During a visit to Portugal, Sir
Herbert Cook, who had been made Visconde de Monsterrate by King Manoel,
invited John and Winifred Fortescue to stay with him in his Palace of
Montserrate at Sintra, (Cintra).
Winifred never forgot her arrival
and stay in Cintra and described it as 'an exotic dream'. During this
stay she took the decision to go into trade. Winifred did not intend to
mix her social and business life and in 1920 adopted the name 'Cintra',
for the business woman. She also wanted to succeed on her own merits and
new that if the press found out that she was running a business to help
John finish writing his famous 'History of the British Army',
they would make a story out of it.
Sir Herbert Cook was keen to back
Winifred and suggested she take up house decoration. She took back from
Portugal some old carved beds, ancient brocades and other items to catch
the eye of the London public. Some weeks later 'Cintra' commenced
operation from a tiny second floor flat at 38, Wilton Place, Knightsbridge. She purchased
the lease and remaining stock from an Italian who, having made his
fortune, was retiring to Italy.
Newspaper notice June 8th 1920
Newspaper notice June 15th 1920
Hampstead Heath, London
The business took off and within 3
months it was obvious larger premises would be needed. Customers were
asking Winifred for specific requests and feeling bold she employed a
woman to work for her on the top floor of their home at Admiral's House,
Hampstead. After a search, a ground floor shop in Sloane Street was found
but just as the lease was about to be signed the project was crushed as a
result of bad luck.
The couple discovered massive
repairs, (estimated at £3000!), were urgently needed to their home and so
'Cintra' operations were moved to the top floor of Admiral's House.
The house was adapted to incorporate a showroom, fitting rooms etc on the
1st floor and the whole of the top floor became workrooms.
With the general slump of the
1920's, by 1922 people found they could not afford to 'do up' houses.
Knowing women must clothe themselves she concentrated on clothes choosing
exclusive materials and designing each gown for its individual wearer.
Much of the material came from 'Bianchini' and so developed
an exclusive business. As it grew and prospered she engaged a cutter
and fitter, an army of work girls and some showroom assistants.
The continued expansion put considerable pressure on
Winifred, who did not enjoy the best of health at times. There was the
constant demand to meet orders, keep accurate accounts, pay wages and
get customers to settle their bills.
'There's Rosemary There's Rue'
Advert for 'The Treasurer Shop' at Admiral's House.
3mins from Hampstead Tube Stn. & open daily 10am-6pm. Inside is one of
John's clever Rondeaux describing her products
After the Summer Holidays in 1922, taken in Gibraltar
& Brittany, business carried on expanding. Many of her gowns were
ordered by the court and for debutantes. There were fashion shows at
intervals and one of the most important was given on a fine evening in
June of that year in the garden of Admiral's House. Pages 276-279
of 'There's Rosemary There's Rue' give a splendid description
of the illuminated proceedings.
Invitation to a 'Cintra' evening in
the rose-garden at Admirals House. 9.45pm Wed 12th July 1922. Parade of
Mannequins to music through lantern-lit gardens at 10.00pm, iced
refreshments served on the lawn
The Times May 7th 1921
CINTRA'S NEW FROCKS. Cintra (the name under which the Hon. Mrs. John
Fortescue trades) had a private view yesterday of her Ascot, River,
Court, and Opera frocks at Admiral's House, Hampstead. One of the most
charming frocks shown on mannequins at the parade was an Ascot gown of
ecru lace and georgette, with a beautifully arranged sash. A gown of
kilted magnolia murano lace over magnolia georgette had a quaint wrap of
jade duvetyn lined and faced with magnolia zenzolini silk. Wraps are a
strong feature of Cintra's show, and she appears to have an instinct for
blending lovely fabrics and gets rich colours to agree in unaccustomed
The Times November 4th 1921
"Cintra" (the Hon. Mrs. John Fortescue) held yesterday a dress show at
the Everyman theatre, Hampstead, not having space to accommodate her
clientele at Admiral's House, Hampstead. It was quite unlike any of the
season's parades. The frocks came and went on women of different ages
who made pictures against the parted curtains, or, playing with a fan,
were seated for a moment on one of the antique chairs. Picture frocks
are "Cintra's" best designs, and she can use rich fabrics well when
boldly adapting a medieval style. There were a winged tea gown like some
gorgeous earthbound bat, and a lovely medieval gown of lemon taffetas
striped with silver that left charming memories.
