Fashion and Fancy Dress

ct004009_d01g_300h250wThe Messel Family Dress Collection consists of over five hundred items, largely women’s wear, most of which was worn and collected by Anne, Countess of Rosse and her mother, Maud Messel.  It is a unique collection of exceptionally high-quality, unusual yet fashionable garments, worn by six generations of women from one creative and influential family over a period of one hundred and thirty-five years, from 1870-2005.

The collection includes couture garments, ready-to-wear and homemade clothing, antique Han garments from China, fancy dress and original examples of late eighteenth-century garments worn as fancy dress. It embraces work by some of the best of couturiers based in London and Dublin, including Lucile, Charles James, Norman Hartnell, Irene Gilbert and little known London couturiers from the 1900s and 1910s such as Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young.

The clothes in the Messel Dress Collection are far more than elegant fashion items. They live on as material fragments through which it is possible to trace the biographies of these women, who rose, through marriage, from private middle class comfort to the public stage of the aristocracy.

The family’s drive to collect, preserve and memorialise their past remains strong still today. The current generation of women have kept items related to their weddings and so the Messel Collection continues to grow, making tangible the memories and lives of generations, past, present and future.

The majority of the Messel Dress Collection is housed in Brighton Museum & Art Gallery on long-term loan from the family and The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea: Linley Sambourne House Museum. In 2005-2006 the collection was the subject of a major exhibition at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery titled Fashion & Fancy Dress: The Messel Family Dress Collection 1865-2005; the exhibition was supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation Regional Museums Initiative.

The Women of the Messel Family

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Six generations of women from one remarkable family are represented in the Messel Dress Collection. The collection traces the stories of these women’s lives and their rise in society from middle class comfort to the public stage of the aristocracy.

After the death of her mother Mary Anne Herapath in 1895 Marion Sambourne packed away two items of clothing in memoriam. From then on each generation has lovingly preserved the clothing of their maternal ancestors, adding to the collection with items of their own dress. At the heart of the collection is the dress worn and preserved by Maud Messel and her daughter Anne, Countess of Rosse.

All the women of this extended family have fulfilled their social obligations to dress correctly, while demonstrating a strong individual style.

Madame Yevonde studio portrait of Anne, Countess of Rosse with her daughter Susan Armstrong-Jones 1938. ©Birr Castle Archives Archives
Madame Yevonde studio portrait of Anne, Countess of Rosse with her daughter Susan Armstrong-Jones 1938. ©Birr Castle Archives Archives
Maud Messel with her daughter Anne c1902. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust
Maud Messel with her daughter Anne c1902. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust

 

ctil000059_300h250wMary Ann Herapath 1822-1895

Mary Ann Herapath (née Walker) married the stockbroker Spencer Herapath in 1845. Spencer Herapath had made his money on the railways and the couple could afford to live in London in middle class comfort.  Together they had nine children.

Following her death in 1895, Mary Anne’s daughter Marion Sambourne preserved two mourning bodices worn by her mother in 1884-1885. These items form the basis of the Messel Collection, being the first items of clothing to be kept in memoriam.

Little is known about Mary Anne’s specific fashion style. The only garments worn by her which survive are these elegant and conventional mourning bodices bought from London dressmakers.  Family photographs show her wearing similarly smart and conventional dresses.

ctil000097_300h250wMarion Sambourne 1851-1914

‘The Family Archivist’

Marion Sambourne (née Herapath) married Edward Linley Sambourne, a political cartoonist for the satirical magazine Punch in 1874.  The couple had two children Maud (born 1875) and Mawdley (born 1878).

Marion’s social circle brought her into contact with many of the leading figures of late Victorian arts; among her close friends were the wives of prominent artists.

Marion’s fashion style was conventionally smart and appropriate to her position as a middle-class Victorian wife.  She did not adopt the artistic styles of dress worn by the more avant-garde women who mixed in artistic circles.  Her diaries reveal that fashion was more a chore than a pleasure and she often worried about her appearance and the price of clothing.  Marion was, however, a talented needlewoman and embroiderer.

Described as the family archivist, Marion kept most of the ephemera of her life and much of her own clothing.

ctil000095_300h250wMaud Messel 1875-1960

‘Wonderfully Picturesque’

Maud Messel (née Sambourne) began her long and happy married life with the stockbroker and collector Leonard Messel in 1898. Her marriage lifted Maud into wealthier upper-middle class society. Her three children, Linley, Anne and Oliver, were born between 1899 and 1904.

Maud entertained friends from the world of art, connoisseurship and business at her home in Lancaster Gate, London. In Sussex, first at Balcombe House and then at Nymans, she organised an Embroidery Guild, fancy dress balls and revived the May Day Pageant at Staplefield. She also created a local Shakespearean drama group, making the costumes herself.

Maud’s delicate beauty and petite figure hid her determined character. Her romantic fashions and homes, her collecting and gardening interests, were all influenced by mediaeval to early nineteenth-century design.

Maud believed she was descended from the late eighteenth-century classical singer Elizabeth Linley, whose dress style influenced Maud’s own fashion and fancy dress choices. More than 200 of Maud’s fashionable garments and accessories survive and form the majority of the Messel Dress Collection at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

ctil000010_300h250wAnne, 6th Countess of Rosse 1902-1992

Anne, 6th Countess of Rosse (neé Anne Messel) was a debutante in 1920 and became a celebrated society beauty, famous for her personal style. Like her mother Maud, Anne’s dress was inspired by a passion for romanticism, history and flowers. She patronised young London fashion designers and, from the 1950s, Dublin based designers.

In 1925 she married barrister Ronald Armstrong-Jones with whom she had two children, Susan (born 1927) and Antony Charles Robert (born 1930 and later to become Lord Snowdon). After her divorce in 1935, she married Laurence Michael Harvey, the 6th Earl of Rosse with whom she had two sons (William Clere Leonard Brendan Wilmer, the 7th Earl of Rosse, born 1936) and Desmond Oliver Parsons (known as the Hon Martin Parsons, born 1938).

It was Anne who recognised the family and historical significance of the clothing worn by her grandmother and mother. From 1924 she started to preserve her own garments. In 1981 she presented many items to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

ctil000016_300h250wSusan, Viscountess de Vesci 1927-1986

Susan Vesey (neé Armstrong-Jones) married John Eustace Vesey, 6th Viscount de Vesci of Abbey Leix, County Laois, Ireland in 1950. The couple had four children, Emma Frances (born 1951), Catherine Anne (born 1953), Thomas Eustace (born 1955) and Georgina Mary (born 1963). Sadly, Georgina died two years after birth.

Surviving photographs reveal that Susan wore her mother’s Charles James ribbon dress in 1947. Two of Susan’s special-occasion dresses, made by her mother Anne, survive.  Her wedding dress (1950) and a yellow dress adorned with a pink-red camellia, a family flower, which she wore to the Queen’s first party at Buckingham Palace in 1953. Anne wrote a luggage label which she enclosed when she packed the dress away which reads ‘Susan Dress. I sat up and made in Bridget’s flat in Mount Street for a sudden invitation to Buck Pal…’

ctil000012_300h250wAlison, 7th Countess of Rosse 1939-

Alison, Lady Rosse, (née Cooke-Hurle of Startforth Hall, Barnard Castle, County Durham) married William Brendan Parsons in 1966. The couple took over the running of Birr Castle Demesne in 1979, when she became the seventh Countess of Rosse. They have three children, Patrick, Lord Oxmantown (born 1969), Lady Alicia (born 1971) and the Hon Michael Parsons (born 1981).

Lady Rosse, who is a well-known watercolourist, shares her family’s passion for gardens and rare plants. She and her husband go plant hunting in Asia.  Alison carefully looks after the Messel Family Dress Collection stored at Birr Castle, sharing with her mother-in-law Anne, the 6th Countess of Rosse, a complete understanding of their family and historical value.

Alison has her own style of fashion elegance; on her honeymoon she wore a striking red silk mini-dress.  She also patronises Irish designers.  From Mary O’Donnell she purchased a white crochet mini coatdress in the late 1960s.

ctil000017_300h250wAnna, Lady Oxmantown

Anna, Lady Oxmantown (née Lin Xiaojing) was born in Tianjin, China.  Anna is the English name she chose for herself at university. She met her husband Patrick Parsons, Lord Oxmantown whilst studying for her MBA in Beijing. They married in 2004.

Anna has a distinctive personal style. From childhood she designed her own clothing. Anna travelled extensively with her job as a television presenter and has now established a fashion design company.  She regularly wears her own designs, which draw on Chinese and European fashions. Anna designed and wore the four outfits for her Chinese wedding and Irish blessing.

Themes

The Messel Dress Collection can be accessed through a number of themes:

The Women as Guardians of the Messel Dress Collection – explores how the women of the Messel family lovingly preserved their collection of dress.

Fashion Designers – illustrates the range of top London, Irish and Chinese designers represented in the collection.

Fancy Dress – reveals the women’s love of mainly historical and oriental inspired dressing up.

ct004216_d02_300h250wHomemade and Personalised Dress – examines Marion Sambourne, Maud Messel and Anne, Countess of Rosse’s passion for dressmaking and customising their fashionable clothing.

Embroidery and the Nymans Needlework Guild – explores the needlework school established by Maud Messel at Nymans, her Sussex country home.

Travel Influences – examines the clothing in the collection which has been stylistically influenced by the women’s travels abroad and interest in other cultures, particularly their love of China.

Gardens, Flowers and Floral Clothes – reveals that Maud Messel and Anne, Countess of Rosse’s passion for gardening and flowers is reflected in their fashionable dress.

Birth, Marriage and Death – tells the lives of the Messel women through their clothing.

Fashionable Hats – illustrates some of the more unusual  headwear in the Messel Dress Collection worn by Maud Messel and Anne, Countess of Rosse.

Family Homes – explores the homes of Marion Sambourne, Maud Messel, Anne, 6th Countess of Rosse and Alison, 7th Countess of Rosse, revealing the family’s taste for romantic nineteenth-century vernacular revival styles.

The Women as Guardians of the Messel Dress Collection

Whilst many objects are collected for their monetary and aesthetic values, clothes are often preserved and treasured for the personal memories they hold. Each garment in the Messel Dress Collection has been worn, sometimes through the generations. Many pieces are imprinted with wear, a few are virtually perished. All were considered worthy of preserving intact.  The survival of these garments highlights the role of the Messel women as guardians of the memories and heritage of this famously creative and influential family. All the women were hoarders and collectors, storing away the clothing and personal ephemera of their lives.

Marion Sambourne

From 1881 until her death in 1914, Marion recorded her daily life in diaries and letters. These are now kept in the Sambourne Family Archive at Kensington Central Library. She also preserved souvenirs of special events and items of her own and her mother Mary Ann Herapath’s clothing.

Maud Messel

From 1898 until the 1950s Maud retained photographs, letters and domestic scraps which held deeply personal family memories. She ensured the family home at 18 Stafford Terrace was preserved, along with many items of her own and her mothers clothing. Maud began the family’s practice of writing notes, which were preserved along with the dresses. To the dress her mother Marion Sambourne wore at her wedding she pinned a note which reads:

‘This dress was worn by my darling mother at my wedding April 28 1898. It was made by Mrs Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young who made my wedding dress. MFM. May 1948. MFM.’

Note written by Maud Messel and placed in the storage box containing her mother's dress.
Note written by Maud Messel and placed in the storage box containing her mother’s dress.

Anne, Countess of Rosse

Anne recognised the significance of the family’s clothes as a collection. She ensured its future survival by carefully packing items away, sometimes adding hand-written notes and inventories which add further personal meanings. Anne believed that the clothes in her care were special, she wrote ‘All period dresses, if they have that meaning of being worn, if only once, become frail. Think what Mary Queen of Scots be-heading dress would be like – it would have meaning.’ Consequently, she kept many deteriorating and fragile dresses. In 1981 she lent many pieces to Brighton Museum & Art Gallery. Anne also made sure that the family homes, interiors and gardens were renovated and maintained. In 1958 she helped establish The Victorian Society.

Note written by Anne, Countess of Rosse, attached to her Jacqmar dress in storage at Birr Castle.
Note written by Anne, Countess of Rosse, attached to her Jacqmar dress in storage at Birr Castle.
  Label written by Anne, Countess of Rosse and attached to the storage box of her Victor Stiebel outfit.

Label written by Anne, Countess of Rosse and attached to the storage box of her Victor Stiebel outfit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alison, Countess of Rosse

Alison has continued to preserve the family’s dress collection and has added her own notes and drawings to the dress boxes and items of her own clothing. These additions along with the notes and inventories written by Anne, Countess of Rosse, has enabled the identification of many unique unlabelled couture garments made specifically for her. The family’s drive to collect, preserve and memorialise their past remains strong today.

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Fashion Designers

The Messel Dress Collection contains over 100 examples of dress purchased from London and Dublin based designers, reflecting the family’s consistent support of London and Irish fashion talent. From ready-to-wear to top international couture, this collection tells the story of the family’s upward social mobility, from private middle class comfort to the public stage of the aristocracy.

Mary Ann Herapath and her daughter Marion Sambourne shopped at department stores in central and west London. Harvey Nichols was one of Marion’s favourites, but Harrods she thought to be ‘a dirty place though cheap’. Like most middle class women of this period Mary Ann and Marion ordered their best clothes from local private dressmakers and seamstresses. Marion’s favourite was a woman called Madame Bouquet.

Designer's label in evening bodice by S.A. Brooking c1874, worn by Marion Sambourne CCE0278.1. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004
Designer’s label in evening bodice by S.A. Brooking c1874, worn by Marion Sambourne CCE0278.1. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004

Following her marriage to wealthy stockbroker Leonard Messel, Maud Messel could buy her best clothes from Court dressmakers and tailors. She selected those with artistic leanings who would incorporate her taste for unusual accessories and decorative details. In London she patronised Reville and Rossiter, Lucile, Madame Hayward, Madam Ross and Mascotte. Her favourite designer was Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young. Outside of Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, only two other examples of this designers work are known to exist.

