Madame Clapham: Hull's Celebrated Dressmaker

Madame Clapham

Mrs Emily Clapham opened a dress making salon in Hull in 1887, which by the 1890's was highly regarded and attracted world wide patronage for the quality and style of ladies' fashion that she produced. Unusually as a local business woman with no premises outside the city, she was able to maintain a high profile clientele and compete with the London fashion houses of the period. The salon continued to trade until Madame Clapham died in 1952, when the salon was taken on by her niece until 1967.

The Making of a Dressmaker


Emily, born in Cheltenham in 1856, left school at an early age to serve a dressmaking apprenticeship at Marshall and Snelgrove in Scarborough. She started by picking pins up from the floor and gained a thorough training in the dressmaking trade. She had a good eye for fashion and colour and combined this with good business sense. She went into business with her husband Haigh Clapham in 1887 and invested their savings to purchase No.1 Kingston Square.

Madame Clapham was known as an imposing woman, always dressed immaculately in black or navy. Her floor length trains rustled as she moved around the salon and she left behind the scent of lavender, which she always wore. She was a strict Christian Scientist and often helped her family out financially or by giving them employment.

The Court Dressmaker

Madame Clapham ball gown
Madame Clapham's reputation as a fine dressmaker was at its height from 1890 until the outbreak of the First World War. This was an era of strict dress codes and many social engagements including race meetings, balls and dinner parties. In the 1890s the salon was so successful that Madame Clapham purchased number two Kingston square in 1891. Number three Kingston Square was purchased just before the First World War, with a legacy left to Madame Clapham by her aunt. As Madame Clapham's reputation grew she received many orders for dresses for clients to be presented at court wearing during the "coming out" season. Madame Clapham added the title of Court dressmaker to her Salon's labels in 1901 as a mark of her highly regarded reputation.

The End of an Era


The First World War had a big impact on Madame Clapham's business as it resulted in a decline for the exquisite dresses of the earlier years. Attitudes and Social codes changed after the war and women gained a greater degree of freedom. Madame Clapham still created evening dresses in the new styles and expanded into corsetry and under garments to fit under certain dresses.

The Second World War had an even bigger impact on the Clapham Salon and nearly caused it to close. Rationing made fabrics expensive and many employees were made redundant or went to serve the war effort. The business did pick up after the War but the demand for made-to-measure outfits declined.

Madame Clapham died at the grand age of ninety-six on the 10th January 1952. Emily Wall, Madame Clapham's niece and employee continued Madame Clapham's legacy at number 3 Kingston Square under her aunt's name until 1967.

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