New Find – Old Book

December 27, 2008 at 11:00 am (books, fashion) (, , , , , )

johnson3This fascinating page is from A LADY OF FASHION: BARBARA JOHNSON’S ALBUM OF STYLE AND FABRICS (Natalie Rothstein, ed; 1987). Miss Johnson kept an album describing the cloth purchased (and its price per yard!), with clippings of fashion plates for the period from 1746, when she was eight-years-old, until her death in 1825. Can you imagine anything more useful in studying the lives of Emma Smith and Mary Gosling!?! The original album is owned by the V&A.

The Study of Dress History (2002) has this to say about the album: “This is a curious object because it is simply an old accounts ledger, but one into which one woman pinned samples of fabric of all the dresses she wore and then noted alongside details of price, date and occasion for which the dress was made. Even more astonishing is the fact that Miss Johnson did this over a period of nearly eighty years…. The album came up for auction at Christie’s in 1973 and after some desperate fund raising it was purchased for the Victoria and Albert Museum. Natalie Rothstein, then Keeper of Textiles, has since then been able to identify Miss Johnson as a fashion consumer moving on the fringes of London society within the circle of a well-off clerical family. She spent time in London, Norfolk and Bath and never married.

Turning over the pages of this album is almost like hearing Miss Johnson’s voice speaking about her clothes, whether they were for weddings, funerals or visits to smart relatives in London and Bath. The note written carefully in black ink alongside a small sample of medium-weight cotton printed with a tiny speckled repeat design in grey and mauve, reads: ‘A Stormont Cotten gown and petticoat, ten yards, two shillings a yard. April 1788, mourning for Aunt Johnson.’  This modest little print is indeed in the exact etiquette-correct colours of half mourning. Another mourning fabric chosen twenty years later is described as ‘a black Chambery muslin, seven yards, half a crown a yard. Made in Bath. June 1808, mourning for my dear friend Mrs Wodhull.’ This little note tells us that even when elderly, Miss Johnson was still keeping up with the latest fashion fabrics by turning to the lighter silk and cotton materials fashionable in the early nineteenth century.” [pp. 7-8]

Opening the Nursery Door: Reading, Writing and Childhood, 1600-1900 (1997) (which looks to be of use all on its own!) is a bit more forthcoming about the life of young Barbara. Authors Morag Styles and Mary Hilton first identify the family, with this memorial inscription:

” ‘Sacred to the memory of the Revd Woolsey Johnson clerk who died April 21 1756 in the sixtieth year of his age, and Jane his wife daughter of Richard Russell esq. of Warwick, who died February 9 1759 in the fifty second year of her age. Also of George William Johnson, esq. eldest son of the above Woolsey Johnson and Jane his wife who died February 8, 1814, in the seventy fourth year of his age. Through life beloved.’

Nearby in the same cemetery is buried George’s brother, the Rev. Robert Augustus Johnson (1745-99), who became rector of a nearby parish and was the only child of Jane’s who had children of his own. The remaining son Charles became vicar of the village church in Witham-on-the-Hill.

Barbara (1738-1825) was the eldest child in the family. She never married but remained close to childhood family friends of Lincolnshire and London. She became a member of moderately prominent social circles in London and often visited Witham-on-the-Hill, as well as the family homes of her brothers, especially Robert, with whom she maintained a frequent correspondence until his death in 1799. It is from her letters and memorabilia that we can draw many inferences about the kind of mother Jane Johnson must have been. Barbara kept throughout her life an album of her own fashions and occasions for acquiring and wearing many pieces of her apparel. She also tucked into her album pages and plates she had torn from various Pocket Books, leather-covered calendar books popular with women in the second half of the eighteenth century. Barbara’s complete album, along with brief quotes from letters recalling moments of her childhood, is reproduced in A Lady of Fashion….

We may safely assume that Barbara’s mother was educated primarily at home, but perhaps also at some nearby girls’ school in music, reading and in manners befitting a lady of a country manor similar to that of females portrayed in the century by novelist Jane Austen. Emma (published in 1815) in particular gives considerable insight into the education of such women three-quarters of a century later: ‘light’ but considerable reading, facility with the piano and needlework, ‘elegant, agreeable manners’, and a range of knowledge about how to run a household and estate, and to entertain guests. We may assume that Jane Johnson was perhaps not quite so wealthy and comfortable as Jane Austen’s heroine Emma Woodhouse, but she was certainly not so dependent on a vicar’s salary as Mr Elton in the same novel. Emma reports conversations, thoughts, and perceptions of the characters of her countryside society. She also lets her readers in on their leisure reading of books and letters and pastimes of playing games with handmade alphabet cards created by women of the household for word games.

