Category Archives: 2018 Workshops

CfP: Private Textiles and Dress

Workshop and Call for Papers

Private Textiles and Dress: Domestic and Intimate Textiles and Dress in Museums and Historic Houses

Thursday 13 June 2019


European silk socks, 1800-1850, Gift of Martin Kamer, 1985, Image courtesy of

CHORD invites submissions for a workshop that explores private, domestic, intimate and / or secret textiles and dress in museum, historic house, archive and other collections.

Papers focusing on any historical period or geographical area are welcome. We define ‘private’ broadly, and also welcome papers that challenge simple categorisation, including domestic objects or collections that might be intended for public view, or ‘intimate’ items that might also have a political meaning. Both textiles and clothing are of interest, as are all aspects of their acquisition, care, display, interpretation or conservation.

Museum professionals, conservators, archivists, students, academic scholars or anybody with an interest in the topic are warmly invited to submit a proposal. We welcome both experienced and new speakers, including speakers without an institutional affiliation.


Boxed Valentine’s Day Card, British, 1840–99, Gift of Mrs. Richard Riddell, 1981, Image courtesy of

Individual papers are usually 20 minutes in length, followed by 10 minutes for questions and discussion. We also welcome shorter, 10 minute ‘work in progress’ or ‘collection spotlight’ (which aims to draw attention more briefly than in a full paper to a particular item or collection) presentations, also followed by 10 minutes for questions and discussion.

Some of the themes that are of interest include (but are not limited to):

  • Textiles and furnishings for the home
  • Underwear and sleepwear
  • Collecting, conserving and displaying private and domestic items
  • Textiles, dress, intimacy and emotions
  • Unused, stored or hidden garments and textiles
  • Recreating domestic interiors
  • From private to public: house sales, auctions, re-use
  • Secret, ritual or religious textiles

Crib of the Infant Jesus, 15th century, South Netherlandish, Gift of Ruth Blumka, in memory of Leopold Blumka, 1974, image courtesy of

Small bursaries will be available for speakers to subsidise the cost of travel (within the UK) and the workshop fee.

To submit a proposal, please send title and abstract of c.300 to 400 words, specifying whether you are proposing a 10 or a 20 minute presentation to Laura Ugolini, at by 15 March 2019.

If you are unsure whether to submit a proposal or would like to discuss your ideas before submission, you are encouraged to e-mail Laura Ugolini at

The workshop will be held at Wolverhampton University City Campus, a short walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations. Maps and directions are available HERE

For further information, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at:


Pillow from crib of the Infant Jesus, 15th century, South Netherlandish, Gift of Ruth Blumka, in memory of Leopold Blumka, 1974, image courtesy of


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2018 Conference blogs – The Life and Times of 54-56 Fossgate, York

Phil Lyon, Umeå University, Sweden and Dave Kinney,

The Life and Times of 54-56 Fossgate, York


Numbers 54, 55 and 56 Fossgate were for many years the trading premises of the York Army and Navy Stores. The buildings housing the store were much older (c. 1796) with 55 and 56 Grade II listed and 54 listed Grade II* (Historic England, n.d.). The business had started out further down the Fossgate in 1919 and closed in July 2012 with the retirement of the youngest of the original shopkeeper’s grandsons – David Storey (DS). In the final few days of trading we were able to photograph the shop and storage areas, and to talk with the current owner to reflect on the loss of a local landmark.1


In the aftermath of the First World War there had been a flourishing trade selling the tons of army surplus – one of the less-heralded peace dividends.2 The shop had originally serviced the needs of working people – boots, coats, headwear and overalls – in the factories, kitchens and building sites of the town, and the fields of surrounding areas. Items designed and made for military purposes were practical and often of superior quality. New or used, and usually cheap, this was workwear at its best. The business did well, expanded into 54-56 Fossgate. Over the years, it continued to thrive with the army surplus that was abundant once more after the Second World War. As the years went by, the family established branches in Redcar and Scarborough. However, these coastal shops eventually closed as market conditions changed.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the austerity that kept demand alive for affordable workwear slowly gave way to a relative affluence where leisure requirements were also important. Supplies of hiking and camping equipment were a logical development. However, a more innovative venture was the use of surplus RAF oxygen tanks for the leisure diving market. The offshoot store in Scarborough sold flippers, masks, wetsuits and tanks to meet a demand that few other retailers addressed: ‘Me and my brother did a lot of scuba diving and spear fishing … and we were in on that in the very early days … because that was just coming in. The early scuba tanks were out of World War Two bombers, you know the big air cylinders that used to … oxygen … and the thing then was there was nobody who sold it … we ended up mixing stuff, selling flippers and masks, snorkels and their cylinders and such and everything that goes with it … and that went on for quite a few years … 5 or 6 years’. (DS interview) With the growth of leisure activities there had been a successful exploitation of new opportunities but, in later decades, it had been harder to compete.

By 2012, retail prospects had changed rather more than the premises at 54-56 Fossgate. Two of the shop fronts dated to the 1950s and the third was older. In fact, the relatively unchanged nature of the premises was both an asset and a liability. Shop window display, counter service, and the associated storage of most goods in drawers and on shelves was a lingering reminder of what had been commonplace when the business started, and not uncommon even in the 1970s. The popular ITV television series Heartbeat (IMDB, 2018), set in the 1960s, used the shop for filming in 2002 because it offered a period setting for one episode (The Press, 2002). Similarly, some customers enjoyed the authentically old-fashioned retail experience. ‘We could have modernized, but we kept the museum effect because the tourists like it and customers like it. A lot of people have told us not to change it, he said’ (The Press, 2012).


Although nostalgia can be effective both as a marketing strategy and a distinguishing feature for some retailers, it is not a panacea. Circumstances were changing for the practical everyday retailing that had made the shop successful. ‘The trading in the town has dropped dramatically over the years. I mean I’ve seen it. We’ve got quite a lot of tourists in, but they don’t really spend anything. These out-of-town places, they’re giving me a real bashing’ (DS Interview).




Behind the Scenes

Supporting the counter-based retail areas had been the largely-unchanged upstairs rooms. Where there had once been three separate premises, there was now a continuous link between the upper stories of 54, 55 and 56 Fossgate. Storage, there and in the cellars, was important because retail display space was limited and some items were seasonal so needed to be brought out or put away as circumstances demanded.





The emphasis in these ‘backstage’ areas was utility and shelving was often made from whatever was available – a trend that went back to the original owner who at one time had described himself as a joiner. ‘I mean he never served any time; his joinery work is still … in evidence … and I don’t think he’d have made a living as a joiner’ (DS interview).






After so many years of trading, several display items had been put by for potential advertising use at some future date – even if that was never realized.







Short term and long term perspectives

The York Army & Navy Stores had been a successful supplier of workwear over the years but that market changed with the decline of manufacturing jobs, health and safety legislation, and direct competition from manufacturers for end-user sales. Reduced footfall along the Fossgate and the attractions of out-of-town and online shopping were additional problems. With the imminent retirement of the youngest grandson as catalyst, the business was closing in 2012. In spite of the difficult trading conditions, there were hopes of finding a clothing retailer to take over the premises but these efforts were to fail. Almost inevitably, in the eyes of local residents, a new bar and restaurant (Sutler’s) was to open there (The Press, 2014, 2015a). It is easy to understand and sympathize with adverse local reactions (The Press, 2015b). Something familiar, even if little used, was to be lost. The question of what 54-56 Fossgate was to become took longer to answer and, reflecting changed times, it was to become Sutler’s bar/restaurant. Some questioned the need for more bars and restaurants on a street where such ventures were already well represented.

