Good News!

Walsall Museum has been saved!

As I blogged about previously, the museum was facing the threat of closure as part of a package of cuts by Walsall Council designed to save £19million.

It looks like public support for the museum played a big part in the council’s decision, so massive thanks to those who took part in consultation and/or signed the online petition.

See the Express & Star for more details:

Whilst researching the history of the Hodson Shop Collection it has become clear that collections are subject to influences far beyond the display case or store room. The closure threat made this strikingly clear.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the team at the Walsall Museum for their ongoing support for this project – even during uncertain and troubling times.

The current exhibition at the museum is Gaslight Gothic, which explores the darker side of Walsall’s history. It includes examples of Victorian mourning dress alongside tombstones, taxidermy and other odd and obscure items from the museum’s collection. The exhibition is in the Changing Face of Walsall Gallery on the first floor of the Central Library Building on Lichfield Street, admission is free.



Picture Post: Into the Archive…

Back in November 2013 I posted a selection of colourful and charming images from the Hodson Shop archive. Fast forward to today and I’m still working my way through the archive, though the images I’ll be sharing in this post are far less colourful and, perhaps, not quite so visually striking. Yet that’s not to say that the images are without interest or intrigue…

The archive contains invoices and paperwork as well as the catalogues and other ephemera. I have spent the past few weeks working my way through piles of invoices and delivery notes, searching for any links between the items listed and the objects that I have been analysing within the collection.

The aim of the process has been to build as full a biography as possible for the items. The invoices have the potential to answer a lot of questions. Where did an item come from? Who supplied them? How much did they cost? And when did they arrive? These answers can help to trace the life story of the items before their life in the Hodson Shop and Walsall Museum.

Invoice 1940s

Invoice from Birmingham-based wholesaler, Bell and Nicholson Ltd., 1948.

It hasn’t been easy. The invoices rarely give much in the way of descriptive detail – information regarding size or colour is a rarity and brand names tend to only crop up for specific items like corsets, hosiery and toiletries. There have been times when I have cursed the 1920s sales clerks for having such sloppy handwriting and not bothering to tell me the colour of a ‘frock’ ordered in 1923! Yet I have found some fascinating matches.

This non-descript brown paper parcel believed to contain children’s cashmere hose is likely to be the “5914 ¾ Hose” item listed on a N. Corah invoice from 2nd February 1923:

cashmere hose

(Top) A parcel containing children’s cashmere hose (Bottom) An invoice from N. Corah & Sons Ltd., 1923 detailing the same hose.

These green ‘mock wing’ feathers? They are listed as ‘Wings’ on this S.C. Larkins & Sons invoice from 18th August 1921:

Mock Wings 1920s

(Top) Jade green mock wings (Bottom) Invoice from S.C. Larkins & Sons Ltd., 1921 listing the same product.

In both of these cases, I’ve been fortunate enough to have item codes to match up. Utility items have been slightly easier to trace, as have some items with the St. Margaret brand due to N. Corah and Sons being both manufacturers and their own wholesaler.

There have been some amusing moments – such as the terribly polite letter from a wholesaler informing Edith Hodson that she wasn’t entitled to the discount she had applied to an order. There’s also the repeated insistence of wholesalers to address Edith and Flora as ‘Sirs’ or ‘Mr Hodson’. Whilst comical to a point, I believe that this error serves to highlight quite how extraordinary Edith and Flora were, operating a business in what was very much a man’s world.  They were bold and would often correct such errors. They weren’t afraid to push their luck if it meant saving money:

N.Corah Leicester Letter

Letter dated 14th May 1930 from the ‘Counting House’ of N. Corah & Sons Ltd. Note the use of the greeting ‘Dear Sir’.

Something that has struck me is how much stock was coming into the shop. Invoices from some of their major suppliers are often at weekly or two weekly intervals. I need to look into it further but my initial view is that they regularly over-bought, which provides an explanation as to why the Hodson Shop Collection is so large. Another observation is that the sisters tended to only go to the trouble of returning items if they were from local suppliers, such as Walsall-based Ennals & Co. Ltd.. There are far more credit notes from this supplier than others. Maybe travelling to wholesalers further afield was too time consuming and too expensive? Or maybe their goods simply weren’t up to Edith and Flora’s standards?

