Portrait of Nelly O'Brien by Joshua Reynolds, c.1762-1763.

Quilted Petticoats: worn by all women and useful in more ways than one

Quilted petticoats were an item of clothing that transcended any notions of class or status; they were worn throughout most of the eighteenth-century by all women from nobility down to fish-wives and had a variety of uses. Usually tied at either side of the waistband, they had a gap in the side seams which allowed access to a pair of pockets worn underneath.

A mid-eighteenth-century British quilted petticoat with two bands of contrasting coloured material.
A mid-eighteenth-century British quilted petticoat with two bands of contrasting coloured material. The Met

Clearly, the primary function of the garment was that of warmth; in colder climates (and here in Britain we’re always complaining about the weather!) the padding provided an extra layer to insulate the wearer.

By the mid-eighteenth century, women’s gowns were worn open at the front and the petticoat underneath became a decorative item. Well-to-do ladies wore petticoats made of silk or satin, often in contrasting colours to their robe, although the backing was often made of a more robust material such as calico or coarse linen.

The courtesan, Nelly O’Brien is famously depicted wearing a simple diamond patterned pink quilted petticoat in her portrait by Joshua Reynolds, but embellishment is added with an embroidered gauzy apron worn over the top. Note the contrasting blue and white striped gown.

Portrait of Nelly O'Brien by Joshua Reynolds, c.1762-1763.
Portrait of Nelly O’Brien by Joshua Reynolds, c.1762-1763. © The Wallace Collection

Flat quilting, whereby two or three layers were stitched through using a running or backstitch, and corded quilted which involved parallel channels being sown through which cord was inserted from the reverse, were the most popular forms. The latter provided a textured relief.

This European eighteenth-century quilted silk petticoat resembles the one worn by Nelly O'Brien in her portrait.
This European eighteenth-century quilted silk petticoat resembles the one worn by Nelly O’Brien in her portrait. The Met

The designs used were often more decorative and elaborate than the simple pattern on the petticoat worn by Nelly O’Brien; flowers, intricate geometric patterns and even animals all featured.

Detail from the portrait of Mr and Mrs Atherton by Arthur Devis c.1743.
Detail from the portrait of Mr and Mrs Atherton by Arthur Devis c.1743. Walker Art Gallery

The following image gives an example of a linen quilted petticoat dating to c.1700-1725, designed to be worn under a mantua. Backed with linen, the quilting pattern was worked first and then both layers of linen were overstitched with embroidery. The notes against this petticoat suggest it was made domestically rather than professionally as the join and certain other details are clumsy.

A domestic English quilted petticoat c.1700-1725, overstitched with embroidery.
Museum of London

When just the front of the petticoat would be glimpsed, the decoration was concentrated on that area. As polonaise gowns became fashionable, where the skirts were gathered and looped up at the back, the full hemline of the petticoat was visible. This led to a trend for decoration all around the undergarment. John Wilkes’ daughter, Mary, in this next portrait, demonstrates the fashion; her green quilted petticoat, contrasting sharply with her pink gown, has the addition of a deep frill all around the hemline.

John Wilkes and his daughter Mary by Johann Zoffany, c.1779.
John Wilkes and his daughter Mary by Johann Zoffany, c.1779. National Portrait Gallery, London

Marseille (or French) quilting is a term used to describe the distinctive cotton quilting which was a feature of the Provence area of southern France, known for fine cording and stuffed designs. There, textiles were made for export, and the London weavers suffered as a result.

Quilted, Marseilles-type petticoat in sage green-colored silk satin quilted by machine. According to family tradition, this petticoat was worn by Hannah Hopkins (1731-1766) of Springfield, Massachusetts, for her marriage to John Worthington (1719-1800), a lawyer from Springfield, in 1759.
Quilted, Marseilles-type petticoat in sage green-coloured silk satin quilted by machine. Historic Deerfield

In the 1740s, a solution was found: a weaving technique was developed in England using a loom which imitated hand quilting, making the process both quick and inexpensive although it was not true quilting. Usually made with linen, while the fabric appeared to be quilted there was no middle layer of woollen wadding so, although cheap, petticoats made this way lacked the warmth of their ‘Marseilles’ counterparts.

