On a beautiful day at the end of March we found ourselves in the Assembly Halls in Bath at the Fashion Museum. I'd asked to see items with gold and silver/metalic trim and any pieces they had from the Regency that might have known prevenance and associated stories. Our expert guide had done me proud with pieces laid out for our pre-arranged private viewing from their store, that ranged from stunning intriguing, with a celebrity connection and an associated story of the beginning of the battle of Waterloo.
The first piece we looked at was this ultramarine blue dress, listed in the museum's archives in the following terms:
"Production date 1808 (earliest date)
Dress worn with a belt. Long sleeves, shortish dress, ruched sleeves up, skirt underneath. Metal wire, nearly military with blue metal work. Curved neckline, extra panel either side to the front.
Material silk, Metal technique. Woven (crape). Embroidery. Silk with metallic thread".
All garments photographed by Stephanie Smart accredited to: Fashion Museum Bath
As I have found repeatedly to be the case with Regency garments fully appreciating the minute detailing on this dress required some sort of maginifying device.
The tripartite scalloped edging, the use of metallic purl work and the large (almost compartively crassly large) orange stitches of, perhaps a type of wool, seemed to me to combine richness, uniqueness and reality.
The ribbon dividing the top and skirt at this typical Empire waist line would it seems have been covered over by this rather oridinary belt in a satin fabric of a matching colour. It's frayed at the end however so it's hard to tell if there would have been an attachment or buckle of some sort.
It's always fascinating to be able to look beneath and inside. With gloves on we were allowed to carefully turn over edges and peer inside the shape of the gown so as to understand its construction.
Formed from one panel down the back, two at the sides and a single piece down the front it would have been held together with slim ribbon ties and climbed into or perhaps slipped over ones head much as any dress todoay might be (just minus the zip!)
A draw string inside and behind the top edge explained how they prevented the weight of the goldn trim pulling the dress forward away from the skin.
Lined only where the underside might be seen as the lady inside moved her arms or hands the sleeves flair a little and are heavily decorated.
As I try to work out how to make gold braid and trim using thread and possibly paper it was very interesting to see the way plaiting and twisting, frayed edges and textured chords were used to such stunning effect.
The second piece we viewed took us from a copper gold coloured trim on bright blue fabric to an understated cream gown which was all about its silver decoration. Listed as follows:
"Production date 1813 – 17. A cream dress with silver metal, thin ribbon light strips. There has probably been a train. A waistband of silver braid on white satin has probably belonged. Court dress.
Object number: BATMC 1.09.1401
Material silk, metal technique: Woven net, woven plain weave, embroidery, applique. Applied beads, applied braid, applied sequins".
This dress was the first I'd seen with applied, flat, metal strips bent and sewn into the fabric.
The netting on the puffed shoulders, slashed and gathered in places, was threaded through rings of twisted silver wire work of a sort that today we'd be glad to wear as jewellery, on our fingers.
Pearls at the neckline and the colour change, silver complmented by strips of darker net, struck a note of elegant contrast.
Inside, where they would not be seen, someone has used tacking stitches to hold a stronger net lining in place behind the most intricate area of sewn metal detailing. I understand this idea well, having to strengthen the paper I'm using on occasion with layers collaged beneath the viewed surface of a finished garment.
This images shows in detail the stunning effect of pushing slim, beaten and imprinted, strips of metal through wire mesh with holes of various sizes. I can't find any information about this particular technique but it's interesting to read the following extract on the details of a different dress written about by A Lady of Distinction, Mirror of Graces, 1811, p 129: "Ornaments and trimmings of silver are to be preferred before gold when intended for the fair beauty. The white lustre of the first of these costly metals harmonizes better with delicacy of skin than the glaring effulgence of the gold. By a parity of reasoning, gold agrees best with the brunette, as its yellow and flaming hue lights up the fire of her eyes, and throws her complexion in the brightest contrast."
Listed seperately as:
"A Bodice, part of a dress.
Production date: 1814 (earliest date)
Material silk, Metal Technique. Embroidery. Applied sequins, woven net, Description silk, net, spangles". And:
"A skirt as part of a dress
Production date 1814
Material Silk Metal Technique embroidery. Applied sequins, woven net, description silk, net, spangles".
