The Regency Wardrobe collection - research & making - Sir Robert Smart

Reader's note: This post details the work done on one or more of the pieces in The Regency Wardrobe collection. The collection was created over 15 months and is the result of a residency at the Regency Town House, Hove; a Regency era house that is gradually being turned into a heritage centre through the work of volunteers. Fine artist Stephanie Smart worked closely with town house volunteers in order to: incorporate local social history and period research into the design of each piece; develop paper and thread techniques. She also visited the storage facilities of public and private collections in order to research Regency art, design and fashion. These include: The Royal Pavilion Brighton, The National Maritime Museum Greenwich, The National Trusts’ Fashion Collection at Killerton House, The Army Museum London, Chertsey Museum, Worthing Museum, Bath Fashion Museum and The Fan Museum Greenwich.

The Regency Wardrobe collection consists of 11 life size garments, plus accessories and shoes, all made entirely from paper and thread. The entire collection was due to be exhibited to the public in May 2020. Due to Coronavirus this had to be cancelled. The collection is due to tour with pieces being able to be seen at Chertsey Museum and Worthing Museum over the coming months. For more information please check back. More venues expected.

In the navy

(Sir Robert Smart's epaulette, paper & thread, see below)

There are three naval uniforms in a case in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich that were of special interest to me as I considered the style of the piece I would make. That is, once I had realised the importance of the navy in British warfare, particularly toward the end of the century preceding the Regency, under Nelson (see: https://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/nelson-leader)

nb. there is a fabulous painting by Turner (The Battle of Trafalgar from 1805) displayed in its own separate room on the ground floor of the museum, with a fascinating soundtrack about this period. Please see: https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/we-recommend/attractions/turners-battle-trafalgar-gallery

Originally I'd expected I would make an army uniform inspired by those worn by a British regiment at the start of the nineteenth century. Then I met three naval re-enactors as I showed my work in progress at an open day at The Regency Town House and we got chatting.

They converted me, the importance of the sea began to seem undeniable and the National Maritime Museum appeared the obvious place to continue my investigation.

In the image below you can see the three uniforms: a lieutenants dress and waist coat from about 1748; a captain's full dress coat from 1774; an admiral's full dress coat from late 18th, early 19th Century. They stand with instruments of their profession and rank and seem so apparently sure of themselves. The admiral's dress coat I would come to think of as especially interesting, not simply because of the date of it but also because my research would finally isolate an admiral of special interest to me personally, as I will detail shortly.

I went also to see similar examples which the museum holds in store at a separate site nearby. I’m not allowed to publish any of the photos I took at the storage unit but I can include these links to the garments I saw, including (the last one) to the outfit which after months of internal debate I would settle upon as the primary inspiration for the particular style of the outfit I would make:

https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/71352.html

https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/71308.html

https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/71341.html

For more images please scroll right

As I began I found that Wikipedia helpfully lists the naval ranks as they were at the time: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Navy_ranks,_rates,_and_uniforms_of_the_18th_and_19th_centuries

Life in the navy, certainly at the end of the eighteenth century, was no picnic: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/empire_seapower/life_at_sea_01.shtml

And this article is interesting: http://allempires.com/article/index.php?q=english_navy_1649-1815

It is mentioned in one of the collection of letters held by The Regency Town House, Brighton (see: http://www.rth.org.uk/collections/bevan/death) that the young son (aged maybe 12-13) of one of the families writing is at sea and in fact dies there. This had struck me whilst reading through them, so I was interested to know more about the practise of sending young boys to sea. There's information about this on the walls at The National Maritime Museum. Or please see: https://www.cnrs-scrn.org/northern_mariner/vol14/tnm_14_4_11-24.pdf

Working toward creating my own jacket I started out by sketching one of the jackets I'd seen in the museum store, though it wouldn't be the jacket I finally settled on in order to shape the piece I made.