1940s Fashion | 1950s Fashion | 1970s Fashion | Fashion History | History of Sewing Dressmaking and Tailoring | Kingston Upon Hull History | Oral History | Public History | Social History | The House Of Mirelle

Beatrice Betty Bartlett, Dressmaker: 40 Years Of Design and Dressmaking In Hull, UK

June 21, 2017
A photo for the website houseofmirelle.uk
Betty stands in a bridesmaid’s gown she made herself. Image © A. Kettley. Circa 1939.


Anne Kettley talks of her mother’s dressmaking skills with pride: “she didn’t know how to do anything else,” she explains, “but working at the House Of Mirelle must have been the start of it all.”

“She couldn’t do embroidery, knitting or tapestry, all she could do was designing and making clothes.

“We never had to shop for clothes, she made all of them. I’ve got photos of some of her designs but I don’t know who it is in most of them.”

Anne’s Mum, Beatrice Sykes has always been known as Betty. When she married on 25th May 1942 and became Mrs Bartlett, Hull was struggling with beginning of the World War and in the midst of the febrile decimation of the Hull Blitz.

a photo for the website houseofmirelle.uk
Very much modelled on a 1930s design and made of clinging silk or satin, this wedding dress could have been made in the 1930s or later depending on the bride’s taste. Image © A. Kettley


It was not an easy war for anyone living in Hull, particularly for the Fire Wardens employed by each business and factory. They were required by law to be installed outside of working hours to watch for incendiaries and fires.

Until recently Anne was entirely unaware that the sole record about the House Of Mirelle at the Hull History Centre is a card naming Betty Bartlett as the House Of Mirelle’s Fire Warden.

This was a dangerous job and the start of war would have kept her very busy.

Manned with a bucket, a stirrup pump and keen eyes she joined other women across Hull who followed up their working day by sleeping at their workplace. While the men were away they watched the night sky for bombers and fires that could threaten the City.

Albion Street, located slap bang in the centre of Hull, was the location of the House Of Mirelle in its early years.

Albion Street was also one of the most heavily bombed areas in Hull.

“She used to say that she didn’t know how they survived, now I know why,” says Anne.

An image for the website HouseofMirelle.uk
Wearing a Bridesmaids dress Betty shows off the skills learned at the House of Mirekle. With short transparent puff sleeves and a gathered skirt she wears a halo hat. Image © A. Kettley


Being a fire warden was a far cry from the exquisite, fine and defined skills she used by day in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Employed at the House Of Mirelle, she designed and made clothes for the middle and upper class woman of Hull.

“She didn’t like to work from patterns,” Anne explains talking of her mother’s expertise in taking a design to completion. A wedding dress for instance, would have started with a bespoke pattern created entirely from an individual’s measurements.

This is a skill dressmakers, fashion designers and couture houses use to this day.

“She made her own wedding outfit when she got married,” says Anne, “the dress was in a turquoise embossed velvet. She made the hat and the bag as well. ”

a photo for the website houseofmirelle.uk
A typically full skirt and modest, high necked gown for a time when Men’s trousers did not have cuffs. Dating this to when World War II rationing and clothes restrictions were still in place it is a traditional gown. Image © A. Kettley


Following the social convention, Betty left the House Of Mirelle after she got married. She worked in Durham for the war effort but her skills as a dressmaker were in constant use in the years afterwards.

She designed and made clothes for people from all over Hull, often for special occasions like weddings.

Some of the designs are seen in from the photographs that her daughter has kept in a special box since her passing away.

“I wish I’d kept a record of who everyone was,” said Anne, “but you know how it is when you are a child.

a photo for the website houseofmirelle.uk
Lynne Devaney’s Wedding dress design in 1950. Lace top and a delicate peplum overskirt with a frill round the edge. Image © A. Kettley


“I know some things about some of them. Maybe someone will be able to tell me who they all are.”

Anne’s friend Lynne Devaney is one person Anne doesn’t have to search for.

Her Mum, Mary Ashton married the love of her life, Ronald Ineson at St Alban’s Church on 23rd September 1950.