We know from the letters of Barbara and Jane that the Johnson children and their friends must have had much in common with Jane Austen’s Emma. They too had books, wrote and received letters, played alphabet games, and had sets of cards and small handmade books created for their pleasure…. As children, Barbara and her brothers were expected to be performers, listeners, reading audience, and reading and writing partners. The children wrote, did paper cuttings, painted, told stories, sang, and created a range of types of written and artistic records of their lives, many of which have been lost but receive mention in letters written by Jane to her children….” [pp. 18-20]

See the Bodleian Library’s Jane Johnson & family papers.

The website Wigs on the Green (which has miniatures, silhouettes, etc. for sale, but is especially recommended for its pictures and lovely bibliography) says of the Album and its originator: “this fashion-conscious lady kept a swatch of fabric from every garment she had made and pinned it into her album noting how much it cost and what it was used for. Alongside she pasted in the fashion plates from the ladies’ magazines which inspired her wardrobe. The pages from her album are reproduced in full-size and in colour: the fabrics are so vivid you imagine you should be able to feel their texture. This book is out of print and can be pricey but for anyone interested in 18th century costume it’s well worth the investment.” Looking online – after a look at local libraries (not on their shelves…) – yes, pricey: a median cost is $200. Dartmouth College (a bit of a drive, but doable at under two hours) has a copy — but it’s JUST been taken out (and obviously by faculty): the damned thing’s not due back until 22 December 2009!

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Home for the Holidays

December 24, 2008 at 12:31 pm (books)

A short note to wish readers Happy Holidays!

Deb and I went up to Montreal on December 16th for an Austen Birthday celebration with JASNA members of the Montreal/Quebec City chapter. We sure lucked out! Clear weather – whereas it’s been snowing and snowy off and on ever since. (Here in northern Vermont, we did not get some of the freezing rain mixture – so the weather could be oh-so-much worse!) The gathering was entertained by an informative talk by Prof. Peter Sabor (McGill University) on the various collections of Austen letters. So many editions that members brought in! I was especially captivated by the Jo Modert facsimile edition (but not a copy to be bought online….); and remind readers to visit janeausteninvermont so that editions of Chapman and Brabourne can be viewed online. Prof Sabor was especially taken with the index of Brabourne (though critical of a couple aspects of it!); thankfully, the text now fully-searchable, the index will be less needed for those online searchers.

Letters are a staple of research such as mine into the lives of Emma Smith and Mary Gosling – and collections such as that belonging to the Austen family are indeed treasured!

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Ellen Tollet of Betley Hall

December 21, 2008 at 2:05 pm (books) (, , , )

tolletAm positively engrossed by the “Journals and Letters” of Ellen Tollet (ed. Mavis E. Smith), which arrived fresh from the Nantwich Bookshop in England just yesterday (£12.50; proceeds to UK cancer charities). Cannot compliment it enough – but you will have to wait for a full review to be posted later.  This well-edited journal of Miss Tollet gives an inkling not only into the lives of ladies like Emma and Mary, but even Miss Austen herself – Ellen is writing in 1835 at the beginning, and many things remained as it had in the last decades of Austen’s life: travel, family, church, and books-books-books. Never forget that Cassandra Austen was alive and well for much of the period covered by this journal! The only image I could find is of the BACK cover (I have no scanner – and it’s snowing out too much to go to a library for the use of one). Ellen was friends with another ‘Emma’ – Miss Emma Wedgwood (yes, of that Wedgwood family…), who married one Charles Darwin. See Emma Darwin online here.

Nantwich is a true ‘treasure’ – my father and I stopped there when on our narrow boat cruise (aboard the ‘Fenris‘ rented from Viking Afloat) in 2006. An interesting article found about clock plaques; and here’s an online ‘walk around town‘. Enjoy!

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Spotlight on… Sir Francis Gosling, kt.

December 20, 2008 at 11:21 pm (spotlight on) ()

Many people seem descendants of Sir Francis and Lady Gosling – while no one I have yet heard from descend from my William Gosling, his nephew! So, while at UVM (see previous post), I found a few 1760 tidbits in Gentleman’s Magazine that may interest those interested in Sir Francis.

Page 591 [not 592, as the index states] is the following announcement: “Thursday 4 [December 1760] A Fishmonger was convicted before Aldm. Dickinson and Sir Francis Gosling for employing his apprentice to buy and sell fish by commission for him at Billingsgate, contrary to the provision made in the late act of parliament, by which he forfeited 50 l.”

Of more interest is this on page 488: It is Thursday, 28 October 1760; King George II has died (an exceptionally interesting bit on mourning attire is written up here!), and an address was given. Then:

They were all received graciously, and had the honour to kiss his majesty’s hand.
After which his majesty was pleased to the honour of knighthood on
Thomas Rawlinson, Esq; alderman
Francis Gosling, Esq; alderman

There is also the story of Sir Francis’ purchase of the statue of Queen Elizabeth:

“Monday 4 [August 1760] The workmen began pulling down that part of Ludgate called the master’s side; the common side which front Black friars is to remain till a convenient place can be provided for the prisoners. The Statue of Q Elizabeth on the west side, is purchased by Alderman Gosling, in order to be set up near St Dunstan’s church, after the removal of the shops under it.”

