The Juvenile Fancy Dress Ball of 1886

The Juvenile Fancy Dress Ball of 1886

The first gallery of the Atkinson museum tells the early history of Southport and visitors who notice it might admire a large ornate and jewelled book in the glass cabinet. A sign indicates that this is an album of the Children’s fancy dress ball on 8th Jan 1886 presented to “Mr. and Mrs. Unwin, Mayor and Mayoress of Southport, 1886, as a recognition of their hospitality.”

It is wrapped in sheets of gilded metal, with the arms of the borough and the Lancashire rose on the front cover and inlaid with amethysts and onyx. Beautifully illuminated frontispieces inside by Mr. Viener of Southport list the subscribers who made it possible. Newspaper coverage notes that the album’s weight ‘…is so great that a man has to undergo no slight exertion of strength to raise it.’(1). I can confirm that it is heavy.

The real treasure is within, over 150 photographs of children in costumes that are a mix of historical and fictional characters, and floral dresses (for the girls) and uniforms (for the boys). Some costumes e.g. “Follow the Drum”, “White China”, “Buy A Broom” reference characters that would have been familiar to a Victorian audience but whose meaning is now obscure. Some of the children smile shyly, others boldly stare into the camera. Possibly this is the first photograph that some of them have ever had taken. They are fascinating.

‘Mashers’ daughters of Mr J.H. Ellis the town clerk who ‘not only looked, but acted the part.’(2)

Several girls dressed as Red Riding Hood, among them Miss Jessie Hudson, Miss Flossie Mackay, Miss Nora Sutton, Miss Bertha Hocking, and Miss Ada Mona Cookson. (3)

Miss Annie Hodge and Miss Annie Railton both dressed as Victorian lifeboat heroine Grace Darling. (4)

The Marsh-Brownes, dressed as Chinese dignatories. (5)


The ball must have been quite an occasion and overwhelming; doors opened at 6pm, with dancing from 7pm and parents permitted to stand around the galleries to observe from above. Entertainment was provided by Sam Bayliss and “his far-famed marionettes” while “refreshments, confections and fruit in great variety” were served in the twenty minute interval (6).

Attendance was by invitation only, for 8 to 15 year olds put forward by corporation members “a company of juveniles which should be of a representative character.” (7) The evening was scheduled to end at 11pm, but after the children departed the Mayor, and invited friends who had had supper in the Art Gallery “…indulged on a trip on the light fantastic, the festivities being continued until an early hour next morning.” (8)

The ball was pronounced ‘….a transcendent success.” (9) and “….a scene which will no doubt rank in our local annals as the best which has so far been chronicled….. (it) will remain an ever-green memory with the youngsters during their whole lives, and will often be told to their children in happy fireside parties.” (10). It ‘…was probably one of the most interesting and beautiful that had ever been witnessed in Southport…. Without exception it was one of the most brilliantly conceived, most carefully executed, and one of the most generously arranged entertainments ever given.” (11)

It’s wonderful to look at these young faces and imagine how they felt at this once in a lifetime occasion. There is a lasting legacy of the ball other than in the memories of the attending children and the subsequent album. A temporary gangway connecting Cambridge Hall (now the main front entrance of the Atkinson) and the Art Gallery was commissioned to increase the space available for the ball; it was so successful that funding was found to make it permanent (12) and forms the basis for the fabric of the building we see today.


  1. Southport Visitor Sat Sep 18th 1886 p.4 ‘Presentation to the Mayor of Southport’
  2. Southport Visitor Tues Jan 12th p.5 ‘The Tale of the Week’

3-8. Southport Visitor Sat Jan 9th 1886 p.5 ‘The Mayor’s Juvenile Fancy Dress Ball’

  1. Southport Visitor Sat 1st Jan 1887 p.4 ‘Local History of the Year’
  2. Southport Visitor Tues 26th Jan 1886 p.5 ‘Notes and Comments’
  3. Southport Visitor Sat Sep 16th p.4 ‘Presentation To The Mayor of Southport’ report of Dr Pilkington’s presentation speech
  4. Southport Visitor Thurs Jan 14th 1886 p.2 Southport Town Council Report


This blog was written by Lisa Stanway – a volunteer of The Atkinson.

If you wish to write a piece for The Aktinson’s website; please email

Posted on 12 September 2022 under General news

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