However, even with a 93 year old business, such adverse reactions represent the perspective from a single point in history. Over time, the premises at 54-56 Fossgate had actually been the home to many different enterprises – including being part of a substantial local property portfolio and indications that rooms above one of the shops were let out.

Table 1 – Timeline for 54, 55 and 56 Fossgate

Tables 2 and 3 – Newspaper advertisements placed by occupants of 54 Fossgate and Newspaper reports of Fossgate property sales

In the public announcement of closure, there were voices of concern about the number of bars, cafés and restaurants already in the area but adapting to consumer markets that emerge has been part of a continuous cycle for these premises for more than 200 years. Undoubtedly there would have been some adverse reactions to any of those changes of use in earlier decades. However, there is a twist in this change of use from shop to bar/restaurant.

In this closure, it is not simply the replacement of one enterprise with another. Quite starkly, we see different representations of the past – from the simply old-fashioned, a survival of the past into the present, to the re-imagined past – ‘involving as it does a contemporary orientation towards the past rather than just the survival of old things’ (Wright, 1985, 229). The new bar/restaurant, Sutler’s, contrived to look old and well-established in the 54-56 Fossgate premises – much older than the shop fronts it replaced. The new bar/restaurant façade could be Victorian but the interior was anachronously described as being themed on the 1920s and 1930s. The original counter and some decorative drawer fronts added a sense of indeterminate age and an imagined location. Oddly, considering the austerity of Second World War food rationing, it was reported that ‘Sutlers’ menu evokes wartime. It is designed like a ration book and has a section called Officers Mess featuring dishes such as sirloin steak, rump of lamb and Yorkshire beef, with prices from £13 to £23 for main courses’ (The Press, 2015a).

Commercial ventures had come and gone in 54, 55 and 56 Fossgate but the Army and Navy premises had been there so long it became a well-known reference point in this part of York. As David Storey said, ‘Even if we sell the shop, people will [still] say “On the Army and Navy Store’s corner” ’ (DS interview).  Perhaps that will be true while memories last but, in this transition from the genuinely old fashioned to the fashionably aged, ‘sometimes the authentic trace of history is precisely what just has to go’ (Wright, 1985, 231).


1 In addition to the recorded interviews, photography and traditional library searches, the British Newspaper Archive ( ) was used to search for references to Fossgate.

2 Although stock is generically described as army surplus it is better described as military surplus. In later years most of the stock was manufactured for the retail trade.


Historic England (n.d.). (accessed 2 September 2018).

IMDB (2018). Heartbeat. URL (accessed 28 July 2018).

Kelly’s York Directory (1901). Available at (accessed 23 April 2018).

Pigot’s Directory York (1829). Available at (accessed 23 April 2018).

Stevens’ Directory of York and Neighbourhood (1885). London: George Stevens.

The Press (2002). Heartbeat star draws crowds. 9 July. Available at: (accessed 2 September 2018).

The Press (2012). Army & Navy Stores up for sale after 93 years. 5 May. Available at: (accessed 2 September 2018).

The Press (2014). Famous York shop to become brasserie, bar and coffee house. 14 April. Available at: (accessed 2 September 2018).

The Press (2015a). York’s former Army and Navy Stores transformed into new bar and restaurant. 28 March. Available at: (accessed 2 September 2018).

The Press (2015b). LETTERS: York city centre doesn’t need any more bars or restaurants. 5 December.  Available at: (accessed 2 September 2018).

White’s Directory of York and Neighbourhood (7th edition) (1895) Sheffield: William White Ltd.

Wright, P. (1985). On Living in an Old Country. London: Verso.

Phil Lyon is Affiliate Professor in the Department of Food and Nutrition at Umeå University in Sweden. His long-standing research interest is in food and social change and publications include the advent of food broadcasting and the early days of food journalism; the transition from small food shops to supermarkets; the historical impact of the canned food industry; current and historical discourses on cooking skills, and picnics in the 1930s.

David Kinney has been working as a professional photographer and educator for more than 20 years. In education he has taught on highly successful photography degree programmes in the UK and in Russia. Professionally, he has worked with major companies as well as small and medium size businesses with commissions ranging from jewellery and food to the commercial, industrial and architectural. Focusing on conservation of the built environment, many projects explore our architectural heritage from ancient Rome to post war modernist iconic structures. At present he works between Andalucia in Spain and the UK.

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2018 Conference blogs – Glass Blocks and the Fashion Retail Space of the 1930s and 40s

Myriam Couturier, (Ryerson and York Universities, Toronto, Canada)

Glass Blocks and the Fashion Retail Space of the 1930s and 40s

This project examines American fashion retail architecture in the 1930s and 1940s using as a starting point a specific architectural element: the glass block. Through an analysis of articles published in the influential American trade publication Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) between 1936 and 1949, I explored how glass blocks were part of a wave of building modernization – which included precise light and colour elements, as well as modern amenities such as air conditioning and escalators – that transformed the fashion retail experience during the Depression, World War II, and the immediate post-war years.

Popularized in the 1930s, glass blocks were seen as a functional and versatile way to light commercial buildings both during the day and at night. As detailed by architectural historian Gabrielle Esperdy in her book Modernizing Main Street, in 1934 the US Federal Housing Administration passed the National Housing Act, which included a “Modernize Main Street” initiative. This project insured private lenders for building improvement projects (both residential and non-residential) that would help stimulate the economy during the Depression. In the next ten years $5 billion dollars were spent, and lent, in order to revitalize existing retail spaces. Esperdy examines how shop facades in small town Main Streets across the country were renovated through this program, using glass, stainless steel and other ‘streamlined’ architectural materials, with the idea of appealing primarily to female shoppers (1). In line with Esperdy’s analysis, the WWD articles I surveyed consistently mentioned the use of glass bricks as a new, modern material for storefronts, but also as a key decorative selling point inside the stores.

Beginning in the 1910s, corporations became increasingly interested in the effects of light and colour on human perception, psychology and consumption. Ahead of the New York World’s Fair, in 1938, a WWD commentator predicted that the “subtle use of light and color may advantageously be extended throughout practically all departments of a store, as an aid in the creation of a desire for things, not because we actually need them, but because we want them for what they are.” (2) In that spirit, in the 1930s and 40s, glass blocks were often combined with stainless steel or chrome finishes, fluorescent lighting, and carefully selected colours in pink, natural, and pastel tones, to create an optimal shopping environment for women. Glass blocks were used to engineer a new kind of lighting that presented products in a flattering way, with minimal distortion of colour and design. A piece goods buyer for the Indianapolis department store Wasson’s claimed, in 1938, that glass brick lighting had increased sales of silks and rayons at the store, stating: “the department has benefited greatly from the new lighting arrangement […] Wide strips of semi-transparent glass brick, running from top to bottom of the floor, and continuous from the roof to the first floor of the building, admit much more daylight than was formerly available, send the light farther into the interior, and aid in the matching of fabrics, and the consequent increase of sales.” (3) (Fig. 1)


Fig. 1 – Former Wasson’s department store, Indianapolis, IN (March 2018). Author’s own photograph

It was often argued that glass bricks provided a better, softer version of daylight, one that actually enhanced the beauty of various products, from swimwear to furs. WWD constantly praised the way daylight now bathed, even flooded, these renovated shopping spaces. It is crucial to note however that this light – described variously as “a maximum daylight effect”, “direct daylight” and “natural outdoor light” – was never entirely natural, as these spaces were often precisely light conditioned. Glass bricks were commonly used in dressing rooms as well, providing flattering lighting for both garments and the body itself.

