top of page

The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - The chalked floor

"… like chalk-figures drawn on ballroom floors to be danced out before morning!"

William Hazlitt - The Conversation of Authors 1826

the final designs

The Beginning

It was pretty much the first thing I learnt about the period, a Regency tradition that had me utterly enthralled and enamoured. So as I write this late in 2020 the concept of the chalked floor has pulled at me for more than two years now, during both the planning and working periods involved so far in producing The Regency Wardrobe.

The Regency Chalked floor is an ephemeral concept, they were danced on and destroyed in an evening after all. This makes them all the more intriguing.

At first it seemed I would struggle to find any written information about them but from various sources I did eventually accumulate a certain number of references to them. This article is about a chalked floor for a ball at The Royal Pavilion, Brighton:

The following was one of the first, longest and best descriptions I could find anywhere on this subject so I have quoted it here in full. It is taken directly from and accredited to: I have put in bold the sections that most spoke to me as I went on then to design my own chalked floor(s):

"And so they would be danced out, never to be seen again. But while they lasted, they enhanced the ballroom decorations for the evening, amused and/or charmed those who would soon dance across the surface of those ballroom floors, even as those same dancers consigned the lovely images to oblivion while they enjoyed themselves...

The practice of chalking the floor of a ballroom appears to have originated near the turn of the nineteenth century, among the beau monde, and was employed on very special occasions for important balls and other notable events which included dancing. One of the primary reasons for chalking the floor was for the safety of the dancers. The soles of most dress shoes at that time, for both men and women, were of plain, smooth leather. Such soles could easily slip on a smooth waxed ballroom floor in the course of a dance. It had become the habit of many dancers to rub the soles of their shoes with chalk before they began dancing for the evening, to give their slick-soled dancing slippers a better grip. At some point, some clever host or hostess hit upon the idea of chalking the entire floor, to ensure the safety of all their dancing guests. But they did not just scatter chalk across the floor. They hired artists to draw beautiful patterns over the floor in chalk which would be danced out over the course of the evening. But regardless of their fleeting nature, the chalk designs on the floor would provide a visual treat to the guests before the ball began as well as eliminating slippage as the dancers whirled about the ballroom.

There is no definitive information on the origin of the practice of chalking ballroom floors. But perhaps the first host to have chalk patterns drawn on their ballroom floor was a naval man, as it was common practice by the beginning of the nineteenth century to lay out ship designs in what was known as a "mould loft." These lofts were large open areas with equally large floors which were described as being as big and as smooth as the floors of a ballroom. Ship plans, which had already been drawn to scale on large sheets of paper, were next drawn full-size in chalk on the floor of the mould loft. These chalked patterns were then used to make wooden templates for the parts which would be needed in the construction of the ship. Once that ship was constructed, the chalk templates would be rubbed out and wiped away, ready for the next set of plans to be laid down. The sight of these chalk drawings on the mould loft floor might very well have sparked the idea of drawing designs in chalk on a ballroom floor.

It was considered de rigueur to brightly light a ballroom for a ball, preferably with a chandelier and several girandoles. The use of chalk designs on the ballroom floor was therefore very advantageous for those who had ballrooms with floors which were a bit the worse for wear. The decorative chalk patterns would cover and disguise an old, worn or stained floor, which might spoil the effect of an elegantly decorated ballroom...Floral designs were very popular for chalk designs, often larger images of the same varieties of flowers which had been used to decorate the ballroom. Arabesques were also fashionable....Mythological and fanciful motifs might also be seen, such as nymphs, mermaids, centaurs, satyrs, sea gods and/or classical heroes. Heavenly bodies, such as the sun, the moon, stars, planets, comets and shooting stars were also popular motifs. For those who had the right to bear them, their coat of arms might be chalked on the ballroom floor. At one ball during the Regency, the guest of a gentleman who had had his coat of arms chalked on the ballroom floor that evening is reported to have quipped that his host was dancing on his arms as well as his legs. Floral patterns were most common for engagement or wedding balls, though if either the bride or the groom had a coat of arms, that might be chalked on the floor, often in the centre, surrounded by flowers. If the bride and groom both came from families with coats of arms, the coat of arms of the bride might be quartered with those of her new husband in the design which was chalked on the floor for their celebratory ball. The dance floor was frequently chalked for masquerades, oftentimes with figures in keeping with the theme of the masquerade. There are suggestions that the more risqué masquerades had equally risqué drawings chalked on their floors for the titillation of the dancers.

When a ball was given to celebrate a special event, the designs chalked on the ballroom floor might be in keeping with the theme of the ball. At the annual hunt ball of 1813 in Warwick, the figures chalked on the floor included a man in the full hunting dress of a member of that hunt, mounted on a horse who was in the midst of a leap over a barred fence and a full-length figure of Guy of Warwick in a complete suit of armour. In November of 1818, the British Ministry in London held a ball for the American delegation. One of the delegates, Harrison Gray Otis, wrote to his wife about the ball. He estimated there were at least 250 people in attendance and there were two rooms set aside for dancing. In keeping with the political nature of the ball, the floor of each room had a unique chalked design. In one room, a great white circle was chalked in the centre of the room, in which was placed the armorial shield of Great Britain, encircled by the motto of the Order of the Garter, the Prince Regent’s crest and other symbols. In the second room, the floor also had a large white chalked circle, but this one contained the arms of the United States and was encircled by a set of symbols uniquely American.

On 25 November 1823, The Royal Suspension Chain Pier in Brighton was officially opened. That evening, Captain Samuel Brown, the man who had designed the pier, and his wife, Mary, gave a ball at their home on the Marine Parade in celebration. The guests were delighted to find, when the ballroom doors were thrown open, that a magnificently realistic drawing of the Chain Pier had been executed in chalk on the ballroom floor... the Chain Pier...was destroyed by a great storm in 1896...

In her article, The Rules of the Assembly: Dancing at Bath and Other Spas in the Eighteenth Century, for JASNA, Allison Thompson states that the practice of chalking ballroom floors was a something which was done at only the highest levels of society, and was in fashion between the years of 1808 to 1821. Though many dancers in the eighteenth century did chalk the soles of their shoes prior to dancing, or hosts spread chalk on their ballroom floors before the festivities, I have found no evidence to suggest that artistic chalk drawings were seen on ballroom floors in England until the beginning of the nineteenth century. However, there is evidence that, in both England and America, ballroom floors were chalked with fanciful designs on special occasions until nearly the end of the nineteenth century. For example, in 1833, King William IV and his Queen, Adelaide, wishing to provide a special treat for their young niece, Victoria, gave a juvenile ball at St. James’s palace for her on her fourteenth birthday, and invited a number of young people her age. The ballroom floor was chalked with a series of fantastical devices intended to amuse and delight the young dancers. Coming-out balls for many young ladies, right through the end of the century, included a chalked design on the ballroom floor. There is also evidence that the chalking of ballroom floors was not restricted to the upper classes. There are letters and diary entries which indicate that many large landowners hosted an annual ball for their tenants at their country estates and often had simple designs chalked on the ballroom floor, much to the delight of those in attendance. Some community assembly rooms chalked their dance floors from time to time for important evenings of dancing, though this seems to have been less common than chalking of floors at private events.

The patterns chalked on ballroom floors were typically designed and executed by professional artists based on the requirements of the host or hostess. However, there were some ladies, like Louisa Adams, who preferred to draw the designs which were to decorate their ballroom floors themselves. Should an unmarried daughter of the house draw the designs, one can be in no doubt that her proud mama would be sure to make that fact known to any potential suitors who might attend the ball that evening...

