Every once in a while I come across a *fun* piece of information. This one is not only fun it’s also a step back in time, a moment from the lives of the Smiths of Erle Stoke Park.
The year, circa 1795/6.
As governments still desire to do, the English Parliament needed money. But how to get it, where to get it? Some bright idea occurred to someone: Let’s tax something! Ah, yes… cast your mind back: The Stamp Act; a tax on Tea; how about paying tax based the number of windows in your house, or the number of dogs in your kennel.
In 1795 that brilliant idea served to tax that commodity so many used on a daily basis: Hair Powder.
Unlike someone counting your windows or your dogs, this was based on obtaining a certificate. A tax of One Guinea gave you leisure to powder for the year (in this instance, through to 1 August 1796). Joshua Smith of Erlestoke Park, Wiltshire was a Member of Parliament; what choice did he have but to pay:
William Hiskins, under-butler to J. Smith, 11 April.
Augusta Smith, daughter of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Emma Smith, daughter of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Joshua Smith, housekeeper, 11 April.
Sarah Smith, wife of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Alexander Struthers, footman to Joshua Smith, 11 April.
My favorite portion of the announcement is a section, which reads: “… NO MORE IS TO BE DEMANDED OF ANY PERSON upon taking out a Certificate for using or wearing of Hair Powder, upon any Pretence whatever, except where there are more than two unmarried Daughters in a Family, in which Case a DOUBLE CERTIFICATE stamped with two Stamps, of One Pound One Shilling each, is required to be taken out.”
- On RootsWeb, powder tax payments for Towcester
- Notice of offices open for the attainment of said certificate
- Payment by the Smith household, see DannyHowell.net
- Relevant page from Roy and Lesley Adkins’ book, Jane Austen’s England
- A 2012 article on Sunderland during the powder tax period
- Rob Eyre of the Warwickshire Record Office: guest blog and BBC Radio’s Making History
If you can locate a copy of Beryl Hurley’s booklet “The Hair Powder Tax, Wiltshire” (1997), you can read about the Smiths of Erlestoke yourself! Needless to say, powdering wigs and hair quickly went out of fashion…
In transcribing diaries of Emma’s great aunt (Mrs Smith of Bersted Lodge), I have been dying to track down some of her fashion images. While I’m not quite convinced I’ve stumbled upon the source (I’ve yet to find her exact image), I’ve found some quite evocative images from the magazine The Ladies’ Museum, specifically in their column (with, typically, two fashion plates) “THE MIRROR OF FASHION“.
First up is a rather late entry, from 1831. Some of these gowns I can see Mary and Emma wearing; though, Mary would perhaps never recapture the fashionable figure she cut before Charles’ death (January 1831). And Emma, though interested in fashion to some degree, as the young bride of a clergyman she doesn’t seem to have overspent on herself.
“The Mirror of Fashion” will gain its own page, so be on the lookout for more in the near future.
For now: here is mirror of fashion_1831.
UPDATE: here’s its permanent page.
Thought I’d share this wonderful website, pointing out the clothing information — but mention that visitors should look more fully at ALL the items on offer at Colonial Williamsburg’s history.org website:
This shows the array of items you can investigate: from portraits through materials. I dressed a young lady of the gentry! from stockings to pocket to cap and dress. It was fun – you can find it by clicking on “Dressing the Part“.
Now, you might be thinking “What does colonial-era clothing have to do with Two Teens in the Time of Austen?” Certainly, neither Mary nor Emma would have worn a gown like that above — but Lady Cunliffe certainly would have been familiar with the dress of this young lady. For those who wonder about Lady Cunliffe, Mary’s maternal grandmother, you can read a prior post by clicking on her portrait:
Lady Cunliffe in her portrait of 1761, painted by Joshua Reynolds.
* * *
two book recommendation:
The Dress of the People, John Styles (Yale U Press)
What Clothes Reveal, Linda Baumgarten (Yale U Press)
read my review of Styles’ book at JASNA
read about Styles’ upcoming Williamsburg 2013 Exhibit & Symposium:
Threads of Feeling Unraveled: The London Foundling Hospital’s Textile Tokens
Kleidung um 1800 has a fascinating post on Sabine’s Whiskey-colored spencer.
