned her BA in Medieval History and MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Wales while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She is an RWA member and this is what she has to say about stays: 

Woman's corset, figured silk, 1730-1740. Described as being "Silk plain-weave with supplementary weft float patterning stiffened with baleen" it appears courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Woman’s corset, figured silk, 1730-1740. Described as being “Silk plain-weave with supplementary weft float patterning stiffened with baleen” it appears courtesy of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Corsets were popularized as an undergarment in the early sixteenth century by Catherine de Medici, who considered them an essential part of a lady’s wardrobe. Within fifty years, they were worn by women from most socio-economic backgrounds all across Europe. While the term “corset” has been used to describe laced bodices since the fourteenth century, in England, the foundation garment worn for support was more commonly known as “stays” (as in “a pair of stays”) until the nineteenth century.

In the eighteenth century, there were two main types of stays: the heavily structured, formal variety and the more flexible half-boned stays (“jumps”) more common for daily use that could be put on without assistance more easily. Stays could be made from most fabrics, as the structure of the garment came from its boning as well as its busk, a long piece of rigid material that fit down the centre of the garment to provide a kind of backbone down the front. Busks could be made of wood, ivory, metal, or whalebone, were removable, and often ornamental.

Stays in the eighteenth century were fairly conical and used to shape the breasts and waist, support the back, and to improve posture. They were worn over undergarments to protect it from sweat, but under gowns or bodices as a foundation garment. They did not keep women from breathing, but could restrict movement by preventing women from bending at the waist. Although they were an essential item for any well-dressed woman, women of all classes relied on them for support. Some of the jumps were even washable, and would have been very helpful for keeping women in their few dresses during and between pregnancies.

Although we think of stays as a feminine garment, some eighteenth century men were known to wear them as well. George IV wore them constantly, beginning when he was an infant to encourage good posture, and through adulthood to create a streamlined silhouette. Fashionable men in London were so dependent upon corsets that by 1747, Richard Campbell wrote in The London Tradesman that out of their clothes, the men appeared to be “quite a different Species (like) Punch, deprived of his moving Wires, and hung up upon a Peg.”

In William Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty (1753), he presents the theory of the “Line of Beauty,” a way to classify beauty based on the movement of the eye. This line is basically an S-shape and can be applied to everything from candlesticks to the curve of a woman’s waist. Stays were vital to maintaining this precise curve to achieve to the eighteenth century ideal.


Whether we’re conscious of it or not, Hogarth’s theory holds up: to his eyes, figure 4 was the ideal shape. This curve is still desirable today, although most women no longer wear stays to achieve it. Nevertheless, they are still an essential part to any costume drama and there are numerous websites dedicated to their history and construction.

If you would like to have a go at making your own, visit this site here.

For a comprehensive look at stays through American history, check out 18th Century Stays


Ewing, Elizabeth. Dress and Undress: A History of Women’s Underwear.

Hogarth, William. Analysis of Beauty. (which you can read online here)

Worsley, Lucy. If Walls Could Talk.



Thanks Jessica! You can find out more about her and her fascinating book on her Amazon page – and do pay a visit to her ‘Dirty Sexy History’ site! Also worth a mention: there is a special promotion on her first novel “Tyburn” which can be obtained free as a Kindle book between 1st and 20th October (details here).

Meanwhile, to end with, a few caricatures from the site run by those lovely people at the Lewis Walpole Library at Yale:

"Tight Lacing" published by William Holland circa 1782

“Tight Lacing” published by William Holland circa 1782



"The stays designed by an Amateur" by James Gillray, 1810, showing the corseted lady inserting the busk down her front.

“The stays designed by an Amateur” by James Gillray, 1810, showing the corseted lady inserting the busk down her front.


A Dandy Cock in Stays, by Robert Cruikshank and dating from 1818

A Dandy Cock in Stays, by Robert Cruikshank and dating from 1818

and finally, still from Lewis Walpole Library, this one of the dandy with his shape distorted by stays, padding and so on:

"Laceing a dandy" published by Thomas Tegg in 1819

“Laceing a dandy” published by Thomas Tegg in 1819

Aug 192016

I have always loved this print by James Gillray showing a fashionably dressed couple trying to cross a London street while avoiding the puddles. It appeared in 1782 and shows Her Ladyship with her hair fashionably plaited and hidden under an enormous hat. She is lifting up her skirt to reveal  her delicate  pair of pins – no doubt because dragging the skirt along the ground would mean that it would immediately act like blotting paper. She has enough ruffles and bows on that outfit to curtain a whole suite of hotel rooms….

