Object in Focus
Lady Ribblesdale’s Shoes
Black and red satin uppers, with red satin heel. Leather sole and white leather lining. Uppers embellished with imitation gem stones, silver sequins and embroidered with silver thread. Date: 1797. V&A 266 & 266A-1899
Prepared by: Noreen McGuire, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Read the full paper here.
This pair of women’s shoes, V&A 266 & 266A-1899 (fig. 1), dates from the 1790s and has been selected for a forthcoming exhibition on footwear due to open at the V&A in 2015. While the scope of the exhibition will be wide in terms of the time period covered and styles included, a number of shoes bearing makers’ labels from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries will be included. The right shoe of this pair bears a label identifying Sutton of Covent Garden as the maker (fig. 2).
Preparation for the exhibition requires careful physical examination of the shoes as well as investigation into their ‘life’, in order to unravel the context in which they were made, bought and worn. The shoes have black satin uppers, with kid leather lining and leather soles. They measure 24 cm in length, 8 cm in width, 8.75 cm in height, with a heel height of 4.6 cm. They were made by a method known as ‘turnshoe’ construction, which involved them being made inside out up to a certain stage and then turned right side out, thus hiding the seams on the inside and creating a neat appearance. In addition to the maker’s label this particular pair of shoes instantly gives us a number of clues to investigate: the small Italian heels are covered in red silk; the shoes are embellished with silver thread embroidery, sequins and imitation gems (fig. 3); they have straps known as latchets, indicating that they originally bore buckles; and the inside of the left shoe is marked with the name ‘Rebecca Ribblesdale’ and the year ‘1797’. All of this information needs to be analysed to piece together the story of these shoes.
After examination of the shoes with the naked eye, further information has been gleaned from X-rays and XRF spectrometer analysis. These methods provide useful information on the construction techniques and materials used, which are not otherwise available. For example, an X-ray of the shoes reveals that no nails were used in their construction, just stitching and glue (fig. 4). This provides an interesting comparison with other shoes of the period, as well as revealing differences and similarities in modern shoemaking.
Fig.2. Label detail from V&A 266-1899
Fig.3. Detail of V&A 266-1899 showing silver thread embroidery, sequins and imitation gem stone
Fig.4. X-ray of V&A 266 & 266A-1899
Fig.5. V&A T.115 & T.115 A-1933: Pair of women’s low-heeled shoes, pink leather with stencilled decoration, ca. 1800
Fig.6. Fashion plate showing an example of court dress from 1795 (Heideloff, ‘Gallery of Fashion’, Fig. LXXXVI, Vol. II, 1795)
Fig.7. V&A CIRC.510, 511-1928: woman’s shoe, leather sole and worsted wool upper, dating from 1720s-1730s
Fig.8. V&A M.30-1909: one of a pair of shoe buckles, silver and steel, late-18th century
Dr. Lucia Burgio, Analysis Report 13-51-LB, 15 March 2013. Science Section, Conservation Department, Victoria and Albert Museum
Manuscript sources and newspapers
Ribblesdale household accounts for 1789-1817 [ref MD335/1/7/1/10], Yorkshire Archaeological Society
Morning Post and Daily Advertiser (London, England), Friday March 10th, 1786, issue 4086
The British Library – 17th-18th Century Burney Collections Newspapers
Nicolaus von Heideloff, ‘Gallery of Fashion’, Vol. II, 1795, [Pressmark: RC.R.12], National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum
Books and articles
Helen Berry, ‘Polite Consumption: Shopping in Eighteenth-Century England,’ in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, Sixth Series, Vol. 12 (2002), pp.375-394
Arthur Collins and Sir Egerton Brydges, Collins’s Peerage of England, Genealogical, Biographical, and Historical, vol. 8 (London: Printed for F. C. and J. Rivington, 1812)
Peter McNeil, ‘The Appearance of Enlightenment – Refashioning the elites’, in Martin Fitzpatrick, Peter Jones, Christa Knellwolf and Iain McCalman (eds.), The Enlightenment World, (Abingdon and New York: Routledge, 2004), pp.381-400
Peter McNeil and Giorgio Riello (eds.), Shoes: a history from sandals to sneakers (Oxford and New York: Berg, 2006)
Lucy Pratt and Linda Woolley, Shoes (London: V&A Publications, 1999)
Giorgio Riello, A Foot In The Past: Consumers, Producers and Footwear in the Long Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)
Giorgio Riello, ‘Strategies and Boundaries: Subcontracting and the London Trades in the Long Eighteenth Century’ in Enterprise and Society, vol. 9, issue 2, (2008), pp.243-280
D.A. Saguto (ed.), M. de Garsault’s 1767 Art of the Shoemaker: an annotated translation (Williamsburg: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2009)
June Swann, Shoes (London: B.T. Batsford Ltd, 1982)
June Swann, Shoemaking (Princes Risborough: Shire Publications Ltd, 1986)
Claire Walsh, ‘Shop Design and the Display of Goods in Eighteenth-Century London’ in Journal of Design History, vol. 8, no. 3 (1995), pp.157-176
Sylvanus Urban (ed.), Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, vol. 61, part 2, (1791) (London: Printed by John Nichols for David Henry)
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