For all of you who covet a closet of Regency clothing…
For all of you who sew…
For all of you who dream in technicolor when reading Austen novels…
You need to read about — and see — this beautiful piece of work. Blog readers get a real “feel” for this type of clothing, the spencer, which possibly gets more “press” than any other item of Regency-period clothing.
Just discovered this fascinating blog (in German and English):
Its subject matter deals in all things from the time period of my beloved Smiths & Goslings! Recent entries are the birthday of Goethe; and a couple lovely portraits assessed for their clothing and hair styles. Check it out!
While searching online for mentions of “Le Marchant” I found this wonderful “cyber display” by the Priaulx Library – a favorite source of mine, as, yes, my Le Marchant family has Guernsey connections. The letters are a delight to savor, and the fashion plates will delight all Jane Austen fans.
Begin corresponding with Miss Caroline Guille Le Marchant by clicking here.
Author Charlotte Frost (see posts on her biography of Sir William Knighton) mentioned her hope of seeing this wonderful Regency-era exhibition of clothing at Brighton Pavilion: Dress for Excess. We await news from Charlotte on her visit!
In the meantime, looking for more information, a link was found at A Fashionable Frolick leading readers to Jennifer Rothrock‘s delightful behind-the-scenes look at this very exhibit (which runs until February 2012).
With my passport newly expired I feel exceptionally “homebound” now… Luckily are those within striking distance of Brighton!
(Hopefully) More later –
March has supposedly brought with it the first day of spring: we had better weather BEFORE the official “first day” than afterwards! That’s Vermont for you…
So let’s look at a “spring” fashion — for the year 1815:
This “Walking Dress,” from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, is described as:
“Pelisse of short walking length, made of evening primrose-coloured velvet, ornamented down the front with satin trimming; round capes, trimmed to correspond; full lace ruff. A French bonnet, composed of white velvet and satin in reversed plaitings, trimmed round the edge with a quilting of lace; full plume of ostrich feathers in the front. Half-boots of tan-coloured kid. Gloves, Limerick or York tan.”
and later, this interesting attribution: “For the fashions for this month we are again indebted to the tasteful and elegant designs of Mrs. Bean, of Albemarle-street.”
As mentioned in my earlier post, any information on the said Mrs. Bean would be most welcome!
The Smiths and Goslings, living at their London residences on Portland Place, would still have been in the city when spring officially came. This time, up to Easter, was busy-busy-busy with concerts and parties. A fascinating period to study, I must confess…
When working on a book about the period 1815-17 – the teen years of a woman who ultimately marries into the Austen family — an important concern is to envision not only what my girls looked like but also the fashions they might have been wearing. The most extensive description Emma provides is of the court dress her mother and eldest sister wear when young Augusta was presented in 1817. Yet these girls undoubtedly were interested in fashion, and I like to think of them as looking over the very same Fashion Plates I find in Ackermann’s:
Described as an “Evening Dress,” this delicate creation is a design of Mrs. Bean of Albemarle-street. “This lady, since her visit to Paris, has incorporated in her dresses, in the style of French costume, all that is to be admired in the exuberant varieties which that country produces; and has moderated the same by a fancy governed by a chaste feeling peculiar to herself.”
The fashion plate’s original description is tantalizing: “A celestial blue crape frock, over a white satin slip, ornamented round the bottom with a deep border of tull or net lace, embroidered with shaded blue silks and chenille; short full sleeve, trimmed with tull or net lace; the dress trimmed entirely round the top, to correspond…. Slippers of blue satin or kid. White gloves of French kid.” Her jewelry is “Necklace of pearl; ear-drops and bracelets to correspond.”
The girl herself comes under discussion: “Hair parted in the centre of the forehead, confined in the Grecian style, and blended with flowers.”
Young Augusta was attending concerts and plays in 1815; I can imagine her in just such a dress. Will have to look through the letters and diaries to see if anyone made any mention of Mrs. Bean. Will update if I find anything!!
I’m interested in anything anyone might be able to tell about Mrs. Bean!
The Jane Austen Centre (Bath, England) has a nice description of another Mrs. Bean creation, written by Candice Hern.
Find all Ackermann’s Repository of Art volumes (from Internet Archive) on this blog.