AN ALTERNATIVE SOCIAL HISTORY

OF SPIRELLA’S CORSETIERES

 

 

Reconstructed from Telephone Directories, 1910-1984

 

By Researcher

 

 

 

                                                                             

 

PREFACE

 

We have read much about what the Spirella corsetieres did in other parts of the “Tribute” web site but learning even a little about WHO they were and WHERE they were, is not so easy. Thanks to the marvels of the Internet, the initiative of the Ancestry web site www.ancestry.co.uk, and the BT telephone archive, this is now possible.

  

Directories of telephone of the UK are available for review. They cover the period from the inception of the telephone in Britain in 1882 right up to1984, covering the entire rise of Spirella. It is still listed in 1984, the last year of available records and not long before its final demise.

 

This social history of Spirella is based on a selective study of those directory records. Lest there are any concerns relating to privacy, this is a statement from the BT Archive web site

 

“BT Archives preserves the historical information of British Telecommunications plc and its predecessors from the early part of the nineteenth century up to the present day, effectively the history of telecommunications services in the United Kingdom and from the UK to overseas.

 

Records produced before the date of privatisation (1984 Ed.) are classed as public records under the Public Records Acts, 1958 and 1967. BT Archives undertakes the company's statutory responsibilities under these acts to preserve and make available public records to members of the public after 30 years, and for this purpose has been appointed an "official place of deposit for public records" by the Lord Chancellor.”

 


 

1  BACKGROUND

 

This history of a long forgotten aspect of Spirella has been written as a consequence of a totally unanticipated discovery. It began when our researcher was reviewing the on-line British phone books for the address of one Madame Marie Stafford that former customers of hers were never able to remember. Madame Marie had been a renowned corsetiere in her own right and had been patronised by Ethel Granger in the 1950s.

 

Madame Stafford had been trained by Laurence Lenton in the 1930s and after his death she had set up as a corsetiere in her own right. Many of Lenton’s customers left bereft by his untimely death either encouraged her to do so or she realised that she was equal to filling the void he left. Tracking her down using the directories was one possibility. Certain facts were vaguely remembered. Her husband had been a newsagent and tobacconist - a classical small shopkeeper - in the inter-war and post war years. Together they had moved to a number of locations in and around the London area after the Second World War up until the late 1950s. Memories recalled places such as Luton, Catford - SE London, Beckenham - Kent, Sunbury Cross, near the old clock and even Staines both in Middlesex. At each place Madame Marie operated her salon in their living quarters above the shop. With the advent of on-line availability of the BT phone books would this be a way to resolve the matter?

 

 

2  DISAPPOINTMENT, BUT AN UNANTICIPATED REWARD

 

The search for Madame Stafford sadly proved fruitless but every cloud has a silver lining. Our researcher had found that the search engine was not as sensitive as was hoped. Often one had to search by hit and miss so that if a directory were 300 pages long, the letters "s" and "t" would be at about page 250. Using this method In looking at the 1955 directory for the Staines, Middlesex area after zeroing in methodically quite by chance page 482, a full page advertisement placed by Spirella appeared and the Stafford entries were just two pages away on Page 484 - and there was no Stafford listed for Staines, Sunbury or Feltham in 1955 nor anyone who might “fit the bill”. The advertisement listed all the Spirella corsetieres in the West Middlesex area covered by the directory. Not surprisingly, when a selected search was made of directories in other regions of Britain it was found that Spirella literally “covered the map” with its corsetieres.

 

This set off a number of questions in our inquiring researcher’s mind, which are answered in the following paragraphs. Going back in time he found that such advertisements originated in the 1935 series of directories. As best as can be ascertained, Spirella was one of very few commercial organisations which took full-page advertisements in the phone books. Oddly before Spirella advertising campaign, many more adverts appeared especially in the London directories.

 

When the campaign began the directories were divided into about 50 areas, covering the United Kingdom, and each area’s directory was issued to all subscribers in that area. Each area’s directory was also divided into two to eight Sections covering smaller areas. In each Section, in the alphabetical list of names, was an entry for local Spirella Corsetieres who had telephones,

but a note also referred the reader to the full page Spirella advertisement and the Section in which it appeared.

