Hazel Crawford recently sent me this lovely photo and asked if I could help with establishing a date. I’m always up for a photo detective challenge! The photo was taken outside Syringa House in Christ Church, Wisbech, Cambridgeshire. Hazel is particularly interested in the photo as she is currently undertaking a massive renovation project of the house. Syringa is an Early 19th century cottage built of local gault brick and with a pantiled roof.
Hazel made a guess that her photo was of a christening as two small children are being held up to the camera and therefore seem a significant part of the family. However on closer inspection I was able to establish that the photo is a late Victorian wedding photo. It is often easy to overlook a wedding group if a `white gowned girl’ isn’t taking centre stage.
Late Victorian Weddings
The White Wedding was not firmly established during the 19th century. White wedding dresses were a luxury. Brides often wore a coloured day dress, which could be worn again. It was also common for brides to wear a hat instead of a veil. Photos and newspaper evidence tend to report on the highest levels of fashionable society and therefore give a false impression that a bride always wore a white dress and long veil. In this newspaper report from 1894 the bride wore a fawn travelling costume with a hat to match.
Western Mail 10 Aug 1894
On closer inspection our central lady may not be wearing white, but she is carrying a bridal bouquet and her clothes and hat are trimmed with white.
Some brides did choose to wear white. This fabulous photo of Alma Simmonds was taken in 1897 and demonstrates the latest style of dress for the ’90s. What an amazing waist Alma has! She must have had a good corset. In the 1890s waists were tiny and were combined with top-heavy sleeves and bell-shaped skirts.
Our photo is typical of the 1890s which saw a rise of larger group wedding scenes. Outdoor settings for wedding photos were more common in the later part of the 19th century.
Women’s Dress 1890s
I have taken a lot of my fashion clues from this very informative book by Betty Kreisel Shubert, which I highly recommend purchasing. It is easy to read and has a wealth of information.
The biggest clues to dating a photo from the 1890s are women’s sleeve style variations.
1890 -1892 The vertical high-top sleeve cap that had begun in the late 1880s lasted through to 1892
1892 The sleeve cap was growing wider horizontally.
A small vertical puff at the shoulder was, a sign that the gigot or leg-o-mutton was developing
Skirts were flared and A-line.
The Bishop Sleeve also grew wider. This photo of Agnes Groboski was taken in 1892 to celebrate her wedding to Frederick William Polglass Perrett in Queensland, Australia.
1895 – 1897 Sleeves were at their most extreme. Huge leg -o’- mutton sleeves were named after their unusual shape. They were formed from a voluminous amount of fabric at the upper arm which tapered to a tight fit at the lower arm from the elbow to the wrist. They had been fashionable in the 1820s and then went out of favour. In this short period during the 1890s the over blown sleeves were designed to accentuate a tiny corseted waist.
Dundee Courier 24 April 1896
In 1896 Agnes Perrett wore the latest fashion in sleeve style when she posed for this photo with her two boys Frederick and Stanley.
1897 – 1898 Beginning in 1897 there was a change of emphasis at the top of the sleeves. Huge leg o’ muttons were replaced with ruffles, double ball puffs and other top of the shoulder decoration. The sleeve puff began to deflate and withdrew higher up the arm. We see smaller caps and big fanciful ruffles.
1897 The ball-shaped puff sleeve style arrived in 1897 and variations lasted through 1900. The sleeve was narrow, topped by a separately sewn-on, small (or large) ball-shaped puff which resembled a lollipop on a stick. The younger fashionable lady on the right of the group is wearing these sleeves. It almost looks like she wants to emphasise that she is wearing the most fashionable outfit as she has turned away from the camera to show off her puff-ball sleeves and narrow waist.
1898 -1900 The sleeve returned to more modest proportion and skirts had a tulip flare. A narrower sleeve was fashionable with some detailing at the top of the arm. You might see a small puff, frill or epaulette. Tailor-made suits were worn and we begin to see shirt-waist blouses.
Women’s Hats – 1890s
It is more difficult to date a photo form the 1890s by looking at hat style. Vintage photos show women wearing the same shape of hat throughout the decade. Looking at the sleeve style is usually more informative.
The straw boater or sailor hat was universally worn. Masculine styled clothes became fashionable with the rise of sporting activities for women. It was quite acceptable for a women to wear a boater where once it had been considered too masculine.
Platter Hats were common. These had slightly larger straight brims than a boater.
Hats tended to be flat with a shallow, wide crown and there was a general trend towards wider hat brims.They were worn straight on or tipping forward.
You often see high, vertical trims in the 1890s.
It was fashionable to wear a hat with a veil. Four of the ladies in our wedding party are wearing hats with veils, which provides a clue to their identity.
Hairstyles grew fuller around mid decade. Hair tended to be waved or rolled back from the face. You begin to see wider brimmed hats that rest plate like on the head and were ornamented with bows, feathers and flowers.
In the 1890s men in their twenties and thirties began to discard the beard in favour of a neat moustache. Older men retained their beards as they represented dignity and authority. The Walrus moustache was the look of the decade.
Men wore a variety of styles of hat including bowlers, boaters and hombergs. The cloth cap with a peak was popular among ordinary working men for country wear.
Identifying our 1890s Bride
I know from Hazel that the Berry family were living at Syringa House, Christ Church, Upwell in the 1890s. From various census returns I found Samuel Berry, a farmer, married to Mary and they had at least 7 children.
Samuel Joseph Berry b 1825 Upwell = Mary b 1829 Pluckley, Kent
Samuel Hugh Berry b 1854 U.S.A
Alice Berry b 1856 U.S.A
Ida Francis Berry b 1860 U.S.A = James Henry Hutchinson m 1905
Clara Elizabeth Berry b 1862 U.S.A = John Francis Corke b 1839 m 1898
Ann Ellen Berry b 1866 Upwell d 1871
Sarah Jane Berry b 1868 Upwell = Frederick Hyde m 1891
Florence Lucy Berry b 1871 Upwell d Autumn 1898 = Francis Lidington Corke m 1895
1871 census Christchurch, Upwell
From my research I am dating the photo as sometime between 1897 and 1900. One of the ladies has ball shaped puff sleeves which came in to fashion around 1897. Ida married in 1905 which is too late for our photo. Sarah married in 1891 and this is too early. The oldest ladies are wearing fashions which are at the tail end of Leg O’ Mutton Sleeve Era dating the photo to after 1896. I am making an educated guess that our bride is not Florence either as she married in 1895. I believe therefore that the photo is either of Clara Berry or her sister Alice. I can’t find any records for Alice in the locality. I therefore think our bride must be Clara Elizabeth Berry who married John Francis Corke in 1898 in Pockthorpe, Norwich.
Marriage of Clara E Berry to John Francis Corke – 20 Dec 1898
On closer inspection this is an interesting wedding. Clara was 36 and married John Corke aged 60, a widower with 5 grown-up children. One of John’s children Francis had married Clara’s sister Florence Berry in 1895! Florence and Francis had 2 young children Stanley and John Corke born in 1896 and 1897. Clara’s brother in law Francis had been left a widower a couple of months earlier when her sister Florence died. Clara married her brother in law’s father. The two boys were brought up by Clara and another sister Ida Berry after she married.
1911 census records for the 2 young boys
I would love to go back in time. Did Clara marry for love or duty? Her marriage to a man who was old enough to be her father meant she could look after her deceased sister’s children and her new husband ‘s grandchildren. Clara’s sister Ida and her son-in-law Francis were both witnesses at the wedding. Francis emigrated to the USA and left his children behind with his father and later re-married himself.
The photo is therefore not a celebration of a double baptism as Hazel presumed, but a close-knit family wedding. The two children are being held up because they are a significant part of the celebration. Stanley and John have just lost their mother Florence and their Aunt Clara is marrying their grandfather John Corke.
I am guessing the photo was taken before the party set off for the marriage ceremony and that the elder groom is therefore not present. The four ladies wearing veils are the Berry sisters and Ida is the sister at the front acting as bridesmaid and dressed the same as her sister, but without the bouquet.
I love knowing the stories behind a photo and doing a bit of detective work.. What a wonderful thing to know the story behind the people that lived in your house. I was very pleased to be able to help Hazel in her quest for information. Please do get in touch if you have an interesting photo for me to play detective with!
Wedding gowns often reflect the fashions of their era and so photos from the 1920s can be dated by various clues such as sleeve style, neck line and dress length. Some brides did choose to wear their mother’s or grandmother’s wedding gown which can be misleading. However if the bride wore an older style dress she often updated her hair style and veil. In group wedding photos the attire of the bridesmaids and wedding guests can also provide useful information as to the date.
1920s Bridal Head-dress
At the beginning of the Twentieth century Bridal Head-gear was worn much higher than later the in the 1920s.
In the 1920s Mob caps were fashionable as bridal headdresses. A mob cap was a large cap or bonnet covering much of the hair, typically of light cotton with a frilled edge. Sometimes it was tied under the chin with ribbon and was worn indoors by women in the 18th and early 19th centuries. In the Victorian period, mob caps had become the head covering of servants and nurses. However the 1920s saw a resurgence of the mob cap in bridal wear.
1921 Dorothy Greaves – Mob Cap style headdress and veil
Later in the 1920s brides favoured lace cloche headdresses, some of which would be encircled with flowers. Veils were usually made of silk materials and decorated with flowers and leaves. Orange Blossom was often used to decorate the head-dress.
Tiaras, veils and headbands were all worn low over the forehead in the 1920s.
1922 Double Wedding with veils worn low over the forehead.
A Juliet cap was a small open-work crocheted or mesh cap, often decorated with pearls or beads and worn with evening gowns and bridal wear. The cap was named after the heroine of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and was often worn with a long cathedral-length veil in the 1920’s.
1929 People’s Home Journal
Western Morning News – Monday 10 December 1928
1928 Juliet Cap of lace and pearls
In the 1920s White Russian emigres fleeing revolution and civil war influenced the fashion scene. Thousands of Russians fled to escape the Bolshevik revolution and many immigrant women found work in French couture houses using their skills in embroidery and knowledge of traditional Russian patterns. Designs influenced by Russian peasant costumes became popular. One fashionable design was based on a Russian girl’s headdress called a kokoshnik.
In 1922 the heiress Edwina Ashley married Lord Louis Mountbatten and wore a Russian inspired pointed coronet.
Miss Irene Hill was noted as having a `fashionable wedding’ in India and wore a Russian coronet of orange-blossom.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Tuesday 25 August 1925
I am fascinated by this wonderful photo taken of Helen Fry Kingston wearing a most impressive Russian kokoshnik style headdress at her wedding in Queensland, Australia in 1929.
