House Style: 500 Years of Fashion at Chatsworth

Chatsworth House was insane. Or rather, their House Style exhibition was insane. I won’t even be able to do it justice in this post but I’ll try. It was one of the best exhibitions I’ve seen in a long time, a massive highlight of my trip, and a way of doing things that not many historic houses are brave enough to tackle and pull off. 

I was up north staying in Sheffield with one of my best friends (the bride of a previous post) and we decided to go to Chatsworth for the day. She had been before, but when the house was taken over quite significantly by the Christmas spirit, so was looking forward to visiting again in a less festive season. I was mainly excited about the house’s Tudor history and links to powerful women from that era, the likes of Bess of Hardwick and Mary Queen of Scots. 

This exhibition had been mentioned several times by different curators that we spoke to during the Open Palace Programme. I particularly remember it coming up at Kensington Palace, a historic home with an incredible costume collection. We were told that the House Style exhibition had clothing on display in rooms of the house, but in huge cylindrical cases that allow you to view the costumes from all sides rather than traditional and sometimes alienating museum display cases. This was the only information I  had about the exhibit prior to stepping into Chatsworth House. 

House Style was curated by Hamish Bowles, international editor-at-large for American Vogue. Apparently the planning of the exhibition was spearheaded by Lady Burlington, the daughter-in-law of the current Duchess of Devonshire, when she was looking for a christening gown for her son and discovered the extent of the Chatsworth archive and collections. Notable women from history who are linked to Chatsworth and portrayed in the exhibition include Adele Astair, Kick Kennedy, two of the Mitford sisters, Stella Tennant and 18th century fashion icon Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. 

One of the reasons that House Style worked so well was due to the juxtaposition of contemporary with historic garments, objects and spaces throughout the exhibition. For example, the first major display was in the main hall, where an Alexander McQueen dress that Stella Tennant wore on her breakthrough modelling shoot in the early 90s was displayed opposite the coronation robes of the Duchess of Devonshire. 

Some of the highlights for me were the chapel, a look back at a Victorian ball, and the craziest bling-centric (yes I just invented that questionable word) display I’ve ever seen. Let me describe these for you while trying to keep the gushing to a minimum. 

The chapel display was dedicated to life and death. A combination of objects represented christenings, weddings and funerals, all ceremonies that the room would have seen its fair share of over the years. The main feature was a display of wedding dresses on a raised platform in the centre of the room. They were all facing the altar, as though walking up the aisle individually as the star of their respective wedding days. At the back of the room, almost blending into the shadows completely, were several black dresses representing mourning. Around the outside of the room, display cases exhibited other objects, such as the Mitford family christening gown, and the frock and little red shoes of a young Cavendish who died as a toddler. 

Upstairs, we walked into a dimly lit room dedicated to the ‘party of the century’: a ball that Chatsworth House hosted in 1897 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. The room was filled with black and white photographs of the guests in costume, either as small figures in display cases or printed onto life-size clear cut outs that could only be seen properly at certain angles, when the light caught them. The ‘ghosts’ of the ball. One wall also had a large black and white image projected onto it, a photograph of the main staircase, which you could easily imagine guests descending to enter the party. 

The next room was like being given a gift. Completely unexpectedly, we were in a room with actual costumes on display that had been worn at the ball. Costumes we had seen in photographs in the previous room, but only in black and white. This made their outrageously bright colours even more amazing. I thought this was so well done because the existence of these costumes could easily have been alluded to, or they could have even been displayed in the first room about the event. Holding them back as a surprise was brilliant. Something else I loved about the way the costumes were displayed was that the mannequins were covered in a fabric that matched the upholstery of furniture used at the ball that was only rediscovered recently. This pattern also covered one wall of the room, and the furniture itself was behind the display cases. 

It was the first time these costumes had been in the same room as one another since the ball, over 100 years ago. 

The third display that really stuck with me was one that exhibited contemporary fashion inspired by Tudor portraiture. It was completely nuts but it completely worked. It looked as though the curator had been given the key to the Chatsworth treasure vaults, which I guess is basically what happened. It was a display that I don’t think a museum professional would have done, and that’s what I liked about it. Rather than some key objects being highlighted,  it was like a surreal-orgy-dreamscape of riches. You were kind of assaulted by the whole shining sparkling mess of it all, then you had to start concentrating and peering into the display to pick out individual things. There were portraits of Elizabeth I, Bess of Hardwick and Henry VIII. The dress forms that wore the contemporary costumes had huge feathers shooting out of their necks instead of heads. Tables were laden with smaller treasures, gold and jewels. Rather than individual cases, this whole display was sectioned off from the visitor with a wave of perspex, meaning that when the barrier curved inwards it felt like you were walking into the display. 

