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Leighton House Sambourne House

Out Shopping: At the Dressmakers

Exploring leading dressmakers of the Victorian and Edwardian era through the exhibition, Out Shopping: The Dresses of Marion and Maud Sambourne (1880-1910).

The Society of Salome enjoying the Out Shopping experience. Image courtesy of The Society of Salome and Danny Jackson

Unveiling the Sambourne House collection of dresses belonging to mother and daughter, Marion and Maud Sambourne, Out Shopping: The Dresses of Marion and Maud Sambourne (1880-1910) showcases hardly seen, rare surviving examples by leading dressmakers of the era, many of them female.

Inside the Out Shopping exhibition, Verey Exhibition Gallery, Leighton House

Through Marion Sambourne’s diaries (kept between 1882 and 1914) as well as the numerous letters between Marion and Maud retained in the Sambourne House archive, we can gain a remarkably detailed insight into all aspects of daily life at the turn of the century, including shopping.

Marion’s diaries reveal she was shopping at a great number of places, with more than 680 references to purchasing clothes and going to the shops suggesting she went clothes shopping on average around once every two weeks.

Map of Out Shopping locations visited by Marion and Maud Sambourne. Images courtesy of Lai Couto, The Society of Salome and Danny Jackson

Department stores were important shopping destinations and some of these remain familiar names: John Lewis, Selfridges and Debenhams all feature. Others, such as Woolland Brothers and Marshall & Snellgrove, have long since closed.

The alternative to buying from a department store was going to a court dressmaker (fashionable designers who produced the best quality garments). Buying a dress from a dressmaker was a lengthy process that could take over a month from start to finish and involve multiple trips to the dressmaker’s shop. From choosing a design and fabric, to multiple fittings and alternations.

Many of the places Marion and Maud Sambourne frequented remain shopping destinations today. Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street were already prestigious store locations in the late 19th century and regularly feature. Many of the leading court dressmakers had their premises in these areas including Russell & Allen on Old Bond Street and Madame Bocquet just off Oxford Street.

Madame Bocquet

Madame Bocquet, a dressmaker with premises at 66 Berners Street, off Oxford Street, was Marion’s favourite dressmaker in the 1880s and early 1890s, with almost 100 mentions in her diary. After placing an order in 1890, Marion wrote ‘last dress she will make me, too dear altogether’. In fact, she went on to purchase around twenty items from Madame Bocquet in the 1880s, including a ‘green dress’ in 1883 which could be the below green velvet afternoon outfit.

Marion Sambourne's green velvet afternoon outfit, c.1885

This velvet bodice and train with silk skirt is one of the earliest outfits in the Sambourne House collection, providing an insight into Marion’s tastes in the 1880s as a married woman in her thirties with two young children. This formal afternoon dress would have been appropriate for daytime socialising, such as paying calls on friends and relatives.

Marion was fond of velvet and owned several velvet dresses including a red evening gown which she wore on numerous occasions over a fifteen-year period. She can also be seen wearing a similar spotted outfit in a photograph from the 1880s taken by her husband.

Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young

Born the daughter of a farmer in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1845, Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young trained in St Andrews before coming to London and starting her own business. Becoming a prestigious court dressmaker, by 1891 she had a store at 20 Mount Street in Mayfair which employed ten people. Later moving to 65 South Audley Street, Mayfair.

Marion had ordered various outfits from Young over the years, which, typically, she had been dissatisfied with. Despite this, she entrusted Young to make this blue and cream silk skirt and jacket for her daughter Maud’s 1898 wedding to stockbroker, Leonard Messel.

