Posted in Activity, Archaeology, Bringing Alive The Past, Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, History, Horticultural History, Maritime History, Museum, Rural Heritage

Happy 100th Birthday Tudor House & Garden, Southampton

Tudor House and Garden, Southampton as it appears today.

On the 29th July this year, Tudor House and Garden, Southampton celebrated its 100th birthday. The museum was officially opened on the afternoon of Monday, 29th July, 1912, by the Mayor of Southampton Henry Bowyer. The attraction gave a much-needed boost to Southampton’s morale following the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic less than four months prior.

Old poster advertising Tudor House Museum.

In 1912, the museum’s opening hours were 10am to 6pm during the summer and 10am to 4pm in winter, with an admission charge of 6d but free on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays. The museum’s first curator, Mr Nicholas, did not receive payment for his role.  Nicholas worked extremely hard to ensure that the museum was ready for its grand opening. He also organised the transformation of a former cabbage patch behind Tudor House to be turned into an old English garden.  In the 1980s the garden was re-planned by landscape designer Dr Sylvia Landsberg. Dr Landsberg wanted the garden to resemble a Tudor knot garden from the 1500s.

The garden at Tudor House that was designed by Dr Sylvia Landsberg.

Nicholas continued as Honorary Curator for over twenty years. During that time, he used his own money to fund trips to source objects for the museum. He worked tirelessly to assemble the museum’s eclectic range of objects. Eventually, the council appointed a professional curatorial team to manage the collection.

Selection of souvenirs sold at Tudor House museum in the last 100 years.
Unusual objects that were on display when the museum first opened in 1912.
Fireman’s helmet from the Napoleonic era. Before the helmet originally went on display in the museum, it was part of William Spranger’s own collection which was housed in a private museum at King John’s Palace, behind Tudor House.

According to A. G. K. Leonard in The Saving of Tudor House, the museum’s first year of opening was a great success:

The people of Southampton evidently appreciated the town’s first museum.  In September, 1913, the Borough Council received the report of its Estates Committee which included an account by R. E. Nicholas of the first year of Tudor House (ST 13 September 1913): this stated that 18,400 people had signed the visitors’ book there and that “probably quite twice that number had visited the house”….It was also reported that £30.10s. had been taken on “pay days” i.e. 1,220 sixpences…Alderman Bance told the council that in the first few months since its publication 1,958 copies of the history of Tudor House, a booklet by F. J. C. Hearnshaw, had been sold, along with 2,870 of the picture postcards of the house published by the Corporation.

(Leonard, A.G.K., 1987, pp. 27-28)

A Tudor gentleman helps celebrate the museum’s 100th birthday.

To commemorate the centenary, the current museum staff organised a wonderful day at Tudor House on Sunday 29th July, with an entrance fee of 6p! Staff also dressed in Edwardian and Tudor costume.

My attempts at making a mosaic coaster.

Grouting my mosaic coaster.
My finished mosaic coaster.

One of the activities organised by the museum as part of the centenary celebrations was a mosaic workshop in nearby Westgate Hall (formerly known as Tudor Merchant’s Hall).

I took this piece of flint along to be appraised by the archaeologist. I have kept it wrapped-up in a box since I was a child. Had I found a prehistoric axe head? Sadly no, just a nice piece of flint. Oh well, at least it puts that mystery to bed.

An Archaeologist was also on hand in the main museum to help identify any finds brought in.

Over the last five hundred years some of Tudor House’s many interesting owners/occupiers have included:

  • Walter and Jane William – Walter inherited Tudor House from his father. Walter was a wealthy merchant who exported wool and cloth and imported salt, wine, leather, oil, fish and woad. When Walter died, Jane inherited the building. Jane married husband number two, Sir John Dawtrey;
  • Sir John Dawtrey – Sir John was Overseer of the Port of Southampton and Collector of the King’s Customs. Following Jane’s death he married Isabel Shirley in 1509 and they had a son, Francis, in 1510. Sir John died in 1518;
  • Lady Isabel Lyster (formerly Dawtrey). Lady Isabel, Dawtrey’s widow, ran Tudor House for ten years. She was a successful businesswoman who traded in millstones for windmills and watermills. She also rented the Cloth Hall in St. Michael’s Square from 1526 to 1531;
  • Sir Richard Lyster (c.1480-1553) – Sir Richard married Lady Isabel in 1528. They became Southampton’s power couple, amassing a huge joint wealth. Sir Richard was a Judge and Lord Chief Justice of England.  He attended Queen Anne Boleyn’s (1501-1536) coronation, riding in the procession beforehand. He also took part in the trial of Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) and was Henry VIII’s (1491-1547) divorce lawyer. During their time in residence at Tudor House, Lord and Lady Lyster had eight servants, a bake house and a dairy. Following Isabel’s death, Sir Richard married Elizabeth Stoke, they had two children, Michael (d. 1551) and Elizabeth;
  • William Lankester (1798-1875) – an iron and brass founder and furnishing ironmonger;

