In my last post I mentioned the film we plan to make of Jane Bailey’s replica wedding ensemble. This week I was lucky enough to visit the location. We are due to make the film in September of this year, once all the garments have been completed, and it was necessary to go down to Wonston in Hampshire to have another look at the church where Jane Bailey and James Wickham married on the 9th November 1780.
I last visited Holy Trinity back in 2007 when I was researching a paper for the journal Costume (Evans, G.,‘Marriage à la Mode, An Eighteenth-Century Wedding Dress, Hat and Shoes Set from the Olive Matthews Collection, Chersey Museum’, Costume, vol.42, 2008). Having done lots of research on the garments and the families of Jane and James, I felt a strong sense of connection to them as I drove along leafy, quiet country lanes, parked my car and walked though the sunny churchyard into the church. After all, this was the place where a real person once wore our real garment. We know that the ensemble was actually worn here nearly 239 years ago. There is a sense of poignancy too as Jane and James are both buried in the family tomb in the churchyard.
Holy Trinity is not as it was in the 1780s. A fire in 1908 caused significant damage, and it has been extended since Jane’s time. She would have entered though the back of the church, not the side door as we do now. Despite this, we were still walking along the same ground and it feels right to be filming the replica being worn in this place. We won’t attempt to re-create the church as it was – we don’t have the budget for that - instead the film will be an echo of what went before.
The Churchwarden very kindly showed TJ (our film maker) and I around the church and we were able to discus the logistics of the filming and scout the spots we will use on the day. The aim is for our costumed re-enactor to tread in Jane’s footsteps, but only in a manner of speaking as the scene will be different. You could compare it to a ghost walking through a house that has altered since it was first occupied.
After our meeting I was kindly taken to more places that Jane would once have known. Her local parish church in Stoke Charity, just down the road from Wonston, is a real gem. John Betjeman waxed lyrical about it and it contains some early tombs, beautiful Norman archways and even a Saxon doorway. A sculpture of St Gregory from the late Medieval period that somehow survived the iconoclasm of the Reformation and Civil War is a rare thing to see. After our visit to Jane’s local church, we had a look at the exterior of what may well have been Jane’s childhood home – West Stoke Farm. This is something that I need to research further as it would be great to finally pin down a few more details about her life. The more information we can gather about her, the closer we get to her.
Welcome to the brand new Chertsey Museum fashion blog! I’m Grace Evans, Keeper of Costume, and I’ll be discussing some of the most interesting events and projects relating to the nationally significant Olive Matthews Collection of dress housed at Chertsey Museum. As some of you will already know, the Olive Matthews Collection consists of over 6,000 items, around 4,000 of which are articles of dress and accessories dating from c.1600 to the present day.
The project currently taking up much of my attention is our plan to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Olive Matthews Collection Trust. I will be blogging intermittently about this fascinating idea as and when something exciting happens, and you will have a chance to understand the progress of said project from its inception to its completion and beyond.
Back in the Autumn of 2018, the Trustees mentioned to me that they would like to mark this significant anniversary in the collection’s history with something memorable and useful. We came up with a variety of ideas, but eventually it was agreed that we should commission a replica of one of the most important groups of garments housed within the collection. It is a complete wedding ensemble; consisting of a gown, matching petticoat, hat and shoes which was worn by Jane Bailey on the occasion of her marriage to James Wickham on the 9th November 1780 (see photo). The group has survived in incredibly good condition considering that it is over 230 years old. This in itself is remarkable, but its rarity is enhanced by the fact that we know who wore the clothes, when they wore them and where – the marriage took place at Holy Trinity Church, Wonston, Hampshire. What better group could there be to work with from the collection than this one? The concept we had in mind was to use the replicas, along with the right undergarments, wig and accessories, to deliver interpretation sessions for audiences, both at the Museum and at outside venues. These would allow people to see the garments on a real body, understand the way that they were constructed, and worn and, crucially, what they felt like to wear. A living interpreter would also help people to see how someone moved in such clothes and even listen what the clothes might sound like as the wearer walked – all things that are not possible to understand from viewing an original garment on a mannequin inside a glass case. The replica ensemble will bring long-term benefits to the collection by complementing and enhancing our learning about the amazing original garments – an imaginative and useful way of marking a significant event in the collection’s history. Thoughts also turned to the concept of making a film of the replica being worn as the wearer walks down the aisle of Holy Trinity Church, Wonston – an idea which would really bring the garments to life in people’s imagination.
Having secured the support of the Trustees, I researched into the options for the creation of our replicas. It was eventually agreed that Past Pleasures, historical costumiers, would undertake the work. As well as creating replica garments, Past Pleasures also interpret; hiring skilled historical interpreters to wear their clothing and tell the stories of the people they represent. You may well have encountered them as you walk through some of our most important historical landmarks.
Since securing the help of Past Pleasures I have been involved in the in-depth research they have been undertaking in order to make and source the replicas. The first and perhaps most important step was to allow access to the original garments. These were minutely studied, measured and photographed. Patterns were taken so that they could be scaled up to the size of a modern body and the work began to find suitable fabrics and surviving examples of stays and other underpinnings to replicate in order to complete the look. Watch this space to find out about our quest to recreate these very special garments. We will publish a link to each new instalment of the blog as it happens. Come and join us on this fascinating journey!