Friday, August 23, 2013

Fencing Fashion: A Case Heard at the Old Bailey, 1742

For those who have spent time trolling the records of London’s Old Bailey gaol ( you know that this online service is a major and impressive endeavor for all manner of scholars and researchers. One can easily get lost, "wandering" around at the Old Bailey for hours on end. Indeed, I am currently looking at thefts from cordwainers for my research. 

Woe to those convicted, we learn!  In addition to fines, London’s criminal element faced the likelihood of branding and transportation to distant colonies.

Given my interest in historic textiles in general and shoes in particular, this theft from London shopkeeper Ann Lenson’s establishment caught my attention.  Clearly, petty theft and larceny were the bane of a storekeeper’s or artisan’s existence.

The theft occurred 25 November 1742, and the criminal case was heard at the Old Bailey on 8 December 1742.  There were several perpetrators involved who gained access by pushing open a window.  In addition to the two men who actually stole the items, Patience Forrester “fenced” some of the stolen goods. Among other items, she testified that she sold a velvet manteel to Duke William's footman. (Many household and livered servants would acquire their finery second hand in shops or at the Rag Fair.)  When the proprietor, Ann Lenson, was asked the value of the goods, she noted that they were about 40s and that they were all "second hand things."

Stolen from Lenson’s shop were:

2 velvet mantels [mantels]
15 pair of women's kid gloves
1 pair of white damask shoes with gold lace [metallic thread lace or braid]
1 pair flowered silk shoes
7 yards of black silk
1 rowler for a child's head [also known as a “pudding cap]
1 brocaded shoe [only one not a pair]
Several yards of lace [metallic thread braid]
1 snuff box

One of the suspects admitted, along with the silk, "three pieces of brigade" [sic - brocade] & that the pudding was "done with gold."

As these were second-hand goods, the shoes stolen were probably completed at bit earlier, say 1740.

The white damask shoe with gold lace was probably was similar to these:

While the flowered silk shoes or the brocaded shoe may have looked something like this:

Note the distinctive weighty- some might say "sensible"- covered Louis heel and pointy toe popular during the 1730s-1740s. (All shoes pictured here at courtesy of 

The child’s “rowler” or pudding had gold thread and may have looked something like this.
Pudding & cap
Courtesy, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Child's stuffed leather pudding cap, c.1775.
The several yards of what was then called lace, may have resembled this sample:
Courtesy, Collection of www.Duchesstrading.blogspot
18th century metallic lace

It was quite dear.

All three culprits were found guilty and sentenced to transportation to the colonies.

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