A Dress for a Brewer

10 June 2019

In 1752, when Ann Fanshawe was 28 years old, her father, Crisp Gascoyne, a Past Master of the Brewers’ Company was appointed Lord Mayor of London, and became the first incumbent to take residence in the newly built Mansion House. Since Margaret, her mother, had died in 1740, it fell upon Ann to assume the role of Lady Mayoress and this spectacular dress of Spitalfields silk, which was purchased by the Museum of London from one of her descendants in 1983, is believed to have been made to be worn just once.

Becoming Lord Mayor of London was an auspicious moment for Ann’s father. He had set up business as brewer in Gravel Lane, Houndsditch and was admitted as a Freeman of the Brewers’ Company in 1741, becoming Master in 1746. On 9 November 1752, Gascoyne went in the City Barge to Westminster Hall to be sworn into office as Lord Mayor. He returned via Blackfriars Stairs and then went in Procession to the Guildhall where ‘an elegant Entertainment’ was followed by a Ball.

This silk dress was emblematic of his success. The design contains images of hops and barley interwoven with flowers spilling from silver cornucopia, alternating with anchors and merchants’ packs in silver, all upon a background of white silk threaded with silver. It was a dress designed to be seen by candlelight and the effect of all this silver thread upon white silk, in a dress trimmed with silver lace, upon his eldest daughter adorned with diamonds, was the physical embodiment of Gascoyne’s momentous achievement.

The Covent Garden Journal reported: “The Appearance at Guildhall, on Thursday last, was very noble, particularly that of the Ladies, many of whom were extremely brilliant … The Ball about ten o’clock was opened by Mrs Fanshaw (as Lady Mayoress, who made a most splendid Figure) …”

Splendid it might have been, but the dress was two metres wide and Ann could not walk through a door without turning sideways. Getting in and out of a carriage must have been a performance too. Ann was fully aware that her dress was not designed for sitting down but fortunately she did not to expect to sit.

This article is adapted from a blog post on Spitalfields Life, with kind permission from The Gentle Author.