1929 Helen Fry Kingston and Francis J Perrett
At another 1929 wedding Minnie East has a much simpler headdress. However it is still worn low down 1920s style.
1929 Minnie East
Western Morning News – Friday 01 April 1927
Alternatively a hat was worn by the bride and or bridesmaids. We often see wide-brimmed picture hats until mid decade when the neat cloche became the most fashionable style.
Larger picture-hats were often called vagabond style.
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Wednesday 12 October 1927
Chelmsford Chronicle – Friday 20 August 1920
1922 Wedding party with wide-brimmed Picture hats
1923 Picture hats
At this wedding reported in 1929 the bride wore a black velvet picture hat and the bridesmaid wore the newer style cloche hat.
The cloche hat or simply cloche was a fitted, bell-shaped hat for women that was invented in 1908 by milliner Caroline Reboux. They became popular from about 1922 to 1933. The name is derived from cloche, the French word for “bell”. A Cloche hat had a basic bell contour with a bulbous crown which if correctly designed could add inches to the height of the wearer. The hat had to be all but pulled over the eyes, making the wearer have to lift up the head, whilst peering snootily down the nose. Brims became smaller as the decade progressed.
I have found references to not only ivory and black coloured cloche hats worn by brides and bridesmaids, but also a lot of colour.
1925 Edith Punchard wore an ivory lace cloche with clusters of pale yellow flowers
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Thursday 21 May 1925
1925 Bride Hilda Webber wore a blue & silver shot cloche hat trimmed with forget-me-nots.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Tuesday 28 April 1925
1924 small blue cloche hat trimmed with tuft of paradise feathers.
North Devon Journal – Thursday 12 June 1924
Blue seemed to be a popular colour choice influenced by the royal weddings in the early 1920s. Princess Mary chose blue as the colour for her bridesmaid dresses and the colour became known as Princess Mary blue.
Grantham Journal – Saturday 25 February 1922
Many brides wore a veil for the marriage ceremony, but chose to wear a cloche hat to go on honeymoon.
Another interesting feature of 1920s weddings is that bridesmaids sometimes wore veils! This can make it difficult to distinguish the bride in photos.
1922 Princess Mary’s bridesmaid veils
Nancy Davidson chose veils of primrose-coloured net for her bridesmaids to tone with their primrose coloured chiffon dresses fastened with blue sashes. They carried bouquets of blue delphiniums. I was delighted to have found these descriptions. Black and White photos look so drab and give no impression of the colours.
Sheffield Independent – Thursday 20 June 1929
Winifred Griffiths also favoured blue as a colour. Her bridesmaids wore blue satin dresses with head dresses of blue net fastened with wreaths of forget me nots.
Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press – Saturday 25 May 1929
In the 1920s bridesmaids did sometimes wear white veils which were very similar to the bride. While in modern times a bridesmaid is expected to assist the bride, her duties were regarded as of a more serious nature in earlier days. A custom once existed where maidens dressed similarly to the bride would accompany her as her protectors on her way to the groom’s village. This would deflect spurned suitors from kidnapping the bride or from stealing her dowry. Roman law once required witnesses to come to weddings in order to confuse evil spirits as to the identity of the bride and groom. This meant that female wedding attendants came to a marriage ceremony in garments very similar to the bride’s, This supposedly threw off bad luck that could be directed towards an easily identifiable bride and groom. In the 1920s it seems to be more of a case of fashion being influenced by the past than superstition influencing fashion.
During the first half of the 1920s women wore decorative bands across the forehead with evening and party dresses and this head decoration was reflected in bridal headpieces. Bridal Fashion introduced Bandeau headdresses in the later 1920s.
Derby Daily Telegraph – Friday 07 December 1928
However clearly this Derbyshire vicar had strong views on `Modern Wedding Attire’. I’m therefore sure that Lady Edith would have kept her veil on for her wedding and not just worn a bandeau.
Flower girls – mob caps and dutch caps
There was also a fashion to have young flower girls in addition to bridesmaids. Little girls carrying flower baskets might wear puff-sleeved dresses and mob caps, emulating the historical Kate Greenaway style.
Western Daily Press – Monday 24 June 1929
1927 Wedding Louisa George
Not only the small flower girls, but also the chief bridesmaid is wearing a simple mob cap at this wedding. I must admit they look like shower caps to me!
Western Morning News – Wednesday 11 June 1924
1926 Edith Amelia Polglass Wedding
1925 I much prefer the flower girls bonnets chosen by Dorothy Jones
Another distinctive bridesmaids head wear was the wired cap with horizontal wings that resembled a Dutch head-dress. This style looks like a fashion faux pas to me. However Edwina Ashley chose Dutch caps for her bridesmaids dresses when she married Louis Mountbatten so maybe I’m missing something!
Western Morning News – Tuesday 18 July 1922
Western Morning News – Tuesday 13 December 1927
Hopefully I have given a few clues to identifying 1920s wedding photos from the headgear worn. Next time I will be looking at the dresses themselves.
1922 Double wedding of siblings William and Jane Pomfret
I am a big fan of the period drama Downton Abbey and was delighted that Edith Crawley finally found happiness with her marriage to Bertie Pelham.
As I have been researching social history and 1920s wedding flowers I was particularly interested in Edith’s bouquet and wedding attire. The overall effect was charming. However I am not convinced that the flowers were typically 1920s in style. Edith is carrying a shower bouquet and newspaper articles from the 1920s do refer to `Shower Bouquets’ of roses, lilies and carnations. However over time fashions have produced numerous variations on the traditional shower bouquet. I feel Edith is carrying a bouquet which is more typical of a late 1980s style shower bouquet, wired into a floral foam plastic holder, than a 1920s Shower Bouquet.
Cascading bouquets were originally referred to as shower bouquets in the Edwardian period and replaced the fashion of neat Victorian posies.
Victorian Style Posies
Edwardian Shower Bouquets
This style became exaggerated by 1920, with much larger bouquets, so large they almost concealed the bride. They reached their peak from 1920 – 1930’s until WWII.
1920s Shower Bouquets
In shape a wired shower bouquet is softly roundish at the top but pointy at the bottom and is designed to spill over the brides hands in a cascade. The shower bouquet also became known as the Princess in honour of the late Princess Diana and her impressive 1980s bridal bouquet.
1980s Shower Bouquet
Lady Edith’s bouquet is much neater in shape than any of the shower bouquets I have seen in original 1920s photographs. The wired shower bouquet was originally made on a moss ball. Sphagnum moss was made into a ball about the size of a golf ball and into this was poked a long hairpin-like wire. Every flower or piece of foliage was then mounted onto a suitable wire and the wires were then made into a handle. The shape was large and loose with trails of foliage. The trails were bound together with binding wire. Some florists used green silk-covered wire. Gutta tape wasn’t used. Most of the photos I have seen show 1920s shower bouquets to be big, loose round shapes with cascading foliage.
1929 wedding of Minnie Ratcliff and Leslie East
1921 wedding of Dorothy Greaves and William Shaw
These two 1920’s shower bouquets are reminiscent of my Grandma’s wired 1930’s bouquet with white carnations and Asparagus setaceus fern trails. The whole effect is much more round in shape and sparse, being less tightly packed then Edith’s bouquet.
Flowers and Foliage used in a 1920’s Bouquet
My research has shown me that the vast majority of 1920’s shower bouquets were made with either carnations or roses. The blooms were usually white or pale pink in colour and mixed blooms didn’t tend to be used in the same bouquet. I have found only one reference to red flowers and newspaper reports suggest that most bouquets were just one colour. I think it is very unlikely that a 1920’s bouquet would contain red, white and pink roses as depicted in Edith’s bouquet. Apart from the ubiquitous carnations and roses I was surprised to be able to compile quite a long list of flowers mentioned in 1920s bridal bouquets – orange blossom, lily of the valley, white heather, pink tulips, white sweet peas, chrysanthemum, white lilac, orchids, gladiola, aster, belladonna delphinium together with both longiflorum and arum lilies.
Bridal roses tended to be white or pink. From my research I was amazed at the number of references to named varieties of garden roses. When I got married I was advised that `garden roses shouldn’t be used in a bridal bouquet as they are not bred for the cut flower trade.’ I thought this was such a shame. Roses grown for bridal bouquets are now often bred on a large scale to maximise stem length and longevity, but they often lack the beautiful fragrance of garden blooms. Named varieties included Niphetos, a white `bridal rose’, pink Dorothy Perkins and Catherine Mermet.
Grantham Journal – Saturday 03 September 1927
Cornishman – Wednesday 07 September 1927
Carnations have gone out of favour largely due to the wide availability in supermarkets at competitive prices. However they were viewed completely differently in the 1920s. Malmaison Carnations date back to the 1850s. They were originally bred in France in 1857, and because of their quartered flowers looking similar to the bourbon rose, Souvenir de la Malmaison, they were named Malmaison Carnations. Malmaison Carnations (Dianthus) were richly clove scented and were prized for cutting. There were 40 cultivars in the carnation’s heyday and sadly now only five remain.
Burnley Express – Saturday 02 June 1928
In the 1920s orange blossom was used extensively. However at that time a lot of big gardens had an orangery and great care was taken in the care and cultivation of orange trees. Scented English orange blossom was therefore much more widely available.
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Friday 08 July 1927
Western Times – Friday 19 September 1924
Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser – Friday 22 July 1927
Western Morning News – Monday 10 December 1928
Gloucester Journal – Saturday 19 September 1925
Lily of the Valley
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Saturday 07 August 1926
Sheffield Independent – Thursday 20 June 1929
Western Morning News – Thursday 11 August 1927
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Friday 08 July 1927
Compact 1920s bridal bouquets were more often seen in the USA. In the UK a 1920s shower bouquet tended to be larger with masses of foliage, yet relatively few flowers. British bouquets looked more disorganised and had long trails of green foliage compared to those seen in photos from the USA. American bridal bouquets had some greenery, but were more likely to be bulked up with an abundance of trailing ribbons, bows and attached sprays of flowers.
Dundee Courier – Tuesday 05 January 1926
Fragrant, trumpet-shaped pure white flowers 6-8cm in length. Flowers in the Summer.
Not to be confused with the Easter lily (Lilium longiflorum), the Madonna lily (Lilium candidum) is believed to be the flower given to Mary, the mother of Jesus, by the Angel Gabriel when Mary found out she was pregnant. Paintings from the time of the Middle Ages often feature the flower in depictions of the encounter.
Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Tuesday 25 August 1925
This old variety is white with a gold band in the centre of the petals, with brown speckles.