Crossing a Dirty Street: 18th centuryThe man is wearing a tricorn hat over his powdered wig, with its be-ribboned queue hanging down at the back. He looks immaculate in his long jacket, showing a shapely pair of  calf muscles encased in white silk stockings, and with his hand elegantly held out to provide support for the Lady.

It is shown courtesy of the Museum of London site, and is entitled ‘Crossing a Dirty Street.’ It is beautifully observed, and just shows that Master James Gillray wasn’t always being cruel….even if this is a bit of an exception!


Aug 102016
Mary Edwards by William Hogarth, Frick Collection.

Mary Edwards by William Hogarth, Frick Collection.

In 1742 William Hogarth was commissioned to paint  a satirical piece about fashion for a slightly eccentric and forceful lady called Mary Edwards. She got a mention in a guest blog about Hogarth which Michael Dean did for me a couple of years ago, which you can find here. She had been born in 1704 and lived in Kensington. An  extremely wealthy woman, she had suffered at the hands of people who had ridiculed her for her lack of fashion sense – so for her, this was pay-back time.

Miss Edwards had reputedly inherited  a vast fortune from her father when she was 24. He was Francis Edwards, a wealthy merchant who lived in the Leicestershire village of Welham. It was said that she enjoyed an annual income of between £50,000 – £100,000, so it was little wonder that she was a magnet for fortune hunters of the day. One was a young Scottish nobleman called Lord Anne Hamilton (named, apparently, after his godmother Queen Anne). He was handsome, profligate, and at 22 was five years younger than Mary. No doubt she thought that he looked rather gorgeous in his uniform as an ensign in the Coldstream Guards. He was however an utterly unsuitable person for the wealthy heiress to fall for. In 1731 they allegedly went through a ceremony of marriage in the Fleet and the following year she gave birth to a son, Gerard Anne. The marriage was a disaster and when he showed rather more interest in spending her money than in attending to her needs, she decided to discard Lord Anne.

Lord Anne Hamilton

Lord Anne Hamilton

This was easier said than done, but she showed a resourcefulness which was rather remarkable. She  was determined to save her fortune for herself and her son, so she apparently bribed the Fleet chaplains to destroy all records of the marriage. She then placed a notice in the register of her local church of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington stating that she was a single woman. No matter that this made her son appear illegitimate – it was a price she was prepared to pay to offload the unwanted husband. I almost feel sorry for his avaricious Lordship.

I had nearly considered including him in the list of rakes and roués in my forthcoming book “In bed with the Georgians, Sex Scandal and Satire.” *               But somehow he was as much  to be pitied as loathed, so I left him out. There are, after all, others with no redeeming features whatsoever! Lord Anne was completely out-manoeuvred, because he simply had no evidence to show that they ever married. On May 22nd 1734 he accepted defeat and signed a deed returning all Miss Edwards’ property to her and relinquishing all further claims on her. So, she had regained her property empire, her stocks and shares and all her wealth, and when she died on August 23rd 1743, aged only thirty-eight years old,  she left her entire fortune to her son. I will refrain from suggesting that while he may have appeared to have been illegitimate, at least he was a  wealthy bastard…

Lord Anne went on to marry “properly” in 1742, sired a couple of sons and died in France in 1748 at the age of 39.

Mary was a frequent patroness of William Hogarth, and was  arguably the most important supporter that he had in the decade between  1733 and 1743. There is a report that she  purchased Hogarth’s painting of Southwark Fair, and as well as buying his paintings she and those in her social circle commissioned family portraits. Hogarth had  painted a conventional portrait of Mary in 1742, shown at the top of this blog,  in a rather splendid red dress and sporting some suitably opulent jewellery, and shown courtesy of the Frick Collection. It is an undeniably affectionate portrait, reflecting the close friendship between sitter and artist.

