Devon Collection of Period Costume

Over the years speakers at S.W.Q meetings have not only stretched my craft and visual skills but also given me a tremendous amount of fun and interest. The speakers arranged first by Barbara Janssen and in recent years by Jenny Crossland have ranged over many topics. I love obscure bits of information, do you remember the speaker who told us that the family of the second wife of Arthur Liberty lent him £1000 to rent and set up his shop in Regent Street and that they came from Exmouth I could bore for Europe with bits of knowledge like that.

This story starts a few years back, with Jenny ringing me up, in one of those flat tones of voice, to say that her speaker, Mr Lindsay Evans Robertson wished to speak to our technician and to ask if we did back projection, like the Embroiders’ Guild. So I made our projectionist take his feet of the stool and answer the phone. “No we didn’t. He just put the slides in etc..”

When I met Mr Evans Brown, who talked about the French fashion designer, Paul Poiret, and period later known as Art Deco I understood all.

First his suit was just beautiful, slim Nehru style in a cloth with a subtle sheen of a little silk in the weave – and the cut!

Over luncheon he explained that he had been a cutter in haut couture. Of course. he was a perfectionist.

At the time he was Secretary to the Costume Society and talked enthusiastically of its meetings and events. I was hooked and joined later that year.

Which was how Jenny and I went down to Totnes in the Spring to the Devonshire Collection of Period Costume, at Bogan House as part of an official visit by the Costume Society, – ‘a very select few’ This was by design, due to the age and layout of the building. The costumes are on the first floor, so anyone thinking of a coach trip would need to split the party into halves.

Bogan House is a splendid former merchant’s house at the top of the hill in the High Street. I remember the antique shop that used to be there. The owner decided to investigate behind the MDF panelling and found a wonderful decorated ceiling from the 17th century. Next half a 16th century granite fireplace was exposed. Some of the missing stones were found in the path in the yard. Now the house is beautiful and loved by the community and illustrates the story of Totnes and its wealth.

Each year the costume museum takes a different theme. Last year it was weddings. This year, a lovely review of the theatre, featuring the costumes from eleven plays based on donations from three supporters who had given their own costumes from active stage lives, starting with “She Stoops to Conquer” through “Little Women” and Agatha Christie to Alan Ayckbourne! Suits with wide lapels and trouser turn-ups. The costumes for actors/actresses were lovely, with witty and telling details and so interesting to someone who sews. During the afternoon, Julia Fox the Curator brought out an amazing selection of dresses from the 1930s. One dress for a wedding was a delicate flowered chiffon in pastel colours. Suddenly I saw in colour, what my aunts had really looked like as bridesmaids in my mother’s black and white wedding photographs.

Mr Lindsay Evans Robertson was beautifully groomed as an English country gentleman and was wisely informative about the construction of these stunning gowns. We had enjoyed a delightful visit and as next year will bring another theme. I shall visit again. And it all started at a Christmas meeting.

Dorrie Shorthose

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