Category Archives: Costume and Textiles

Platinum Jubilee display: Textile Sample for Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation Dress

 

On display in the museum over the Platinum Jubilee weekend is this framed sample of the material used to make Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation dress.

The coronation was held on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey, watched by 3 million spectators and a further 20 million following the event at home.

The sample was a gift from Norman Hartnell, the designer of the dress, to Miss Grizelle Fowler, as she had worked for him. Miss Fowler bequeathed the sample to the museum in 2016.

The coronation dress was ordered in October 1952 and it took 8 months of research, design and workmanship to create it. Hartnell put forward 8 different designs and Elizabeth chose her favourite.

It then took at least 3 dressmakers, 6 embroiderers and the Royal School of Needlework to create the detailed embroidery on the satin The embroidery features the national flowers and plants of Britain & the Commonwealth countries.

These include the English Tudor rose, the Scottish thistle, the Welsh leek, the Irish shamrock, the Canadian maple leaf and the New Zealand silver fern. The design was completed in seed pearls, crystals, coloured silks and metallic threads. #platinumjubilee #bigjubileelunch

https://saffronwaldenmuseum.swmuseumsoc.org.uk/object-of-the-month-june-2016/

Object of the Month : April 2021

April’s Object of the Month has been chosen by Jenny Oxley, Collections Officer (Human History) and is not strictly one object but a collection, in this case, items made from barkcloth, which form part of the museum’s world cultures collections.

The museum holds around 80 barkcloth items, originating from all around the world, but largely from the Pacific region. Over the last year the museum has been involved in an international project: “A Living Tradition: Expanding engagement with Pacific barkcloth” being led by Glasgow University, which has provided us a great opportunity to shed more light on the cultural traditions surrounding their production, design and use. 

Barkcloth is made from the inner bark of paper mulberry, breadfruit or banyan trees, which is soaked and stretched, then naturally dyed and hand-painted, printed or stencilled, to create often highly decorative barkcloths (sometimes referred to as Tapa).  It is believed there are over 90 different pattern variations in existence.  The barkcloths are used for utilitarian items as well as for ceremonial purposes. 

In addition to large textile rolls and flat sections of barkcloth, the museum also holds clothing made from barkcloth. Notable examples include a barkcloth poncho believed to have originated from Samoa, as well as a lace-bark dress and matching bonnet from Jamaica, which were donated to the museum in 1833 by the Marchioness Cornwallis.

Object of the Month – August 2020

Chinese Foot-Binding – Lotus Shoes

Foot-binding was a traditional practice that originated in 10th century China, among court dancers and high society women. By the 12th century it was a widespread practice. In the early 19th century it was estimated that five to eight women out of every ten in China (taking into account regional variations) had bound feet. It eventually spread through all social classes and while it was outlawed in 1912, it continued in some rural areas for years afterwards. A census taken in 1928 in rural Shanxi found that 18% of women had bound feet, while in some remote rural areas such as the Yunnan Province, foot-binding continued to be practiced until the 1950s. In most parts of China, the practice had virtually disappeared by 1949. In 1999, the last lotus shoe-making factory closed.

The museum has around 14 pairs of Chinese lotus shoes associated with foot binding. They typically have wedge heels, pointed upturned toes which extend beyond the sole and stiffened ankles. The embroidered uppers of the shoes have been beautifully crafted in silk and metallic threads, with embellishments – usually gold braid, beading and sequins.

The foot-binding practice involved plunging the feet into hot water and massaging them with oil. Then all the toes, except for the big ones, were broken and bound flat against the sole, to produce a triangular shape. The arch of the foot was strained as the foot was bent double. The feet were bound in place using a silk strip measuring 10ft long and 2 inches wide. These wrappings were briefly removed every 2 days to prevent blood and pus from infecting the foot. Sometimes “excess” flesh was cut away or encouraged to rot. Over time the wrappings became tighter and the shoes became smaller as the heel and sole were crushed together. After 2 years the process was complete and the feet were most probably numb, with a deep cleft in the sole that could hold a coin in place. Once a foot had been crushed and bound, the shape could not be reversed without undergoing the same pain all over again. This practice was usually undertaken on the feet of a young girl, aged between 3 and 11 years, as their feet would have been softer and easier to manipulate. It was usually carried out by the child’s grandmother. 