These three displays were my highlights, but looking back at my photos reminds me of others that I loved: an 18th century dress near a strikingly similar and complimentary Gucci dress, the pale blue themed room about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (and the incredible centre piece dress looking historical but dating from the 1990s) and one of the final rooms, a large dining room filled with modern dresses on mannequins as though you’d accidentally walked into someone else’s party.

What I haven’t mentioned that definitely increased the stunning effect of the exhibition was that the rooms of Chatsworth House were obviously already incredible, and the curator used this to his advantage. One room was the first that I’ve seen where paintings were hung over top of tapestries, as they would’ve been originally, rather than the tapestries being displayed as art in their own right. My favourite elements of the rooms outside of the exhibition were the beds. The colours alone made these beautiful viewing, not to mention the rich fabrics, layers and design. What I would give to sleep in one of those! 

Ok, one final highlight: an object-based display. Early on, there was a case running the length of a long, narrow room. In it, objects were arranged in chronological order, a timeline that introduced members of the family, key events and items that belonged to them. I thought this was a really interesting way to display smaller objects like jewellery, letters and photographs. The labels were handwritten, which actually made them more accessible I felt, rather than a barrage of repetitive printed text. Also, some of the objects still had their museum ID labels on them or were wrapped in tissue, so the visitor felt as though they were getting to see things that were normally kept under wraps.

Obviously I was a huge fan of this exhibition, but I’m aware that it is a celebration of absurd wealth on a massive scale. Most of these palatial country houses are. However, exhibitions like this one mean that these collections and the incredible workmanship that has gone into them can now be seen by the public, a complete contrast to how accessible the house, it’s owners and their belongings would have been in the past. 

I can’t recommend this exhibition enough; I wish I could visit it for the first time all over again. 

Catch a glimpse of House Style in this footage from Gucci, the main sponsor of the exhibition:  https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=R0huqSerteQ

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Hampton Court Palace

A wise woman once said that the best cure when suffering from significant deja vu upon returning to a city that you had a gnarly love/hate relationship with is as follows: to see first hand, in the Hampton Court Palace textile conservation studio, the recently discovered altar cloth that was adapted from Elizabeth I’s own dress.

We spent the day at Hampton Court on Tuesday as part of the Open Palace Programme and it was wonderful. I’ve been before and absolutely loved it, but the thrill I got when we walked up the stairs and into Henry VIII’s Great Hall was as if I was visiting for the first time all over again.

Three different women who work for Historic Royal Palaces in collections and conservation roles gave us presentations abour their work. Their insight was incredibly interesting. One of the things we talked about a lot was the issue of displaying objects in situ, but keeping these objects in the appropriate conditions. This is because the Historic Royal Palaces (which Hampton Court falls under) are not museums but living displays. They aim to show these buildings as the monarchs that lived in them would have seen them.

This means that the Abraham Tapestries that hang in the Great Hall have been on display almost consistently since Victorian times, even though they are the original tapestries that Henry VIII commissioned to celebrate the birth of his only legitimate son, Edward VI,  in 1537.

Conservation wise, this is a total nightmare. Tudor tapestries in a room with natural light coming in (the windows are a feature in themselves: Victorian stained glass, and can’t be covered up), an antequated Victorian heating system, a constant stream of visitors (= dust) and a door to the outside. As a group we discussed different preventive conservation measures for this tricky situation. Some measures are already in place, such as a heavy curtain over the entrance to try and keep a constant temperature and relative humidity in the room.

After the lectures and discussion, we visited the textile conservation studio. A tapestry that belonged to Thomas Cromwell was rolled onto a huge set of metal rollers, meaning only one portion was exposed at a time to be worked on by conservators. Upstairs in another room we saw the garment that’s been referred to as the ‘Mona Lisa of fashion history’: the priceless and nearly lost piece of Elizabeth I’s dress fabric, spread out on a table under tissue paper. Some of the tissue was pulled back, but the fabric itself was upside down. However, an incredibly convincing reproduction piece was hanging in the room for us to examine up close. This replica had been made to show people like potential donors the piece in detail with no risk to the original.

