Jane Austen’s Country Ball

This past Saturday we held our first, of what we hope will become an annual, costume ball. In honour of our exhibition The World of Jane Austen 1792 – 1817, the theme was a Regency ball. 85 guests, not everyone in period  costume, gathered at the museum for a drink of bubbly and viewing of our exhibition before heading across the street to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian church hall. With the exception of some air ducts and fluorescent lighting, the high ceilinged hall, held up by Ionic columns could readily pass for a real Regency Assembly room. To further set the mood, the room was lined with period advertisements and news stories of the day, written in a tabloid style for a bit of fun.

A program outlined the history of the food being served for the repast. The supper buffet included popular dishes of the period as well as items introduced during Jane Austen’s lifetime: Cheeses, beef, roast potatoes, and cole slaw were served with curried ketchup and, pear and lime chutney. Dessert included ginger ice cream and apple pie alongside shaddock jelly and a towering croquembouche. To drink, there was plenty of Mr. Schweppes’ carbonated sodas, first sold in London in 1792. In Regency tradition, all courses were served at once, so sweet and savoury could be enjoyed by guests at will.

Frivolities varied about the room. The highlight for many were the reels, quadrilles and even an early waltz – each danced with great enthusiasm. For others, a night of rowdy Dominoes, or taking part in several hands of the fashionable card games Loo and Speculation entertained. As the setting was the hall of a church, no betting was allowed – so everyone went home with their fortunes, jewels, estates, and race horses intact. In a snug room adjacent to the main hall we were delighted by charming renditions of Regency songs, sung by Holly Brenneman and Stephanie Vaillant, who also entertained us with tunes from her harp. (See photo above of Holly and Stephanie, flanking museum employee Sarah Coates, who did the lion’s share of organizing for this event.)

Three hours passed quickly and then it was done…

We want to repeat a period evening next year but although we considered repeating a Regency theme, there is strong interest in a Downton Abbey era theme…

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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2 Responses to Jane Austen’s Country Ball

  1. Deb says:

    I didn’t see anyone there who wasn’t having a wonderful time at the Ball. Looking forward to next year, whatever the theme!

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