Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Jane Austen Week at Taunton Museum - 'Netherfield' Talk

I am very lucky to live in Taunton, Somerset. Mum and I have lived here for almost 3 years now, and we do so most happily.
Taunton has a wonderful museum. I love the area just outside its doors; there you are surrounded on all sides by historical architecture. If you can block out the few people relaxing outside with their coffee and cake, you can feel the past right there with you, very tangibly!

Taunton Castle Museum

Today mum and I were there, on the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's passing, to listen to a talk given by Mark Simmons, who was Project Manager at Basildon Park, Berkshire, during the house's use as one of the film locations (Mr. Bingley's 'Netherfield Park') for the 2005 'Pride & Prejudice' film. 

Interior of Basildon Park, Reading in the 2005 film Pride & Prejudice

I wasn't sure what to expect, but we had a very interesting hour's talk. Now I am not a fan of the film. Keira Knightly and her cropped hair, which sticks out at the nape of her neck, under the wig she is wearing ruined it for me. You cannot beat the 1995 BBC series, the 'real deal'. Nope, not going to happen, please don't try again. From the casting to the costumes to the adaptation it was simply fabulous.

  • Netherfield - Behind the scenes at the making of the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira KnightleyJuly 18, 2017 at 2:30 pm – 4:00 pmthe making of the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira KnightleyA talk by Mark Simmons, Project Manager for the National Trust at Basildon Park, the setting for Netherfield.

Anyhow, as someone who once dreamed of working for The National Trust, it was fascinating to hear the pleasures (few and far between), and the pains (including 14 hour days) of the onerous task that is allowing a film crew onto the grounds and into the house of Basildon Park. I certainly would not like to take the responsibility, and feel that Mark was indeed a very brave man to have done so. There was much discussion firstly to decide whether or not to agree to have the filming take place there at all. Would the disruption and the closure of the house for many weeks during The National Trust's 'season' be worth it? Thankfully it was: with a huge increase in visitor numbers post film and money given to aid the coffers, in the end all was well.
But the work it took! Once the many-paged contract had been finally agreed upon and signed, it took 2 weeks to remove all the contents of the rooms that were needed, and pack it all carefully away, including a 60ft carpet which had to be carefully rolled and then removed from a room on one floor, out through the window and into the room directly below it. The room in the photo still above actually has red velvet walls. This style of interior was not used in the early 1800s, so those walls were protected, and then another room had to be built directly into the room, 6 feet away from the velvet wall. The care that had to be taken over every item was quite astonishing. This included the huge chandelier which had to be removed - one 'drop' at a time!

Basildon Park, Reading

So after everything was safely stored, the film crew descended. It must have been a very nerve wracking time for Mark. He was only 28, and had no prior experience of this type of project. When it was being discussed with the powers that be at The National Trust whether or not to allow the house to be used for such a purpose, he was told that if he thought he could do it, then to go for it. I'm not sure I would have had such confidence, so good for him. There were of course, a few 'unscripted' occurrences, such as outside flames being used without any prior consent, and one artefact outside unfortunately being reversed into, but all ended (mostly) well. The crew came, they went, they conquered?! It was then another 2 weeks the other side of the shoot to get everything back to normal, and in shipshape and Bristol fashion once again.
For me, the overridingly fascinating conundrum was that the film company (Working Title) even used real marble to cover a table top in one of the rooms, but neglected to cover the lead's spiky hair at the nape of her neck!! What a shame....

Keira's short hair poking out below the wig. It is in almost every scene with her.

Months after the film's release, Basildon Park ran an exhibition displaying costumes, furniture and other props and images from the film:-

An exhibition which focuses on the making of the film has been running at Basildon Park in Pangbourne, Berkshire.
The 18th Century house, which is run by the National Trust, saw the flood of visitors in just five weeks.
Managers at the property normally expect to see about 50,000 visitors a year passing through its doors.
'Runaway success'
Earlier this year, they made an urgent appeal for volunteers to help deal with the expected surge in visitors. 
Mark Simmons, the house's visitor services manager, said: "It has been great to see so many people visit the property and find out what went on when filming took place here. 
"The exhibition really has been a runaway success."
In the film, starring Keira Knightley, Basildon House becomes Netherfield, the home of Mr Bingley.

(BBC news article on their website, dated Tuesday, 25th of October, 2005).

A lovely personal touch to this talk was Mark's wife introducing him (she works at Taunton Castle). She explained that they had not been married long before their lives became swept up in all the hard work for the film. They were actually living in the house at the time, and so for those 6 or so weeks, she helped out with the removal of the exceedingly large carpet, and I'm sure helped in any other tasks when all hands were needed on deck. As a souvenir of this, shall we say, challenging time together, they bought one of the chairs that was made for the shoot; one that Mr Darcy (in this case Matthew McFadyen) sat on, which now resides in their home... although instead of a famous actor's bottom, it is now occupied by Mark's wife's teddy bear collection!!
Naomi x

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Antique Child's Regency Chemisette c.1830s-40s

This is the second early-mid 19th century child's chemisette that I have ever come across. But sadly this one has been through the wars!!
It is a fine muslin chemisette, with padded satin stitch embroidery around the neckline. Above that is a ladder stitch, and above that there may have been lace, but as it is missing, we will never know. There is a loop on one side, but the corresponding button is missing from the other side. Most likely it would have been a tiny mother of pearl or ceramic button. 

1830s-1840s Child's Muslin Chemisette 

So there is damage in this piece, and sadly it is extensive. You can see the holes to the muslin itself, which are present on all 3 pieces. But sadly it is the embroidered neckline that has taken the brunt of the damage. There are many holes, and many antique darns. Most of the chemisette is a lovely white, but there are a couple of stains, albeit small ones, along the neckline.

