The 300 years of shoes collection - research & making - 1795 - The Hummingbird



This piece went through so many incarnations before it became what it was meant to be that I wasn't sure I'd ever get there. Only by releasing all my original expectations for it could I finally make progress.


At first it was going to be a ballet-pump style shoe, fit for a ball from about 1805. I began as always with white paper, looking at my own foot to try and get the angle right.

I had in mind the idea that the shoe would be poised in a dancing position and would be held aloft by a hummingbird. I wanted to capture the idea of feeling as light as air, while dancing at a glorious Regency ball. With the ongoing theme of 'Glittering Wings' that I'm applying to each of the shoes in the 300 Years of Shoes collection I could really have looked at integrating any flying bird but for me the hovering, nectar drinking, hummingbird seemed surely most perfect, to hold the heal of this shoe in the air.




Kerry Crofton, part of my volunteer team at The Regency Town House since Dec. 2018, helped me make a hummingbird body shape from papier mache and for a long time this was what I was set to use as the form for the bird. Believing I would then apply folded and stitched paper detailing. I then free machine embroidered a downy body covering but somehow ended up with a rather chubby bird.



Cutting individual feathers to his back, using forms cut with a flower stamp, didn't add much. Nothing was quite working as I'd hoped.


In keeping with the colouring of the ball gown in The Regency Wardrobe collection I allowed myself to choose from red, white or gold as the colouring for my by ballroom shoe. I headed first for red, then changed my mind, thinking that the lightness of white would work better. Changing my flower accordingly I settled on and studied the structure of the Calla lily; its elegant form seeming to mirror the curve I sought form my dancing shoe.



Having decorated the shoe by drawing a bunch onto it I began to try to make a single flower that might sit in the frame with the shoe, the two forms arcing gracefully up and back. Using quilling I began with a flat disk, pushed out its centre and squashed its edges appropriately as I went along.

I found it fascinating, for the first time, to be forming a larger sculpted shape from pure white quilling paper. A form that looked like it could have been 3-d printed. I firmed up its shape with glue. But the form ended up too dense in this context, even with open filigree quilling around its edges, it was wrong for a lily. As a sculptural technique however, it's one I will definitely return to.




By now I could see the toe wasn't quite the right shape for the era and the colouring of the body of the shoe itself (a pale gold), which I liked, wasn't right either, alongside the colours of the Rufous hummingbird, which I was still also rebuilding. I looked at other hummingbirds (there really is a dizzying array of hummingbird species, 360 to be precise, please see: but none were the gold and white combination I believed I needed.


Really there are only so many months that even I can bang my head against a brick wall, trying to see completed a vision which, though I felt very attached to it, from the start, if I'm honest, wasn't fully formed and hadn't appeared quite right, even in my preliminary sketch. 'It will develop and finalise as I start working on it,' I had told myself, and would continue to, as I continued to pick the piece up, then put it down. It sat in parts, in various stages of disrepair, alongside and in the background to my working on nearly all of the large, mannequined pieces in The Regency Wardrobe. Forming every other piece I met with blocks and leapt hurdles, but with each I found my way, moved forward, worked it out.


In the end I had to abandon all my original notions for this piece and start seeing instead what it wanted to be. This meant looking beyond what I had imagined for it.


It was while following up on some research into the area of labels and signatures in eighteenth/early nineteenth century shoes that I looked again at images of a beautiful pointed toe version from 1795 and something clicked into place. I'd taken the photos on my visit to the National Trust fashion collection at Killerton House, while researching Regency clothes and looking at names/labels in shoes had already been giving me many ideas. The labels in this pair were dedicated to the Duchess of Cumberland and though the shoes are a decade earlier than I had meant to represent in this piece everything else felt right.


The toes of this late eighteenth century pair look beak like, the bows look both feathery and floral and the colour combination took me straight back to where I'd begun, linking perfectly to the brilliant orange-red of a Rufous hummingbird breast. The flair of the small Louis heal even seemed to correspond perfectly with the flair of the humming bird's tail. Suddenly therefore I knew exactly where to position the bird; and though standing on tail feather's would be practically impossible, surely the wings of this bird, moving as fast as they do, would keep the wearer aloft. My original hope for the piece was that it would look like the shoe was being held up by a bird, I had just imagined the bird holding it in it's beak and from above, now it would be at the heal.