Buckingham Advertiser and Free Press – Saturday 25 May 1929
In 1920s photographs I have seen several varieties of fern used as foliage including Asparagus setaceus, Asparagus asparagoides and maidenhair fern. Do check out my guide to ferns as there are a surprising number of different types. Myrtle was often used as an aromatic foliage. It has became a royal tradition to carry a sprig of myrtle in the wedding bouquet. Kate Middleton’s bouquet contained a sprig of myrtle from Queen Victoria’s garden. In fact, every royal bride since Queen Victoria has incorporated myrtle into their bouquet. Edith’s bouquet does contain maidenhair fern. However I can’t decide if myrtle has been used or whether it is Eucalyptus foliage I can see. Either way I feel the foliage should have cascaded a bit more and we should have seen some trailing feathery plumes of Asparagus foliage.
Nottingham Evening Post – Thursday 22 April 1926
1920s Over Arm Sheaf Bouquets
The other style of bouquet that was popular in the 1920s was the arm sheaf bouquet. They first became popular in the early 1900’s under the name of Bernhardt bouquets; inspired by the presentation bouquets given to the actress of the day, Sarah Bernhardt. They were long stemmed flowers and foliages carried by the bride cradled in her arm. They could be single-ended, with stems showing at one end, or double-ended with no stems showing. Most typically they were made using longiflorum lilies, but any long stemmed flowers could be used. Popular floral choices for arm bouquets were calla lilies, gladiolus, orchids, long-stemmed roses, delphiniums, and larkspur. Ribbons were sometimes woven into the design.
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Friday 08 July 1927
Some of the photos I have seen show the bride carrying a different style bouquet compared to her bridesmaids.
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette – Saturday 11 September 1926
There were two important royal weddings in the 1920s – the marriage of King George V and Queen Mary’s daughter, Princess Mary in 1922 and that of their second son, Prince Albert, Duke of York to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon in 1923. Elizabeth was also a bridesmaid at Princess Mary’s wedding.
Lord Louis Mountbatten married The Hon. Edwina Ashley on 18th July 1922 at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, London in a glittering social event, with all the Royal Family in attendance. The wedding was the social event of the decade and attended by a vast gathering of Royalty which included King George V.
Edwina’s bouquet was a simple, elegant over-arm sheaf of orchids and her bridesmaids carried delphiniums. There is no foliage to be seen! Edwina’s bouquet is in stark contrast to the enormous fern filled bouquets I have seen in middle-class photographs.
What flowers do I think Edith would have chosen for her wedding in 1925? It was customary for the groom to provide the flowers. Constance Spry stated in 1934 `The bride’s flowers are the gift of the bridegroom – although, nowadays she often chooses them herself, and decides on the price. The old idea of the gift of flowers coming as a delightful surprise on the wedding morning unfortunately is dead. The bridesmaids flowers are also his gift.’
As Edith Crawley mixed in High Society I presume she would have been influenced by the recent Royal Weddings and the Mountbatten wedding. When Edith was jilted at the altar earlier in the 1920s she was portrayed carrying a small pretty posy of roses. Edith’s sister Lady Mary opted for a much more elegant sheaf of calla lillies when she married Matthew in 1920. Edith’s earlier bridal bouquet also seems a bit modern to me. I haven’t found any images of simple hand-tied posies in the 1920s. Mary’s bouquet is similar in style to the 1922 Mountbatten wedding.
Edith is portrayed in the costume drama as a modern 1920s woman who kept up to date with the latest trends and fashions. Mary tends to wear clothes which are elegantly cut and less girly than Edith. I personally think Edith would have included some foliage to soften her bouquet and a different style to her rival sister.
One high class florist warned that elegant, simple sheaves of lilies `connoted a dignity, an austerity even, which is a personal characteristic to begin with. Brides who have other charms but lack this, should leave Madonna lilies alone.’
I actually rather like the sound of the `golden bouquet’ described in this article for Edith as I think it would suit her colouring. I may well have a go at making my own `golden bouquet’ based on this description.
Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail – Tuesday 26 April 1927
Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer – Friday 12 November 1926
Lincolnshire Echo – Saturday 08 August 1925
These last two articles seem to imply that a fashionable lady such as Edith Crawley with her social status would have had a sheaf of flowers rather than a rounder shower bouquet.
This my version of an Elegant 1920s inspired overarm bouquet which in the light of my research would have been a good choice for Edith even if I do say so myself!
Whilst researching the history of Vintage Bouquets I have fallen in love with ferns. When I started investigating Edwardian bouquets I thought that Asparagus fern was the only fern the Edwardians used. However I have been amazed at the number of varieties of fern I have found in vintage photos and now know that Asparagus fern comes in many forms.
Trailing, elegant main stems with clusters of narrow, emerald green, needle-like `leaves’. A useful trailing foliage in shower bouquets and as a feathery filler.
1937 Bridesmaid bouquet with Asparagus densiflorus `Sprengeri’
1914 Bridal Bouquet with Asparagus densiflorus `Sprengeri’ and Asparagus setaceus
Asparagus asparagoides Common Names: smilax, bridal creeper, bridal veil creeper.
A climbing plant with twisting, wiry stems that can grow up to 3m long. Short branches of small, glossy, ovate shaped green leaves 1 to 7 cm long. It is traditionally used in garlands and swags. It is an excellent foliage for garlands as it is very flexible. Looks great in cascade designs and large bridal shower bouquets.
DUNDEE EVENING TELEGRAPH – TUESDAY 04 JUNE 1912
1922 Bridesmaid Bouquet with Asparagus asparagoides
Edwardian Wedding with Asparagus asparagoides foliage
Asparagus umbellatus Common Names: ming fern, zigzag fern
A woody evergreen shrub with a soft fluffy appearance. This is deceptive as the stems are covered in sharp spines. The tufty needle-like leaflets are emerald green in colour. Excellent filler foliage for large arrangements. It can also be cut into small pieces for smaller table posies and wired work.
Sticherus flabellatus Common Name: umbrella fern.
Slender, erect, woody stem with a terminal `umbrella’ of shiny, dark green, fan-like fronds. Useful for form and texture. Here it has been used to make a neat collar on a modern, hand-tied bouquet.
Rumohra adiantiformis Common names: leather leaf, leather fern
Triangular, lacy, shiny, dark green, leathery fronds with scalloped leaflets on both sides of main stem. I have used it here to back a traditional carnation buttonhole.
Adiantum Common Name: Maidenhair fern.
Distinguished by billowy fronds of delicate, green leaves shaped like miniature fans on thin black, hairlike stalks that connect to smooth, black main stalks.
WESTERN TIMES – FRIDAY 21 JUNE 1912
What an amazing variety of ferns! Asparagus setaceus has got a reputation for being old fashioned. I expect this was because it was rather overused in the past and in the 1970s was used ubiquitously in buttonholes with a carnation. However my research has shown me what an amazing variety of shapes and textures you can find amongst the fern family. I actually really like Asparagus setaceus. I think it is light and dainty and is useful to create length and texture. You do have to be aware of the thorns.
My Christmas wreath used Asparagus setaceus sprayed gold this year. I don’t normally like flowers and foliage `mucked about’ with as nature is beautiful enough. However I adored this dainty golden fern. I would love to create a trailing, shower bouquet with this golden foliage and antique pink roses.
Back in the Summer I had the amazing time at a three day residential course with the very talented Sabine Darrell Flower School. Working in a team we created some amazing modern designs using ferns. I loved the fern filled green table runner we created. Katie Spicer of The Floral Alchemist provided us with a beautiful set of photos at the end of our stay.
I also chose to use ferns as foliage in a couple of bouquets I made during my time with Sabine. If you compare these bouquets with my 1970s and Edwardian inspired bouquets I think you will agree how versatile the humble fern can be. Really pleased that I could use my own Aspargus densiflorus `Myersii’ which is flourishing in a pot in our greenhouse. It really does look like it’s common name of `foxtail’. However the Asparagus setaceus is not looking so happy as it has gone quite yellow. I really do better with garden plants where I can shove them in the soil and let them fend for themselves. I do also have a few garden ferns which would look nice in floral design, but may be not the tree fern!
If you have any examples of ferns used to great effect in floral design I’d love to showcase them in another Blog post so do get in touch.
I have no photographs of my great grandma’s wedding or bridal bouquet. However I thought it would be interesting to research what flowers were available when Ethel Spice married in 1913 and then make my own version based on my research.
I have looked at original newspaper reports of Edwardian weddings and looked at wedding photographs from the Era.
Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald – Saturday 01 June 1912
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Tuesday 04 June 1912
Cheltenham Looker-On – Saturday 07 June 1913
1902 Wedding of Austin Coom and Rosina Nelson
Edwardian Bridal Bouquets
The Edwardian Era brought about a complete change of bouquet style from the neat Victorian Posy. In the above 1902 wedding the bouquets are still fairly round and neat in shape. Flowers with long stems and trailing plants became available at the flower market and the Edwardian Shower Bouquet became popular. This was characterized by long showers or trails of fern. The shape was large and loose.The shower bouquet was made on a moss ball. Sphagnum moss was made into a ball about the size of a golf ball and into this was poked a long hairpin-like wire. Every flower or piece of foliage was then mounted onto a suitable wire and the wires were then made into a handle. Late Edwardian bouquets were enormous. They were at least 40 cm in diameter at the top with three or more trails of asparagus plumosus reaching almost to the ankles. Hanging amongst the trails would often be roses or carnations. Stephanotis and lily of the valley were also sometimes interwoven. The trails were bound together with binding wire. Some florists used green silk-covered wire. Gutta tape wasn’t used in Edwardian times.
The other style of bouquet which was popular was a tapering, long arm sheaf. These were usually made with longiflorum lilies (otherwise known as bridal or trumpet) or with arum lilies. Often the stems were bound with ribbon, although they were sometimes left unbound. This was the precursor of the stylised arum lily sheaf popular in the 1920s. Miss Mason is noted to have a sheaf of lilies and pale pink carnations in 1913.
Edwardian Bridal Flowers
The most popular bridal flowers were roses and Malmaison carnations. Ivory or white flowers were still a favourite for the bride’s bouquet. Bouquets often contained one or two varieties of flowers, but you didn’t tend to have mixed flower bouquets. A wide variety of flowers were available, but fashion dictated that flowers should be of the same kind. It was considered vulgar to mix flowers. Only with the publication of Constance Spry’s first book, Flower Decoration, in 1934 did the idea of `mixed’ flowers become acceptable. Flowers arranged in the house were largely single varieties. Gertrude Jekyll felt two flower arrangements could be tolerated but only by those with a keen and well trained color eye. In the History of Flower Arranging by Julia Berrall she says `Flower arranging suffered from over-simplification. One dozen carnations and some asparagus fern, placed in a tall cut-glass vase, sum up the state which flower arrangements had reached.’