This painful practice was associated with beauty, status and marriage eligibility. Having tiny feet was considered sexually attractive, emphasising a masculine Chinese view at that time of a woman’s inferiority and weakness.  It was believed that girls who had their feet bound would be able to attract better marriage offers because of their tiny feet. In wealthy families, the feet of all the daughters would have been bound but in poorer families, the practice might only have been carried out on the eldest daughter, as they had the best chance of making a good marriage union. The ideal length of the foot – the “golden lotus” was deemed to be just three inches. 

The Shape of Women: Female Fashion Silhouette – Part 2 (c. 1900-Present Day)

Our Collections Officer (Human History), Jenny Oxley has a real passion for vintage fashion, check out Part 2 of her blog charting the changes in the female fashion silhouette, this time covering the period between 1900 and the present day – illustrated through the museum’s collections.

Follow this link for the PDF version The Shape of Women – Part 2: 1900=Present or see the flipbook version below

“The Shape of Women” : Corsets & Crinolines

Our Collections Officer (Human History), Jenny Oxley has a real passion for vintage fashion, check out her latest blog, charting the changes in the female fashion silhouette between 1790 and 1900 – Corsets and Crinolines – illustrated through the museum’s collections.

Follow this link for the PDF version The Shape of Women – Part 1: 1790=1900 or see the flipbook version below

 

Object of the Month – March 2018

 

March’s Object of the Month is a Holloway brooch. Holloway brooches were given to women who were imprisoned for their involvement in the women’s suffrage movement during the early twentieth century. The brooch was chosen as Object of the Month by Leah Mellors, Collections Officer (Human History) to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918.

Holloway brooches
The Holloway brooch was designed by Sylvia Pankhurst, a campaigner for women’s suffrage. The design is symbolic of the suffragette’s fight for voting rights. The brooch is in the shape of a portcullis and chains, which is the symbol of the House of Commons. In the centre, there is a broad arrow, which was a recognised symbol of government property that was used on prison uniforms. The broad arrow is in the three colours of the suffragette movement: green (symbolising hope), white (symbolising purity) and violet (symbolising dignity).

Sylvia Pankhurst, wearing a Holloway brooch on her collar

The brooches were given to members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) who had been imprisoned in Holloway prison and other prisons. Some brooches were inscribed with the dates of imprisonment. They were first awarded at a mass demonstration by the WSPU in the Albert Hall on 29 April 1909, which was held to coincide with the meeting of the International Suffrage Alliance. In an issue of the WSPU newspaper, Votes for Women, of 16 April 1909 the brooch was described as the ‘Victoria Cross of the Union’. When WSPU prisoners began to use hunger strikes, the WSPU instituted the hunger strike medal, the first of which was presented four months after the first Holloway brooch.

Women’s Suffrage Movement
6 February 2018 marked 100 years since the Representation of the People Act 1918, which allowed women over the age of 30, who held £5 of property, to vote in parliamentary and local government elections.

The Representation of the People Act was the result of a decades-long campaign by men and women for women’s suffrage. This campaign began peacefully in the late 1800s. In 1897, Millicent Fawcett set up the National Union of Women’s Suffrage, which campaigned for women’s suffrage through peaceful protest and logical argument. Unfortunately, Millicent’s progress was slow and this was not enough for some women, who wanted faster and more direct results. In 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. In contrast to the peaceful protests of the suffragists, the members of the WSPU, known as suffragettes, were prepared to use militant and violent methods to draw attention to the cause. These militant methods included breaking shop windows, raiding the Houses of Parliament, burning down churches, attacking politicians and even protesting at the gates of Buckingham Palace.

Imprisonment of suffragettes
As a result of the violent acts committed by suffragettes, many were imprisoned, in Holloway prison in London and other prisons around the country. 
The treatment of suffragettes who were imprisoned was often brutal. Many went on hunger strike. A report in The Suffragette on 11 April 1913, stated that Emmeline Pankhurst had collapsed in prison after being on hunger strike for eight days. The hunger strikes concerned the government, who did not want the movement to have martyrs, so prisons guards were ordered to force-feed those on hunger strike.

There was public outcry at the force-feeding of mostly educated women, so the government introduced the Cat and Mouse Act. This Act stated that any suffragette who went on hunger strike whilst in prison should not be force-fed but instead should be allowed to get weaker and weaker, at which point she would be released from prison. She would then either die, or be too weak to take part in the suffragette movement. Once she had regained her strength, she would be rearrested for a trivial reason and the process would start again. In response to the Cat and Mouse Act, the suffragettes became even more extreme, with some blowing up part of David Lloyd George’s house. It is likely that they would have continued with this extreme behaviour but in August 1914, World War I broke out and Emmeline Pankhurst ordered her followers to stop their campaign and support the war effort.

The suffragette movement in north-west Essex
The first suffrage society in north-west Essex was formed in 1906, when Miss Mitchell, of Saffron Walden Training College, became honorary secretary of a Saffron Walden branch of the London Society for Women’s Suffrage. By 1909, two federations of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) had been formed in the area – one covering north and east Essex and the other covering most of East Anglia.  By the end of 1911, a NUWSS society was formed in north-west Essex to cover Dunmow and the surrounding district.

Flyer for a public meeting of the Saffron Walden & District Women’s Suffrage Society

In 1912, a second suffrage society in Saffron Walden was formed, known as the Saffron Walden and District Women’s Suffrage Society. Flyers and programmes in Saffron Walden Museum’s collections reveal that the society held regular events between 1912 and 1914 to raise funds and awareness for the suffrage cause. These included talks by well-known speakers, suffrage plays and musical entertainments.

The President of Saffron Walden and District Women’s Suffrage Society was Gertrude Baillie-Weaver. Gertrude and her husband Harold, who lived in Newport, were both prominent members of the suffrage movement: Harold was an active member of the Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage and Gertrude was an early member of the Women’s Freedom League. Under the name Gertrude Colmore, Gertrude wrote many literary pieces on the suffrage movement, including the suffrage novel Suffragette Sally (1911), The Life of Emily Davison (1913) and fictional stories for Votes for Women and The Suffragette. She also regularly spoke at WSPU meetings. 

You can see the Holloway brooch on display in the museum, alongside other items in our collection relating to the suffragettes, until 31 March 2018.

Object in Focus – Violet Dix’s Trunk

In 1973, a leather trunk was donated to Saffron Walden Museum, containing the belongings of a girl named Violet Dix. Violet died in 1919, aged 10. Her belongings had been packed into a trunk, perhaps by her parents who were too upset to deal with them, and kept, untouched, until her death.

The belongings include clothes, toys, books, schoolwork, letters and material relating to Violet’s death. From these objects we can piece together a picture of Violet and her childhood in Saffron Walden.

School

An embroidered handkerchief from the trunk

Despite her being frequently ill, Violet’s schoolwork and letters show that she was an intelligent girl with a sense of humour. In a note to her mother she wrote “If you want to know where your safety pins are, look where you told me to put them”, suggesting could get away with being cheeky. Violet was at the top of her class at school, and her writing shows skill and imagination. Included in her possessions are some embroidered items, most likely sewn by Violet in needlework class.

Play

All of Violet’s social arrangements were made by letter, so we know that she often had friends to play with her at home, or that she visited others. She liked collecting things, and the trunk contains packs of cigarette cards, pictures of trains and cut-out paper dolls. There are numerous boxes and tins with handmade peg dolls, small toys and brooches.

Clothing

Violet’s clothing includes dresses, petticoats, underwear, scarves, coats and boots. Violet’s dresses are delicate white embroidered cotton, with lace ribbon and trimming. In contrast, her underwear was made to last heavy duty cotton, with large tucks to allow for growth, and her socks are heavily darned – suggesting that her family was thrifty.

Health

School reports and other documents reveal Violet’s poor health. She was absent from school for long periods, suffering from ear trouble, measles and coughs. In 1919, just a few days before she died, Violet wrote in a notebook “I have had a long illness, and I am not well yet. I had to go to London to a great ear specialist. And soon I have to go to his nursing home…I do not want to go”. Four days later, her mother wrote home from London “Violet got through the operation but is very bad today. They will not tell me much”. Violet died the next day.

Death

Poems about Violet’s death, written by her mother, were left in the trunk along with letters of sympathy, in memoriam cards and photographs of Violet’s coffin and grave.

It has been argued that World War One marked a shift in attitudes towards death, from the Victorian fixation with outward expressions of grief to an attitude in which death was shameful and forbidden. The material in Violet’s trunk seems to represent a society on the cusp of this shift. Whilst the photographs of Violet’s coffin and grave are reminiscent of a Victorian reaction, the family’s mourning is carried out more privately, through letters, diary entries and poems.  In contrast to many Victorian mourning cards which use “died” or “departed from life”, the card announcing Violet’s interment states that she “fell asleep”.

Violet Dix’s trunk and its belongings are a fascinating and deeply personal collection. The museum has welcomed several members of the Dix family and friends to view the collection over recent years. In 1996 a book about Violet’s trunk was published locally, and an exhibition staged at the museum, but the collection has not been displayed since. The book, Violet Dix’s Trunk: Childhood in Saffron Walden, 1910 – 1920 by G. Holman, is available in the museum shop.

 

Abolition reticule

 

This reticule is a beautiful but very delicate object. It is made from unlined pale pink silk with a drawstring at the top. On one side, the image of a seated male slave with his two children has been painted in black. On the reverse, there is a poem entitled ‘The Slaves’ Address to British Ladies’.

The reticule was made in the 1820s by a female campaign group, to raise funds and awareness for the anti-slavery movement. Although Britain officially ended its participation in the slave trade in 1807, slavery continued in the British Empire and in 1823, William Wilberforce formed the Anti-Slavery Society to campaign for the end of slavery in the colonies. Whilst women were allowed to join the society, they could not form part of its leadership, so a group of women in West Bromwich formed their own group, later called the Female Society for Birmingham. Other groups formed across the country and by 1831, there were 73 female organisations campaigning for the immediate and full abolition of slavery

Many of these groups produced objects such as bags, jewellery, prints and pin cushions, decorated with abolitionist emblems, images and text, which were sold or distributed as part of their campaigns. Silk bags and reticules like the one in our collection were filled with campaign pamphlets and newspaper cuttings and distributed to prominent people, including King George IV and Princess Victoria, as well as to other women’s anti-slavery societies.

It is very likely that this reticule was made by the Female Society for Birmingham. It is similar to reticules made by the society in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of London Docklands, the Library of the Religious Society of Friends, and the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum in Washington DC. However, another example matching this particular design has yet to be found.

The reticule is an important part of the Quaker history of Saffron Walden, which was home to some prominent Quaker families such as the Gibsons, Tukes and Frys during the nineteenth century. The abolition movement in Britain was established by the Quakers, who believe that all people are created equal (and therefore one person cannot be owned by another). 

Sadly, the reticule is in a fragile condition and cannot be handled or displayed. We are currently fundraising for conservation work to stabilise the reticule, enabling us to display it in the museum and share its fascinating history. If you would be interested in donating to the fund, please contact us