Wednesday, 14 December 2022


An Archive of Stitches: The Living Histories, Geographies, and Biographies of our Clothes 

Organisers: Dr Rebecca Collins and Prof Deborah Wynne 

(both at the University of Chester)

Holly Kirby, Assistant Curator at the National Trust's Attingham Park, talking about the sustainable ways of caring for the costume collection.

This event, part of the Being Human Festival, the UK's annual Festival of the Humanities, took place in Chester's Forum Shopping Centre on Saturday 19th November. Holly Kirby, an assistant curator with the National Trust, was dressed in a wonderful Regency-style outfit she had made herself. In the morning, she delivered a thought-provoking and informative talk about caring in sustainable ways for the historic costume collection at Attingham Park in Shropshire. Holly explained how the natural laundering techniques of the past continued to be employed, as they were less harsh on delicate fabrics than modern commercial laundry products. Holly also described how garments were repaired and stored, not only by museum staff today, but by the family and servants at Attingham Park in the past. Clothes were once treasured and preserved, a far cry from the cheap, mass-produced clothing culture today. Holly's talk was followed by a general discussion, where participants shared their own approaches to sustainable clothing, some people bringing in garments they had made themselves and had repaired and preserved.

In the afternoon, Dr Rebecca Collins, of the Pop-Up Patch and Repair Challenge Team, set up a repair workshop where participants were shown how to do simple garment repairs. It was a very informative day, as so many stories of garments were shared, making it clear that every item of clothing has its own biography.

The Pop-Up Patch and Repair Workshop

Monday, 22 August 2022


Textiles and English surnames

Textile production has had a significant impact on English history and culture in a number of different ways. For example, we can see in the grand residences of the Cotswolds the way in which the industry generated wealth for the area in the Middle English and Early Modern English periods. These markers of the industry’s influence are often clear to see, yet there are other ways in which England’s textile-related history has had an effect on the country’s identity that often go unrecognised, such as the development of its names. By studying the frequency and etymology of some of the more common surnames in England, the importance of textile production is further revealed.

Three of the 100 most frequent surnames in the 1881 census have a clear connection to wool, textiles and clothing. These are Taylor, Walker (from Middle English walker ‘a fuller of cloth’), and Webb (from Middle English webbe ‘weaver’). We could also add to this list the names Miller and Mills, which may have originally been used to refer to someone who worked at a fulling mill (though the names may also have been for used for people who worked at different types of mill, unrelated to textile production). Five out of 100 names may not seem like a lot, but it’s important to put this figure in context. Out of this list of 100 surnames, 19 names relate to an occupation of some sort. This means that five out of 19 surnames in this list, or just over 26% of the most common occupational names, relate to textile processing and production.

Beyond these broad patterns of occupational surname frequency, we can also use surnames which have some relation to wool and textiles to understand other aspects of English identity, such as our dialects and their distribution. As such names are relatively common, due to the continued importance of the textile trade in England, they provide a suitable amount of data for drawing conclusions on dialect usage. The surname Walker (mentioned above) would originally have been applied to a fuller of cloth, but there are two other surnames with the same meaning: Tucker and Fuller. These three surnames have, and have had, different regional distributions, as shown in the maps below adapted from 1881 census data (these maps are generated using Steve Archer’s 1881 surname atlas – see We can see that the surname Fuller is more heavily associated with the south-east, Tucker is associated with the south-west, and Walker is more widespread (though with a significant concentration in the north of England and the West Midlands). The distribution of these names reflect the regional usage of the terms full, tuck, and walk to refer to fulling mills. This usage can also be seen in English place-names; see Tuckingmill near Zeal Monachorum in Devon, Walk Mill near Burnley in Lancashire, and Fulling Mill Farm near Ardingly in Sussex.

In this way, the textile-related surnames of England don’t just reflect the influence of the trade on the country’s identity, but also reveal details of the different dialect terms used in the trade. While this exemplifies the power of surnames as a source of linguistic information, it also demonstrates that the textile industry has been so important that it has had a significant impact well beyond the bounds of the industry itself, affecting our names and language in such a way that the effects can still be seen in the frequency and distribution of our surnames today.

by Dr Harry Parkin, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at the University of Chester

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Fashion Sketches Discovered at Attingham Park.


Recently, a fascinating selection of historic fashion sketches were discovered at Attingham Park. Whilst undertaking inventory checking work in the textile collection store in 2018, a National Trust volunteer found this collection of sketches tucked inside an unassuming historic envelope. These sketches were created by Teresa Hulton, later the 8th Lady Berwick, between the ages of 11 and 15. Born in 1890, Teresa created the sketches in the early part of the 20th century.

The sketches are a valuable resource showing what activities and interests wealthy teenage girls enjoyed at the time. They show family, friends, ladies’ maids, seamstresses, and outfits seen in operas and plays. Some gowns appearing to be outfits that survive in the Attingham collection, like the striped dress Teresa depicts her mother wearing. 

In different mediums from ink to pastel, some sketches have been drawn on whatever paper Teresa had to hand, like her grandmother’s address card. Some of the sketches have been meticulously cut around to give a 3D effect. Pin holes in some of the sketches suggest they were displayed. Other pictures seen in Teresa's letters to her friends show she used her illustrations as modern teenage girls might do with photographs – sharing images of outfits admired at parties or picnics. In a letter to a friend, she says how she loved to sketch her mother in her evening dresses before she left for soirees.

Teresa’s father, the artist William Stokes Hulton, encouraged his daughters to take an interest in art. William Stokes Hulton was friends with influential artists like John Singer Sargent and Walter Sickert. Sickert helped Teresa and her sister, Gioconda, with their own artistic efforts and the girls sent him their drawings to be commented on. Whilst Gioconda was the one who developed a real passion for art, Teresa primarily enjoyed creating beautiful fashion sketches.

Teresa’s interest in fashion paved the way for her future as a fashionable society beauty featuring in the ‘Vogue’ and ‘Tatler’ magazines. She also made her own dresses and enjoyed attending fancy dress parties in historical costumes and outfits from different countries – ideas suggested by the more fanciful of her sketches. 

Holly Kirby (assistant curator, Attingham Park)