Ulster Museum

The Kildare Toilet Service

Applied Art Gallery

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One of the largest surviving examples of its kind in the world, the Kildare Toilet Service is made up of 28 piece silver gilt pieces and dates from 1720-22. The 19th Earl of Kildare presented the set to his wife as a gift to celebrate the birth of their son. It was made in London by silversmith David Willaume.

The word toilet at the time referred to the morning routine of washing, tidying hair and making up. It comes from the French word toilette ("little cloth") which was the cloth often spread on the dressing-table where this was done. This meaning spread into English as "toilet" in the 17th century; only later did it become a euphemism for lavatory.

Lady Kildare would have used this set to prepare for the day. Its pieces include:

  • perfume bottles
  • containers for make-up
  • two lockable caskets, complete with secret compartments

There are also containers for stranger items such as:

  • belladonna (also known as ‘deadly nightshade’) to brighten the eyes
  • patches to cover spots and scars
  • mouse skins, with which ladies would stick on in place of eyebrows!

In 1995 the Ulster Museum acquired the set at Sotheby’s in London. It is now on display in the museum’s Applied Arts gallery on the fifth floor.

Look at the the perfume flasks they double as hooked weights for tying corsets