Glass blocks were useful for admitting daylight but they also served an important window display function after hours. In 1938, commenting on new colour trends in storefronts, WWD pointed out that already “[f]requent use has been made of glass blocks in decorative panels, which become effective display media when illuminated at night.” (4) Another article described how glass brick panels, combined with fluorescent lighting strips, could even reproduce the “directional effect of sunlight” at nighttime. (5) The combination of cathode and fluorescent lighting with glass brick panels was often used as a way to add dynamic, visual interest to store displays in a streamlined, cost-effective way.

One glass brick wall could act as different backdrops depending on which coloured lights were projected above or behind it. WWD often discussed glass blocks with a sense of stylish motion, describing attractive ‘ribbons of light’ dancing and floodlights ‘playing’ behind them. The journal also recalled a high-end women’s shop in Harrisburg, PA, being “illuminated by flood lights, so that behind the glass brick walls countless thousands of diamonds seemed to twinkle.” (6) In both high-end and more affordable shops, softly lit glass blocks were installed to pleasantly reconfigure the shopping space. They were used to create warm, inviting nooks and corners within stores; they also elegantly concealed things like radio-phonographs, sales booths, fitting rooms, alteration rooms and executive offices from shoppers.

Figure 2 - Glass blocks

Fig. 2 – A.N. Finn, Chief of the glass section of the US Bureau of Standards, inspects panels of glass blocks before testing, June 20, 1938. Photograph by Harris & Ewing. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (7)

Glass bricks provided light and a sense of openness but importantly, they also defined and closed off space. In 1937 one executive observed that glass blocks allowed shops to be well-lit, even when they were located on streets with undesirable views. Following the growing popularity of swimwear and sportswear during this period, shop décor often evoked physical activity, the outdoors, and natural landscapes – with painted murals, plants, and specific colour schemes, it helped replicate the outside world, but located it firmly within the sealed off, air conditioned comfort of the retail space. Glass blocks, used with the proper lighting, could also help recreate a variety of weather conditions. After a visit to the 1936 Chrysler Motor Car exhibition building in Austin, TX, WWD suggested that “blocks of ‘moire’ pattern, immediately have the cooling influence suggested by their icy simulation.” Paired with large deep blue mirror sheets, they gave an impression of “marine coolness.” Such techniques, the article argued, could be especially useful to fur retailers: “This adherence to the cool dark blue and the natural white glass is definitely recommended to the notice of fur manufacturers for their showrooms since they make their most important efforts in showing merchandise during the warmest months of the year.” (8)

As much as retailers tried to frame these new design touches as thoroughly modern and original, even unique to each store, they became a standardized template used all across the country, from big cities to small Midwestern towns. By 1949, one WWD author declared: “I’ve seen so much glass brick, chromium, free form tables and carpeting sections, so many intricate floral arrangements that I’ve begun to believe there isn’t a store left in Texas or Oklahoma which hasn’t been bitten by the expansion and modernization bug.” (9) Just as contemporary fashion advertised the ideas of simplifying and streamlining – in the 1930s and 40s magazines like Vogue promoted ‘restrained design,’ rational consumption, and uncomplicated (yet stylish) clothes produced at lower price points using the latest technological developments in cut and fabric (10) – WWD actively extended this discourse into the architecture of the shopping space itself. Glass blocks were a cost-effective, mass-produced tool for retailers to sell products and organize their spaces; yet, just like the fashions they displayed, they were presented as being fully modern, versatile, and functionally elegant.


  1. Gabrielle Esperdy, Modernizing Main Street: Architecture and Consumer Culture in the New Deal (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 3, 7, 162-63.
  2. Donald L. Pratt, “New York World’s Fair Under Microscopes Of Trend Detectors,” Women’s Wear Daily, 8 September 1938, SII12, SII13, SII24.
  3. “Well-Trained Salesforce Is Keystone Of Wasson’s Success In Selling Fabrics By The Yard,” Women’s Wear Daily, 21 February 1938, 8.
  4. “Use Of Color In Store Fronts Noteworthy Trend: Swing Toward Color,” Women’s Wear Daily, 28 December 1938, SII68.
  5. Julietta B. Kahn, “Retail Executive: Demonstrate Effect of Lights on Merchandise: Lighting to Give Seasonal Effects,” Women’s Wear Daily, 8 August 1945, 27.
  6. “The Customers’ Room,” Women’s Wear Daily, 14 March 1938, 6.
  7. Harris & Ewing, photographer. Bureau of Standards making extensive tests of glass building blocks. Washington, D.C., June 20. Hollow glass building blocks are being used more and more extensively for structural purposes when both greater light distribution and air conditioning are required. Extensive tests to determine the strength of glass block walls and their resistance to wind pressure and moisture penetration. A.N. Finn, Chief of the glass section, is inspecting some 8 x 4 feet panels before they are tested, 6/20/38. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.
  8. “Texas Marches On: Color On Parade,” Women’s Wear Daily, 10 June 1936, 2, 28.
  9. “Cutting Corners,” Women’s Wear Daily, 25 October 1949, 1.
  10. See Rebecca Arnold, The American Look: Fashion, Sportswear and the Image of Women in 1930s and 1940s New York (London; New York: I.B. Tauris, 2009).

Myriam Couturier is a PhD student in the joint Communication and Culture program at Ryerson and York Universities (Toronto, Canada). Her work focuses on the relationship between fashion, gender, material, and visual culture. Her doctoral dissertation examines historical collections of twentieth-century clothing and printed fashion ephemera in Toronto, focusing on the spaces where fashion has been produced, consumed and performed in the city.

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2018 Conference blogs – BCLM: Forging Ahead: recreating a post-war Black Country high street at the Black Country Living Museum

Simon Briercliffe, Black Country Living Museum

BCLM: Forging Ahead: recreating a post-war Black Country high street at the Black Country Living Museum

Black Country Living Museum’s current Forging Ahead project is an ambitious plan to build a new 1940s-1960s town centre and industrial area at our site in Dudley, based on real lives and real stories. The research to date has thrown up numerous stories which show how architecture and material culture were formed by, and in turn informed, the everyday lives of residents in the Black Country. This post highlights the story of a record and music shop in Dudley town centre to discuss the evolution of class, gender and taste in post-war Britain.

James Stanton founded a piano-tuning business in 1870, moving swiftly into piano and harmonium sales to capitalise on burgeoning middle-class aspirations in an otherwise working-class region. Stanton opened a shop on Dudley’s Castle Street in 1895 and was well established by the time Stanton’s daughter-in-law Florence Stanton took over as director in 1932. Under the management of Jimmy Nash, they expanded into gramophones, radios and records, though they still specialised in pianos – a 1937 payment book in our collection shows the careful instalments with which a furnaceman, Harry Hobbs, saved for a piano for his son Dennis. Stanton’s was thus well-placed to serve the new prosperity of the Black Country post-World War Two, and diversified further. A team of engineers travelled the area providing after-care, and visually-impaired piano tuners were employed by the shop to tune pianos they had sold. Records for Dudley’s rock’n’roll-conscious youth and hymnbooks for its churchgoers lined the shelves, alongside pianos, other musical instruments, tape recorders, radiograms, televisions – and record players.