A few of us talked among ourselves later about how the fabric had been discovered, from a tip-off or by chance? The following day our question was answered when we had a lecture from the chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces, author and Tudor historian Tracy Borman. Tracy had gone to a church in Herefordshire to research Blanche Parry, one of Elizabeth’s favourite ladies, for her book ‘Elizabeth’s Women’. At the church, in a glass case, a piece of fabric caught her eye. It was labelled, ‘altar cloth, possibly Tudor’. It wasn’t until she returned more recently for research for another of her books that she took a dress historian with her, who took one look at the textile and announced, “that’s not an altar cloth, that’s the dress Queen Elizabeth is wearing in the Rainbow Portrait.”

It would make sense that the cloth had ended up where it did, as monarchs often gave away their clothing as gifts. The piece has since been studied meticulously by experts at Hampton Court, who have been able to confirm (from certain seams etc) that it has been adapted from a dress.

I remember reading online when the discovery was first announced; it’s so exciting because hardly any clothing from the Tudor period survives, not to mention anything that belonged to Elizabeth, and that can be recognised in a famous painting! I never imagined that I would be lucky enough to see this treasure close up.

 

Oxford 

We only spent one night in Oxford, between Windsor and Stowe, but I wish it could have been longer. No sessions were planned for this stop so we had an evening and half a day free to explore.

Although I had expected that Oxford would have incredible history, I wasn’t looking forward to it any more than some of our other stops. But it completely exceeded my expectations. It felt like somewhere I could happily live, which is always exciting to find, not just somewhere I enjoy visiting but somewhere I could see myself. 

Disclaimer: this may have been down to one bookshop. Blackwells was a bibliophile’s dream. I could’ve spent hours in there, and happily forgotten all about the incredible Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums, not to mention the world renowned Bodleian Library. 

Because we’ve been spending so much time at heritage sites for the programme, I find myself being drawn to bookshops and good coffee in our down time. In Oxford, Jericho Coffee Traders were the providers of the good coffee. I also like the way that these (usually) independent cafes and bookstores can feel like you’re getting to experience what locals do in a new place, rather than a museum or castle that are the stomping ground of tourists and out of town visitors. In fact, both places were recommended to me by a friend who grew up in Oxford.

Another highlight of Oxford was an evening walk shortly after we’d arrived. It didn’t matter that it was late and nothing was open, there was so much to see just walking around the historic university buildings. I was with two girls from Auckland I met on the course (basically anything I’ve described doing in spare time has been with them). We wandered into the courtyard of the Bodeleian Library, past ‘silence please’ signs, and looked up at hilarious/ridiculous/historical gargoyles popping out from the stone above various doorways.

We stumbled upon the famous Turf Tavern after seeing a tiny alleyway with the sign: ’12th Century Turf Tavern – An Education in Intoxication’. Obviously we had to investigate. 

Turning the corner in the alley we came across an incredibly low-ceilinged pub, with several different spacious outdoor seating areas to make up for the small interior. Signs outside informed us that the likes of Oscar Wilde and Thomas Hardy had once visited, that there was a resident ghost called Rosie (who threw herself into the moat which used to be on the site of the pub after her love failed to return from the Civil War) and that it was here that Bill Clinton did NOT inhale. Strangely enough, on the way in (before I read the sign) I was sure I’d seen Bill’s doppelganger. We sat outside with our appropriate drinks: Pimms for English summer time and a cider called Old Rosie after the aforementioned ghost. 

Later we emerged back onto the main streets, near the Bridge of Sighs, feeling pleased with ourselves for finding what we could have so easily missed. We headed back to our accommodation, the beautiful red-bricked Keble College. 

The following morning we were served breakfast in the huge dining hall that looked like a scene from Harry Potter, where boys in ties poured us tea and coffee. It all felt very Oxford. 

I did go to the Pitt Rivers and Ashmolean museums, but I’ll save writing about them for another time. What I was left with after Oxford was an appreciation for being in the centre of all that history and the thrill of seeing tangible reminders of it at every turn. 

Anne of Cleves House

On the way to Windsor on Sunday we stopped for the afternoon at the medieval town of Lewes, about half an hour from Brighton. Our stop in Lewes was the Anne of Cleves House, where we were met by Emma O’Connor, curator of the Sussex Archaeological Society, who care for the site. 

Emma gave us an incredibly interesting talk on the history of the society, the history of the house, and the house in a modern museological context and the challenges she faces in her role. She took us on a tour through the house and imparted pieces of information along the way that we wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, before leaving us to wander the house and garden on our own. We were also treated to a delicious afternoon tea of scones with clotted cream and raspberry jam, slices of Victoria sponge and cups of tea, enjoyed outside under an enormous sun umbrella in the garden. I should also mention that the weather was hot and perfect, not necessarily a given during an English summer!