Further mention of Sir Francis can be found here, a webpage for St Andrew’s Church (Nether Wallop). And a really nice picture of the Queen’s statue Sir Francis rescued. Here, a memorial inscription notice for a Rivington relation. And at the Old Bailey, Sir Francis is mentioned as a victim of crime: his handkerchief is stolen!

One curious entry comes in early 1761 – now knighted, this MISTER Gosling is certainly not Sir Francis: who then?

In the section called “From Other Papers” : “Mr. Gosling, — cashier of the S.S. Company”.

[The South Sea Company – famous for its ‘bubble’ – continued to trade into the 1760s]. I can see Robert Gosling or his father (also Robert) – being involved in this venture as ‘cashier’; though, perhaps, it is no relation.

A footnote: there are some very useful tidbits in GM: like the King throwing himself of a runaway horse, or his attending the theatre; never mind the politics of the day as it unfolded, or those marriage announcements that all genealogists search for. Makes me wish there was a dedicated site for GM that had all its volumes online (and completely searchable).

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The Curious Case of Two Wives

December 20, 2008 at 11:03 pm (people) (, , )

As it happened, I did venture up to the University of Vermont’s library. I had a book to return (on the Shaw Lefevres, relatives to Emma Austen-Leigh) and one to pick up (on artist Mary Ellen Best). Surprisingly I remembered about the microfiche and Gentleman’s Magazine. UVM holds a fine collection of this and, with school our, there was no competition for a micro-reader. And here is what I found there:

On page 542 (vol. XXX): November 6 [1760] – “Sir Ellis Cunliffe, Bt. member for Liverpool, — to Miss Davis.” Right first name, right identification. Then, page 594: December 17 [1760] – “Sir Ellis Cunliffe, Bart, member for Liverpool, — to Miss Bennet.”

A bigamist? Doubtful… I looked in vain for a retraction. Despite the unmistakable name, I wonder – another Cunliffe and wrong first name inserted? Another member for Liverpool and the entire name incorrect? The mystery is still to be solved. This does, however, point up the very important fact of verifying EVERYTHING. Talk about ‘making a list and checking it twice’!

When I first began to research Mary Gosling’s diaries, it was a toss-up as to the day upon which she and Charles married. Various periodicals had both the 2nd of July and the 20th of July. It took the diary of Emma Smith to convince me (after all: she was a guest): 2o July 1826. But this Miss Davis-Miss Bennett mix-up is truly curious.

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Seek & Find

December 19, 2008 at 12:12 am (books, portraits and paintings) (, , )

As much as I l-o-v-e BOOKS.GOOGLE it can also be highly frustrating: how to find entire SETS of books…, sometimes pages are missing or misplaced…, and then there are always missing volumes. But: Seek and ye shall find! Tonight a second look for volumes on Sir Joshua Reynolds unearthed the A-C volume of his works — and therefore the entries for the Cunliffes. Some interesting information indeed…

We already knew (see post) that Sir Joshua painted Lady Cunliffe. Here is her ‘description’:


Wife of Sir Ellis Cunliffe. Died October 7, 1814.
Sat in June, 1761. Paid for, July 1, 1761 Lady Cunliffe, £15 15s. 1761, Lady Cunliffe, £15 15s.

The picture belongs to Sir Charles Smith, Bart., at Suttons, Romford. 
[note: This would be Mary Gosling Smith’s son]


Here for the first time is the ‘description’ of Sir Ellis’s lost portrait – and a tantalizing notice that a copy exists!

CUNLIFFE, Sir Ellis, Bart.

M.P. for Liverpool; was the eldest son of Foster Cunliffe, an opulent [!] merchant, and M.P. for Liverpool; created a baronet in 1759; married, first, [!!] November 6, 1760 Miss Davis (“Gentleman’s Magazine,” 1760), and secondly, Mary, daughter of Henry Bennet [sic], of Moston, Cheshire; died October 16, 1767.
In a morning gown, seated in a chair.
Sat in January, 1762. Paid for, 1762 Sir Ellis Cunliffe, £15 15s. December 29, 1762, Sir Ellis Cunliffe, £15 15s.

Sir Robert A. Cunliffe, Bart., writes, May 31, 1899: “The three pictures by Sir Joshua Reynolds of Sir Ellis Cunliffe, his wife, and daughter, were left away from my family. I have a good copy by Allen of that of Sir Ellis.”

The picture belongs to Herbert Gosling, at Botleys Park, Chertsey.


mrs-drummond_theconnoisseur-nov1913The third portrait is of course also described:

CUNLIFFE, Miss Mary, afterwards Mrs. Drummond Smith.