Stantons [Dudley pst427]

Stanton’s music shop, Castle Street, Dudley, in the early 1950s.  (c) Dudley Archives and Local History Service, Castle Street, Dudley, October 1957 pst/427.

The Black Country was one of the highest-paid manufacturing districts in the country. Its factories were turning out millions of components and consumer items, which the area’s working class were now in a position to buy. The boom industry was car components – the famous Beans foundry nearby in Tipton could produce 500 tons of castings a week – but everything from buses to washing machines were built there too. One of the firms that took advantage of this was Birmingham Sound Reproducers (BSR). Despite the name – a Black Country resident never admits to being from Birmingham – the firm was founded in a workshop on Perry Park Road, Old Hill, just four miles from Dudley, formerly used to manufacture bellows for the nailmaking industry. Its founder, Dr Daniel McDonald was an electronics expert and this came to fruition in the early 1950s when he offered his new automatic turntable changer to J. & A. Margolin Ltd. and suggested a name for their record player: the “Dansette.”


1958 Dansette Major Deluxe, donated to the Black Country Living Museum in March 2018. The record player features a BSR UA8 auto-changing turntable, loaded with records purchased from Stanton’s in 1958.

Morris Margolin emigrated from Russia to London and was working as a cabinet maker when he built a record player attached to a wireless set – the first radiogram. The Dansette was in a different league though: it was affordable, portable, and immensely popular with the newly-affluent working-class teenager, and its BSR autochanger was key to its success. As Tom Perchard has noted recently they were a symbol of personal taste, from musical to aesthetic, and served to differentiate teenagers’ musical worlds from the more genteel tastes of their parents’ generation.[1] BSR soon expanded into a huge factory at Old Hill and another at Wollaston, near Stourbridge. They were a well-known employer of women on the assembly line, emphasising those blurred ties between work, home and leisure noted by Stephen Brooke.[2] Even today, it’s rare to find someone born in these towns whose mum, nan or auntie didn’t work at “the BSR” at some point. Their employability was directly related to regional and national economies, the industry of the Black Country tied up intimately with national and global cultural changes.

Although the building became tired and was replaced by a new flagship store in 1961, Stanton’s had proved highly adaptable during its tenure in Dudley. From pianos and organs, they had met a changing market and become the place to go to hear the latest 45s, and to buy the Dansette to play them on. But where pianos had been evidence of the aspiration of the working class to take on middle-class Victorian values, these record players represented the changing social status and purchasing power of the British working class. Stanton’s, BSR and the Dansette were thus emblematic of the post-Second World War Black Country, demonstrating both the changes and continuities of local cultures of work, taste and gender in the era. The record player will take pride of place in a recreated Stanton’s to explain this kind of history.

Black Country Living Museum is still searching for memories of Stanton’s in the 1950s. Please contact the Collections team on, or 0121 557 9643.

[1] Tom Perchard, ‘Technology, Listening and Historical Method: Placing Audio in the Post-War British Home’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association 142, no. 2 (3 July 2017): 367–399.

[2] Stephen Brooke, ‘Gender and Working Class Identity in Britain during the 1950s’, Journal of Social History 34, no. 4 (2001): 773–95.

Simon Briercliffe is a historical researcher at Black Country Living Museum, working on the HLF-funded Forging Ahead project which aims to tell the history of the Black Country in the post-war period. He is also a doctoral researcher at the University of Birmingham, researching space and Irish immigration in Victorian Wolverhampton.

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2018 Conference blogs – The Invention of a Boer Home Industries

Laura Breen (University of Huddersfield), Helen Dampier (Leeds Beckett University) and Rebecca Gill (University of Huddersfield)

The Invention of a Boer Home Industries

Our interest in the philanthropist and pacifist Emily Hobhouse (1860-1926) initially came through her extensive and fascinating collection of letters, newly deposited at the Bodleian Library (now online).  For the first year of our project, our noses were buried in the archive, rummaging through Hobhouse’s scrapbooks, her reports and her correspondence.  One of the first stories we uncovered was Hobhouse’s attempts to set up a Boer Home Industries school in South Africa after the South African War (1899-1902).  This was Hobhouse’s scheme to replenish artefacts such as blankets and rugs lost in the farm burnings, to create employment for Boer women, and “to draw together the broken threads as only one known by both sides can do, and place them in official hands to weave the web of peace” [Hobhouse to Smuts, 29 October 1917].  Spinning and weaving had no indigenous history in South Africa.  Hobhouse thus attempted to invent a heritage for the Boer people, using imported antique Swiss spinning wheels from her supporters in Geneva and Basle to do so.  Her project was quickly taken up by Boer leaders who were attempting to overcome the divisions in Boer society and were embracing cultural nationalism as part of becoming the ‘Afrikaners’.  Later the original Spinning and Weaving Schools were expanded to include lace production (the lace school was founded on the de Wet farm at Koppies, where items still exist in the retirement home there).  This was run by Lucia Starace, recruited in Italy by Hobhouse to establish the lace school (and whose family’s textile business, De Viti De Marco, is now the subject of a project by Elena Laurenzi at the University of Salento).


‘Boer tweed’, HH/MCG/130. Courtesy of the  Alfred Gillett Trust

In tracking down the story of these textiles in the UK, our first calling point was Street in Somerset, where the archive of the Clark family is stored in old Clark shoe boxes and where there is preserved a natural-dye jacket belonging to Margaret Clark Gillett, Hobhouse’s assistant at the Boer Home Industries School in Philippolis.  Textile curator Judeth Saunders (also in attendance at CHORD this time) opened out the jacket to show the higgledy piggledy hand-stitched seams and the ridges on the jacket’s sleeve head which meant that Margaret Clark Gillett would always have worn this jacket slightly misaligned and ill-fitting.  This prompted the immediate question of why she would have worn such a jacket and wished to keep it.  Out of this has evolved an interest in the value of the homespun aesthetic and the politics of crafting – and it is this interest which brought us to the CHORD workshop in June this year.


Margaret Clark Gillett Boer Home Industries jacket, HH/MCG/128. Courtesy of the Alfred Gillett Trust


Margaret Clark Gillett Boer Home Industries jacket, detail, HH/MCG/128. Courtesy of the Alfred Gillett Trust

At the workshop we learnt from Hannah Rumball at the University of Brighton, who is working on Quaker bonnets of Elizabeth Pettipher Cash, that the Quakers had an ethics of plain dress and a tradition of refusing to wear dyed clothing, helping to make sense of the unadorned, humble textiles made by the Boer Home Industries and worn by Margaret Clark Gillett and her fellow Quakers in solidarity with Hobhouse’s ethics of production and her vision of Boer self-sufficiency and independence following the war.  The theme of the workshop – ‘Ordinary and Everyday Textiles and Dress’ –  was also illustrated by Helen Wyld in her paper on Samplers from Scotland in which she read these textiles as texts of women’s lives and the hidden history of people whose stories have not traditionally been written down.  Time and again at the workshop our attention was drawn to the ways in which textiles can be read as artefacts of social, and particularly women’s history, in ways that resonate with our own concerns to uncover the meaning of the design and production of Hobhouse’s textiles and their links to her informal politicking and her place in the cultural history of South African nationalisms.  No better symbol of this was Jan Smuts (Colonial Secretary for the independent Transvaal) overcoming the itchiness of Hobhouse’s homespun tweed to parade in public in a Home Industries suit.

