North Devon in 100 Objects: 6. Beryl Foster’s Christening Gown

An all white christening gown.

Made in the 1890s, this christening gown is of fine white cotton trimmed with lace and broderie anglaise.  It was used by the Isaac family for over 100 years and given to the museum by Beryl Foster.

For hundreds of years, christening was an essential sacrament for almost any child born in North Devon, representing their joining the local Christian community.  Early christenings were carried out soon after birth, after the usual Sunday service and involved the full immersion of a naked baby.

By the early 19th century christenings were more formal affairs and babies were anointed rather than dipped, so beautiful full length christening gowns became popular.  They were modelled on women’s fashions of the day, featuring short bodices, low scooped necklines and short capped lace sleeves. They were often much longer than the baby and designed to be worn over petticoats.

This gown was made by Mary Isaac for her first son Harry in 1895.  Born in Bickington in 1873, Mary married John Paddon Isaac and settled in Barnstaple where John operated a horse-drawn cab on the Square. They had eight children and Mary later became the landlady of the Windsor Arms in Bradiford, Pilton.

Mary died in 1926. The gown has become a family heirloom and has been used for four generations. In 1993 it was used for the last time, when it travelled to New Zealand for the baptism of Mary’s great-great- granddaughter.  It has changed very little since Mary made it with only new drawstrings being added, although it is now quite fragile.

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