Monday, 23 September 2013

Victorian women's fashion and debates on dressmaking

A Cathedral library and archive is not the usual place you'd head to learn about women's fashion. This week in our store room, however, we made a discovery that may be of interest to enthusiasts of women's history and fashion alike. We came across four pages of a December 1st, 1888 edition of The Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper. Presumably, these pages were kept because they had fine engravings of Yorkshire's ruined monastic abbeys. Until now, though, no one seems to have noticed that the periodical contains a magnificent engraving of ladies having "'5 o'clock tea" (see below), and a range of articles on Victorian women's clothing and accessories.

The Lady’s Newspaper was created in 1847 and joined with The Queen, a more popular women’s paper, in 1863. Published weekly, this paper takes the form of a broadsheet, featuring articles thought to be of particular interest to women published in three columns. Pitching itself at the wealthiest ladies of England’s upper echelons, The Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper is packed full of lavish illustrations of contemporary fashions and advertisements.
Photograph, "5 o'clock tea". Reproduced by the permission of the Dean & Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

DIY dressmaking: a heated debate.

The pages of December 1st 1888 edition we found in our store contain a series of intriguing articles that debate whether upper-class women should make their own dresses or employ professionals to do so. The first article on page 725 seems, to the modern reader, overly didactic. Titled “Dress at the leading dressmakers”, the article provides an overview of the best materials, colours and cuts to be styled in, and explains exactly where to go to buy them. Apparently “Woolen garments are well suited to our climate, and to British faces, figures and habits” because “We are an energetic people, taking much outdoor exercise”. Petticoats are described as being “very tempting this season” with Mademoiselle Carroll’s store in New Bond Street stocking “a new kind, with beautiful borders in real lace attached to a spotted centre; a most becoming and really a ladylike appendage to a hat or bonnet”.
The two articles that follow (“New fans of the season” and “New costumes and trimmings”) similarly dazzle the female consumer with an array of choice, emphasizing her purchasing power. “New fans of the season” seems to say that if you are a young woman, you will undoubtedly want a fan as a Christmas present; if you are a more mature lady, then you should buy a fan for a younger relative this Christmas, because they cost on average less than £2 each, making them an excellent gift.   To your blogger it sounds like a nightmarish present my uncle would give me for Christmas, but one of the most desirable fans of the season is described as having:
“cats’ heads of every kind and colour nestled close together over the gauze or fine muslin surface. The effect is extremely quaint, and the heads are about the size of furry toy cats that babies love to fondle”.

Whereas the articles described thus far have encouraged women’s spending, the final article of the third column of page 725 takes an outwardly political stance against women making their own dresses, claiming that this work should be confined to the lower classes. Written by Irene, an occasional correspondent, the article is titled “Home Dressmaking- a caution” and condemns young, middle to upper-class women for making their own dresses, because it supposedly puts working-class seamstresses out of pocket, and even out of work. According to Irene, “the really poor lady may be compelled to make her own clothes, but it is not so with the majority who are taking up this craze”. Irene concludes with a rather loaded statement: “Let them reflect that they are thoughtlessly sacrificing others, driving others to starvation and to perhaps sin in the mere pursuit of personal vanity, whilst at the same time squandering God’s own gifts of time and intellect on one of the least of ennobling tastes”.
The editor responds briefly at the bottom of this article, stating that “manual skill is so valuable at the present time that we cannot agree with our correspondent in wishing to discourage young ladies from making their own dresses”.  Despite this, one can’t help but notice that these seem like empty words. The Lady, The Queen’s Newsletter, as historians of the Victorian era often comment, is jam packed full of advertisements for commercial dressmakers, tailors, chemists, and so forth. Indeed the illustration above demonstrates the publication’s tendency toward lavish and exuberant fashions, and naming the who’s who in the dressmaking industry. When The Lady’s Newsletter amalgamated with The Queen in 1863, it branded itself as addressing the 10,000 of Britain’s upper class women. Despite including articles on women’s education, legislative reform and employment, it was never openly an advocate of any of these issues.

Exemplifying this aloof attitude toward women's politics, the penultimate article on page 725 is on the meeting of the Rational Dress Society in London. The Rational Dress Society was formed in 1881 and was dedicated to reforming the impractical and uncomfortable items of Victorian women's clothing, such as corsets. At the meeting described in this article we hear of how a series of speeches were given by Viscountess Harberton, Mrs Taylor on "the moral side of the question", and Miss Sharman on "the tortures women had gone through at the hands of fashion within the last 30 years".

 Written in the third person, the author of the article comments passively on the proceedings of the meeting of the Rational Dress Society in London, and carefully avoids openly encouraging the development of fashion away from the tightfitting corsets and voluminous skirts to a more practical garb for women. The article ends by stating that “a depot for the sale of hygienic clothing and patterns of rational costumes approved of by the society would shortly be opened in Sloane Street”. Little glitz and glamour surrounds this collection by comparison to the dresses described in the “Dress at the leading dressmakers” article. The reader is not urged to rush to Sloane street, cash-in-hand to buy these new, more comfortable designs.
The penultimate article on the meeting of the Rational Dress society complains of how, in a carriage, a woman could take up as much space as three men due to impractical fashions and also warns of the health issues (“chronic indigestion” and “shortness of breath” that servant girls experience whilst doing manual labour in such tight-fitting clothing. These are said to result from serving girls having foolishly adopted the fashions of the elite. Yet as impractical as the layers of skirts and petticoats are described for the elite ladies’ daily chores of travel, packing, shopping, it ultimately seems to be this very style of dress that the illustration of the “5 o’clock tea party” depicts as the height of fashion and, indeed, encourages readers to emulate when carefully choosing their tea gowns.
To conclude, it is interesting to consider that this edition of The Queen articulates a somewhat outdated view, one at odds with other contemporary publications for women. With paper tax being removed in the mid nineteenth-century there was an unprecedented growth of women's magazines and papers at this time, many of which printed paper patterns for home dressmaking. We might best understand "Home Dressmaking- A caution" as a reactionary article against an already popular women's hobby to which few women probably paid any attention.


