The Olive Matthews Collection

This spectacular collection features many items of national significance. It contains over 4,000 men's, women's and children's fashionable clothes dating from c.1700 to the present. They help to reveal the history of dress and textiles throughout the centuries, highlighting changes in style, fashion and fabrics.

The Olive Matthews Collection is rich in decorative art items, which range from silver to horology, furniture, fine art and ceramics. It also includes many small decorative accessories, including shoe buckles, delicate beadwork purses, lace work and exquisite embroidery.

In the fashion gallery a new dress display is mounted annually. Together with the costume library, the exhibition provides an excellent resource for students and researchers of dress, textile and design history.

Academic researchers and students wishing to consult items not currently on display or use the library facilities are welcome to do so by prior appointment. Please email to make an appointment.

Origins of the collection

Olive Mary Matthews was a key element to the creation of Chertsey Museum as we know it today. The trust set up to care for her nationally significant collection of costume has been one of the main driving forces behind the Museum from its early beginnings.

A Museum was created in Chertsey in 1965 through the initiative of the Chertsey Society and Chertsey Urban District Council. This was housed in the Old Town Hall, London Street, Chertsey, and contained items from the Tulk bequest as well as objects donated to the Museum after appeals amongst the local community. Sidney Oliver, local auctioneer and keen collector of historic artefacts, was involved in the creation of the Museum from the start. It was his friendship with Virginia Water resident Miss Olive Matthews that sparked the long-term link between her collection and Chertsey Museum.

Olive Matthews had begun amassing her unique and exquisite collection of costume and costume accessories from early childhood. A London resident, she made most of her early purchases from the Caledonian Road Market which closed in 1939. There Olive befriended market traders and delighted in finding bargains and treasures at a time when costumes were not valued as antiques by most. Notable examples are a pair of 18th century brocade shoes and a gentleman’s night cap dated to around 1600. Later in her life, Olive made purchases at auction, and was a frequent visitor to the Costume department at the Victoria and Albert Museum. They helped her to expand her knowledge about the collection, which was described by the then Curator Natalie Rothstein, as “of high quality…much of it of national importance”.

Olive had moved with her family to Trumps Green, Virginia Water at the beginning of the Second World War. She became acquainted with Sidney Oliver during 1960, and amongst other things, they discussed the future of her collection after her death. It was eventually decided to set up a Trust, and the original Trustees, Sidney Oliver, John Nelson Jones and Bernard Pardoe began to set events in motion for the creation of a Museum space for the collection. This was done in partnership with Chertsey Urban District Council, and in particular with the help of Councillor Tollett and Councillor Ray Lowther. A home for the collection was found here in The Cedars, which was purchased by the Trust in 1969, with the proviso that Chertsey Urban District Council accept the rental of the property on a long lease for their own and Miss Matthews’ joint collections. When the new Chertsey Museum was opened, Olive Matthews was able to give a short speech, and during the first few years of its life, she took an active interest in the Museum and the way in which her collections were displayed. Olive Matthews died aged 92 in 1979, but her legacy lives on through her beautiful collection and the unique legacy of Chertsey Museum.

Fashion & Freedom

16th September 2017 - 1st September 2018

Purple shot silk day dress, c.1845 & grey wool flannel day dress by Mary Quant. Image by John Chase Photography

This year's Olive Matthews Collection exhibition examines female clothing from the 1840s to the 1980s from the standpoint of the progression of female emancipation, with pieces displayed in the context of women’s social, political and cultural experiences.


Coming Soon

Dressed for Best
22 September 2018 to 1 September 2019

Clothing for formal and royal occasions, 1700s - 1900s

Garments selected from The Olive Matthews Collection