The Georgian era fashion for straw hats

Straw hats were fashionable for women of all social classes, from very plain for the lower class to ones highly decorated for the elite throughout the Georgian era with many being imported, mainly from Italy and Germany, but Bedfordshire became the major manufacturer for straw hat making in England.

Cecilia, c1782 Yale Center for British Art
Cecilia, c1782 Yale Center for British Art

Imported straw hats were valuable commodities, as reported in this extract from Tenby in 1750:

In the night of the 3d inst. The weather being very tempestuous, a ship was cast away and beat to pieces of a point of land about three miles to the south-west of this town, and no persons saved or yet seen; nor do we know of anything of value saved. The country people have taken up a great number of straw hats and some loose juniper berries.

And this one from Applebee’s Original Weekly Journal, 1st July 1721.

Some days after one William Allen was committed to Newgate gaol, being charged upon oath, as also on his own confession, upon violent suspicion of stealing fifty Leghorn straw hats, the goods of Captain Andrew Elcam.

British (English) School; Portrait of a Lady Seated in a Landscape; Mount Edgcumbe House

In the early 1700s we were importing straw hats, from Leghorn, Italy and Hamburg, Germany; for example, in just one week, 15th – 22nd April 1728, London saw the arrival of 287 dozen straw hats and by 1731 this had increased to 636 dozen which decreased 480 dozen by the turn of the century.

Vigee-LeBrun, Elisabeth Louise; Self Portrait in a Straw Hat; The National Gallery, London

Woodstock, September 16th, 1774:

Whereas a silver watch, with a silver chain to it, was this day offered to be sold to a tradesman in this town by a very suspicious person, who said her name was Ann Brown, about twenty years of age, of brown complexion, short stature, dressed in an old green gown, checked apron and straw hat, who is committed to prison for further examination.

It was clearly a very lucrative trade to be in, as in 1747 a Mr White, of Newgate Street, a wealthy dealer in straw hats died and according to his will he left in excess of £5,000 (about half a million in today’s money).

Pickering, Henry; Miss Dixie; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

In 1751 in Constantinople and the surrounding areas there was a great plague, so, in order to prevent the spread into England ships and their crews were quarantined for 40 days and all goods on board the ships had to be opened and aired to remove any possible contamination, goods included goat hair, wool, raw silks, straw hats and all goods packed in straw.

Hoppner, John; The Honourable Elizabeth Ingram (1762-1817); Leeds Museums and Galleries

The Oracle and Public Advertiser of 23rd  January 1795 reported that the manufacture of straw hats was now being performed by prisoners, who were earning substantial sums from making such items.

Lawrence, Thomas; Sophia, Lady Burdett; National Portrait Gallery, London

Anyone who was anyone would want to wear the latest fashion and the fashion for September 1795, Morning Dress was:

The hair in small curls and ringlets, white satin ribband drawn through it. Straw hat, variegated with a Vandyke border; rose-coloured handkerchief over it, tied on the left side with a bow; green veil.

Denner, Balthasar; A Girl in a Straw Hat; Tate

From the turn of the century straw hats, à-la-Pamela were popular for informal wear and widely worn well into the 1810s. In August 1815, La Belle Assemblée reported on the continued popularity of the chapeau à-la-Pamela, worn far back on the head with a tulle and lace cap underneath.

Sanders, John; Mrs Jeffrey, nee Mary Wilkes (1728-1808); Victoria Art Gallery

La Belle Assemblée of 1820 produced a detailed article about straw hats,  but here we have just a snippet from it:

Leghorn hats were still in vogue and worn with a simple plume of marabout feathers and were made to turn up behind and turn down again. They would have been adorned with ribbons or bows. Straw hats were often worn with flowers of two colours and adorned with corn poppies with a bunch of ears of corn.

You only have to take a cursory glance at John Collet’s ‘Bath Fly’ to see how popular the straw hat was! We can see 4 in this picture alone.

John Collet, Bath Fly c1770 Yale Center for British Art
John Collet, Bath Fly c1770 Yale Center for British Art

Sources

Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette 19 September 1795

Oracle and Public Advertiser January 23, 1795

Oxford Journal 17 September 1774

Stamford Mercury April 25, 1728

Newcastle Courant 10th February 1750

Featured Image

Trade card courtesy of British Museum

 

 

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The Bum Shop, 1785 Lewis Walpole Library

False Rumps!