    Photograph of Tudor House in 1880. Notice G. Cawte’s shop on the left and Pope & Co on the right.
  • George Henry Pope – tenant of the northern section of Tudor House and grounds along Blue Anchor Lane from 1868. Pope was a dyer, clothes and furniture cleaner and had a shop at the front of the House. His trade advertisement read: ‘Ladies’ dresses of every description cleaned or dyed. British and foreign shawls, scarfs, & c., cleaned by a process that will ensure the colours being preserved.  Gentlemen’s wearing apparel and servants’ liveries of every description cleaned in a superior style.’ At the height of Queen Victoria’s reign mourning customswere strict. For one year and one day a widow had to wear ‘widow weeds’, the only colour permissible being black. Colour restrictions extended to jewellery and all accessories. After a year and a day she could progress to ‘half mourning’ where she would be permitted to wear a touch of white or grey, then perhaps lavender and after two years full colour could be worn again.  It was customary for a Victorian widow to have her clothing dyed black and after two years re-dyed back to its original colour. Pope offered this popular service to his customers: ‘Articles for mourning dyed on the shortest notice…. The black extracted from silk, satin, Merino, cloth,& Co., and the material dyed to a variety of patterns’;

    A selection of tools used by Cawte’s family bookbinding business.
  • Henry G. Cawte – opened his family bookbinding business at Tudor House (then known as Old Palace House, 9 St. Michael’s Square) in 1859;

    Tools belonging to Eliza Simmonds.
  • Eliza Simmonds – a straw-bonnet maker, milliner and dressmaker who took a tenancy of part of Tudor House from 1869-80.  During the first half of Queen Victoria’s (1819-1901) reign the straw plait industrywas an important trade, supplying the flourishing straw-bonnet industry, particularly in Bedfordshire. Straw-bonnets with decorative flourishes were very fashionable. Straw plaiting, used as a basis for the straw-bonnets, was a popular source of income for women living in rural homesteads and a thriving cottage industry developed. It was always easy to spot a straw plait maker, the corner of her lips would be badly scarred as a result of moistening the splints from the straw bundle. If the straw had already been dyed, then her mouth would also be colour-stained;

    A pretty Victorian straw bonnet by Eliza Simmonds.
  • Josiah George Poole (1818-1897) – Poole had originally lived at Tudor House during the 1850s. He returned again in 1883 to set-up home alongside his business, J. G. Poole & Sons. Poole was an architect and surveyor who worked extensively on local projects including the Masonic Hall in Albion Place and restoration of the south side of the Bargate (1864-5).A. G. K. Leonard writes of the Poole family: ‘….Poole’s large family (he had five children by his first wife and sixteen by his second, although not all survived infancy) gathered for dinner in the Banqueting Hall.’ (Leonard, A.G. K., 1987, p. 4);

    Oil painting by V. C. Batalha Reis Ariba, painted in 1921, of Edward Cooper Poole, son of Josiah George Poole. Edward worked with his father and one of his many commissions was to re-design Southampton Royal Pier which opened in 1930.
Oil painting, by an unknown artist, of Mr Spranger, c. 1915. His portrait hangs in one of the upstairs exhibition rooms so that he can continue to survey all that he has created.

William Francis Gummer Spranger (1848-1917)

Without William Spranger there would be no Tudor House museum. He was a public-spirited man and epitome of the Victorian philanthropist.  Tudor House museum is Spranger’s legacy to the people of Southampton and everyone who is passionate about the city’s history and heritage. He brought the entire freehold property of Tudor House and Norman House from W. G. Lankester for £1,450 in 1886. Spranger was educated at Oxford and during his time living in Southampton (from 1893 until his death), took an active interest in local educational matters.  He was a governor and benefactor of Hartley College (now the University of Southampton), Chairman of the Southampton School of Art, president of the Hampshire Field Club 1904-5, the first chairman of the Southampton Record Society and in 1898 was appointed governor of Taunton’s College (now Richard Taunton Sixth Form College) and King Edward VI School. In true story-book style, Spranger’s last death-bed message was to the boys of the Endowed Schools [Taunton’s and King Edward VI] – “lead good lives and play straight”.  For his funeral at St. Michael’s, the church troop of boy scouts formed a guard of honour and at the cemetery the path to his grave was lined by boys of Taunton’s and King Edward VI Schools. (Leonard, A.G.K., 1987, pp.10-11)

Old photograph showing interior of Tudor House last century.

