'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' exhibition celebrates Georgian dresses and can be found 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. This helped our very own conservators to reconstruct the original, which was painstakingly completed piece by piece throughout 2019. 

'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. 

More Marvellous Mantuas

After we acquired Ann’s dress, our textile conservator worked with a costume maker to help reconstruct it. 

Michelle Barker, of Handbound Costumes, studies garments in museums and collections across the UK and beyond. She made a pattern from the pieces we bought and then made a replica gown, based on the original design.

In studying this very particular style of dress from the eighteenth century, Michelle decided to do a more in-depth study and to replicate how this dress style changed over the decades. You can see the result of her work in the newly opened Admiral's Room on the first floor. 

Five replica dresses are on display on this room, dating from the early 1700s to the 1770s. You can view the way in which the style changed throughout the eighteenth century. 

More marvellous mantuas can be seen in the Admiral's Room