A dressmaker and a gown fit for the Queen

Dressmaker Pam Saunders EMN-150129-095505001
Dressmaker Pam Saunders EMN-150129-095505001

The 1947 wedding of Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, was widely publicised.

An array of newspaper editions, which included photographs from the event, were printed and highlights were also broadcast on television; meaning many came to notice, and were held in awe by Elizabeth’s exquisite dress.

One viewer was Pam Saunders, then 15 years old, who too admired the beauty of the dress, but perhaps to a greater extent than most: she was going to work on it a week later.

Pam, who now lives off Langton Hill in Horncastle, had wanted to become a hairdresser, but due to violent asthma attacks, she was advised by teachers in her polytechnic to pursue a career in dressmaking instead.

Luckily, Pam’s polytechnic had ties with the renowned fashion house Norman Hartnell and, when a placement at the dressmaking shop in Mayfair became available, she began as an apprentice.

Luckier still, this was a week after the Royal wedding; Pam was assigned to one of the girls preparing the wedding dress for display and was given the task of patching the loose hems. After the dress was tidied, it went on to be exhibited in Buckingham Palace and many other well-known locations.

But this was not the only regal tailoring Pam undertook at Norman Hartnell: on one occasion, she was part of the group who created Elizabeth II’s dress for Prince Charles’s christening. The dress was of a tiny green check pattern and, after it had been laboriously completed, Pam requested to keep a little piece of the material, which she then fashioned into a collar for one of her own dresses.

Pam declared she felt very proud after finishing the Christening dress – although disappointingly, in photographs, it cannot be seen under the Queen’s heavy terracotta-coloured coat.

Pam still owns the reel of green cotton used to make the Queen’s dress for Charles’s christening, a relic she acquired purely by chance.

At Norman Hartnell, after a piece of clothing had been finished, the spools of cotton used in making it were placed into a large box, to be utilised in the future for tacking. However, a dressmaking superstition meant any green cotton leftover had to be discarded: it was seen as unlucky if this was reused. Pam asked if she could keep the reel instead, and was permitted to do this.

There were other strict regulations in the shop too: all workers had to wear impeccable white overalls, and makeup was strictly forbidden, in case it tainted the materials. The dressmakers were also refused entrance into the salon, where famous customers came to inspect their new items; however, when Linda Christian and Tyrone Power, rising film stars of the time, visited, Pam stated that everybody found an excuse to sneak into the salon to peek at them.

One day, Queen Mary, grandmother to Elizabeth II, also came to Norman Hartnell, alongside Princess Margaret: Mary wished to meet the girl who made her “elegant” and lavish clothing.

Pam recalled there were usually masses of materials strewn across the workroom table, but for Queen Mary’s visit, the room was made spotless; each worker given a small piece of fabric to labour over.

Pam went on to work at Dickins and Jones in London, before moving to Horncastle in 2005.