Rex Needle: Town’s father of fashion is Worth a place on new £20 banknote

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Bourne solicitor’s son Charles Worth founded the haute couture industry in Paris – and now has been nominated as the face of the new £20 note

Charles Worth has been nominated to feature on the next series of £20 notes to be issued by the Bank of England.

The solicitor’s son from Bourne left home to seek a career in Paris, where he founded an international salon and became the father of haute couture.

The story of Charles Frederick Worth (1825-1895) is one of unbounded success in his chosen field, with a cult status similar to that enjoyed today by Chanel, Prada or Gucci.

Now family descendants have put his name forward to be the next famous personality to be honoured with his portrait on a £20 banknote and their nomination has been supported by Bourne Civic Society.

The new £20 banknote will celebrate Britain’s achievements in the visual arts and the bank has launched a two-month nomination period in which members of the public can suggest who they would like to feature on it such as architects, artists, ceramicists, craftspeople, designers, fashion designers, filmmakers, photographers, printmakers, and sculptors.

“These areas form part of our everyday lives, from the buildings around us to the artwork that inspires us, the clothes we wear and the objects we use”, said a spokesman. ​

“The final decision will be made by the Governor, Mark Carney, from a short list of names put forward by an advisory committee which will only contain individuals nominated by members of the public. It is possible that more than one character will be chosen to celebrate visual arts on the note.”

Nominations close on July 19 and the selected personality will be announced next spring in readiness for the new £20 note to be introduced into circulation in the next three to five years.

Names already suggested include Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, Noel Coward, Barbara Hepworth and Richard Attenborough, and so it is obvious that competition will be intense.

The Worth family nomination has been made by Paul Quincey, a scientist, of Hampton, Middlesex, who is descended from Charles’ mother, Ann (née Quincey).

“Worth achieved world-wide fame in women’s fashion,” he said. “After a difficult start in life he moved to Paris aged 20 to be at the centre of the fashion world. Before him, fashionable women would tell dressmakers what they wanted to wear; after him, fashion was dictated by ‘star’ fashion designers, he being the first.

“He invented the seasonal fashion show and effectively started the fashion industry, with great style. He is especially suited to the banknote because of his international impact and because his designs for clothes and materials would appear very striking visually.”

Charles was the son of solicitor William Worth (1789-1878) and was born at the family home at Wake House in North Street, leaving school at the age of 11. He travelledto London and then to France while still a youth, learning about the fashion industry.

By 1855 he was demonstrating his work at the Paris Exhibition and, three years later, opened his salon in the Rue de la Paix which was to become world famous, creating exquisite hour-glass gowns for distinguished clients such as Princess Alexandra, wife of the future Edward VII, Princess Metternich, wife of the Austrian Ambassador to Paris, the Empress Eugénie, wife of Napoleon III, the English actress Sarah Bernhardt, and the nobility and royalty of Russia, Austria, Italy and Spain.

The salon also became an important call for wealthy American women doing the grand tour, and even Queen Victoria is reputed to have bought one of his creations.

Exotic ladies of the night also insisted on wearing underwear by Worth. One of his greatest advertisements featured the famous courtesan Cora Pearl and numerous photographs exist of her wearing the fullest, widest and most fussy of his crinolines imaginable.

Charles Worth left an elegant legacy to world fashion. Seventy of his creations survive but they are scattered around a dozen museums in America and Europe.

One fine example can be seen at Deene Park near Corby, Northamptonshire, which is open to the public at various times throughout the year, although the biggest collection is in the United States, notably at the Brooklyn Museum in New York.

Worth died in France from pneumonia on March 10, 1895, at the age of 69, and 2,000 mourners attended his funeral, including the mayor and civic officials from Paris and the French Assembly, together with the President of the Republic himself. He was buried at Suresnes and his widow was buried with him three years later.

His name remains a byword in world fashion which he did so much to modernise and where his influence is still evident. The House of Worth, as it was known, continued after his death under the direction of his sons, Gaston-Lucien and Jean-Philippe, who succeeded in maintaining his high standards with their designs and use of dramatic fabrics and lavish trimmings.

The business flourished during their tenure but the great fashion dynasty came to an end after Charles’ great-grandson, Jean-Charles (1881–1962), retired from the family business, and in 1956, the doors were closed, two years short of a century.

Another nomination has been submitted by Bourne Civic Society, which runs the Heritage Centre in South Street and contains the Worth Gallery chronicling his life and times.

The gallery was opened in April, 2006, and since then there has been a continual effort to add new features, archives, artefacts and displays including copies of Worth’s famous dresses, painstakingly re-created by a team of seamstresses.

The project came about mainly through the work of Mrs Brenda Jones, chairman of the Civic Society which administers the centre, and her husband Jim, committee member and custodian of the mill, who is responsible for much of the maintenance.

Mrs Jones said that the achievements of Charles Worth in the world of fashion would never for forgotten and the gallery founded in his name reflected his achievements. “We realise that competition for this distinction will be extremely great although it would be a fitting tribute if he were chosen to be featured on our currency”, she said. “But it would be an honour both for him and for the town of Bourne.”

A PORTRAIT OF BOURNE is the definitive history of the town and is available on CD-ROM. An order form may be downloaded from the Bourne web site at www.bourne-lincs.org.uk