I grew up and went to school in London. During weekends my sisters and I explored (sometimes under duress) the various museums that London has to offer. The one that I never needed to be persuaded to go to was the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington. I would head straight towards any exhibition of fashion and costumes – they have an extraordinary collection depicting what we wore that spans at least four centuries. You could stare for ages at the tiny waists, beautiful, delicate lace, the velvets, dresses with enormous hoops, the shoes and the wonderful hats. Admittedly most of it belongs to women of a certain economic status since those were the garments that were most valuable and therefore carefully preserved.
However, they depict an extraordinarily different and much more constricted way of life from ours today, from running up and down stairs, to biking round the park and hurrying to yet another meeting. (The top photo is the 5th Countess’s Coronation robes from 1911, whilst below are staff liveries and uniforms from the same period.)
As such, the fashions of the past seem better described as “costumes” than clothes because you would, without doubt, have needed lots of help getting dressed. Corsets, hooks and eyes, tiny buttons, strings to pull and ribbons to tie: even the men’s fashion was far more intricate than today. This appeal of dresses and fashion is still very much present today and the Downton Abbey costume display has enjoyed a roaring success as it tours America and Asia. (Below is an excerpt from Dodds the tailor who made the keepers’tweeds)
The Grantham ladies had some beautiful outfits which got steadily more lavish as the series became more successful but Anna and Daisy rarely changed, which was rather bad luck. Carson and the footmen looked very smart and, of course, looked with some disapprobation when Lord Grantham forwent wearing White Tie in evening. In contrast, I suspect the audience for these exhibitions will be mostly be in jeans or shorts: dressed for comfort.
A flight of stairs on the top floor of the Castle leads up to the “Robing Room”. Cedar cupboards hold treasures of the past worn by our predecessors here such as Lady Almina’s coronation robes. There is another cupboard on a lower floor which is rather like Dr Who’s Tardis in the way it stretches back where all the old Livery uniforms are kept. We have bought some shop dummies and thought we would dress them in the costumes for our September party. It is a weekend with fewer guests and therefore more space and time to share, so Sally from the gift shop is in charge and will disappear into an upstairs room with a gift shop elf to begin to carefully prepare and pin them.
I would also like to display a few Roman brooches and pins we have found around the Estate as well as possibly what is a Viking brooch we have found around the Estate. My dearest, Norwegian, friend Karine (Hagen) is utterly thrilled and we might have to go together and see what else we can find…. just small things dropped as a woman walked across a field back to her house perhaps.