Marion Sambourne's mother of the bride outfit by Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young, 1898

An account of the wedding by The East Kent Times & District Advertiser records:

"Mrs Sambourne was in an exquisitely fitting dark blue and white figured silk, with the halfway flounce forming a kind of tabier, revers of lace with very open neck plied on with lace, knots of narrow black velvet apparently fastening the lace, high medici collar lined with vivid pink silk, a very neat toque [hat] of pink roses and lace; she carried a posy of pink roses to match those in her head."
The East Kent Times & District Advertiser, 1898

Young also created Maud’s wedding dress and going away outfit. Marion doesn’t mention what she thought of her own outfit in her diary, only recording that she ‘chose blue dress’, but she was clearly pleased with how Maud looked, writing, ‘Maudie v. sweet in her wedding dress’.

After Maud’s marriage to Leonard Messel, Young became her dressmaker of choice. Maud owned at least nine outfits by Young, including this pale green walking outfit.

Maud Messel's pale green walking dress by Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young, c.1909–10, Estate of Anne, Countess of Rosse

Young retired sometime before 1911 and died in 1912. Like many court dressmakers in London during this period, her work has been almost completely forgotten and few of her dresses have survived beyond those she designed for Marion and Maud Sambourne.

Read more in 'Spotlight on dressmaker Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young' in Out Shopping: The Magazine, available online and in our museum shops.

Russell & Allen

As a prominent cartoonist, Linley Sambourne enjoyed a good income, but the family had significantly less money than many of their friends and relatives. Marion had to be careful with her purchases and could not always afford to go to the best court dressmakers, like Sarah Fullerton Monteith Young or Russell & Allen.

Maud had a real interest in fashion, but she was also conscious that her family could not afford to buy her an extensive wardrobe. At times she was irritated that some women on the same society circuit had the advantage of the latest fashions from London’s top court dressmakers, but she was certainly aware of the impact she could have regardless, writing to Marion on 24 September 1895:

‘I am going to be an awful swell at the two balls. I don’t think that even Mary Macqueen with her Russell & Allen gowns can beat my own.’
Maud writing to Marion, 24 September 1895

Shortly after Maud's advantageous marriage, she purchased her own evening gown from Old Bond Street court dressmakers Russell & Allen, which survives in the Sambourne House collection. A striking combination of black net and velvet, with an elaborate beaded collar, the gown represents Maud’s new-found status and wealth.

Maud Messel's black net and sequin evening gown by Russell & Allen, c.1900

Mascotte by Mrs Cyril Drummond

Mascotte was owned by dressmaker Cyril Drummond (1871-1917). Drummond began her career on the Isle of Wight before moving to London and opening her own store in 1903. Both Maud and Marion frequented her shop, but this brown chiffon and velvet day dress purchased by Maud from Mascotte’s store on 29 Church Street, Kensington, is the only example of her work in the Sambourne House collection.

Maud Messel's brown chiffon and velvet dress by Mascotte, c.1906-8

Positioned prominently on the front of the dress is a section of silver and gold beaded appliqué. Sitting at a slight angle and featuring techniques popular with amateur sewers, this may in fact be Maud’s own work. Maud was particularly fond of embroidery and collected antique examples which she used as inspiration for her own designs.

Embroidery detail of Maud's Mascotte dress; Maud Sambourne sewing (1890s); and an embroidered peacock cushion from the Sambourne House collection


Out Shopping: The Dresses of Marion and Maud Sambourne (1880-1910) is open at Leighton House and Sambourne House, 23 March – 20 October 2024.


Plan your visit

Buy Out Shopping: The Magazine


Text adapted from the exhibition and Out Shopping: The Magazine, written by Hannah Lund, Curator of Exhibitions and Displays at Leighton House and Sambourne House.

Conservation of the dresses by Janie Lightfoot Textiles. Supported by: Gregory Annenberg Weingarten GRoW @ Annenberg, The Sir Edwin and Lady Manton Fund, The Pilgrim Trust, The Costume Society, Dr. Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation, Joanna Banham, Bernice Spence & Karen Moore, John & Melanie Miles, Robin & Dominique Holland-Martin, Shirley Nicholson and The Friends of Leighton House.

Exhibition images by Jaron James and dress images by Janie Lightfoot Textiles, unless otherwise stated.