Rags and riches
- Credit: Archant
From fabulous shawls created in the workshops of Victorian Norwich, to bedclothes fit for royalty, Norfolk’s unique Costume and Textile Association has helped bring them to light and to life. As the charity celebrates its silver anniversary and unveils a major exhibition this month, chairman Joy Evitt chooses six stunning items to help trace its story.
The shawls made by Norwich weavers in the 18th and 19th centuries became famous across the world for their beautiful colours and designs. A Norwich shawl was the height of Victorian fashion, with the Queen herself a customer of the city’s workshops. Even today, historic Norwich shawls are still being discovered and the association has spent almost £10,000 buying and preserving such shawls over its 25-year history.
Joy is particularly fond of an embroidered turnover shawl, cleverly made in Norwich around 1845 so that there is no “wrong” side when it is worn. “It’s an absolute beauty!” she says.
When Pamela Clabburn – seamstress, writer, historian and founder of the Costume and Textile Association – was curator of Strangers’ Hall Museum, in Norwich, she discovered a dusty cardboard box, covered in cobwebs and dead flies, in a museum storeroom. Inside was a 12ft square piece of cloth, woven in a single piece with the Royal coat of arms at the centre.
It turned out to be an embroidered cover for the bed of King George III and Queen Charlotte and was made in Norwich in 1792. “It has to be seen to be believed!” says Joy. “It is either the actual counterpane given to the King, or a prototype.”
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The association gave £5,000 towards the conservation of the counterpane. It also helped fund the restoration of the remarkable Brereton bed hangings. After her teenage son died more than two centuries ago, Anna Margaretta Brereton, of Brinton Hall, near Holt, shut herself away for months turning her grief and loss into a creative masterpiece, a stunning set of embroidered bed hangings and covers.
Lorina Bulwer’s letters.
When Lorina Bulwer raged against the world, more than a century ago, she vented her anger and confusion in needlework. In close, angry capitals and embroidered caricatures, she stitched stream-of-consciousness complaints, observations, accusations and suggestions from the lunatic ward of the Yarmouth Workhouse.
Two new pieces of her work were discovered last year and the association was able to buy them in time to display them alongside the only other known works by Lorina.
The Jacquard loom
Early Norwich shawls were hand-woven at home, but by the Victorian era mechanisms using punched cards to lift the correct threads for each design were added to the looms. This change from home to factory was resisted in Norwich but eventually Jacquard looms were introduced here too – and one of them has been restored with help from the association. It is on display at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell.
A feathered pelerine.
Fashionable in the 1830s, these capes, or pelerines, featured feathers from birds including jays, pheasants and guinea fowl.
The Costume and Textile Association paid for conservation work before it featured in the blockbuster Wonder of Birds exhibition at Norwich Castle.
Costumes curator Ruth Battersby Tooke was passing a Norwich Oxfam shop when she spotted a display of clothes worn in the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. She immediately contacted the Costume and Textile Association to ask for funds to buy them for the contemporary collection at Norwich Castle’s Shirehall Study Centre.
“We were able to move fast and snap them up,” says Joy.
The Costume and Textile Association was launched to help promote the outstanding collection of fashion and fabric held by the Norfolk Museums Service.
In the past 25 year its members have run fashion shows, researched and written books, and raised more than £100,000 to help enhance and celebrate the collection. As well as buying and restoring important items, donations from the association have paid for special mannequins to display clothing, roller storage and bookcases.
The costumes and textiles funded by the charity are part of the collection at Norwich Castle Study Centre, Norwich Shirehall, Market Avenue, Norwich, NR1 3JQ; 01603 493625.
Costume and Textile Association; www.ctacostume.org.uk