18th century shoes

Richd. Roberts, shoe & boot maker, next door to the oil shop in Ship and Anchor Court, facing the Coach Stand Temple Bar. Makes shoes & boots in the most genteel & neatest manner
Richd. Roberts, shoe & boot maker, next door to the oil shop in Ship and Anchor Court, facing the Coach Stand Temple Bar. Makes shoes & boots in the most genteel & neatest manner. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Everyone loves stylish shoes and needless to say those lovers of fashion, the Georgians, were no exception. As they are today, they were, as well as being obviously practical they were very much about making a statement despite being somewhat hidden below those wonderful long gowns.

Graces shoes
Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Gainsborough. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The manufacture of shoes required great skill, no mass production existed in the Georgian Era, and each pair would have been crafted by hand. A shoe maker ‘if he be a good hand, sober and industrious will earn thirty shillings a week’ that equates to about £70 a week today.

26.487a-b 0002
Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Charles Blaney, 1926 Accession Number: 2009.300.1406a, b

For many shoe makers, it was a relatively solitary life, working in their own workshop, for others they would have a large shop in which to exhibit their work.

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Silk, silver lace & braid shoes (diamond sapphire buckles) 1750s Courtesy of V&A

The work involved in making a pair of shoes required the shoe maker to cut out a leather upper to a pattern. A small weight would then be placed on the skin to keep it from slipping; a hammer was then used to beat down any rough parts which lay on the inside of the shoe. Then using a pair of pincers the leather was stretched. The upper was then joined to the sole of the shoe. The parts were then sewn together and waxed. He would then use an awl to make holes for laces to fit through if required. The best and strongest thread being that made from hemp.

shoe maker image 4

 

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Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Herman Delman, 1954 Accession Number: 2009.300.1472a, b

Women were employed to bind shoes of all kinds and sew together those made of silk and satin.  Women’s shoes were highly ornate often with curved heels and a strap to keep them in place. The streets, of course, weren’t clean and paved as they are today so it was common for women to wear a ‘clog’ or ‘patten‘ over her shoes in order to keep them clean, quite a good idea, if somewhat uncomfortable to walk in!

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Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Herman Delman, 1954 Accession Number: 2009.300.1485a, b

By the advent of the Regency Era women’s shoes changed in style from heels to the equivalent of today’s ballet pumps, much lighter in substance and fastened with ribbons. These shoes were unusual in so much as they were straight and therefore there was no right or left shoe – would this have made them easier to wear?

Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum - Silk and leather with linen lining, cream leather sock and insole and brown leather sole, cotton cord and silk ribbon ties. Museum number: 1150&A-1901
Courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum – Silk and leather with linen lining, cream leather sock and insole and brown leather sole, cotton cord and silk ribbon ties. Museum number: 1150&A-1901

With the advent of the Napoleonic Wars, huge quantities of boots and shoes were required and this saw the advent of methods of mass production. Handcrafted boots and shoes continued to be manufactured, but obviously, a premium price would have been paid for them, much as is the case today.

(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

We couldn’t possibly write a blog about shoes and not include a pair worn by the doyenne of fashion, Marie Antoinette, which sold at auction in 2012 for 50,000 euros (£40,600; $65,600) on the anniversary of the French queen’s execution.

Marie Antoinette's silk slippers

Our final offering is one of usual caricatures courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, this young lady, however, appears to be showing off slightly more than just her new shoes!!

lwlpr11475

Sources:

The Book of English Trades

 

Itching and scratching: 18th Century Flea Traps

A Girl in a Kitchen (La chercheuse de puce) by Nicolas Lancret (c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
A Girl in a Kitchen (La chercheuse de puce) by Nicolas Lancret
(c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Women Bathing by Nicolas Lancret (c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So, you are a grandly dressed Georgian lady, with a fully powdered head of hair, fashionably coiffed but with a few little inhabitants. Scratch, scratch! How would you rid yourself of fleas?