Soldier's, Sailor's, Airmen's &
Lexington Ave, New York
The Plaza Hotel
Cunard RMS 'Caronia'
Built by John Brown & Company, Clydebank, Scotland, 1905. 19,524
gross tons; 678 (bp) feet long; 72 feet wide. Steam quadruple
expansion engines, twin screw. Service speed 18 knots. 1,550
passengers (300 first class, 350 second class, 900 third
class).Two funnels, two masts.
Built for Cunard Line, British flag, in 1905
and named Caronia. Liverpool-New York service. armed
merchant cruiser, then troopship during World War I. Scrapped at
Osaka, Japan in 1933.
CINTRA in the U. S. A.
An American friend who had been at the fashion parade in
June 1922 invited Winifred to New York. She was asked to bring a
collection of evening gowns and cloaks for a fashion show at The
Plaza Hotel, New York in aid of the soldiers and sailors of the USA
returning from the Great War.
(The funds were required to build a club, which still thrives on Lexington
Ave, New York, where servicemen & women can stay. It is now known as the
Marine's & Airmen's Club. )
It was somewhere she had wanted to visit and managed to
persuade John to agree to the trip. He went with her - purely to look
after her. There was much preparation before departure on the
Cunard 'Caronia' for a five week visit. They arrived at Ellis Island
on 29th October 1922.
Arriving in New York on the RMS
'Caronia' 29th October 1922
Click here to see the New York Times report of their arrival 30th Otober 1922.
The main event was held on the 9th
November 1922 in the
Plaza Hotel Golden Ballroom which was equipped with 3000 gilded chairs! 'Cintra' herself was to act as Mistress of
Ceremonies and must have been an impressive sight on the stage with
lights, orchestra and a jungle of palms and exotic plants. Her own outfit
is described as follows:
'A swathed, sheath-like, sleeveless, dress of black
chiffon velvet with an exaggerated train ending in a point. From one bare
arm, just above the elbow, hung a long black chenille tassel with an
acorn-top of brilliants. Her head was capped with a close fitting black
velvet turban from which two long ostrich feathers, held by a diamond
star, curled to the waist. She wore one huge marquise ring of brilliants,
diamond buckles on her black velvet shoes, and carried a slender
stick with a diamond knob.'
here to see the New York Times review of 10th November 1922.
Complications caused by a malicious and unfounded report concerning John
in the US press caused the cancellation of a lecture he had agreed to
give at West Point on Armistice Day but the trip and the fashion show
were in the main a success - Winifred even sold all her personal
American outfits 'off her back'. This together with some other less
expensive sales just paid for their fares home on board the RMS 'Mauretania'.
A Cintra Dress!
Miss Josephine Morrison poses in one of
Winifred's famous 'Cintra' dresses the day before the Plaza
The photograph, taken by The Pictorial Press, was recently obtained from the U.S.A and is an official press photo from
the day before the fashion show at the New York Plaza Hotel. It features
Miss Josephine Morrison wearing one of the famous 'Cintra' dresses which
Winifred made and transported to New York specifically for this show.
On her return to London Winifred had a very hard
struggle to regain a foothold. Many customers had preferred to await her
return in person. She was forced to work doubly hard by day and into the
night to retrieve her financial position and pay waiting bills.
There had been talk for some time about moving the
business down to Lower London for the benefit of those not wishing to
make the journey to Hampstead during the season. Winifred was suffering
more health problems and her husband, although seeing the advantages,
was very concerned about her health which was steadily deteriorating.
After some difficulty she eventually over persuaded John and began to
search for suitable premises. She eventually found the upper and second
floor of 28 Sackville Street. It was central with light airy rooms and a
lift for her staff and customers. Before very long the cars of gracious
ladies were blocking Sackville Street and she was busier than ever!
There were more fashion shows, sometimes at short
notice, visits to Kensington Palace to attend Princess Louise and dress
designing for the stage. This immense work load could not continue as
even customers who were strangers noticed Winifred's fragile appearance.
After consultation she was taken to hospital for an immediate operation.
When strong enough to be moved John & Winifred went to Brittany as
sea air had been prescribed. Whilst there, Winifred resolved to work
even harder on her return, but John had been told by her consultant that
it was a case of the demise of Winifred or the 'Cintra' business.
October 9th 1923
28 Sackville St, London
Recent re-visits have indicated that No. 28 may
have been the right hand red door - next to No. 29.
This door leads into a hall with an elegant staircase
to the upper floors of the building.
buildings in Sackville Street - J. Conran
1921 Directory Entry
for Cintra at Admiral's House, Hampstead Heath
1924 Directory for
Cintra at 28 Sackville Street
Clothes designed by Lady Fortescue
name under which the Hon. Mrs. John Fortescue trades) had a private view
of her Ascot, river, court, and opera frocks at Admiral’s House,
Hampstead. One of the most charming frocks shown on mannequins at the
parade was an Ascot gown of ecru lace and georgette, with a beautifully
arranged sash. A gown of kilted magnolia murano lace over magnolia
georgette had a quaint wrap of jade devetyn lined and faced with
magnolia zenzolini silk. Wraps are a strong feature of Cintra’s show,
and she appears to have an instinct for blending lovely fabrics and gets
rich colours to agree in unaccustomed harmonies.
are “Cintra’s” best designs, and she can use rich fabrics well when
boldly adapting a medieval style. There were a winged tea gown like
some gorgeous earthbound bat, and a lovely medieval gown of lemon
taffetas striped with silver that left charming memories.
For a presentation at court, June 1922, for Mrs de
A gown of
orchid-mauve chiffon velvet draped with antique point d’Angleterre lace,
worn with a riviere of amethysts set in gold and a draped train of point
d’Angleterre lace, lined with gold and silver-shot tissue.
The Times October 9th 1923
“Cintra” (the Hon. Mrs. John Fortescue) also opened yesterday new
showrooms, hers being at 28, Sackville-street, where she has moved from
Admiral’s House, Hampstead. Today and tomorrow she will have parades
for showing her gowns, many of which are made of rare Italian and
Spanish materials. A novel coat with gorgeous embroideries on the skirt
and cuffs and the top of navy face-cloth collared in skunk is decorated
with the embroideries from an old Georgian coat which she found in an
old curiosity shop in perfect preservation. Her black evening gowns are
unusual and beautiful. Among the coloured ones she has a “tiger” gown
in tawny colourings and bands of tissue, which has a “tiger” velvety
tissue wrap which is quite unusual. Evenings gowns are shown in her
Aladdin Cave room, and others in a daylight room.
For her niece’s wedding gown: The bride, who was given away by her
mother, wore a gown of medieval design made of magnolia silken brocade,
embroidered with golden sprays, with a girdle of gold. Her veil of
magnolia ninon was caught with a spray of orange blossom and she carried
a sheaf of arum lilies.
Wishing to return home and about to take up the reins
again it was with immense difficulty that she faced up to the reality of
the situation when confronted by her husband. With the 'History of
the British Army' still not finished she felt she would only be a
burden and expense to him. Winifred does not go into great detail about
her illness, often referring to it as a poison. This is confirmed in
John's own autobiography, 'Author and Creator', published in 1933
in which he describes his wife as 'fighting against some obscure
poison, picked up in a military hospital, which was steadily undermining
She became very business like and arranged for the sale
of her remaining models and the letting of 28 Sackville Street through
her head worker 'Ninon', who she met a few days later in Paris.
She could not face the ordeal of the final closing of the business and
dismissing of the girls in person.
The following six months were difficult ones, living the
life of an invalid and dealing with inquiries and orders that still
flowed in from people unaware of the closure. One envelope contained an
order from the Vice-Reine of India, Lady Reading, with an order
for eighteen state gowns. It was given to John to deal with. After this
Winifred asked John to help her make a bonfire upon which all the 'Cintra'
books, designs and newspaper notices were thrown and that was the end.
It was 1924.
Although the end of the fashion business 'Cintra'
would re-appear.........in print!!
Pictures - P.Riley - Black Swan -
A niece of Lady Fortescue