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The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - The Silhouette as a dress

On Friday 28th January 1831 there was a grand ball at The Royal Pavilion and five of the women on the guest list were living in Brunswick square.

Lady Grace Gore and her daughter, also named Grace, lived at no. 26. The sisters Isabella and Albinia Hankey lived at no. 4 (the Hankey family would later live at no. 10). Maria Cunnyngham lived at no.10.

Imagine if you will that they all therefore knew each other and gathered for tea in the days preceding it to discuss the grand ball. They would surely have talked of what they would wear that night and of who else would be there. After all the ball was in honour of the Duke of Sussex, who would be in attendance. Imagine indeed that Lady Gage hosted this gathering of women at Firle Place, East Sussex, and that she employed a silhouette artist to be in attendance to capture the lady's likenesses.

Silhouettes were a popular form of portraiture during this period (please see: here). Silhouettes of men, women and children cut from black paper were often placed on sketched backgrounds showing interior and exterior scenes. The clothes of silhouette figures were also often highlighted in shades of white or beige or gold. I have imagined the silhouettes that might have been cut of those five women that day as they gathered to discuss the grand ball. With decorative detail in appropriate colours I have pulled those flat images out into 3-dimensions and embroidered them.

The decoration and features of each dress are inspired by detailing from a wallpaper in one of the rooms of the Royal Pavilion and each dress in the exhibition is placed before a background with complementary imagery sketched either in pencil or using the sewing machine. Some features of the backgrounds are produced from other forms of paper art, also popular during this period, such as quilling. To read more about the five ladies please scroll down.

Stitched detailing - paper textile collaged shawl, hung behind the 5th dress, see below, inspired by the wallpaper in the William IV room, painted by Gordon Grant, image taken with special permission by The Royal Pavilion, Brighton

Extracts from the report of the ball which appeared in the Brighton Gazette on the 3rd February 1831

"The “Seat of Fashion” as Brighton may be justly named, never received so great an influx of distinguished visitors in so short a time as on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday last. The Ball given by Their Majesties took place on Friday 28th February in honour of the birthday of the Duke of Sussex who on the previous day had attained his 58th year.

For several weeks the “Grand Party” was the one engrossing topic of conversation in fashionable circles…… there was a bustling appearance in the streets of innumerable hair-dressers, milliners, linen drapers etc.

On Thursday and Friday, the carriage drives, as well as the principal promenades and streets, especially the Kings Road were almost literally impassable.

While all was thus busy out of doors, equal preparations were made within the Palace. The music salon was converted into a ball room the beautiful carpet was taken up and the floor chalked by Mr Glover. The principal device being a crown in the centre.

A temporary orchestra was erected, which was tastefully covered with scarlet.

The arrangements in respect of carriages……there were detailed instructions to coachmen and fly men in order to prevent confusion. There was not the slightest disorder nor any accident until four o’clock when owing to the inebriety of some of the servants, one or two carriages were damaged.

Soon after 8 o’clock………in less than an hour the line of carriages extended from the Palace gates to Regency Square and at 10 o’clock the last carriage has got no farther than West Street. It was nearly 11o’clock before the last carriage set down.

By the time the majority of the company has arrived and the rooms presented an unprecedented scene of gaiety. A few minutes after the entrance of His Majesty the company commenced a waltz……the dance continued until one o’clock: being varied from time to time by quadrilles ,waltzes, gallopades and one mazourka.

At this time the Royal party retired for supper served in the banqueting room. Three tables spread with a profusion of the choicest delicacies the season and country could afford, especially some remarkably fine pines, with much of the fruit besides had been sent from Windsor by the Kings command. Dancing resumed after supper and was kept up with great spirit till about four o’clock. By five o’clock the last carriage had taken its departure…the rattling of wheels became indistinct; coachmen, footmen, fly men, and policemen disappeared from the streets; and the town resumed its wanted composure".

Who was the Duke of Sussex?