Back in the eighteenth-century fleas were a common problem for all classes and would happily live in beds, inside wigs and on pets, and everyone was prey to them. Bathing of course helped, and there was the tried and tested method of painstakingly searching for and picking off the little critters. The Parisian artist Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), in a couple of his genre paintings, depicted some ladies searching themselves for fleas (and offering the viewer a titillating glimpse of flesh while doing so).

One other way, popular for a short period in the eighteenth-century, was to use a flea-trap which became something of a popular fashion accessory. It consisted of a hollow perforated cylindrical tube, sometimes ornately carved and made of silver or ivory, inside which would be a small rod, tuft of fur or a piece of cloth. This would be smeared with a few drops of blood, to attract the fleas, and also fat, honey resin, designed to make the fleas stick fast to it as they crawled inside, and which was removed as necessary to get rid of them. The flea trap was worn on a ribbon as a necklace, hanging down inside a dress – it could also be placed in a bed to attempt to rid that of fleas. A German doctor named Franz Ernst Brückmann (1697-1753) designed the first flea trap in the early 1700s.

 

Flea - trap Louth museum
Flea trap held at Louth Museum

 

Louth museum in Lincolnshire holds one, although they are unsure of the date of their flea trap. It is made of ivory, with a carved pattern, and measures 7cm in length and 1½cm in width.

 

 

The French name for the flea was ‘la puce’, which is supposedly how we have the name for the colour today – it is taken from the colour of a squashed flea or one full of blood, or from the bloodstains left behind by a flea on the bedsheets.

La Puce. Seated young woman, unveiling her breasts whilst trying to catch a flea. © The Trustees of the British Museum
La Puce. Seated young woman, unveiling her breasts whilst trying to catch a flea. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Reputedly, this brownish purple was one of Marie Antoinette’s favourite colours, and it was Louis XVI who jokingly compared it to the colour of a flea and so named it. From Domestic anecdotes of the French nation, during the last thirty years, indicative of the French revolution, written in 1800 by Isaac D’Israeli (author and father of the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli):

In the summer of 1775, the queen being dressed, in a brown lutestring, the king good humouredly observed, it was “couleur de puce”, the colour of fleas; and instantly every lady would be drest in a lutestring of a flea colour. The mania was caught by the men; and the dyers in vain exhausted themselves to supply the hourly demand. They distinguished between, an old and a young flea, and they subdivided even the shades of the body of this insect; the belly, the back, the thigh, and the head, were all marked by varying shades of this colour. This prevailing tint promised to be the fashion of the winter. The venders of silk, found that it would he pernicious to their trade; they therefore presented new sattins to her majesty, who having chosen one of a grey ash-colour, Monsieur, exclaimed that it was the colour of her majesty’s hair! Immediately the fleas ceased to be favourites, and all were eager to be drest in the colour of her majesty’s hair. Servants were sent off at the moment from Fontainebleau to Paris, to purchase velvets, rateens and cloths of this colour. The current price in the morning had been forty livres per ell, and it rose towards the evening to the price of eighty to ninety livres.

Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1778 via the British Library
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1778 via the British Library

We’ll end with a couple of satirical prints. We think the people in these could do with a flea trap!

© Lewis Walpole Library
© Lewis Walpole Library
An old maid in search of a flea, 1794. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Sources:

Irritating Intimates: The Archaeoentomology of Lice, Fleas, and Bedbugs by Allison Bain

Louth museum and blog

Domestic anecdotes of the French nation, during the last thirty years, indicative of the French revolution, by Isaac D’Israeli

The Last Days of Marie Antoinette

It is impossible for us to ignore one of the major events of the French Revolution, the execution of Marie Antoinette which took place on 16th October 1793 given our interest in the French Revolution and her reputed acquaintance with Grace Dalrymple Elliott, so with that in mind we thought it might be an idea to take a ‘whistle stop tour’ of just a few of her paintings and of course, in our usual manner, if slightly disrespectful, we simply had to include a couple of caricatures of her  too. We also came across some newspaper reports about her last days which we simply had to include.

Unlike Grace and many others of her time for whom very few, if any paintings still exist, Marie Antoinette totally spoils us with so many remaining for us to enjoy, making it difficult to select just a few. She was one of the most painted celebrities of her day, even right up to her execution.