From my research I was amazed at the number of references to named varieties of garden roses. When I got married I was advised that `garden roses shouldn’t be used in a bridal bouquet as they are not bred for the cut flower trade.’ I thought this was such a shame. Roses grown for bridal bouquets are now often bred on a large scale to maximise stem length and longevity, but they often lack the beautiful fragrance of garden blooms. David Austin is one rose breeder who is working hard to reverse this trend. It is difficult to breed flowers for both scent and lasting power. The oils that provide the scent have the effect of breaking down the flower more quickly than in roses without scent. David Austin English Cut Roses have the beauty of an English garden rose although they are produced under glass. When I got married I would have liked to have chosen roses for my bouquet which I could then grow in my garden as a beautiful memory. Apart from commercially grown David Austin roses there are a new wave of British Flower growers who grow flowers to be used in floral design work. I wish I’d known about them when I was getting married.
Dorothy Perkins Roses (Wichurana)
The Dorothy Perkins rose was the very first rose to be named after a person. Jackson and Perkins was a company formed by Charles Perkins (1840 – 1924) and his father-in-law, Albert Jackson (1807 – 1895) in the USA. Charles Perkins had a Grand-daughter named Dorothy. Miller who worked for Jackson and Perkins developed this clear pink rambling rose in 1902 which was named after her.
The Dorothy Perkins rose went on to win first prize at the Royal National Rose Society in 1908. She was bred from the Wichurana roses which are very vigorous ramblers. Peter Beales still sells Dorothy Perkins with her colourful cascades of clear pink flowers.
Catherine Mermet Roses
The Catherine Mermet rose was introduced in 1869 by Guillot. This is a pretty double tea shaped rose, light pink colour and is very fragrant. Catherine Mermet was grown as a greenhouse variety, but can now be kept as a garden rose. A white rose was developed from Catherine Mermet called `the Bride’.
The Nephetos rose was often called the wedding rose. She has creamy buds opening up to blowsy white flowers and a delicate tea scent. This highly scented old climber was very popular in Edwardian wedding bouquets and was introduced as a French tea rose in 1889 by Keynes Williams & Co. Nephetos roses need cosseting in colder areas and are better placed in a warm position or under glass.
`The Rose, it’s history and how to cultivate it’ – J. Johnstone 1897
Edwardian bridal roses tended to be white or pale pink. However I have found a few references to crimson roses. This article shows that this was a new idea as generally speaking white flowers were favoured as they symbolised purity and innocence. Interesting that coloured flowers are beginning to come in.
Yorkshire Evening Post – Thursday 01 May 1913
Carnations have gone out of favour largely due to the wide availability in supermarkets at competitive prices. However they were viewed completely differently in the Edwardian Era. Malmaison Carnations date back to the 1850s. They were originally bred in France in 1857, and because of their quartered flowers looking similar to the bourbon rose, Souvenir de la Malmaison, they were named Malmaison Carnations.
Malmaison Carnations (Dianthus) were richly clove scented and were prized for cutting. There were 40 cultivars in the carnation’s heyday and sadly now only five remain. I found these on the Allwoods Nursery Website.
Duchess Of Westminster Pre 1902
Old Blush Pre 1857
Princess of Wales 1876
Marmion Pre 1912
The Edwardian Era takes it’s name from Edward VII. His wife Queen Alexandra made the Malmaison carnation fashionable.
Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette – Wednesday 12 June 1912
They were, and still are, a real challenge to grow. They are prone to viruses, red spider mite in summer and damping off in winter. Malmaison carnations were cherished Edwardian flowers, grown for their strong scent in walled garden greenhouses. They were used as cut flowers for country houses until the Second World War. In my Great Grandmas time a vase of Malmaisons would demonstrate the owner’s social and economic position in life unlike today when they tend to be viewed as cheap `garage flowers`. Looking at newspaper articles I have found that carnations were often used in bridesmaids’ shower bouquets or carried by the mother of the bride. I must admit I have become quite fond of them. They do smell amazing and they can last for several weeks in the vase.
Edwardian Bridal Bouquet Foliage
Shower Bouquets of the Edwardian Era were large and trailing. They often had yard long trailing greenery of fern. Whilst researching this Era I have been amazed at the number of varieties of fern which were used. I have found at least 5 varieties of asparagus fern!
Dundee Evening Telegraph – Tuesday 04 June 1912
Asparagus asparagoides. Common names bridal creeper, smilax, bridal veil
Asparagus setaceus. Common names asparagus fern, plumosa fern, asparagus plumosa
Asparagus densiflorus Common names foxtail fern, plume asparagus
The Edwardians loved bouquets with trailing ribbons. Ribbons streamed out of the bouquet featuring knots along their length which were known as `Lovers knots’ or Bridal Laces. They were meant to represent promises from the Groom. Interestingly I thought the ribbons would have always been white in colour. However my research has found pink ribbon trails and even electric blue! How very daring!
Western Times – Wednesday 10 June 1914
Western Times – Friday 21 June 1912
Having researched the period I was in two minds about what kind of bouquet my Great Grandma Ethel Spice would have had in 1913. Ethel’s father George Spice was a market gardener and worked for Greenwood’s florists in Clapton. The first florists were market gardeners and nurserymen and the Edwardian Era saw the rise of the market garden.
Part of me feels that Ethel would have had a bouquet provided by her dad with flowers he grew himself. Whilst Malmaison carnations, roses and lilies were the most popular and stylish flowers for wealthy households, many Edwardians had a love for modest cottage garden flowers. There was a developing trend for flowers to be used in a style more sympathetic to the plant’s growing characteristics. The neat Victorian concentric bands were no longer in fashion and the rise of the Arts and Crafts Movement favoured a more naturalistic style. For fun I made a `Market Garden Bouquet’ for Ethel. I included lots of trailing ribbons and used dahlias grown on a Cutting Plot. I also used myrtle which is often used in bridal bouquets as it symbolises `Endless Love’.
However much as this bouquet was enormous fun to make I really don’t think it would be Ethel’s cup of tea. Photos show her to be a typical demure Edwardian lady. I know Ethel loved roses as I have a picture of her in later life standing by her roses, looking very proud of her efforts.
I decided to make a more typical Edwardian bouquet with pink roses, lots of trailing fern and streaming ribbons. Although this type of bouquet would have been made with a moss ball I was after the look and not an exact replica. Having gathered together my materials I wired all the roses first. I used modern pink roses, but chose ones which I felt would look authentic in photos. If you would like to see how to wire a rose do check out my Blog Post on making a traditional wired rose buttonhole.
I then wired my chosen foliage. I’d opted for Asparagus setaceus, ivy and Asparagus densiflorus. Each frond or leaf was individually mount wired and then made into long branching units. I made sure I had plenty of variety of length.
I then started to construct the bouquet. In the same manner as I had made my 1970s wired posy I made a handle by binding the stems together with silver reel wire. I set the overall shape of the bouquet with long stems for the trail and stems either side to set the width. Shorter stems were attached at the top and slightly bent back to form a return. I then infilled with the flowers trying to create the shape I had seen in photographs. The wires were made into a ribbon handle and I included lots of ribbon streamers with lovers knots. I loved the finished bouquet, although Mr Smiles felt it was a bit messy and preferred the neat 1970s posy!
The construction took several hours to wire all the components for the design. However I must say it was surprisingly light for such a big bouquet.
Having photographed my design I then wanted to make a watercolour to add to my art work of vintage bouquets. I was rather overwhelmed with inspiration and source material for my painting!
Surrounded by the bouquet and numerous photographs I decided to use pen and wash rather than go for a neat accurate replica. I felt that I already had a decent photograph so wanted to produce my own artistic interpretation of this Edwardian design. The bouquet has quite a formal construction, but gives the impression of something loose and unstructured. I tried to convey this looseness in my finished work. I hope you like it!
Inspired by researching the floral designs used for my mum’s early 70s wedding I decided to create my own versions. The original flowers were orange in colour. I wanted to create my designs in a different colour scheme, but with authentic techniques.
Christine, the adult bridesmaid is carrying a Wired Posy Bouquet. This is a design which, although wired, was meant to look like a loose, mixed posy. The design was also known as an Edwardian or Colonial Posy and was a development from the tightly packed Victorian Posy to a more natural, informal style. Having said that the style is not quite the country garden just gathered look of the current trend.
Choice of flowers and foliage
A mixture of flowers and foliage is usually used for a Posy Bouquet. There were no rules as to the mix of materials. However exotic flowers such as orchids were not used and large flowers were avoided.
Lily of the valley
Ivy leaves, trails and berries
Ferns such as asparagus and nephrolepis
Small Eucalyptus gunnii sprays
I selected lilac Ocean Mikado and white Snowflake spray roses, purple, lilac and white freesias and white carnations as these seemed to me to be typical 70s flowers. Rather than going all out bright and bold like my mum’ s orange flowers I wanted to use a softer analogous colour scheme. For my foliage I used ivy and asparagus setaceus fern.
The Loose Posy is constructed using floristry wire. I must admit before I had embarked on learning about the techniques used to make Vintage bouquets I was sceptical about `mucking about with flowers’ with wire. I believe flowers are beautiful enough without having to manipulate or change them. However the process of learning about and making vintage styles has won me over to the appropriate use of floristry wire! Wires are used in floral design for control, support, anchorage, to lengthen stems and to bind materials together,
All the flowers and foliage were mount wired using suitable wire gauge. The aim was to use a wire which would support the material, but still allow for a certain amount of natural movement. In Mount Wiring the natural stem of the flower or foliage is replaced and the flower is mounted with a wire `stem’ to manipulate the material in a design and to create light, delicate work. There is no single correct way of wiring.The lightest gauge or thickness of wire for the purpose should always be used and wired material should not make the finished design stiff and heavy. I am by no means an expert. However I am amazed at how many techniques I have learnt over the last few months and how many different ways of mount and support wiring I employed in my 1970’s posy.
