La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Triborough Reference Librarian, Debby Wale delved into Chelsea Library’s Costume Collection to bring us some more Regency gems.

La Belle Assemblée was a ladies magazine published between 1806-1837, founded by John Bell (1745-1831) who ran Bell’s Circulating Library. Holdings at  Chelsea Library covers most of the period.

The magazine has fashion plates, celebrity profiles, sheet music, poetry, fiction, news items and some scientific articles. It was almost  a cross between the modern day Vogue, Hello! and a broadsheet Sunday supplement.

Fanny Austen Knight, a relative of Jane Austen had a copy of the magazine, so Jane Austen would be likely to have been familiar with the title.

A chapter in Jane Austen In Style by Susan Watkin is called ‘A society of grace and manners’

‘Though she was not especially fond of listening to music, Jane Austen, like many of her female characters, took her piano playing seriously, and made time to practice every day. It was into these music books that she copied much of her music by hand.’
Music from 'Jane Austen In Style' by Susan Watkin
Music from ‘Jane Austen In Style’ by Susan Watkin

 The close proximity and physical contact of the dancers shocked many when the Waltz first came into fashion. However, La Belle Assemblée published this sheet music for a Waltz, Fly Away Care in January 1812.

'Fly Away Care' Waltz music
‘Fly Away Care’ Waltz music

Each month the magazine published a Biographical sketch of Illustrious Ladies. This article was published in August 1811 refers to an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales.

Countess Spencer
Countess Spencer
Biographical sketch of Countess Spencer
Biographical sketch of Countess Spencer

Lavinia Countess of Spencer (née Bingham) was the daughter of the 1st Earl of Lucan. She is described as

 ‘a lady no less distinguished for the family she has married into than for that which she is descended’

She married George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer. His sister Lady Georgiana married the Duke of Devonshire and became a famed Whig hostess. The story of this difficult marriage was made into a film released in 2008, The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.

In Autumn 1811, La Belle Assemblée printed picture of the Prince of Wales conservatory at Carlton house, with brief description. Very Homes and Gardens!

Exterior of the Prince of Wales' conservatory, Carlton house (November 1811)
Exterior of the Prince of Wales’ conservatory, Carlton house (November 1811)
Interior of the Prince of Wales' conservatory, Carlton House (September 1811)
Interior of the Prince of Wales’ conservatory, Carlton House (September 1811)

La Belle Assemblée also wrote about the Drury Lane Theatre which opened in 1812.

Opening of the Drury Lane Theatre
Opening of the Drury Lane Theatre

Not only were there suggestions of fashionable places to see and be seen, but also what to wear.

Opera dress
Opera dress
Evening full dress and Autumnal pelisse
Evening full dress and Autumnal pelisse

So, if you fancy whiling away and hour or two as a Regency lady of leisure, pop into Chelsea Reference Library and sit in one our comfy chairs and ask for La Belle Assemblée (or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) They are fragile, so are kept in our store. Regrettably, tea and cucumber sandwiches without the crusts are not supplied!

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

Leisure and fashion in the Regency period

 

Regency Dress from ‘Jane Austen In Style’ by Susan Watkins

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Triborough Reference Librarian, Debby Wale has found some Austen connections with Chelsea as well as some amazing Regency fashion images.

Jane Austen was born on 16 December 1775 at Steventon, Hampshire. Her father was the Rector of Steventon and Deane. At the age of thirty-six she emerged from relatively sequestered existence to becoming a published novelist. In 1801 the family moved to Bath. In 1809 the Austen sisters and their mother settled in Chawton and Jane Austen’s career as a published author began.

In Chelsea Past, Barbara Denny describes Jane Austen’s association with Chelsea as transitory, but letters to her sister Cassandra describes a musical evening. She lived with her brother Henry and his wife at 654 Sloane Street from Spring 1811 for two years. Between 1813 – 1815 she visited him when he moved to 23 Hans Place.

Chelsea by Thea Holme describes from Jane’s letters a party at Sloane Street with 66 guests and musicians arriving in two Hackney coaches.

Regency fashion was governed by a strict social etiquette. For women, there were outfits for every activity. Ladies might change several times a day to suit the hour or the occasion. Magazines such as Belle Assemble (La Belle Assemblée or, Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine Addressed Particularly to the Ladies) had fashion plates which were a guide to suitable attire for every circumstance.

Jane Austen was a prolific letter-writer and these letters give an interesting insight into her life. One activity suitable for a lady was walking. More promenade than serious hiking, there is a reference in one of her letters.

Your lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. The horse-chestnuts are quite out, and the elms almost. I had a pleasant walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday with Henry, Mr. Smith, and Mr.Tilson; everything was fresh and beautiful.

Jane Austen to Cassandra 25 April, 1811

These pictures from Chelsea Library’s costume collection give an idea of the style Jane or her characters, might have worn, or aspired to wear. They are from the magazine La Belle Assembléwhich Chelsea Library has more or less a complete archive.

Kensington Gardens Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811
Kensington Gardens Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811

Kensington Garden Fashionable Promenade Dress, July 1811
A round robe of jacconot muslin, with a bodice of violet sarsnet, trimmed with rich silk Brandeburgs of Austrian green, a half pelisse of fine transparent muslin, with Bishop’s sleeves, fancifully tied with green riband. A Hyman hat of purple brocaded ribband and lace, ornamented with a green military plume; a Chinese parasol of purple sarsnet, shot with green; gloves and shoes of York tan.

Walking Dress, 1811
Walking Dress, 1811

Walking Dress,  June 1811
A pelisse of pink sarsnet, lined with white, and ornamented with rich silk Brandenburg trimmings of correspondent pink, or pale brown; a high standing ruff round the throat,; a Persian mantle of pale blue, or white, thrown over the dress. A basket hat of straw, ornamented with a demi-wreath of half blown roses. Shoes of blue kid; gloves of York tan.

Promenade or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811
Promenade or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811

Promenade, or Carriage Walking Costume, November 1811
A fawn colour of amber velvet three quarters pelisse; faced and ornamented around the bottom and sleeves with Regency purple velvet and faced down the waist, shoulders and half way down the side of the skirt, with rich cordons of purple, terminating with a tassel; a purple velvet collar stands up, is rounded behind, and comes down to a point below the throat; the cuffs are of purple velvet, trimmed with fine blue lace. Over the sleeve is a demi-sleeve divided; between which division small purple ornaments, in the form of  aiguillettes, but without tags, are sometimes introduce when this dress is made of twilled sarsnet instead of velvet.

Promenade Dress, August 1811
Promenade Dress, August 1811

Promenade Dress, August 1811
A round robe of India jaconot, trimmed around the bottom with ribband; a mantle of fine India muslin, or white crape, with ficher front, ornamented with drawn ribband and tassel, and confined to the waist on the same side. A village hat of white chip, with a crown of blended crape and sarsnet, bound and tied under the chin with ribband, over a lace cawl, and raised form the face by a short wreath of French roses. Parasol and ridicule of purple and green shot silk; gloves of York tan; Roman boots of white morocco.

Regency Walking Dress, February 1811
Regency Walking Dress, February 1811

Regency Walking Dress, February 1811
A pelisse of scarlet Merino cloth, buttoned down the front and up the arm with small gold buttons; the collar and cuffs of purple velvet; but during the mourning, of black, striped with scarlet; an ermine tippet pointed in the back, and muffet of the same. A bonnet of scarlet cloth, turned up with velvet, and formed to come over the face; the veil passed through the front and brought round the neck. Boots of scarlet cloth trimmed with velvet.

Debby Wale
Debby Wale

Debby Wale, Triborough Reference Librarian

Chelsea Reference Library

 

Additional information

Resources held in Chelsea Reference library:

  • Jane Austen In Style by Susan Watkins
  • Chelsea by Thea Holme
  • Chelsea Past by Barbara Denny
  • La Belle Assemblee magazine archive

Online resources:
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – for more information about Jane Austen (you’ll need a library membership to access this database outside of the library) 

Glossary – fabrics

  • Jaconot: light weight cotton fabric
  • Sarsnet: noun a soft thin silk used for dresses, veilings, or trimmings.