Our first offering is one from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and is dated 1775, so when Marie was just a mere 20 years old and some five years after her marriage to  Louis XVI. We have to say that in our opinion she looks much older than her age, so it’s not very flattering, but it clearly highlights her long slender neck – who could possibly have foreseen how events would end when this image was produced!Marie 1775 - met museum

Our next is again from the Metmuseum, but has no artist nor date, but one that we like very much for its beautiful simplicity, not at all like some of the highly elaborate paintings that exist of her.

Unknown artist - Marie

Marie’s most notable portraits were those painted by the artist Elizabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun, this one painted  around 1783 being our favourite one. Her luscious blue dress, with copious amounts of lace and that beautiful ‘old fashioned’ pale pink rose, quite possibly the highly scented rose, ‘Autumn Damask’ or ‘Cuisse de nymphe’. If anyone can identify it we would love to hear from you.

queen-marie-antoinette-of-france-1783

This next portrait is in stark contrast to the previous one. Marie making quite a statement in her low cut beautiful red velvet dress accompanied by her two children.

Red velvet

Our next two as promised are caricatures of her, the first a search for her being carried out with Marie disappearing out of the door whilst they try to kill her in her bed.

 

The next the Royal Runaways as Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI are trying to make their escape, but are captured.Marie 1791 - lewis walpole

We move to her last few days and in a newspaper article referring to her time in the Conciergerie which confirmed that the total number of prisoners in Paris prisons at that time as being  some 2,989. Life, although extremely cramped, was described as being one of mirth and gaiety, guzzling Bordeaux with their dinner which was described as splendid and sumptuous, suppers consisted of ham and salad* – how accurate a reflection of the truth we could not say.

According to the St James’s Chronicle  of November 21, 1793  Marie’s situation was in stark contrast, she was confined to a small cell, half underground and a mere 8 feet by feet –

‘her bed was made of straw, one mattress and an old tattered coverlid, and terrible to tell she was continually and in all situations in the presence of four Gens d’Armes, who never quitted her chamber. Her food was such as given to common prisoners ; her health was visibly declining; her hair became grey;  and the monsters fearing her natural death might deprive them of  their wretched victim hurried her to the scaffold.

Some days before her death she was wearing black and even sleeping in her mournful attire, expecting every instant to be dragged from her bed of woe by executioners. She wished to die in mourning for her unfortunate consort, but the barbarous regicides deprived her even of this last consolation and compelled her to put on a white waistcoat’.

A further report in the same newspaper, dated 3rd October 1793 sheds a little more light of her situation :

‘She rises every day at 7 o’clock and goes to bed at 10 o’clock  at night.  She enjoys a good appetite her breakfast consists of chocolate and a small roll; dinner of soup, fowl, mutton chops etc. She only drinks water and is in this respect said to imitate the late Empress Maria Teresa her mother, who never drank wine. She performs the business of her own toilet with great care. Her eyes are red from weeping and restlessness; her hair turned grey. Her looks still remain sweet and her deportment royal and majestic’.

Marie_Antoinette_Cell

At midday Marie reached Place de la Revolution; she showed some emotion but quickly regained her composure, climbed the steps to the scaffold. A mere fifteen minutes later the blade came down – Marie Antoinette died just two weeks before her 38th birthday.

According to the English newspaper reports that appeared following her execution she was described as having

‘preserved a calm and steady countenance. During the first hours of her trial she played with her fingers upon the bar of the chair with an appearance of unconcern  and it seemed as if she were playing on the piano-forte’.**

Our final offering shows the demise of Marie Antoinette and was a sketch by Jacques Louis David, the sketch requires little explanation in our opinion.

Marie guillotine David

 

We also came across a document listing everyone who was sent to the guillotine and is an immensely helpful resource. It includes Marie Antoinette, but records her death as being 17th October 1793, rather than the 18th as commonly recorded.

 

Date of Death

Sources Used

* Public Advertiser Friday, November 1, 1793

** The Star  Friday, November 8, 1793