 

Each advertisement gave the names of the Spirella ladies in the area and their telephone number if applicable. What is amazing is how few of the corsetieres had telephones and those who did were clearly a reflection of the relatively affluent area of a country emerging from a severe decade long depression and just embarking on the Second World War

 

In selecting a year to study, the decision was made that 1939 just before the second war was best. Later when the researcher’s technique had improved it was found that perhaps 1953 after post war recovery there might have been a few more listings, though the year 1939 is regarded as representative

 

After painstaking effort, over 50 whole pages of advertisements, which had appeared in the 1939 editions of the Post Office Telephone directories, were identified. In the end it was felt that 35 of them were representative of the entire country and were used to carry out the research.

 

 

3  SPIRELLA’S LONDON OFFICES AND EARLY COLUMN ENTRIES

 

It is known that Spirella did not set up business in Letchworth on their arrival in Britain in 1909. There is no phone entry there until the 1920s, when the number Letchworth 149 was first installed. However Spirella was first listed in London directory for 1910. Listed as “The Spirella Company, corsets, bustforms, belts” with premises at 37, New Bond Street in London; telephone Gerrard 9741.

 

Unfortunately the two Spirella entries are split by the advertisement for Spillman's, but note below the box is an entry for Spirella’s first corsetiere with a telephone, “Spirella Corset Parlours (Madame Stone), Croydon 1422. For more see Section 11.

 

Even In the dark days of 1916, Spirella was expanding and the listing for that year gives a second address at the fashionably named “Paris House, Regent Street;" phone Mayfair 6483.

 

 

That listing of two addresses and Madame Stone was to remain essentially the same until 1923 when her name was joined by two more corsetieres, a Nurse Aldrick in Streatham and a Madame Janira at 98a, Kensington High Street, of whom more is written in Section 12 of this account.

 

In 1925, Paris House was given a street number, No 270 Regent Street. By 1926 the New Bond Street premises were no longer listed, while the Regent Street address was listed with new phone number GER 6303. By1930, 270 Regent Street was listed as having “Corset Parlours and Offices, while in 1931, Madame Janira was the first individual Spirella corsetiere ever to have her own box advertisement, see Section 12 below.

 

By 1933, Spirella’s London address was “Paris house, Oxford Circus (Service, Parlours, Offices) and the phone had changed to Regent 3742 and its first box advertisement appeared, a one inch deep masthead over three columns offering “Spirella Corset Service. Qualified corsetieres in all districts." Phone REGent 3742 for a name and address.” That year there were nine London listings for Spirella corsetieres or parlours with phones.

 

 

Lingerie And Hosiery

 

In 1934, more information was given in the three-column masthead. Paris house had been renamed Spirella House. In which were located “Offices and Corset Parlours” and offering “Individual corset Service” and “Made-to-Measure Lingerie and Hosiery, etc “and “Qualified corsetieres and lingerie and hosiery representatives in all districts"

 

 

In the column entries the company is called the “Spirella Co. Of Great Britain” the office address and phone number is listed and so for the first time is the “Lingerie factory” at 134, Shropshire house, Pancras road, WC2. Phone MUSeum 1254.

Ten Spirella corsetieres, with phones were listed.

 

 

National Full Page Advertisements

 

By 1935, the first full page adverts were issued nationally. The phone number changed to REG 3742 and later the information “five lines” was added.

 

Included on the page was a sketch image of the well-remembered premises designed by Sir Henry Tanner and built at the south-east corner of the Circus as part of the development of Oxford Circus between 1913 and 1928 and still known as Spirella House today. The words “Spirella House” emblazoned on the entablature of the colonnaded front have of course gone.

 

 

 

These full-page advertisements continued with the exception of the Second World War years, 1940-46, until 1972 when they were no longer placed and the Spirella entry in London was in the columns only. By 1975 London only five “consultants” were listed along with Letchworth Bridge house, phone Letchworth 6161.

 

From 1968, the London office was simply called the “Service sales office”. It is not known when Spirella gave up its window display at that address. Can any reader advise?

 

 

 

4  SPIRELLA’S IMAGE

 

Ivy Leaf has related in detail elsewhere how Spirella sought to maintain its business by projecting an image in keeping with changes in outerwear fashion, which demanded different underwear, including corsetry and how the word corset, that was associated with old age, was deliberately changed to “foundation”.