The Duke of Sussex was Prince Augustus Frederick the sixth son and ninth child of King George III. He was known for his liberal views, which included the reform of Parliament, the abolition of the slave trade, Catholic emancipation and the removal of civil restrictions on Jews and dissenters. He became the Duke of Sussex in 1801. He was married twice. Firstly, to Lady Augusta Murray in 1793 although this was annulled in 1794 on the grounds that is contravened the Royal Marriages Act of 1772 as it had not been approved by the King. In May 1831 he married Lady Cecilia Letitia Buggin daughter of Arthur Gore, 2nd Earl of Arran and widow of Sir George Buggin. The title Duke of Sussex was abandoned when Prince Augustus died in 1843 but was recreated and given to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when they married in 2018.

This is the entire guest list for that evening, from the archives of The Keep, Brighton, including a detail showing the Misses Hankey:

And as I began to apply the images I was looking at of dresses from the time to the ladies in question and the idea of producing a three-dimensional dress to mimic a flat silhoutte this is the first sketch I made showing the types of dresses I planned to make.

Following are small images of the resulting pieces, and details of the particular inspiration in each case:

As an aside large images of every piece in the collection will be made visible

on as soon as the whole collection is exhibited at Firle Place.

Wallflower - inspired by Lady Grace Gore 1772-1866

Lady Grace is the matriarch of our imagined gathering. She would have been 59 in 1831. Her dress is inspired by the decoration in the Saloon at the Royal Pavilion. The tassel hanging from around her waist for example is mirrored on those hanging as trimming on the curtain installed as part of the room's recent renovation and the quilled shapes making up her necklace and the pattern scattered over the surface of her dress as well as the embroidered decoration around the trim of the skirt are all inspired by detailing from the pattern of those same curtains.

The shape and style of the dress is the result of my having seen these two pieces:

Image copyright The Olive Matthews Collection, Chertsey Museum


© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Please see:

For more images of finished details of the dress and photographs of part of the dress as a work in progress please scroll right...

Tassel and quilling credits to: Alexandra McKellar, Jenny Fraser Smith, Jane Quail, Megan

Biography (researched by Jill Vigus):

Lady Grace Maxwell married Sir Ralph Gore 1758-1842 (7th Baronet) in 1802. They lived at 26 Brunswick Square, Hove and had three daughters and one son.

Grace Gore 1805-1868 married Frederick Dundas MP 1802-1872 on 2nd June 1847

Dundas was returned to Parliament for Orkney and Shetland in 1837, a seat he held until 1847 and again between 1852 and 1872. Elizabeth E 1810-1904 died unmarried. Martha E 1806-1894 died unmarried. The 1891 census shows Martha and Elizabeth still living at 26 Brunswick Square and Elizabeth was still living there in 1904 when she died. She left effects valued at £36481 5s 10d (nb. when Elizabeth was dying she was attended by Dr Willoughby Furner who lived at 13 Brunswick Square). St. George Gore (8th Baronet) 1811-1878 died unmarried. For more Sir St. George Gore (1811-1878) please see:


Sir Ralph died in 1842 and is buried in St Andrews, Hove.

The Gore’s attended and hosted many social events including on Monday 30th December 1833 attending a ball and supper along with the Cunnynhams and the McMahons. The dancing commenced at eleven o’clock to Kirchner’s Band.

Lady Grace died in 1866

This dress is called Wallfower because it's inspired by the imagery on the wall hung silk in the newly restored Saloon in The Brighton Pavillion, described in original documentation as 'geranium and gold silk'. To hear about how the design of the silk was rediscovered and recreated please listen here

Looking East - inspired by Grace Gore 1805-1868

As an aside large images of every piece in the collection will be made visible

on as soon as the whole collection is exhibited at Firle Place.

Grace would have been 26 in 1831. I have imagined her wearing a dress inspired by the stunning gold and red wallpaper in the music room at The Royal Pavilion.

Photographs taken with special permission by The Royal Pavilion, Brighton by Ray Sullivan.

For more images of the wallpaper and form photographs of the details of the dress as a work in progress please scroll right...