Much simpler chalk patterns were often to be found on dance floors across England, placed there by dancing masters when teaching their students. The patterns of the steps were chalked onto the floor to make it easier to learn the sequence of movement. Typically, the ladies’ movements would be chalked in white, while the gentlemen’s movements would be chalked in black, though any two colors might be used. A separate set of dance patterns would have to be chalked on the floor for each couple engaged in the lesson, and for each different dance they were learning during that session. In 1822, Thomas Wilson, Dancing Master of the King’s Theatre, published An Analysis of Country Dancing, Wherein All the Figures Used in that Polite Amusement are Rendered Familiar by Engraved Lines: Containing also, Directions for Composing Almost any Number of Figures to One Tune, with Some Entire New Reels; Together with the Complete Etiquette on the Ball-Room, in which can be found a wonderful selection of these dance instruction patterns, as well as written details on how to correctly execute the movements.

During the Regency and into the middle of the nineteenth century, both white and colored chalks were often used to draw the designs on ballroom floors. All-white designs were sometimes seen, and could be done to great effect, though typically, they were rather less expensive than those designs executed in color. But by mid-century, some authors of household management books were advising their readers that ballroom floor chalk designs should be executed only in white chalk. These arbiters of domestic economy decreed that colored chalk spoiled ladies gowns and dancing slippers. For example, in Miss Leslie’s Lady’s House-Book; A Manual of Domestic Economy Containing Approved Directions for Washing, Dress-Making, Millinery … , of 1850, on page 436, Eliza Leslie advises:

Ball-Room Floors. — In preparing a floor for dancing, avoid using any sort of coloured chalk. It rubs off on the white satin shoes of the ladies, and spoils them immediately — ruining also the hems of their white dresses. The chalk for ball-room floors should always be white.

This does make sense, as by this time skirt hems were longer than had been those in the Regency, and they would certainly have gathered chalk dust as a lady danced around the room in the arms of her partner. The floors of debutante balls were regularly chalked at this time, and since debs were expected to wear white, colored chalks on the ballroom floor would most certainly have shown on the hems of their dresses, while white chalk would have been barely discernible....Hostesses often let it be known that there would be a chalk design in their ballroom for a special ball, as that had the effect of ensuring the prompt arrival of most of the guests. Since the designs would begin to blur after the first dance, and be quite illegible after two or three more, those wishing to see the transitory art would have to be present in the ballroom before the dancing began. But there were also hostesses who wished to keep their ephemeral designs a secret until the doors of the ballroom were thrown open to their guests and the patterns on the floor were revealed under the bright light of the glowing chandelier above. There were a number of critics of the practice of chalking dance floors, as they disapproved of both the expense of the art and the loss of time in the making of it. It could take anywhere from a day to a week to execute the chalk designs on a ballroom floor, depending on the complexity of the designs and the size of the floor. If a professional artist was employed, the cost could be quite high, even though the work of art would be destroyed soon after the ball began. Costs would be lower if the chalk work was done by amateurs, but it could take longer, thus, in the eyes of the critics, distracting the amateur artists from more important work. But it does seem that the critics were in the minority. Most people did enjoy the fleeting moments of pleasure, and possibly surprise, they were afforded by an elegant design chalked on a ballroom floor before they took to the floor with their partners and danced out the chalked art.

Like William Hazlitt, quoted above, the poet, Thomas Moore, used the concept of chalked figures on a dance floor to suggest the fleetness of time, and thus of life itself. Below is a stanza from Letter VIII of his Intercepted Letters, or the Two-Penny Post-Bag, first published in March of 1813, in which he draws the poetic parallel:

Thou know’st the time, thou man of lore! It takes to chalk a ball-room floor — Thou know’st the time, too, well-a-day! It takes to dance that chalk away. The Ball-room opens — far and nigh Comets and suns beneath us lie; O’er snow-white moons and stars we walk, And the floor seems one sky of chalk! But soon shall fade that bright deceit, When many a maid, with busy feet That sparkle in the lustre’s ray, O’er the white path shall bound and play Like Nymphs along the Milky Way : — With every step a star hath fled, And suns grow dim beneath their tread! So passeth life — (thus Sc–tt would write, And spinsters read him with delight,) — Hours are not feet, yet hours trip on, Time is not chalk, yet time’s soon gone."