Tudor House has undergone a number of substantial restorations during its lifetime. The first being in the early sixteenth century, another under Spranger’s watchful eye between 1898 and 1902, some ten years before the museum finally opened.  The last major restoration took place between 2001 and 2011 when the Museum received £3.5 million of Heritage Lottery Fund Grants (for more information on this please see my article of 28th July 2011. CLICK HERE.)

Spranger said of his restoration of Tudor House:

“….the original building had undergone changes in the course of the centuries which he had no knowledge of when the builders’ men were set to work.  Externally, herring-bone brickwork had been covered over with stucco and characteristic timbering of the Tudor period was hidden in many parts.  Inside, some very remarkable discoveries were made.  Lath and plaster ceilings had been fixed below the original ceilings of panelled oak, great chestnut beams had been similarly hidden, windows blocked up, fire-places altered and many of the principal beauties, as now visible, defaced and despoiled. Every new find was a great temptation to go on and I spent so much money having things put as right as possible again that I was compelled to pull myself up.”

(Leonard, A.G.K., 1987, p. 15)

Tudor House and Garden is such a wonderful place to visit, a true gem in the old town of Southampton City. For visitor information please CLICK HERE.

Montage of old photographs showing the interior of Tudor House museum just after it opened in 1912.

Posted in Event, Exhibition, Fashion History, History, Motoring History, Museum, Review, Vintage

1950’s Britain – Part One

Coronation bobby pins from 1953 that I recently brought at a vintage fair.
Detail of 1953 coronation bobby pin.

In the last few months I have found myself attending a number of 1950s themed events and this has spurred me on to delve further into this incredible decade in British history. There has never been a better time to look again at 1950s Britain, a decade of choice, change and challenges. Interest in all aspects of fifties living is currently at an all time high. This is of course partly due to the fact that we are now only one week away from the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and a four-day weekend. If you are attending or organising any vintage events to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, then I hope you are able to gain inspiration from my four articles.  For more information on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, please CLICK HERE .

Another royal treat which may be of particular interest to those fascinated with the life (and loves!) of Queen Victoria are her private diaries which are now available, for the first time, on-line. The complete collection of journals are kept in the Royal Archives. Queen Victoria was the first British monarch to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee and the digitisation of her journals seems a most fitting tribute to this extraordinary Queen.  The journals cover her childhood to her Diamond Jubilee and beyond. The date range is 1832-1901. A truly absorbing read. CLICK HERE and start browsing.

Me wearing vintage at MShed Bristol 2012.

I recently attended a 50s and 60s Vintage Weekend (24th-25th March) at the recently opened Mshed Museum in Bristol.  Mshed Museum is located on Bristol’s historic dockside in a former 1950s transit shed. The Museum tells the story of the history of Bristol and the people who helped create this splendid city.  The inspiration for the Vintage Weekend came from an exhibition then on at the Museum, ‘An Eye For Fashion: An Exhibition of British Fashion Photography by Norman Parkinson 1954-1964’ (21st January – 15th April). The exhibition was made-up of sixty original Norman Parkinson photographs featuring British fashion designers from 1954-1964. The photographs were on loan from the Angela Williams Archive Designers of British Fashion portfolio and on display in Bristol for the very first time.  Angela worked as Parkinson’s assistant during the 1960s. To compliment the photographs there was also a really lovely exhibition, ‘Bristol Fashion’, featuring 50s and 60s costumes from the Museum’s permanent collection. There were loads of vintage trade stalls too. The weather behaved itself and a fantastic time had by all.  My friend and I created our own 50s inspired outfits which went down a storm.  We were also lucky to meet the delightful Angela Williams in person. Angela passed some very favourable comments about our vintage attire. My friend and I even made it into an on-line article written by Alice Roberton for the ultimate style bible of modern-day vintage lovers, Homes & Antiques magazine. A lovely mention too for Come Step Back in Time. For article, please CLICK HERE.