 

Spirella originated in the USA and entered the British corset market when corset and stay makers were individual businesses. By adopting mass production methods to service individual orders they were successful in diverting business towards them. Half a century before the “Avon Lady” and “Tupperware parties” they had successfully identified that private moments such as the fitting of a woman’s corset were rendered acceptable if the corsetiere visited the potential customer in the customer’s own sitting room.

 

For close to 50 years it proved an unbeatable formula. It successfully resisted the problems of the flapper era. Its target clientele were more staid (no pun intended) that young women were. The young were not impervious to the blandishments of garments knitted from the new man-made yarns such as Lycra and nylon beginning in the 1940s, which saw the rise of girdles made of elasticised material. The die of demise was cast. All this can be demonstrated by analysis of how the Spirella entries in the British phone books changed over the years. The entries took two forms:

 

1 The regular column entry from 1910 to 1934.

2 Full-page advertisements in every region listing every corsetiere in each area.

 

The change in emphasis is best illustrated with the information given on the full-page advert for the years, 1939, 1953,1955, 1959, 1961,1965 and 1968. This is discussed in the next section.

                                   

 

 

5  SPIRELLA’S FIRST FULL PAGE ADVERTS ANALYSED

 

Much has been written of the change in the way society perceived the corset and what image it engendered in a person’s mind has been reflected in the way corsets were marketed and advertised.

 

In the earliest days Spirella offered corsets, bust forms and belts and their agents were “corsetieres". In the early days the term “Corset Parlour” had a certain cachet and the term was even used in its London office listing and was used by some of its agents. It clearly surmounted the anti-corset challenge of the flapper days.

 

The term “corset parlour” was used in the head office advertisement from the earliest days and in most of the individual corsetiere entries of the 1920s. In this sense the use of the term parlour was to quote one dictionary definition, "a room or rooms specially equipped for a certain kind of business” which would apply perfectly to the needs of a corsetiere required to greet a customer who could then sit and discuss, disrobe and be either measured for or fitted with her new corsets. The term “salon” appears never to have been used.

 

From the outset, Spirella sought to create an image of gentility, hence in early phone listings the majority of the corsetieres are called “Madame" and there is a “Nurse" presumably for the surgical corsets. In the 1947 masthead it adds “Well Known and Endorsed by Medical Men. Note “men” and not “women”!

 

The term “Corset Parlour” was also encouraged in the 1920s but by 1939 only one such Parlour was found.

 

 

 

6  EVOLUTION OF THE SPIRELLA ADVERTISING STRATEGY.

 

In 1935, the full-page advertisements first appeared. In the masthead on individual pages of advertisements were signpost fingers to previous and next pages in the directory.

 

In 1935, Spirella suggested that one use the knowledge of the SPIRELLA CORSETIERE to solve your Corsetry problems.”

 

Clearly Spirella felt it had trained it agents in the “hard sell” and confidently stated, “Ask the Spirella Corsetiere in your district (listed below) to explain the Spirella service - without any obligation to purchase”  (right).

 

Over time the tenor of the advertisements changed but by 1939 Spirella was confident enough to say:

 

 

 “There is a trained Spirella Corsetiere resident in every town and district, ready to call at your convenience. She will measure and fit you in the privacy of your own home”

 

Emphasis was given in large bold letters to the “Spirella Plane of Control” to which the accompanying illustration referred and showed the side silhouette of a woman in bra and corset, with arms raised high, exhibiting a corseted form that would be the dream of every customer - a modest derriere and an all but flat abdomen. A thick black dotted line crosses her form diagonally from mid-derriere to the bottom of the busk - representing the plane of control clearly demonstrating that wearing a Spirella corset would control the points of the figure of most concern to the customers who sought its help

 

When the full-page advertisements returned in 1947 the British public was in the midst of the dark days of post-war clothes coupons and fuel rationing. Knowing the public mood Spirella, gave full play to the idea that its intended customers yearned for the escapism portrayed by the likes of Jean Harlow in the glamorous days of the late 1930s. The Spirella image is that of such a woman. Of middle age, she is standing at the foot of the elegant, curving staircase of the ballroom of a country mansion or hotel. She is in a full-length evening dress and the beholder is left to think that she owes her elegantly nipped waist to her Spirella corsetry (above).