For over 40 years Anne, Countess of Rosse championed young, innovative London and Irish designers, including Norman Hartnell, Charles James, Victor Stiebel, Peter Russell and John Cavanagh. Occasionally she purchased dresses
from Parisian couturiers with London salons, such as Elsa Schiaparelli and Irfé.

Designer's label in coat by Madam Ross c1907, worn by Maud Messel CT004229. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004
Designer’s label in coat by Madam Ross c1907, worn by Maud Messel CT004229. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004

Anne’s patronage of Irish based designers began following her marriage into the Irish aristocracy. She bought clothing from Irene Gilbert, with whom she worked closely, Sybil Connolly, Ib Jorgensen and Thomas Wolfangel.

Anne’s daughter Susan, Viscountess of Vesci and daughter-in-law Alison, 7th Countess of Rosse have followed her example and selected clothing by young Irish designers, including Sybil Connolly and Mary O’Donnell.

The current generation of the family continues to patronise contemporary British couturiers and now, through Anna Lin Xiaojing, Lady Oxmantown, Chinese designers.

Designer's label in coat by Charles James 1938 worn by Anne, Countess of Rosse, CT004007. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004
Designer’s label in coat by Charles James 1938 worn by Anne, Countess of Rosse, CT004007. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004

ctil000098_300h250wFancy Dress

A passion for fancy dress is shared by each generation of the Messel family. A number of fancy dress outfits worn by Maud Messel and her daughter Anne, Countess of Rosse survive in the Messel Dress Collection. These outfits reflect the family’s particular interest in oriental and historical subjects from the period 1750-1820.

Guests at fancy dress balls throughout the twentieth-century highlighted their social status by dressing as famous relatives. Maud and Anne used fancy dress to celebrate an ancestral link to Elizabeth Linley, the famed beauty and musician who scandalously eloped with the playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan in 1772.

Maud Messel

Maud was fascinated by the story of her distant ancestor. She and Leonard adopted the characters of Elizabeth Linley and Richard Brinsley Sheridan at high profile fancy dress balls, including the Chelsea Arts Club Ball in 1911.

The couple also hosted many fancy dress balls and children’s parties at their homes. Their Arabian Nights Ball held at New Year in 1912 was particularly memorable, one guest wrote afterwards of the ‘wonders and success’ of the ‘effect of colour, light and dresses’.  Kathleen Owens the gamekeeper’s daughter recalled the ‘ball with an eastern theme and the beautiful jewel colours of the dresses’.

Maud Messel dressed as Elizabeth Linley at the Chelsea Arts Club Ball 1911. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.
Maud Messel dressed as Elizabeth Linley at the Chelsea Arts Club Ball 1911. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.
Leonard Messel dressed as Richard Brinsley Sheridan at the Chelsea Arts Club Ball 1911. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.
Leonard Messel dressed as Richard Brinsley Sheridan at the Chelsea Arts Club Ball 1911. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maud made many of her own fancy dress costumes. A dress labelled ‘Empire 1913’ is preserved in the collection, along with a photograph of Maud wearing it dressed as Lady Hamilton.  Around the hem Maud has appliqued Graeco-Turkish embroidery, some of the tacking stitches remain in place.  Other unlabelled and dramatic garments survive in the collection, most likely made and worn by Maud as fancy dress.

Fancy dress 1913. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Fancy dress 1913. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Maud Messel in fancy dress 1913. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.
Maud Messel in fancy dress 1913. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne, Countess of Rosse

Anne and her brother Oliver Messel attended many fashionable fancy dress balls and charity pageants in London during the 1920s and 1930s. Anne attracted much attention wearing flamboyant costumes created by Oliver, who was making his name as a theatre and film costume designer. In 1929 British Vogue described Anne as ‘one of London’s charming jeunes mariées, well known for her beauty, for the originality of her costume dresses, and not least because she is the sister of Oliver Messel, the stage artist.’ At the Pageant of Great Lovers in May 1927, Anne, dressed as the mythological beauty Ariadne, was singled out by the Duke of Kent as ‘the best looking girl in the room’ – a great compliment considering the Hollywood siren Tallulah Bankhead, dressed as Cleopatra was also present.

Like Maud, Anne maximised her association with Elizabeth Linley. For the 1922 Devonshire House Ball, she wore the same dress that Maud had worn to the 1911 Chelsea Arts Ball. To a charity matinée in 1931 Anne was accompanied by her 4-year-old daughter Susan, also in eighteenth-century dress. A similar cream silk eighteenth-century gown bought by Maud and Leonard Messel from the Bath antiques dealer Rosa Dyer in 1924 is preserved in Nymans House. It is likely that Anne or Maud wore this gown as fancy dress.