Fashions are continually changing but briefly, during the 1770s and early 1780s, women wore the most amazing items known as false rumps. They were large pieces of cork worn in ‘pockets’ under the straps of their stays, which enhanced the lady’s posterior and made her waist look smaller and more delicate. Think Kim Kardashian: does she know that she would have been the ultimate late eighteenth-century fashion icon, we wonder? False rumps were mocked mercilessly by the press and in satirical caricatures (the old-fashioned way of breaking the internet!), and there was even a suggestion that they should be taxed to raise money for the government.

Captain Cork Rump. Yale Center for British Art
Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

Surely, they can’t have been comfortable but, on at least one occasion, the wearing of a cork rump acted as a life preserver (Norfolk Chronicle 04 July 1778).

On Sunday evening a very ludicrous accident happened at Henley upon Thames. A large party from town went after tea to enjoy the coolness of the evening on the banks of the river. Youth and spirits hurried them into such sallies of vivacity, that in running with too much precipitation, a lady’s foot tripped and she fell into the Thames. The consternation was general; but somehow everyone was surprised to see her swim like a fishing float, half immersed, and half above the water. It seems that the lady had been furnished with an immoderate sized cork rump, which buoyed her up so completely that she looked like Venus rising from the water. She was towed to shore by a gentleman’s cane without the least injury but wet petticoats.

So, fashion it seems did have its uses.

Chloe's Cushion, or, the Cork Rump. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Chloe’s Cushion, or, the Cork Rump. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Your fake derriere was also a great place to hide contraband according to a report from Paris:

The present fashionable protuberances, so much in vogue among the females, have by the adroitness of two dressy fair ones of this capital, been turned to a profitable instead of expensive fashion and gave rise to a laughable adventure: the females in question had contrived to fill bladders with brandy, which they substituted for cork, wool wire etc and thus equipped in the most outré prominence of the mode, they passed several times daily unsuspected through the gates of Paris, smuggling no inconsiderable quantity of brandy.  The frequency of their excursions caused suspicion among the officers at the gates, who attempted to touch their garments, but this was resisted by the fair ones with every appearance of affected modesty. However, one of the officers, having sufficient information of what was going on determined to detect them, and providing himself with a sharp pointed instrument, he slyly pierced what nowadays is usually made from cork, when lo! A fountain of brandy played from the orifice to the great diversion of the spectators, and to no small confusion of the fair one. The result was rather serious, as they were both confined; and there are now actually females at the gates, whose business it is as decently as possible, to examine into the protuberances of such ladies as appear to be in outré of the present fashion. What a pity, as there are so few means for females to gain a decent living, that they should not be permitted to dress to advantage when fashion will admit of it.

The Gates of Paris, or, Brandy Rumps Detected. Lewis Walpole Library
The Gates of Paris, or, Brandy Rumps Detected. Lewis Walpole Library

When a riot broke out in Covent Garden during the hustings for the election of 1784, it was reported that one lady’s cork rump was shot off and an elderly woman, who was not so fashion forward and whose behind was not so well padded, received a bullet in her… ahem, well! We’re sure you can guess!

The back-biters, or High bum-fiddle pig bow wow. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
The back-biters, or High bum-fiddle pig bow wow. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

As a fashion accessory, the cork rump was short lived and by the end of the 1780s ‘bum-less beauties’ became all the rage.

Featured Image

Courtesy of the British Museum

 

Maria Luisa of Parma by Anton Raphael Mengs

Pretty in Pink

We thought it was about time for another fashion post so today we’re focusing on the pink fashions of the Georgian Era – we hope you’ll enjoy.

kenwood-gainsborough
Mary, Countess Howe, c1764, Gainsborough, Kenwood Collection

During the 1700s pastel colours were all the rage across Europe. Madame de Pompadour (below), was at the forefront of fashion, loved the colour pink and whatever she wore, others were bound to follow.

800px-pompadour6

Pink at that time was regarded as sexy, although the perception of it changed towards the end of the 1700s after which time it became the colour of innocence.

Until around the middle of the nineteenth-century, both girls and boys wore pink, so our stereotypes of girls in pink and boys in blue to differentiate gender is a far more recent concept.

Francis Nicholls 'The Pink Boy' (b.1774) Thomas Gainsborough. Courtesy of Waddesdon Manor http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-pink-boy-229417
Francis Nicholls ‘The Pink Boy’ (b.1774) Thomas Gainsborough. Waddesdon Manor 
Prince William (1765-1837), later Duke of Clarence
Prince William (1765-1837), later Duke of Clarence, King William IV. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

The fashion for wearing pink was in no way simply the domain of women. Men were certainly not afraid to be seen wearing this vivid shade of pink, they would without a doubt have stood out in a crowd wearing this outfit.