Tassle, and quilling credits to: Jenny Fraser Smith, Gilly Burton

Biography (researched by Jill Vigus):

Grace was the eldest daughter of Lady Grace and Sir Ralph Gore who lived at 26 Brunswick Square. She married Frederick Dundas MP 1802-1872 on 2nd June 1847 They lived at 24 Hanover Square London and didn’t have any children. Dundas was returned to Parliament for Orkney and Shetland in 1837, a seat he held until 1847 and again between 1852 and 1872. Dundas was the maiden name of Maria Cunnyngham (10 Brunswick Square). Maybe Grace met her husband Frederick through Maria at one of the numerous social events for which Brighton was famous. Described as “the seat of fashion” a report about the Grand Ball at the Royal Pavilion in the Brighton Gazette in 1831 was attended by the Gores, Cunnynghams, McMahons and the Misses Hankey.

When Grace died in 1872 she was buried like her father at St Andrews, Hove

Mermaids (silver) - Albinia Hankey 1808-1880

As an aside large images of every piece in the collection will be made visible on as soon as the whole collection is exhibited at Firle Place.

While researching Regency fashion I made a visit to Bath fashion museum and saw several pieces currently held in storage there. Two of these were a pair of brown striped dresses made for the Misses Perceval (a pair of sisters) to attend the Duchess of Richmond's Ball, in Brussels, held on the eve of the battle of Waterloo.

For more information on the Bath fashion museum dresses please see images from my visit on:

Having asked Jill Vigus if she thought we might find our own Brunswick square pair of sisters for me to make a pair of dresses for I was amazed and delighted when she found the Misses Hankeys. Albinia and Isabella would have been 23 and 22 the night of the grand ball at The Royal Pavilion, Brighton. Their dresses are a complementary pair with silver and bronze on black inspired by details from the wallpaper in The King's apartments, the Prince Regent's own rooms.

Photograph taken with special permission by The Royal Pavilion, Brighton. For more images please scroll right...

Biography (researched by Jill Vigus):

Albinia was one of the 13 children of Thomson and Martha Hankey who visited Brighton regularly throughout the 1830’s staying variously at the Old Ship, the Albion and the Norfolk hotels. Later they lived at number 4 and from 1842 at number 10 Brunswick Square.

See Isabella’s biography below for more information on Thomson and Martha. On 14th April 1831 she married James Craig Somerville a medical doctor at St John’s Hackney

James Craig (b. 1799) was an illegitimate son of William Somerville (1771 – 25 June 1860) a Scottish physician and inspector of the Army Medical Board. William fully supported and helped James train as a doctor.

James Craig Somerville, M.D, a doctor of medicine of Edinburgh of 1st August, 1820, was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 28th March, 1825. On the 10th August, 1832, he was appointed inspector of anatomy for Middlesex, Kent, Surrey, and the city of London. Dr. Somerville died at Pangborne 26th December, 1847, aged forty-eight.

James and Albinia had one son, William, born in 1836. William died in 1857 of a fever in India while serving in the Bengal Artillary. He was 21. In 1854 Albinia married Henry Revel Spicer. Henry was 22 years younger than Albinia and had a number of children.

In 1860 the family were living at 77 Montpellier Road Brighton. And in 1871 they were living in Worthing. Albinia died in 1880.

Henry Revel Spicer and Albinia Hankey Somerville

Mermaids (bronze) - Isabella Hankey 1809-1884

As an aside large images of every piece in the collection will be made visible

on as soon as the whole collection is exhibited at Firle Place.

For more work in progress images related to both dresses please scroll right...

Biography (researched by Jill Vigus):

Isabella was one of the 13 children of Thomson and Martha Hankey who visited Brighton regularly throughout the 1830’s staying variously at the Old Ship, the Albion and the Norfolk hotels. Later they lived at number 4 and from 1842 at number 10 Brunswick Square. In 1837 Isabella married William Howard a clergyman in Witchingham Norfolk. At Trinity Marylebone Middlesex which was built by Sir John Soane in 1828

Father: Thomson Hankey (1773-1855)

Thomson, second son of John Hankey and Elizabeth nee Thomson, was born on 13 Feb 1773 at his father’s house at 7 Mincing Lane, and was baptised on 4 Mar at St Dunstan in the East.