 

By 1953, a total of 580 corsetieres were listed in Greater London reflecting the post war recovery and the impending end of clothes rationing. In that year it noted that Spirella “made to measure foundations, swimsuits, separates, dresses, suits”. The drawing in the advertisement was more informative and direct than it was in 1947, for all is revealed. It shows the front view of a slim customer, arms raised to shoulder height who is standing in a corselette with suspenders clipped to her stockings. Kneeling on her left, with her New-Look length skirt still modestly covering her knees, is her Spirella corsetiere. She is concentrating on clipping her customer’s left side suspender onto her stocking. That suspender is probably the side one of a set of six suspenders rather than four that the corsetieres were encouraged to offer to customers as worthwhile “extras”.

 

The corsetiere herself is still wearing her hat, the jacket of her costume and high heels. Intentionally no doubt, this was to give the impression to potential customers that the Spirella lady was simply making a quick call to deliver and check the fitting of her customer’s latest corselette, and all in the comfort and privacy of her customer’s own home.

 

                                                                             

                             

Depending on the number of corsetieres listed on the page, more information might be given in the masthead, as was the case in some areas. In 1955 “Youth” was emphasised as was “Poise Glamour and Grace” accompanied by a drawing of a youthful woman in her bra and a corset, suspenders and stockings.

 

The 1959 entry said:-

 

“A date with your local Spirella corsetiere (her name appears below,) is a first step towards the figure you’ve always wanted. Modern made to measure foundations give perfect comfort, excellent support, lasting wear - and are not expensive. Get in touch with your nearest corsetiere she will be delighted to explain what Spirella can do for you.”

 

In 1961 in the column entries, the London office was called the “Service sales office” Interestingly the entry belied the patchy progress being made in improving the phone system. The advert still referred to Letchworth 159, which was still not automated. “First Garden City” it might have been but Letchworth was some miles outside the Greater London Telecommunications Region (LTR) and remained so for most of the time of the company was in Letchworth. This had its drawbacks for in 1953, a 3-minute phone call would have cost 1/6, (7.5p). Because it was outside the LTR and over 30 miles from London, while Harpenden or Welwyn (Home of Barcley corsets) although almost 25 miles out, were eligible for an unlimited duration call for just 6 old pence (2.5p). However, it is difficult to imagine that Spirella did not have dedicated lines between its Regent Street office and Letchworth.

 

 

Corsets or Foundations?

 

Up until the mid 1950s the term corsetiere, still set in large type, was widely used, but along with the demands of the younger generation first seen in the flapper era of the 1920s, thoughts of the  tyranny of the corset were being espoused by younger more educated women of the 1950s.

 

By 1955 the term “foundation” began to replace “corset. “You’ll look and feel your best in a Spirella foundation.” However, you would still be fitted for one by a corsetiere. The term was still used but the “C” was not always capitalised. Moreover, she might not be measuring you for a made to measure corset, for the pitch was “Ask her to let you see her range of ready to wear Spirelettes for youth and the youthful figure”.

 

By 1965, we get the first intimation of a change of emphasis in the products for sale with reference to "learning how your new shape is moulded” and the product range would allow you dress and go to the beach entirely dressed in Spirella made clothes.

 

Happily, Spirella only gave up on the term corsetiere was when it was well past its peak. The term was still used in 1966 and 1967. In 1967, would-be customers were told to “Ask her about made-to-measure swimsuits and Spirella Matchmakers. Ring now.

 

The term “Consultant” replaced “Corsetiere” for the first time in the land mark year of 1968 when hemlines had soared, European students were rioting and protests against the Vietnam war were in full spate. However Spirella still offered “corsetry and fashionwear”. In 1968 there were still 195 consultants (corsetieres) in the London area. No reference was made to corsets, simply "Swimsuits Dresses Separates & Suits". By now almost every corsetiere had a telephone and the factory phone had become Letchworth 6161; at last the exchange had been automated.

