Bourne Archive: FNQ: Bourne People           Latest edit 5 Nov 2008.   

Interactive version ©2006 R.J.PENHEY          With thanks to the trustees of the Willoughby Memorial Library.

The Bourne Archive


Fenland Notes and Queries. Edited by Rev. W.D. Sweeting, Rector of Maxey.

Part 25. April 1895.

This quarterly periodical took the form of a forum in which people sent in questions about the history, ecology and so on of the Fens and the region’s environs and others replied with some sort of answer. Some ‘answers’ seem to have been spontaneous, so qualifying as ‘notes’.

Bourne People

518. Frederick Charles Worth. – On 10 March there died in Paris a native of the Fens who had made for himself a world-wide reputation. Many of the London papers, besides obituary notices, had leading articles upon his remarkable career. He was born in 1825, and for the last 35 years had been “the elegant arbiter of French and even universal fashion in woman’s dress.” The following is a portion of the leading article in The Daily Telegraph of 12 March :  

He was also, it seems, a Lincolnshire man. That, after all, is perhaps the most astonishing thing about him, and the most fruitful in moral lessons. For it is surely as disconcerting a rebuke as was ever administered to the vanity of race. M. Frederick Charles Worth was a native of Bourne, in the county above-mentioned ; and he was started in life as a printer’s apprentice, just as Norval was originally intended for a shepherd. Ambition and the thirst for adventure, are not confined to the Grampian hills, and the youth, after only seven months in the composing-room, came to London and obtained a situation in the house of Messrs. Marshal and Snelgrove, or, according to another authority, in that of Messrs. Swan and Edgar. Here he remained for seven years, though he had little opportunity of developing his special talent, spending most of his time at the desk. But it was soon discovered by his employers that he showed a precocious intelligence in suggesting modifications which should be introduced to adapt French goods to English taste. London, however, could not long confine him. To go to Paris became the dream of his life, and in 1846 he had a chance which he did not miss of “entering the house of Gagelin.” After twelve years he set up in partnership with a Swede, and, taking the tide of Imperial luxury at its flood, he was borne on it to fortune. He was “taken up” by the Empress, if such a phrase can be used without irreverence to such a man, and in a short time acquired that supreme position in the world of millinery which he never afterwards lost. He retained it only by the unwearying application of his matchless ability to the varying requirements of his art, and by the performance of such acts of self-sacrifice as that of “evolving,” after a sleepless night , the idea of a costume “which was supposed to embody the first faint beginnings of dawn as seen by the man-milliner in the eastern sky.” But that all his industry and ingenuity should have enabled this Englishman of the English to lord it in Paris, the home of fashion, is surely an extraordinary circumstance, full of encouragement to our own people, and not free from a touch of the humiliating for out nearest European neighbours. What may we not hear next of celebrities renowned for their skill in sister arts associated with the genius of the French nation? That Vestris, the “god of the dance” was a Welshman, or that Carême was born in Aberdeen? Even these would be less surprising revelations. “The shepherd in Virgil became acquainted with Love,” writes Dr. Johnson, “and found him a native of the rocks.” What would he have said if he had made the acquaintance of the Graces, and discovered that they had been “raised” in the fens?

[I put this in because of its connection with Bourne but also because it is a clear lesson in the need for not simply believing all you read. On the other hand, there is some truth in it so it illustrates the wisdom of not dismissing information out of hand. Here, the verification is quite easy. It becomes much more interesting when we are dealing with that other Bourne character, Hereward.]

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