Monday, 19 August 2013

A Frenchman in Brighton in the 1850s

Francis Wey, a French writer, travelled to England in 1856 with the idea of recording his impressions of the English and English life. His account refers to many details of clothes, from the marvellous riding-habits of ladies in Hyde Park to the rags of beggars on the London streets. Yet Wey is extremely surprised to find that English men bathe in the sea naked. On a visit to Brighton Wey, believing that he should respect local customs, reluctantly abandons his clothes in the safety his bathing machine and ventures cautiously into the sea. However, after a long swim he learns a rather odd lesson about English prudishness.

He writes:

‘I spent two days at Brighton, where an Englishman, I am told, can find enjoyment. […] In fine weather bathing takes place in full view of the front, swarming with idlers of both sexes. Men go into the water stark naked, which surprised me, knowing how easily shocked English people are. Never shall I forget my bathe at Brighton! It was on a Sunday, at the time at which worshippers return from church. I had been assigned a cabin in which to undress. It was a wooden construction on wheels placed at the water’s edge, with steps half-submerged by the waves. Getting into the sea was easy enough, as my cabin screened me from view.

Unfortunately, I went for rather a long swim, as I wanted to get a good view of Brighton from afar. […] When at last I regained my depth, I found that my cabin, which I had left with water lapping the hub of the wheels, was now high and dry at fifteen paces from the sea. To put a finishing touch to my discomfort, three ladies, a mother with her daughters, had settled themselves on camp stools in my direct line of approach! They seemed very respectable females, and the girls were both pretty. There was no possibility of reaching my cabin without passing in front of them. They each held a prayer-book and they watched me swimming about with serene unconcern. To give them a hint without offending their modesty, I advanced cautiously on all fours, raising myself by degrees as much as decency permitted. […] As the ladies did not move, I concluded they had not understood my dilemma […]. What was I to do? Remain in the water and inconvenience my host, or emerge from it and affront the ladies? I determined on the latter course. After all, why had they settled just there? I rose slowly, like Venus, from the waves. Striving to adopt a bearing both modest and unconcerned, reminiscent of the lost traditions of innocence of a younger world, I stepped briskly past the three ladies who made no pretence of looking away. I felt the blood rushing to my face. […]


Bathing machines at the seaside

When at last we got home, Sir Walter [his host] teased me good naturedly about my misadventure, and his wife told me that she knew the ladies, who were very puritanical! They disapproved of bathing on Sundays and had adopted that unexpected method of discouraging Sabbath-breakers. Could one conceive a stranger mode of teaching a transgressor to be virtuous or of performing an act of religious fervour?

I would, perhaps, have omitted this incident, but for its bearing on various observations I have made on the inconsistency of English prudishness. In reality it is mostly offended by words. If one can replace the actual expression by some euphemism conveying exactly the same meaning, all is well!’

From: Francis Wey, A Frenchman Sees the English in the ‘Fifties, trans. Valerie Pirie (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1935), pp. 296-299


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Anniversary Quilt

In 1839 the University of Chester was founded and plans are underway to design and construct a quilt to commemorate the 175th anniversary. Here are the latest design ideas and updates on progress so far. 


Kath Roberts
I decided to depict the University Crest and chose this block mainly because I enjoy cross- stitching and tapestry and thought this would be a challenge as I haven’t done anything this complicated for some time!  I think our crest and logo are very striking images, probably one of the best traditional HEI logos, reflecting the long history of the University and relating back to the foundation of Chester College in 1839.
In many ways this block is the easiest to design – Michelle recommended online sites that convert a digital picture to a cross stitch pattern, so I converted a jpeg image of the University Crest using the Pic to Pat website, on 14 count Aida fabric and using DMC threads.  So there hasn’t really been any ‘design’ input from me, it will all be in the stitching!  I have decided to use the pattern that consists of 60 colours (the more colours used the greater the detail).  Shirley had some thread colours that she very kindly passed on to me to keep the cost down.  All I have to do now is stitch and hope I can finish it before the deadline for making up the quilt!

This is the website I used:

and this is what it should look like when finished!

Shirley Bowers

If someone asked me to highlight an iconic representation of Chester – it would have to be the Eastgate clock. 

I have been thinking about the best way forward with my design.  Firstly I thought of just completing it in ‘blackwork’ but then decided on a collage of materials including lace for the ironwork. I took a fair but of time regarding the actual size of the clock face and decided on a 6” face so I purchased a black plastic face from EBay !!


Fiona Roberts has given me some material that looks like the sky which will be the background and Felicity Davies has agreed to stitch it onto the calico material  supplied by Maxine Bristow.

Great team to work with – full of good ideas.

Fiona Roberts
I have decided on a design and am nearly ready to start my anniversary block at last!  I’m going to do a traditional patchwork block using the layout and colours of the tiled floor in the entrance to Senate House, which used to be the Principal’s residence, and where students came to be interviewed when they applied. 
The Victorian floor tiles in the entrance to Senate House.