 

In that year there was just one entry in the column listing “Spirella Co. of GB (service, sales office)” and a new Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) phone 01-734-3832.

 

 

 

7  SEARCHING FOR SPIRELLA’S CORSETIERES - HOW IT WAS DONE

 

As noted in the previous sections, the advertisements as they stood were well crafted but unhelpful as regards detailed research. In all, 50 records (whole page advertisements) had been found, listing Spirella corsetieres in all four corners of the United Kingdom. What could the pages tell us?

 

It was concluded that the only way to find out would be to record the data methodically. This meant transcribing each page by typing each town into the cells of a “spreadsheet” type programme. To do this for each area page, or pages, the town name, the county name and the number of corsetieres in each town was recorded. In the end 35 records were used to cover the United Kingdom. It was quickly realised that without a “tag” it could be daunting to go back and find the page on which a town was listed. The area in which each page had been found was labelled with a prefix from 01 to 38. This meant that after sorting, the actual page on which each town could be determined.

 

1    The spreadsheet programme was then used:-

 

To sort the towns alphabetically. At this stage it was found in sparely populated rural areas on either side of the Welsh border that Spirella had produced lists which resulted in some places being repeated.

 

            To sort the towns by county of location. It was found that this was the most useful first step

 

The county sorting was used to extract the counties for each of the four countries in the UK plus Greater London.

 

            For each of the four countries and London, The data within each county was then sorted to present it alphabetically At this stage one only needed to know the county to find out the             town and the record containing then names of corsetieres in that town

 

            Summary tables were then prepared for each of the five national or regional groups as follows:

 

A  England including Isle of Man and Isle of Wight

B  Greater London,

C  Northern Ireland,

D  Scotland

E  Wales

 

Within each summary table, the information is given in four columns, which are:

 

Column 1 Area                               Records the area corresponding to the directory in which the Spirella advert appeared.

 

Column 2 County                            Lists the county

 

Column 3 Town/City                       Lists the towns within the county alphabetically

 

Column 4 Number of Corsetieres    Gives the number of corsets in that town or city

 

Tables were prepared for each of the five areas - England, Greater London, N. Ireland, Scotland and Wales. To access them first check you have Acrobat Reader in your computer. Then Press on the location to access the appropriate table.

 

England Greater London Northern Ireland Scotland Wales

 

 

 

8  SPIRELLA COVERS THE MAP - WHERE WERE THE CORSETIERES?

 

Using the 1939 advertisements it was found that Spirella had about 2900 corsetieres around Britain, located as shown in the table below:

 

 

 

Every county was represented with the exceptions of Kinross, population 7,500 and Nairn, population 8,500, both in Scotland.

 

While the average number of people served by a corsetiere is of interest, consider the potential customer. Assuming that women over 25 years of age were representative of the potential market, this corresponded to about 35% of the population at that time. Thus, nationally Spirella provided a corsetiere for every 6,000 potential women customers, one per 4,000 in N. Ireland, one per 6,000 in Scotland and England, while the Welsh sisters had one per 5,500 of their number and in Greater London there was a potential 6,600 customers per corsetiere.

 

Where estimates were possible, the figure of about 5,000 customers per salon is usual in the larger cities. Of towns over 100,000 people, on average at least 10 corsetieres would be found. Estimates for the country are difficult but a population of 1000 might be served by a single corsetiere with a potential clientele of only 300 to 350. Even if only10% were customers and those customers bought two corsets a year her gross income at £1 per corset would only be £70-100 giving at 10% commission only an income of £10 a year when in pre war UK average household incomes were over £100 per year. This was "Pin money" for a married woman but little more.

 

In the greater London area including the Home Counties, there were another 470 worthy ladies ready to serve the denizens of that area. Assuming eight million people lived in Greater London, the average there was about 6,700 customers per corsetiere. In the counties, Yorkshire had the most and so won the Spirella battle of the Roses (would they all be in tea-rose pink?), with 125 corsetieres to the 115 in Lancashire. Lancastrian city rivalry was won by Liverpool with 7,000/corsetiere to 9,000 in Manchester. In the university rivalry, Oxford lost the “tale of the tape” with 7,000 women per corsetiere, whilst Cambridge boasted one per 4,000; almost twice the choice. Could it have been the anti-corset influence of the dark blue stockings, or more likely the industrial nature of the Oxford environs?

 

Spirella covered Land’s End to John O’Groats, from Penzance to Thurso, their “line of control" extending to the Orkney Isles as well as the Shetlands. One wonders if the lonely isle of St. Kilda had not been evacuated a decade or so earlier whether Spirella’s tape measure would have seen action there too!

 

The study was not exhaustive and there are some pockets of population not found in this survey. Closer scrutiny will show that Middlesex is not represented in England. It is however included in the numbers for the Greater London area, along with the majority of entries for the counties of Essex, Hertfordshire and Surrey. In the London area, not surprisingly, the more affluent suburbs had most corsetieres, with a high of 13 in Ilford with a population of 150,000, under 4,000 potential customers per corsetiere. The only city not covered in the study is Hull since it had a private exchange separate from the Post Office, and its directories were not available for review.

 

 

 

9  THE RISE AND FALL OF SPIRELLA - THE STATISTICAL EVIDENCE   

 

Evidence of the rise and fall of Spirella is best demonstrated by analysis of the lists for the London area. These are the results:

 

            1913    First listing of Spirella and one corsetiere with a telephone.

1916    Second office address and one corsetiere with a telephone.

1922    Five corsetieres with telephones.

1935    245 corsetieres the first year of full-page listings mainly in the numbered London Postal Districts (LPD).

1939    470 corsetieres, but few with telephones. There are 357 corsetieres in the LPD and 113 in the outer LTR.

1953    580 corsetieres and the majority had phones, this was the last year the London books listed all corsetieres in the LTR of which over 400 corsetieres were in the LPD.

1954    440 corsetieres in the had addresses were in the LPD

1961    291 corsetieres in the LPD.

1968    195 corsetieres in the LPD.

1971    The last year of full-page advertisements. 90 corsetieres listed, with only two full-pages for the LPD.

1975   Only five corsetieres listed in the column entries. The Oxford Circus Store is no longer listed and Spirella office is now located in more prosaic Denmark Hill.

 

 

One of these corsetieres still practices today! - Ivy

 

Between 1935 and 1939 it is estimated that, for comparable areas, the number of corsetieres grew by about 50%. The second World War not withstanding, the number increased again by about 25% by 1953, Between 1953 and 1960 it is estimated that the number in comparable areas fell by a third in eight years. The fall continued at about the same pace throughout the 1960s.

 

The full-page advertisements continued until the 1971 books, which was the last year, and there were still two pages in the London book. By then the number in the London Phone Book was down to 90. In the three preceding years close to 60% fewer names were given. The end was near. Over 100 were lost after 1968 which itself was close to a 100 down on 1961.

 

This is all demonstrated in the accompanying graph:-

 

Care must be taken, as not all are directly comparable as boundaries covered by the books changed.

 

 

 

10  WHO WERE SPIRELLA’S CORSETIERES?

 

What can one draw from a review of the names? Obviously all were women. Most worked alone, some worked in pairs. Thus the majority were listed as “Mrs” and a few as “Madame”. Partnerships were almost always “Mesdames” and most of those were two sisters, occasionally two women with different surnames. Usually initials were used but where first names were used they reflected the preferences of late Victorian and Edwardian times, Bessie, Peggy, Marjorie, Winifred and Mabel. A few had double-barrelled surnames, generally in what one would recognise as the more genteel regions of Britain at that time.

 

Most addresses were clearly private homes, but one stands out “ Miss A Humphris, Spirella Corset Parlours, over Co-operative Store, Ewell Road, Cheam, Surrey; Phone Vigilant 3616.” In 1939, Miss Humphris had one of the last “Corset Parlours”

 

It may be there but the term “salon” was not noted in a cursory review of the corsetieres’ names.

 

The majority of the corsetieres were married women working alone although there were some partnerships of either sisters, sisters-in-law or separate married women in 1939 such as “Mesdames Harrison and Turner, 30 Ashburn Road Stockport, Cheshire”, but by the 1960s there arrangements were rare.