Betty made her mother’s wedding dress and going away outfit, the traditional wedding outfits for that era.

an image for the website houseofmirelle.uk
A tailored suit made for Lynne Devany’s wedding in 1950. With a kick pleat at the hem and wide lapels, set off by a row of 3 dark buttons at the neck and waist. Image © A. Kettley


Married in white, the dress had a lace jacket with a peplum waist and long skirt.

Her going away outfit was what was called a ‘costume’ during the war years – a skirt suit.

“She had lots of lovely comments about it,” says Lynne and continues with another memory about her mother’s life before she was born:

“Mum said she had to save up her coupons for her dress and wedding cake. Betty taught her how to cook and clean I believe.”

A photo for the website HouseofMirelle.uk
Minnie, a friend of Betty’s modelling her wedding dress designed and made by her. Circa 1940. The gown is made of textured white fabric, a high collar and fitted bodice with a modest full skirt. Image © A. Kettley


Clothes rationing was still in place in Britain in 1949 and food rationing remained in place until 1954. Her mother would have had to save up coupons as well as the cash to make the clothes and provide the food at the wedding.

This was a sign of how important the day was for her. Many women decided against following this tradition for weddings happening under the restrictions of post-war rationing.

An image for the website HouseofMirelle.uk
A later design, made around the early to mid-1950swith a wide collar and tailored bodice matched by the bridesmaid’s dresses. Image © A. Kettley


Anne and Lynne have been friends since childhood and both share a respect for her mother’s dressmaking skills. “I can’t make clothes myself,” says Anne, “I didn’t have to.”

As we continue to look through the photos, Anne talks about a women standing on church steps and smiling, wearing a wedding dress Betty also made.

“Her name was Minnie,” says Anne, “ I used to love that photo when I was a child. Mum said she was lovely. Maybe that’s why I liked the photo so much.”

She carries on, “the tinted photo of my Mum as bridesmaid was taken at a friends wedding in 1939. She made all the bridesmaids dresses and the bride’s gown. She was good friends of my Mum.“

I mention the halo hat her mother is wearing which was the height of fashion in 1939 and 1940.

An image for the website houseofmirelle.uk
Mid to late 1950s this dress is made with a jacket nad wide collars, delicate veil and textured white fabric. A summer wedding, the bridesmaid’s dresses match although it was a rainy day. Image © A. Kettley


As I look closer it becomes unclear to me whether one particular photo is of the same wedding, as the bouquet Betty is carrying is different between the both.

“Is it a different wedding,” I say, “the outfits look different.”

There’s a pause while both of us think.

Same wedding, different bouquet. “Mum must have caught the bride’s bouquet,” says Anne, “it’s the same!”

“Look at the bouquet she is carrying!” says Anne, all of a sudden. “It’s the same one that the bride is carrying.


an image for the website houseofmirelle.uk
A wedding circa 1955 with sweetheart neckline and frill, long veil and full skirt it is matched by the bridesmaid’s gowns in a similar design. Image © A. Kettley

“She must have caught the bride’s bouquet because it’s different from the one she is carrying in the bridesmaid’s photo. It’s the same wedding but taken later on.”

We take a moment to absorb this information, seeing in the photographs a story from the day that her Mum hadn’t shared with her daughter.

A Photo for the website HouseofMirelle.uk
Betty’s daughter marries in her last design and creation, made of heavy weight cream satin brocade modelled on an idea from the film Anne of a Thousand Days.

“The last dress she made was mine,” Anne says.

“I got married in 1974 and Anne Of The Thousand Days was a film I loved, so she made my dress like that, like Anne Boleyn, with long sleeves and everything.”

“I can’t believe this is happening now, especially when she would have been 100 years old in April,” she says, whistfully.

“If you could find out the names of some of the people in these photos, that’d be great. I’d love to find out anything.”

Can you help Anne identify who it is wearing Betty’s designs?

Do you know any of the people in the photos?

If you do, contact us to let us know! 

© House of Mirelle 2016.  
Spread the love