Sadly, all those lovely designs chalked on all those many ballroom floors have been danced to dust and are long gone, just as is the Regency."

From the same author about the floor at the Prince Regent's own grand ball:

It was certainly seeming sad to me, that is, that there appeared to be no images surviving showing an actual illustration of a chalked design from the time. As I progressed with my research however I was contacted by Paul Cooper, a researcher into Regency era social dancing and a dancer with the Hampshire Regency Dancers. He told me he did know of this image (and possibly a couple of others):

A chalked floor at Almack's, a detail from the covers of Paine's Quadrille Sets, from 1818.


- nb. a quadrille was a type of dance introduced to Britain in 1815, Paine was a musician and Almack's the name of assembly rooms that held popular dances -

He has written three posts that include mention of chalked floor and is preparing a paper. I find it reassuring to know the subject isn't completely forgotten. Please see:

They include this passage:

"Numerous descriptions of society Balls were published in the London press, some were quite brief and others rather verbose; certain details regularly recur across those descriptions, they help to indicate just how grand an event was considered to be. If a hostess wanted to impress her guests then two of the most important considerations involved illumination and chalking of the floors. These details tend not to be considered for modern recreations of Regency era Balls, but they were of great importance at the time. A particularly wealthy hostess might go further and lure a celebrity orchestra to her Ball (perhaps the Gow Band, or that of Paine of Almacks), or a celebrated chef might be hired to prepare a feast. Flowers and exotic fruit might be liberally distributed, sweetmeats and ices prepared; artificial flowers may be displayed and professional entertainers hired. Society Balls were usually held throughout the night, suitable illumination was therefore important...The Princess of Wales hosted a ball in 1809 at which the superb suit of rooms made a most magnificent display; they were illuminated by the newly invented Grecian lamps, which have lately been suspended in the centre, from golden rosettes...Floor chalking is an almost lost art form today but it was highly approved of 200 years ago. Chalking involved decorating the floor of a ball room with elegant chalk (or sometimes water-coloured) designs. It's unclear when the convention arose, references to chalking were common from around the start of the 19th century; an early example from a Royal Ball was described in 1804: The chalked floor was more than usually beautiful; the centre piece represented an Imperial crown, with the Admirals of England under, encircled by a mantle composed of red and white roses, the thistle, and the shamrock. Other fanciful devices were introduced, among which were the Prince's feathers, at the four corners of the room. (The Star, 1st April 1804). It was recorded of an Arundel ball of 1815 that the floor is chalked with many emblematical devices, festoons, wreaths of flowers, laurels, &c. The figures of a lion and a horse, as the supporters of the family arms, are introduced in various situations; they are exquisitely chalked by artists from London (The Star, 16th June 1815). Chalking may have served a practical purpose beyond mere decoration; it could, for example, allocate space for Quadrille dancing, it's recorded of an 1820 ball that the floor was chalked for six sets of quadrilles (Morning Post, 29th May 1820)."

by Paul Cooper

From the Gentleman's Magazine 1811

Glover was a celebrated artist of the time:

Monday 26th October 1812 Morning Chronicle

In Allison Thompson's article, as mentioned above, she quotes another poetic mention of a chalked floor:

" Thomas Moore, published in 1813:

Thou know’st the time, thou man of lore!

It takes to chalk a ball-room floor—

Thou know’st the time too, well-a-day!

It takes to dance that chalk away."

She goes on to say: "...the fashion probably did not trickle down to the provincial assemblies, as Austen would certainly have mentioned the chalk dust on the floor and shoes.