 

In 1930 before Spirella began its advertising, five London entries operated from “Corset Parlours” the term preferred by Spirella, three of the women were listed as Madame, one as “Mrs. ”and the fifth as “Nurse.” One not only chose the moniker “Madame” but also used the title of the head office premises, “Madame Julie, Paris House, Parkstone Dorset.

 

Ever fashionable Beauchamp Place, a stone’s throw from Hans Place the new home of Rigby and Peller in the 1990s, had its own Spirella corsetiere in “Mme G Solly, 21 Beauchamp Place, Chelsea SW3" while the forebears of the “Sloane Rangers” had recourse to SW3. Madame Moira / Moira Milne, 7 Cheltenham Terrace, Sloane Sq, Chelsea, and earlier at 8, Buckingham Palace Road.

 

Even Banbury in Oxfordshire, headquarters of rival Spencer, had no fewer than three predators from Spirella right on its doorstep.

 

Another exotic name was “Madame E.R. Bougnague, 129, Browning Rd., Enfield, Phone ENFIELD 4329" while more prosaic was “Mrs Mabel Roberts of Chorlton, Lancs

 

Not surprisingly in 1939 when phones were uncommon in private homes, they were most common in Greater London.

 

In the review of Greater London, two ladies stand out and their long individual histories are given in the next two sections.

 

 

 

11   MADAME STONE - SPIRELLA’S FIRST LISTED CORSETIERE

 

In the optimistic days before First World War, Mrs Wright might have been Britain’s first Spirella corsetiere but the first corsetiere recorded as having a telephone was Madame Lucy Stone of Croydon, Surrey. She was listed in the 1913 London telephone book as “Spirella Corset Parlours (Madame Stone)”. No initial nor first name, nor street address was given though her phone was Croydon 1422.  That number was to remain the same through two world wars right up until 1954, 42 years in all and even then her successor used the same number.

 

In 1913, businesses had the vast majority of telephones. Only the most affluent had a phone in their home and it is not surprising that very few of Spirella Corsetieres would have had a phone number. This social division was to be maintained until the better times that came after the Second World War.

 

In 1914, Madame Stone was still the lone entry and was then listed at “34 North End, Croydon”. According to Clunn’s “The Face of London"

 

"North End, which is half a mile long,,is a handsome shopping street and on a Saturday afternoon when it is crowded with shoppers it presents a scene of life and animation unexcelled even by that of Oxford Street in its busiest hours. So large and varied are its shops that no Croydon resident need ever go to the West End of London to find anything he may require”

 

In 1913, North End boasted not one but two corsetieres, Madame Stone was at No 34 while No. 83 was home to the more well remembered Madame Lorette. She was much patronised by discriminating tight lacers for many years and was listed as “Stay, Corset Maker” ‘phone Croydon, 1747". Madame Lorette had been on the telephone since 1906/7 both in Croydon and at her other salon at 187/8 Upper Street, Islington, N1, just north of the Angel, where her customers in the 1930s included Will and Ethel Granger.

 

If one had only the 1913 listing one might speculate whether Madame Stone of Croydon and Madame Lucy Stone, listed at 2 The Exchange, Purley, phone Purley 484 were one and the same person. In 1939 one gets the first clue to her identity when the initial ‘L' was added to her name.

 

In reviewing her history, for close to 20 years she was listed simply as Madame Stone. Only twenty years later in WW2 was she accorded an initial. But it was not be until 1947, when Spirella gave up making parachutes and coding machines for the war effort and resumed full-page adverts, that the speculation could be confirmed when the entry of that year revealed that she was indeed “Madame Lucy Stone.” Could it be that back in 1912 she had been persuaded to give up her independent corsetiere’s salon in Purley and become an early Spirella corsetiere,

 

Whilst she always kept the same phone number she did not remain in the North end. By 1 925 she had moved her Parlour to 7a, Mint Walk a few hundred yards to the south, while by 1939 she was at 14a, George Street (First Floor).

 

She is last listed in 1954, So up to 1954, Mme Lucy Stone was Spirella’s longest serving corsetiere and probably remained so and one can but speculate on her age, for to have called herself “Madame” in 1913 she would surely have had to be in her mid-30s at that time, so that she probably did not retire until her mid-70s.