The house itself was built in the 12th or 13th century, but there is a barrel vaulted cellar under the house dating to the 11th century that indicates a small building or storehouse may have stood on the site originally. Some Elizabethan additions were also made in later years. It’s thought the house was probably rented out to visitors to Lewes, possibly those that were making the journey to Canterbury Cathedral. It was owned by the Lewes Priory, at one point home to at least 300 monks. It was then given to Thomas Cromwell during the Reformation under Henry VIII and the Priory was destroyed. An Italian man was given the task of destroying the Priory and, ironically, they sent away to Rome for more explosives to finish the very anti-Roman Catholic task. 

Cromwell was executed after Henry’s long awaited marriage to Anne Boleyn didn’t go how he liked, and eventually this building was given to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement from Henry, when she was also given the official title of the King’s ‘sister’. In reality, Anne probably never visited her house, it was not grand enough for someone of her standing, although she would have collected the rents from it. 

The Sussex Archaeological Society was formed by a group of Victorian gentlemen in 1846 after the discovery the previous year of Norman skeletons when a railway was being built. The remains were those of Gundrada de Warenne and her husband William, wealthy landowners who founded Lewes Priory in the 11th century. The society, typical of gentlemen of their time (a time when a mummy could be acquired by mail-order from Egypt), collected voraciously. As well as archaeological material they acquired other types of objects such as archives and fine art. 

They came into the possession of the Anne of Cleves house in the 1920s. Apparently during this time it was common for people to ‘offload’ historical English country houses as they were a nightmare to look after. The National Trust acquired a lot of properties around this time also. 

So, the house has been a museum for more than 90 years.

I loved every inch of this building, particularly the exposed wooden ceiling beams and leaning door frames and worn staircases and dark Tudor furniture (ok I loved all of it I have to stop there). But a definite highlight was a room upstairs above the kitchen that had display cases of strange miscellaneous objects, rather than being set up like a room of a house. There was a small wax figure, used to bring harm to someone; old fireworks and safety goggles that looked like a pair of tea strainers; and a shoebox-sized display case holding a mummified rat and a silver spoon. The story with this last object was that a serving girl in Lewes had been thrown out on the street after a silver spoon went missing at her workplace, although she claimed to be innocent. Years later, workers found the mummified rat in part of the house with the spoon alongside it. 

Back to the fireworks: we learned from Emma that Lewes has very strong traditions associated with Guy Fawkes night. Everyone in the town belongs to one of the Bonfire Societies, like football clubs, that wear different jerseys around Bonfire Night. Around the town there are 8 specific bonfire sites, named on maps of the town. A huge procession of floats/guys to be burnt goes through the town to celebrate the event too. No points for guessing which lovely lady may have featured in 2016. This all comes from the tradition of remembering the 12 martyrs from Lewes that were burnt at the stake by Queen Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter, for being Protestant.

As I mentioned earlier, Emma shared some great stories with us about objects around the house that we might have otherwise overlooked. One was a stone table in the kitchen, not particularly attractive to look at, but said to have once been at Malling House, where the knights who killed Thomas Beckett stayed after committing the murder when they were on the way to Europe. The story goes that their bloodied gauntlets were placed on the table, which threw them off not once but twice! What a good and godly table. Furthermore, the table was owned by Gideon Mantell, whose wife Mary Ann is said to have found the first iguanadon fossil/tooth (Gideon later decided to say it was “found by me”, and was given the official title of Victorian Gentleman Douchebag). Clearly this piece of unassuming kitchen furniture is a winning example of how important the provenance of an object is! 

Brighton by the Sea

I love Brighton. I loved Brighton each time I visited when I lived in London, and having just spent the weekend there for the Open Palace Programme, I discovered that I love it still. 

I love the walk from the train station straight down the hill to the sea, hoards of Londoners in shorts and sunglasses pouring off a morning weekend train and descending towards the beach as one solid mass.

I love the feeling of seeing the water after days or weeks or months in a sealess city. I love the stones that the beach is made up of, rust oranges and charcoal blacks and smooth white pieces of water worn shell. 

I love the pier: I love the light up sign and the loud music and tacky rides. I love the hilariously out of date ghost train with a leaning Frankenstein statue out front. I love the dolphin-shaped rubbish bins and the arcade hall with a Coronation Street game and people carrying plastic cups of coins for games that no one ever wins. I love the availability of candyfloss. I love the lights of the carousel and how the horses have names like Holden and Katrina. I love the view back along the beach. 

