The Carlisle Miser
The next gown we had managed to get a study session for, as part of The Mantua Project, is one found in the Tullie Museum in Carlisle and is reported to be owned by a lady called Margory Jackson.
(Click here for a link to the museum’s website to see the original gown and to read their notes on it: https://www.tulliehouse.co.uk/objects/court-mantua-dress )
Margery Jackson was the daughter of a Mayor of Carlisle and through the death of her brothers, and an application to Chancery to make the estate hers, became heir to some considerable wealth in 1791. She was an infamous miser of the town and in 1847 had energized a one Francis Blair (Late Jollie) in writing about her life and her considerable notoriety (See link below for more info)
The gown has all the markings of being of a style of mantua from around the 1750s-60s when Marjory would have been in her 30s to early 40s. Some very broken accounts of her early days do mention dancing masters and a ‘hoop pettycoate’
It is not impossible that in the society of her cousins she may have had an opportunity to wear such a gown as this to the Royal Courts. However, without knowing more about these cousins and what kind of level of society they moved in, it is hard to say and this theory could be incredibly inaccurate. If the 1750-60 dates concurred with her being a younger lady and likely to be presented at court when in London, then the story could have more weight to it, but here in the 1750s to 60s, she is already burgeoning on being middle-aged and possibly already growing in her hard-nosed and ‘unimpressed by the royals’ attitudes that she muttered about in her later years.
The cousins were called Thomas James, and his sister, Elizabeth James and no amount of googling and searching through parish archives has yet unearthed anything more about them. The mention of a ‘hoop pettycoate’ isn’t particularly significant for this era either. Hoops were worn right from around 1715 to 1760s in everyday, general wear, and were still being worn at Court right up to when Queen Charlotte died in 1818. However, if the accounts mentioned by Blair could be sourced then perhaps things like dates and from whom the ‘hoop pettycoate’ was ordered, could lead us to finding out what type of hoop it was. A hoop needed for a court dress like this, possibly wasn’t one that could be purchased from the ready-mades found in warehouses during the 18th Century. If this is an application to a hoop-maker then this theory grows in substance, and finding out the date and the price would also give us more information as to the quality and type of hoop purchased.
All in all, this need to understand the connections of this dress can now become part of the study session – understanding the provenance of this gown and the story behind it and comparing this to the evidence found on the gown. In the case of the Mantua Project, when a gown has a good provenance, a lot of questions that normally go unanswered, and most often unasked, suddenly begin bringing in data. Understanding the ‘who’ that wore a court gown fills in such depths about the social spectrum appearing before the royals and unearths more possibilities for evidence like bills, receipts, and evidence of income. These can help us find out what ladies paid for their silks and their trims, their mantua-makers, and their hoops, and thus colouring in more of the background detail that is needed when understanding these strange and beautiful gowns.
The gown appears in pristine condition and though we have yet to see it first hand, it seems very much in the constructional details of the late 1750s to early 1760s.
And clearly it would have been no cheap gown – the silver lace would have been hugely expensive and the silver woven within the gown, an added cost too.
Very interestingly the mantua appears to have its original stomacher which we are particularly keen to look at as not many of the mantuas retain their original stomachers. In fact, so far we’ve only found one that comes with a stomacher that is 100% the original item. Much will be able to be told of the original wearers. Margery’s height and proportions from the replica and will add a final ‘portrait’ to this strange and disliked lady.
The gown has three ruffles with silver lace trim attached, robings covered with wider silver lace, silver lace-trimmed sash, and a by-this-time standard, simplified train. She also has a slightly sloping hoop which is correct for this fashion between the 1750s to 1760s. Between these dates we see court mantuas moving away from the boxy and ‘square’ 1740s shaped hoop to this more elegant slowing, fan shape. The boxy ‘square’ hoops that Mrs Delaney describes as ‘ugly’ appears to come back into fashion in the mid to late 1760s – across Europe, which suggest this shape of hoop now starts getting favoured by the French,
Using much of what Blair wrote in her brief about this infamous miser, it appears Margery didn’t always reside in Carlisle but returned after she had won a long, 16 year battle at Chancery to inherit the property left to her older brother after he had died and contesting the will that he had left.
This didn’t happen until the year 1791 when she was nearly 70, so much of her life had already been lived and a whole lifetime of character and actions have disappeared from the annals of time, never to be known. What we do know is that in winning her case to inherit, her obstinate personality appears to have already been formed by the time Margery, in her brother’s carriage, drove into Carlisle to take up her possession of the family mansion. Over the next 20 years her character and attitudes built for her an infamous reputation and her habits, her dislike of people, and the speed of which she went through maids and workers won her something that most people yearn for – to be remembered way beyond her lifetime. The two paintings that can be found were both painted post-humously as far as we can work out. There was also a poem written by the local bard in Cumbria and was on the subject of her hiring a local lad called ‘Daft Watty’
And it appears even a musical has been written about her! We’ve just discovered this link while googling and became part of the revealing of the mantua dress for a grand exhibition.
This link here is a short article about the musical and interviews the guy who wrote it and how he had known about Margery Jackson. http://www.thejournal.co.uk/culture/arts/margery-jacksons-remarkable-life-inspires-4429213
The theme of the musical appears to be that she fell in love with a soldier and had this dress made for her hoped-for wedding, but, as far as the research is revealing, this style of dress, in this era, was not worn for weddings. To us, with our modern-day bridal outfit easily being the only special dress we may ever own, it is hard to understand that weddings weren’t the big event they are today. Many weddings simply contained those who were around on the day, and Pamela’s wedding in Samuel Richardson’s novel doesn’t even appear to see a need to invite her parents. It is not that weddings weren’t deemed ‘important’; they were deeply so, but those that witnessed it, was less so.
This page will be further updated as we have just discovered a book written about Margery’s life. The study session is to take place in May so we shall also update when we’ve seen the dress and have had our study session.