We have just returned from a visit to South Africa where we were fortunate to meet textile curators AnneMarie Carelson and Sudre Havenga, and weaver and teacher Carla Wasserthal, who told us about the collections of Hobhouse textiles in the National Museum in Bloemfontein – textiles which the letters in the Clark archive in Street show had been collected by Trudi Kestell for her textile gallery at the National Museum in the 1950s.  This prompted further questions about the curatorial history of Hobhouse’s textiles, how they were exhibited and by whom, and the uses to which they were put as part of the Afrikaner nationalist project.  AnneMarie, Sudre and Carla are looking for contextual information of the type of wool used, where it was sourced, the kind of dye and the specificities of production – clues which we hope to provide from reading the letters between Margaret Clark Gillett and Hobhouse – and would welcome advice on.

These interests have come together in the next iteration of the project which will be a conference in the Spring/ Summer of 2019, on Humanitarian Arts and Crafts, held in Huddersfield in conjunction with the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (University of Manchester) and aimed at exploring how humanitarians and humanitarian organisations have favoured, and encouraged, the production of artisanal products and ‘folk’ artwork over the past 100 years and more.  We can think of no better illustration than the ethnic pieces on sale in most Oxfam shops today.


Oxfam Shop, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, May 2018

We welcome expressions of interest to join us to explore these artefacts from anyone working in the fields of textile history, heritage or the history of humanitarianism, or currently involved in craft projects for humanitarian organisations.  We are also keen to hear about any collections of Boer Home Industries textiles still in existence in museums or private collections.

Please contact

See also:

Bodleian online catalogue of Emily Hobhouse collection

Alfred Gillett Trust

National Museum of South Africa, Bloemfontein

Elena Laurenzi project

Laura Breen is the Impact Support Officer for the School of Music, Humanities and Media at the University of Huddersfield. She works with researchers across the School to develop partnerships, projects and activities that will help to shape life beyond academia. Prior to this, Laura worked in the museums sector for many years, managing collections of social and military history and decorative and fine arts. Her doctoral thesis, which explored the link between contemporary ceramic practice, museum practice and public policy, will be published by Bloomsbury later this year. She is currently undertaking further research into craft, identity and community building.

Helen Dampier is based at Leeds Beckett University, UK. Her background is in South African history and her previous research projects have focused on women’s accounts of the 1899-1902 South African War, and on the letters of Olive Schreiner. As part of the Emily Hobhouse Letters Project team she is particularly interested in Hobhouse’s role as collector, editor and publisher of women’s wartime testimonies, and in the commemoration of Hobhouse in South Africa.

Rebecca Gill works on the history of humanitarianism. She is particularly interested in relief work in twentieth-century war, and in women’s activism. As part of the Emily Hobhouse project team, she is researching Hobhouse’s work in Germany following the First World War. She is based at the University of Huddersfield, UK.

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2018 Conference blogs – Early 20th Century Co-op Store Architecture: Design by Committee?

Lynn Pearson, Independent scholar

Early 20th Century Co-op Store Architecture: Design by Committee?

Modern Co-op food stores are a familiar part of our townscape, with their blue (formerly green) logo, but their predecessors – especially those built in the early twentieth century – have an intriguing design history. The local co-operative societies which owned those stores had full responsibility for deciding on their design, so how can we find out what was actually happening during this design process over a century ago? And indeed, should a co-operatively owned shop look just like any other shop (figure 1)?

Pearson blog Fig 1

Fig 1 A typical co-op branch store around 1910. It was built for the Yiewsley and West Drayton Co-operative Society in west London, and looks rather smart with its large plate glass windows and glazed brickwork. Note the window display, crammed with Christmas crackers and own-brand Co-operative Wholesale Society goods. Postcard in author’s own collection.


First, a little bit of background: the retail or consumer co-operative movement really got going after 1844, when the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers opened their original shop. It wasn’t the first co-operative store, and theirs certainly wasn’t the first co-operative society, but Rochdale were first to set up a membership system which functioned well and was copied by thousands of societies elsewhere. It ensured that all profits went to the membership, in the form of a dividend – the famous ‘divi’ – paid twice or more a year as a percentage of purchases made at the store. This template was so successful that by the end of the 1880s there were around 2,000 co-op stores in England, the number rising to about 4,500 in 1914.

Some societies remained small, with just the one shop, others grew to have over a hundred branches as well as large central premises, sited close to where the majority of the society’s members lived. One significant difference between these shops and those of commercial traders was the frequent inclusion of a community space in the design, usually a hall above the store. Education formed part of the remit of co-operative societies, and the halls could be used for all sorts of educational purposes as well as entertainment venues. Externally the hall was often recognisable by its double-height windows. The early stores had no universal brand identity, but often exhibited a degree of co-operative symbolism, usually reliefs of a wheatsheaf, beehive or clasped hands, all indications of strength through unity and working together (figure 2).

Pearson blog Fig 2

Fig 2 A high relief terracotta beehive – in fact a coiled straw skep – seen high on the facade of Droylsden Industrial Co-operative Society’s 1911 central premises in east Manchester. Author’s photograph.


The shops were owned by the generally working class members who, through their society’s democratically elected committee structure, had responsibility for financing, commissioning, design and construction. Societies usually had a range of committees for specific purposes, and the Building Committee is the one which interests us most in terms of shop design. In my research on the architecture of the co-op movement, I haven’t yet come across any female Building Committee members prior to the First World War. We know that by 1910, when 1,561 societies were operating, there were 49 women on main management committees, although over 300 women then served on education committees.1 Many skilled tradesmen were co-op members, and it is highly likely that several from the building trades found themselves on Building Committees, where at that time, before large stores became much more complex in regard to service systems, they could keep a well-trained eye on the details of construction work.

As to design, the committee could choose to use the services of their own building departments or find a professional architect. Occasionally societies ran architectural competitions, but more often they simply chose a local architect; several societies maintained a long-term relationship with a particular architectural practice. Another option was to use the Architects’ Department established by the federal body, the Co-operative Wholesale Society, in 1897.

The difficulty for any researcher concerned with the minutiae of the shop design process is finding reliable evidence. Opening day reports in the local or co-operative press, while verbose, tend to be uniformly positive and reveal little. The same may be said for the published histories of societies. This leaves the minutes (where surviving) of co-operative societies as the main source; they vary from simple lists of actions to be taken to an occasional – and very welcome – blow-by-blow account of proceedings.

I think we can be reasonably confident that members of Building Committees generally took their duties seriously; a few examples of the evidence follow. Back in 1888, a Scunthorpe committee member is recorded as discussing excavation of foundations for the new central stores with the building contractor.2 When considering shop modifications in 1904, Droylsden’s Building Committee ‘went thoroughly into the question of altering and enlarging No 2 Branch Grocery Department’ and gave highly detailed recommendations as to changes in plan and flooring.3 In 1910, during construction of a branch of the Annfield Plain society in nearby Chopwell ‘The committee endeavoured to keep themselves well informed on the progress made in the erection of the premises, and insisted on the architect visiting the place every other day and render a monthly report of the progress of the work’.4 In fact these committees were acting as what we would now call project managers.