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

George Hickes, Dean of Worcester (1683-91)

George Hickes the most famous of the 17th century Deans of Worcester, was born in 1642 at Newsham near Thirsk in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Hickes was the fourth of seven children and the second of three brothers.  He was educated at the grammar school at Northallerton, where he absorbed the conviction of the sacred status of Kings as representatives of God on earth, then studied first at St John’s College, Oxford, and later at Magdalen College.   In 1664 he became a Fellow of Lincoln College, where he served as a tutor for seven years and made the acquaintance of Thomas Marshall, a leading scholar of Anglo-Saxon, who stimulated Hickes’ own interest in the Nordic languages.
Portrait of George Hickes. Photograph by Mr Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral archaeologist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
Hickes was ordained in 1666.  In 1676 he met John Maitland, Duke of Lauderdale, the secretary of state for Scotland, who had considerable influence with Charles II and offered Hickes a chaplaincy.   The Duke took him with him to Scotland and commissioned from him “Ravaillac Redivivus”,  an account of the trial of the covenanter James Mitchell who had attempted to assassinate the Archbishop of St Andrews.  Besides his official duties, which involved reporting to the English court on Scottish ecclesiastical affairs, he continued to pursue his philological interests. 

In 1679 Hickes married Mrs Frances Marshall, a widow, and later that year he was created an Oxford Doctor of Divinity.  In 1680 he was named a Canon of Worcester and was preferred by Archbishop Sancroft to the vicarage of All Hallows Barking,  where he became acquainted with Samuel Pepys, who later accompanying James II on a visit to Worcester presented a couple of volumes to the Cathedral.  In 1681 Hickes gave up his fellowship and became a chaplain to King Charles II, and in 1683 he was promoted to the Deanery of Worcester.  Upon the death of the Bishop of Bristol in 1684 the King was asked to confer that bishopric on Hickes, but Charles is reputed to have said that it was too mean a bishopric for such a man, saying that he could hold the see in commendam with his deanery if he so wished, but Hickes declined the offer.  Had the King lived longer he would no doubt have considered him for a more important bishopric.

Dean George Hickes' portrait pride of place in the Cathedral Library. Photograph by David Morrison, Worcester Cathedral librarian/ archivist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)
In many ways Hickes’ churchmanship proved to be somewhat complex.  His father had been an adherent of Cromwell, while Hickes was always an ardent royalist.  Remarkably his elder brother, John, was a dissenting minister who became involved in the Monmouth rebellion and as a result was tried and executed despite his brother’s efforts to procure him a pardon.  Hickes was himself a strong supporter of the claims of the Church of England to legitimacy and was firmly anti-catholic.  However, after the exile of James II as a result of his loyalty to the Stuarts he became a non-juror, that is he felt unable to swear an oath of loyalty to William and Mary in contradiction of his oath to King James.  Ironically many of the non-jurors had earlier, like Hickes, crossed swords with James in opposition to his Declaration of Indulgence to catholics and non-conformists, but to them it was a matter of conscience.  There were a good many non-jurors in Worcestershire, among whom the best known, after Hickes, was Thomas Morris, a minor canon of the Cathedral, whose burial place in the cloisters is marked by a stone bearing the one word “Miserrimus”, so sad was he to have lost his position.     

George Hickes was deprived of office in February 1690, although he remained in possession for a further year.   Upon reading of the appointment of his successor, William Talbot, he affixed to the entrance of the Quire a statement of his right to the Deanery but withdrew to London and lived in seclusion for many years, moving about the country as an outlaw.  However, in 1699 Lord Somers, the Lord Chancellor, a Worcestershire man, convinced of Hickes’worth, procured an Act in Council ensuring that all legal proceedings against him should be stopped.

Photograph of George Hickes' Literaturae Septentrionalis. Anglo-Saxon script. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).
During these years Hickes continued his philological studies to include Old Icelandic as well as the Old English and Moeso-Gothic languages, culminating in the production of his major work, the Thesaurus Linguarum Veterum Septentrionalium, and was in contact with many English, Danish and Swedish scholars.  He did not however turn his back on the Church but was intent on leading what he considered was the surviving remnant of the true apostolic church.  In 1693 he was sent to France by Archbishop William Sancroft to confer with the exiled James II about a continuation of the Episcopal Succession among those who shared their views.  He had several audiences with James, who readily agreed to all that was proposed.  On his return to England he was secretly consecrated Bishop of Thetford as suffragan to the Archbishop of Canterbury by Sancroft and the Bishops of Norwich, Ely and  Peterborough, all of whom had been deprived of office as non-jurors.  Eventually Hickes became the only surviving non-juring bishop, and he secured the aid of two Scottish Bishops in consecrating three new Bishops,  bur his branch of the Church did not really develop and was eventually absorbed into the regular church body.
Photograph of George Hickes' Literaturae Septentrionalis. Scandinavian runes. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).

Hickes, who died in 1715, was generally regarded as an affable and courteous person.  His importance lies in the combination of religious and theological thought on the one hand with high principled antiquarian scholarship on the other.  There is a fine portrait in oils in the Library of Worcester Cathedral.  

Photograph of George Hickes' Literaturae Septentrionalis. Runic alphabet. Photograph by Mr. Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral Archaeologist. Reproduced by the permission of the Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.).