If I had been using larger roses for a buttonhole I would have pinned the sepals using small wire hairpins. However I felt it wasn’t necessary with small spray roses for a posy. The rose stem was cut at a steep angle to give a smooth finish. I pushed a 0.91 mm wire up through the base of the stem. (Internal Support Mount). The mount wire needs to be strong enough to support, but not overly heavy. The gauge of the wire will vary depending on how thick the stem is. The wire is pushed up about half way through the head of the rose. I then cross wired the rose. A thin rose-wire is used to pierce the side of the calyx. Traditionally rose cross wire is 0.46 mm, however this is very fine and can bend easily. I found that it helped if I kept my fingers close to the stem to push the wire through. It is best to use the thinnest wire you can manage without bending excessively. I also find it makes life easier if you cut the wire to a nice sharp angle before inserting. Once the wire is through pull the wire from the other side, don’t push. You then repeat with another rose-wire to form a cross through the calyx. Each side of the rose-wire is then bent through 90 degrees so the four lengths are parallel to the stem. One of the wires is then twisted round the rose stem, the support wire and the remaining length of rose-wire in a double leg mount.
The rose was then taped with gutta tape making sure the holes where the rose-wire was inserted were covered. Stem tape is used to seal in moisture and cover any rough ends. I found that my wires were too short for the posy So I just lengthened them by adding in another wire with more gutta tape.
I got my trusty Constance Spry Handbook of Floristry out and lost the will to live with the instructions to wire freesia flowers! `Freesia flowers need to be supported as well as the stems. This is done by taking a piece of 0.20 mm silver reel wire and attaching it by twisting with the main stem at the base of the bottom flower, twisting the wire up the flower to where it begins to bulge and then taking it down to the main stem. Twist the wire up the stem to the next flower and wire as for the first flower. Do this to all the open flowers.Twist the wire up the main stem at the base of the buds until the top bud, then twist the wire around the base of it and cut the wire away. Take 0.32 mm silver wire and push it into the stem where the binding wire began and twist down the base of the stem’. Trussed up like a turkey comes to mind! The purpose of wiring in this posy was to support the flowers and to be able to manipulate the stems into the desired shape in the finished bouquet. I have wired lily of the valley according to this method and didn’t like the result as I could see the wire and the flowers easily snapped off in the process anyway. I decided that as long as the freesia stems were mounted on suitable wire the flowers could be supported by the other flowers and foliage in my bouquet. I opted for a Branch Hook with a Double Leg Mount which seemed to do the job and no flowers fell off or got damaged in the process.
Hooking can be used to support and mount any flower where you can hide the hook amongst the petals. I pushed a 0.71 mm support wire up through the calyx and out the top of the flower. I then made a hook at the top and pulled the wire down until the hook reached the base of the calyx, The stem and wire were then taped.
For the Asparagus foliage I used a Single Leg Mount.
The ivy leaves were individually wired and then taped together to form a wired unit. The size should be graded from small at the top to larger at the bottom to give the impression that the unit is natural and is growing.
Individual ivy leaves were support wired by a method called stitching. A length of fine wire is stitched through the front of the leaf about two thirds of the way up then brought down to form a loop. The ends are then twisted together around the stem of the leaf to create a false stem. The process of stitching ivy leaves showed me how useful and versatile wiring techniques are. This method of support wiring really does what it says. The wire support allows you to manipulate the leaf aesthetically.
Once stitched and mounted the leaves were brought together to form a natural looking Branching Unit.
As soon as I had experienced using a wired unit made in this manner and compared with using unwired natural foliage I was hooked on the technique. Wiring individual flowers and foliage involves skill, time and patience. However the usefulness becomes apparent when you put the design together. It is so easy with a completely natural design to try to manipulate a flower or leaf into a more aesthetically pleasing position and snap it off. This can leave a gap in a finished design and look worse than if you’d left alone. Branching units are great as you can move the stem, leaves and flowers exactly where you want them.
Finally the preparation was done and I could construct the posy!
I laid out all my wired flowers and foliage in groups – 5 white freesia, 5 lilac freesia, 3 purple freesia, 13 lilac Ocean Mikado Spray Blooms, 7 white Snowflake spray roses, 7 white carnations, 8 branched units of ivy (about 24 leaves) and 8 asparagus fern.
The posy is put together with silver binding wire. I attached the binding wire to one of the Ocean Mikado spray roses. This flower was chosen to form the centre of the design. For an average size posy this is attached approximately 6-8 cm below the flower head. I then added five pieces of ivy leaf units and bound tightly into the same length as the first flower.
The ivy was bent down so the false stems formed a rough circle round the central lilac rose. This had established the overall dimensions of the posy. If you want a larger posy then the binding point can be a bit lower. You would then use more stems to start the posy.
I added a further five pieces of asparagus fern and bound in slightly shorter than the ivy. I wanted the ivy to trail a bit to create the impression of a loose posy. The fern was also bent down to strengthen the circular outline.
Then came the fun bit of adding the flowers. I used a wonderfully useful book `Professional Floristry techniques‘ by Malcolm Ashwell & Sally Pearson for my method. I also referred to the Constance Spry Handbook of Floristry by Harold Piercy. Both were useful resource material and achieve the same result. However Constance’s method is much more prescriptive and also over-complicated. I did learn the importance of the centre flower. `It should be fairly small, but an `important ‘ flower such as a small spray rose. It is placed in the centre and leans towards the top flower. It is the longest flower to build upto; nothing must be higher than the centre and nothing must be longer than the outline of flowers. It is easier to work with the outline shape first. The heaviest flowers should be near the centre. The leaves are placed attractively through the bouquet with larger leaves near the middle.’
The wire false legs form the handle of the bouquet. It is important not to cross the false legs and you always bind neatly in the same place. The wires are cut to the length of a clenched fist allowing an extra 2.5 cm. It looks neater to cut at an angle to form a tapered handle. The wire stems are then covered with white stem tape. The handle is finished with ivory ribbon with two bows tied neatly at the top.
Malcolm Ashwell says that `the finished posy should be circular in outline and slightly domed in profile. It should also be light and feel secure to handle.’
I enjoyed making my 70s inspired Loose Posy. It did feel very light to hold and I think the finished result is both pretty and dainty. I found all the wiring very time consuming, but rewarding. After it was made I was able to tweak the angle of the flowers and foliage for best effect.
Traditional 70’s Ladies Corsage
The mothers of the bride and groom traditionally wore a ladies corsage spray and my grandparents both wore corsages with a selection of different flowers. My Gran wore a vibrant corsage including orange spray roses, yellow freesia and asparagus fern which stood out against her navy suit. Nana’s corsage was daintier incorporating hyacinth pips.
As I had made a 70s inspired bridal posy I felt it only right to make a corsage too. These days it is popular for ladies to wear a loose natural tied posy button-hole. These look very pretty and are not as bulky as a traditional corsage. However they don’t always have the longevity of the traditional.
I wired all the materials in the same manner as I did for the bouquet. I made a few branching units of ivy leaves and asparagus fern. This reduces the number of individual stems to be bound into the binding point and also gives the corsage strength.
I first formed the outline of the top 2/3 of the corsage by taping foliage to form an outline as far as the binding point would be.
I then attached silver binding wire to the stem of the corsage.This determines the binding area and centre of the design.
It is from this point that all materials appear to radiate and is the point where the central focal flower sits. I chose the same Ocean Mikado spray rose as my focal flower to match the bouquet. Materials placed behind the focal flower are bent backwards to cover the stem of the corsage. This is known as the return end. The focal rose was bound in at a 90 degree angle low down directly over the return end. The finished corsage should be a kite shape. The flower material should be graduated in size towards the focal flower and then receding down in size into the return end.
The stem wires are trimmed just shorter than the return end flowers. I thinned the stem by cutting off some of the wires and cut at an angle to achieve a tapered end. The stem and binding point was then taped.
Making a formal 70s style corsage was an interesting exercise. I can see the benefits. With a bit of thought and imagination they are a beautiful accessory and are quite versatile as they can be attached to hats or handbags, coat lapels, wrists or shoulders. As all the elements are wired and taped to seal in moisture a corsage will be longer lasting than a natural unwired Boutonniere. However mine took ages to make. It was also heavy in comparison and quite bulky. I can’t imagine pinning it to a flimsy wedding frock as I think it might ruin the dress. Looking back over the 70s photos the corsages are worn on jackets which would accomodate the weight. I also think that my corsage would have benefited from a few small hyacinth pips or berries to balance the proportions. My flowers are all very similar in size.
I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing how much skill went into making 70s wired wedding designs. I definately now appreciate the amount of time and skill that went into creating them.
Dilys Katherine Hills and David Millard Jennings – 30 March 1970
I’m fascinated by my mum’s choice of wedding flowers and wedding dress in the 1970s. The Era brings to mind barefooted bohemian brides wearing floaty maxi dresses with loose long hair decorated with a floral crown or daisy chain. The Hippy Culture that began in the previous decade continued to be popular at the beginning of the 70s, but began to wane as rock `n’ roll and disco became influential. My mum was a rebel. She had left home at a young age and had lived an `alternative lifestyle’ which wasn’t approved of by her mother. The years before the wedding mum had been sleeping rough, mixing with drug addicts and alcoholics whilst having a lot of fun. (I was born the year before the wedding!). Why then did mum choose a very traditional white church wedding and opt for a bible corsage as a wedding bouquet?!
The Marriage Act of 1836 allowed for non-religious civil marriages to be held in register offices. It puzzles me that mum chose a church wedding instead of a registry office or even eloping to Gretna Green. I will never know for sure. There may have been pressure from parents to `conform’, but I don’t think that was the reason. My adoption records show that mum was working hard at maintaining a job to look after me and turning her life around. I think the church wedding was symbolic. Mum needed to prove to the authorities that she was fit and able to look after me and a proper church wedding was a good start. My foster father was best man at the wedding. They were married in St George’s Church, West Harnham which was the local church to where mum grew up.
1970s Wedding Flowers
My mum chose pretty traditional flowers for her bridesmaids. Christine, the elder bridesmaid, had a neat round Spring Posy Bouquet including peach coloured hyacinth pips and coral spray roses with a small amount of asparagus fern. The individual flowers were wired and mounted. The finished handle would have been ribboned and completed with a small bow.
The children are carrying Bridesmaid’s Baskets of flowers typical of the 1970s. The flowers in the baskets are quite minimal – a sprig of freesia, two carnations and a piece of asparagus fern,. The flowers were pushed into floral foam as in some pictures I can see the oasis. In the Constance Spry Handbook of Floristry the advice is that `the flowers should be placed in very firmly so that there is no likelihood of their falling out, even with rough handling by the bridesmaid!’ I can’t decide if flowers have fallen out with rough treatment or mum made the baskets herself with just a few token flowers. Constance Spry advised that the basket should be filled with flowers to about 1/2 inch from the top in a pleasing shape. There is a dainty bow placed on the handle.
