Monday, 1 May 2017

1829 Wedding Dress of Hannah Bursnall

Happy May Day!!

This late 1820s extant dress is a very special dress. The provenance is fascinating. I bought this dress about 4 years ago from the lovely Ann at Poppies Cottage.


1829 Printed Dress


1829 Dress with Front Closing Bodice and Drop Front Skirt


The lady that you see below is Hannah Bursnall; the owner of this near 200 year old dress, in the early 1900s. {Apologies for the poor quality of the photograph.}


Mrs Bursnall nee Pepper with Great Grandson, early 1900s


Apart from my love of provincial costume, the historian in me was delighted to see a dress from the late 1820s (more about the dating later), with a photograph of the original owner, and her name. Now it is mostly due to Hannah’s long life, that we are able to see so far back into the past, and thanks to 21st technology, I was able to find out quite a bit about her and her rural life in England.

Hannah Bursnall (also ‘Burshell’ or ‘Bursnell’ as her surname is also recorded) was born in Wymondham, Leicestershire, around 1805. She was to pass away at the age of around 105 in Skillington, Lincolnshire in 1909. Both of these villages are small and very close to one another; rural communities where everyone knew everyone else. Her maiden name was Pepper, and she had quite a few siblings. Her father was an agricultural Labourer as was her husband. By the time of the 1841 census, she had had 6 children, and had been married for 12 years, marrying at about the age of 24 in 1829.



Now I think that this dress was her wedding dress. She came from a background of hard, physical labour, often a hand to mouth existence, when a harvest could make or break families and villages. I cannot imagine for one minute that she kept many of her clothes down through the years. The fabric would have been used, the dresses she had may well have been passed to her daughters and altered numerous times. So why keep this one dress? The fabric is right for 1829, and although the style is possibly not the latest construction or fashion, with the apron drop front skirt, the sleeve treatment, with the pleating and decoration at the wrists is spot on for this time. The small collar (her parents certainly would not have had the cash for a pelerine white worked collar) again is perfect for the late 1820s.

Front opening bodice and drop front skirt.

When Hannah passed away in 1909, she was living with her daughter of 72 years of age. I found a wonderful article online about her in a newspaper from Australia, describing her 105th birthday. This article first appeared in the British ‘Daily Mail’. When asked what her recipe for old age was she is said to have replied “Get up early, work hard, and read the Bible.” According to this report her direct descendants added up to 102, she herself having had 14 children.

(As an aside, the village of Skillington had visits from a young boy in the 1640s, who was to grow up to be Sir Isaac Newton (info from Trevor Palmer’s booklet ‘A History of Skillington’. 2003).  He had some early schooling at a Dame School in the village, and 3 of his aunts lived at Skillington, so no doubt he visited them regularly too. Skillington is also mentioned in The Domesday Book of 1086.)

Details:- collar, ruched front, purple glazed cotton lining, pleated narrow sleeve with piping and buttons.


The Dress

This dress did have a few issues when it came to me. It had a long split in the skirt which I have mended. There were a few buttons on the sleeves missing (there should be 3 to each sleeve), so I carefully cut a piece of fabric from the inside seam allowance (these were left inches long at the top of the skirt so that it could be ‘turned’ if needed at some later date), and made 4 buttons with metal rings and wool as the others had been used. Now sadly the handsewn bars over on the other side of the sleeve for the buttons to close the sleeve at the wrists, have all disappeared. And although I tried to resew them, the fabric was simply too delicate and a little torn for me to do this to my satisfaction, so these are missing. The dress had some blu-tac on the sleeves, which was slowly and gently removed with water). The outside brown ties had torn, on one side, so I added a short length of tape to this; (colour matched as close as possible).

As mentioned it has a small collar, and a ruched bodice. It fastens at the front. Now fastening this dress is a bit of a challenge, and I do wonder if originally it had a belt. It needs pins to close the bodice front, then there is an inside waist tape to tie firmly around the waist, and then the skirt ties loop around and fasten at the back. But the waistband is not secure, so I do feel that something is missing (either something physical or my own knowledge). 

This dress is for sale. Please visit the 'Shop Antique Clothing' section of my website here.


Naomi x