Then there  is this picture by Hogarth showing the Edwards family before the split. A detailed analysis of the picture, and the various constituent elements in it, appears in an article by Maisoon Rehani, Picture Researcher at the Paul Mellon Centre, here. I rather like the suggestion that the dog is actually baring its teeth at Lord Anne, while the small boy is washing a toy soldier – cleansing himself of his father’s military connections. Mary Edwards is reading the Spectator while resting her elbow on a pile of books, identifiable by their titles as being suitably educational for the young boy.

The Edwards-Hamilton Family on their Terrace in Kensington

The Edwards-Hamilton Family on their Terrace in Kensington

Hogarth had earlier come  up with this image of the young Gerard Anne in his cradle. It belongs to the National Trust and is on display at Upton House in Warwickshire. I can’t say I am a great lover of paintings featuring small babies, but there you go….

(c) National Trust, Upton House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mary’s son Gerard Anne (c) National Trust, Upton House

And so it was that in 1742 Mary Edwards commissioned this satirical painting, entitled Taste in High Life,  for the sum of sixty guineas. The version shown below is an engraving made  by Samuel Phillips in 1798, under commission from John Boydell for a posthumous edition of Hogarth’s works, but was not published until 1808.

Taste_high_lifeThe High Life shows two women wearing large hooped dresses, the one on the left with a huge uplift at the rear. The lady in the centre is almost certainly a parody of Mary Edwards herself, sporting patches/beauty spots, while her enormous muslin dress is decorated with overblown roses. She and her male friend are enthusiastically examining a tiny porcelain tea cup, while the man holds the saucer to go with it. The man is thought to be “Beau” Collyer, 2nd Earl of Portmore, a somewhat foppish example of manhood. He sports a ludicrously long queue in his hair, carries  a big muff and a tricorne hat under his arm, and his sword is tied up in his clothing, making his jacket flare like a skirt. In the foreground a monkey is dressed to the nines and is shown as a servant, using a lorgnette to read a list of items recently bought at auction. The lady on the left tickles the chin of a young be-turbaned black servant – reputedly based on Ignatius Sancho. His coat tails are so ludicrously long that there is no way he could stand and walk without tripping over… He may be a slave, but the ladies are also slaves – to fashion.

We can take this as a highly fashionable household of the day, one where the occupants are ridiculed for spending all their time and money on acquiring uselessly impractical ornaments while disporting themselves in clothing which not only looked absurd, but which precluded  free movement.

The impracticality of the  fashions is reflected in the image on the fire-screen which shows a lady trapped in her sedan chair, unable to manoeuvre out of the conveyance. Three of the pictures hanging on the wall are fashion plates, while the main picture emphasises the passing nature of fashion, with a cupid using bellows to burn a bonfire of wigs and hoops. The same picture also features a cut-away view of a lady wearing a hooped dress, in the style of a classical sculpture of a female standing on a plinth.

Beau" Colyear, 2nd Earl of Portmore

Beau” Colyear, 2nd Earl of Portmore

“Beau” Collyer was  famous for his immaculate dress. Born in 1700 he became MP for Wycombe in 1726 and represented  Andover between 1727 and 1730, when he succeeded to the Portmore earldom. Sir Joshua Reynolds did this portrait of him on the right when he was 58. He was particularly successful as a horse breeder, and was also a founding Governor of the Foundling Hospital, dedicated to promoting the welfare of abandoned children.

Hogarth never really liked the High Life and refused to allow any engravings to be made, so the one shown here was executed after the copyright had expired.  And just by way of contrast, let us end (on a bum note….) with a parody of how fashions changed – with a print made circa 1794. As it says, the left-hand image, taken from the picture hanging in the background in Hogarth’s High Life, shows “The Mode” in 1742 as a contrast to  “The Ton” of 1794. Together they are entitled “A section of The Petticoat –  or the Venus of ’42 and ’94”. Note that just as the hoop-skirt has been replaced with high-waisted narrow skirt, so the high-heeled shoes of 1742 have given way to the flat shoes of 1794.


*For anyone interested in my book, it comes out in the autumn and is available on pre-release via Pen & Sword here.


Jul 302016


Eye brooch with diamond tera drop, shown courtesy of the V&A

Eye brooch with diamond tear drop, shown courtesy of the V&A


Eyes on an ivory patch box, 1790's.