Anne Armstrong-Jones (later the Countess of Rosse) and Oliver Messel dressed as Bacchus and Ariadne at the Pageant of Great Lovers Through the Ages, 6 May 1927 ©The Messel Collection, Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.
Anne Armstrong-Jones (later the Countess of Rosse) and Oliver Messel dressed as Bacchus and Ariadne at the Pageant of Great Lovers Through the Ages, 6 May 1927 ©The Messel Collection, Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.
Anne and Susan wearing eighteenth-century fancy dress, 1931. ©The Messel Collection, Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.
Anne and Susan wearing eighteenth-century fancy dress, 1931. ©The Messel Collection, Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homemade and Personalised Dress 

Until the mid twentieth-century, most women were reasonably accomplished dressmakers. The Messel women were exceptionally so.

Marion Sambourne

Marion’s diaries reveal that she made many of her daughter Maud’s clothes, she even made her coming out dresses in 1893. Marion also sewed and embroidered decorative textiles for her home.

Maud Messel

Maud’s habit of customising her fashionable, romantically styled, garments with swatches of embroidery, jewelled buckles and even a section from a man’s eighteenth-century waistcoat was most unusual in the 1900s and 1910s. Onto her Mascotte dinner dress of c1906-08 Maud added a patch of jewelled appliqué work and matching tassels. This popular style of embroidery was described in the Ladies Field, but its addition on a couture dress was not a common practice. Maud may have altered the dress before giving it to her mother, in order to make the gift more personal. In 1925 Maud made Anne’s wedding dress, which has medieval overtones and is embroidered with rose motifs, reflecting both women’s love of historical styling and flowers. Maud also ran her own embroidery school at Nymans, her Sussex home.

Detail of dress designed by Sarah Fullerton Montieth Young with insertion from an eighteenth-century man's waistcoat, c1907 CT004015. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Detail of dress designed by Sarah Fullerton Montieth Young with insertion from an eighteenth-century man’s waistcoat, c1907 CT004015. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Dress designed by Mascotte with additions of homemade jeweled appliquéd embroidery and tassels c1906-08 CT004216. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Dress designed by Mascotte with additions of homemade jeweled appliquéd embroidery and tassels c1906-08 CT004216. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne, Countess of Rosse

Anne’s needle skills were perfected when she worked at Victoire, a London couture salon, prior to her marriage. Anne also personalised the dresses she wore. Examples in the Messel Dress Collection include a green afternoon dress from 1929 which is embellished with braid and diamanté, and an Irene Gilbert evening dress of c1960 which has been appliquéd with an embroidered carnation, echoing her mother Maud’s techniques. From the late 1920s Anne made some of her brother Oliver Messel’s designs for the London stage as well as some of her own fancy dress costumes and in the 1930s helped her friend, the couturier Charles James, complete some of his dresses. In 1950 Anne made her daughter Susan’s wedding dress and, in 1953, made her a striking yellow dress with a camellia corsage to wear to a party at Buckingham Palace.

Detail of waterlily print dress with additions of diamanté and braid c1929 CT004013.
Detail of waterlily print dress with additions of diamanté and braid c1929 CT004013.
  Dress made by Anne, Countess of Rosse for her daughter Susan Viscountess de Vesci in 1953 CCE0278.12. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.

Dress made by Anne, Countess of Rosse for her daughter Susan Viscountess de Vesci in 1953 CCE0278.12. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna, Lady Oxmantown

For her marriage to Lord Oxmantown in 2004, Anna Lin Xiaojing designed the embroidered red wedding dress she had made in China, where she has established her own fashion house.

Wedding dress designed and worn by Anna Lin Xiaojing 2004, CCE0278.17. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Wedding dress designed and worn by Anna Lin Xiaojing 2004, CCE0278.17. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.

 

Embroidery and the Nymans Needlework Guild

Marion Sambourne passed on her embroidery skills to her daughter Maud Messel, her granddaughter Anne, Countess of Rosse and her grandson, Oliver Messel. All four collected embroidery and were well informed on the history of textiles.ctloa000004_d01_300h250w

From the early 1900s Maud ran embroidery classes from all her homes, selling the products through sales of work. Like similar organisations across Europe, her aim was to provide training and an income for young country girls. The class teacher was Miss Warren, trained at the Royal College of Needlework.

Maud set up her Nymans Needlework Guild in 1916. Pupils made three types of work: Whitework – reticella, drawn thread and crochet for household use; natural linen envelope bags and mats embroidered with one-coloured silk thread; small white satin drawstring bags embroidered with coloured silks.

Maud completely rejected art nouveau, art deco or Modernist design influences, developing instead an elegant vernacular revival style. Designs were inspired by the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Jacobean and Italian samples in her embroidery collection.

Maud’s Guild lasted through to the mid 1950s, when classes were still being held in the village of Handcross.

'Whitework' table mat
‘Whitework’ table mat
Embroidered linen table mat
Embroidered linen table mat

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Influences

All of the women in the Messel family loved travelling and their experiences abroad and interest in other cultures can be seen in some of the styling and detailing of their clothes. Their destinations were guided by their interests in collecting antiques, textiles and rare plants.

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Maud Messel

Chinese coat c1890-1910. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Chinese coat c1890-1910. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.

Marion Sambourne’s brother Edgar Herapath made the family’s first direct contact with China in 1904. He probably gave his niece Maud Messel the two Han jackets preserved in the Messel Dress Collection. It is unlikely that Maud ever wore these jackets, as only the most avant garde women of this period wore Chinese dress, it was probably used a decorative object in her home.

Maud and Leonard Messel travelled widely in Europe collecting antiques, textiles and plants. They did not travel to the Far East but both collected Chinese artefacts.

Much of Maud’s wardrobe reflects her romantic interest in the Far East. She chose clothing with modified oriental symbols and exotic motifs applied as decoration. Stripped from their original context they come to represent a sanitised but exotic and mysterious East, which no doubt appealed to Maud’s romantic nature.

Evening coat designed by Reville c.1923, made of silk embroidered with a Chinoiserie design. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Evening coat designed by Reville c.1923, made of silk embroidered with a Chinoiserie design. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Evening coat designed by J&FP Wilson c1924, made of red and gilt tissue broacde figured with art deco, oriental-inspired floral motifs.
Evening coat designed by J&FP Wilson c1924, made of red and gilt tissue broacde figured with art deco, oriental-inspired floral motifs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maud’s collection of antique textiles, acquired during her travels abroad and from antique shops in England, included pieces of Graeco-Turkish floral fabric which she applied to the hem of fancy dress outfit in 1913. A fashionable red muslin day dress of circa 1905 also has curious Graeco-Turkish styled, hand-painted, wax-edged, floral decoration around the neckline. The provenance of this dress is a mystery. It is possible Maud bought the fabric or dress abroad or might have been inspired by a design she saw on her travels.

Day dress with Graeco-Turkish style decoration c1905. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Day dress with Graeco-Turkish style decoration c1905. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.

Anne, 6th Countess of Rosse

Anne, 6th Countess of Rosse and Michael, 6th Earl of Rosse spent their honeymoon in 1935-1936 travelling to Paris, Munich, Berlin, Warsaw, Moscow, Colombo, Jakarta, Bali and Peking. Anne’s trousseau was made by the couturier Charles James. It included ‘cotton dresses for the tropics and Far East, stout thick wear for mid-winter in China and Russia … and also dresses for embassy dinners.’ All that remains of Anne’s trousseau is the yellow dress designed for her to wear in Bali, which is preserved in the Messel Dress Collection. Anne and Michael brought back to Birr Castle Chinese textiles collected there by Michael’s brother

Anne and Michael often visited America. In 1938 in New York Anne was photographed for Vogue wearing her black and white Charles James evening gown. The couple frequently travelled to Italy, attending Charles de Beisutegui’s last great ball at the Venice Carnival in 1951.

Alison 7th Countess of Rosse & Anna, Lady Oxmantown

The family’s close relationship with China continues today. William Brendan, 7th Earl of Rosse and Alison, 7th Countess of Rosse travel to China to collect plants and seeds for the gardens at Birr Castle. Their son Lord Oxmantown married Anna Lin Xiaojing in Beijing in 2004. Anna designed three dresses for the day which combined elements of Chinese traditions with European fashions.

Gardens, Flowers and Floral Clothes

ctil000023_300h250wWith great style the women of the Messel family use floral patterns and references on their clothes. Maud Messel and her daughter Anne, Countess of Rosse, both had a committed interest in horticulture and a sentimental attachment to their gardens and plants. Maud and Anne are remembered for filling their homes with flowers and were involved in plant propagation with their husbands. The gardens at Birr Castle and Nymans remain as testament to the family’s passion. Famous examples of plants propagated at the women’s gardens include Tree Peony: Paeonia ludlowii-hybrid ‘Anne Rosse’ and Camellia Williamsii ‘Maud Messel’.

Maud Messel

ct004019_5_d02_300h250wMaud’s biographer Shirley Nicholson writes that Maud’s favourite flowers were ‘soft-petalled, drooping, heavily-scented old English roses – whose beauty lasted for a few brief days only – exactly suited to her romantic style’.

Maud’s going-away hat, designed by Woollands in 1898, decorated in swathes of pink chiffon, dripping with artificial lilac, is characteristic of her romantic and picturesque use of floral decoration. Many other garments of Maud’s survive in the Messel Collection which incorporate floral motifs.

