Smock frocks came in various colours: blue, green, brown, buff and black, as well as the ubiquitous white we tend to think of smocks as being today. Their whiteness was a quality appreciated by contemporaries who remarked poetically, for example, about their cleanness, implying a shining whiteness, using adjectives such as ‘snowy whiteness’. Those kept for Sunday best, and thus cared for and so subsequently preserved down the generations for us, tended to be white. White was the hardest colour to keep true. The appearance of being clean needed time and therefore money to be achievable. Smocks were given to women to wash either in the home or to the local laundress for a small fee. Cleanliness was next to godliness, the clean smock respectable clothing to wear to church, at least at the beginning and end of its path through history.
The idea of this whiteness being taken to extremes caught my attention. Dating from the 1890s, when smock frocks were starting to be seen as signifiers of a halcyon rural past and craft items themselves, only worn by elderly men in rural southern England, Lord and Lady Alington put on an entertainment for their visitors. Lord Alington (1825-1904) was a well-known society figure of the day, the 1st Baron Alington of Crichel House, Dorset. He was a race-horse owner and member of the Jockey Club for over fifty years, as well as MP for Dorchester and was supposedly called by Disraeli, ‘the Champagne of the House’ due to his wit and geniality.
On 10 February 1892, he married for a second time, Miss Evelyn Henrietta Leigh, at St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, a fashionable society wedding reported in the pages of the press at the time.
On the 29 August 1893, the Bury and Norwich Post reported that they were entertaining at their country estate for the first time since their marriage. Their ‘particularly charming Home Farm’ on the estate had been renamed ‘The White Farm’, and everything was white including the buildings and decorations. The men and women running the farm wore white smocks or frocks and every ‘beast and bird’ was also white:
From the huge prize bull to the rabbits, cats, and guinea-pigs, of four-footed creatures, and even the poultry all are white. The prettiest thing I saw when there was a baby white donkey and three Persian kittens like snowballs.
The elaborate amusement was complete down to the last detail, including the snowy white smock frocks. It was not noted in the report who was entertained then but the Prince of Wales and his daughter, Princess Victoria, certainly visited the estate at a later date, as seen in photographs at:
The excesses and extravagance of the White Farm are almost paradoxical to the very notion of white as a symbol of simplicity and purity. The entertainment seems to be a show of aristocratic fin de siècle exuberance in countryside where the smock frock had once been commonly worn. Located on the edge of Cranborne Chase in Dorset, its landscape was also part of the setting for Thomas Hardy’s novels, where the smock frock put in an occasional appearance.
As a footnote, the Crichel Estate gave its name to a set of planning procedures known as the ‘Crichel Down Rules’, established post-World War II. These set out guidelines for landowners when government compulsory purchase of land is undertaken, the after-effects of land usage during the Second World War. See: