Berrington Hall Mantua
In 2017 we attended a meeting at Berrington Hall, Leominster, where the future of a court mantua was being discussed.
This meeting, tucked away in a small upper room, was no simple meeting and the whole massive debate of how to store, protect, conserve and display, the dress was being argued back and forth. Still in pieces, this stately court mantua had only just been purchased by the Trust and it’s provenance was incredible. It was said to belong to Ann Harley, the wife of Thomas Harley who had been Lord Mayor in 1767. A note made by the lady who had purchased the gown from the Harley family even stated that the gown had been worn by Ann Harley for when she was Lady Mayoress. It was this very couple who had built Berrington Hall.
From this meeting, and several others that followed, the Project began to take shape and developed from simply displaying the pieces separately to re-constructing the gown, and then, to re-constructing the gown in front of the public.
Our role was to work alongside the conservator and provide evidence of how other Mantuas had been sewn – it was also to study the gown and create a pattern and a replica. Every gown is individual and incredible, but working alongside Ann Harley’s dress was a sheer pleasure. We recorded every stage, every stitch the conservator sewed and every decision made along the way, and this gown, probably more than any so far, really and very deeply, imputed into our Mantua Project. There was so much we learnt from it.
This is the second mantua we’ve seen that has a Long Straight train – a real style development from around the late 1760s (as far as we can tell at the moment). There also seems (and we italicize this as the research is still continuing) to be many older fashion styles to it – even than the super slight Mantuas from the 1740s and 50s. Some of it’s details seem to be an interesting back step which could be simply a change of fashion, or could be to do with the more formal nature of this gown. This is where the research gets interesting, playing Sherlock Holmes as we re-build our replicas trying to understand the motive and thinking behind each sewing method. And this is where the value of comparing Mantuas amongst themselves gets interesting too. To be able to pick out a trend, regularities, similar methods and blatant deviations.
Here’s a link to a post on the National Trust’s website showing the gown whilst we worked on it en situ. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/berrington-hall/features/a-dress-with-a-tale