More than anything, this is the story of a remarkable woman
Sarah Ann Jenyns (1865 – 1952)
The Jenyns Corset
Of all the manufacturers of fan-lacing corsets, the Australian firm of Jenyns, needs a special mention. This company, one of many famous and long-lived Australian corsetry businesses, lasted for just over a century, right up to the end of the 1990's.
The factory's last location was in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane. My husband comments that any woman who wore one of these corsets in the tropical heat of the Brisbanian summer, required considerable fortitude indeed.
Sadly, it seems that in 1999, the last corsets were sold, and so another great name passed into history. We were extremely fortunate to be put in touch with a charming Australian woman, who provided some letter-heads that tell a little of the decline of this famous firm. To this day, she still wears her remaining Jenyns corsets, for there is little to touch them.
We are indebted to Ken and Pat Jenyns (Ken was the grandson of Sarah Ann
and the last Managing Director of Jenyns) who visited us in 2010
and provided much useful information.
The History of Jenyns
The House of Jenyns
Sarah Ann Thompson was born on 1st March 1865 at Largs, New South Wales, the fifth child of Charles Thompson, a builder from Scotland, and his native-born wife Mary, née Bluford. Ebenezer Randolphus Jenyns was born on 27th July 1865 at Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, fourth son of English-born parents Joshua Jenyns, grocer, and his wife Betsy, née Willis. As a young man he was employed by Guyatt & Co., surgical instrument makers of Sydney. Ebenezer and Sarah were married with Baptist forms on 5th October 1887 at the Burton Street Tabernacle, Woolloomooloo. They moved to Brisbane about 1896 and were to have eight children.
The family was poor, at the start. In 1905, Jenyns worked as a cutler, but by 1907 was also calling himself a surgical instrument maker but preferred to expend most of his energy preaching the gospel as a part-time evangelist.
With his wife assisting, Ebenezer’s business prospered, operating in 1909 from two addresses in Brisbane, the first at 321, George Street. As an expert in the making of surgical belts to relieve the conditions that the corsets of the time so often caused, Sarah Jenyns decided that foundation garments could be designed to relieve backache, improve posture and alleviate that dragged-down feeling, while at the same time smoothing the figure into fashionable contours. Working scientifically from medical principles, she succeeded in designing a corset that gently re-proportioned the figure into slimmer, more healthful lines, yet had all the supporting virtues of a surgical belt.
Traditionally, corsets were based on shaped waists and a laced back that meant women needed help to get them on. Sarah Jenyns developed a new style of lacing which meant the person could put on the corsets themselves. They could hook and eye down one side of the garment and take hold of the belts that would pull the laces tight. In addition, her success stemmed from recognizing that women had so many different shapes. She created a product that had 12 different figure types. Whether women were short, tall or had a big abdomen, she had a corset design for your figure. Before then there was one shape. She eventually patented these designs and the lacing principle and literally took them out to the world.
Despite success, the marriage and business partnership was shaky. From 1911, Sarah independently conducted her own business in George Street, making surgical instruments, corsets and belts. In 1910-12 she patented a series of corsets and 'improved' abdominal belts, and travelled abroad to expand her business.
In England, she contracted to have her corsets manufactured under licence by Symington & Co. of Market Harborough, Leicestershire. These new supporting and reducing corsets were endorsed by the London Institute of Hygiene, and during the 63 years of continuing research carried out by the Jenyns company they became universally accepted. Orthopaedic surgeons praised it as "the best corset the world has seen".
She also went to Canada, the United States of America and Germany, seeking to sell her products under licence.
Ebenezer continued to direct his own business, extended his field to include surgical corsets and lodged a patent for ‘A Combination Surgical Substitute Corset’ on 24th April 1923. That year his son John acquired Ebenezer's business: he traded as Jenyns Truss & Patent Pty Co. at 355, George Street, still using the trade mark of E. R. Jenyns. The split heralded long-term divisions in the family and its businesses.
Ebenezer reactivated his manufacturing in 1925 as the Improved Patent Corset Syndicate. He continued to advertise as a supplier of surgical goods and as a corset-maker in the 1930s and 1940s, though he was not a success in business. An active worker for the Young Women's Christian Association and widely known as an open-air preacher, he was a veritable 'bookworm' and a formidable debater. He eventually retired to Kuraby.
