Category Archives: Frayed: Textiles on the Edge

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…


The Brereton Donation – Cathy Terry, Social History Curator






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…


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’.


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.




New Lorina Installed


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:

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




Let’s Get This Show on the Road! Ruth Battersby Tooke, Curator


Ruth Battersby Tooke, Curator (left), and Lynn Tye, Museum Trainee, get the Brereton Bed Hangings ready to install.  Photograph, Liz Elmore.

As the objects arrive and are meticulously placed in the gallery I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how we got to this point, to set the scene before we open in just two weeks time. My name is Ruth Battersby Tooke and I am the curator of ‘Frayed: Textiles on the Edge’. The exhibition was conceived at the end of 2012 in response to the exciting news that the ‘other’ Lorina Bulwer letter, that we had seen pictures of when it was auctioned in the mid 2000’s was in the Thackray Museum, Leeds. I had a telephone call from the Curator, Lauren Ryall-Stockton asking me if I knew anything about Lorina as she had searched for the name and found the ‘Hidden Histories’ report. Exciting events like this are few and far between in the museum world and I dashed out of my office and across to the Bridewell Museum to find Ruth Burwood and share the news – cue much geeky air punching as the realisation that the Lorina letter was in a public museum collection and not in private hands which meant that all of the researchers that we had worked with  would have access to the object, a transcript and goodness me, we could also loan it and put it on display….

 So the work of developing an exhibition around these two extraordinary objects began. It was Jo O’Donoghue, Curator at Great Yarmouth and her enthusiasm and vision that encouraged a broader approach, one that set the context of textiles and Mental Health. From this point I began working with the strengths of the Norwich Costume and Textile collections, the way in which we have collected people’s stories as well as the objects and amongst those amazing stories were three other textiles that had relevance to the idea of making textiles as a therapeutic act. Not only an occupational therapy, a meaningful and structured way of busying the hands to still the mind, but also a powerful way to communicate, a creative and expressive way to release an inner voice.

 So by displaying the Brereton Bed-hangings, John Craske’s ‘Evacuation of Dunkirk’ woolwork picture and a patchwork quilt made by Newgate prisoners under Elizabeth Fry’s direction we had powerful themes which put these textile objects in the context of therapy but also each creation was still very much referring to individuals and their often complex experiences.

 More on all of these fascinating objects in future blog posts…

 The next key piece of the puzzle was the Elizabeth Parker sampler from the V&A. This potent object is often mentioned as a source of inspiration for contemporary textile artists and has extraordinary resonance as a testimony, reading almost like a tortured diary entry, the words have such a power to speak directly to the reader although it was written nearly 200 years ago. Enter Sue Prichard, Curator of Contemporary Textiles at the V&A and creator of the hugely successful ‘Quilts 1700-2010: Hidden Histories, Untold Stories’ exhibition at the V&A. Sue had been to visit us in Norwich to view the Lorina Bulwer embroidered letter and was hugely supportive of our exhibition and helped to secure the loan of the Elizabeth Parker sampler in order to be able to unite all of these immensely important objects together in one show.

 I work with other curators in the Eastern Region who have Costume and Textile collections, we deliver training events as part of the SHARE scheme and meet up regularly to talk about our work. At one of these meetings I outlined the project and immediately Clare Hunt of Southend Museums mentioned an Occupational Therapy kit donated recently to them. We were delighted to be able to borrow this for the exhibition as it provides a valuable part of the story, from the early history of Occupational Therapy as a medical discipline at the end of the First World War to these ready made kits being distributed to ex-service personnel at the end of the Second World War shows so clearly how the solace of stitch has clear benefits to those who need it in difficult times.

 Next time, more information on the stories behind the objects on display and we will introduce the contemporary artist’s whose work adds a whole new dimension to the exhibition.

Frayed at the Museums Showoff


On Thursday 13 June, Ruth introduced the project to the audience at the Museums Showoff, an open mic night for ‘everyone who works in or loves museums’, which, for one night only, was held at Open in Norwich.

To accompany her 9 minute slot, Ruth took with her a full-size, 12 feet long, double-sided print of our Lorina Bulwer embroidered letter. 

If you’d like to read Ruth’s script, you can download it here:  Museums Show-off

To find out more about the Museums Showoff, visit their website:

Welcome to Frayed

Hello, I’m Alison Hall (better known as Ali) the Exhibitions Coordinator for Great Yarmouth Museums.  Frayed: Textiles on the Edge is an exhibition I’m working on with Ruth Battersby Tooke, the Costume and Textiles Curator for Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service.  Ruth is the project curator, and my job is to pull everything together and make sure we’re ready to open on time! 

 The exhibition will be held at Time and Tide Museum of Great Yarmouth Life.  We change our exhibition twice each year, and this  will be our autumn/winter show, following Alfred Wallis: Works from the Kettle’s Yard Collections, which is our current show.

Over the next few months as we get ready to open Frayed, I’ll be keeping you up to date with what’s going on and the different processes involved in making the exhibition; things like interpretation, exhibition design, graphics, audio and so on.  Meanwhile, Ruth will give you a behind the scenes glimpse at some of the objects and the people who created them.  We also hope to introduce a few of the other people we’re working with, through guest posts on this blog.