But when it comes to the actual design of premises, evidence is even harder to come by, and at present I can only offer a single example: the design of Birmingham Co-operative Society’s new city centre store, which was overseen by their New Central Premises Committee from 1912.5 The minutes record that in February 1912 they considered holding an architectural competition, contacted the Leeds and Bradford societies who had run similar contests, and also asked a London architect for advice. He said ‘Competitive work frequently looks well on paper but is generally not equal to non-competitive work, which may not look quite so well.’ So they abandoned the idea of a competition, and instead asked the Birmingham Society of Architects (the local professional body) to nominate some of their members who might be interested in the commission.

Ten were recommended, which the committee reduced to five before adding two of their own suggestions including local co-operator and arts-and-crafts architect Francis Andrews, who had already designed a branch for another Birmingham society. The committee then looked at plans of recent central premises elsewhere, and made visits to some of these as well as inspecting buildings designed by some of the recommended architects. In addition, they paid a visit to the office of Francis Andrews. The exhaustive process continued until Andrews was appointed in July 1912. Somehow this does not come as a surprise, but perhaps the committee wished to be seen as thorough.

In January 1913 Andrews submitted plans for the new store, which the committee considered and altered, the first of many alterations they made. By October they were considering building materials; Andrews suggested they should inspect local buildings featuring elevations in three materials. These were stone (the Boots store), terracotta (the Society of Artists gallery) and carrara (the Picture House cinema); carrara was a relatively new marble-like ceramic facing. The discussion of elevations is the nearest the committee came to talking about the style of the new building. The three structures they inspected were very different: solid, respectable, establishment stone; the local arts-and-crafts favourite terracotta and the more excitingly modern carrara.

When Andrews submitted designs for the elevation in January 1914, it transpired that the committee had chosen a blend of respectability and modernity, the Portland stone and granite elevation having a dynamic appearance akin to the Picture House facade. The plans were approved by the local authority in April 1914 and after many delays the store opened in September 1916.6 The committee had spent well over two years finding an architect, then discussing and modifying the plans. We must, I think, view the final design as a joint effort, and in this case – where the architect was a co-op member – a co-operative collaboration.

More evidence for the evolution of co-op store design must lie in the as yet unseen minutes of other societies. However, it is clear that unusually for a working class group, the co-op members were able to exert some influence over the appearance of the built environment in which they lived.


1 Co-operative News, 16 July 1910, p. 919.

2 Arthur Ginns, Jubilee History of the Scunthorpe Mutual Co-operative and Industrial Society Limited (Manchester, 1924), p. 33.

3 Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre, DD264/68, Droylsden Industrial Co-operative Society.

4 Thomas Ross and Andrew Stoddart, Jubilee History of the Annfield Plain Industrial Co-operative Society Ltd, 1870 to 1920 (Manchester, 1921), p. 71.

5 National Co-operative Archive, MID/1/1/2/1/24/1-2, Birmingham Co-operative Society, New Central Premises Committee Minutes.

6 It was demolished during post-Second Word War redevelopment of Birmingham’s city centre.

Dr Lynn Pearson, an independent architectural historian, is currently completing a book on the architecture of the English co-operative movement (for publication by Historic England in 2020). Her book on breweries, published by English Heritage, won the Association for Industrial Archaeology’s 2015 award for outstanding scholarship. Amongst her other books are works on modern public art, and Tyneside’s sporting architecture.


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Workshop – Textiles and Dress from Below: Ordinary and Everyday Textiles and Dress in Museums and Historic Houses

CI41.58.25 Apron 3

American cotton apron, 1855-9, Gift of The Misses Faith and Delia Leavens, 1941, Image courtesy of

University of Wolverhampton, UK
7 June 2018

Room MC228, Millennium City Building

To register, please complete the registration form available here (The link will take you to the University of Wolverhampton’s E-store)

Please scroll down for Programme, Abstracts and Further information


10.00 – 10.30 Registration and refreshments

Chair: Laura Ugolini, University of Wolverhampton

10.30 – 11.00 Katina Bill, Kirklees Museums and Galleries

A Shoddy Business? The Recycled Woollen Industry in the Nineteenth Century

11.00 – 11.30 Helen Wyld, National Museums Scotland

Everyday lives: Samplers from Scotland, 1720-1870

11.30 – 12.00 Valerie Wilson, National Museums Northern Ireland

Breeches, Boots and Bedcovers: interpreting the everyday and ordinary in an open air museum

12.00 – 12.30 Hannah Rumball, University of Brighton

“It makes us cringe these days”: Killerton House National Trust and the alteration of Elizabeth Pettipher Cash’s Everyday Quaker bonnets

12.30 – 13.30 LUNCH

Chair: Alison Toplis, University of Wolverhampton

13.30 – 14.00 Ruth Singer, Artist in Residence Staffordshire Record Office

Criminal Quilts

14.00 – 14.30 Carol Circuit, Bucks New University

Developing Social History from Material Evidence

14.30 – 15.00 Bethan Bide, Middlesex University

One dress, multiple stories: everyday fashion objects as sites for narrating overlapping and speculative biographies in museums

15.00- 15.30 COFFEE

Chair: Ian Mitchell, University of Wolverhampton

15.30 – 15.50 Ten-minute work-in-progress presentation:

Rebecca Gill, University of Huddersfield and Helen Dampier, Leeds Beckett University

The Invention of a Boer Home Industries: Emily Hobhouse and the Creation and Preservation of a South African ‘Textiles from Below’

15.50 – 16.20 Rebecca Shawcross, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery

Concealed Shoes: The ordinary or the extraordinary on display?

16.20 – 16.50 Vivienne Richmond, Goldsmiths, University of London

Text-iles for the Poor

1989.144 Apron
British silk apron, early 1840s, Purchase, Martin and Caryl Horwitz Gift, 1989, Image courtesy of


Bethan Bide, Middlesex University, One dress, multiple stories: everyday fashion objects as sites for narrating overlapping and speculative biographies in museums

Growing interest in the use of historical garments to tell biographical stories has provided a welcome turn towards questions of fashionable experience. However, the everyday experiences of ordinary participants in the fashion system – such as garment workers and non-elite wearers of inexpensive clothing – are still often overlooked. Much of this omission stems from the difficulty of uncovering these stories through existing material objects since information about such people is often lost over time and rarely exists in collection records. Acquisition records naturally privilege the biographies of well-known designers and public figures, since donors or sellers are unlikely to know much about ordinary makers or wearers that shaped an object’s history before the point of last purchase. This ignores many of the transformational processes undergone by the material object up to the point of sale.

This paper poses a provocation for fashion scholars and museum curators to look beyond written biographical information when researching everyday fashion objects in museum collections. Instead, it asks whether it is possible to uncover and retrieve the hidden stories of makers and wearers by approaching fashion objects not as static, finished products, but as processes, shaped by the hands they have passed through.

Looking closely at several inexpensive, everyday London-made garments from the Museum of London’s fashion collections, this paper demonstrates how stitching, staining and mending might offer biographical clues as to the experiences of those who encountered the garments. In doing so, it raises questions about how contextual information might be used to create speculative biographies where firm factual information is not known, and discusses the limits of such researcher speculation. Building on work by curators such as Deirdre Murphy,[1] it asks whether bringing together the stories of the different individuals involved in shaping a single garment might help us use fashion objects to create a more complete understanding of historical experience within social history museums.

[1] In 2004, Murphy used the memories of multiple individuals to speak to a single dress in an exhibition at Kensington Palace, entitled French Connections: Memories of Her Majesty the Queen in Paris.