Sarah continued to patent improvements to her surgical corsets. In 1928, Herbert, by then the manager, branched into the manufacture of foundation garments and underclothing. The firm continued to grow, despite competition in the 1920s from Berlei Ltd (their main rivals), the Gossard Co. and Symington.
In 1993, the House of Jenyns moved to 30, North Road, Wynnum West and on 24th November 1993, a Sister Ann Bryant acquired the remaining stock of corsets and the Baxter Street offices. The House of Jenyns sold a small line of supports and Jenyns Bryant sold what remained of the traditional Jenyns corsets. Her manufacturing plant was located at Unit 3/400 Newman Road, Geebung. She traded as Jenyns Bryant Surgical Corset Company Pty. Ltd. until the company was liquidated on 19th July 2000. The House of Jenyns survived until 13th September 2004.
Letter from a Reader
In December 1992, I met with Sister Ann Bryant in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane, at the then office and showroom of Jenyns. I recall that it was all in a bit of a shambolic state with Ann Bryant trying to rescue the medical side of the business and with another lady, whose name escapes me, trying to get use of the premises for the retailing of imported brassieres in larger sizes. Neither Lady was interested in the conventional corsetry side of the business and I can still see in my mind the discarded piles of beautiful corsetry strewn all around the premises. I shudder to think what happened to all of that inventory. In short, the business had hit the rocks and was sinking, or had sunk, fast. It seems as though the "brassiere business" is still trading in another Brisbane suburb, Virginia, under the name "Big Girls Don't Cry, Anymore".
Former workers had a reunion at the Ipswich RSL Services Club on 28th June 2010, two days shy of the 20th anniversary of the closure of the factory. It still exists but is now being used as a motorbike showroom.
On 17th July 2014, Mrs. Jenyns’ entrepreneurship was celebrated when she was inducted into the 2014 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame.
A Chronological History of the Jenyns Patent Corset Company; the House of Jenyns
1898 The Jenyns company was founded by Madam Jenyns in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
1908 Patented first improvements in corsets.
1910 Added more patents in supporting corsets.
1912 Sold patent rights to manufacture Jenyns Corsetry in England, Canada, France, Belgium, Germany, U.S.A and New Zealand.
The English manufacturer was granted rights to sell in South America and Africa.
1914/18 These were difficult years because of lost shipments of goods.
1916 Moved to new larger custom-built premises, the JPC building at 327 George Street. Increased production.
1920 A very good year. Increased staff and production.
1922 Registered as a limited company.
1924 A difficult year because of the ‘No bra or corset’ fashion.
1925 A very good year with bras and corsets in great demand.
1926 Jenyns Corsetry was being sold in every medium and large size retail draper and salon in Australia.
1928 The company appointed Madam Jenyns’ son, Herbert Jenyns, as Manager of the company.
1933 The company moved to a larger building – 309-315 George Street, Brisbane. This move enabled increased staff and production and sales.
1939/44 The company was declared a protected undertaking, manufacturing 40% corsetry and 60% clothing for the Air Force, Navy and Army.
1945 A very good year of corsetry production and sales.
1946 Madam Jenyns formed her business into a private limited company. Increased staff, production and sales followed.
1948 Sales were expanded to New Zealand, South Africa and Pacific Islands.
1951 Mr G M E Offner, B.Com., F.C.A., who had extensive business association with the company became a member of the Board of Directors.
1952 Madam Jenyns died.
Mr K J Bain, F.C.I.S., A.A.S.A., Company Secretary who joined in 1948 was appointed to the Board of Directors.
1957 Mr Ron Jenyns, grandson of the Founder, appointed to the Board of Directors.
1958 A licence agreement with Leading Lady Brassiere Co. of U.S.A. enabled our company to launch Materna Lady foundations on to the Australian market.
1960 The company moved to much larger premises at 194-208 Melbourne Street, South Brisbane. 50,000 sq.ft. capacity.
A Licence Agreement with Goddess of New York enabled the company to introduce to Australia Goddess high fashion bras and girdles, with great success.
1961 Mr Ken Jenyns, grandson of the Founder was appointed to the Board of Directors.
1963/64 Enlarged the building by adding two new floors – an extra 20,000 sq.ft. of production area.
1964 Signed licence agreement with Triumph International Overseas Ltd of Munich, West Germany.
Leased Plant 2 and commenced production 1-6-64 8,900 sq.ft. area leased for 5 years with options.
Leased Stoddarts Building, Sydney and established a large wholesale sales distribution – 14-10-64.
1965 Purchased 36 perches in Edmonstone Street, South Brisbane for employees car park – 31-5-65.
Leased Plant 3 and commenced production 1-11-65 7000 sq.ft. area leased for 5 years with options.
Leased Plant 4 and commenced production – 22-11-65 6000 sq.ft. area leased for 5 years with options.
1967 May 1967 purchased 35.5 perches adjoining Plant 1 – used as car park.
Leased Plant 5 and commenced production. 6000 sq.ft. area leased for 3 years with options.
1968 Leased Plant 6 and commenced production 13-5-68 7100 sq.ft. area leased for 5 years with options.
Leased Plant 8 and established new warehouse 7-10-68 19000 sq.ft. area leased 5 years with options.
1969 Leased Plant 7 and commenced production 11-8-69. 26,300 sq ft area built to our design leased for 5 years with options.
November: Company purchased by Triumph International Overseas Ltd. of Munich, West Germany.
1970 Leased Plant 9 Ipswich and commenced production 1-9-70. 40,000 sq.ft. area leased from the Jenyns family for 5 years with options.
1980s Head office at 20, Baxter Street, Fortitude Valley QLD 4006.
1992 14th May. The House of Jenyns sells its medical division and head office to Sister Ann Bryant.
The House of Jenyns moves to 30, North Road, Wynnum West QLD 4178 and produces a limited range of surgical supports.
1993 Sister Ann Bryant establishes the Jenyns Bryant Surgical Corset Company Pty. Ltd. (24-11-93) with a factory at Unit 3/400, Newman Road, Geebung QLD 4034.
2000 Jenyns Bryant Surgical Corset Company Pty. Ltd. is liquidated.
2004 The House of Jenyns ceases to trade.
The headquarters of Triumph International remains at 30, North Road, Wynnum West to this day.
The Demise of Jenyns
Jenyns and Camp in the late 1980's
During their visit in 2010, Pat and Ken Jenyns gave us some original Australian made Jenyns corsets from 1912. The waist size is 19 inches, very small for today's woman, however, we have had two women try on one of these hundred year old corsets and there's no doubt that Cathie Jung shows off the waist to great advantage when we visited her in 2014. Amazingly, the corset is still very robust, the only sign of age being a slight fragility of the laces.
Let us look closely at two examples of these powerful and functional garments that were recent acquisitions from an Australian lady. She purchased them at the closing down sale of a corset shop in 1993.
The Jenyns Fashion Corset
I'm not sure if this was what the corset was actually called; the label reads a more prosaic
however, the corset is one of the most beautiful of its sort that I have ever seen. It showed that Jenyns (and Camp) could produce a serious garment and yet make it in heavy grade corset satin with exquisite little touches of lace, and suspender flashes.
At the Melbourne cup in the 1960's and 1970's, many a flat stomached matron owed her remarkably good figure to these wonderful corsets. When jet travel to the Antipodes became more common, a number of these corsets found their way back to the old country as Grandma, returning to Bexhill with fond memories of her offspring and a token Koala soft toy for the mantelpiece, would also be carrying a few years' supply of Jenyns, definitely not for display!
Letters from Jenyns Wearers
Letter from a Jenyns Wearer #1
Your site has brought back many memories from during and after the war years in England. Sad to say, but in Australia where I now live, those days are long gone, although I do know a couple of women who still wear Jenyns surgical corsets. They wouldn't do without them, but on days like today when it is so hot (38 oC Dec 2005) they do suffer. Jenyns have now gone out of business, and at the end were basically surgical suppliers.
One of the ladies is a Miss H., who is 83 years old. We had quite a chat recently and she invited me to visit her, as she had some Jenyns catalogues to pass on. I met up with Miss H. yesterday at her home. She is a very pleasant lady and made me most welcome. When I arrived the front door was open, I rang the bell and she called me in. She was sitting at a large table in the lounge which had on it five or six old Jenyns corsets and she was re-lacing one of them in the hope that she would have at least one that she could use. She had been working for hours on 'the darn thing’ as she put it. She had started wearing corsets just before the war after a riding accident and had worn them ever since.
