Hampton Court Palace buys Victoria’s boots, bloomers & bodice

Historic Royal Palaces has acquired two pairs of leather ankle boots by J Sparks-Hall of London, a black taffeta skirt and two black bodices belonging to Queen Victoria at a January 21st auction. The group sold for £14,000. Other pieces from the wardrobe of Victoria that were on sale at the auction, including a pair of capacious silk bloomers embroidered with a crown, a pair of wool and cream silk stockings, a cream silk parasol, sold for an additional £3,000.

The boots, both made by J Sparkes, Hall & Son of Regent Street, London, are made of brown kid leather. The more expensive pair is lined in a red silk border and has a gold stitched butterfly on the toe and a 1″ stacked heel. They doubled the high pre-sale estimate and went for £4,000. A slightly less dramatic pair with a blue silk border and a floral leaf designed stitched on the top of the toes sold for £2,000. The black taffeta skirt embellished with lace and jet sold for double the high estimate as well, £4,000. The two black silk taffeta bodices with lace embellishments from Victoria’s long mourning also sold for £4,000.

Claudia Williams, collections curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said: “As well as being included in future displays, these items reveal that, contrary to popular belief, Queen Victoria did not abandon all interest in her appearance after the death of her beloved Prince Albert, and highlight how – in an era of black and white photography – she exploited clothing’s capacity to communicate, using it as a potent visual symbol of her undying love for her husband.”

The articles of clothing were put up for auction by electrical engineer Roderick Hanson, great-great-grandson of royal photographer Alexander Lamont Henderson who was granted  the Royal Warrant to capture everyday royal life and worked for the queen until her death in 1901. Henderson was known for his experiments in color photography and Victoria commissioned portraits of Prince Albert and Scottish attendant John Brown from him. Family lore says he received the pieces from the queen’s servants (she often gave away her garments and accessories after she was done with them), perhaps as memorials after her death.

After his own death in 1907, Henderson’s collection of the queen’s clothing was passed down to his descendants. Roderick Hanson says they’ve been kept in a wardrobe and he’s selling the lot now to make some space. He needs it apparently, because he’s definitely not selling his ancestor’s art works.

“I’m not parting with Alexander’s glass plate negatives and enamel pictures, which are of a very high quality. He was an extremely talented photographer.”

I’d pick the enamel pictures over the split-crotch bloomers any day.