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Rare collection of 1840-1940 couture and accessories comes to auction at Ewbank's in Surrey
From Victorian and Arts & Crafts dresses to Belle Epoque fashions and 1930’s evening gowns, stately home’s wardrobes give up their secrets.

LONDON.- The ultimate dressing up box – an Aladdin’s Cave of vintage costumes with a stunning history – is coming up for auction at Ewbank’s Auctions in Surrey on April 11. Originally from the wardrobes of a stately home in Bedfordshire, the rare Victorian, Edwardian and early 20th century couture, dating from 1840-1940, later became the property of the Palm Court Orchestra, to be worn during performances of period music.

The story goes back to 1990, when Hinwick House, a 50-room Grade I listed Queen Anne country house built in 1709-10 as the seat of the eminent Orlebar family, was being prepared for sale.

The lady of the house, wishing to find a suitable home for a large and well-preserved wardrobe of period clothing for men and women, approached Patricia Godwin, the director of the orchestra, to see if she would buy them, which she did.

Subsequently, the orchestra gave performances suitably adorned, and Mrs Godwin began to give talks in which she featured the clothes along with cuttings from newspapers that also came from Hinwick House.

It seems that the Orlebar family had discarded very few items of clothing and the collection remains a fascinating insight into a century of fashion.

Highlights include a lady’s Victorian cycling dress previously loaned to Wimborne Museum for the London Olympics, which reveals an ingenious system of loops and strings that enabled women to weave a delicate path between propriety and mobility. It is on offer at Ewbank’s with an estimate of £100-150.

From the mid 19th century, when fashions started to move away from tightly buttoned and corseted clothes under the influence of the Pre Raphaelites, William Morris and the Rational dress movement, the Aesthetic dress became popular with well-to-do families with artistic leanings; such a dress from the collection illustrates this perfectly, being loose in cut, of green silk (the movement favoured natural colours) with hand-embroidered borders following an Arts & Crafts tradition. It is also guided at £100-150.

A number of dresses from the 1920s and ’30s show the glamour of the country house set, including knee-high loose dresses perfect for dancing the Charleston, as well as opulent opera coats. The collection also includes some shoes from this period and iconic cloche hats.

During the First World War the Orlebar family offered up part of Hinwick House as an auxiliary hospital for wounded soldiers, and a few items of military uniform included in the consignment date from that period. Utility labelled clothing dating to the Second World War also features.

The collection, valued at close to £10,000, comprises around 80 lots in all, including a dress by the French designer Jeanne Margaine Lacroix, whose creation of the ‘Sylphide Sans corset dress’ caused a sensation in Belle Epoque Paris of May 1908, when three beautiful young women attended the races at Longchamp wearing the garments without petticoats or corsets. Lacroix’s couture became highly sought after by the more progressive ladies of Europe.

“One of the most dashing outfits is a 1920’s set of motoring attire, complete with tweed plus fours, cotton coat, leather-rimmed goggles, leather helmet and gauntlet gloves, and even a silk scarf and cravat,” said Ewbank’s vintage fashion specialist Andrea Machen.

“These stunning dresses, outfits and accessories provide the perfect centrepiece of our April 11 Vintage Fashion auction, which will also include an extensive array of items, from Hermès scarves, handbags and vintage cases to Biba designs and sewing samplers.

“The Orlebar consignment is a rare and outstanding collection of high quality garments telling the story of the transition from the formal wear of the Victorian era to that of modern fashion.”

Live online bidding is available and highlights from the collection are already available to view online at

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