Eyes on an ivory patch box, 1790’s.








7  1800



It  may not be to everyone’s taste, but it became the fashion after the 1790’s to commission a miniature painting of one of your lover’s eyes, usually on ivory, but sometimes on parchment, so that it could then be mounted as a pendant or locket and hidden from view – for instance behind a lapel. It was a way of declaring love, but keeping the recipient of that love totally anonymous.

Allegedly it originated with the Prince of Wales, when he fell for the charms of Maria Fitzherbert in 1784. There was no way he could admit his affection for the lady, who was after all twice married – and a Roman Catholic. Aware that their union would never be permitted Maria had fled to the continent, hoping that the Prince’s ardour would diminish. It didn’t – and as a declaration of his love he allegedly sent her a brooch containing an image of his princely eye. She reciprocated.

The Royal Marriages Act expressly forbade any union between the royal lovers by declaring that any marriage ceremony would be invalid unless it was made with the consent of the King.. It didn’t stop the pair going through a wedding ceremony on December 15, 1785 and it is interesting to conjecture that the Prince wore the ‘lovers eye’ on his jacket even when denying point blank to this father George III that such a ceremony had taken place.

5 eye painting on ivory 1790

10 eye ring





16                     15

From being a symbol of secret or forbidden love it went on to become a more general way of carrying a memento of a loved one and often the picture of the eye would be mounted  within a gold frame which also had a compartment holding a lock of hair. In time many became remembrances of a deceased lover, and in that case the eye was usually framed in pearls (signifying tears… typical  of those mawkish Victorians….).

Eye  pendant from the 1830's.

Eye pendant from the 1830’s, with clouds below…

Mostly the eye in question was of a lady – a few exist of male eyes with bushy eyebrows and the occasional hint of side-burns, but more usually the eye belonged to a woman and was painted to be kept by a man. Rarely is it possible to identify the sitter – that was, after all, the whole point of it. Indeed the eye was sometimes surrounded by clouds as a way of disguising other facial features (such as the bridge of the nose).6

Some of them are fascinating pieces of jewellery, and the portraits were set into brooches, rings, lockets, pendants, small boxes, toothpick cases, and other small items. They mostly date from the  period 1790 to 1850 and perhaps as few as a thousand are known to exist. There are however many fakes, reflecting their high value and collectability. One of the largest collections belongs to Dr and Mrs  Skier, from Birmingham Alabama, and for anyone wanting more information it may be worth referring to the definitive book based on their collection entitled “The Look of Love – eye miniatures from the Skier Collection”, published by D Giles Ltd in 2012 and available on Amazon here.

12  book

Oct 262015

6I have just returned to Spain after a fascinating couple of days in York, courtesy of Fairfax House (more of whom in the next day or so). Fairfax House had organized a very successful symposium (a fancy word for a conference….) spread over two days, looking at “the retail realm”.

I hope that my talk managed to be something of a counter-balance to the rather more academic approach of some of the other speakers. I confess that I found that the “gender agenda” got in the way of some of the papers: why not simply accept that 18th century society was extraordinarily unfair and unequal, and that women rarely had the chance to do anything apart from act as breeding stock? Yes, it was an appalling, obscene, waste of talent but it happened, and no amount of research into what women might have been thinking “behind closed doors”, or in literature, can alter the injustice. Indeed the harder some of the papers seemed to emphasize female involvement and importance, the more they seemed to show the exact opposite. It merely reinforced my view that I don’t think that I would enjoy going back to  university to do a course on History in the Eighteenth Century. If one or two of the speakers, who came from both sides of the Atlantic, are anything to go by, I would rather take up wearing a hair shirt by way of penance for being male, or else practice trepanning on myself as a DIY hobby.

