This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

Lost in Translation

05 August 2017

The bearskin cap still remains
the unofficial trademark
of the British army.
But the bearskin hat style
was originally French,
belonging to Napoleon's Imperial Guard. 
After his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815
this French fur hat fashion was awarded to Britain's
1st Regiment of Foot Guards,
or The Grenadier Guards
to wear as part of a new uniform
that celebrated their victory over Napoleon.

Later the distinctive tall bearskin caps
of the Grenadier Guards were
adopted by other British units,
the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards,
the Irish guards, and the Welsh Guards.
The bearskin used to make the caps
is imported from Canada,
and traditionally comes
from the fur of female brown bears
that is then dyed black.
Guardsmen of the 21st century
now mostly wear
bearskin caps made of synthetic fur.

As far as I can determine
the bearskin was never intended
to be worn by women.

Nor were sporran,
the kilt accessory
of a Scottish man's uniform,
ever considered a handbag
suitable for a woman.

Yet here we have seven young ladies,
dressed in full Scottish formal tartans,
plaid kilts, marching spats,
and bearskin caps,
who called themselves:

Miss Freda Russell's English Orchestra

The photographer's mark in the lower right corner
of this photo postcard reads
Dorpat   Alt St 6

Dorpat is not in Scotland or England
but is the old name for Tartu
the second largest city in Estonia

The postcard was mailed from Russia
on 05-01-1912.
The message may be in German
but the handwriting
makes it difficult to be certain.

This ladies musical troupe, which included one man wearing standard black tie dinner jacket, called itself an English Orchestra, though the musicians have no instruments. If they were proper English ladies, why are they dressed in Scottish garb? How did their postcard get photographed in Estonia, which was  then part of the Russian Empire? Who is Miss Freda Russell? 

It's all a curious puzzle but at least I can answer the last question.

The Stage
06 June 1912

Miss Freda Russell was from Cheltenham. She played the violin and was a graduate of London's Royal Academy of Music, where she won a silver medal. She was a professional musician who performed small recital concerts around England and Scotland. In June 1912 she ran an advertisement in London's theatrical trade magazine, The Stage.

Wanted, Young Lady Violinist (Leader) and Flautist or Clarionet for first-class Ladies Orchestra (abroad). Must be good and experienced. Yearly contract. Good salaries. Cornet, Viola, Druns, etc., write in, with terms, photos, etc., to
Miss FREDA RUSSELL, 3, Clarence Parade, Cheltenham

The Stage
29 August 1912

By August she was still in search of a 'Cellist, Flautist, and Pianist  (Ladies) for abroad. But her contact address was no Restaurant Richelien, Odessa, Russia.

Gloucestershire Echo
25 October 1912

In October she hired Miss Lilian Burrows (pianist and vocalist), youngest daughter of Mr. Burrows, surgeon dentist, of Cheltenham. Miss Burrows would shortly leave for South Russia to join Miss Freda Russell's orchestra. A position of cellist was still open, and applicants were invited to travel with her.

As usual with these postcard mysteries,
we must use our imagination
to create a story
of how and why
seven young English ladies
dressed as Scots Guards
traveled to Imperial Russia in 1912
to perform concerts in French restaurants.

Did they play bagpipes too?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
where all animals are fair game.


Jofeath said...

I suppose the bearskins, kilts and sporrans added to the novelty of the act and Ms Russell figured that the Russian audiences would not query their authenticty. I could do with a bearskin here in Melbourne today, as it's wintry and wet and I have to go out tonight.

ScotSue said...

Living in Scotland, and I was surprised to,realise that I did not know the origins of the bearskin, nor that it was French. Thank you for the information and the very striking photographs.

tony said...

Scotland gave France the Guillotine & France gave Scotland the Bearskin.A Certain symetry there?

Tattered and Lost said...

Okay, now you're just messing with me. This is a Python group isn't it. That's Michael Palin on the left. Of course I know it's not, but now I have the Python music going through my head the whole time I'm reading this.

Kristin said...

wonder how their music was.

L. D. said...

I find all of the info fascinating. I didn't know that the hats were originally bearskins but it does make sense. My mom would cover me up with a bearskin throw when I was a kid living in an extremely cold house in winter. I thought it strange but the throw was very warm.

Little Nell said...

Bearskins are known to be hot and heavy, which is why the occasional guardsman at Buckingham Palace who faints, hits the news. Mike have you see that wonderful photograph of the Queen laughing with (at?) Prince Phillip in his Guards uniform?


  © Blogger template Shush by 2009

Back to TOP