Suit, 1770–80 probably British, wool, silk, cotton; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Friends of the Costume Institute Gifts, 2013 (2013.516a–c) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/623325
Suit, 1770–80 probably British,wool, silk, cotton; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Clearly, French author, Jacques Cazotte was very comfortable in his pink attire.

Portrait of Jacques Cazotte by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau
Portrait of Jacques Cazotte by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau; National Gallery

As you can see, the draped fabric behind such a regal portrait as that by Allan Ramsay of King George III was pink.

allan_ramsay_-_king_george_iii_in_coronation_robes_-_google_art_project

To accessorise, pink shoes were very much in fashion as we show here

26-56-65_s
1770–89 Italian silk shoes. courtesy of The Met Museum

And of course, no outfit would be complete without an accompanying fan.

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Découpé fan, 1770s courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The newspapers were always ready to provide descriptions of the attire worn by the ‘great and the good‘ of the day as we can see from these excerpts.

Hon. J. T Townshend

A corbeau colour striped and pink spotted velvet coat and breeches, and white satin waistcoat, richly embroidered in silver spangles, stones and coloured silks, pink satin and net-work border, lined with pink satin; very elegant and rich.

(The World, 19 January 1793)

Elizabeth Betts (Mrs Benjamin Hoadly) by William Hogarth, 1741
Elizabeth Betts (Mrs Benjamin Hoadly) by William Hogarth, 1741; York Museums Trust

Below we have a description of the pink dress worn by Princess Augusta, courtesy of The Oracle and Public Advertiser, April 18, 1795.

PRINCESS AUGUSTA – A Green and silver embroidery, festooned with pink satin, and elegantly adorned with silver flowers.

 

We finish this post with a modern catwalk image which shows that the style and the colour have remained very much in vogue if somewhat modernised for the 21st century!

vogue-5-march-2016
Vogue. 5 March 2016

Featured image

Maria Luisa of Parma by Anton Raphael Mengs.

Madame de Pompadour by François Boucher, 1756.

Was green fashionable in the 18th century?

As we haven’t written any fashion related posts for a while we thought it might be interesting to look at both clothing and paintings showing the vast array of colours worn in Georgian fashion, but, as our regular readers will be aware we got side-tracked when we realised that there were relatively few outfits and paintings of people wearing the colour green and we wondered why, so began to investigate!

Portrait miniature of Mrs. Russell, nee Cox 1781 by John Smart (1741-1811) Historical Portraits Courtesy of Philip Mould
Portrait miniature of Mrs Russell, nee Cocks, 1781 by John Smart (1741-1811). Historical Portraits, courtesy of Philip Mould. 

We wondered whether it simply wasn’t a fashionable colour amongst the Georgians, but then, having looked at the way in which the colour is produced we soon realised that one possible explanation could be due to the process and the elements involved, thereby making the cost of it more expensive than to produce other dyes, in turn making it only available to the wealthy. There also appear to have been issues with achieving a bright and even colour. Green also seemed virtually impossible to make colourfast – green skin would not have been a good look, as one of us who shall remain nameless knows all too well, having bought a beautiful long, vibrant green skirt to wear on the beach only to find that for some strange reason it wasn’t colour fast … we’ll  leave that thought to your imagination!

Green dye could be obtained in a variety of ways such as using plants like grass or nettles for a lively green – common broom, heathers or iris for dark greens. Alternately, a product called copperas also known as could be used, Verdigrease (now know as Verdigris) or Alum.

c. 1775, American silk dress. Courtesy of The MetMuseum
c. 1775, American silk dress. Courtesy of The MetMuseum

We came across this book written in 1735 ‘The Gentleman’s Companion and Tradesman’s Delight. Containing, the mystery of dying in all its branches’ which provides us with some recipes for dying fabric green.

madame_de_pompadour_by_francois_boucher-wiki
Madame de Pompadour by Francois Boucher

To dye a fair green

Take Bran Water and Alum, a gallon the former to a pound of the latter, and boil them up till the Alum is dissolved; then let your silk or cloth lie therein for about a quarter of an hour, then take more Bran Water and a few handfuls of Woad, and put it therein till it become a dark yellow; then add Verdigrease and Indigo of each half a pound or more or less of the one or the other, as you would have it lighter or darker.

lebrun-pelagie-sapiezyna-green-dress
Pelagie Sapiezyna by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun

To colour a light green

Take the herb called Horse Tail, bruise it and add to the juice a small quantity of Verdigrease, Alum and Copperas, and over a gentle fire, make it into a colour, which will prove very pleasant and delightful.

