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Dress during the nineteenth century changed dramatically. The change was influenced by shifts in taste, of course, but more significantly by the introduction of machines and changes in the construction of clothing.  These inventions were used to add embellishments to women's clothing, whereas the style of costume worn by men became less flamboyant to a more clean, polished look.

Silk and lace wedding dress belonged to Ella McGaffin purchased by Ella McGaffin from Foster & Co in Newry for her wedding in 1914. The dress, with ruffled and net sleeves and decorated with embroidery, is typical of the style of wedding dress worn in the second decade of the 20th century. It is displayed with R.J. Sloane’s umbrella, a boy’s velvet jacket and an early 20th century tall hat with its travelling box. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Silk and lace wedding dress belonged to Ella McGaffin purchased by Ella McGaffin from Foster & Co in Newry for her wedding in 1914. The dress, with ruffled and net sleeves and decorated with embroidery, is typical of the style of wedding dress worn in the second decade of the 20th century. It is displayed with R.J. Sloane’s umbrella, a boy’s velvet jacket and an early 20th century tall hat with its travelling box. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Many department stores emerged from the ability to produce clothes at speed.  Foster’s was founded in 1870 by Robert Foster who had a draper’s and outfitter’s shop in North Street and soon expanded his business to Hill Street.  He established the Ulster Clothing Company in a shop at the corner of Margaret Street and Upper North Street and, by 1899, had moved into two neighbouring shops and opened a branch in Warrenpoint.  

Newell’s was also a long-established business, originally founded by three brothers, with drapery shops in Margaret Street, Newry and The Arcade, Warrenpoint.  Foster & Newell, Newry’s premier department store, was created by a merger of these shops in the mid-1960s.  By 1967 the Foster & Newell store had been completely modernised over a two-year period, masterminded by the Managing Director, Barry Edwards, and employed seventy people. Foster & Newell continued to be a popular shopping destination throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but was destroyed, along with a number of other shops, in an incendiary blitz on Hill Street in April 1976.

Costume and accessories from R.J. Sloane’s shop in Kilkeel which were on display in the Museum in 2012. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
Costume and accessories from R.J. Sloane’s shop in Kilkeel which were on display in the Museum in 2012. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection.

R.J. Sloane was originally from the townland of Ballykeel West, near Rathfriland, County Down. In 1887 he opened a shop on Newry Street in Kilkeel selling fabric and dressmaking and tailoring supplies.  In the earlier years of the 20th century he moved to larger premises on the opposite side of Newry Street and began to sell all types of ladies’ and gentlemen’s clothing. The first shop in Kilkeel to have gas lighting installed, R.J. Sloane specialised in high quality goods.

A late Victorian boy’s velvet jacket pictured before and after conservation. The jacket had been heavily creased with surface dirt and been damaged by insects. A textile conservator brushed and vacuumed the jacket to remove surface dirt, mechanically removed old moth cases and humidified the jacket before mounting on a mannequin. This jacket was worn by J.T. Hutchison as a boy. He was originally from Bradford, and came to live in Warrenpoint in the 1920s.   Newry and Mourne Museum Collection
A late Victorian boy’s velvet jacket pictured before and after conservation. The jacket had been heavily creased with surface dirt and been damaged by insects. A textile conservator brushed and vacuumed the jacket to remove surface dirt, mechanically removed old moth cases and humidified the jacket before mounting on a mannequin. This jacket was worn by J.T. Hutchison as a boy. He was originally from Bradford, and came to live in Warrenpoint in the 1920s. Newry and Mourne Museum Collection

Jeannie, one of R.J. Sloane’s two daughters, continued to run the shop until her death in about 1981 when the shop closed. At the time of closure the shop still contained the original fittings and still had merchandise from the early decades of the 20th century. Much of the surviving merchandise and the fittings were donated to the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and a replica of the shop was built at the Museum.

Newry and Mourne Museum has various items of late 19th century and early 20th century clothing in its Collection, some of which was originally purchased either in Foster & Newell or R.J. Sloane’s drapery store. These include a wedding dress purchased in 1914 from Foster’s and R.J. Sloane’s own black silk umbrella.  Our costume case has featured other pieces of costume over the past few years including a velvet jacket which was fashionable in the 1880s for boys from around two up until eight years of age. Worn with lace collars and cuffs, they were popularised by the publication of Little Lord Fauntleroy by Francis Hodgson Burnett in 1886. Another item of note is a tall hat and travelling box owned by The Rev. Canon John Magee (died in 1950).  He was a curate in Annaclone in county Down and in Newry Cathedral where he later became an administrator.

Newry and Mourne Museum is temporarily closed.

by Dympna Tumilty

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