A Passion for Fashion - Madame Clapham Revisited

The History of Madame Clapham's Salon

Couture came to Hull when Madame Emily Clapham opened her dressmaking salon in Kingston Square, in 1887.

Madame Clapham: Biography

Emily MacVitie was born in Cheltenham in 1865 and moved to Scarborough to serve her dressmaking apprenticeship at Marshall and Snelgrove. She started at the bottom, picking up pins from the floor but gained a thorough training in all aspects of the dressmaking trade.

After marrying Haigh Clapham, a clerk from Wakefield, Emily moved to Hull, where the couple invested their savings into the purchase of No.1 Kingston Square, thoughtfully set in a respectable part of town. These premises were carefully designed to reflect the exclusivity and detail, intended to attract the high society ladies of the region. By the 1890s 'Madame Clapham' was widely regarded as Hull’s finest dressmaker.


Madame Clapham's unique success lay in her ability to attract high society clientèle without formally advertising. The salon relied heavily upon personal recommendations. In the late Victorian and early Edwardian era, men wore sober suits and dressed their wives in fancy, elaborate dresses to demonstrate their family status. This was a period of strict dress codes, where events and meetings required suitably formal clothing.

Madame Clapham successfully competed with London and Paris fashion houses and had a large and illustrious clientèle, which included Queen Maud of Norway, the daughter of King Edward VII of England.


Madame Clapham ran the salon until her death in 1952, when her niece Emily Wall took over until 1967.


High Society in Hull

The Industrial Revolution had brought new wealth. In Hull, ship merchants and industrialists were earning enough money to become part of the landed gentry, moving away from the city to more rural areas, such as Kirk Ella.

The wealthy man’s wife was seen as his social representative and she had to look the part. Locally, there were many varied social engagements, including race meetings, the Hunt Ball, the Golf Ball, dinner parties, or evenings of music and entertainment at the Assembly Rooms. The salon was particularly busy leading up to Christmas with an array of social festivities planned by prominent families.

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Map showing the former location of Madame Clapham's salon, at 1 Kingston Square, Hull.»

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