But Paul Cooper tells us: "A more modest event might involve simple geometric patterns drawn in chalk..." so perhaps Jane Austen saw only geometric lines and considered them unremarkable.

Paul goes on to acknowledge that though: "...a grand event might involve great works of commissioned art from a specialist floor chalker....the design wouldn't last long under the feet of the dancers, it was an entirely ephemeral form of art".

In her post about them Donna Hatch explains in more detail the way that balls were accommodated:

"Ballroom floors were made of polished wooden floorboards, such as shown in the picture above, but not too polished or the dancers would slip. Most of the time, the drawing room floors were covered with large carpets. But for a ball, they removed the furniture, and rolled up and removed the carpets. Most of the big houses didn't have exclusively designated rooms for ballrooms--that was a bit of a nouveau architectural design. Instead, they had state apartments with an enfilade of smaller, connecting rooms which could be opened or closed off, depending on the needs of the event."

From Country House Floors by Temple Newsom – Leeds

And for links between chalked floors and military campaigns such as I'd begun considering for my design:

From Tracing War in British Enlightenment and Romantic Culture ed. by Gillian Russell and Neil Ramsey

From the Gentleman's Magazine 1811

Research credit to Jill Vigus

The Chalked Floor design for under the ball gown of The Regency Wardrobe:

I started with the idea of designing an area of chalked floor for underneath the ball gown, the feature piece of The Regency Wardrobe collection, one that would extend the design on the skirt. During the period I spent working on all the pieces not least that dress itself I decided also to design another area of floor for under the two military uniforms I was making, as these male figures were meant to be standing within sight of that elegant lady.

I'd already decided there would be a map of the world on the area of floor directly under the ball gown and because of the embroidery connection I'd started looking at maps made as samplers by women of the period. When I found this sampler in the V&A collection it became clear that my volunteers and I would now be trying to reproduce a stitched or drawn map, specifically of the hemispheres of the globe, to be lain directly beneath the dress. Laving the area around this to be chalked. In fact the middle parts of these hemispheres would be embroidered onto the train of the dress itself in the end.

© Victoria and Albert museum

For more about the history of samplers please see also:

To begin reproducing it as part of the area under the floor we first enlarged the image of the sampler by printing it, we then laid it out in the front drawing room at The Regency Twn House in Hove and were able to trace it before beginning to sew.

Graphics credit to Alexandra McKellar

For the design of the front of the chalked floor, in front of this map, I looked at references in the texts shown above. I picked up on some of the highlighted and other areas of the descriptions and thereby began looking to incorporate mythical beasts, mermaids and arabesque patterns. The idea of sea creatures seemed especially pertinent for the area around the embroidered map of the globe, such beasts were often to be found on illustrations of the globe, swimming around the edges of continents, I began with mermaids such as found on this site:

Then I searched for centaurs and all the other types of mythical creature that had been appearing on maps up until this period. I found two particularly wonderful sites:

The images below come from:

The compass at the centre of the front of the design is taken from "La Virginea Pars", map of the East coast of North America from Chesapeake bay to Cape Lookout; with royal arms and compass created by explorer John White in the 1580s and held in the British Museum. It maps the lost colony set up by Sir Walter Raleigh, where over 100 English settlers disappeared without a trace, an episode that has baffled historians for centuries. I chose this one because America entire was lost to the British and become independent in 1793 under the reign of George III; thereby radically altering the future of geo politics.

It is mentioned in the quote by Paul Cooper above that chalked floor artists might come from London to work on a ballroom floor design. By this point I was discussing the real creation of the floor I had planned for beneath the ball gown and uniforms in the exhibition of The Regency Wardrobe collection and was discussing it's production with a (scenic) artist from London; Charlotte Bownass.

I'd also been to the V&A Clothworkers centre for a visit to see a quilt I'd heard mention of on radio 4, this added the imagery I needed for the floor for the area behind the dress and Charlotte and I began to discuss different types of chalks and the style of the planned drawing. We decided we were looking to reference historical engraving) and when she then went on a trip to New York and sent back these photos of a graffitied wall she'd seen our plan for the sketched outlines of the front of our design was fixed.