Bible or Prayerbook Spray
Mum opted for an unusual Bible Spray instead of a bouquet or posy. This consisted of a small spray of flowers and leaves stitched onto a ribbon, which in turn acted as a bookmark in the Bible or prayerbook for either the marriage ceremony or the Lord’s Prayer. Mum chose to use flowers in a an orange, coral and yellow colour palette. She included coral spray roses, hyacinth pips and yellow freesia. Foliage was made up of asparagus fern and ivy leaves. The ribbon was a bright turquoise blue and co-ordinated with the bridesmaids dresses. I had fun making my own interpretation of the Bible Spray and then painting my version in watercolour. It was out of season for hyacinth pips so I went for the overall look rather than an exact replica.
Buttonholes and Corsages
The men in the bridal party are all wearing traditional wired white carnation button-holes. Carnations were chosen because they were widely available and had good lasting qualities. In this case there was no foliage. Whenever possible a buttonhole flower was worn through the buttonhole and not pinned onto the front of the lapel. For this reason the flower stem needed to be very fine so the flower heads were mounted on taped wire to provide a thinner stem. Sometimes Asparagus plumosus fern was used or three leaves made into a spray. Nowadays the groom’s button-hole often includes a flower from the bride’s bouquet to distinguish the groom from the rest of the bridal party. In the 1970s there was less individuality – all the men had the same white carnation buttonholes including the groom.
The mothers of the bride and groom traditionally wore a ladies corsage spray and my grandparents are both wearing corsages with a selection of different flowers. The bride’s mother’s vibrant corsage includes orange spray roses, yellow freesia and asparagus fern and stood out against her navy suit. The mother of the groom’s corsage is daintier incorporating hyacinth pips. Both ladies are wearing flowers on their left shoulder, although traditionally Ladies were always right!
1970s Wedding Fashion
The 70s was a time when no particular bridal fashion dominated the era. You can see an eclectic mix of bridal fashion in 70s photos. Mum made her own full length wedding dress and Christine’s bridesmaids dress. Although a traditional white wedding dress it does have billowed `leg o’ mutton’ sleeves which were a key bridal look of the period. The look is actually quite demure and covered up, particularly as mum had been fond of the 60s mini skirt. So different to fashion today where it is hard to find a wedding dress with sleeves.
Mum chose to wear an elbow length veil with artificial white flowers in her hair. The veil length is shorter than my Gran’s 1930s veil which was full length. Some brides preferred to wear floppy hats or bohemian style floral crowns or circlets.
The overall colour scheme was quite a bold 70s colour scheme using the complementary colours of coral orange and turquoise blue. Mum wore quite bright blue eyeshadow.
I find it fascinating that I also chose peach and aqua as my wedding colour scheme. Mum’s half sister who never met mum also chose to wear turquoise on her wedding day! Kathryn’s turquoise 70s wedding dress is much more prairie style with ruffles and she’s opted for a hat instead of a veil.
Prairie Style gowns were popular as evidenced by sewing patterns of the 70s.
Bohemian styles with longer cascading sleeves were in vogue. Necklines tended to be square in shape or higher as worn by my mum and Princess Anne during her wedding to Captain Mark Phillips in 1972. Princess Anne’s gown was based on a medieval design with trumpet sleeves edged in pearls and a train.
The 70s bride was not afraid of colour or pattern. I’ve found many an example where bridesmaids seem to be decked out in bold, highly patterned material reminiscent of vintage curtains!
Big floppy hats were all the range. I really can’t image why mum chose to put her bridesmaids in those bright turquoise bonnets covered in artificial flowers! However bonnets in the style of Little Bo-Peep and Holly Hobbie were in vogue. I guess they completed the milkmaid/peasant look nicely!
Not everybody opted for a long flowing wedding dress in the 70s. When Bianca married Mick Jagger in 1971 she opted for an Yves Saint Laurent tailored blazer, midi skirt and floppy hat. Nothing was worn underneath the jacket!
The 60s had inspired the mini-skirt so some brides chose to stick with the mini and a simpler more tailored look as worn to this registry office wedding.
The bride travelled to the church in her brother’s dark green Mark II Jaguar. My Uncle remembered touching up the paintwork the day before and his housemates said he was `guilding the lily’. It felt quite symbolic when my Uncle gave me away as he had my mum and we also travelled to the ceremony in a Mark II Jaguar.
From the wedding group photograph it looks like mum had a similar number of guests as both myself and my Gran which was about forty.
The reception was held in the church hall which looks like a rather ugly prefabricated building. It was a simple affair. There were no formal laid out tables with a seating plan. It was a case of standing around and circling, helping yourself to the `cold buffet’. The buffet consisted largely of sandwiches, sausage rolls and the 70s favourite of cheese and pineapple on sticks. There was a traditional two tier iced fruit wedding cake which was topped with a small spray of freesias in a pretty silver bud vase. I remember the bud vase.
Wedding Present List 1970
I still have mum’s wedding present list tucked amongst the photos. I love this kind of social history. There are quite a few similarities with my Gran’s 1930s wedding presents and the ones we had in 2011. We all were given casseroles, bath towels and cutlery.
They were eight casseroles! We were given a wonderful cast iron Le Creuset casserole by Margaret and David which has proved invaluable. Margaret went to school with mum and had given one of those eight casseroles in 1970 so I wonder if it was used as much with so many to chose from! It’s quite interesting that the pyrosil casseroles are listed separately. The Pyrosil Corning Ware Blue Cornflower oven to table dish with it’s detachable handle was used for over twenty years! It was used both on the top of the stove and in the oven. My guess is that was the only casserole that was used out of the eight!
These days I don’t think you’d give an ash tray as a wedding gift. However my Gran was given a Turkish cigarette holder.
The wedding breakfast finished mid afternoon when the Happy Couple drove away on honeymoon to the West Country. Although mum wore traditional white for the ceremony she was quite happy to wear a fashionable mini skirt and boots as her Going Away Outfit. The honeymoon was a weekend in the West Country where it was perishing cold with March winds and snow.
George Mason Hills and Betty Edna Berry – 26 June 1937
My Grandma, Betty Edna Berry, was born in Clapton in 1914 and lived with her parents Henry and Ethel Berry at 28 Elmcroft Street, Clapton, London.
My Grandfather George Mason Hills was born in Sheffield, son of George and Mary and brother to William and Ina. The Hills family were adventurous hill walkers and loved mountaineering.
So how did a London lass meet a lad from `up North’ in the 1930s? At that time Betty’s Aunt Kate was seriously ill, suffering from renal tuberculosis. At the beginning of the 20th century, tuberculosis was one of the UK’s most urgent health problems. Betty’s mother Ethel was looking after her sister in 1934 and Betty was shipped off out of the way. Kate died of `consumption’ in June 1936.
As it was Christmas Betty went to stay with her Aunt Nell, Uncle Stuart and cousin Tom Turner in Sheffield. The Turners were friends of the Hills family and so they came to visit a lot that Christmas. Betty was introduced to George when Tom invited some of his former school friends to meet his cousin from London. George Hills was working for the Medical Research Council in London, but was visiting his parents in Sheffield for Christmas.
As George was also living in London, Betty and George travelled back together on the train from Sheffield. George lived in digs fairly nearby in Lordship Road, Stoke Newington, lodging with Miss Prickett. He made it clear he would like to see Betty again and the rest is history…
Engagement – Summer 1935
George asked Betty if she would consider marriage in the coastal village of Beer in Devon as the Berry family were on holiday there. This was a favourite family holiday destination where they stayed in a Boarding house in the village. On a previous occasion Ralph, a local fisherman, had asked my Gran to go for a moonlight fishing trip after the village dance. The family felt he had other things on his mind other than fishing and the outing was declined!
George come down on the train from London to see Betty for the day. I have the love letter George wrote to my Gran the morning he got back:-
`49 Lordship Road, London, N16. 15:vii:35
Most darling Precious, I want to tell you all about the most marvellous journey back which I had; I never felt as happy in my life before. I not only felt as happy, as when on a country bicycle ride on a frosty, but bright sunny morning or as when seeing the sunrise during an Alpine climb, but I also felt as if I should like every-one else to feel equally happy. I felt genuinely sorry for every-one less well of than myself, who can’t even afford a cheap excursion to Beer.
Very early in the journey I got the idea that there would only have to be a suspicion of an answer `Yes’ from you and I would come over to Beer and marry you by special licence to-morrow if it could be done that quick. When I got back, after first kissing your photo-graph and then lighting the gas, I found my diary and looked up the cost of the licence and was gratified to find it was only £5. Through out the journey I continued to develop the idea. As there would be no engagement, there would be no engagement ring. Perhaps you wouldn’t like that, but with the money saved you could have a radio-gramophone. An engagement ring may make you want to dance, but you can’t get any dance-music out of it. We should have to give up the idea of a honeymoon in the Italian Alps and perhaps `our bungalow’. We shouldn’t be able to live on a fabulously lavish scale on my £250 a year. After deciding all this I suddenly realised that as you are not yet a lady your dad should have to say `Yes’ too, do you think he would? One thing is certain that if you really do want a bungalow, I don’t think I will have saved enough pennies for us to get engaged in September; because Toots, once I am engaged to you, I shall feel it impossible for us to remain unmarried for more than six months. After so much good-will I am sure it goes without saying that I hope your party at Beer have a marvellous time with marvellous weather. How can you be so good to me, Tootsy?
Yours, darling, for ever and ever, Georgie’
In the 1930s the Legal Age of Consent was 21 and 16 with parental permission. Betty was still 20 in June 1935 so they either needed to gain parental consent or wait till Betty’s birthday in the September. They were officially engaged on 1st August so permission must have been given! I am unaware as to whether my Gran did have an official engagement ring in the end. I did find these opal rings among her possessions and she was always fond of opals.
George was a country boy who loved the outdoors, hiking and alpine mountaineering. Betty was a London lass who enjoyed parties and dancing. They took up each others hobbies! As George got to know Betty he shared his love of walking with her and they even went to the Lake District for a holiday before they got married. My Gran assured me that it was all above board and they shared hostel accomodation with another couple in single sex dorms!
Soon after they married they got a dog called Chum. George and Betty did a lot of walking from their home in Chelsfield, Kent. They also bought a tandem and travelled all over the place including an adventure to the Italian Lakes by train as a belated honeymoon.
When George met Betty he hadn’t been into ballroom dancing. However, as Betty loved dancing so much, George took up dancing lessons near his digs in Lordship Road so they could go dancing together. They obviously got quite good as they won the Slow Foxtrot at a competition when they were living in Chelsfield, Kent after they were married.