I love the cast iron street lamps lining Marine Parade, with mint green bases. I love the striped blue and white folding beach chairs. I love people carrying cones of chips and being harassed by aggressive seagulls and being allowed to drink cider on the beach. I love the hidden shops and galleries under the arches or old boat sheds on the beach front. I love the naff souvenir shops selling every kind of Brighton rock and fantastically awful fridge magnets and bright coloured buckets and spades. I love the ruins of the old pier sitting skeleton-like in the water with dozens of seagulls hanging out on top.

I love how sitting on the beach and looking at the sea makes everything feel better. And I know how cheesy that sounds, but it’s true. I love Brighton. 

Wish You Were Here

Yesterday we left Bath to travel to Brighton for the weekend, stopping at Stonehenge on the way. The visitor centre and car park is far enough away from the site itself that there are shuttles to take visitors between the two. The alternative is to walk, which is what we did, as the weather was amazing. The walk took us off the main road and cross country, passing a huge field of red poppies. There was a small stall of strawberries and cherries being sold by locals at the road side closer to the stones, a must have for stone-side picnicking. 

It was awe-inspiring to see the 5000 year old monument up close (but not too close, it is now cordoned off to the public). It was also strange to see such large numbers of people from all over the world gathering around this mysterious construction. 

Stonehenge is not a place I would normally choose to visit, as I tend to avoid places that are heaving with tourists. The gift shop in particular was like a scene from the apocalypse. However, I really enjoyed their temporary exhibition, ‘Wish You Were Here’, which displayed souvenirs and ephemera from Stonehenge over the years. Victorian pamphlets and stereogram slides, miniature tea sets and tickets to the site from the 1920s and 1930s were just some of the objects on display. There was a case dedicated to Stonehenge as an icon in popular culture, featuring comics and album covers. The final section of the exhibit was a wall covered in images of postcards from Stonehenge, with some quotes from the cards displayed amongst the images.

Looking at the site of Stonehenge through the way people have interpreted it with objects over time was such an interesting angle to take. I like the idea of looking at the visitors over time, the way people have interacted with the site, rather than simply the story of the stones themselves. 

Bath Fashion Museum

Although I’ve been in the UK for almost two weeks it has been hard to find the time to stop and write! So these posts won’t be in chronological order; I have many other wonderful things I want to write about that I’ve done before the Fashion Museum, but I wanted to get the ball rolling.

I’ve been in Bath since Sunday and have been meaning to visit the museum since I arrived, but usually in the afternoon after a morning of workshop or walking tour I’ve felt like just wandering round and visiting bookshops and cafes instead.

Finally, yesterday, I walked up to the historic Assembly Rooms building where the Bath Fashion Museum is located. (I made that sound easy, I actually walked round in circles for a bit first ). After handing over my ticket (combined with the Roman Baths; more on that later) I was given an audio guide, with which I could choose to listen to information about whichever garment on display piqued my interest. The garments were displayed chronologically, so all my favourite garments were in the first half. An exquisitely embroidered Tudor woman’s ‘waistcoat’ (more like a jacket to us, pictured here), an elaborate saffron and gold sack-back Georgian gown, and a blue and white striped Victorian dress with blue pompoms down the front were some of the highlights for me. But, to be honest, I loved pretty much everything from the 1700s and 1800s!

As well as being totally dreamy visually, the museum provided some great tidbits of information about fashion throughout history, whilst managing to keep the info panels small and not too wordy. I remember reading about the change from silk to cotton as the primary fabric for women’s dresses, and how the ‘death of the boot’ came about for men in the 19th century when trousers came into fashion, replacing breeches.

The temporary exhibition on display was about the use of lace in fashion over time, and the pieces on display were incredible. I should also mention that before I came to this part of the museum, there was a room with replica period costume, hats and wigs for people to try on. I wouldn’t want you to think I put on a Victorian dress and enormous straw bonnet and took photos of myself or anything, though.

Tomorrow, Tomorrow!

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Tomorrow I am heading to the UK to attend the Open Palace Programme. The programme consists of three weeks of travelling to various heritage sites in England and taking part in workshops and hearing lectures from the professionals that work in these incredible places. Topics covered will include conservation, education, visitor programmes and collection management. So although these sites and their collections are very different from those that I work with in Nelson, the focuses of the programme are relevant to anyone working in the Heritage/Museum Sector. On the programme alongside me are about 25 other history nerds from New Zealand, Australia and the US with heritage backgrounds (study or work).

