Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Devonshire House Deptford Ball 1920

After the 1st World War Deptford was down on its luck, again. The Foreign Cattle Market, now Convoys Wharf, lay empty as live imports of cattle and sheep had been replaced by frozen and chilled meat. Thousands were out of work.

The Duchess of Albany had established the Deptford Fund in the 1890's to finance existing Deptford charities, but it soon provided services itself, the best known of which was the Albany Institute in Creek Road, forerunner of the Albany in Douglas Way. The Institute provided all manner of services for girls and young mothers and their children and a variety of clinics and kitchens. Early in 1920 the Duchess hit upon the idea of holding a fundraising fancy dress ball at Devonshire House, Piccadilly, which was about to be sold.

The Ball was announced in The Times in January. Pathe News recorded a short film entitled The Kiddies of Deptford to show in Cinema Newsreels. A fairly comprehensive list of other south east London Pathe newsreels has been researched and posted by 853.

The Ball caught the imagination of the aristocracy, diplomats and London Society in general. Fancy dress and powder, representing 1760 - 1790 was compulsory for Ladies. For those who did not have such clothes in the wardrobe Harrods designed and advertised two dresses - one of which you can see on the right . Gentlemen were given the choice of court dress with powdered wig, naval ball dress uniform, old military uniform or kilts, hunting coat with knee breeches.

Come the night of Wednesday 14th April 1920 carriages and cars arrived in Piccadilly before the doors were open. The Duchess welcomed guests by telling them how dear to her heart her Deptford charities were. Aristocratic ladies and the American Ambassador's wife organised displays of dancing, quadrilles to represent the great powers of the time, Britain, France and The United States. The following morning's papers eagerly described the guests, the dresses and the venue.

The Times
There were many beautiful women present and many historical dresses worn, and others bearing traces of having been worn at historical functions. If here and there old family lace did not effectively drape the seams worn a little by age, it was to the honour of the wearer, as it expressed the wish of the Duchess of Albany that gowns should be inexpensive.
Supper was served at 11.30pm but the ball continued until 3.00am in the morning. The Duchess was there till all the guests had left but returned that afternoon for a childrens fancy dress ball, also in aid of the Deptford Fund. None of the reports to hand mention anybody from Deptford attending but Lt Col Sir William Wayland, Mayor of Deptford 1914 - 20, and a trustee of the Deptford Fund would almost certainly have attended.

The events raised £3,711 5s 4d for the Deptford Fund.

The Duchess of Albany died suddenly in Austria on 1st September 1922.

The Duke of Devonshire vacated Devonshire House a few days after the ball. A few more events were held there but nothing on the scale of the Duchess of Albany's ball. The house was demolished in 1924 to make way for flats and offices.

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