A Sale of Ready Made Goods, &c. by JONAS CLIFTON, SILK-WEAVER and WAREHOUSE-MAN, from SHOREDITCH, LONDON: who now sells at the FOUNTAIN in MARGATE, His CURIOUS BRITISH LOOM QUILTING, for Ladies Petticoats, Bed-gowns, and Gentleman’s Winter Waistcoats, exceeding rich, neat and serviceable…

Kentish Gazette, 9th December 1769

The Polite Maccaroni presenting a nosegay to Miss Blossom.
Lewis Walpole Library

The profession of quilted petticoat maker is described in the London Tradesman, 1747. It was not a lucrative one.

I must just peep under the Quilted-Petticoat. Every one knows the materials they are made of: they are made mostly by women, and some men, who are employed by the shops and earn but little. They quilt likewise quilts for beds for the upholder. This they make more of than of the petticoats, but not very considerable, nothing to get rich by unless they are able to purchase the materials and sell them finished to the shops, which few of them do. They rarely take apprentices, and the women they employ to help them, earn three or four shillings a week and their diet.

Portrait of a woman seated beside a table by Arthur Devis, c.1739-1740.
Portrait of a woman seated beside a table by Arthur Devis, c.1739-1740. MFA Boston

An extra cost to the manufacturers of quilted petticoats was the price of the wool used for the wadding, which was subject to the attention of customs.

Last week, the Prince Frederick, a Collier, lately arriv’d from Newcastle, was searched by a custom-house officer, who found about 200 weight of the combings of wool, in two bags, the property of a female passenger on board the said ship, who follows the business of making quilted petticoats; whereupon he seiz’d the same, together with the ship and all her cargo, as forfeited by law, for bringing wool from any part of England without entering it at the custom-house and clearing it from thence; and modestly demanded 600l. of the owners for clearing her, which was refus’d…

Ipswich Journal, 29th October 1743

The Bradshaw Family by Johan Zoffany, exhibited 1769.
The Bradshaw Family by Johan Zoffany exhibited 1769. The Tate

Quilted petticoats provided shape to the skirts worn over them. Often the wadding used in the manufacture of these petticoats did not extend all the way to the waistband, so they were less bulky at the waistline. But, in an era when women wore a variety of hoops, bum rolls and panniers to enhance and alter their natural forms, quilted petticoats were a useful tool, providing a little extra padding where needed. In fact, evidence shows that they were worn in a variety of different ways throughout the century, both with and without a little extra support and definition beneath them depending on the desired silhouette. Perhaps, when Mary Hobbins went missing, she was trying to disguise her slim frame by wearing multiple quilted petticoats: even for late September, wearing two of these garments must have been quite warm.

September 26, 1724. Whereas one Thomas Robinson… went away with one Mary Hobbins of Swineshead near Boston in Lincolnshire: She is a slender thin-vizzag’d Woman, had two quilted petticoats on, viz. one green, and the other red and blue, with a white Gown with small Stripes or a Popple and white with broad Stripes…

Stamford Mercury, 29th October 1724

The painter Arthur Devis depicted women wearing quilted petticoats over hoops and panniers which gave definition and decoration to the fine silk gowns they wore, which are clearly very wide in the hips.

Mary Cawthorne (1724-1796), Mrs Morley Unwin, by Arthur Devis, c.1750
Mary Cawthorne (1724-1796), Mrs Morley Unwin, by Arthur Devis, c.1750; National Trust, Knightshayes Court

The Reverend Streynsham Master and His Wife, Margaret of Croston, Lancashire by Arthur Devis, c.1743-1744;
The Reverend Streynsham Master and His Wife, Margaret of Croston, Lancashire by Arthur Devis, c.1743-1744; Harris Museum & Art Gallery

Towards the 1770s, it was common for fashionable ladies to wear a bum roll underneath their quilted petticoat, to add emphasis to their rear (think Kim Kardashian today!), others simply wore only their shift or another petticoat underneath.

Love in a Village by Carington Bowles.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

A working woman would, of course, need to be able to move freely; they would wear very little under their quilted petticoats, relying on the bulkiness of the garment to provide any necessary shape, more concerned with practicalities than fashion.