A career in India had been planned for him, and in April 1792 Thomson Hankey completed a course in Merchants Accounts at Eaton & Boutflowers Academy in Tower Street. On 1 Aug 1792 he became a writer in the Madras Civil Service, having probably already arrived in India, and four weeks later, on 29 Aug 1792, his father John Hankey died. In 1793 Thomson was Assistant under the Resident at Salem; he returned to England in 1794 and arrived back in India on 2 Sep 1795, becoming Deputy Commercial Resident at Salem. He resigned on 28 Mar 1800 in India. Thomson Hankey married Martha Harrison (1779-1862), on 2 Jun 1801 at St Benet, Pauls Wharf. Many of his children, five sons and eight daughters, were born at his house at Love Lane, Dalston:

Mother: Thomson Hankey’s wife Martha Harrison was a daughter of Benjamin Harrison of Clapham Common, who was a Virginia merchant at the time of the Boston Tea Party, and ran his business from Arundel Street. He was treasurer of Guy’s Hospital. Thomson Hankey later lived at 45 Portland Place before moving to Brunswick Square, Brighton. From 1828 to 1854 he owned the manorial rights of the manor of Creekmouth, near the Thames at Dagenham. He became the lessee of Frindsbury Manor, near Rochester, by assignment of a lease as security for £14,000 with interest payable 9 July 1824 but not paid. His elder brother John Peter having died in 1807, Thomson Hankey then became senior partner of Simond& Hankey of 7 Mincing Lane; it was on 1 Jul 1826 that Simond & Hankey became known as Thomson Hankey & Co, and the firm has retained the name ever since, with the addition of Limited in 1947, when it became a limited company. A plantation owner, Thomson Hankey had an interest eventually amounting to 5/8ths in an estate formerly consisting of three several estates called Grand Bras, Saint Cloud and Chantilly, now united as Grand Bras Estates in Grenada (having bought 1/8th from each of the late Marquess of Lansdown; Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury Bt (1740-1821); the executors of Robert Orme; and his three nephews (heirs of John Peter Hankey). The UCL website lists the compensation that Thomson Hankey, his son Thomson Hankey Junior (born 1805) and other family members received for slave ownership. When he died in 1855 Thomson Senior left £140,000. Thomson died on 26 Oct 1855 at Brighton and was buried on 1 Nov at Kensal Green in a family vault which he had purchased in 1848 (catacomb B, vault 119); his will was proved on 20 Nov 1855 at London. Martha died on 4 Jan 1862 at 45 Portland Place and was buried on 10 January at Kensal Green.

Thomson Hankey junior was Isabella and Albinia’s brother. He was a banker and politician

Isabella and William had 7 children.

Thomas b.1839

Mary b.1841

Clara b. 1842

William b.1843

Edward M. b.1844

Charles b.1846

John H. b.1848

Isabella was admitted to Heigham Hall private asylum 25th January 1866 and discharged 1868. Later on 5th April 1879 she was admitted to Catton Grove Private asylum and discharged 8th August 1884. At Catton grove in the 1881 census the proprietor was Thomas J Rackham, among the 12 inpatients (lunatics) was another clergyman’s wife Louisa A Reeve.

Isabella died in 1884 (probably this is what discharged means in the asylum records).

Of Frill and Feathers - Maria Cunnyngham 1787-1842

As an aside large images of every piece in the collection will be made visible

on as soon as the whole collection is exhibited at Firle Place.

Maria would have been 44 in 1831. She is the final member of our group of 5. The embroidered decoration on her dress, the shawl that hangs behind her in this image and the backdrop she stands in front on in the exhibition are all inspired by the wallpaper in the William IV room in the Brighton Pavilion painted by Gordon Grant.