So I am not entirely sure what some of the residents of la-la land made of my paper, which looked at the shopping experience from the point of view of the shopkeeper. Some of my ancestor’s customers were women, some were not, but what interested Richard Hall was not their gender, but whether they paid him in good, hard, currency. He worried about clipped coinage, about customers defaulting on their debts, about shop-lifting and damaged stock. He agonized over the risk of fire, worried about whether his customers were small-pox carriers, and dreaded periods of royal mourning because it meant that his brightly coloured fabrics strayed on the roll while he had to endure eight, sometimes twelve, weeks of selling nothing but black satin and black lace. Richard was simply a product of his time, and branding him as a misogynist or a bigot surely misses the point: this was his world. He accepted it, because he knew no other, and while feminists can argue that he kept each of his two wives in the background, as second class citizens, that is not the way he saw it. Nor, I suspect, is it how his wives saw it…

A Milliner's Shop, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

A Milliner’s Shop, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Certain aspects of the conference were fascinating, not least the evolution of the shop as a physical structure: from market stall to dedicated shop. It was interesting to see how glass changed the display concept; how bow-fronts to the shops developed, how trade descriptions evolved, and how trade cards and bill-heads helped differentiate one supplier from another. There was a  splendid contribution from Vanessa Brett on the Deards family toy-shops in Bath, London and elsewhere, and fascinating accounts from others about tea-smuggling from Gothenburg, about Josiah Wedgwood’s skills  as a salesman, and about how foreigners marvelled at our shops and our shopping habits. I certainly learned a lot, met some lovely people, and thoroughly enjoyed presenting a  paper to people who knew an awful lot more than I do about certain aspects of life two centuries ago. They received me kindly, and for that I am grateful. It was good to be able to produce the diaries and journals of Richard Hall to people who could appreciate and understand them.

The Bum Shop, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

The Bum Shop, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

The Virgin Shape Warehouse, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

The Virgin Shape Warehouse, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Diatribe over: what of the shops themselves? Here are a few images to remind you of the eighteenth century shopping experience, both exaggerated and real. I have used the Bumshop and the Virgin Shape Warehouse images before, but they are interesting simply as confirmation that shop assistants (usually male) would be scurrying around, obsequiously reassuring  customers and tempting them to buy. There were mirrors, there were trade counters, and there were facilities for trying on (though not, of course, in full view of other shoppers!).

The image  at the start of this piece is a Rowlandson, showing a gentleman sampling snuff in a tobacconists. Again, it is interesting for its array of storage jars and containers, separated from the customer by the long wooden counter. I had not appreciated that so many Georgian shops were simply ‘carved out’ of residential buildings, meaning that their frontage was often only one half of the building, but stretching back to at least two rooms deep. It meant that for many shoppers, they would enter a room 7 to 10 feet wide, separated in its entire length by a long counter, so that the shoppers would enter in single file on one side, looking across the counter at the goods which would then be presented to them for inspection by the shopkeeper. The Wedgwood-inspired idea of shops where customers could wander round inspecting the goods must have been revolutionary, to say nothing of supplying goods on approval, free delivery, BOGOF and money-back guarantees. Poor Richard must have despaired at such extravagance! Until 1768, shopping was far less of a window-shopping experience, although I rather liked the description by Newcastle University’s  Professor Helen Berry of  ‘women who ramble’ going by the cant name of “silkworms”.

4To end with, a couple of the images I used in my talk, showing the interior of a haberdasher’s shop.  This one, dating from 1810 (shortly after Richard died, and therefore highly likely to be representative of his shop at One London Bridge) shows the counter, the innumerable drawers for bits and bobs, the shelves for material, and the  lace and ribbons hanging across the window.


5The other shows a young lady apprehended as she tries to leave a haberdasher’s shop when she is stopped because she has been hiding lace and ribbons up under her skirt. The constable is called, and stands at the doorway, as an eager young lad ferrets around to see what else she has pilfered…

I have also added two of Richard’s actual display cards. You can just imagine them sitting discreetly on a pile of velvet and of cotton wadding, ready to catch the eye of the eager shopper…


7  8

Aug 162015

A few caricatures on the subject of going to the opera in Georgian England – as usual, courtesy of those lovely people at the Lewis Walpole Library site, here. The first one appeared on New Year’s Day 1781 and was published by James  Wicksteed – a rather nice comment on the fashion for wearing muffs, and for enormous hair-pieces topped with  little mob-caps:1Mrs Bruin is shown using her opera glass to look across at someone else in the auditorium – surely one of the most important points about going to the opera, i.e. to see what everyone else of fashion was wearing.