The invoices themselves are visually interesting. Some feature images of the wholesalers premises, such as S.C. Larkins & Sons Ltd. of Livery Street, Birmingham:

S.C. Larkins & Sons Livery St Birmingham

S.C Larkins & Sons wholesalers. Premises on the junction of Livery Street and Barwick Street, Birmingham. Image from 1920 invoice.

There are still hundreds of pieces of paperwork for me to look through and I’m hugely looking forward to being able to cross reference my invoice findings with some of the links I’ve already made between certain items and trade catalogues. It has also been a thrill to see aspects of Edith and Flora Hodson’s personalities show through something as generic and functional as invoices.

Many thanks to Walsall Museum for providing me with access to the archive and for allowing me to photograph the items.

If you wish to explore the Hodson Shop Collection and Archive, please contact Walsall Museum.

Tel: 01922 653116


2014 CHORD conference and call for papers: ‘Retail Work – Historical Perspectives’


11 September 2014

University of Wolverhampton, UK

CHORD invites proposals for papers that explore the work of retailing and /or distribution. All forms of work (paid and unpaid) in the retailing and distributive trades are of interest, from small shopkeepers, shop assistants, pedlers and market sellers, to large-scale entrepreneurs, wholesalers and distributors. We welcome all disciplinary perspectives and there are no limitations in terms of the historical period or geographical area covered.

Possible topics might include but are not limited to:

§  Strikes and workplace strife

§  Retail management, entrepreneurship and business practices

§  Workplace rituals and traditions

§  Marketing and salesmanship

§  Trade unions, trade associations and associational life

§  Representations of retail work and work-based identities

§  Training, skill, apprenticeships and guilds

§  Gender divisions of labour, respectability and status

§  Technologies, innovations and spatial strategies

To submit a proposal, please send title and abstract of c.300 to…

View original post 69 more words

Save Walsall Museum

Save Walsall Museum Petition

Screenshot of the Save Walsall Museum petition – click image to sign the petition

Over the Christmas break I came across this petition to save Walsall Museum. You can find out more about the closure threat in this post. The petition aims to get 1,000 signatures so it would be great if you could sign and share the link:

This isn’t just about the future of the Hodson Shop Collection, it is about providing a permanent and easily accessible home for the history of Walsall.

Many thanks and a (slightly delayed) Happy New Year to you all!


Picture Post: Exploring the Hodson Shop Archives

After a busy few weeks (more on which in a future post), it has been a pleasure to finally get back to hands-on archival research. I’ve spent a few days digging through the Hodson Shop archive of trade catalogues, seeking out links to any of the items I have encountered during my object analysis.  Plenty have emerged as I’ve worked my way through piles of  trade brochures for Birmingham wholesalers such as Wilkinson and Riddell, S.C Larkin and Sons and Bell and Nicholson. The images below are of some of the things that have caught my eye. They aren’t always hugely relevant to my research but they are the things that have raised some intrigue, a smile or a giggle.

I’ve attempted to give as much detail as possible for each image, though I forgot to note the date and wholesaler for this Christmas apron image. I think it is late-1940s/early-1950s Bell and Nicholson, though I’ll double check when I am next at the museum and update the caption accordingly.



Autumn Fashions, 1937.

I’ve posted before about underwear and how the collection highlights changing attitudes and approaches to undergarments from 1920s-1960s. The 1920s Queen of Scots promotional material is a prime example of this: hygiene and comfort, alongside endorsement from a pious historical figure (c.f. Cardinal Wolsey and his stockings). This is something that I really want to do some more research into (proposed paper title: Piety, Purity and Pants). If  you know of any existing work on early-20th century underwear marketing, please let me know!


Queen of Scots Underwear marketing material, 1920s.


Display cards for Wolsey and Rameses hosiery and underwear.

