Clothing made for members of the royal family and for those who attended royal functions was often made of sumptuous materials such as cloth of gold tissue and silk velvet. A Court dressmaker involved in the construction of Queen Victoria’s 1837 coronation robes kept leftover scraps of velvet from her crown lining and gold textile from her robe, both of which are now in our School collection.
101 years later in 1938 Queen Elizabeth, Queen consort of King George was painted by Sir Gerald Kelly in her coronation robes of silk lavishly embroidered in gilt threads.
When we acquired 52 Lambeth Road as the permanent home of The School of Historical Dress in 2016 we researched the charitable organisations that occupied our building before us. An article on ‘The Elizabeth Baxter Hostel for Stranded Women and Girls’ in the Daily Mirror newspaper dated 12 February 1938 described life here for those who had fallen on hard times in the “tall grey building, in the Lambeth-road. It looks a trifle forbidding from the outside, but as soon as you get inside among the gay cream and green paint and meet the smiling blue-eyed matron all that feeling vanishes. … On a chair lay a pile of clothing that had just been sent in. Some of the girls arrive with scarcely a stitch to their backs, so they’re only too grateful for any clothes. Among those girls was Lillian who was ‘just going to start some sewing. She’s done Court dressmaking, and she wants to keep in practice.’ The stark contrast between the lives and clothes of Queen Elizabeth and poor Lillian is painfully apparent. In 2023 we hope that the dressmakers preparing clothes for Camilla to wear at the next coronation are enjoying better circumstances.
Text by Jenny Tiramani.