'A Dress Fit for a King' at Berrington Hall

The court mantua dress with huge built-in hips and gold thread with embroided flowers

'A Dress Fit for a King' has now reopened and can be discovered on the first floor of the mansion.

A very unique find 

Our story begins back in 2016 when Christies Auction House in London contacted the National Trust, informing us of an upcoming sale that might be of interest. The item on offer was Ann’s court mantua dress, a dress she would have worn to court to greet the King, George III, most likely whilst her husband, Thomas, was Lord Mayor of London (1767 to 1768)

The dress was described as:

" “A deconstructed court mantua (formal gown). Mid-18th Century. The silk, probably Lyon in white cannele brocade woven with guilt meander and flowers, with double sleeve ruffles, one sleeve, petticoat and three fragments. Elements lacking, including one sleeve and bodice. Provenance: Ann Harley (daughter of Edward Bangham MP), wife of the Hon.Thomas Harley (1730-1804). Lord Mayor of London.” "
- Christies Auction House, London
The exquisite fabric of the court mantua
A close up of the exquisite fabric
The exquisite fabric of the court mantua

After seeking advice from curators and conservators we decided to place a bid on Ann’s dress and successfully secured the garment, taking ownership of this rare piece.

We cannot be sure if Ann ever wore the dress here at Berrington, but with no known existing portraits of her, this dress is a significant piece of the mansion's history. 

Work begins 

The dress arrived in ten separate pieces, the largest being the skirt/petticoat which consisted of seven panels and measured over three metres long. The smallest pieces were the sleeves which measured just fifteen centimetres wide.

In trying to understand the mantua’s construction and structure, we have commissioned Michelle Barker of Handbound Costumes to make a replica. In time this will help our very own conservators to reconstruct the original, which painstakingly done piece by piece will take place throughout the course of the year. 

'A Dress Fit for a King' 

Inspired by the dress, we have decided to celebrate its return with a special exhibition on the first floor of the mansion. With ‘A Dress Fit for a King’ we have pulled together a narrative of Ann’s life, exploring what she may have been like as a person, the experiences she may have encountered throughout her marriage to Thomas Harley and her life at Berrington Hall.

The original court mantua is beautifully displayed along with the replica and there are also other displays sharing the story of how men and women used to get ready during the eighteenth century.