William IV wallpaper, The Royal Pavilion, Brighton. Painted by Gordon Grant, image taken with special permission from The Royal Pavilion, Brighton. Photograph by Ray Sullivan

The style of this dress is based on those from this period that had Mameluke sleeves. For more information about the origins of the Mameluke sleeve, please see my post:

Stitched detailing on dress, inspired by the wallpaper in the William IV room, above. For more images of these pieces as works in progress please scroll right...

Tassel and trim credits: Jane Quail, Megan Breckell

Biography (researched by Jill Vigus):

Born Maria Dundas on 21st June 1787 in West Lothian Scotland, her father was George Dundas (Captain), 1752-1792. He married her mother, Christian Stirling, on Christmas eve 1784.

(the following cutting, quote and portrait are taken from the above link)

"The Edinburgh Advertiser, 23/8/1793 Captain Dundas, of the Winterton, East Indiaman, who was lost, as mentioned in last Advertiser, was proprietor of the Estate of DUNDAS, in West Lothian. It appears on the account that we published, that he gallantly sacrificed his life to preserve the passengers and the greatest part of the officers and crew, whom he placed upon the poop, which was cut away before the ship separated".

Christian Stirling Dundas

On 8th April 1813 Maria married Robert Cunnyngham (1770-1832)

They had 3 daughters, Caroline Stirling, Frances Jane Myrton and Mary Montogomerie

From 1830 the family lived at 10 Brunswick Square.

Caroline Stirling 1815-1895 married Lempster Bulkely 1806-1853, an army officer in Hove on 9th December 1833. After Lempster dies in 1853 she marries Rollo James Bulkely in 1855

Frances Jane Myrton 1817-1887 married Adolphe Louis Lacroix 1817-1871, in Battle in April 1844. Adolphe arrived from France in 1840 at one point Frances was living in Nice. They had a daughter Frances Priscilla Nepomacene born in 1854.

Mary Montgomerie 1819-1867 marries Alexander George Woodford, in Battle in 1846. They had daughter Charolotte Annie Susan Woodford and when Mary died she was looked after by her aunt the Honourable Susan Vicountess of Templetown.

1831 Mr and Mrs Cunnyngham attended the Grand Ball at the Royal Pavilion along with the Misses Hankey, Sir Thomas and Lady McMahon and Misses, Sir Ralph and Lady Gore.

Robert died in 1832 but Maria continued to live in Brunswick Square hosting and attending numerous dinners and social events. She died in 1842.

The Cunnynghams are frequently mentioned in the local newspapers and they were very involved in the social life of the town. Here is one example:

Newspaper cutting from the Brighton Gazette 22nd July 1830

The Cunnyngham’s name is frequently misspelled in the newspaper sometimes as Cunningham or a Cunninghame


The Regency saw drastic changes in women's fashion. A key example of this was the popularization of the empire silhouette, with its fitted bodice. Waist height rises and the reduction of skirt circumferences began in the 1780s but after 1795 the changes were dramatic. The "new natural style" that was the Empire line dress made use of lighter fabrics, emphasized the beauty of the natural lines of the female body and made dresses easier to care for. An Empire line dress would often have been accompanied by a shawl or similar wrap. and was apparently lain around the midriff when seated. The name empire refers to the period of the First French Empire and looked to Greco-Roman art which showed women wearing loose-fitting rectangular tunics known as peplos which were belted under the bust, providing support for women and a cool, comfortable outfit especially in a warm climate. In Britain there are reports of many women falling ill having caught a chill while daring the most shear fabrics Josephine Bonaparte propelled the style, wearing intricately decorated garments. And even whilst their countries were at war British women looked keenly at what was happening in Paris. Ribbon, sashes and other decorative features were used to highlight the waistline whilst the shape of the dresses also helped to lengthen the body's appearance. The clothing can also be draped to maximize the bust. The empire gowns were often with a low neckline and short sleeves and women usually wore them as evening dresses. On the other hand, day gowns had a higher neckline and long sleeves.

For more about women's fashion during this period please see:


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