We start in Bath, the day after one of my best friends gets married in Sheffield. Luckily this is a meet-up rather than the first official day of learning, and I’ve got the whole day to make my way to Bath, bridesmaid dress in tow. Our Bath accommodation is a restored Georgian town house, so I’ll be immersed in the 18th century right from the get-go. I love this time period, mainly for the exquisite clothing, and I cannot wait to visit Bath’s renowned Fashion Museum.

The entire city of Bath is a World Heritage Site, and here we’ll be learning from the staff at the Bath Preservation Trust. Time will be spent at No.1 Royal Crescent, Beckford’s Tower and Museum and the Museum of Bath Architecture, not to mention all the places we will be free to visit in our spare time. I aim to head to the Fashion Museum, the Holburne Museum, the Jane Austen Centre, and (of course) the Roman Baths.

After our four days in Bath we leave for Brighton, stopping for a visit at Stonehenge on the way. Over our weekend in Brighton we will spend time at the Royal Pavilion and the Regency Townhouse. When I lived in London I would often visit Brighton for day trips, getting a much needed seaside fix that any New Zealander living in a landlocked foreign city will be able to identify with. Two of my closest friends and I would visit in January to celebrate our birthdays, when it was freezing and strangely empty on the pier, and we could get a kick out of being the only people buying Brighton rock and riding the carousel in huge winter coats.

From Brighton we head to Windsor, visiting the medieval town of Lewes on the journey. Here we’re visiting the 15th century townhouse of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, which I won’t quite believe until I’m walking round inside it. We’ll stay the night in Windsor and spend the following day at Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world (!). The next stop is Oxford; I’m looking forward to visiting the Ashmolean Museum, the first purpose-built museum in England.

Stowe is our next location, focussing on Stowe House, created between 1677 and 1779. Here we will learn from the professionals of Stowe Preservation Trust, touring the house and incredible landscape gardens as well as having a formal dinner in the house itself. After Stowe we leave for Woburn, where we’ll be looking at collection management and interpretation at Woburn Abbey. Woburn Abbey is a historic country house owned by the Duke of Bedford and was originally built as an abbey.

Our final base is London for the last week of the programme. We arrive at the beginning of a free weekend, and I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends and visiting my favourite bookshops and eating spots from when I lived in London. I’ve been dreaming of a particular Vietnamese restaurant on Kingsland Road for the past two and a half years!

Over the next week we will spend time at the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Hampton Court Palace, Apsley House, Fulham Palace and the British Library. One of our session leaders at the British Library is Tracy Borman, the Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces. Tracy Borman is a historian and I’m currently reading her latest book ‘The Private Lives of the Tudors’. I got it out from the library as I knew she’d be speaking on the programme, but I wasn’t expecting to find it so gripping! This book explores all of the elements of the Tudor kings and queens’ every day lives that we don’t often hear about; such as how much food was prepared in the enormous palace kitchens, or how the fabric and clothing ordered by the monarchs reflected politics at the time (like ordering more purple clothing when feeling insecure in their reigns, purple being a colour that only the royals could wear). I’m really glad I decided to read this before I left, as it has got me even more excited about the Open Palace Programme than I already was (if that’s possible). I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for Henry VIII’s velvet-covered toilet seat.

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Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

Today when I was setting up a blog, my flatmate suggested that the title could be ‘Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves: A Social History Blog’. This also happens to be the title of one of my favourite karaoke jams. Although the Cher fandom of my flat was the main reason for the blog title suggestion, I do like the way that it represents my love for the historical underdog. Social history has always been my favourite type of history, starting way back when I read ALL the Laura Ingalls Wilder ‘Little House’ books, then the ones about her daughter Rose’s historical childhood, then the ones about her mother Caroline’s historical childhood, etc (I kid you not, those aren’t even all the available generations). I loved all the seemingly insignificant details about their way of life; the thrill of a new ribbon or shiny tin cup at Christmas, Pa making every piece of furniture in their house (as well as the house) from scratch.

Now that I pretend to be an adult, my focus is less Little House on the Prairie, and more on the histories that tend to have been forgotten, or those that aren’t given nearly as much attention as they deserve. A huge portion of this is women’s history. Even just in the New Zealand town that I live in, the number of incredible women that I have come across throughout our relatively young history is awe-inspiring. But hardly anyone knows about these women. This is what I aim to change.

My love for women’s history falls under my interest in the every day lives of people in general. Women, children, gypsies, tramps, thieves, Cher, you name it.