Rochester Bridge Trust Centenary Lecture 2015 09 17 17.12.07 1

Revealing Lady Darnley’s Corset

During an additional Old Bridge centenary lecture on Wednesday, April 2, costume detective and specialist dressmaker Meridith Towne will share the secrets of the outfit and underwear worn by Lady Darnley when she officially opened the reconstructed Rochester Old Bridge in May 1914.

Following overwhelming demand, The Rochester Bridge Trust has asked Ms Towne to repeat her centenary lecture about recreating Lady Darnley’s costume which is on display at the Reconstructing Rochester Bridge exhibition, at the Royal Engineers Museum, Gillingham, until March 28.

When Ms Towne accepted the challenge of making a copy of Lady Darnley’s costume she had only one black and white photograph of the front of the outfit and few personal details.

“My lecture is about the detective work that went into the styles and fabrics of the time and the dressmaking skills,” she said.

“It was made even more fascinating by the fact that Lady Darnley was not a trend setter or sporting the latest styles so the 1913 -14 fashion plates were not a great deal of assistance. She was clearly an independent-minded woman who created her own style.

“Being called on to open the reconstructed Rochester Old Bridge was a special occasion and she would have dressed very carefully to look the part and distinguished. The sheen in the photograph suggests that her suit was made of a very high quality silk taffeta.

“The suit and all her accessories appear to be well co-ordinated and selected as a whole outfit. She is following the fashionable silhouette of 1914 with the A-line skirt and a cut-away jacket.

“However, she has added lace and a feather boa more reminiscent of her younger days in the early Edwardian period rather than keeping to the latest sleek and unadorned look.

“A black and white photograph is also not very helpful in differentiating colours – the suit is clearly dark and certainly red and purple were then the most popular colours. So I opted for red. Blue and green really only came into their own after the Great War had started in recognition of military uniforms.”

During her lecture Ms Towne, a very petite size 6, demonstrates how Lady Darnley, more likely a size 14 or 16, would have dressed herself for the occasion – from her underwear and corsets right through to her shoes and hat.

And there will be a display from Ms Towne’s personal collection of costumes of the period. Guests can examine the fabrics and the techniques used in their construction as well as how their design influenced the wearer’s posture and movements.

“We don’t know if Lady Darnley selected her costume from a department store or had it made or adapted by a dressmaker. What I do know is that she would have been able to choose from a far wider range of fabrics and colours than are available to costume historians and dressmakers today,” said Ms Towne.

Ms Towne’s lecture, Lady Darnley’s Wardrobe – Edwardian Fashion Uncovered – will be held at the Bridge Chapel, The Rochester Bridge Trust, Esplanade, Rochester, at 7pm on Wednesday, April 2.

There is no charge for admission. However, places are limited to 40 and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. To book, call Sue O’Reilly, on 01892 513033, or email:


1. The Rochester Bridge Trust is a charitable trust that exists to maintain the old and new bridges at Rochester and serve the travelling public. It is the only surviving bridge trust still serving its original purpose, and it has served the people of Kent since 1399. The Trust also supports numerous community and education projects across historic Kent and Medway.

2. The Trust’s assets all derive from endowments of land and money in the 14th and 15th centuries and are carefully managed in order to provide an income to fund bridge maintenance and local charitable grants. The Trust receives no external funding and is regulated by the Charity Commission.

For more information:

The Rochester Bridge Trust
5 Esplanade
Kent ME1 1QE
Tel: 01634 846706
Fax: 01634 840125

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