For such a lady, who has worn corsets for over 65 years, it will be impossible to do without. Sadly, the manufacture of corsets is dying out as the profit margins have long gone. Maybe with a burgeoning older class of 'baby boomers' this loss of knowledge may yet turn out to haunt us. - Ivy.
Letter from a Jenyns Wearer #2
As a long time resident of Brisbane (eighty years and counting!) I was delighted to read your well informed article on the Jenyns company. My sisters and I bought our corsets from their Fortitude Valley Outlet for almost half a century until they closed a few years ago (was it really as long ago as 1993, as your article states?) I suppose I am one of your few die-hard women in Australia , lovingly repairing and caring for their Jenyns corsets in the hope that we will see out our time together!
Contrary to popular belief, Australia was until relatively recently a very old fashioned and straight laced place. We were always taught there was absolutely no excuse for a lady to not to always look her best and firm foundations were accepted as a natural part of life. Australia liked to think of itself as the best corseted country in the world and until the 1970s even the slenderest of teenagers wore a zippered step-in, and their mothers something rather more substantial. Firm corsets, along with hats, gloves, stockings, full face make-up and a smart set of dentures were seen as a natural part of an adult woman’s engagement with the outside world!
I obtained my first Jenyns shortly after the war when I commenced work at David Jones (a well known department store in Brisbane ). We wore rather slim fitting black skirts and blouses in those days, and decent foundations were a must. A great deal of standing up was required, and a few years later I moved up to the Dorsal Lumbar Support. You are correct that when leaning forward an unsightly and rather draughty ridge appears. Rather than be greeted with my friends sing-song “I can see your corset”, It was soon retired to the back of the drawer!
I have worn the Jenyns Side-Lacing Corset since the mid sixties, which although heavier, gives a snugger fit and is generally more comfortable and quite easy to put on. They often came without suspenders, which you bought from Woolworths and sewed on yourself
The standing up all day meant that by my late twenties support stockings had become a fact of life. Surgical stockings seemed to be fairly common in the decades after the war, and they were not particularly frowned upon, although at David Jones they did expect you to put something more fashionable over the top. If this was required, one needed two sets of suspenders, as the two pairs of stockings were seldom the same length or weight. You either sewed on extras, or wore a suspender belt or corselette over your corset
I still own six wearable Jenyns corsets, plus two Spirella corsets I bought while on holiday in England in the early 1990s, none younger than a decade! How nice it is to think that some things are made to last
In another letter, she elaborates on her first corset experience.
I remember very well my first corset. I the week before I left school and started at David Jones, we rode on the tram from Wooloongabba to Fortitude Valley (both inner city suburbs of Brisbane ) to the Jenyns outlet. I was fourteen and until then had worn liberty bodices and knee high socks for both school and home, but it was time to join the “grown-up word” of corsets and stockings
I distinctly remember being lead by the hand into the cool, rather dark interior of the shop, and my mother telling the corsetiere she wanted me measured for “ a standard fan-laced corset". After the measuring, the trying on, and I remember the hard, grippy hug of that first corset and the rising thrill as I watched its effect in a full-length mirror. My torso kinked dramatically into my waistline, my spine straightened and stretched, I lifted my chin in an automatic counter-reflex. I metamorphosed from podgy 15-year-old girl to tall, shapely woman. All the parts of me that I did not really like, suddenly moulded into this lovely adult, shape.
Regarding who wore what when, Australian women tended to stick to what they started with, so my mother, who lived to be 103 and only passed away in 2005, wore her entire life the “Warner’s Rust Proof” Corset she was first introduced to as a teenager. Her corsets must have been very old by the end. I similarly have stuck with the Jenyns side-lacing corsets that I had adopted in the mid fifties
Australian women from the generation behind me favoured the all-in-one foundation, a combination of brassiere and elastic corset introduced in the thirties by Warner’s with the introduction of the two-way stretch material. By the late fifties, many younger women were wearing girdles that were constructed out of rubber elastic and the newer stretch net fabrics in rayon or nylon. The different types were:-
Step-ins - zippered or laced girdles.