Here then was the shoe I would shift my attention toward for inspiration.

Combining my impression of it with this one from the V&A collection dated from the same period, with a petal pattern on the brow and a tassel effect gave me all the stimulus I needed.


© Victoria and Albert Museum, London


"Pair of ladies shoes of black and pale yellow satin. Trimmed with a black satin ribbon rosette and a silk tassel at the toe with braid trimming around the top of shoe. Petal cutouts in yellow satin at the toe exposing black beneath. The Louis heel is faced with black leather. The heel quarters are lined with white kid leather and the toes with canvas. There is a canvas inner sole".



'(01) & I.C.'
On two paper labels stuck on instep

British c. 1790



"Shoe styles gradually became simpler during the 1780s, a change that was accelerated by the French Revolution. Conspicuous symbols of wealth, such as the extravagant buckles and high heels of earlier shoes, were no longer appropriate.

Women's shoes were also known as slippers. They had broad flattish heels, long pointed toes and a low U-shaped throat (or perhaps V-shaped). Simple but elegant, they were made from a wide range of beautiful coloured leathers".



So I began again, with both the shoe and the hummingbird, for he also needed to be completely rethought. Rather than heavy and chubby he needed to become light and airy. I turned back to quilling. I quilled his body, added tissue paper to his wings and started cutting away some of the back layer of a large red flower I'd sewn from gold card, covered with orange and then red tissue paper



There had to be a flower on the shoe (to assist in attracting a hummingbird to the piece!)


Previous research I've conducted (please see: into Mary Delany, herself a Georgian figure, an artist creating 2-d paper flowers in the 1700's, in her 70's, came back to me during this work. 



Paper shoe under hummingbird body and tail feathers




Here then is my completed shoe (which won't be able to professionally photographed until after lock down).




Please click on the arrow buttons to see more images









Integrating my research into shoe labels and handwritten names in shoes (please see: resulted in my both: designing my own (hopefully historic looking) label effect, which I will now apply to future shoes in this series, certainly to those from around this time period; in my keeping to the primary name on the label in the red Killerton shoe and therefore looking into the Duchess of Cumberland.


I believe she seems quite ornate enough to have worn my hummingbird shoe!





Anne (nee Luttrell), Duchess of Cumberland and Strathearn by Valentine Green, published by John Brydon, after Thomas Gainsborough, and after Richard Cosway coloured mezzotint, published 1790 NPG D33040

© National Portrait Gallery, London




For more background about the Duchess of Cumberland please see:,_Duchess_of_Cumberland_and_Strathearn

And about her husband the Duke:,_Duke_of_Cumberland_and_Strathearn


The title Duke of Cumberland caused me some confusion at first. Indeed Mary Delany (the paper flower lady of the 1700's, mentions the Duke of Cumberland in correspondence, but an accompanying footnote in the book in which it's published says that the Duke remained unmarried). This was William (26 April 1721 – 31 October 1765) , an earlier Georgian Duke of Cumberland, brother of George II, therefore the uncle of the Prince Regent. 

Please see:


It seems I am not alone in having been at first confused, for more information on the three Georgian Dukes' of Cumberland please see:


Henry (7 November 1745 – 18 September 1790) however was involved in adulterous trouble even before his marriage to Anne. And their union caused a romantic scandal, a scandal that would be linked to Brighton:


"The Duke's marriage to a commoner, the widow Anne Horton (or Houghton) (1743–1808), on 2 October 1771 caused a rift with the King and was the catalyst for the Royal Marriages Act 1772, which forbids any descendant of George II to marry without the monarch's permission. There were no children from this marriage. Anne, though from a noble family – she was a daughter of Simon Luttrell, 1st Earl of Carhampton, and the widow of Christopher Horton of Catton Hall – seems to have been rather loose with her favours, given one wag's comment that she was "the Duke of Grafton's Mrs Houghton, the Duke of Dorset's Mrs Houghton, everyone's Mrs Houghton."

The marriage between Anne Horton and the Duke of Cumberland was described as a “conquest at Brighthelmstone” (now Brighton) by Mrs. Horton, "who", Horace Walpole says, "had for many months been dallying with his passion, till she had fixed him to more serious views than he had intended." Anne was however generally thought one of the great beauties of the age, and Thomas Gainsborough painted her several times."




(for news of the trial of the Duke please see: