The Assembly Rooms and Fashion Museum at Bath

The second scene in The Flowers of Time has Jones and Edie meeting for the first time at Lady Nailsbourne’s ball, at her house in London. Jones is pretty far out of her comfort zone, poured in to a smart dress and corseted within an inch of her life. It’s 1780 and neither of them wear wigs-they had gone out fashion for ladies a few decades before-but they would probably have had hair pieces to bulk out their own hair and have lightly powdered them an off-white colour.

I dragged my family to Bath one day last year and we visited the Assembly Rooms and the Fashion Museum tucked in the basement of the building. I was looking for inspiration. I found various dresses that were definitely worthy of Edie and one or two that I could see Jones wearing.

I had already written the scene and I was really cheered to see virtually the dress I’d described for Edie on display. It’s the fourth one along in this montage, with a light pink gown over a contrasting petticoat. I can also see her in dress numbers one and three, puttering around painting. I can picture Jones in two and five, extremely uncomfortable and feeling very out of place. If you want to find out more about the different kinds of fashionable gowns for ladies at the time I recommend this post by Costumeholic.

We then found this working man’s frock coat from about 1790. It’s a little later than the story, but working men’s fashions wouldn’t have changed that much and I can see Jones comfortable in something like this as she travels around exploring and later as she does her science experiments.

Ordinary work-a-day clothes tend not to survive because they were worn ‘til they wore out and/or were ‘made over’ for other people and purposes, so this is very unusual. Clothes were incredibly high value and very expensive before the advent of factory production, so your average working class adult would probably only have two sets at a time.

I had a bit of a to-and-fro with my lovely editor about the use of bodies to describe the stays that Edie wears on her travels and in the end we decide to keep it. Working women who dressed by themselves without the help of a maid to lace them still wore a kind of corset called a pair of bodies. This was for practical reasons to support the back and bosom as well as to give them a bit of help with their figure and they generally laced up the front as well as the back. There is a fascinating reconstruction of an ordinary person getting herself dressed in the morning here on YouTube from Crows Eye Productions and I based Edie’s morning routine on this.

On our visit I also took some pictures of the Assembly Room itself. It has a sprung floor and my minions were happy to demonstrate.

It was quite chilly the day we went and it was difficult to imagine the room packed and sweaty; but with hundreds of candles and people it would soon have become unpleasantly warm.

We only live an hour away from Bath and there is so much to see, I thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in the area. It was wonderful to be able to pop up there and gather some more fuel for my story-mine.