Jane, Duchess of Gordon, née Maxwell, standing three-quarter-length, portrayed in a green riding habit, wearing only one glove on her right hand. By Daniel Gardner c.1775.
Jane, Duchess of Gordon, née Maxwell, standing three-quarter-length, portrayed in a green riding habit, wearing only one glove on her right hand. By Daniel Gardner c.1775.

The School of Wisdom; or repository of the most valuable curiosities of art & nature of 1788 provides the following recipe for creating a lasting green

Boil three quarters of a pound of alum, half a pound of tartar, into quarts of sharp ley for an hour, and in it soak the thread for three hours, keeping it hot all the while: how to dye it yellow: put into the kettle eight pounds of broom, one pound of corn marigold flowers, half a pound of crab-tree bark, that looks yellow and ripe, and add two quarts of sharp ley: when these have boiled half an hour, then dye the thread in the liquor as deep a yellow as possible: but if you can procure Spanish Yellow, an addition of three quarters of a pound of it will heighten the dye, and render it more lasting, for it is to be remembered, that all yellows that are designed to be dyed green, must be as deep as possibly can be. After this turn it green with blue dye. You may blue the thread with Woad, else with indigo, being first thrown into the alum suds, and afterwards into the yellow, and you will have a lasting green, so that a green dye is to be dyed several ways.

green-for-silks

Grass green

First dye your silk a pretty deep straw colour, rinse it clean and wring it close together with sticks; and then put your silk into the blue dye copper: though you must take care that the strength of the dye be proportioned to the quantity of silk, and that you do not put in too much silk at once.  When it has boiled enough take the kettle off, and let it stand for an hour, after which time you may work it again, and do the same every hour allowing the same interval, but you must be very careful that one handful of silk does not lie longer in than another, and when it is taken out of the copper, let it be very well cooled, rinse and strongly wring with sticks and afterwards dried.

j_s_copley_-_nicolas_boylston
Ward Nicholas Boylston in a brilliant green banyan and a cap, painted by John Singleton Copley, 1767.

To dye a parrot or parroquet green

This being something lighter than the other, must be boiled in weaker suds than the other, and, as soon as it is dyed, must be wrung and dried as the other.

man-in-a-green-coat-gilbert-stuart-1779-85
Man in a Green Coat by Gilbert Stuart 1779-85 Courtesy of The Metmuseum

To dye greenfinch or canary bird green

This must be dyed as the green, only the last suds must be encouraged with a little Provence wood suds, till it is deep enough; then wring it out as above.

ma-29415-web
Coat. France, 1800-1810 Courtesy of LACMA

 

18th Century Stomachers

Like everything in fashion, stomachers came in and out of vogue, but during the 18th century they were very much statement pieces especially those made for the wealthier members of society and the newspapers always deemed elaborate stomachers worthy of mention when describing the outfits worn by the nobility.

A stomacher is a triangular shaped panel that fills the front of a woman’s gown and was worn from around the 15th century, but of course today we’re going to take a look at some of the ones worn in the 18th century.

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c1750. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.

By the end of the 18th-century stomachers could be as deep as 10 inches below the waist which would have made them very uncomfortable for a woman to sit down.

In this painting, we can clearly see the beautiful stomacher worn by Madame de Pompadour, renown for her love of fashion.

1759. Madame De Pompadour courtesy of the Wallace Collection 1
1759. Madame De Pompadour courtesy of the Wallace Collection

They were often embroidered or covered with jewels, none more so than those designed for royalty as shown in this newspaper article.

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, August 13, 1761

The rich diamond stomacher for our intended Queen is quite finished, and is the richest thing of the kind ever seen; the capital stone of which is worth about fifteen thousand pounds and the whole piece is valued at one hundred thousand pounds.

Charlotte
Allan Ramsay (1713-84) Queen Charlotte (1744-1818) c.1760-61 Oil on canvas | RCIN 405308 Courtesy of the Royal Collection

Morning Post and Gazetteer, Thursday, March 13, 1800

Fashions vary here as often as the wind; Negligés are now worn, the stomacher of which falls lower than the girdle. The robes are very open at the bosom. The girdles are tied either before or behind.

