This magnificent gown originally belonged to Ann Fanshawe, daughter of Crisp Gascoyne who became Lord Mayor of the City of London in November 1753. This type of dress with its very wide skirt and short train was called a ‘mantua’ (see previous BLOG POST)
Ann Fanshawe, born 1724, was the eldest daughter of Sir Crisp Gascoyne of Bifrons House in Barking, Essex. On 13 June 1745 Ann married Thomas Fanshawe of Parsloes in Dagenham, with whom she had four children. According to the History of the Fanshawe Family, published in 1927, a portrait of Ann, now lost, showed ‘her to have been strikingly handsome’.
Crisp Gascoyne (c. 1700-1761) set up business as brewer in Gravel Lane, Houndsditch in the City of London and was admitted as freeman of the Brewers’ Company in 1741. In November 1752 Gascoyne became Lord Mayor, the first to live in the recently completed Mansion House. His wife Margaret had died in 1740 and Ann, who was in her mid-twenties, acted as Lady Mayoress.
On 9 November 1752, Gascoyne went in the City Barge to Westminster Hall to be sworn into office. He returned via Blackfriars Stairs and then went in Procession to the Guildhall where there ‘an elegant Entertainment’ was followed by a Ball. The London Daily Advertiser recorded on the following day that ‘the State Coach went to the Mansion House, and took up Mrs. Fanshawe, Daughter of his Lordship, who appeared as Lady-Mayoress, and carried her to Guildhall’.
The Covent Garden Journal noted that the appearance of many of the ladies on that occasion was ‘extremely brilliant’. However, there was such a crowd that ‘the Ladies and passing and repassing, found it not a little difficult to save their Lappets, and even their Petticoats’. It also recorded that ‘The Ball about ten o’Clock was opened by Mrs Fanshaw [sic] (as Lady Mayoress, who made a most splendid Figure) and the Hon. Mr. York, Lord Chancellor’s youngest Son.'
The silk of her gown was made in Spitalfields and bales and anchors, as well as barley and hops are woven into the fabric, alluding to her father’s brewery business. At least fourteen colours and four different types of silver thread were used, and the fabric would have been very expensive.
Silks were woven in lengths of cloth sufficient for several dresses, but the fabric for Ann's dress is likely to have been a bespoke commission. A customer bought a design from a mercer and six months was the lead time for the weaving of the silk cloth, which could have been made up into a dress in little more than a week.
Natalie Rothenstein describes the chain of transactions as, “silk was generally imported by a silk merchant. It was then sold through a broker to a silkman who, in turn, supplied the master weaver with the qualities and quantities required. Either the silkman or the master weaver had it thrown and dyed. The master weaver would normally obtain an order from a mercer and instruct his foreman. The latter, based at the master weaver’s warehouse, would measure out the warp for the journeyman, who returned it when completed.” Ann would never have met the people who made her dress and they may never have seen her in it.
On 10 November 1752 wore this magnificent gown to the Guildhall. Under the gown she would have worn a shift, stays (corset), silk stockings and garters to hold them up. To maintain the shape of the gown a hooped petticoat with whalebone and cross ties was required.
The dress came in three pieces, first the skirt, then the stomacher followed by the bodice. There were no hooks or buttons to hold it all together, pins would be used. Lace sleeve ruffles were added and a lappet upon her head.
The dress was two metres wide and getting through a doorway or in and out her carriage on the journey to the Guildhall must have been quite a feat.
Information and images are from the Museum of London where the dress is on display in gallery - Empire: London's Manufactures
The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'lappet' as "an appendage or pendant to head-gear of any kind; esp. one of the streamers attached to a lady's head-dress."
During the 18th century it was fashionable to wear indoor caps with long lace lappets. The lappets might be pinned up on top of the head in pleats, but more usually were left to hang loose, fluttering with the slightest movement.
They were a particular focus for the display of wealth and taste. The quality of the lace, the excellence of its design and fine workmanship, and thus its likely expense, would be immediately apparent to observers.
Images copyright Victoria & Albert Museum, London.