The 1930s Wilkinson and Riddell catalogue covers are especially stunning – with their Japanese influences and bold artwork. There is something rather charming about their Greyhound logo, especially when placed next to a bonsai tree. The pink and yellow gladioli cover is a personal favourite.


Wilkinson and Riddell catalogues, 1932-1938.


S.C. Larkin and Sons brochure for maids’ and nurses’ caps, 1930.

The  S.C. Larkin and Sons brochure, New Designs for 1930. Maids’ and Nurses’ Caps, revealed links to Walsall’s famous Sister Dora – the nurse and nun who revolutionised approaches to nursing during the mid-ninteenth century. She created a simple cap for nurses to wear and the brochure shows the design in a number of styles ‘suitable for bobbed hair’.

The final image is of some scribbled notes that I found inside a 1954 Bell and Nicholson catalogue, possibly by Edith or Flora Hodson. There was something eerie about coming across these notes and doodles – as if they were a direct link back to the women and what was going on inside their heads. I’ve seen their handwriting many times before but it has mainly been scrawled numbers or scrappy receipts. These notes seem more personal. And that little sketch of a head? Well, I’m filing that under ‘a bit creepy’.

Assorted notes and doodles found in a Bell and Nicholson trade catalogue, 1954.

Assorted notes and doodles found in a Bell and Nicholson trade catalogue, 1954.

Many thanks to Walsall Museum for providing me with access to the archive and for allowing me to photograph the items.

If you wish to explore the Hodson Shop Collection and Archive, please contact Walsall Museum.

Tel: 01922 653116


Workshop and Call for Papers: ‘TEXTILE FRAGMENTS’: Incomplete Textiles and Dress in Museums and Historic Houses


12 June 2014

University of Wolverhampton, UK

The Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution (CHORD) invites proposals for papers that focus on any aspect of textile and dress ‘fragments’ held in museums, historic houses, archives or other repositories, including private collections.

We invite papers both from historians and scholars whose research makes use of fragmentary textiles and dress, and from museum professionals who are responsible for their care, interpretation and display.

We welcome both proposals that focus on the insights the ‘fragments’ provide on the history of textiles and dress, and proposals that consider their value and challenges as museum objects.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

§  Patterns and pattern books

§  Re-used and out of context textiles

§  Off-cuts, patches, threads and spare material

§  Incomplete and fragmentary dress

§  Scraps and scrapbooks

§ Representations and uses of textile fragments

§  Samples and swatches

View original post 92 more words

Museum Metamorphosis @ University of Leicester, 5&6 Nov 2013

Museum Metamorphosis was the 2013 PhD conference organised by University of Leicester’s School of Museum Studies PhD candidates. Over the two days, change and adaptation in their many museological manifestations were discussed, debated and developed.

Whilst I wouldn’t strictly consider myself as operating beneath the banner of ‘Museum Studies’, it is one of the key disciplines influencing the Hodson Shop Project (yep, after months of debating my disciplinary allegiances, I’ve finally settled on ‘interdisciplinary with roots in dress history’).

Before the conference, I had read some texts and journal articles, mainly the ‘classics’ of the field – Vergo’s The New Museology and the work of Susan M. Pearce spring to mind. Interestingly, I’ve recently come across a wealth of museum studies article around biography in the museum. But it wasn’t until attending Museum Metamorphosis that the true breadth, possibilities and insight offered by the discipline became clear.

I won’t give detailed coverage of every paper, the conference was liveblogged in full and you can find the various posts here. Instead, what I want to do is provide a quick summary of my personal highlights – the moments when something clicked in my brain or a paper really captured my imagination.

Museum Metamorphosis

The rather stylish delegate packs.

The first thing that struck me was how well the event had been branded – there was an eye-catching logo that adorned everything from event programmes to the stylish bags presented to delegates arriving at the event. Actually, let me take a moment to talk about the delegate bags: I have never been to a conference before with specially designed, ethically produced bumbags. Yep, you read that right. They were pretty cool and could be turned into more conventional shoulder bags with a simple retying of the strap. Quite ingenious. There was a lot of creativity at play – with ‘evaluation trees’ set up in the conference rooms and brilliant illustrations of the organising committee inside the programme. It was also clearly a truly international conference with speakers travelling from across the USA, Europe and Australia to take part. Even papers by those based at UK universities featured museums in places as far flung as Hawaii.