A Girl Gathering Filberts by William Redmore Bigg, c.1782; Plymouth City Council: Museum and Art Gallery

By the end of the eighteenth century, women’s silhouettes became more slender and quilted petticoats were no longer in vogue with women of fashion although lower class women still clung to the practical, hard wearing and warm garment.

A Bottle of Wine by William Redmore Bigg, c.1815
A Bottle of Wine by William Redmore Bigg; Lancashire County Museum Service

So, we’ve looked at quilted petticoats being worn for decoration, for warmth and to add shape to gowns, what other possible reason could there be to wear one? Well, they were handy when smuggling items such as tea or lace past the strict customs officials of the day!

Another smuggler is committed to the Castle of Norwich; from whence ‘tis added, that the Officers of the Customs there had seized a considerable Quantity of Tea, India Silk Handkerchiefs brought up from Yarmouth by a Woman, who, when taken, had several Pounds of Tea quilted in her Petticoats.

Ipswich Journal, 9th January 1731

Miss Tipapin going for all nine, 1779.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Thursday a Gentleman and Lady put up at an inn at Dover, where they had just landed from France; when two Custom-house Officers came in, and insisted upon searching the Lady, on whom they found a quantity of Brussels lace, to the value of near 300l. which was concealed in her quilted petticoat… Some of our Nobility, it seems are suspected and even accused of harbouring smuggled goods. The truth is, so many Nobility and Gentry deal so much in smuggling, that a Correspondent says, he will venture to affirm that one half of the foreign lace that shall appear at Court on the ensuing birth-day, is smuggled.

Stamford Mercury, 4th June 1772

 

Sources:

Patchwork and Quilting in Britain, Heather Audin, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013

The Dreamstress: What to wear under a quilted petticoat, 6th January 2012

FIDM Museum: Quilted petticoat, c.1840-45

Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium, Collections Database: Object Accession No. HD F.495A

The London Tradesman: Being a Compendious View of All the Trades, Professions, Arts, Both Liberal and Mechanic, Now Practised in the Cities of London and Westminster. Calculated for the Information of Parents, and Instruction of Youth in Their Choice of Business, R. Campbell, Esq, 1747

St Peter Port, Guernsey

Guest Post by Regan Walker – The Isle of Guernsey During the French Revolution

We are always delighted to welcome back the lovely and very informative author Regan Walker. Today she’s going to tell us about what the island of Guernsey would have been like during the French Revolution. So, without further ado, we will hand you over to Regan.

My newest novel, A Fierce Wind, is set in England, France and the Isle of Guernsey during the French Revolution. It’s an exciting story of love in time of war when loyalties are torn and love is tested and when the boy Zoé Donet knew as a child turns out to be the man of her dreams. Since Guernsey has been of particular interest lately, I thought to give you an idea of what life might have been like there in the late 18th century.

Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789
Storming of the Bastille, July 14, 1789

With the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, French émigrés began flowing into England and other parts of Europe in successive waves that became a huge tide of emigration. (The number is believed to be one hundred and sixty thousand.) Some fled to Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, then called “the French Isles” even though they were dependencies of the British Crown. A considerable number of royalist and Catholic émigrés took refuge on Guernsey and a portion of those settled on the island, giving up hope of ever returning home.

Lying so close to France (less than twenty miles from Normandy), the islands not only provided sanctuary to the fleeing French, but they were used by the British as a base from which to monitor the movements of ships in and out of the Normandy’s ports. Hence, it was not surprising that Frederick West, the hero in A Fierce Wind, who lives on Guernsey, became a spy for the English while working with his French brother-in-law to ferry émigrés to London.

Freddie’s superior in London was Evan Nepean, Undersecretary of the Home Office and, after 1794, Undersecretary of War. One of his chief interests during the revolution was intelligence and Captain Philippe d’Auvergne on the Isle of Jersey was a primary contact. In addition to his duties as commander of the flotilla of small gunboats that protected the isles and administrator of the French émigrés, d’Auvergne was a British spymaster.

St Peter Port, Guernsey
St Peter Port, Guernsey

 Although the Islands have been loyal to the English crown for eight hundred years, the native people would have been of Norman and Breton stock. In the late eighteenth century the majority of Guernsey’s population conversed in Guernsey-French (derived from the old Norman-French with Breton words tossed in), but in the capital, St Peter Port, they also would have had a working knowledge of both French and English.

Jerbourg Point, Guernsey
Jerbourg Point, Guernsey

During the Revolution, people might have been starving in Paris, but on Guernsey, they generally ate well. Good weather and good soil produced a rich bounty of fruits and vegetables. Figs and oranges grew on Guernsey. Healthy cows provided fine milk, butter and cheese, and most households kept a pig or two. Oysters, fish and lobsters abounded. Guernsey fishermen also brought home cod from Newfoundland. Wine and spirits were plentiful, too, and always had been since the isles were home to many privateers.

Even before the French Revolution, Guernsey was an entrepôt, a place for temporary storage of goods and provisions held free of any duty for exportation to another port or country. Being a free port, the British Parliament had no right to levy taxes in the Isles and the Isles themselves had no desire to levy taxes on goods brought to and then exported. Thus Guernsey and the rest of the Isles could import goods from any country, not an enemy of Britain, free of British taxes.

Berthelot Street, St. Peter Port, Guernsey
Berthelot Street, St. Peter Port, Guernsey

There were no bonded warehouses in England in the 18th Century, so warehouses were built on Guernsey to store and mature wine and spirits until they were needed in England. During the war with France, Guernsey warehouses were filled with brandy, wine, tea, rum and tobacco, all in high demand and taxed in England. In my story, Freddie’s brother-in-law keeps a warehouse on Guernsey to store his goods.

The first newspaper printed on Guernsey appeared in 1789 under the title of Gazette de L’Ile de Guernesey. It was published every Saturday in French and its size was that of a small sheet of letter paper. It contained local news and items from the Paris journals. In 1791, its publication was discontinued for a short time, but it re-appeared in 1792, under the same title.

In 1794, during the Reign of Terror, the first mail packet sailed from Weymouth to Jersey. Informed that postal packets would be crossing the English Channel to and from the islands, the Admiralty asked that “His Majesty’s Cruisers be directed to keep as far as may be an eye on the Packet Boats to prevent their being taken by the Enemy.” Indeed, protecting one particular packet leads to a battle on the English Channel in my story.

Guernsey was a hopping place!

A Fierce Wind by Regan Walker (The Donet Trilogy, Book 3)

Love in the time of revolution

France 1794

Zoé Ariane Donet was in love with love until she met the commander of the royalist army fighting the revolutionaries tearing apart France. When the dashing young general is killed, she joins the royalist cause, rescuing émigrés fleeing France.

One man watches over her: Frederick West, the brother of an English earl, who has known Zoé since she was a precocious ten-year-old child. At sixteen, she promised great beauty, the flower of French womanhood about to bloom. Now, four years later, as Robespierre’s Terror seizes France by the throat, Zoé has become a beautiful temptress Freddie vows to protect with his life.

But English spies don’t live long in revolutionary France.

A Fierce Wind on Amazon:

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Regan’s links:

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Sources Used

St Peter Port, 1680-1830: The History of an International Entrepôt By Gregory Stevens-Cox

The History of Guernsey with Occasional Notices of Jersey, Alderney and Sark by Jonathan Duncan

The Channel Islands by Joseph E. Morris

Guernsey & The French Revolution – The Guernsey Magazine/A Monthly Illustrated Journal

French Emigration to Great Britain in Response to the French Revolution By Juliette Reboul

Refugees of the French Revolution: Émigrés in London, 1789 1802, by Kirsty Carpenter

Old Hastings by Edward William Cooke, 1834-1835. Victoria and Albert Museum

On the trail of the Hawkhurst gang of smugglers

In An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, we mention her uncle by marriage, John Dundas who married Helen Brown, Grace’s determined and strong-minded maternal aunt who was a constant presence in Grace’s formative years.  In 1748, some six years before Grace was born, John Dundas was a Captain in the 34th Regiment of Foot and was placed in command of a troop of soldiers hunting two fugitives from Newgate Prison.