Next up, a couple of Gillray’s, the first from 1791 showing Lady Henrietta Cecilia Johnston. She featured in at least half a dozen of his caricatures, this one entitled “At the Opera.”

2The next, from 1795, is called “Characters in high life : sketch’d at the new rooms, Opera House” and apparently features the Duchess of Rutland, and her sister Lady  Manners.  I bet one of those two ladies was none too pleased at that portrayal! But it does show the ridiculous lengths feathered hats had gone to by the last decade of the century – imagine sitting behind that pair having your nose tickled by ostrich feathers throughout the performance!5An aquatint from 1792 by S W Fores apparently duplicated an image from ten years earlier (so presumably the fashions are from the ’80s rather than the 90’s), and also demonstrates the absurdity of high  fashion, especially for the more mature, larger, lady! Here we see a pair, trussed and be-ribboned, under the title of  “A side box at the opera.” It is a wonder that the Georgians left us with any ostriches roaming the wilds of Africa at all….


Fast forward to 1829 and we see another example of fashion idiocy – enormous hats making the wearer either invisible or looking like a midget. It is entitled “Hat-boxes” and was by William Heath.

6It all goes to show – the first and last pictures are half a century apart, but they both show the same thing – ladies loved to get dressed to go to the opera – to see and be seen!

Post script: the more I see of caricatures the more I become a fan of Thomas Rowlandson, so here are two of his – the first showing the rake George Hanger chatting up a pair of ladies in the theatre lobby (shown courtesy of the British Museum) and the second showing the audience during a performance. In neither case is the watching of the play especially important – it was a social event which for many of the people attending was primarily aimed at flirting, and lining up the entertainment for later in the evening. It must have been quite difficult for the actors having to contend with an audience who were drinking, playing cards, chatting with others around them, and such like. On the other hand, at least they didn’t have to contend with mobile phones going off… lobby loungers

1024px-Thomas_Rowlandson_-_An_Audience_Watching_a_Play_at_Drury_Lane_Theatre_-_Google_Art_ProjectO.K., one more – “Symptoms of lewdness, or, A peep into the boxes” by Isaac Cruikshank. It appeared in 1794, is shown on the Lewis Walpole site, and features the ample charms of Maria Anne Fitzherbert and Albinia Hobart, Countess of Buckinghamshire. And yes, it is one of the images I will be using in “Sex Scandal and Satire – in bed with the Georgians.” My apologies if it appears sexist – if I had found one of half-dressed men I would have shown that as well….

I have included it because it demonstrates that the obsession of the Press with “wardrobe malfunctions”, nipples and high fashion is nothing new. The Eighteenth Century is so very like our own in certain respects!

BBB Maria Fitzherbert & Albinia C of Bucks lwlpr08317



Jul 062015

It is always interesting to see how people viewed fashions of the day – and contrasted them with fashions of a bygone age. This is a print from the Metropolitan Museum site.

a bombazeenIt is stated to be  ‘after the style of George M Woodward’ and appeared in 1808 and shows on the left a demurely dressed lady clad in black bombazeen – a sort of heavy corded material which most certainly did not reveal “what lay beneath.”  The  lady carries a closed fan and is described as showing the Lady’s Full Dress of Bombazeen for the year 1740.

The flimsily dressed floozy on the right wears a diaphanous number, through which her stocking tops are clearly visible. Her posterior is there for all the world to see, and across her front the dress does little to hide the charms of her embonpoint….  On her head she wears a fashionable poke bonnet, and she carries a parasol. She is representing the 1808 Lady’s Undress of bum-be-seen.

By way of amplification of the joke I came across this piece of doggerel in a book called ‘The flowers of literature, or, Encyclopædia of anecdote’ :


As Jack, above a drapers shop,

Saw written “Bombazeen”

“Here Bet,” says he, “I pray thee stop

And tell what that may mean.”


“It means fair lady’s dress” she cried,

“Who now go naked nearly,

For ‘tis so thin and drawn aside,

‘Tis bum-be-seen most clearly.”


“That’s true dear Bet, it is no less”

(Said Jack the simple hearted)

And bum-be-seen’s the mourning dress

For modesty – departed.”


Not the finest sonnet I have ever encountered, but I thought it amplified the caricature rather nicely. I have no idea which came first…..