For more images please scroll right..

At the back of the main chalked floor area (for behind the back of the dress) I wanted elements of its design to be suggestive of a darker reality than shown by the glory of the front. The title of the dress, 'Fading Glory,' is a play on the fact that the deep red paper tablecloth the dress is made of is not colourfast and so it will fade, as real Regency textile garments have mostly done. It's also a reference to the decline that is to come of the empire that during the Regency was still in the process of being built by Britian. And indeed a reference to every other similar rise and fall of a nation state, an empire.

The dress is meant at first glance to appear to be concerned only with pure luxury but the shape of canons are incorporated into its train, and embroidered teeth (see my post about making the ball gown) are placed there likewise. Meant to reflect the often very personal costs for some of the international wars that raged during the Regency and helped shape those ambitions of empire.

And the floor is designed to work with the dress, to spread the message and suggest further the costs of such ambition. To hint at what success and failure, wealth and power are often built on the back of.

In the centre at the very back of the design I chose to show the shape of a fan, with the colours of military encampments taken from the time. In The Brighton Garrison 1793-1900 by R.C.Grant, a pubication recommended to me by the Army Museum in London, I found the following: "By the Spring of 1794, Brighton had already become a very important venue for military training and this was commemorated by the minting of a special half-penny coin. The coin had the Prince of Wales' head on one side. and the date surmounted by his three ostrich feathers on the reverse. Around the milled edge were the words "Brighton Camp"...The regular encampments at Brighton soon became an essential element of the social scene and continual references to them began to appear in art, music and literature...Jane Austen also made several refences to the encampment at Brighton in her "Pride and Prejudice"

But as far as Brighton and indeed Sussex was concerned there had been earlier examples portrayed on fashion.The Brighton Garrison tells us:

"The only known contemporary plan of the very first Brighton encampment (which was commonly known as the 1793 Downs camp) is still preserved in Worthing Museum, but in a very peculiar format. It shows three maps of that years' series of encampments at Waterdown, Ashdown and Brighton& Hove, but must unuually, they are all printed on the fabric of an ordinary fan, which is thought to have been produced for sale as a souvenir for an officer's lady."

So of course I had to visit Worthing Museum's store, the fan isn't currently on show, in order to see it for myself.

And it is these military colours that are illustrated in the curved shape at the centre of the back of my floor design, a shape that fans itself out toward the two corners where in each corner is an illustration from the V&A's 'Ann West quilt', dated 1820, that I would turn to next (please see:

© Victoria and Albert museum

I'd heard the quilt talked about on Radio 4's Moving Pictures series. To listen to this for yourself please click here.

The quilt is embroidered with dozens of separate scenes, showing Biblical stories in the centre and surely the whole of a Regency high street around the edge with each type of character who might have been found there.

So to one side of the fan shape I was encorporating in my chalked floor design I had include these two glamourous Regency soldiers, whom Ann West shows jousting on her wonderful quilt and who appear to be the type of glamorous soldiers spoken of most often in literature, for example, in Pride and Prejudice.

© Victoria and Albert museum. For more information please see:

But in the other corner the hint I planned for something darker. The other side of the coin so to speak.

Homelessness in relation to ex-military personnel in particular was hitting the news just as I was designing this whole piece and I found a direct parallel in Ann West's quilt. A sailor with a false leg is shown begging on the streets in one of the squares. This quilted square powerfully shows one of the most unglamorous after effects of war.

And it turns out that the Vagrancy Act we still sometimes enact today, to move on those who society still doesn't know how or try to help was first enacted nearly 200 years ago, in the period I am considering, in 1824. At that time it was introduced because of upper class society's aversion to seeing those men who'd returned from the Napoleonic wars and found themselves on the streets.