This outfit in contrast to the last would surely have been meant for a brunette, or perhaps for a lady with a darker complexion, according to the comment on gold and silver written by that lady of distinction.
Now too delicate to be taken from it's box we viewed it thus folded in tissue, only it's bottom edge fully visible and quite unimainably beautifl.
I was surprised to see the way thick orange wool was used to create an area of padding over which the gold work could be applied. Now showing through in places it seemed to be the same wool I'd seen stitched on the blue dress we looked at first.
Next we moved on to the pieces that came with provenace; and to two dresses known to have been owned by two sisters, the Misses Percieval, which they wore to the Duchess of Richmond's Ball, in Brussels, on the eve of the battle of Waterloo. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duchess_of_Richmond%27s_ball
They are the same except for the fact that each is a different shade of brown, at Bath Fashion museum they are both listed as:
Production date: 1815.
Object numbers: BATMC 1.09.1246 and BATMC 1.09.1246
On https://ageofrevolution.org/200-object/brown-silk-dress/ they can be found described thus:
"These elegant dresses were worn at a ball hosted by the Duchess of Richmond, which was held in Brussels on the 15th June 1815, three days before the Battle of Waterloo. Almost every senior officer of the Anglo-Allied army that had assembled in Belgium attended the Ball, from the Duke of Wellington down. The party was interrupted by the news that the French Army was approaching, forcing half the guests to abandon the ball.
In the summer of 1815, Brussels was packed with members of British high society. Many wives had accompanied their officer husbands to the Netherlands, and others were enjoying the continental travel that had been impossible during the last 20 years of war. The Duchess of Richmond, whose husband the Duke was the general in command of the British reserves, decided to hold a ball for the assembled company. It would be a night of dancing, music, drinking and eating, honouring the Allied commanders.
The British, German, and Dutch officers who attended did not realise just how close Napoleon’s army was to the city of Brussels. The Duke of Wellington was sitting at supper when word arrived of the French advance to Quatre Bras, just 79km south of the city. A Captain Bowles describes Wellington leaving the table:
“[He] whispered to ask the Duke of Richmond if he had a good map. The Duke of Richmond said he had, and took Wellington into his dressing-room. Wellington shut the door and said, “Napoleon has humbugged me, by God; he has gained twenty-four hours’ march on me. … I have ordered the army to concentrate at Quatre Bras; but we shall not stop him there, and if so I must fight him there” (passing his thumb-nail over the position of Waterloo). The conversation was repeated to me by the Duke of Richmond two minutes after it occurred.”
Many of the guests left over the next few hours to join their regiments, giving an emotional – and for some, final – farewell to their friends, sweethearts and dancing partners. The Dowager Lady de Ros said: “While some of the officers hurried away, others remained at the ball, and actually had not time to change their clothes, but fought in evening costume.” This tragic and romantic scene, on the eve of the battles of Quatre Bras (16th June) & Waterloo (18th June) captured the imagination of generations.
These dresses were reputedly worn to the ball by the two sisters of an Hon. Mr. Perceval, whose name appears on the invitation list. These brown silk dresses are certainly appropriate to the style of 1815, although they are more typical of day wear rather than that of a formal evening event. Perhaps the Misses Perceval hadn’t anticipated a ball when packing."
Combining elegance and apparent simplicty with luxury and celebrity the next piece we viewed was perhaps the most intriguing as it was worn by Arabella Millbanke for her wedding to Lord Byron. The ensemble consists of a silk pelisse and two cotton dresses and has hanging from it two of the most beautiful tassles I've ever seen on an outfit.
A pelisse worn at the wedding. Production date 1815
Material silk, Technique woven, description silk. BATMC 1.09.1402 a Wedding Dress.
Material cotton, Technique embroidery, description cotton
BATMC 1.09.1404 B
A Tassle, part of a wedding ensemble
Material silk, Technique Passementrie, description silk.
Listed in the following way this last dress can be seen to be everything that the Regency does best, cream work on cream fabric the design is understated and the effect simply beautiful.
It is listed as follows:
"Production date 1806-1810
Technique: woven; embroidery
Description: silk; pearls