William Gray and Thomas Kemp had been arrested for smuggling, both members of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers and thieves who terrorised the south coast of England from Kent to Dorset during 1735 to 1750.  On the 30th March 1748, these two, along with five other smugglers who were all being held in Newgate, managed to escape, all taking different routes through the London streets.  Five of them were soon taken, but Gray and Kemp got clean away.  They evaded capture for some weeks until, in mid-May, the following report appeared in the newspapers:

By an Express from Hastings we have an Account, that William Gray, who lately broke out of Newgate, was last Tuesday Morning retaken by a party of Lord Cobham’s Dragoons, under the Command of Capt. Dundass, of Cholmondeley’s Regiment of Foot and carry’d to that Place; and that Kemp, who broke out at the same Time with Gray, narrowly escaped being taken with him.[1]

Chasing Smugglers on a Rocky Coast; British School
British School; Chasing Smugglers on a Rocky Coast; National Maritime Museum

William Gray stood trial and was sentenced to be transported for seven years; the Penny London Post reported on 27th July 1748, that Gray had given the Government information regarding smugglers and he was to be pardoned, however, he remained in Newgate and the General Evening Post, 19th November 1748 mentioned that he was so ill his life was despaired of.  Thomas Kemp was recaptured along with his brother in 1749, after breaking into a house armed with pistols; both were sentenced to death.

More information on John Dundas and his wife Helen Brown can be found in our book which documents not only Grace’s life but those of her extended family as well.

[1] London Evening Post, 17th May 1748.

Featured image:

Old Hastings by Edward William Cooke, Victoria and Albert Museum

Diaries of William Goodwin (1746 – 1815)

Earl Soham is a traditional village lying in the heart of the Suffolk countryside on the Roman road that leads from the Suffolk coast to Stowmarket and as usual whilst stumbling around searching for something completely different we came across the Earl Soham village website and within it was a link to a collection of diary entries written by the Georgian surgeon, William Goodwin.

They have been carefully transcribed for the period 1785 – 1810 and make fascinating reading so we couldn’t resist adding the link to our blog so that you could peruse them at your leisure (References to the French Revolution can be found at the Suffolk Archives).

Apart from treating his patients, which entailed travelling long distances virtually every day Goodwin managed to find the time to keep a diary of daily life, national and international events:-

March 28th 1785 Wind W. very Cold; Frost sharp within doors, Therm’tr in Parlour 3 deg. Below Freesing –

The ground cover’d with Snow

 For the Rheumatism Take a Teaspoonfull of Aether in a glass of water 3 or 4 times a Day – sometimes add a few Drops of Laudanum – The above is thought infallible

May 1785 On an Average the Amount of our Taxes is 30-000£s a Day… (1/2 page)

86-000£ was produc’d by the Duty on Muslins in the last quarter, wh. was equal to a whole year’s income on that Article previous to Mr. Pitts Smugling Bill –

There were 240£ in Drury Lane at Mrs Siddon’s benefit and twice that amount eager for admission and could not get in – ?What a Symptom of our Poverty!

A recipe for yeast, we have absolutely no idea whether it works or not!

August 1798

Persian Yeast

Take a teacupful of split peas, boiling water one pint, infuse them all night, in a warm place, or in winter longer; the froth that arises will answer as Yeast

Also amongst his entries were records of all the carts passing through the village and recorded any possible contraband for example in 1785 he recorded that

‘2500 Gallons of Smugled Spirits were carried thro’ this village in 20 carts within the last six Days

16th Five Smugling Carts past through this Village at 8 this Morning loaded with 150 Tubs of Spirits containing 600 Gallons’

Chasing Smugglers on a Rocky Coast; British School
British School; Chasing Smugglers on a Rocky Coast; National Maritime Museum

There are some mildly amusing entries and for a ‘Top Tip’ if you’re bitten by a mad dog you should:-

‘Wash the part immediately with warm water – continuing the operation for an hour at least, by which. the poison will be prevented entering the Circulation’

Another extract from his diary, that we would recommend that those with a sensitive constitution avoid was regarding the death of his mother Sarah; presumably, William would have assumed that his diary was private and that no-one would ever read his scribblings:-

Friday ye 20th of Sept’r 1793 Died Mrs Sarah Goodwin, my dear mother, aged 81 years and 9 months – She vomited many gallons of bile in the Course of the 8 days she laid ill – suffer’d little or no pain, and went off without a groan’

The Oxford Journal of 18th March 1815 confirms the demise of William, described as ‘an eminent and skillful physician‘. William was buried on the 3rd March at St Mary’s, Earl Soham aged 69.

The diaries transcribed by Joanna Rothery,  can be read online here.