My friend and I took to the historic dockside in Bristol to do a mini-fashion shoot inspired by the Norman Parkinson exhibition. Mixing fashion with an industrial background is a theme that appears in a number of photographs by Parkinson from this period.
Me on the balcony at MShed Museum. Leopard prints were all the rage in the 1950s so I decided to base my outfit around this theme. To create the look, I took an old Marks and Spencers faux-fur hat, cut-off the brim and fashioned a pillbox style hat. The brim I attached to the neck of an old black, button-through cardigan to create a stylish collar. I removed the original buttons and replaced with pearl-look ones. I borrowed a pair of white 1950s gloves from my mother-in-law. The stockings I wore were period accurate, although they tended to lose their shape as there was no Lycra in them. I wore a 1950s style girdle brought from London-based vintage shapewear specialists What Katie Did. The handbag is an original on loan from my dear friend Carolyn Hair.

The topics I will be covering in my homage to 1950s Britain include: homes; interior design; fashion and beauty; leisure activities; food and cookery as well as some of the more unusual aspects of fifties Britain that are often overlooked in articles written on the decade. I have also interviewed various members of my family about their experiences of growing-up in Britain during the 1950s. I am thankful to them for being so open and honest with their replies to my endless questions.

My mother has been an absolute hero and agreed to tackle the construction of an original 1952 blouse pattern by way of an experiment by the modern dressmaker.  The challenge was not as easy as one might expect.  I bring you her do’s and don’ts for anyone wishing to take on this challenge for themselves in a later article.

I must also give special thanks to the wonderful curatorial team at St. Barbe Museum in Lymington, Hampshire. They have allowed me to share with you some really special 1950s items held in their collection, several of which were recently  put on display for their exhibition, ‘1950’s – Having it so Good’ (17th March-28th April).  A well-curated exhibition giving an insight into every aspect of life in 1950s Britain, topics included: Modern Society Comes of Age; At Home; Design in the Home; Car Ownership; Ceramics; Clothing and Fashion; Toys and Games; Music; The Festival of Britain; The Coronation; Immigration; Suez Crisis and The War. The exhibition also included material from the period donated by members of the public, a very nice touch indeed. The end result was an exhibition that was also a collaborative project with the local community in and around Lymington.

St. Barbe Museum are also holding a number of family friendly events to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, for further information on these, please CLICK HERE. There will also be an exhibition to accompany the events, showing how the people of Lymington have celebrated Coronations and Jubilees from Queen Victoria to the present day.  On display will be items not normally seen on display. The ‘Special Mini-Exhibition: A Royal Celebration’ opens on Saturday 2nd June and runs until Saturday 30thJune.

A selection of wartime ration books on display at Swanage Museum, Dorset.


1950s Britain was a decade of considerable change. The early years were pretty tough. Food rationing remained until 4th July 1954 and imported goods were very expensive. The average Briton could not afford any of life’s little luxuries. The supposed dawn of a new age precipitated a thirst for a better way of life and a new direction for Britain. The Nation’s increased optimism was to come extent, a little premature, as the threat of a Third World War loomed, instigated by the crisis in Korea. This dangerous political situation must have never been far from the minds of politicians and general public alike.

From the inside of my mother’s Royalty in Essex book. All schoolchildren in the UK received a special copy of a book to celebrate the Queen’s coronation in 1953.

On February 6th February 1952, King George VI died and his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, succeeded him to the throne. Although her coronation did not take place until 2nd June 1953. The new Queen and her husband offered the nation hope for a brighter future. The young couple was a breath of fresh air in the royal establishment. The new modern age needed a bright, young couple at its helm to steer the country into uncharted territories.  The nation came together in celebration of this momentous occasion and the coronation was the first major event to receive international television coverage.

My mother and aunt recalled that in 1953 all schoolchildren were presented with a souvenir book to mark the coronation.  The book’s contents varied from county to county but in each instance reflected that particular county’s royal connections as well its important historical landmarks. My mother and aunt were brought-up in Essex and they were given the book Royalty in Essex. After much rummaging in the attic, my mother managed to locate her copy.

Book given to all UK school children to mark the 1953 coronation. This book belongs to my mother.

By the end of the decade the average weekly wage had doubled and income tax rates fallen. Britons with disposable incomes burning a hole in their pockets were seduced by Americanisation and consumer culture. Mass consumption was born. Previously, every penny counted but now everyone could enjoy the benefits that came with greater financial freedom. Car ownership doubled during the decade and by 1959, one in three families owned a car. The road infrastructure underwent a major overhaul and Britain’s first motorway, the Preston By-Pass (now part of the M6 in Lancashire), opened in 1958.

My family and some of their friends on a beach in Hythe, Kent. 1956.

I asked my mother and aunt about what life was like growing-up in 1950’s Britain? My aunt recalls that for her it was: ‘..a very jolly, carefree time – which as children, all appeared to be, and we were indeed very happy. Our parents were very loving and caring and always endeavoured to protect us from the ‘outside world’ and we were very fortunate to have experienced a comfortable upbringing.’

Family outing to Wannock Tea Gardens, Polegate, Sussex. 1955.

The family photo albums from the period reflect this happy truth and include lots of snapshots taken on various days out. My mother and aunt were fortunate, my granddad owned a car which meant seaside holidays, picnics in parks and visits to places of interest were commonplace. In the early 1950’s, my granddad had a second-hand, dark, powder blue, Ford Consul MKI.

My aunt and uncle standing in front of granddad’s Ford Consul MKI. Galleywood Common. 1955.

Following receipt of a bonus from the company he worked for, in 1957 granddad purchased a new, grey Ford Consul 204E (MKII – 1956). Ford Zephyrs, Zodiacs and Consuls were very popular in Britain in the 1950’s, partly due to their American design influence. The Consul launched in February 1956 and for the next six years became popular with families, who were seeking a car with style, space and comfort. Consul’s had spacious interiors with six seats – created by the column interchange; there was also a large boot. The four-cylinder Consul had a cruising speed of 65 mph and the passenger comfort was good. All in all the Consul became the perfect classic, family car of the 1950s. Another popular car during the 50s was the British-made Morris Minor, marketed as a reasonably priced car for the masses, designed by Sir Alec Issigonis.

My granddad’s brand new Ford Consul 204E MKII. Brought in 1957.
My uncle beside the brand new family car in 1957.

The Consul proved to be a bit of an embarrassment to my aunt though. None of her classmates’ parents owned such a ‘flashy car’ and she hated being picked-up from Junior School in it. The embarrassment was so profound that she begged her parents to allow her to change schools so that she could travel back and forth on the school bus. Her parents ignored the pleadings.

Family picnic on Galleywood Common. 1957. My granddad’s pride and joy, the Ford Consul can be seen in the background. My grandma wearing her high heels for the occasion of a picnic always amuses my aunt.
My family at Pevensey Castle, East Sussex. 1955.


In 1951, the South Bank of the Thames underwent a massive programme of urban regeneration to make way for the forthcoming Festival of Britain. The Festival was in part intended as a nod to the Great Exhibition of 1851, a fact that was pretty much lost in all the hoopla surrounding the event. Between its opening in May and closure in September, 8.5 million people visited the Festival. The festival director, Gerald Barry, declared the event would be a “tonic to the nation”.

All over Britain, cities and towns held their own Festival of Britain celebrations. This is the programme produced by Southampton city and shows the Festival’s red, white and blue emblem designed by Abram Games. This object is on display at Tudor House and Gardens Museum in Southampton, Hampshire.

The patriotic colours red, white and blue shown in the Festival’s motif designed by Abram Games were with a mind to catch the Festival mood. It was supposed to represent the bright new mood of optimism of Britain in 1951. The nation was given a ‘face-lift’ and there was a general ‘tidying-up’ of towns, cities and villages. War damaged buildings were restored and rubble posthumously swept from the highways, byways and high streets. The government wanted to give the rest of the world the appearance of a whole nation pulling together and recovering from adversity.

The New Towns Act had been passed in 1948, resulting in the construction of some 2,500 schools and ten New Towns within the following decade. Some of these New Towns included Stevenage, Harlow, Basildon and Crawley. However, the Festival’s own Live Architecture Exhibition at the Lansbury Site was very poorly attended, one example of how the minds of the public were diverted to the jamboree on the South Bank.  Out of the 8.5 million Festival visitors, only 86,646 attended the Live Architecture Exhibition. All the exhibits at the Live Architecture Exhibition were constructed out of materials and layouts that were the result of scientific discoveries.

Post-war land space was scarce so architects designed Tower Blocks that were functional and of simple design. This hailed the start of the ‘New Brutalism’ architectural movement of the 1950’s.  The first New Brutalist building was the Secondary School at Hunstanton (1949-54). The movement was spearheaded by two, young architects, Peter and Alison Smithson.