I can see I have inherited a love of the outdoors and a love of dancing!
Marriage of George Mason Hills and Betty Edna Berry – 26 June 1937
George and Betty married at Clapton Park Congregational Chapel on Lower Clapton Road. The Round Chapel was built in 1869-71 as a non-conformist, congregational church. It is now an arts centre and is considered to be one of the finest non-conformist buildings in London.
After the ceremony catering was provided for 33 guests at a local Hired Hall.
We invited 38 guests for our Wedding breakfast so the numbers were similar with close friends and family invited.
My Gran chose George’s sister Ina and her best friend Christine Hyde as bridesmaids. The Hydes were friends of the Berry family. The best man was George’s brother William.
The 1920s had seen shorter dresses with brides showing an ankle. The wedding dress became increasingly shorter as the decade went on. In the 1930s the wedding dress became more slender and elegant. The fabric was cut on the cross so that the material fell into graceful folds and could be rather figure hugging. Silk elbow-length evening gloves were worn with a bracelet or watch on top of the gloves. Betty was a bridesmaid for her cousin Kath Spice in 1933 where the outfits were typical of the early 1930s. Kath opted to wear a hat rather than a veil. Cloche hats were typical of the late twenties/early thirties. The Cloche was a fitted, bell-shaped hat for women that was invented in 1908 by milliner Caroline Reboux and was especially popular from about 1922 to 1933. Its name is derived from cloche, the French word for “bell”. My Gran is wearing gauntlet style gloves with decorative flowing cuffs and seems to be holding a clutch bag rather than a bouquet.
Wedding fabrics were chiffon, silk, crepe-de-chine and satin cut on the bias. The formal 1930s bridal gown was floor length, and had an elaborate, long train. Chantilly lace trimmed the edges of the floor length veils that were anchored to the head with a juliet cap. Long opera length gloves completed the look of a sleeveless or butterfly sleeved bodice.
Betty chose a white wedding dress which which was more classic than the contemporary style she wore as a bridesmaid. Wedding gowns often reflect the latest fashions of an era and can be time-dated by their silhouettes, sleeve styles etc. However some brides of the 19th and 20th centuries chose to wear their mother’s or grandmother’s wedding dress or veil. This can be misleading when dating photographs. Maybe my Gran decided the figure-hugging styles of the 1930s were a bit tarty for a bride! I can’t decide if my Gran is wearing a new dress and veil or decided to wear her mum’s. I do know my mum’s wedding dress, which she made herself, was saved for my wedding day. However I couldn’t get into it as the dress was 2 sizes too small for me! The bridesmaids have fuller skirts than the latest fashion, but they are sporting cap sleeves. Betty is wearing a fashionable short finger waved hairstyle.
In my Grandparents wedding photos the guests are wearing typical 1930s Day Dresses.The most dramatic difference between the fashion of the thirties and the previous decade was the emphasis on a slim waist. The 1920s had seen a flat `boyish’ loose shape with a dropped waist. 1930s fashion saw a slender fitted style with a high natural waist accented with a belt. The belt often matched the dress using the same floral or patterned fabric. Fashion was to create interest at the top of the garment and accentuate the waist. This included caplet sleeves, puffed sleeves, and angular shoulders which, in turn, would give the illusion of a smaller waist. Femininity and pretty details were a key feature of 1930s fashion. I think I was born in the wrong era! Necklines and collars were always high with no cleavage on show. Hemlines went back down after the almost knee baring 1920s to mid calf for Day Dresses.
1930s Wedding Flowers
Money was scarce during the Great depression of the 1930s. Unless a bride came from wealth, flowers tended to be locally grown and readily available. Several styles of bouquet were popular in the 1930s and were designed to complement the dress.
Arm Bouquet This style was designed to be held in the bride’s arms and looked sleek and elegant against the slim line dress styles of the 1930s. Long stemmed flowers were used which included calla lilies, gladiolus, delphiniums and long stemmed roses. Ribbons were sometimes woven into the design.
The Nosegay or Tussie-Mussie. This style of bouquet has been around since Elizabethan times and was still popular in the 1930s. The nosegay was a small round shaped bouquet of closely filled flowers. Generally two or three flowers were the central feature surrounded by fragrant herbs and greenery. The flowers were usually roses, tulips or carnations. The Nosegay was originally intended to be put to the nose to mask unpleasant odours when bathing was not so frequent. Sage, mint, thyme and rosemary were often included as fragrant herbs.The posy was styled within a cone-shaped vessel of metal or glass known as a tussie-mussie. Ribbons were used to accent the flowers and the bouquet was often wrapped in a lace doiley. The Victorians turned the tussie-mussie into an art form giving each flower and herb a symbolic meaning.
The Cascade or Shower Bouquet. This was the style Betty chose for her wedding flowers. The bouquet is round at the top near the bride’s hands and spills over in a cascade of foliage ribbons and flowers. Choice of flowers was limited in the 1930s – carnations, roses, lilies and plenty of Maiden-hair and Asparagus fern. I am fascinated by the bouquets in my Gran’s wedding photos. The two bridesmaids have huge bouquets packed full of garden roses and trailing fern. They are also carrying Dorothy bags which are likely to contain confetti. My Gran on the other hand has a smaller, more sparse bouquet of carnations. I really can’t understand why! I prefer the abundant rose bouquets. Perhaps carnations were more highly prized and my Gran was fond of the fragrance?! There were also carnation button holes for the men in the bridal party.
Wedding Present List 1937
I was delighted to find my Gran’s Wedding Present List tucked amongst her wedding photos. What a wonderful piece of social history! There are so many similarities between my Gran’s Wedding Gifts, my mum’s and mine. We all had a dinner service, casseroles, flower vases and bath towels. I either still have many of the items on the list or remember them. The list shows that amongst the wedding party guests were family, work colleagues and friends. Uncle George gave his niece towels as he worked as a Sales Rep for Christie’s towels. There are many more ornate items of cutlery and serving dishes than we received or would dream of using.
Aunt Nell and Uncle Stew gave giant fish servers made in Sheffield, which was appropriate as they lived in Sheffield. Uncle Stew had been an assistant steel overseer for the admirality.
Other cutlery items included egg spoons and pastry knives and forks. Apparently an egg spoon is a specialised spoon for use in eating boiled eggs. In comparison to a teaspoon it typically has a shorter handle and bowl, a more pointed tip and often a more rounded bowl. The pastry knives and forks given by Horace Laithwaite, a colleague of George, came in wonderful crocodile or snake skin presentation cases.
There was a lot of cut glass amongst the wedding presents. I remember having biscuits out of the Cut Glass Biscuit Barrel when I came home from school. The Cut Glass Cruet, a gift from Aunt Blanche and Uncle Arthur Mason, was always brought out for Christmas and Birthdays. Unfortunately the vinegar bottle was broken so I decided not to keep it. However it looked very like this set:-
Glassware also included grapefruit dishes, vases and a cake stand. Christmas cakes, Easter cakes and birthday cakes were always presented on the Cut Glass Cake Stand.
Betty’s Grafton China tea-set was a present from her bridesmaid Christine and her mother. All we have left now is a bread and butter plate and this bowl. The Grafton China marking is from the period 1935-1949.
Whilst I was clearing my Uncle’s house I found this lovely Amber Cloud Glass Flower Bowl Set which was given by Ethel Marsh. Unfortunately I threw the plinth out as I didn’t realise it belonged to the flower bowl! Cloud glass is a form of pressed art glass, created by applying streaks of dark coloured glass to paler glass, which creates a random swirled, “clouded” pattern. The cloud glass technique was invented by George Davidson & Co in 1923. The Pattern number is 1910SD, 6.75 inches diameter.
Ethel Marsh was a colleague of Betty at the Liverpool Victoria Insurance offices. The stories my Gran recounted about the Liverpool Vic are more to do with the social side than actual work! Betty made many good friends whilst working there, many of whom came to her wedding. In the 1930s a married woman was not expected to work. When Betty got married she was expected to give up her job. During the Second World War women were needed to work whilst the men were away at war. After the war it was more socially acceptable for married women to go out to work. My Gran recounted going on trips away with the Liverpool Vic to Brighton. The offices would be closed and they would all go off to the seaside in a charrabanc. I have pictures of the girls on the beach. Winnie Holland seemed to be a bit of a goer and is showing her knickers whilst paddling!
Winnie came to the wedding along with Mary Gallimore, Ethel Marsh and Gladys Kingdon. The Womens Record Department gave a dinner service, electric clock and meat carvers.
Other intriguing gifts were a Turkish Cigarette Box and Ashtray from Fred Dainton. I couldn’t think of anything I’d want less for a wedding present. However my Gran was partial to smoking a Turkish cigarette! Although not on the list my Gran was very fond of her Honeybee which seems to date from a similar period.
Betty’s Aunt Jennie and Lou gave her a LLoyd Loom Linen Basket, which was passed on to my mum in later years. LLoyd Loomis the name given to a woven fabric and furniture that was invented by Marshall Burns Lloyd nearly 100 years ago. Lloyd Loom weave is made from twisted paper and wire and the frames are traditionally made from steam-bent beech wood. The furniture is renowned for its longevity and durability. It inspired a generation of furniture designers in the 1920’s and 30’s, associated with the art-deco period and the classic ocean-going liners of the time. It became immensely popular in the UK before the London factory was destroyed in the war, spelling an end to large scale production.
Aunt Lou and Jennie were unable to come up from Brixham in Devon for the wedding, but were very fond of their youngest niece.
The two maiden Aunts sent a Wedding Congratulation Postcard.
Wedding Cards, Telegrams and Postcards
After the wedding celebrations Betty and George spent a wet, rainy week in the Lake District on Honeymoon. A year later they finally made it to the Italian Lakes on their tandem for a belated honeymoon. Another Epic Blog Post in the making…!
I hope you have enjoyed my Grandparents’ 1930s wedding. I certainly cherish these wonderful photos and keepsakes!
Mr Smiles and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary this month. We have a tradition of staying the night back at the Baytree Hotel where we got married. We take our wedding photo album with us and fondly look back on a wonderful day. I am a sentimental soul and love social history so I have been researching the wedding days of my direct ancestors. I am starting with my great Grandparents’ wedding in the late Edwardian Period. Watch out for other Blog posts from other Eras!
Ethel Spice and Henry Berry – 7 June 1913
Ethel and Henry were my Great Grandparents. Ethel Spice was born in the rural village of Bapchild, Kent in 1884. Her father George Spice was a gardener at Hempstead House and together with her mother Maria they lived in one of the cottages near Hempstead House. The family moved to Lower Clapton, Hackney in the 1890s. I presume they moved to Hackney as George found new work with the florist and garden contractor Owen C. Greenwood of 27 Upper Clapton Road, Hackney, London. It is likely that George started work at the Pond Lane nursery on Millfields Road.
Henry Berry was born in the Lea Bridge area of Hackney in 1884. His father Walter Harris Berry had been a ropemaker in Brixham, Devon. Walter had married Henry’s mother Louisa Rundle in Devonport, Devon. In the late 1860’s Walter and Louisa moved to Hackney. Again it is likely that Walter came to London to take up a job as an engine driver for the East London Water Board. Henry was brought up by his father and older sisters as his mother died of breast cancer when he was 12 years old.
Ethel and Henry were married on the 7 June 1913 at St James the Great Church, Lower Clapton. The church is still there in the heart of Clapton today, although now surrounded by tower blocks.
I don’t have photos of their wedding so I have had to do a bit of detective work about their wedding day.
Both Ethel and Henry were living in Lower Clapton at the time of their marriage. Henry was living in Millfields Road and Ethel had been living in Rushmore Road and then High Road. Clapton has been completely transformed over the last century. The 1913 Ordnance Survey Map shows that Millfields Road had been built on the extensive open fields of the Millfields Recreation Ground. The last vestiges of the area’s agricultural past were vanishing and making way for Edwardian suburbs. However Booth’s Poverty map of 1898 shows that the areas that Henry and Ethel were living in had a comfortable standard of living and some were classed as middle class and well to do.
Edwardian Wedding Transport
What I do know is Ethel arrived for her wedding ceremony in a hired `Brougham and Pair‘ as I have the original receipt. In today’s terms the transport cost would have been about £135. This was actually similar to my Wedding Car cost! A brougham is a closed four-wheeled carriage with an open driver’s seat in front. Ethel’s carriage was pulled by a pair of horses. This is an example of the kind of wedding transport Ethel’s father George paid for.
This old postcard shows the Lower Clapton Road in 1910. It’s interesting that there are quite a few horse-drawn carriages on the road. The view includes St James the Great Church on the left and Clapton Pond is on the right.
I don’t have details of the guests at the wedding, but I imagine it was a fairly large family affair as Henry had 9 siblings and Ethel had a brother and 3 sisters. In later years they were known for large family outings to the coast and pic-nics in Epping Forest. Ethel’s friend Beatrice Hungate was bridesmaid and a witness at the wedding. Beatrice lived fairly close by in Stoke Newington and in the 1911 cenus is listed as working in shirt manufacturing. Ethel is listed as a shirt finisher in 1901 and a shirt examiner in 1911. I am surmising that Ethel met Beatrice at work in the shirt manufacturing business and became close friends. Christopher Howland is listed as a Shirt Manufacturer in 1913 on the Lower Clapton Road next to the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb.
Edwardian Engagement Ring
I am the proud owner of my Great Grandma Ethel Spice’s engagement ring which I cherish and wear regularly. My grandma gave me her ring for my 18th birthday. Here is a portion of a photo taken with Ethel wearing her ring in 1915.
The Chester hallmarks show the 18 carat gold engagement ring was manufactured by Henry Williamson Ltd between 1911-1912.
Ethel’s beautiful ring is a 5 stone diamond claw set half hoop ring. I am not an expert on antique jewellery. However from what I have read the half hoop ring in which half the circumference of the piece is set with stone is typical of the Victorian period. Running from 1901 to about 1920, the Edwardian era is perhaps best known for extensive use of filigree techniques. Scrollwork in the mountings became popular. Ethel’s engagement ring seems therefore to be a typical design of the Early Edwardian period. Victorian in style with fancy Edwardian scrollwork. I do enjoy wearing Ethel’s ring as it connects me with my family history!
I have no photographs of Ethel’s wedding dress. In the 19th century not all wedding gowns were white. Because many brides could not afford to invest in an impractical dress that could only be worn once, a dress in a pleasing colour was chosen which would then become a new `best dress’. Brides adapted their bridal wear by adding floral springs to their hair, especially orange blossoms. The White wedding dress and orange blossoms were popularized when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840. Wedding gowns reflected the latest fashions of the era. Wedding Photos give a clue to the date by the silhouette, sleeve style, neck line etc. However many brides of the 19th and 20th centuries chose to wear their mother’s wedding gown so this can get confusing when dating old photographs! Vintage Wedding gowns tend to be four or five years behind the latest fashion.
Throughout the Edwardian Period there were a lot of changes in women’s wear. Early 1900s styles were dramatically different from their 1919 counterparts. A Bride of the 1900s era may have been a vision in lace in an Edwardian style. She would have a corseted bodice and romantic ruffles, a tiny waist encircled with a satin ribbon above a lavish skirt, perhaps carrying a parasol as an accent. This era also offers brides a Gibson Girl look for hairstyles, soft and upswept.
The Gibson Girl began appearing in the 1890s and was the feminine ideal of beauty portrayed by the satirical pen-and-ink illustrations of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson during a 20-year period that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United States. The artist saw his creation as representing the composite of “thousands of American girls.”
A mid-decade bride would wear “cutting edge” fashions of the day from Paris, a neo-Empire style. Late decade styles simplified dresses and brought about a slimmer silhouette, with less fabric in the skirts, foreshadowing the changes yet to be seen in the 1920s. Do check out my board on Pinterest `The History of Wedding Fashion’ where I have gathered lots of images from different decades including the Edwardian Era.
Flowers and wreaths were worn at weddings as far back as the ancient Greeks. They believed that the floral scents would ward off evil spirits. The practice of wearing flowers continued throughout history with the belief of safety from spirits as well as repelling infectious diseases. Usually these bouquets were made from very pungent herbs, spices and even garlic! Another reason that brides carried bouquets was born out of the ‘necessity’ of covering odor, trying to smell pretty on their special day. In the 1600′s and for a very long time afterwards, people bathed extremely infrequently. According to the Huffington Post, during the 15th century, people took their yearly baths in May and would generally get married in June. Just to be safe, brides carried bouquets to mask the smell of body odor. In ancient times, a bride was considered especially lucky on her wedding day. So guests tore off parts of her dress to obtain a good luck talisman for themselves! Not all brides cared for this activity, as it wasn’t very pleasant to have your clothing ripped bit by bit, compliments of the guests. So it evolved, that the bride outsmarted her guests by giving an offering of herself; enabling a guest to obtain a lucky talisman and allowing herself to keep her clothing intact: she starting throwing her garter and bouquet in lieu of pieces of her dress.
I am sure that Ethel would have carried a Bridal Bouquet. Bouquets of the Edwardian Era were large and trailing. They often had yard long trailing greenery of maidenhairfern. Edwardian bouquets were traditionally wired posies with a small collection of flowers. The maidenhair fern usually acted as the filler foliage. To echo this in your bouquet use traditional English Garden favourites, Roses, Spray Roses, Sweet Williams, Carnations and Gypsophila… Ethel’s dad George Spice was a gardener and worked in the market gardening and floristry trade. My Grandma remembered the Greenwood’s florist shop in Upper Clapton Road where she used to visit her Grandad George at work. It was a large shop with an enormous fountain in the middle which she thought was amazing.
I can imagine that Greenwoods did Ethel proud supplying the flowers for her wedding in 1913. This picture from Lovedaylemon on Flickr gives an idea as to what the flowers would have looked like in Edwardian England. Apart from the bride’s bouquet Edwardian ladies often wore elaborate corsages. A corsage originally referred to the bodice of a woman’s dress. Since a bouquet of flowers was often worn in the center of the bodice, the flowers took on the name “corsage.” Our modern sense of the corsage comes from the French “bouquet de corsage,” meaning “a bouquet of the bodice.” Corsages are made from a small bunch of flowers or a single bloom. The corsage was originally worn at the waist or the bodice of a dress. Later, it became common to pin flowers to the shoulder or on a handbag. Although the placement of the flowers might have changed, the name stuck and is still used to refer to any small bouquet of flowers worn on the body. In weddings a corsage identifies members of the wedding party. The mothers’ and grandmothers’ corsages are usually different and more elaborate amongst the guests at the wedding party.
In this Edwardian image the ladies have elaborate corsages pinned to the front of their dresses.
George Spice always took pride in his appearance and even when retired wore a flower in his buttonhole. I am sure he looked very dapper at his daughter’s wedding.
Edwardian Society expected all guests to provide a wedding present. If the engagement was not going to be long, guests sent presents as soon as the engagement was announced. The bride’s family then exhibited the gifts the day before the wedding at an afternoon tea. They displayed the gifts on linen or velvet-covered tables, choosing dark cloth for silver plate. People of “aristocratic tastes” surrounded the presents with flowers, especially roses. Every present bore the giver’s card and name so present giving could become quite competitive. These days wrapped presents tend to be displayed on a table at the wedding.
I love the conversation between Violet, The Dowager Countess and Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey where Lady Edith is arranging the Wedding Presents for her elder sister Mary:-
The Dowager Countess : ` Your turn will come.’
Lady Edith: `Am I to be the maiden aunt? Isn’t this what they do? Arrange presents for their prettier relations?’
The Dowager Countess: `Don’t be defeatist dear, it’s terribly middle class.’
I have to make a guess at the presents Ethel and Henry would have received. Not as grand and expensive as Lady Mary! However Ethel’s brother-in- law George Read worked for a towel manufacturer in 1911. It is highly likely therefore that they received towels from Ethel’s sister Kate and her husband George. My grandma received towels from George as a wedding gift in 1936. At this time George was working for Christy, the towel manufacturing business. Christy Ltd is a long-established manufacturer of household linens and is known as the inventor of the first industrially produced looped cotton towel.
What I do know is that Ethel had a very lovely tea set which was still in use when I was growing up. All that remains now is a beautiful jug which I treasure.
Ethel’s tea-set was made by Samuel Radford Ltd.The jug can be dated to around 1913 from the Maker’s Mark printed on the bottom. I therefore presume the tea-set was a wedding gift. The jug is made of a beautiful white porcelain with pretty pink roses and pale sage green swag decoration. The handle was edged in gold but has been care worn over the last 100 years. I’m sure if Ethel’s jug could tell her history it would be a fascinating story. What I find interesting is that the design is called `Milton’. Bapchild, where Ethel grew up, was in the district of Milton, Kent. I am guessing that a family member such as her Aunt Eliza, gave this gift to Ethel with fond memories of Ethel’s childhood in Bapchild.
I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts on Weddings from the Edwardian Era based round my Great Grandparents Wedding. Look out for my Grandparents 1930s wedding next!