Boston Museum of fine Art
1730-1740. White cotton embroidered with polychrome silk and gilt-silver yarns in vining floral motif. Two side panels lace with gilt-silver lacing over center panel; four flaring tabs at base; gilt-silver galloon trim. 6 linen tabs and 2 linen ties at sides. Linen lining. The Elizabeth Day McCormick Collection Courtesy of the Boston Museum of Fine Art

General Evening Post, October 8, 1778

On Thursday evening about seven o’clock their majesties set out from St James’s to stand sponsors for the newborn daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Chandos: her majesty was magnificently dressed in white, flounced with silver and a superb stomacher; the Countess of Hertford, as Lady of the Bedchamber and Miss Vernon and Jefferys, all dress in white, attended on the occasion. His majesty was dressed in a French grey with silver trimming.

Alexander_Roslin_031
1753. Portrait of an unknown Lady by Alexander Roslin. Courtesy of the National Museum, Stockholm

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Wednesday, January 18, 1792

The stomacher to be worn today by the Duchess of York is valued at twenty-two thousand pounds – it consists entirely of diamonds; the centre stone alone is supposed to be worth £10,000. The top is festooned, and the centre diamond is set brilliant fashion, as are all the others, pendant in rows from the festoon, in the most elegant manner that can be imagined.

Working Title/Artist: Robe a la Francaise, French or Austrian, ca. 1765, silk Department: Costume Institute Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: photographed by mma in 2001, transparency 3a scanned by film & media 7/23/03 (phc)
Working Title/Artist: Robe a la Francaise, French or Austrian, ca. 1765, silk
Department: Costume Institute

And finally, we came across this sad story in World and Fashionable Advertiser, Monday, July 16, 1787.

The following are the particulars of the unfortunate girl who hung herself last Wednesday week in South Moulton Street: She had been to the Haymarket Theatre with her friend and constant companion Miss Edwards; upon the latter intimating a wish to retire, Miss Charlotte Wood requested she would, and said she should follow shortly. Upon her friend retiring, she sent the maid to bed, and bolted the dining room door. Nothing was heard that night; the next morning she was found hanging in her garters from a peg in a closet with a paper pinned to her stomacher, expressing she had committed this rash act from the love she bore to a Mr A____r, who, we understand is a musician in this town.

William Goodwin, haberdasher, at the Sun & Falcon, facing Leather Lane in Holbourn, from the late Mr. Walkwoods LWL
William Goodwin, haberdasher, at the Sun & Falcon, facing Leather Lane in Holbourn, from the late Mr. Walkwoods Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Georgian Hair and Clothing – Fashionable but Fatal

The extravaganza, or, The mountain headdress of 1776. Lewis Walpole Library

Georgian fashion dictated that women wore ‘big dresses’ accompanied by the even bigger hair so with all that fabric and ‘high hair’ fashion it should come as no surprise that accidents happened. With that in mind, we thought we would take a peek at the fires caused by the fashions of the day.

Image from the film 'The Duchess' showing the Duchess of Devonshire, renown for her love of fashion and hairstyles, being set alight by the candles
Image from the film ‘The Duchess’ showing the Duchess of Devonshire, renown for her love of fashion and hairstyles, being set alight by the candles

We had no idea that there were so many incidents reported in the newspapers about hair and fabric being set alight by the open fires and so many deaths resulting from these incidents, so here are just a few.

The preposterous head dress, or, The featherd lady. Courtesy of The British Library
The preposterous headdress, or, The featherd lady. Courtesy of the British Library

London Chronicle (London, England), September 28, 1776 – October 1, 1776

Edinburgh, Sept 25. We hear from Dundee, that a few days ago, as a young lady was writing, the candle set her head-dress on fire. It burnt some time before she was aware; the then wrapped a handkerchief round her head to smother the flame, but it also catched fire; it was, however, extinguished with having scorched the lady much; but the fright affected her so much that she died in two days. Her name was Wedderburn*, an amiable young lady and her death is deeply regretted.

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England), March 17, 1778 – March 19, 1778

Last week a very melancholy accident happened to Miss Vane, daughter of the Hon. Mr Vane of Bielby , in Yorkshire; being sitting by her fire she dropped her keys within the fender and, stooping to take them up her head-dress took fire, and she was burnt so dreadfully before it could be extinguished, that she expired in a few hours.

Lady with mountainous headdress in garden
Lady with mountainous headdress in garden Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Public Advertiser (London, England), Monday, January 7, 1793

Lady Elizabeth Pratt is out of danger from her late unfortunate accident, which very deeply affected the venerable Earl, her father. Her Ladyship had her head scorched by her head-dress catching fire while she was reading.