Detail of crewel work on bodice designed by Madam Ross c1907. CT004234.
Detail of crewel work on bodice designed by Madam Ross c1907. CT004234.
Detail of crewel work on bodice designed by Madam Ross c1907. CT004234.
Detail of crewel work on bodice designed by Madam Ross c1907. CT004234.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne, Countess of Rosse 1985

Anne, Countess of Rosse aged 80 at Nymans 1982. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.
Anne, Countess of Rosse aged 80 at Nymans 1982. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.

‘I am my garden’
Anne, Countess of Rosse 1985

Throughout her adult life flowers formed a core component of Anne’s fashion identity. Many of her dresses that survive in the Messel Dress Collection are made of floral fabrics. As Anne grew older, her choice of fabric became brighter and bolder.

Large, eye-catching corsages applied to her clothes were Anne’s style signature. One of her earliest dresses preserved in the collection, designed by Norman Hartnell, is decorated with three-dimensional velvet roses. Anne’s corsages made from real flowers have obviously not survived, but press reports describe these striking decorations. In 1933 Anne was noticed wearing ‘a lime green crêpe gown and cape bordered with sable squirrel which tied under the shoulder with a cluster of gigantic orchids’. The daily Express in 1933 described a very unusual evening dress worn by Anne with ‘shoulder straps made of huge white feather flowers which unclipped could be worn as a necklace’.

Anne passed her love of corsage onto her daughter Susan, making for her in 1953 a yellow silk dress adorned with a bright pink silk velvet camellia – a favourite family flower.

Anne, Countess of Rosse photographed in the Daily Express 1933. ©Birr Castle Archives.
Anne, Countess of Rosse photographed in the Daily Express 1933. ©Birr Castle Archives.
Anne, Countess of Rosse photographed in Tatler at the first night of 'Mother of Pearl' at the Gaiety Exchange, 1933. ©Birr Castle Archives
Anne, Countess of Rosse photographed in Tatler at the first night of ‘Mother of Pearl’ at the Gaiety Exchange, 1933. ©Birr Castle Archives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birth, Marriage and Death

The clothes in the Messel Dress Collection speak truthfully to us today about the lives of six generations of women, in good times and bad; their pregnancies, marriages, illnesses and deaths.

Birth

Two rare examples of maternity dress survive in the Messel Dress Collection – a tea gown worn by Maud Messel, whilst pregnant with her daughter Anne and a couture day dress worn by Anne Armstrong-Jones [later Countess of Rosse] when pregnant with her daughter Susan. The shaping and unfitted lining of the tea gown indicates that it may have been designed specifically for maternity wear. The couture dress designed by Irfé was most likely appropriated as a maternity gown.

Dress worn by Maud Messel during her pregnancy in 1902. CT004218.
Dress worn by Maud Messel during her pregnancy in 1902. CT004218.
Dress worn by Anne, Countess of Rosse during her pregnancy in 1927. CT004011. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Dress worn by Anne, Countess of Rosse during her pregnancy in 1927. CT004011. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marriage

Four generations of wedding dresses are preserved in the Messel Dress Collection: Maud Messel’s 1898 wedding gown and accessories designed by the London court dressmaker Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young. Anne Armstrong-Jones’s [later Countess of Rosse] medieval wedding dress made by her mother in 1925, as well as the blue silk wedding dress worn at her second marriage in 1935. Susan, Viscountess of Vesci’s wedding dress made by her mother Anne and the headdress made by her uncle Oliver Messel in 1950. Finally, Anna, Lady Oxmantown’s four wedding and blessing dresses designed by herself for her marriage in 2004.

Maud Messel's wedding dress 1898. CT004033. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004
Maud Messel’s wedding dress 1898. CT004033. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Anne Armstrong-Jones's wedding dress 1925. CT004367. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004

Anne Armstrong-Jones’s wedding dress 1925. CT004367. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death

Bereavements in the family are reflected in a large group of surviving mourning dress. The first garments to be preserved in the Messel Dress Collection were two mourning bodices worn by Mary Anne Herapath after the death of her husband in 1894.

Most of the mourning wear in the collection dates from 1910-1915, covering the period of the death of Linley and then Marion Sambourne. A black striped silk, Marshall and Snelgrove mourning suit of about 1914 shows evidence of the painful way in which Marions body shape changed during the last stages of the cancer from which she died in 1915.

By 1910 Maud Messel had discarded the tradition of wearing of old fashioned heavy mourning crape in favour of lighter more modern fabrics. Maud’s mourning hats are some of the most elegant headwear in the collection.

Mourning bodice worn by Mary Anne Herapath c1895. CT004041. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004
Mourning bodice worn by Mary Anne Herapath c1895. CT004041. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004
Mourning hat worn by Maud Messel c1910. CT004070
Mourning hat worn by Maud Messel c1910. CT004070

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fashionable Hats 

Over 25 items of headwear are preserved in the Messel Dress Collection, most of these are fashionable hats worn by Maud Messel and her daughter Anne, Countess of Rosse.