The Festival offered an opportunity to showcase the best of British modern design. Robin and Lucienne Day, Sir Terence Conran and Ernest Race were a few of the high-profile designers involved in the event. Ernest Race’s Antelope chair, with its rust-proofed and stove-enamelled frame, plywood seat bent into shape by steam and pressure became a design icon of the Festival. The chair had ‘molecular’ style feet, picking-up the science theme evident right across all of the exhibits and room displays. Race’s chair was mass-produced in its thousands and seen by the public everywhere at the event.

Ernest Race’s Antelope Chair designed for The Festival of Britain. This chair was produced in 1950. It is on display at Portsmouth City Museum.

The concrete plant-pots seen all over the site were designed by Maria Shepherd and became very popular in the 1960s. The Royal Festival Hall, designed by Leslie Martin and her team, was built to replace the bombed Queen’s Hall. In the Homes and Gardens Pavilion, room-settings showed furniture with braced legs, cane work, aluminium lattices, Cotswold-type walling with picture windows, flying staircases, blonde wood and lily-of-the-valley splays of light bulbs.

Despite large visitor numbers to the South Bank, criticism was levied on the Labour government for organising such an extravagant event in tough economic times. Perhaps one of the many reasons why Labour lost the 1951 General Election. One of the most enduring symbols of the 1951 Festival of Britain was the Skylon. Designed by Hidalgo Moya, Philip Powell and Felix Samuely Bank.  The structure loomed large over the South Bank. Some commentators joked that it was like austerity Britain and had, “no visible means of support”.

Skylon’s post-Festival fate has long been subject to debate. However, after the Festival, the newly elected Conservative government thought the Labour commissioned structure to be a symbol of socialism. After a great deal of wrangling, Winston Churchill ordered it to be scrapped in 1952. It was not thrown into the Thames, which had been suggested by some but was turned into scrap metal and sold. A prudent measure, considering the shortage of these materials in Britain at the time.

Posted in Country House, History, Horticultural History

Myrtle – By Royal Command

Terrace at Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

‘Her lovely lace veil worn off the face, was arranged flat on her hair, and held in place by a narrow chaplet of myrtle leaves and a white rose at each side.  The bridesmaids wore no veils, and their wreaths of myrtle leaves were bound low on the brow, and held in over the ears with roses and white heather.’

Description that appeared in The Lady magazine, Thursday 26th April 1923, of the wedding of The Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to The Duke of York

Last year, I watched the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a huge outdoor screen at Osborne House, East Cowes, Isle of Wight.  An enjoyable experience and great atmosphere to boot.  I felt that Osborne House was the perfect backdrop to experience this momentous occasion.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert brought the estate in 1845, with the aim of creating a summer retreat and place to escape from court life in London and Windsor. There is so much to see and do at Osborne but I was particularly curious to locate the famous myrtle bushes in the grounds.  The Duchess of Cambridge’s shield-shaped bouquet contained stems from the myrtle at Osborne together with a sprig from a plant grown from the myrtle used in The Queen’s wedding bouquet of 1947. 

View of lower terrace and The Andromeda Fountain, Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

I was particularly thrilled to track down the exact bush that had offered up its stems for the Duchess of Cambridge’s bouquet.  I knew I had the correct bush because the lovely lady in the tea kiosk opposite informed me, proudly, that she had watched through the window when officials had cut sprigs from it in the previous week.  I purchased my own little piece of history from the gift shop, a cutting from the myrtle bushes at Osborne and this has now been duly planted in the garden.

Myrtle bush that the Duchess of Cambridge's sprigs were cut from at Osborne House.

Myrtle (Myrtus communis) is a small evergreen shrub, producing fragrant white or pink flowers.  It can be planted out-of-doors if you live in a mild climate or if not, then kept in a pot and protected throughout the winter.  It thrives in a warm, sheltered position in full sun, ideally close to a south or west-facing wall.  The soil must be fertile and well-drained.

Upper terrace at Osborne House, showing Clock Tower.

It is a tradition that all royal bridal bouquets contain a sprig of myrtle from the grounds of Osborne.  The myrtle originally found its way to Osborne by way of Prince Albert’s grandmother, the dowager duchess of Saxe Gotha and Attenburg, who gave Queen Victoria a nosegay with myrtle during a visit to Gotha in Germany in 1845.  The myrtle was planted against Osborne’s terrace walls.  When Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Princess Victoria, married in 1858 she began the tradition by incorporating myrtle into her bouquet.  Princess May of Teck (Queen Mary) wore a diamond diadem adorned with orange blossom, myrtle and white heather when she married Prince George, Duke of York on the 6th July 1893.  Lady Diana Spencer had myrtle from Osborne in her Edwardian-style shower bouquet.

