An Invitation to the Stuff Ball? Guest Author Bliss Bennet

February 16, 2017

Today I welcome guest author Bliss Bennet to share some research she discovered when writing her latest historical romance –

An Invitation to the Stuff Ball?

Would you accept an invitation to a dance if said invitation required you to dress in a certain color in order to attend? And if everyone else at the party also had to dress in that same color? What if the invitation also specified the type of fabric out of which your gown or suit coat had to be made?

Would you be more likely to say “yes” if you knew your attendance would help promote local industry? And would also number you among the elite of your county?

Lincolnshire Sheep
Lincolnshire Long Wool Sheep: Lincoln Longwool Sheep Breeders Association

For the nobility and gentry of Regency-era Lincolnshire, attending the Stuff Ball each year demonstrated not only their position in society, but also their love of their corner of England. For the Stuff Ball was founded to encourage the consumption of Lincolnshire long wool, a staple of the county’s economy. Throughout the eighteenth century, prices for wool, and woolen fabric, fell, due in large part to competition from cotton, which proved much cheaper to grow and to process than wool. How could Lincolnshire compete? During the late 1700s, local landowners began to meet to devise ways to encourage the purchase of woolen goods, otherwise known as “stuff.”

Lincoln County Assembly Rooms
Lincoln County Assembly Rooms Exterior: British Listed Buildings, photograph by Richard Croft

In 1785, members of the newly formed Lincolnshire Society for the Promotion of Industry came up with the unusual idea of stimulating demand by holding “an annual ball and card assembly” for the county’s nobility and gentry families. How would holding a ball help? Well, the creators of the ball stipulated that ladies and gentleman who wished to be admitted gratis must wear “orange-coloured stuff gowns and petticoats, spun and woven in Lincolnshire; ladies who have spun their own gowns to wear white, others blue ribbons. Gentlemen to appear without any cotton or silk in their dress, except stockings.” By wearing wool, rather than cotton, the ball’s founders hoped, the gentry would set an example to those below them on the social scale, thereby encouraging more widespread purchase of more expensive, but locally-produced, fabric.

Assembly Rooms: Interior
Lincoln County Assembly Rooms Interior: Wikimedia

The original Stuff Ball was held in Alford, but moved to Assembly Rooms in Lincoln in 1788. Each year, a Lady Patroness was selected to choose a new color for the ball; by changing the color to be worn each year, the ball created an annual demand for locally produced wool fabric. Every October, between two and three hundred of Lincolnshire’s elite gathered to dance and play cards, dressed in the selected color. The Stuff Ball, also called the “Colour Fancy Ball,” soon became a county institution.

As the new century dawned, however, and stuff fabric became ever more unstylish, the Stuff Ball survived only by steadily relaxing the rules about what attendees were required to wear. By the early 1800’s, the rules governing male attire had been completely dropped; if you wished to wear silk or cotton, you could to pay 10s. 6d. for the privilege. By 1803, ladies had the choice of dressing in stuff or of pledging to purchase a set yardage of wool (presumably handed down to servants or dependents) in order to gain admittance.  And by the early 1830’s, ladies were no longer expected to dress in stuff at all, but only in gowns of the color specified by the Lady Patroness.

Lady Sheffield
Lady Sheffield (Sophia Charlotte Digby) painting by Thomas Gainsborough. National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

I first came across the story of the Stuff Ball while researching, of all things, the sheep industry in Lincolnshire in the 1820s*, the time and place of the setting of my latest historical romance novel, A Lady without a Lord. After discovering such a unique local tradition, I knew I had to include it in my book, even though most of my story’s action takes place in the summer months, and not in October when

Pages from the Newspaper
Pages from the Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury courtesy of Bliss Bennet

the ball was usually held. The October 1st 1822 edition of the Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury, Lincolnshire’s county newspaper, includes the announcement of the ball, telling us who was the year’s Lady Patroness (Lady Sheffield), and the paper’s November 1st edition includes a brief notice about the festivities, telling us that for 1822, the color of choice was white. Which, the reporter notes, “admitted of an elegant display of trimmings.”

Pages from the newspaper
Pages from the Lincoln, Rutland, and Stamford Mercury courtesy of Bliss Bennet

And so I crafted an epilogue, during which my hero and heroine make their first public appearance as a couple—at the 1822 Stuff Ball. I like to imagine my heroine in the role of future Stuff Ball Patroness. She would, of course, choosing a color far more interesting than white…

Source:

In Perkins, J. A. Sheep Farming in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Lincolnshire. Occasional Papers in Lincolnshire History and Archaeology. Sleaford, Lincolnshire: The Society for Lincolnshire History and Archeology, 1977. See page 30 for information about the Stuff Ball.

Don’t Miss A Lady Without a Lord

A viscount convinced he’s a failure

A Lady Without a LordFor years, Theodosius Pennington has tried to forget his myriad shortcomings by indulging in wine, women, and witty bonhomie. But now that he’s inherited the title of Viscount Saybrook, it’s time to stop ignoring his responsibilities. Finding the perfect husband for his headstrong younger sister seems a good first step. Until, that is, his sister’s dowry goes missing . . .

A lady determined to succeed

Harriot Atherton has a secret: it is she, not her steward father, who maintains the Saybrook account books. But Harry’s precarious balancing act begins to totter when the irresponsible new viscount unexpectedly returns to Lincolnshire, the painfully awkward boy of her childhood now a charming yet vulnerable man. Unfortunately, Theo is also claiming financial malfeasance. Can her father’s wandering wits be responsible for the lost funds? Or is she?

As unlikely attraction flairs between dutiful Harry and playful Theo, each learns there is far more to the other than devoted daughter and happy-go-lucky lord. But if Harry succeeds at protecting her father, discovering the missing money, and keeping all her secrets, will she be in danger of failing at something equally important—finding love?

Available from…

Amazon(US only)

For outside the US on Amazon: http://myBook.to/LwoaL

iBooks

Kobo

Nook/Barnes & Noble

Goodreads

Connect with Bliss Bennet

Bliss BennetBliss Bennet writes smart, edgy novels for readers who love history as much as they love romance.
Despite being born and bred in New England, Bliss finds herself fascinated by the history of that country across the pond, particularly the politically-volatile period known as the English Regency. Though she’s visited Britain several times, Bliss continues to make her home in New England, along with her husband, daughter, and two monstrously fluffy black cats.

Author web site: www.blissbennet.com

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/blissbennetauthor

Author twitter: @BlissBennet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *