Lorina Bulwer, “A Properly Shaped Female”

Originally posted on The Knitting Genealogist:

Nineteenth Century Doctor at work

Nineteenth Century Doctor at work

“I MISS LORINA BULWER WAS EXAMINED BY DR PINCHING OF WALTHAMSTOW ESSEX AND FOUND TO BE A PROPERLY SHAPED FEMALE ”  [From Transcript of one of Lorina Bulwer's embroidered letters].

Last year, someone asked me to go look at a fascinating textile  – some kind of embroidered sampler – they had in storage at the Thackray Medical Museum, in Leeds. They wondered if I could shed any light on it, in view of my fascination with eighteenth and nineteenth century asylums, and the crafts done in them.

I went – not reluctantly, but not expecting much. Embroidery and samplers are slightly out of my comfort zone. Plus… I was a bit put off,  to find out the thing I was going to see was maybe Edwardian, so “after my time”. But went anyway.  I didn’t come away disappointed.  Turned out, the ‘sampler’ was…

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Frayed Shortlisted for M+H Award

We’ve received the exciting news this morning that Frayed: Textiles on the Edge has been shortlisted for a Museums+Heritage Award in the Temporary and Touring Exhibition category.

To see who we’re up against for Best Exhibition, have a look at the M+H website to view the full line-up of shortlisted projects:  M+H Award Shortlists

We’ll let you know how we get on after the awards ceremony on 14 May…

From Frayed to Letters from the Workhouse

Lauren Brumby, Curatorial Assistant at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse talks us through the installation of Lorina’s samplers in the exhibition ‘Letters from the Workhouse.’

First Dave and I pulled down the multicoloured image and installed these large black and white panels. This photo is of the elderly women’s ward at Thetford Workhouse around the same time that Lorina would have been at Great Yarmouth.

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Then we installed the three text panels, these are all about how rare the samplers are, what we know of Lorina’s life and what she tells us about living in the workhouse.

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We had prepared as much as we could, but the week in between Frayed closing and us reopening was crunch time. Once the case had been delivered we donned our paintbrushes and it was time to turn pink grey!

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Then on Friday the samplers arrived! Here is Debbie Phipps, Textile Conservator carefully unrolling them into the case.

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Me getting the label ‘just right!’

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Dave installing the lid to the case.

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One of the last jobs is to get the light levels right. They have to be low to protect the fabric.

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Ta da! All finished. We wanted Lorina to speak for herself through her samplers and hopefully we have achieved that.

Come and see ‘Letters from the Workhouse’ on at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse until Sunday 1st June.

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Stitch like Lorina is coming to Gressenhall

Due to the popularity of the “Stitch like Lorina” workshops during the Frayed exhibition at Time and Tide, Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse are pleased to announce that Lisa Little, Curatorial Assistant, Costume and Textiles, will be running the workshop at the museum on Friday 28th March to coincide with Letters from the Workhouse exhibition that opens on the 9th March.  Bring along a quote or use your own words to hand stitch your own Lorina Bulwer inspired sampler.

Please visit our website for more information: www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk/gressenhall and click on the short courses link.

The Brereton Donation – Cathy Terry, Social History Curator

 

 

 

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Sandwiched between records in the museum’s accession register for 1929 recording gifts of  ‘The art of Garden Design in Italy’ and ‘A green-backed gallinule’ from Hickling is a tantalising  brief entry recording the donation by Miss Brereton of Briningham Hall of a mahogany bedstead fitted with damask patchwork, and furniture for a room of 1800 – 1810.

The donor was Katherine Blanch Brereton, great-great granddaughter of Anna Margaretta Brereton, the designer and maker of the wonderful Brereton hangings, currently on display in ‘Frayed’.

In this blog post I would like to pay tribute to this remarkable woman.  As the result of Katherine’s foresight and generosity  Strangers’ Hall gained its single most interesting collection, and certainly the one that has delighted generations of visitors, textiles researchers and family historians over the years.

