Dressing to Impress in the 19th Century

Eileen Baker’s talk and demonstration -20 February 2019

Members of the History Society arrived to find the front of the hall crowded with tables and mannequins festooned with all types of feminine garments in many colours and shapes. At the back of the hall was a display of books open at coloured plates.  Members were also given a very detailed handout.

Eileen spoke without notes and with the help of her husband, Tom she showed us many of the individual garments providing details of their purpose and provenance.

Eileen explained that she wanted to talk primarily about how, during the 19th Century, middle class women chose clothes that would impress others in their society and display the woman’s ideas of herself as an individual.

She told us that, until the 1850s, women learned all the skills necessary to make and repair clothes at home but later prosperous women could take advantage of innovations and developments such as shops, mail order catalogues, sewing machines, and then manufacturers developing from couture houses in Paris. Machine knitted stockings were also introduced.

Victorian women were seriously constrained by their clothing and accessories. A Victorian costume could weigh 14 lbs, and if they were to stay away from home for a night, they had to take a heavy dressing case. They needed numerous accessories, long kid gloves, silk stockings, reticules, fans, shoes as well as shawls to keep themselves warm.


Dress accessories


The illustration above charts the changes of shape from 1789 to 1914.

During the period following the French Revolution (c1789) and then the Napoleonic Wars, British women dressed in high waisted, soft, simple, modest, ankle length dresses. Many French women showed more flesh including their cleavage.

Then the economy recovered and as the British middle classes grew prosperous women began to display considerable luxury and embellishment in order to ‘impress’ and display their family’s wealth.

Around 1835 the profile was that of wider shoulders that often sloped downwards. The waistlines were lower as were the hems.  These trends continued and the crinoline was introduced to support wide skirts.

Eileen and Tom showed us a crinoline, a petticoat stitched onto several wide hoops. By 1865 the crinoline enabled women to display very wide skirts using masses of material. The overskirt would have a profile that was flat in the front and gathered into a bustle at the back. Eileen and Tom demonstrated how the bustle, a pillow like contraption, was tied to one of the hoops of the crinoline.

Eileen showed us a tiered dress in printed cotton voile, to be worn over a crinoline. She explained that the dye used in the printing was so primitive that she doubted it could be washed at all.

IMG_0407 b

Eileen showed us a fabulous wide deep blue silk organza skirt from 1860 to be worn over a crinoline.

By this time the skirt would reach almost to the ground. Eileen pointed out that the shape and length of the skirt seriously hindered movement. The crinoline was so impracticable that it was a relatively short-lived fashion.

She showed us several other garments, especially little jackets that were so lavishly embellished with fringes, buttons, tassels and beads that there was hardly any material showing. Equally however, many garments had been patched over and over again. These jackets could be very short, ending at the waist, and thus not likely to keep the wearer warm.


Detail from a Spencer Jacket

Eileen showed us that, by 1885, the bustle had disappeared and there was a trend to straighter outfits with a peplum. By the end of the century, the skirts were plainer and narrower but the sleeves were very elaborate. They were often puffed up and very wide at the top, narrow and plain from elbow to wrist. Some women might have detachable sleeves.


After the turn of the century the shape became narrower with a tight waist. Many Edwardian women adopted the uniform of narrow skirt, (including the hobble skirt which made walking very difficult), and blouse. The hourglass shapes often demanded a corset. Eileen pointed out that corsets had to be the province of the wealthy woman. Not only was their construction very labour intensive with their long lines of hooks and eyes, but the wearer would need help to get laced into it.

The ‘long’ 19th Century ended in 1914 as many women then had to begin to adapt their clothing to more active lives. (Eileen mentioned the Amelia Bloomer’s mid-19th century ideas to help women become more active.)

Eileen spent some time discussing the mysteries of the practicalities of life for these well to do women who chose to wear garments that displayed their wealth but limited their ability to move about. She demonstrated some evening dresses which were so heavily embellished that the wearer would have trouble sitting down as well as a straight cut white silk and lace dress so fine it could not be washed.

Eileen had brought her collection of underwear. Going to the toilet, sanitary protection and dressing while heavily pregnant were never discussed in public and we have very little information about these matters. Mending was evident, but how these delicate fabrics were cleaned and pressed was not.

Eileen answered a number of questions.