Female Whimsicalities 1793 Courtesy of the British Museum

Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser (London, England), Wednesday, July 8, 1778

An evening paper has the following whimsical article: amongst the many accidents which happened on Sunday evening last from the lightning, the following, however extraordinary, may be relied on as a fact. About half past nine, just as the thunderstorm began, three ladies took shelter under one of the trees in St James’s Park : One of their heads was erected to an enormous  height, and consequently stuck full of long wire pins : unfortunately these acted as conductors, and set her head-dress on fire, by attracting the lighting. Her two companions screamed with horror, but so stupefied with fear and astonishment were all parties that not one had presence of mind to remove her from the shelter of the tree into the rain. In spite of every efforts made by those distressed ladies, the fire raged with great violence for above ten minutes, destroying in that time above eight yards of  gauze, a small quantity of hair and a prodigious load of wool, powder and pomade. At last two young fellows, supposed by their being furnished with syringes, to be apothecary’s apprentices, seeing the fire from an adjacent tree, and apprehending it might  set the whole park ablaze, sallied forth  to the poor lady’s assistance, and levelling their syringes with infinite adroitness and success  both before and behind in a little time happily extinguished it.

As soon as the storm abated, she was bought to a house in Spring Gardens, where our correspondent saw her. All her hair was burnt down to a black crumbling stubble and her face was singed with the flopping of the flames over it, that she cut a most shocking figure. It being intimated that she lived in Threadneedle Street, a coach was called, and she was conveyed home to her family. The writer of this article cannot dismiss it without earnestly requesting his fair countrymen would drop, at least for this summer, so dangerous a fashion as high heads.

The Bum Shop, 1785 Lewis Walpole Library
The Bum Shop, 1785 Lewis Walpole Library

Clearly as these instances of hair or clothing being set alight were not rare as a very a sensible couple advised their daughters to how to cope with such an event:-

Bath, March 1809.

A beautiful young lady, in a neighbouring city, was lately rescued from the most imminent danger of being burned to death. As the method of her preservation from this dreadfully calamitous situation might be successfully adopted in like cases, a minute detail of all the circumstances ought to be generally known. Her muslin dress, being touched by a candle; caught fire, and the flame instantly blazed above her head. Fortunately two of her sisters were in her chamber. One sister with a long and strong pair of scissors, blunt at both points, with great expedition and steady resolution, cut through all her clothes on the hind part of her neck all down her back; that is, through her gown, her stays in the space between two whalebones, her shift, and the bindings of  her petticoats.

As one sister was thus employed, the other slit up the gown at the wrists; and then immediately, with a pair of tongs from the fender, took firm hold of the clothes on fire, upon the fore part of the neck, and pulled them forcibly forward and downward from the shoulders; when all the garments instantly dropped off upon the floor, and were thrown into the chimney in a blaze. The time between the commencement of the fire, and till the young lady was rescued from all danger, was less than two minutes.

The flame, had scorched her face and neck, so as to be very painful for some hours; but not even a blister had arisen. A delay of but a few minutes longer, would have occasioned incurable mischief; either death or deformity must have been the inevitable consequence.

It may be proper to explain how these measures of prevention were so promptly and successfully executed. All the sisters had previously received complete instructions from their parents in what method to proceed in such a dreadful emergency, if their muslin dress should catch fire. They had frequently consulted together how to act in the moment of alarming danger. Each of them had provided a proper pair of scissors for the purpose. It is impossible to describe the exact of joy, which the sisters and the parents expressed upon this happy occasion. They united in fervent thanksgivings to Providence for this wonderful deliverance from so dreadful a calamity.

But, it wasn’t just women’s hair that caught fire, as we see here.

Salisbury and Winchester Journal 25 May 1767
Salisbury and Winchester Journal 25 May 1767

To end on a slightly cheeky note, this young woman must have heard about the perils of setting your clothes alight and wasn’t prepared to take any chances!

Luxury, or the comforts of a Rumpford. © British Museum
Luxury, or the comforts of a Rumpford. © British Museum

* It appears highly likely that Miss Wedderburn was Miss Susanna Wedderburn, the daughter of Sir John Wedderburn of Blackness, a Perthshire gentleman who joined the 1745 rebellion of Charles Edward Stuart and, captured at the Battle of Culloden, was afterwards hanged as a traitor; there is a burial date of the 18th September 1776 in Dundee for a Susanna Wedderburn.

Sources Used

The Athenaeum: A Magazine of Literary and Miscellaneous …, Volume 5

Annual Register, Volume 21

The Peerage.com