Born in Norwich in 1861, Katherine overcame parental opposition to take up a career in nursing and made her mark as a nurse in South Africa during the Boer War.  Her obituary in The British Journal of Nursing  October 1930 reads;

We much regret to record the death of Miss Katherine Blanche Brereton, M.B.E., R.R.C., J.P., and a member of the Guy’s Hospital Nurses’ League. She received training as a lady pupil at Guy’s Hospital from June, 1890 to June 1891, and after working as a Staff Nurse at the Wirral Children’s Hospital, she obtained her midwifery training at the York Road Lying-in Hospital, returning to Guy’s as Sister of Bright Ward in 1893.  In 1899 she went out to South Africa on the Staff of the first Imperial Yeomanry Hospital at Deelfontein.  In 1901 the Government appointed Miss Brereton a member of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the Management of the Concentration Camps in South Africa.  She visited all the Camps in the four colonies, and on returning to England in February 1902 received with her Col- leagues the thanks of the House of Commons, and during that year also the South African War Medal and the Royal Red Cross.  In I903 she accompanied Mrs. Fawcett (afterwards Dame Millicent) to South Africa on a mission to promote the conciliation of Boers and Britons, and later set herself to learn farming in order to manage the family estates.  Her final gift was the bequest of her body to the Medical School of Guy’s Hospital.

On her return to Norfolk in later life, Katherine took on the administration of the family estate, became a JP and was heavily involved in the Temperance Movement, no doubt exciting controversy by closing her local village pub. Clearly she also belonged to that group of influential supporters whose efforts did so much to bolster the Norwich museums in the 1920s and 1930s.

What prompted Katherine to make the donation to Strangers’ Hall we shall never know.  The set was given during the year before she died, and apparently despite some opposition from elsewhere in the family, but we might guess that she had a hunch that this family heirloom had a significance above and beyond a set of patchwork hangings, beautiful though they are in their own right.  It was a sure instinct…

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Around this time a forward-thinking curator of Strangers’ Hall, Frank Leney, was exploring open display interpretation in room settings’ based on Scandinavian models of folk life museum. He was thrilled to accept a donation which allowed him, at one stroke, to display an 18th century Norfolk lady’s bedroom, complete with all its furniture, furnishings and textiles. No other donor contributed in this way. Katherine’s gesture, intended to ‘enhance and enrich the displays’, accorded well with Leney’s ambitions to set up Strangers’ Hall as the museum of English Folk Life . Everything was displayed in ‘The White Room’ (now the Walnut room), where it proved a massive visitor draw.  Some thirty years later Pamela Clabburn, the former curator who did so much to enrich and publicise the NMS costume and textiles collections, found the set in a poor state. Together with a small team of enthusiasts, she conserved the set according to the standards of the day and rolled the hangings to minimise further light damage.

In 2003, NMS received a request to include the bed-hangings in the prestigious international exhibition ‘In search of the Hexagon’ at the Château de Martainville, near Rouen, curated by Janine Jannière.  Further conservation work allowed the set to be safely displayed on a specially constructed bed-frame, designed by Melanie Leach, textile conservator.  And this year, it has formed one of the highlights of ‘Frayed’.

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Katherine can’t possibly have anticipated the continuing relevance and excitement of the hangings to successive generations of museum visitors.  The interest for me as a curator is the way in which the perceived historical value of key pieces like the Brereton bed-hangings change over time.  Such objects can be appreciated in terms of fashion and design, technology and construction or family history, but the comparatively modern reading in the context of the therapeutic role of textiles and the idea of ‘emotional objects’ is undoubtedly the most potent.

I like to think that Katherine would have approved whole-heartedly of their inclusion in Frayed as a ‘textile on the edge’.

With thanks to the Brereton family for kind assistance with research for this blog post.

 

 

 

A Poetic Response

Sue Ellis is a member of Quill, a creative writing group which meets monthly in Great Yarmouth.  Sue visited Frayed and here she shares her response to Elizabeth Parker’s sampler.                                                                  

Elizabeth Parker

Words in stitch carefully sewn,

Crying out to a forgiving God,

A testimony of a troubled mind.

Begging, pleading, beseeching,

For our Lord God to take pity,

Regrets the naivety of youth,

Blames herself.

She was headstrong, disobeyed her parents.

Every thread a tear.

of a soul in torment.

Suicidal thoughts of despair.

Not knowing if she can go on.

Will her God forgive her?

Will she be punished?

Will she be saved from the clutches of Satan.

Not knowing what will become of her soul.

My thoughts:-

How long did it take Elizabeth to sew this message, this cry of help?  Who did she seek advice from after the sampler was finished?  Did she continue to punish herself for the rest of her life?  Did she manage to find inner peace from the turmoil she speaks about?  Perhaps she was forgiven by God , and He heard her prayers.

New Lorina Installed

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The new Lorina embroidered letter has just been installed into the gallery – come and have a look!  It’s the last three weeks of the exhibition, and your last opportunity to see all of the Frayed objects together.

Read the new letters here:

Transcription of Lorina Bulwer 2014 – smaller piece with figures

Transcription of Lorina Bulwer 2014