My Regency weekend, part 1

Filed under: about me, research

Yesterday, after a week of frantic preparation, borrowing clothes and curling ostrich feathers, I packed my things in my car and zoomed down to Dorset. I had some workshops in Kingston Maurward house, which is a Georgian mansion in Dorchester, learning how to dance and behave like a Regency gentlewoman. And then, in the evening, I was going to a Regency ball.

I went on my own, and I was staying in a hotel which consisted of a few rooms stuck on the back of a pub. When it came to buttoning up my Regency-style gown, I had no one to help me. I had to venture out into the pub car park, where people who’d been drinking for most of the afternoon were having a quick cigarette. I asked a female (tattoos, track suit bottoms, chain-smoking, drinking cider) to help me button up. She stuck her fag between her teeth and obliged me, which was quite nice of her I think considering we were both probably a little bit frightened of each other.

Then I discovered quite how difficult it is to drive a Toyota when you’re wearing a Regency gown which prevents you from the full and free movement of your arms. Under the gazes of my buttoner-up and several other (tattooed, track-suit wearing, chain-smoking, cider and lager drinking) people, I performed a 20-point turn in the car park and was on my way.

It was worth it, though. This is what I looked like.

Our Heroine

I borrowed the beautiful crimson and green silk shawl from a generous lady whom I’d met that afternoon, who was down from the north with her husband to take part in the re-enactments. She had a marvellous ivory gown overlaid with ivory and gold gauze:

Mrs F

I hadn’t thought I was going to do any dancing, because I was without a partner, and in the waltz workshop that afternoon, I’d been really, really inept. But I was wrong. The Hampshire Regency Dancers were there and they were marvellous. Before I knew it, several gentlemen were engaging me to dance. (I later discovered that this is their policy, to always ask people without a partner first, before dancing with others of their own group. Isn’t that wonderful?) Also, they taught the steps before each dance, and called the steps using a microphone during the dance itself. With a little—well, okay, a lot of—help from my partners and other dancers, I managed most of the dances all right, without killing anyone else, or even myself. Though I did nearly lose my shoe a few times.

Regency dancing

(Sorry for the quality of the photo—the light was dim. I don’t have many photos of the dancing, because mostly I was involved myself.)

This is Mr W, who is a professional performance historian. He often plays Henry VIII or an executioner, but I think he makes a charming Regency gentleman. Earlier in the day, he was supposed to have taught me Regency gaming and etiquette, but instead, we spent an informative and enjoyable hour talking about his fascinating job.

Mr W

It was a magical, magical evening. I talked to so many people, over dinner and during the dancing, and it didn’t matter at all that I’d come all by myself, without knowing anything about what to do. And I learned a great deal. These beautiful ladies were demonstrating the usefulness of a fan to conceal the exchange of gossip:

gossiping behind a fan

When I got back to the hotel, footsore and happy, the pub had closed, so there were no cider-drinking chain-smokers outside to help me out of my dress. Which was a good thing, really. I had no desire to join the twenty-first century yet—at least not in that manner. With a bit of stretching, I managed it myself.

In the morning I went to the Napoleonic Fair, to see the battle re-enactments. And the hunky soldiers. But that’s a post for another day.

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  1. You look lovely and the rest of the pics are so atmospheric I wish I could have been there.
    I look forward to the next installment 🙂

  2. Fantastic Julie – you look gorgeous – just lovin’ the feathers and your hair. It looks like an absolute blast!!!

  3. Thank you, Lorraine and Natalie.

    It was really wonderful. I’m so glad I went to the ball as well as the re-enactment because there were so many people at both and they kindly greeted me as old friends the next day. Even after I’d nearly stepped on their toes.

    You know, I felt lovely, and I think that comes through in the pictures. It is amazing what a good gown and some ostrich feathers can do for a girl!