In answer to a query as to what was meant by the ‘long’ 19th Century she said the period covered the period from the French Revolution to the First World War, 1789 to 1914. Before the French Revolution the upper classes dressed ‘ridiculously’ and Eileen referred us to the exhibition of 18th Century waistcoats recently seen at Berrington Hall.

A number of questions from the membership focused on practical matters for Victorian women especially hygiene and laundry, and how women dealt with the changes in seasons. They tended to wear the same clothes all year round, covering themselves up against the cold but again Eileen said that she did not know the answers to many questions about these practicalities.

In answer to another question, Eileen talked about how she had assembled her wonderful collection of clothes from many sources from jumble sales to auctions. She told us she had always been fascinated by fabric rather than aesthetics, and by how different cultures had approached making garments from fabric, which is of course always flat and generally rectangular.

She was asked about a bonnet which is she told us incredibly fragile.

It was agreed that she has material for more sessions based on her collections of accessories, hats, shoes, bags, stoles.

The applause for Eileen and Tom was long and heartfelt and many stayed on to handle the clothes and look at the pictures in the books as well as speak individually to Eileen.

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Minerals, Mining & Quarrying on Clee Hill: A Brief History

16 Jan. 2019

Presented by Prof. Brian Wilkinson to about 50 members and guests

Brian opened by noting that the Titterstone Clee & Clee were closely adjacent hills and had common features. At 533m above sea level Titterstone Clee is a distinctive local landmark. It is the third highest hill in Shropshire. He noted that it was the only hill in England shown on the 14C Mappa Mundi held in Hereford Cathedral. He did not know why this was but speculated that this may have been due to the wide range of minerals & rocks available from both Titterstone & Clee Hills: coal, ironstone, limestone, clays, building stone.


Brian considered that to understand the way in which these rocks had been exploited it was helpful to have a basic understanding of the geology. He described this briefly using a simplified geological cross section through the hills – shown below.

clee hill

The hills form what geologists call an ‘outlier’ [an island of younger rocks of the Carboniferous period – 359 to 299 million years old] resting on older rocks [mostly red Devonian sandstones and marls – often referred to as Old Red Sandstone. The mineral resources are found in the Upper Carboniferous rocks. There are no rocks younger than the Carboniferous strata on either of the hills. The hills were not covered by the thick ice sheet during the last glaciation, which ended 12-13000 years ago, but the effects of frost action can be seen in the major screes lying towards the base of the hills.


There is archaeological evidence of Bronze Age burial cairns on both hills and a major Iron Age rock wall enclosure – 1.4 miles long- surrounding the top of Titterstone Clee. This is the largest Iron Age structure of its type in Shropshire.


The lowest Carboniferous stratum is the Oreton Limestone. Brian described how this had been extensively worked for building stone and as a source of lime. The lime was used on the fields and in mortar for building. There are numerous old lime kilns; the last one probably ended operating in the 1920s. The limestone was quarried where it outcropped on the surface, particularly at Oreton and Studley, but it was also extracted by tunnelling into the hillside near Studley.

Coal Measures

Moving to a higher level up the hillsides there are a series of Carboniferous sandstones above which are the Coal Measures. Brian described how these were formed by the growth, then collapse, of large trees and other vegetation into swamps. These were then compressed by deposits of sand and clay sediments over them. These formed the sandstones and shales. This process was repeated a number of times over tens of thousands of years as the land surface rose and fell. Brian showed the record of a 1920 borehole drilled from the top of Clee Hill to a depth of about 450ft. At about 350ft coal was found. There were 4 to 5 principal coal seams ranging between 3 to 5 ft in thickness.

Around the periphery of the hills the coal could be reached by shallow workings called bell pits. These were used in the 13C and evidence of the shaft depressions and the surrounding circular spoil heaps can be seen in their hundreds to this day.

Deeper coal mining, which began in the 1700s, involved sinking substantial shafts on Clee Hill to about 500ft. The shafts had to penetrate about 200ft of hard igneous rock before reaching the coal-bearing strata. 40 shafts were sunk. The Barn Pit employed about 80 men. Mining conditions, working in candlelight and with water ingress, must have been terrible. Coal mining ceased in the 1920s and the shafts were capped in the 1940s.

Iron Ore

The 1920s borehole log which Brian showed indicated iron-rich layers in the sandstones and ironstone nodules in the strata between the coal seams. As coal, limestone and fireclay were locally available for use in smelting a number of iron smelting hearths were established around the Clee hills.