Today there are organisations trying to help ex-military personnel who find themselves likewise homeless:

but it's still a terrible national problem:

And Brighton and Hove, from the early 1800's until today, on the very streets that surround the very beautiful Brunswick square, has its own long-term homeless problem.

When I contacted BHT (Brighton Housing Trust) about research I knew they'd done into the history of homelessness locally I was directed toward this fascinating overview which covers the whole of the 200 year period I've been considering:

And though not specific to the homelessness of ex-military personnel there are also interesting Argus articles to be found about the local problem today.

And this video I found particularly shocking:

This sailor, shown left behind and left out by society, had to be included in the background of the dress; a powerful image still, to be now chalked as a reminder amidst all the other imagery that would be on and surrounding the glamorous ball gown.

During the research period I read The Salt Path, a novel by Raynor Winn and found in it a fascinating section entitled Rogues and Vagabonds, A brief note on homelessnes which I'd like to be able to quote here in full. For it succinctly sums up the attitude of society that I am trying to convey through this dress. With those souls who have been left behind by the rush of "successful" living left on the streets, and deemed variously pitiable or vaguely despised. And she mentions the 1824 act and she mentions a barrister who, writing at that time describes how those who are presumed suspicious includes: "Anyone from gypsies, actors, prostitutes, suspected witches, artists and beggars, to the homeless." I coudn't help it, being listed amongst the suspicious actually made me smile.

'Fading Glory' the ball gown was to look highly expensiv. The rich lady who might have worn it was to be shown standing with the globe at her feet. Ornate, gilded decoration and imaginary creatures symbolic of the mysteries of the seas and of military victory were to be spread before and draped around her. And attached to her skirts, were to be coins which would surely need to be gold in colour and have George IV's head upon them. As if she was so bursting with wealth she was overflowing and it was falling from her.

And what does society do but throw coins at the feet on the street of those who sit beneath the common gaze, homeless.

They take the given pence, they would once have taken shillings.

And what of that expression "taking the king's shilling" itself!? Wikipedia tell us:

"The King's shilling, sometimes called the Queen's shilling when the Sovereign is female, is a historical slang term referring to the earnest payment of one shilling given to recruits to the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom in the 18th and 19th centuries, although the practice dates back to the end of the English Civil War. To "take the King's shilling" was to agree to serve as a sailor or soldier in the Royal Navy or British Army. It is closely related to the act of impressment. The practice officially stopped in 1879, although the term is still used informally and there are some cases of it being used still in the early 20th century...Joining the British Army is still unofficially described as "taking the Queen's shilling""

So I came full circle in my thinking and the subject matter of this entire piece, dress and floor, all the imagery and symbolism I would encorporate came together, as if on the toss of a coin.

The Chalked Floor design for under the military uniforms as part of The Regency Wardrobe:

Under the uniforms in the back drawing room I wanted something a bit different. Firstly I thought of a Regency era border area (such as this one):

First of all I imagined my two uniformed mannequins standing in the top corners of this pattern from the time and saw the possibility of drawing waves inside it to represent the importance of the navy, just before and during the Regency. This bought to mind the image of Hokusaki's famous wave painting so I researched the dates of his work. They were perfect. He was a contemporary of this time.

"Born: supposedly 31 October 1760 Edo (present-day Tokyo), Japan Died: 10 May 1849 (aged 88)

Nationality: Japanese

Known for Ukiyo-e painting, manga and woodblock printing

Notable work: The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Katsushika Hokusai (/ˌhoʊkʊˈsaɪ, ˈhoʊkʊsaɪ/, also US: /ˈhoʊkəsaɪ/; Japanese: 葛飾 北斎, pronounced [katsɯɕi̥ka hokɯ̥sai] (listen); c. 31 October 1760 – 10 May 1849) was a Japanese artist, ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period. Born in Edo (now Tokyo), Hokusai is best known as author of the woodblock print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景, Fugaku Sanjūroku-kei, c. 1831) which includes the internationally iconic print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa"

I thought it fascinating to learn that Japan was closed to the rest of the world during the Regency period.