Roll-ons - all-elastic tubular girdles that were rolled on like a stocking.
Pull-ons - tailored girdles elastic enough to pull up like a pair of briefs.
Wrap-ons - which opened out fully like corsets and were closed by hooks and eyes.
My husband was British and I did spend several years in the UK in both the fifties and seventies. Australia , in those days was several years behind the times in terms of fashion, and Queensland , which was very conservative and rather puritanical, was several years behind the rest of Australia ! I think corsets were more greatly used, and for longer than in England, and for any family that liked to think of itself as middle class, strict corseting was seen as a sort of status symbol and mark of respectability. Certainly, I remember once at a genteel County Woman's' Association tea party, while the Lady Mayoress gave a speech, all I could hear in the background was the whirl of the fans and gentle creaking of many corsets!
Because of the conservative nature of Queensland , mini-skirts and trousers were never thought appropriate, and subsequently, panty girdles and pantyhose caught on much later than in England – perhaps not until the mid-seventies, and not at all among women above middle age. Pantyhose were viewed with suspicion, and the general belief (not always wrong!) was that they would not stay up on their own – I remember my husband offering me a pair of his braces if I wanted to try them!
Young women seemed to have abandoned shapewear altogether after around 1980, although in recent years, the shops seem to be full of “miracle suits” – very high wasted, long legged panty girdles, almost like bike pants, and I understand they are very popular.
In the days before air conditioning, Brisbane summer heat was oppressive, and (strictly in the seclusion on ones own house, and seldom in the presence of company) you did your housework in nothing but your slip/petticoat and your corset. It was not an uncommon site to see a neighbour pinning out her washing dressed in a bright salmon “passion killer”, but that was never considered “quite the thing.”
Although there are many good brands in available in Australia, my sisters and I always bought Jenyns, as they were a Queensland brand, and Queenslanders patriotically like to support their own. My daughter, on the other hand, has always worn an open-bottomed corselette, and I don’t believe my granddaughters wear very much at all, unless they are dressing up for the races!
As for me, I am sticking to what I know – my corsets are for people who like to look like people.
The text from this 1957 advert is reproduced on the right
A rare advertisement from Britain in the 1970's (above middle right) shows that Symingtons of Market Harborough were trying to sell these corsets. I doubt if they succeeded. Camp had the niche-market for this unusual garment and I've never seen any sold in Britain.
The cover of the Jenyns brochure from the 1960s (above right) demonstrates the slightly old-fashioned nature of Queensland. One was expected to dress up for the races and one's foundation garments could only come from a Queensland company.
AN EXCLUSIVE JENYNS ADVANTAGE
The Jenyns Superior Lacing is designed to give comfortable, uplifting abdominal support with firm control of hips. It permits quick, simple, daily adjustment to the required firmness. You have the perfect fit with complete comfort during the whole life of the garment when you chose a Jenyns.
Light, cool and transparent I would imagine would have been a relief from the heavy brocades and satin in the sweltering heat of the Australian summer. It is interesting to note the recommendation from Guy's Hospital in London. This must date from the time that Sarah Jenyns travelled to London to register her patents.
From the early 1970's.
The upbeat message would not last for much longer...
Ken and Pat Jenyns looking at a sample from the Ivy Leaf Collection in 2010
Other Fan-lacing Corsets
Who was it that said "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"; certainly not the Patent Office. However, a number of companies used the fan-lacing principle to very good, profitable and long lasting effect, notably Kellogg, Gale and Jenyns (described above). Throughout, I have referred to these corsets as "Camp style", indicating that the pulley principle is involved, or "Jenyns style", meaning the cluster-lacing has no pulley advantage. Sub-derivatives of the "Jenyns style" is the strap that is held by a buckle, and the strap that is secured by a pin (Jenyns).
Fan-lacing goes back a long way as this German brassiere from the early 19th century shows. It also reveals how simple it is to adjust fan-lacing; that is one of its major advantages.
The Kellogg corset company was formed in 1907 by D.C. Kellogg Sr., who was a leader in the development of 'scientific corsetry' (there's that expression once again).