Katina Bill, Kirklees Museums and Galleries, A Shoddy Business? The Recycled Woollen Industry in the Nineteenth Century

Shoddy is little known but once very important part of the West Yorkshire textile industry.  It is the name given to the process of ripping up and recycling used woollen cloth. The process was invented in Birstal, a small West Yorkshire town near Dewsbury, in the early 1800s. It became the basis of a major industry that was largely responsible for the growth of Dewsbury and Batley into industrial towns. It is also said to have made it possible to clothe the rapidly growing population of Great Britain following the industrial revolution.

But the industry always had an image problem, with the very name shoddy, coming to mean something cheap and poorly made. Finished goods made with shoddy were rarely if ever identified as such.

In this paper Katina will outline the development of the process and the growth of the industry and explore the importance of shoddy to the local region and to textiles in the 19th century.  She will examine attitudes towards the textile and demonstrate the problems of collecting a material that is held in such low regard.

Carol Circuit, Bucks New University, Developing Social History from Material Evidence

The removal of the top cover from a Victorian chaise longue in preparation for restoration work revealed that it had been stuffed with an assortment of Victorian clothes and tightly bound bundles of textiles, rather than the traditional filling of horsehair, and the manner in which this had been done suggested that it was a deliberate concealment.  As well as items of clothing and soft furnishings, amongst this stuffing was a label with a name and address which appeared to point to an association with the town of Leamington Spa and to the name of the person who may well have been the original owner of the chaise – one Miss Smith.

When handling the artefacts there was a very strong awareness that the last person to touch them had probably been Miss Smith, over one hundred years earlier, and this provoked curiosity about what led her to create this cache and the significance to her of the items selected. What is surprising is the variety – out of around 800 pieces of cloth there are 400 different textiles, most of them mundane and showing signs of considerable wear and many of them with darns and patches, although there were a few pieces which, remarkably, looked brand new. The styles of the clothing suggested that the artefacts covered a period of around six decades (from around 1840 – 1900) and my research explored methods of interpreting objects in order to make connections with human history and investigated a middle class provincial life by using Miss Smith as a case study.

In order to begin to understand and interpret the significance of the discovery it was important to gain a thorough knowledge of the contents of the cache and this prompted the formation of an inventory – the Miss Smith Archive – which provides detailed written and photographic details of each item in the cache.

This paper will introduce the chaise longue and then ‘uncover’ it to reveal its contents, focussing on a few of the examples to put them into a social context and explore the relationship between the textiles and the practice of concealment with material culture and social history.

Rebecca Gill, University of Huddersfield and Helen Dampier, Leeds Beckett University, The Invention of a Boer Home Industries: Emily Hobhouse and the Creation and Preservation of a South African ‘Textiles from Below’

In the aftermath of the 1899-1902 South African War the British humanitarian reformer Emily Hobhouse (1860-1926) founded the Boer Home Industries, a series of spinning, weaving and lace schools intended to replenish domestic textiles destroyed in the war. This was also to provide industry for unemployed Boer women, to symbolise co-operation and reconciliation between Boer and Briton in South Africa, and, (in the spirit of her friend Gandhi), the self-sufficiency of the new South African nation.

In this presentation we wish to explore Hobhouse’s attempt at inventing a tradition of Boer ‘textiles from below’ in the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, focusing on some of her early designs for ‘Boer tweed’, her use of natural dyes from the veld, as well as her training of Boer women in the obsolete technology of spinning wheels and weaving looms. We will be drawing on her extensive correspondence, archive records from the schools and from subsequent exhibitions, and photographs of the textiles.

We wish to think through how these were exhibited and subsequently conserved in terms of the politics of memory of segregationist and apartheid South Africa. We are seeking to understand where the public display of these textiles – including the wearing of ‘Boer tweed’ by Boer leaders – fits into the nationalist politics of this era, the better to place Hobhouse’s own political commitments. Currently, many of these textiles are in storage – the bulk in South Africa, with some in Britain – and we are working towards making these accessible and exhibiting them afresh, in light of current challenges and controversy regarding how the past is represented, preserved and commemorated in post-apartheid South Africa.

Vivienne Richmond, Goldsmiths, University of London, Text-iles for the Poor

Item 973.72.A in the collection of The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Toronto, is Instructions on Needle-work and Knitting & Marking as derived from the practice of The Inhabitants of Puslinch House Near Yealmpton Devonshire. Combining text and textiles, it was created in 1831 and contains samples of small-scale simple garments deemed suitable clothing for the poor, together with instructions for their construction. The volume is a hand-written copy of a manual published by the Anglican National Society in 1829 (and in further editions over the next two decades) and used in the Society’s elementary schools to teach needlework to poor girls.

Copies of the published book are held in library and museum collections in Britain, Canada and the USA, and the ROM’s manuscript version was produced by a wealthy woman, Althea Yonge, in Devon and sent to her relatives in Toronto. These included the wife of the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada and Althea seemingly intended her transatlantic relatives to continue, in Canada, the philanthropic work she performed in Devon of teaching poor girls to sew.

This remarkable and unique volume would have taken a great deal of time and effort to produce. Both it and its published counterparts offer insights into the colonial circulation, and perceived importance of imposing, elite British ideas about the education, gender roles and appropriate dress of the lower orders.

Hannah Rumball, University of Brighton, “It makes us cringe these days”: Killerton House National Trust and the alteration of Elizabeth Pettipher Cash’s Everyday Quaker bonnets

Killerton House National Trust houses over 20,000 garments in its rich dress collection, many of them matching the category of ordinary clothes. In November 2015, for my PhD into British women’s Quaker dress, I consulted this vast source for surviving everyday clothing with a Quaker derivation. Two of their late-nineteenth century Plain poke bonnets, intended for daily use, were aesthetically outstanding for the striking and incongruous nature of their feathered adornments. Their embellished appearance was far removed from the lifelong commitment to the religiously prescribed moderation in dress, known as Plain dress, adhered to by their original owner and wearer, Elizabeth Pettipher Cash. This paper details my initial shock and bewilderment at their appearance. It unpicks my discovery that two dyed Ostrich feathers, donated to the museum in the 1930s, had been crudely sewed to the exterior of each bonnet – under Killerton House costume collection direction – sometime between 1970 and 1990. It is the story of how these two everyday nineteenth-century bonnets underwent radical alterations for the purposes of mid-twentieth century display.

Further research, and consultation with the current curator Shelley Tobin, revealed that the establishment, cataloguing and display of the dress collection was overseen by self-styled costume consultant, Atherton Harrison, for nearly twenty years, until her retirement in 1994. Despite the passage of time, Harrison’s legacy can still be seen in several of the garments which underwent radical alterations by a group of “Thursday Ladies” employed by Harrison to work on objects intended for display. My discussions of this practice, will reveal glimpses into the past ambivalence towards displaying the mundane in historic houses. This paper is a new and unique contribution to the understanding of how historical curatorial treatments may impact upon contemporary researchers’ fundamental reading of surviving everyday garments and how researchers reading of ordinary dress may be misled by questionable past practices.

Rebecca Shawcross, Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, Concealed Shoes: The ordinary or the extraordinary on display?

Concealed shoes are those leather or textile boots and shoes that have been deliberately hidden in buildings. Northampton Museum and Art Gallery have been keeping a concealed shoe find register from the 1950s onwards. This currently stands at 2,000 specific finds with nearly 3,000 individual shoes listed. We also have a small collection of approximately 200 concealed shoes dating from the 1530s to 1900. A high proportion represent working class men, women and children’s styles though not exclusively.

