Belsay Hall: an exhibition of Jane Austen costumes

Driving south from Scotland last summer, we stumbled across Belsay Hall in the north-east of England.

Built in the early nineteenth century, Belsay Hall was the home of the Middleton family until the 1960s, when it was discovered that the house had been very badly affected by dry rot. Today, it lies empty.

A view of the Pillar Hall atrium at Belsay

A view of the Pillar Hall atrium at Belsay

Another view of Belsay

Another view of Belsay


Although I prefer visiting country houses which are still furnished and lived in, my interest was piqued by Belsay’s advertisement for an exhibition of costumes from movie and television adaptations of Jane Austen novels. People who know me well and regular readers of Cultural Life will know that I take delight in all things Austen, so it was a fun opportunity to be able to see some of the costumes from the adaptations.

Outfits from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: the 1995 BBC version starring Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy

One of the outfits worn by Elizabeth

A coat, shirt and breeches worn by Mr. Darcy, during the infamous scene when he dives into the lake near Pemberley. The script-writer took some artistic licence with that scene; it’s not in the book.

Mr and Mrs Darcy’s wedding clothes

Elizabeth Darcy (nee Bennet): “It is settled between us already that we are to be the happiest couple in the world”

The wedding of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy -- copyright BBC

The wedding of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy — copyright BBC

Outfits from PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: the 2005 version starring Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennet and Matthew Macfadyen as Mr. Darcy

A dress and necklace worn by Mr. Darcy’s fearsome aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (played by Judi Dench)

A suit worn by Mr. Darcy

Outfits from SENSE AND SENSIBILITY: the 1995 movie version starring Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood and Kate Winslet as Marianne

One of Elinor Dashwood’s outfits:

The wedding outfits of Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman) and Marianne Dashwood

Colonel Brandon was now as happy as all those who best loved him believed he deserved to be. In Marianne he was consoled for every past affliction; her regard and her society restored his mind to animation, and his spirits to cheerfulness; and that Marianne found her own happiness in forming his, was equally the persuasion and delight of each observing friend. Marianne could never love by halves and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.

Do you enjoy costume dramas and adaptations of classic novels?

15 thoughts on “Belsay Hall: an exhibition of Jane Austen costumes

  1. The 1995 P&P and the Emma Thompson S&S are two of my favourite things! It’s strange how much the clothes evoke the scenes they were worn in – maybe I’ve watched them both too often… πŸ˜‰


  2. I love a good exhibit on period costumes/fashion in general. And since I’m also a big lover of all things P&P, it was great to see all these great photos of the costumes! I saw the 2005 P&P movie and liked it a lot, though I’ve heard the BBC adaptation is still the ultimate classic. I never found the time to watch it but I know quite a number of people who have said that it remains the one to beat. πŸ˜‰


    • I’m glad you enjoyed my photos of the outfits. πŸ™‚

      Oh, the BBC version really is worth watching. It’s so good! I know what you mean about not having enough time though. I don’t watch a lot of TV but I was thinking about watching Mad Men because I have heard it’s very well done. But there are seven seasons of it….seven!


    • I’m glad you enjoyed seeing the photos! It was a fun exhibition. πŸ™‚

      I agree — both adaptations are very good. A lot of ‘Janeites’ don’t like Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet but I have watched it so many times that my DVD is almost worn out!


  3. Just happened to have watched the BBC Pride and Prejudice again and found y our post.I enjoyed looking at the costumes. The BBc production is my favorite too!


  4. I love costume dramas — and your photos here are terrific.

    I wore a beige cotton dress from 1905 (or so) for my first wedding and it was really interesting to see how much wearing tightly-constricted/constructed clothing alters (obviously) one’s movements and comportment. I felt completely comfortable (no corset!) and much happier than in any of the $$$$$$$ white 20th century wedding gowns I had been looking at. My maid of honor wore a Victorian cotton bathrobe I turned into a lovely dress by adding a wide vintage lace collar and a silk ribbon at the waist.

    You would probably adore an annual event here in NYC…the Governor’s Island 1920s festivities, where everyone comes in 1920s attire; 5,000 people attended this year.


    • Thank you! πŸ™‚

      Your wedding dress sounds lovely. I think re-purposing vintage clothes is a really good thing to do and obviously much cheaper, as you point out, than buying a brand new wedding dress!

      I’m sure I would love the Governor’s Island festival. One of the blogs I follow (New York Cliche) has posted about Governor’s Island a few times and it looks like a great place to visit, even when the 1920s festival isn’t happening. Maybe I’ll get to visit there soon! America is still top of my list of places I want to explore.


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