 

In 1955 she was succeeded by Madame Meryl Vaux, who continued to use 14a, George Street and its old phone number for daytime and CRO 1435 for the evening. This was in response to customers who worked and could only visit her at home in the evening. Her name however only appeared for a single year and one is left to wonder if the Miss M Vaux listed as “Ironmonger in Walton-on-the-Hill, Tadworth” was unsuccessful in changing the type of fabricated steel she sold!

 

 

 

12  MADAME JANIRA’S SPIRELLA CORSET PARLOUR - “NEXT TO PONTINGS”

 

Madame Stone may have been Spirella first corsetiere with a telephone but the accolade of most charismatic, in advertising terms at least, has to be given to the exotically named “Madame Janira. Janira appears to be a fairly common first name in Spain even today. As noted from her 1923 listing, Madame J’s salon was at 98a Kensington High Street, phone number PARk 2329 was strategically located on one of London’s most fashionable shopping streets on which were located next door to one another, some of the largest department stores of Barkers, Derry & Toms and Pontings.

 

Madame Janira undoubted had a flourishing agency for in 1931 she took out a masthead over two of the three columns of the directory for that year. In doing so she was one year ahead of Spirella in taking out a masthead advertisement. That same year she also moved her to premises to 44, Cheniston Gardens, in all probability a luxury flat in a luxury building, then as now, and her phone number had changed to a new exchange WES 1611. The advert says it was located “by Pontings”. That information may have been true of her first recorded location but at her new address it was slightly misleading. Anyone tempted to find the street will discover that, to reach Cheniston Gardens from the side corner of Pontings at Wright’s Lane would have to go several hundred yards down that street, past Iverna Gardens which was the first turn on the right and proceed to the second right turn which was Cheniston Gardens. It was a street so small that it was not shown in Geographia Ltd’s “Atlas and Guide to London” c.1935. No doubt established customers would soon have been advised verbally how to get there and any new customer would have been given directions over the phone by Madame Janira and hopefully the more affluent would go by taxi and in so doing tested the proverbial London cabbies' ‘knowledge”.

 

 

 

According to Clunn, earlier buildings were pulled down in 1892 and the “extensive ground was covered by the huge blocks of flats in Iverna Gardens “ and no doubt Cheniston Gardens too. Nevertheless a quick search using Google revealed that the property still stands. It is built in fine red brick with cream brick detailing, seven floors high and clearly a mansion housing luxury flats.

 

As for Mme Janira, she continued to advertise alone until Spirella took over mass listings with full-page listings in 1935. In addition to her Spirella listing Madame J’s individual column listing under the letter J, was as a “corset specialist”, at the same address and telephone number. No mention was made of Spirella and she continued under that listing as well as in the Spirella pages until the Nov 1940 directory after which she is no longer listed, probably at an age to retire and perhaps escape the many privations that would have accompanied living in London through the blitz and after, for we were never privy to her family name to search further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments on Spirella in the Telephone Directories


In the 1960 Birmingham Area Telephone Directory, Spirella had two display pages listing 141 corsetieres.  Spencer did not bother with a display page but listed 52 'Registered, Retailer Fitters'.  The population of the area covered would have been about one million.
 
By 1972 Spirella had one display page (plus eight names in a small display at the foot of the facing page) and includes 'swimsuits, dresses and suits'.  The list totals 72 'consultants'.  Spencer lists 21 'Figure Foundations & Surg Supports, Registered Retailer, Dispenser Fitters'.
 
The 1980 Directory has no Spirella display merely an office or showroom under 'Spirella Company (GB) Ltd, Fash Conslts' at an out of town address in an area I am told more likely to be commercial than residential.  'Spencer Couture & Surgical Foundations' lists six.
 
For my immediate purposes I needed only the 1960 statistics to give an idea of size to my audiences.  I intended to check also 1970 and 1980 to see what happened but had to settle for 1972 for the middle year as the library doesn't have a Directory for every year.  Looking at the 1960 figures again if we assume this means Spirella had 140 corsetieres for every million population and the total UK population was about 55 million then they would have had 7700 corsetieres.  Assuming 50 per million for Spencer gives them a total of 2750.  These figures are undoubtedly too high as they also assume an even coverage of the UK population for both companies which is unlikely.