Pink was one of the most popular shades for the 1898 spring season, and feather trimmings were coming into vogue. Maud’s hat was not only fashionable but also highly symbolic. The shade of pink she chose, known as heliotrope, symbolised faithfulness, the lilac blooms, new love and the dove’s wings, peace unity and love. Maud was no doubt aware of all these associations.

Maud’s collection contains a turn-of-the-century green hat made of crin and trimmed with matching green velvet bows and an ostrich feather dyed in a progression of green shades. This elaborate confection would have been worn tipped to the front of her head, perched upon hair dressed in the bouffant style, and would have accentuated the soft, curving S-bend silhouette popular at the time.

ct004019_5_d02_300h250w

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the 1910s hat brims had expanded to such unwieldy proportions, that even the most fashionable women began to complain.

Mrs Messel was certainly not out of fashion wearing the large black straw hat trimmed with ostrich feathers, shown on the right. Earlier in the century, they had been called ‘picture’ hats, but were also known as ‘Merry Widow’ hats, after the title of a 1907 play in which the leading actress wore similar designs by the London couturier, Lucile. The effect of such a large, circular hat, piled with feathers, was striking especially crowning a tailored outfit in the narrow, slim silhouette popular in 1910-1912.

Maud Messel's hat c1900-1905. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Maud Messel’s hat c1900-1905. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Maud Messel's hat c1910-12. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.
Maud Messel’s hat c1910-12. ©Nicholas Sinclair 2004.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anne, Countess of Rosse’s hat

One of the most original hats in the Messel Dres Collection belonged to Anne, Countess of Rosse. It is a small cocktail hat designed by Aage Thaarup in the mid 1930s. Danish born Thaarup became one of Britain’s foremost milliners; his clients include Queen Elizabeth II. Anne’s hat is decorated with a net veil and a rosette of feathers, which sit tilted low on the forehead like a fringe. Charles Baskerville captured his friend wearing this hat in a sketch in the mid 1930s.

Family Homes

Linley Sambourne House in Kensington, London, Nymans in West Sussex and Birr Castle Demesne in County Offaly, Ireland, remain today the three key homes of this extended family. All three reveal the family’s preference for the romantic nineteenth-century vernacular revival style.

Linley Sambourne House

The dining room at Linley Sambourne House. ©The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea: Linley Sambourne House.
The dining room at Linley Sambourne House. ©The Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea: Linley Sambourne House.

The middle class Victorian home of Edward Linley and Marion Sambourne, its eclectic interior is today just as it was in the late nineteenth-century. It reflects Edward Linley’s mildly ‘artistic’ tastes and his interests in traditional design. Every room is a treasure trove of family memory. Thanks to the energetic campaigning of his granddaughter, Anne, Countess of Rosse, the house is preserved in its entirety, and is now in the care of The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. It is open to the public.

 

 

Nymans

Nymans was bought by Ludwig Messel in 1890. In the mid 1920s his son Leonard together with his wife Maud reconstructed the Victorian house into a romantic pastiche of a medieval manor. The house was filled with antiques collected by Leonard and Maud. In 1947 a fire destroyed large sections of the building. In 1952, Leonard Messel bequeathed the house and gardens to the National Trust. The gardens are open to the public.

The Great Hall, Nymans. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust
The Great Hall, Nymans. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust
  Nymans after the fire 1947. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.

Nymans after the fire 1947. ©The Messel Collection at Nymans Gardens, The National Trust.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birr Castle Demesne

Birr Castle Demesne, the seat of the Earls of Rosse, the Parsons family, was built in a Gothic revival style in the early nineteenth-century. In 1842-45 the 5th Earl built ‘the Great Telescope’, the largest telescope in the world, in the castle’s grounds. After her marriage to Michael, the 6th Earl, Anne, Countess of Rosse, refurbished the interiors in Victorian revival style. In the 1990s, William Brendan, the 7th Earl and his wife Alison restored the telescope and the gardens, and created Ireland’s Historic Science Centre. The gardens and the Science Centre are open to the public.

irr Castle Demesne. ©Birr Castle Archives.
irr Castle Demesne. ©Birr Castle Archives.
irr Castle Demesne. ©Birr Castle Archives.
irr Castle Demesne. ©Birr Castle Archives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maud Messel

From 1898 until the 1950s Maud retained photographs, letters and domestic scraps which held deeply personal family memories. She ensured the family home at 18 Stafford Terrace was preserved, along with many items of her own and her mothers clothing.  Maud began the family’s practice of writing notes, which were preserved along with the dresses. To the dress her mother Marion Sambourne wore at her wedding she pinned a note which reads:

‘This dress was worn by my darling mother at my wedding April 28 1898. It was made by Mrs Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young who made my wedding dress. MFM. May 1948. MFM.’

 

 

 

 

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