The day one keynote was delivered by Sharon Heal, the editor of Museums Journal. It was a rallying cry to museum professionals, encouraging them to work with communities and contribute to addressing social inequalities. It was rousing stuff that provided a clear sense of purpose and momentum for the conference. Sharon’s suggestion that museums need to be ‘less like The Archers and more like Educating Yorkshire’ got plenty of laughs from the audience but it definitely got the message across.

The papers the followed were around the theme of metamorphosis in museum theory and practice. I particularly enjoyed Rikke Haller Baggesen’s Museum Metamorphosis a la mode – which related developments in museum practices to the concept of fashion. Rachel Souhami’s comparison of the exhibition practices of the V&A and Tate Modern was also particularly insightful. It is striking how a museum’s ‘brand’ can impact upon, and sometimes stifle, innovative practices. I’d never really considered museums as operating (and even competing) within specific marketplaces before.

Session two focussed on changing exhibition spaces – from the wunderkammer of the 16th and 17th centuries to the origins of the Natural History Museum. Pandora Syperek’s history of the origins of the Natural History Museum’s Index Gallery was a clear example of how the ideologies and beliefs of an individual can shape an exhibition space. Mario Schulze’s paper Things are Changing charted the evolution of display spaces in two German museums, from 1968-1999. It was intriguing to see how this process started and ended with objects in display cases, albeit display cases loaded with different meanings. This paper also made me aware of Berlin’s Museum of Things – a museum devoted to everyday life and objects – it has been added to my list of must visits!

Day two kicked off with a keynote from Matthew Constantine from Leicester Arts and Museums Service. He spoke passionately about the changes that he has been involved in within Leicester’s New Walk Museum and the need to respond to changing communities and provide engaging experiences. It was very interesting to hear Matthew talk of how Leicester’s elected Mayor champions museums and culture. Yet again a reminder of how an individual can wield a lot of power over museums and their futures.

‘Community dialogues’ was the subject for the day’s first session. Tasha Finn’s paper on the use of Aboriginal art in international museums provided a case study of how art’s intended meaning can be depoliticised when placed into certain exhibition contexts. Judith Dehail’s exploration of visitor interaction in musical instrument museums provided me with some of the clearest links to my own research, especially as musical instruments – much like clothing – are intended for close bodily contact.

The next two papers provided exciting challenges to established museum practices. Erin Bailey provided a summary of the Queering the Museum project, of which she is a co-organiser. The project’s plan to stage an exhibition based on Seattle’s LGBTQ communities at MOHAI is set to break new ground in how museums engage with communities and how communities are represented within them. Laura Liv Weikop’s Exhibition Lab project proposed three alternative approaches to exhibiting objects in Copenhagen’s Design Museum. Audiences experienced each approach directly and were then asked to vote for their favourite.

The final session considered metamorphosis and identities – especially the role of museums in relation to shaping national identity. I especially enjoyed the paper by Lefteris Spyrou on the changing role and content of the Greek National Gallery. Joel Palhegyi’s examination of the role of museums in creating a sense of Croat Yugoslavism in socialist and post-socialist Yugoslavia was also very interesting.

There was a workshop held on each day, during which delegates broke out into a more informal space to discuss topics and to consider metamorphosis in museums. These session provided a great opportunity to talk to other delegates and discuss ideas from multiple perspectives.

By the end of the conference, my head was spinning in the best possible way. Overall, I have gained a better understanding of the current state of museums nationally and internationally. Metamorphosis, or ‘change’ to use the less fancy term, is one of the world’s facts. Museums, their staff and collections are all subject to it – the question is, how do they respond?

Massive congratulations to the conference organisations for organising such an ambitious and engaging event.