Lorina Bulwer, “A Properly Shaped Female”

The Knitting Genealogist - Hemingway & Hunt

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…

View original post 2,382 more words

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.

P1050244

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.

panels.jpg

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!

pink grey meg paint

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

conservator

Me getting the label ‘just right!’

label

Dave installing the lid to the case.

dave install

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

lighting

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.

finish

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

 

 

 

Presentation1

 

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…

brereton

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’.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

20140207_170659

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

New Lorina Bulwer Acquisition

A remarkable embroidered letter created by Great Yarmouth resident Lorina Bulwer over a hundred years ago has turned up in the attic of a house in County Durham.  This extraordinary artefact has been purchased by Norfolk Museums Service through a generous grant from the Costume and Textile Association.  The sampler will go on display straight away for the final four weeks of the Frayed exhibition at Time and Tide Museum, Great Yarmouth.

New Lorina

The embroidered panels, the longest measuring over 2 metres in length, were left in the attic by previous occupants of the house and were a complete surprise to the new residents when they came out of their plastic wrappings.  The finder immediately put Lorina’s name into an internet search provider and was directed to the blog for the current Frayed: Textiles on the Edge exhibition which features two similar pieces by Lorina, created in the late 19th / early 20th century when she was resident in the lunatic ward of the Great Yarmouth workhouse.

Costume and Textiles Curator, Ruth Battersby-Tooke, takes up the story: “It’s the stuff of a curator’s dream! We always felt that there must be more of Lorina’s embroidered letters out there somewhere.  It is so clear that she found the process of stitching her thoughts therapeutic that she would have made many more in the 15 or so years that she spent in the Great Yarmouth Workhouse. We were ecstatic about the discovery and delighted that the finder wanted the two pieces to come into the collections of Norfolk Museums Service. Fortunately the Costume and Textile Association were extremely keen to give a grant to cover the costs of acquiring the pieces for the collection and we’re very grateful for their generous and prompt support.”

Joy Evitt, Chair of the Costume and Textile Association, adds “We are absolutely thrilled to be able to purchase this object for the museum. We can’t wait to see the samplers all together – they are amazing. This is a lovely way to celebrate the contributions the Costume and Textile Association have made to NMS over the past 25 years. Almost £100k has been raised for the improvement of the storage for collections and for new acquisitions.”

The Lorina Bulwer samplers are certainly one of the more unusual pieces in the Norwich Museum collections. Made over a century ago, these textile samplers take the form of very long, and often confusing, rants. With no punctuation, and entirely in upper case, each word is virtually spat out, and the angry tone is relentless throughout. Every word has been hand-stitched onto a patchwork of fabrics and provides a unique glimpse into the life of their maker.

Image 2

Born in 1838, Lorina never married and helped run a boarding house in Yarmouth until her mother died in 1893. It was probably shortly after this that she found herself one of over 500 residents in Yarmouth workhouse.  Here’s a flavour of the tone of her ‘letters’ which comes from the end of the first sampler to enter the NMS collections, in 2004: “THE PEOPLE ARE REAL ENGLISH TRAMPS HAWKERS SHOW PEOPLE ENGLISH NOT ONE BELONG TO ANY OF MY CLASS NOT ONE HERE HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH MY PARTY…”.

Lorina’s work has been a source of great fascination for some time, with its sense of a woman from the past speaking directly to us.  Many individuals, from historians to psychologists, and textile students to writers, have visited, studied or enquired about Lorina and her embroideries.  Lorina and her embroideries have been included in PhDs, a novel and mentioned on Radio 4. Most recently the original sampler from the collections was featured by the Antiques Roadshow on their trip to the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in 2013, broadcast on 12 January 2014: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01pfdk7

NMS Adult Learning Officer, Ruth Burwood, was interviewed by Paul Atterbury who was enthralled by the story of Lorina and the creation of this amazing object.

In a separate development, and as a direct result of the exposure on Antiques Roadshow, a number of ledgers from the Great Yarmouth workhouse have also come to light.  It was previously thought that no documentation from the workhouse survived from this period due to a fire, so this is a very exciting discovery in itself.  The ledgers are from a slightly earlier period than Lorina and so don’t mention her by name, but they do mention some of the people who appear in her samplers, including a number of doctors.  They also provide a fascinating insight into daily life at the workhouse, such as details of diagnoses of patients in the lunatic ward and what inmates were allowed to wear.  The ledgers have been generously donated to Great Yarmouth museums and while they are not currently on display, they can be viewed on request.

It’s wonderful that, in classic Antiques Roadshow fashion, new work by this remarkable woman has come to light, along with documentation that will provide an important context for her life, as well as an insight into an important institution in the town.  With the addition of these new items to the collections we are gradually fitting more pieces of the puzzle together and making fresh discoveries about the family history that shed new light on this extraordinary survival.

The new pieces have just arrived and are being installed into the Frayed exhibition where the public will be able to see them from Saturday 8 February. Frayed runs until 2 March 2014 so there’s just under a month to see these remarkable artefacts side by side.

New Lorina with Steve Miller

 

 

 

Jane Whiteley – Guest Post from a Frayed Artist

Jane Whiteley’s work says she is a lady writer (2010, worn cotton sheet, machine and hand stitch) is currently on show in Frayed.

Growing up with mental illness as experienced by both my aunt and her sister- my mother- my own childhood access to cloth gave me a vehicle for expression, insight and giving shape to my experience.  Last October, my friend Emily Kate Mignacca undertook ZIP IT, a sponsored 24 hours of silence where people donated their voice to raise awareness of mental health issues in Australia.  It took place on World Mental Health Day.  She described this experience, how by the end of the day there was a ‘banking up’ of her thoughts in her head, with no outlet for their expression.  Being trapped inside your mind can be a terrifying and isolating experience.  I am reminded of my beloved Auntie Marj.  In the 1960s she was diagnosed as having schizophrenia, as it was then called.  As a young child I remember seeing her looking terror-stricken on several occasions, but when I think of Auntie I think of her shiny brown eyes, her red dress at Christmas, sparkly jewelry, lipstick and talc, powder compact, and boiled sweets, jam doughnuts and pink bunrounds, stockings and handbags, permed hair and rollers, reading and knitting, singing and swearing, throwing her head back as she laughed, her flowery frocks in summer and the three pretty pills she used to take every morning at breakfast- one pink, one yellow and one blue.  Clearly there was a lot going on inside her head that was not immediately apparent, but as a child I just saw ‘Auntie’.

 

Talk on Friday 7 February

On Friday 7 February, Costume and Textile Curator Ruth Battersby Tooke will be discussing the Brereton Bed hangings in her talk ‘Tears were her Meat Day and Night’.

Due to popular demand the talk will be held twice:

The advertised session at 11:30 is already FULLY BOOKED.

A second session at 12:30 still has places available at the moment.  Places must be booked in advance – please call 01493 743930 option 2 for details.