The charming and knowledgeable Lyn Locke wears an original Kellogg, one of the prizes of her collection. This is a seriously long corset of about 21 inches. I have seen only a few fashion corsets of this length and they were all made-to-measure Spirellas. Note that Kellogg has circumvented the Camp patent and used the multiple-lacings-sewn-to-the-adjustable-strap technique, like Jenyns. Note also the absence of the 'swing' suspenders. Actually, the corset is rather long for Miss Locke. It would have been intended for a lady of at least 5' 6".
On the right we see a classic CAMP cadenza, their girdles with 'Adjustaband Control', or do we? No. It's a Kellogg!
Other famous brands have tried the fan-lacing principle, notably the Ambrose Wilson V80, and the amazing Controlacing Berlei.
Ambrose Wilson, purveyor of mail order corsets to the British masses for
many decades sold fan-lacers, some constructed from sweaty
rubber, a corset material that never quite
refuses to die out!
Ambrose Wilson, purveyor of mail order corsets to the British masses for many decades sold fan-lacers, some constructed from sweaty rubber, a corset material that never quite refuses to die out!
I tried on a Camp (one of our collection) in 2005 and it reminded me how
ridiculously simple that lacing method is. One goes from bulging abdomen
to youthful flatness with a firm pull of the straps (“Lady Mary adjusted the straps of her surgical corset with a vigour
that reminded Sir Godber of a race meeting” writes Tom Sharpe in his
hilarious novel, Porterhouse Blue.) Would that my other lost youthful
attributes were as easy to recreate!
I tried on a Camp (one of our collection) in 2005 and it reminded me how ridiculously simple that lacing method is. One goes from bulging abdomen to youthful flatness with a firm pull of the straps (“Lady Mary adjusted the straps of her surgical corset with a vigour that reminded Sir Godber of a race meeting” writes Tom Sharpe in his hilarious novel, Porterhouse Blue.) Would that my other lost youthful attributes were as easy to recreate!
From the Ambrose Wilson catalogue of
1962. Fan-laced and busk-fronted, this was
powerful and practical.
From the Ambrose Wilson catalogue of 1962. Fan-laced and busk-fronted, this was powerful and practical.
The 'scientific support' was advertised as such by Gale, the corsetry section of Sears. Typical of many advertising photographs of corsetry, the apparent scene below of three ladies and a reflection in a mirror is composed partly of photographs superimposed on the scene with the corsets drawn over the ladies. The reflection in the mirror purports to have come from the middle lady, but the reflection faces the wrong way!
Sears of 1958 still displayed a formidable array of corsetry aimed at an age group older than the lovely models on the right. The lady on the left might just have been about the same age as many of the women who wore these corsets.
Sears employed the non-Camp style of cluster lacing and were advertising it back in 1935, although on that occasion the corset was one of those very popular perforated latex affairs.
The Begian firm that produced 'Le Compressif' range of corsets also resorted to fan-lacing of the Jenyns-style. They even secured the straps with Jenyns-patented pin; I wonder how they got away with that one? Perhaps it was made under licence. I have always thought that a busk-front, fan-laced corset simply has to be the most easily adjusted, yet most powerful of corsets.
Below is another example, but this time it is a hook-side version.
Just when you might imagine that tea rose coutil was the sensible material of choice for a wearer of such a surgical support, along comes a black satin version. Just like Camp and Jenyns, Le Compressif catered for a surprising elegance.
Now here is an interesting hybrid. At first glance, this Australian corset looks like a Jenyns, but the pulley design is pure Camp. The makers name is unfortunately 'Gross'. "Would Modom be interested in a gross support?" Gross also marketed Jenyns style corsets and I suspect that Gross was simply a company that bought the remains of the Jenyns empire in its final days when even Jenyns marketed Camp products.
“Scientific support” should perhaps more correctly be called “engineering support” as a tribute to S.H. Camp, who patented the design. These corsets were worn by hundreds of thousands of women over nearly nine decades and, like the garments of so many of the successful corset companies, what was being sold in the 1990's can be traced back to the 1930's. I've compiled a collection of photographs from the various Camp brochures from 1930 to 1992 that illustrate this point.
Even the 'adjustaband control' was copied by others, notably Ward in their 1968 catalogue.