Myrtle has been popular since ancient times.  Medieval brides used to wear a crown of flowers each with a meaning, good luck, long life and to ward off evil spirits.  Aphrodite was often seen pictured wearing a myrtle wreath on her head.  Roman bridegrooms also wore wreaths of myrtle.

In Germany, Myrtle is seen as a symbol of the innocence of the bride. The Language of Flowers for wedding bouquets in the UK is as follows:

  • Myrtle = love, the emblem of marriage;
  • Orange blossom and wheat = fertility;
  • Veronica = fidelity;
  • Heather = good luck;
  • Rosemary = remembrance;
  • Ivy = fidelity, marriage, wedded love, friendship and affection;
  • Lily of the Valley = return of happiness;
  • Sweet William = gallantry;
  • Hyacinth = constancy of love.

For opening times and visitor information on Osborne House, please click here.

Posted in Decorative Arts, History of Medicine, TV Programme

Treasures in Stained Glass

15th Century stained glass in the east window, St. Andrews Church, Mottisfont, Hampshire.

The recent BBC 4 documentary, Britain’s Most Fragile Treasure, is one of the programmes commissioned as part of the BBC’s year-long collaboration with the Victoria & Albert Museum, Handmade in Britain: A BBC and V & A Partnership.  In Britain’s Most Fragile Treasure, Historian Dr Janina Ramirez unlocks the secrets of the East Window at York Minster.  A Medieval masterpiece of 311 stained glass panels and measuring 78ft high.  Built between 1405 and 1408 during the golden age of stained glass production.  The Medieval artist had an important role to play in generating religious imagery to educate and instruct a largely illiterate viewer.  From the end of the 14th century glass painting became increasingly sophisticated and faces appeared more lifelike. Coventry master glazier and stained glass artist John Thornton designed the York window.  He painted the images using a painterly soft technique, favoured in North West Europe and also known as The International Gothic style.  This technique resulted in work of the highest quality.  The master glazier did not work alone, there were many employed in his workshop.  Natural minerals were added to the glass to obtain the desired colouration.

The 12th Century Listed Church of St. Andrew’s in Mottisfont, Hampshire has a fine example of 15th Century stained glass in its own east window, above the altar. Considered by many to be one of the best examples of its kind in Hampshire.  The glass was restored in 1875 and thought to have originally come from the Chapel of the Holy Ghost in Basingstoke but the attachment of St. Andrew’s to York does go some way to explaining the design.  The left-hand panel depicts St. Peter, the central panel shows the Crucifixion and the right-hand panel contains an image of St. Andrew.

16th Century Flemish window, North Aisle, St. Mary and St. Nicholas Church, Wilton, Wiltshire.

On the edge of the picturesque town of Wilton in the heart of Wiltshire, stands the striking Romanesque style church of St. Mary and St. Nicholas.  Faced with stone ashlar and designed to imitate a Lombardic basilica. Built by architects Thomas Henry Wyatt and David Brandon between 1841 and 1845, on the same site as the original Medieval church of St. Nicholas.  The interior contains numerous important architectural features but of particular note are the stained glass windows. The above image, featuring St. Nicholas and mitre, is from one of the 16th century Flemish panels, located in the North Aisle, near the Cloisters.  Originally brought in 1840 for St. George’s, Hanover Square, London and is from a church in Antwerp that had been closed down by Napoleon.  In its original setting, the image was viewed as God the Father and not St. Nicholas.

Stained glass window, 1853, St. Mary and St. Nicholas Church, Wilton, Wiltshire.

One of the Victorian stained glass windows that caught my eye, in St. Mary and St. Nicholas Church, was the panel dedicated to Jane Merriel by her children dated August 1852 but completed in 1853. The panel is in the North Aisle and depicts three biblical acts of healing, Lazarus raised from the dead, the only son of the Widow of Nain brought back to life from the bier and the final image showing the daughter of Jairus being brought back to life from her bed.

C1850s, The Warner Clogstoun Window, Wimborne Minster, Wimborne, Dorset.