Sat in June, 1786.

The picture belongs to Herbert Gosling, at Botleys Park, Chertsey. See SMITH, page 908. [note: that volume is still MIA.]


Gosh! I never knew Mary Bennett was Ellis Cunliffe’s second wife! Who was and what happened to ‘Miss Davis’?!? But more: Was there really a Miss Davis??? Ellis and Mary married on the 19 December 1760… Will have to hunt up the old GM (nothing online; and not sure UVM’s microform holdings go back that far). This could be incorrect information, or incorrect dating. Stay tuned!

Interesting that Herbert, a son of Robert ‘Robin’ Gosling (Mary’s nephew), and Mary’s own son are considered by a not-too-distant branch of the Cunliffe family to be “away” from the Cunliffes! See the Baronetage and also an informative lawsuit among Sir Ellis’ siblings and widow.

And one wonders: if Herbert owned the portrait of Mrs. Drummond Smith, how on earth did it get to the Comptons (for it is now at Castle Ashby)? The Comptons were of course related to Drummond Smith (he was the uncle of Augusta Smith, Eliza Chute, Maria Marchioness Northampton, and Emma Smith), and I could have sworn that while considered a Romney portrait it was exhibited by Lord Northampton. Must look into that one’s provenance again. (For, if in the hands of the Comptons, that would mean this book’s claimed ownership was incorrect.)

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Disappearing Pictures…

December 18, 2008 at 9:16 pm (Uncategorized)

I notice that suddenly all my photographs have disappeared – or are disappearing. This seems to be a WordPress problem, but be patient. Just hope I don’t end up having to download everything; some images I would have to search for all over again. YIKES! Damn upgrades…

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Week of 8 December…1826

December 10, 2008 at 10:42 pm (a day in the life) (, , , )

As we prepare for the Christmas season (some of us avoiding the crowds and the shopping as best we can…), it is interesting to take a look at some of the early diaries – for instance, Charles’ diary from the first Christmas he and Mary shared together.

That particular year, December 8 was a Friday. Charles has been away – on a shooting party (‘very great sport’, he reported on the 7th), and returns to welcome his younger brothers Spencer and  Drummond, who also arrive at Suttons: ‘found Drummond looking well  Spencer surprised us having passed his examinations at Oxford.’ The following day he notes that Mary departed for Roehampton – this the estate of her father, Roehampton Grove. Charles doesn’t mention church on Sunday, but a visit to Skreens is noted. Skreens is the Bramston estate, a neighbor of Suttons. Then he’s off to work: Monday sees a Grand Jury convened. Charles dines with the two judges. As a landowner, he of course is a magistrate. The 12th: ‘Grand Jury – War declared with Spain to protect Portugal.’ The 13th: Returned to Suttons  the Edridges still there  Mr Cannings speech. More shooting on the 14th and only the next day, Friday the 15th does he say ‘Went to Roehampton’.

Emma’s diary fills in some of the details, as she too visited Chicksands, the estate at which the shooting party stayed. She gives the reason for Mary’s early departure: ‘Milder {ie, the weather}  Mary Mamma & I left Chicksands  Charles staid for one days more shooting & Fanny remained instead of Mary that the latter might be present at the giving away of clothes to the poor’. This was an exceptionally important function of a lady of the manor, as well as her daughters. Mary undoubtedly had people to whom she yearly provided warm clothes and this December, the first of her marriage, she evidently wanted to remember those whom she had cared for over the last ten or so years. Drummond is ‘just in the 5th form’, Emma declares. The Smith ladies proceeded to Suttons where, on the 8th ‘The Poor people came for their clothes.’ The ladies then entertained the Edridge girls, Elizabeth and Charlotte. She too says ‘In the afternoon Spencer arrived unexpectedly after taking a good degree last Saturday’.

Mamma Smith visits her sister-in-law (the children’s ‘Aunt’ – the only name by which Judith Smith is known to the youngsters), who is unwell. Interesting weather – how very like Vermont: ‘The first part of the week cold  the latter part mild’. Charles, as we know from his own diary, ‘went to Skreens for the Assize at Chelmsford  the accounts of Uncle Thos. this week are much the same’.  Poor Thomas Chute would live through the holidays, but not see much of 1827… The 13th: Charles returned from Skreens  Joseph was rather hurt by the gig going over his leg  The Edridges went away– Mild & bright  The accounts of Uncle Thos. much the same  his pulse is good’. The 14th, Emma, too, mentions the political situation: ‘we heard that the English are going to assist the Portuguese against their rebel countrymen who are supported by the Spanish — & troops are embarking for Portugal’. While Charles departs on the 15th for Roehampton – his father-in-law, according to Emma, stops at Suttons en route from his own Essex estate of Hassobury! He remains a couple days.  …And so will we.

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