On March 7th 1814 Jane Austen was staying with her banker brother Henry in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, and writing to her sister Cassandra. The weather was wintry – “Here’s a day! The Ground covered with snow! What is to become of us? We were to have walked out early to near Shops, & had the Carriage for the more distant.”
In the end she, and her niece Fanny, did go out on foot to Coventry Street to Newton’s the linen drapers and, it seems, wandered a litle futher along into Cranbourn Street to do some window shoping in Cranbourn Alley. “A great many pretty Caps in the windows of Cranbourn Alley! I hope when you come, we shall both be tempted. I have been ruining myself in black satin ribbon with a proper perl edge; & now I am trying to draw it up into kind of Roses, instead of putting it in plain double plaits.”
You can just make out Cranbourn Alley in the street view above – the second opening from the left. The Alley is still there today, just a minute’s walk west from Leicester Square tube station, but there is no longer any hope of finding charming headgear – it is just a narrow passage between a money exchange and a fast food shop and the crowds making for Leicester Square pass it without a glance.
The pretty cap in the print is worn with Morning Undress and is from the French Journal des Dames et des Modes for 1814, headed Costume de Londres. Jane describes a new cap in detail in a letter to Cassandra on 16th September 1813. “My Cap is come home & I like it very much, Fanny has one also; hers is white Sarsenet & Lace, of a different shape from mine, more fit for morning, Carriage wear – which is what it is intended for – & is in shape excedingly like our own Sattin & Lace of last winter – shaped round the face exactly like it, with pipes & more fullness, & a round crown inserted behind. My Cap has a peak in front. Large, full Bows of very narrow ribbon (old twopenny) are the thing. One over the right temple perhaps, & another at the left ear.”