"From 1643 to 1853, Japan was closed to the foreign world by the shoguns, but for some (few) Portugueses or Dutch merchants. In 1810, a Dutch ship in French service, escaping from Java, took shelter in one of Japan's harbour (can't remember which one) from a British warship (the "Phaeton", if my memory's good) hunting him. The British captain ordered the Japanese authority to deliver him the Dutch vessel, but the Japaneses refused. The British then landed somes marines, captured two Dutch merchants living there as hostages, and threatened to execute them if their prey wasn't delivered to them. This time, the Japaneses agreed and let the British take the ship in their harbour. After that, the local Japanese governor and the harbour commander made Sepuku (traditional suicide) since they took for them the burden of the dishonor for not having been able to protect the Dutch under their protection.

So, the Napoleonic wars made two victims as far as Japan, even at the time of its closure to foreign world! "

Showing an image of the sea locked inside an outer border therefore seemed appropriate.

Hokusai also produced this lesser know painting titled: Feminine Wave:

And he wasn't the only artist producing beautiful wave imagery in Japan during that period:

see also this version:

I also looked at these images:

With the idea of the French and British, like tiger and dragon, glaring at each other across the channel in the early nineteenth century, because I was making both French and British frockcoats, and just because I love any drawing that involves this concertina effect this image certainly appealed.

Drawing and writing directly onto the naval uniform I was making (please see: made me reflect on the historical connections between tattoos and sailors (particularly Captain Cook's crew, please see: )

I was inspired also by coming across this image of a tattoo on a mans arm showing part land, part sea. This combination was worth considering, after all, my two paper textile uniforms were being inspired by a naval admiral and a largely land based leader

But my ideas developed next to include two epaulettes (one French, one British). Thinking I might include a little imagery of the land shown either side of the channel, beside these two epaulettes I used the following two images as my inspiration:

"ÉPAULETTE DE COLONEL, PREMIER EMPIRE. Brodée en frisure de torsades et paillettes d'or. Le corps est brodé or d’un dessin figurant des feuillages, bordé d’une baguette d’encadrement festonnée sur drap de laine bleue foncée, boutonnière bordée d'une baguette brodée ; son écusson est brodé pareillement. Double rangée de franges en grosses torsades en fils d'or mélangés mates et brillants. Le contour se compose de trois tournantes : une grosse en bourdon mat et filé brillant roulé alternativement ; une seconde intérieure de même finition ; une troisième, du même travail, est appliquée au-dessous de la grosse, à la naissance de la frange. Très bon état de conservation. Premier Empire" -

And looked at all of these sites:

These then are the preliminary outline sketches of my designs:

For beneath the ball gown

As you can see from the images at the start of this post such initial outlines would become more detailed. And the hemispheres of the globe illustrated beneath the dress are to have paper stars placed upon them, marking the sites of British naval and military deployments, perhaps from the Regency era or perhaps contemporary I remain as yet undecided:

Please see:

When the chalked floor designs are finally chalked on the floors of the Great and Little hall of Firle Place in May 2021 I can't promise they won't have been tweaked again. Certainly I am longing to see them made real by Charlotte. And then they are also due to be danced upon on the second to last day of the exhibition in May 2021, thus ruined, and so to be swept up and gone the next day true to the original tradition. Please come if you can to see them.

This is an amateur image taken during a professional photoshoot at Christmas, shown to illustrate the length of the train. Here then is the dress just awaiting her background floor.

For beneath the uniforms

version 1

version 2

version 3

Of course I would have to seek a dancer who might then destroy the images Charlotte and I were now due to create, so I put out a call:


This research was done as part of the process of designing and making The Regency Wardrobe collection.

This project has been supported by:

Recent Posts