Wimborne Minster in Wimborne Dorset is built on consecrated ground that dates back to circa A.D. 705.  Originally dedicated to St. Cuthburga, sister to King Ina, King of the West Saxons.  St. Cuthburga founded a Benedictine Nunnery on the site and there was also a monastery erected on the same site.  The Nunnery was destroyed in 1013.  A majority of the church was built by Normans between 1120 and 1180.  The Minster was substantially restored from 1855 to 1857 and most of the stained glass windows date from this period. The Warner Clogstoun Window in the North Aisle is dedicated to the memory of Thornton Warner Clogstoun who was born circa 1843 in Trinidad, West Indies.  The stained glass depicts David King of Israel and Jonathan Son of Saul.  It has been suggested that the face of Jonathan is that of Clogstoun.

C1850s, The Druitt Window, Wimborne Minster, Wimborne, Dorset.

The Druitt Window is a five-lighted window dedicated to the memory of physician Dr William Druitt, FRCS and his wife Ann, paid for by their children in 1892.  The imagery is dominated by biblical references to curing and healing of the sick.  The Druitt family are worth a more detailed mention here.  Dr William Druitt was the brother of famous surgeon Dr Robert Druitt (1814-1883) who authored The Surgeon’s Vade Mecum. First published in 1839, it soon became the standard work for every trainee surgeon for the next century. Between 1839 and 1878 over 40,000 copies of the tome were sold. Dr William Druitt lived at the grand Westfield House in Wimborne, now converted into flats.  The Druitts were a well-respected medical family and had practiced medicine in this small Dorset town since the early 1700s.  William’s second son and third child, Montague John Druitt (1857-1888) is thought in adulthood to have been Jack the Ripper.  The well-educated Montague worked as a teacher and barrister.  He died early December 1888, his body found floating in the River Thames and a verdict of suicide recorded.  The Ripper murders ceased immediately following his death whether this is just coincidence or a significant fact, Ripper scholars are divided and speculation continues to this day on whether Montague Druitt was indeed responsible for committing these heinous crimes.

1857, The Lace Window, Wimborne Minster, Wimborne, Dorset.

The Lace Window at Wimborne Minster is located in the Trinity Chapel, South Chancel Aisle next to the organ.  This is my favourite stained glass window in the Minster due to its intricate design and striking colour scheme that casts beautiful, light patterns onto the masonry.  Created in 1857 by the well-known master glaziers Heaton & Butler.  The pelican on the right is shown in her Piety and according to legend the bird fed its young with blood from its own breast.  In the Middle Ages the pelican was used to represent Christ.  The left window has the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) with the banner of victory.

The final stained glass window I have selected can be found in The Royal Chapel on the site of the former Royal Victoria Military Hospital, Netley in Hampshire.  Created circa 1874 it is dedicated to the memory of Dr George Stewart Beatson who died at Simla on the 7th June 1874. He was Queen Victoria’s Honorary Physician, Surgeon General of the Army Medical Department and Surgeon General to the Indian Army.  His son, Colonel Sir George Thomas Beatson, was the pioneering Oncologist who developed a new treatment for breast cancer.  After graduating MD in 1878 George Thomas also worked for a time with Joseph Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery.

C1874 The Royal Chapel, The Royal Victoria Military Hospital, Netley, Hampshire.
Posted in History

Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine

Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine, Royal Osborne, Isle of Wight
Summer is now well and truly upon us.  If the thought of donning your swimsuit and heading for the beach fills you with utter dread, then perhaps you should take your cue from Queen Victoria.  Get yourself a bathing machine.  The perfect way to combat the pain of pebbles pressing into the arches of your feet as you make a quick dash to the sea, hoping against hope that no one has noticed your bikini diet, you began in January, has spectacularly failed. 
The bathing machine was invented in the 18th century so that invalids, who were unable to walk to the sea, could ‘take the waters’.   Salt water was believed to be the new miracle cure-all.  The machine also had a secondary function, the preservation of modesty when changing into bathing attire.   When Queen Victoria came to the throne, Brighton was one of the more popular sea-side resorts.  In 1847, at her summer retreat Royal Osborne on the Isle of Wight, Victoria took her first swim in the sea.   Her bathing machine was built by a Portsmouth coachbuilder, had a pitched roof, dressing rooms and plumbed-in WC.  The bathing machine became increasingly popular throughout the second half of the 19th century and even featured in advertisements for Bovril and Beecham’s Pills.   Companies then saw the perfect marketing opportunity and used the side of the bathing machines as advertising billboards.  Pears and Sunlight soap adopted this method of reaching a mass audience and their sales figures soared!
Queen Victoria's Bathing Machine