  4. You looked gorgeous Julie. I love you in that beautiful red. What a fabulous and interesting blog. You know, I adore Georgette Heyer’s novels and I wouldn’t mind having a shot at writing a Regency one day myself. (When I have spare time (((g)))

    I’m looking forward to yours!

  5. You look gorgeous Julie! The pictures are just fantastic 🙂

    And congrats on that 20 point turn 😉

  6. Sooo cool!!

    Like I said, all we get are Civil War reenactments. I’ve seen the South surrender so many times I’m developing a complex.

  7. It’s so brave to do something like that alone but so wonderful that the people who’s event it is go all out to make you feel comfortable.

  8. You looked so beautiful in that dress. And everyone else’s outfits looked great, too. What an experience that will stay with you for ever (and I’m not talking about the tattooed, faggy, cider-drinker)

  9. You look fantastic Julie! And it looks like you had a ball, literally!

    But I wanna see the hunky soldiers too!

  10. Oh, Julie, that is SO GORGEOUS!

    I am going to steal your gown and feathers and give them to my next heroine. Mwah ha ha!

  11. Thank you, Anna. Red is my favourite colour and I was very fortunate to have a friend who owns the perfect dress! I could never write a real Regency myself, but would love to read one of yours.

  12. Thanks, Lacey. I reckon my former driving instructor would have been proud. 🙂

  13. Ah well, Kimberley, maybe one day the South will get to win… 😉 Do you ever dress up to go?

  14. Jennie, everyone was so generous and kind, and when they discovered I was researching a novel, I was flooded with useful information. There is really nothing better than talking with people who have a passion for what they do. The talking was as much fun as the dancing and dresses!

  15. Nicolette, some of the dresses were truly amazing. And so many of them handmade with care and attention to detail. I was just gawping all night. And the gentlemen all looked very handsome too. Actually, Napoleon Bonaparte was sitting at the next table over, though we chose to ignore the inaccuracy. (I don’t think he danced, he must have played cards or plotted battles all evening.)

  16. Heidi, hunky soldiers are coming later in the week. 🙂

  17. Jan—REALLY?!? That would be so so excellent! Hee hee hee!

  18. You looked beautiful Julie, and that dress is gorgeous. Can’t wait to read about the hunky soldiers. Hope there are pictures!

  19. Julie you look amazing! It sounds such fun, I want to try! Can’t wait to see these hunky soldiers too…mmm…

  20. Like Wow, Wow, Wow.

  21. You look BEEYOOOOWWTIFUL!!!

  22. Thank you Jude, Lisa, Lara and Biddy! 😀

    Maybe I will dress up as a Regency gentlewoman every day from now on! (Except for the days I have to drive my Toyota.)

  23. Hi Julie,

    You look gorgeous in the regency dress! Glad you had such a brilliant and productive night. It’s great you went somewhere completely alone and met so many lovely people (and that’s even before you left the
    car park 😉

  24. Beautiful! Looks like such fun!

  25. I didn’t know such evening’s existed! Sounds fabulous and the photos are great :o)

  26. What a fantastic weekend. You look beautiful. And the photo’s are fab.
    See you soon

  27. Hi Julie,
    I’m glad you enjoyed your Friday at the Regency Ball, and hope that the weekend was also enjoyable. I’m the guy who you met looking a bit stressed in a flourescant jacket on Friday, but the Event was over in a flash for me. As an Event manager, it’s always good to hear people enjoyed themslves at one of your Events, so hopefully we will see you at another Event in the future. All the best with the book, regards, Dave

    • Hi Dave, thanks for visiting! I had an absolute blast of a time at Kingston Maurward—thank you so much for organising such a wonderful event. This year was just a research trip for me, I’m hoping to bring my family next year as I think they’ll really enjoy it.

  28. Julie, you looked just beautiful. Sounds like you had the best time.

  29. […] about my hair (Jan Jones is also worried about this problem) and the ostrich plume I wore the last time I dressed Regency is distinctively worse for wear, from sweeping under the arms of dancing gentlemen during the Duke […]

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