The Little Mermaid

The lingerie tycoon’s house

AshwoodPlace1
Downsize Abbey

There’s nothing quite like finding out your parents have moved into a house built by a lingerie tycoon.

I blogged last year about the 8 things that happen when your parents sell up.

Well, it happened –they sold up (finally!) and six months ago moved about 200 metres up the hill. I call the place Downsize Abbey as it’s a rather fine, Grade II-listed building, converted into apartments and packed with the decorative details beloved of the Arts and Crafts movement, including oak panelling, ornate plasterwork ceilings and ceramic-tiled fireplaces with brass canopies.

You can imagine the hazards of bringing two young boys home, one of whom is a human fidget spinner. He simply cannot, will not, sit still.

In the bathroom, there’s a framed, old yellowed newspaper advert for scientific lingerie. The corset ‘secured’ the wearer with a magnetic ribcage and was the brainchild of the man who commissioned the house as his family’s home. (The Derry family moved into their mansion, complete with mullioned windows and diamond-patterned brickwork under steeply pitched roofs, in 1929.)

Frank Derry sold his underwear invention as a ‘cure’ for rheumatism, gout, sciatica and lumbago – and much else besides, including “nervous troubles, mind wandering, involuntary blushing, and loss of willpower”.

I can just imagine the kind of lady it might have appealed to: a woman with big hair, a wide lipsticked mouth, a husky laugh and, once she’s donned the garment under big clothes, a waspish waist.

Not only did Frank Derry become a corset king, but he also took over a mail order business that became the largest mail order corset house in the world. Its successor company still exists to this day, selling a wide range of ladies’ fashions.

All rather fascinating, I thought – a predecessor surely to Spanx. Clever man.

corset