Dhustone [Olivine Dolorite]

At the top of Titterstone Clee & Clee Hill there is a hard, igneous, rock known locally as Dhustone. Brian described how this was formed by molten lava from depth forcing its way to the surface and splitting the Carboniferous coal measures open to form a horizontal 60m layer of rock on cooling. Geologists call this type of structure a ‘sill’. It is characterised by strong vertical joints formed as the lava shrinks as it cools.

Commercial quarrying of this hard rock began in the 18C. It was widely distributed as a building stone [e.g. Cardiff docks], stone sets and aggregates. The stone from Titterstone Clee was transported by wagons down an impressive incline to the village of Bitterley, from where a rail link carried the stone to Ludlow. From the car park at the top of Titterstone Clee many of the old quarries can be seen, together with the remains of the old concrete crushing and grading structures. It is also possible to walk down the old wagon incline, now grassed over.

In the early 20C quarrying activity moved on to Clee Hill. From here [e.g. Magpie Quarry] the stone was transported by overhead cableway to a railhead near Cleobury Mortimer.

In the 1860s 2000 men worked in the quarries and in 1910 400 000 tons of rock were extracted.

The Dhustone is still quarried. There is a good observation point with information boards on Clee Hill. This can be reached from a path leading to the east from the Titterstone Clee access road.


The chair, Jonathan Hopkinson thanked Prof. Wilkinson for his talk which was enhanced by many images. This was followed by a lively discussion. The audience’s attention was drawn to Benson’s Brook which flows off Titterstone Clee towards Bitterley. There is a reservoir on the brook which was a source of water for a hydro-electric station [now disused] near Bitterley. Being built in 1885 this must be one of the earliest hydro-electric schemes in the UK.

Further Information

Brian gave a number of information sources on Titterstone Clee and Clee Hill, in particular he noted:

Jenkinson.  1983    Titterstone Clee Hills

Wilkinson, G. Wilkinson. and Rosenbaum,M.S.  2005     A Walk on Titterstone Clee and Clee Hill

Cleobury Mortimer Footpath Association  Web site


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Leintwardine Football Club 1948


lfc1948We believe that this is the team from 1948

Any corrections or additional information are always welcome.

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Edward Longmore, the Herefordshire Colossus

Robert Walker came to our November meeting to give a lively talk about this unusual character whose life began in Adforton.  Whilst searching on the internet for something quite unrelated, Robert found a newspaper article that gave details of ‘the giant’s death and burial. On 25th Jan 1777 he died in Spitalfields; known as the ‘Herefordshire Colossus’ he earned his living by ‘making a shew of himself’ as he was 7ft 4” tall and 6ft round. Although buried in a double coffin at fifteen feet, his corpse was stolen after six weeks by the ‘medical gentry.’

Robert explained that Edward Longmore probably had gigantism, a benign tumour on the pituitary gland which puts a considerable strain on the heart and would have made the sufferer unpleasantly smelly. One of the places he exhibited could have been Bartholomew’s Fair, where there were hundreds of booths with ‘freaks’ and would have been how he made his fortune. This he left in his will (a copy of which is in our archives) to Ann Sears and her daughter Elizabeth along with a trust to protect them should Ann’s former husband prove troublesome.

Robert speculated as to how Edward and Ann might have met and formed an opinion that the two Watling Streets which lead to his burial place of Hendon, might be the solution.

Was a church warden named Edward Longmore in our registers, the same man? Robert thinks so but cannot be certain.



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Conscientious Objectors in Herefordshire by Dr Elinor Kelly

Dr Kelly has spent many hours amongst archives discovering the details of individual Herefordshire men who were conscientious objectors (COs) in the two World Wars. She was glad of the opportunity to share her findings with us as a prelude to turning them into a book.

The tribunals that examined the objectors were composed of local dignitaries who were determined to exempt as few men as possible from playing their part in the war effort. However, Dr Kelly said she found that she had sympathy with the authorities’ difficult part in trying to distinguish shirkers from those with genuine moral objections. During WW1 the treatment of COs was exceptionally harsh, especially after conscription in 1916. This harshness was the army’s method of maintaining discipline, unchanged since the Crimean war, and COs were faced with the possibility of a death sentence. Very few had complete exemption with many being sent to non-combatant corps or joining groups like the Friends Ambulance Unit. Herefordshire COs were a disparate group of individuals: They came from a range of faith backgrounds and a couple had political objections.  They included agriculturists, tradesmen, teachers with no single body of support as had, say, the Quakers. A man in Ross was exempted as being the only support for his wife and sister but enlisted after being ‘white-feathered’ and by the end of the war his dependants were destitute. The commandant of Hereford gaol where COs were held was exceptionally harsh and in constant dispute with the bishop over his brutal regime.

By the time of WW2 many politicians were aware of the shambolic inconsistencies surrounding the tribunals of the earlier conflict. This time there was a tone of respect. Herefordshire men’s objections were heard in Birmingham, and more of them were prepared to accept ‘conditional exemption’ – taking on some non-combatant work.


william richardson

William Richardson, Plymouth Brethren, Shop Assistant, Conscientious Objector

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‘When Emperor Haile Selassie came to Milebrook House’ – LHS talk 19.9.18

Keith Bowes travelled from Bath to share his researches on the former Emperor Haile Selassie, and specifically on the visits that he made to our area and his link with the explorer Wilfred Thesiger.

Thesiger was born in Addis Ababa, when his father was in the British embassy there, in 1910, so that the Emperor would have known him even as a small boy. In 1924 Haile Selassie came to visit Britain with a gift of two lions for the king, and invited Thesiger, by then at Eton, to return to Ethiopia, for his coronation. In 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia, renaming it Abyssinia, and Haile Selassie appealed to the League if Nations. However, governments, including the British one, did not intervene. Large crowd met him on his arrival in London, sympathising with this exotic refugee, but it was said that Baldwin hid under a table!

He went to live in Bath, and later moved from hotels there to Fairfield House with his household of about 25 people. In 1937 Italian ‘black shirts’ slaughtered many local people but there was still no governmental aid, so he relied on people like the suffragette Sylvia Pankhust.

He visited Milebrook House, the Thesiger home, at least once in 1948, and later Walpole Hall and hosts Ronald and Noel Stephens. Photographs of the time show his apparel had changed from his signature capes to rather more British coats and caps. It was said that as his years of exile wore on he was visibly depressed. Another visit was to the Bible College of Wales whose founder, Rees Howells, had been interceding for Ethiopia since its fall to the Italian Fascists. Rees Howells and his family remained close friends with the Emperor until his death in 1975.

He met Thesiger again during WW2 when the latter was fighting in Sudan, and when he regained his throne he helped Thesiger in his plans for exploration. In 1948 he left his Bath house to the city and called his Ethiopian summer house ‘Fairfield’ in its memory. Sadly, from having been a progressive leader in his early reign, he lost touch with his people and was overthrown, and ultimately killed on the orders of the new regime.


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LHS tour of Pitchford Hall 12.5.18

Pitchford Hall-1

This huge Elizabethan house had been empty for 25 years until the present owners whose family had been forced to sell, bought it back and are beginning to restore it after the neglect.  We were greeted by the owner and two of her children, one carrying an African hedgehog.

Pitchford Hall-4

The lost contents were documented in a sales catalogue and included a fine drawing by the 13-year-old Princess Victoria who visited three times before her coronation.  The stripped back house gave us a different and fascinating insight into the structure of the house.  We were allowed into the vast attics where we stepped carefully to avoid holes in the floor and were able to see the roof timbers of an earlier house which had been incorporated into the building.

Pitchford Hall-20

The house boasted a large priest hole, used by Prince Rupert.  This, unusually, had an exterior window.  The window was cleverly placed so that anyone from outside saw a view of a cellar from the lower half of the window and would have to climb to see more.  It was protected by ingenious sliding panels which would have done justice to a children’s adventure book.

Pitchford Hall-31

Delights for children continued outside where a C17 listed treehouse sat squarely in an ancient tree.  It was grand enough to have a plasterwork ceiling.#

Pitchford Hall Tree House-4

The house had been home to two Prime Ministers and intended as a refuge for the royal family had they had to flee in the Second World War.

One previous resident moved from the house to the Orangery and sometimes the tree house as she found its proximity to the stream too noisy.  Later wartime planes flying past precipitated a move to a gypsy caravan in a lane on the estate.

We may go back for one of Pitchford’s ghost tours.

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