Padded Satin Stitch Embroidery to Neckline


Centre Back from Neck Edge to hem - 9 3/4" or 24.8cm

From Shoulder Edge to Shoulder Edge - 14" or 35.5cm 

Naomi x


Wednesday, 31 May 2017

18th Century Whitework Embroidered Muslin Piece

In a job-lot of lace that I bought a few weeks ago, I came across another fragment of 18th century whitework:-

18th Century Chain-Stitch Embroidery Fragment

It very much looks to me like part of an apron, from the last quarter of the 18th century. The overall effect is simple and very demure, so fine and delicate. The fine thread is worked in a chain stitch.

The motifs we have here are bows, simple flower heads and leaves, but also more interesting and when you look closely, very changeable shapes representing, fruits: strawberries, pomegranates and maybe peaches. These have been placed where the lines intersect one another. These motifs have the wonderfully fine drawn-thread work, such incredibly minute stitches. The design and motifs style point to c.1770-1800.

When we look at the close-up images, we can see the tiny chain stitches (not using a tambour hook), and pulled thread work. I do like the tiny holes which have been incorporated into the simple flowers and groups of leaves.

C.1770-1800. Details of Chain-Stitch Embroidery with Drawn Thread Work

The slightly scalloped edge is a little difficult to make out, but pulling it out a little way, and using my trusty magnifier, the very outside edge looks like a fine, narrow bobbin lace edging (which would have been sewn on), then there is a wider section of less tidy straight stitch, possibly padded, then one row of chain stitch. 

I have just purchased a c.1780s whitework muslin apron as it happens, and am bursting to see it! :)

Naomi xx

Monday, 1 May 2017

1829 Wedding Dress of Hannah Bursnall

Happy May Day!!

This late 1820s extant dress is a very special dress. The provenance is fascinating. I bought this dress about 4 years ago from the lovely Ann at Poppies Cottage.

1829 Printed Dress

1829 Dress with Front Closing Bodice and Drop Front Skirt

The lady that you see below is Hannah Bursnall; the owner of this near 200 year old dress, in the early 1900s. {Apologies for the poor quality of the photograph.}

Mrs Bursnall nee Pepper with Great Grandson, early 1900s

Apart from my love of provincial costume, the historian in me was delighted to see a dress from the late 1820s (more about the dating later), with a photograph of the original owner, and her name. Now it is mostly due to Hannah’s long life, that we are able to see so far back into the past, and thanks to 21st technology, I was able to find out quite a bit about her and her rural life in England.

Hannah Bursnall (also ‘Burshell’ or ‘Bursnell’ as her surname is also recorded) was born in Wymondham, Leicestershire, around 1805. She was to pass away at the age of around 105 in Skillington, Lincolnshire in 1909. Both of these villages are small and very close to one another; rural communities where everyone knew everyone else. Her maiden name was Pepper, and she had quite a few siblings. Her father was an agricultural Labourer as was her husband. By the time of the 1841 census, she had had 6 children, and had been married for 12 years, marrying at about the age of 24 in 1829.

Now I think that this dress was her wedding dress. She came from a background of hard, physical labour, often a hand to mouth existence, when a harvest could make or break families and villages. I cannot imagine for one minute that she kept many of her clothes down through the years. The fabric would have been used, the dresses she had may well have been passed to her daughters and altered numerous times. So why keep this one dress? The fabric is right for 1829, and although the style is possibly not the latest construction or fashion, with the apron drop front skirt, the sleeve treatment, with the pleating and decoration at the wrists is spot on for this time. The small collar (her parents certainly would not have had the cash for a pelerine white worked collar) again is perfect for the late 1820s.

Front opening bodice and drop front skirt.

When Hannah passed away in 1909, she was living with her daughter of 72 years of age. I found a wonderful article online about her in a newspaper from Australia, describing her 105th birthday. This article first appeared in the British ‘Daily Mail’. When asked what her recipe for old age was she is said to have replied “Get up early, work hard, and read the Bible.” According to this report her direct descendants added up to 102, she herself having had 14 children.

(As an aside, the village of Skillington had visits from a young boy in the 1640s, who was to grow up to be Sir Isaac Newton (info from Trevor Palmer’s booklet ‘A History of Skillington’. 2003).  He had some early schooling at a Dame School in the village, and 3 of his aunts lived at Skillington, so no doubt he visited them regularly too. Skillington is also mentioned in The Domesday Book of 1086.)

Details:- collar, ruched front, purple glazed cotton lining, pleated narrow sleeve with piping and buttons.

The Dress

This dress did have a few issues when it came to me. It had a long split in the skirt which I have mended. There were a few buttons on the sleeves missing (there should be 3 to each sleeve), so I carefully cut a piece of fabric from the inside seam allowance (these were left inches long at the top of the skirt so that it could be ‘turned’ if needed at some later date), and made 4 buttons with metal rings and wool as the others had been used. Now sadly the handsewn bars over on the other side of the sleeve for the buttons to close the sleeve at the wrists, have all disappeared. And although I tried to resew them, the fabric was simply too delicate and a little torn for me to do this to my satisfaction, so these are missing. The dress had some blu-tac on the sleeves, which was slowly and gently removed with water). The outside brown ties had torn, on one side, so I added a short length of tape to this; (colour matched as close as possible).

As mentioned it has a small collar, and a ruched bodice. It fastens at the front. Now fastening this dress is a bit of a challenge, and I do wonder if originally it had a belt. It needs pins to close the bodice front, then there is an inside waist tape to tie firmly around the waist, and then the skirt ties loop around and fasten at the back. But the waistband is not secure, so I do feel that something is missing (either something physical or my own knowledge)!

Naomi x