Or to give this new history its full title, Prinny’s Taylor: The Life and Times of Louis Bazalgette (1750 – 1830). As is probably obvious from the fact that the subject of this book and the author share a rather unique last name, Charles Bazalgette has researched and written a history of his ancestor, Jean Louis Bazalgette. Born in southern France, into a family of tailors, Louis emigrated to Great Britain about 1770. He began his career in London as a tailor, but by the end of his life, he had become a man of affluence who was able to enjoy a comfortable retirement and give all his children a good start in life.
The remarkable career of Louis Bazalgette . . .
This book is titled Prinny’s Taylor, because soon after he set up in business in London, Louis Bazalgette became a tailor to the Prince of Wales. It was not long before he was the Prince’s primary tailor, making literally thousands of garments for the heir to the throne and his family and friends over the course of the next quarter century or more. As a young man, the Prince of Wales preferred the flamboyant styles of male fashion which had been popular through the eighteenth century. This meant what today would be considered wild color combinations and fabric textures. For the Prince of Wales, it also meant plenty of gold and silver accents. Louis Bazalgette, with his French connections, was able to acquire luxurious textiles from which to make sumptuous garments for the young Prince.
Though the, dare I say, gaudy, wardrobe of the Prince of Wales has been mentioned by several of his biographers, it was typically in the abstract. No so in this new history. Due to the Prince’s extravagant spending, his debts came to the attention of Parliament in 1795 and his major creditors, including Louis Bazalgette, had to submit their bills for Parliamentary review. In Louis’ case, the bills were for a period of nine years and ran for 285 pages. These bills described all of the garments which Louis and the tailors in his shop made for the Prince of Wales, including colors and fabrics used. The full Bazalgette document remains part of the National Archive. Charles Bazalgette was able to arrange to have all 285 pages of this now very fragile document digitally photographed. He later transcribed all of the accounts, and provides excerpts from them throughout the book. For those who want the complete set of transcriptions, he is offering them on CD for a modest charge.
The author has provided detailed information on the tailoring trades and tailoring techniques of the eighteenth century. However, he does so in separate chapters so that those who have no interest in such details can skip them and continue with the story of Louis. But those with an interest in textiles and clothing of this period will find these chapters a valuable resource. Though the information provided covers the late eighteenth century, there was little change in traditional trades at this time. Therefore, this same information would also apply to the early nineteenth century, including the Regency.
Louis Bazalgette was not just a tailor, he was also a talented businessman who grew his business to become a wealthy merchant, and was even able to lend money to a number of prominent people, among them the Prince of Wales and his brother the Duke of York. Over the years, Louis was able to acquire better business premises, and better housing for himself and his growing family. Eventually, he was able to buy an estate complete with manor house in the country. The life of Louis Bazalgette is a fascinating case study of a businessman on the rise from the last quarter of the eighteenth century though the mid-nineteenth century. The lives of some of his adult children are also chronicled in this book, providing a multi-generational story of a real family in the long Regency.
Though Louis Bazalgette was a man who shunned the limelight, he had dealings with a number of prominent people. Those who have an interest in Lord Byron may be surprised to know that Louis loaned money to Sir Penistone Lamb. Sir Penistone would become Lord Melbourne and was married to Elizabeth Milbanke, who was not only Byron’s confidant, but also the aunt of his wife, Annabella Milbanke. Lt. Colonel, later full Colonel, George Leigh, who served in the Prince’s 10th Dragoons, was an intimate of the Prince for years before he married Augusta, Byron’s half-sister. In fact, it seems that the Prince ordered a number of garments for his friend, Colonel George Leigh, many of which were made by Louis Bazalgette.
There are two very special treats to be found in this book beyond the story of Louis Bazalgette himself. Appendix 1 is a Glossary of Fabrics and Colours which appear in Louis’ accounts. This extensive Glossary was compiled by a knowledgeable textile scholar, and frequent commenter here, Sarah Waldock. Though I, too, am a student of textiles, I found a number of new terms in this glossary, or better definitions of terms which I have found during my research. This Glossary is a valuable companion for textile students perusing Louis’ accounts which are included in the book.
The second treat is Appendix 2, Georgian Tailoring Stitches, which is a complete reprint of an anonymous 1801 publication, The Tailor. This small book provides detailed instructions on the various tailoring stitches which were in use at the time. Though it is not illustrated, the instructions are so clear and detailed that anyone with a basic knowledge of sewing should be able to follow them. This useful little book even provides instructions on how to make cloth buttons, which were not particularly fashionable at that time, but which the author believed would be again and wanted to be sure his, or her, readers had the necessary skill to make them, should the need arise.
Prinny’s Taylor is a valuable addition to the scholarship of the long Regency on a number of levels, from textiles to business to social history. In particular it is a rich source of information on the making of men’s clothing during this period, in particular, the very upscale garments made for the Prince of Wales and his set. Regency afficionados will certainly want to have a copy of this book in their research library.
The author, Charles Bazalgette, maintains a blog by the same title as this book, Prinny’s Taylor. Here, you can find more information about Louis Bazalgette and his decendants, and a link to buy this book. You can also buy a copy here.