As common as this practise appears to be, across the UK and further afield to countries such as America, Canada and Australia, the reason why people concealed shoes remains a mystery. To date there has been no contemporaneous written evidence found to pin point a specific reason. In response to this many reasons have been put forward, the most common being that as the shoes are highly worn, often patched and repaired they act as apotropaic devices. The good human spirit enters the shoe and was kept there because container shaped. It is thought that the shoes were not concealed when the house was built but rather subsequently when builders placed the shoes at perceived weak points such as in the roof space and in chimneys. The good spirit in the shoes would then ward off bad spirits who may want to harm the house and its occupants.

How concealed shoes are displayed is particularly pertinent at the moment as NMAG are undergoing a major expansion project which includes a new shoe gallery. As concealed shoes will go on display, there have been discussions on how concealed shoes should be displayed. This paper will explore how concealed shoes occupy a challenging duality in terms of display. On the one hand they are examples of ordinary, frequently working class shoes that often inspire little interest at first glance as they are well-worn often to the point of falling apart. Yet they are a major resource exploring what ordinary people wore at periods when those shoes that do survive are largely upper class examples. On the other hand they are apotropaic items with a context far removed from being a practical protective shoe. Can concealed shoes be put on display as simply shoes showing a particular period or style, which also raises issues of to clean or not to clean or should they always be treated as a concealed shoe?

Ruth Singer, Artist in Residence Staffordshire Record Office, Criminal Quilts

Criminal Quilts is an art and archives project run by artist & textile historian Ruth Singer based around photographs and documentary records of women in Stafford Prison 1877-1916, now housed in Staffordshire Record Office. The photographs provide an unique resource for the study of working class women’s clothing and prison issue clothing in the period. Although there are numerous collections of similar photographs very little has been published focussing on women and their clothing. The Staffordshire collections are unusually abundant with nearly 500 images, including some women who appear several times over a couple of decades. Alongside extensive research and the creation of art works inspired by these images and records, I am researching further into the details of clothing and hats which can be seen in the images. Research shows that most of the photographs were taken a few days before release from prison so it is unclear if they would be wearing their own garments or prison-issue.
A considerable number of women are shown wearing woven wool shawls, particularly in the 19th century images, which is fairly common for working women but it is still unclear how many of these are their own clothes or if the shawls were prison issue. Later photographs seem to show standard prison issue garments comprising a gingham apron, high neck collarless bodice and checked neckerchief. In many of the remaining images the women are wearing some kind of dark jacket or coat which may be prison uniform – certainly one or two images show the typical convict arrows on the garment.
Headwear is also intriguing – most of the women are wearing hats and the period range of the photos shows the fashionable development from the 1870s to the First World War.
As part of this research I am looking at comparable images from other collections, including those taken by police, which having been taken at arrest, must show women’s own clothes. There is also a possible connection between certain types of particularly showy clothing which may indicate prostitution. This paper presents the work in progress in analysing the images and comparable collections and draws connections to surviving clothing in museum collections and other resources as well as introducing my own textile work inspired by the photographs.

Valerie Wilson, National Museums Northern Ireland, Breeches, Boots and Bedcovers: interpreting the everyday and ordinary in an open air museum

This paper will examine the challenges faced in furnishing an open air museum in a largely rural setting, and clothing visitor guides, to interpret daily life in Ulster of the early 1900s.

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum at Cultra, a few miles south of Belfast, County Down, opened to the public for the first time in June 1964.  The museum, set in 170 acres of mature parkland bordering Belfast Lough, was intended to reflect the ways and traditions of the people of the nine counties of the province of Ulster, past and present.

From an initial modest cottage, removed from its original location at Magilligan, Co. Londonderry and rebuilt at Cultra, the open air museum has grown, over the last fifty years, to include over 40 buildings reflecting every aspect of daily life in Ulster.  These buildings include schools, churches, dwelling houses of varying sizes and levels of comfort, a dispensary, hardware store, a drapers shop and, of course, a public house.

Most of these exhibit buildings require the display of appropriate, original, textiles from the extensive collections at UFTM, all year round.  In addition, the museum’s visitor guides, working in these locations are required to dress in period costume.  Due to the nature of most of the locations, and the everyday activities carried out by Front of House staff, the costume and textiles used are of the artisan or ‘ordinary’ nature.  The museum’s archival collections, including oral recordings are a further source of reference material for costume and textiles from ‘below’.

This paper will also include a brief case study of one of the open air museum exhibit buildings at Cultra, and its associated collection. The drapery shop of R.J.Sloane, recreated faithfully at the museum in 2007, illustrates the contents of a small town draper and outfitter supplying ‘ordinary’ and ‘everyday’ costume and textiles to a local community of the early 1900s.  The acquisition of the contents of this business, by the museum in 1982, included costume, domestic linens, daybooks, invoices and haberdashery, dating from the 1880s to 1940s.

Breeches, Boots and Bedcovers will be richly illustrated and will present an overview of how costume and textiles from everyday life is used to enhance public engagement in a major open air museum today.

Helen Wyld, National Museums Scotland,  Everyday lives: Samplers from Scotland, 1720-1870

This paper will explore the ways in which samplers made in 18th– and 19th-century Scotland offer a unique historiographic approach to the social history of the nation.

Made between the ages of around 7 and 14, samplers were not just a demonstration of manual skill; they were a way for children (usually girls) to show their adherence to social values. This is expressed through religious and moral verses and imagery, and emphasis on the association of needlework with feminine virtue. Samplers also often illustrate the social structures surrounding the child: home, family, school. In Scottish samplers (as opposed to English and continental European examples) references to the local area are particularly common: many Scottish samplers include specific information on local buildings, institutions, professional groups and civic identities.

In the period under consideration the social background of girls producing samplers expands downwards, reflecting the spread of education, but also changes in the commodity market and the availability of materials. The production of samplers in orphanages and workhouses points to a sense of the social usefulness of needlework and sewing. As a result, samplers are virtually the only objects that record the names of members of the working and lower middle classes during the 18th and 19th centuries, especially the names of women, allowing us to reconstruct lives that would otherwise be lost to us.

Focussing on a collection of samplers that will be the subject of an exhibition at National Museums Scotland in Autumn 2018, this paper will argue that samplers are truly unique historical documents. Through a combination of genealogical research and social and local history, samplers allow the intersection of personal, everyday histories with larger themes of social change, female education, class perception, and local and national identity in Scotland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The paper will also consider the challenges in exhibiting and interpreting these objects in an exhibition context, drawing on some of the methods being explored by the museum for the upcoming exhibition.


1985.222.1 Apron

Silk apron, 1800-1850, American or European. Purchase, Irene Lewisohn Bequest, 1985. Image courtesy of

The workshop will be held in Room MC228 (not MH108-9, as previously advertised), on the second floor of the Millennium City (MC) Building, City Campus, University of Wolverhampton.

The Millennium City (MC) Building is located on City Campus Wulfruna, in Wolverhampton, a short (10 minutes) walk from Wolverhampton’s bus and train stations.

For maps and directions, please see:

The fee is £ 20

To register, please complete the registration form available here (The link will take you to the University of Wolverhampton’s E-store)

For further information, please e-mail Laura Ugolini at:

CI58.39.1 Apron

Cotton apron, 1820-29, American. Gift of Mrs. Philip G. Schermerhorn, 1958. Image courtesy of

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