Purity, Piety and Pants

Several months ago, I (half-jokingly) mentioned my plans to write a paper about religion and underwear marketing. It was one of those situations where I knew there was something in the idea but it took me a while to get to the bottom of exactly what it was. After mulling the idea over and getting over the fits of giggles that struck me down every time I saw Cardinal Wolsey’s face on a pair of knickers, I decided to seriously pursue the idea.

I submitted an abstract for the Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution workshop on retailing and the human body and was delighted when I was told that it had been successful. Since then I’ve become immersed in the world of early-twentieth century underwear, Thomas Wolsey and St. Margaret.

The CHORD workshop ‘Retailing, Commerce and the Human Body: Historical Approaches’ takes place on 14th May 2014 at University of Wolverhampton. Visit the CHORD webpage for more information.

I’ll publish a summary of my paper on here after the event, but for now I wanted to share some of the images I have gathered whilst researching the paper:

St Margaret N. Corah Woollen Hose Stockings Vintage 1920s

St Margaret Seal on Botany Wool Hose from 1910s to early-1920s

Wolsey Stockings Flapper Packaging Vintage Stockings

Box of Wolsey Artificial Silk Stockings from the 1920s

St Margaret Silk Hose Vintage Stockings

Boxes of St Margaret Silk Hose from the 1920s

Wolset Advertisement First World War

Wolsey ‘Wool and War’ advertisement in Weldon’s Ladies’ Journal, October 1915.

As always, massive thanks to the team at Walsall Museum for allowing me to study and photograph these items!

 

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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:

http://www.expressandstar.com/news/2014/02/06/walsall-museum-to-stay-as-people-power-wins/

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.

Jenxx

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

Email: museum@walsall.gov.uk.

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

RetailHistory

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:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-walsall-museum

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!

Jen

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.

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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!

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Queen of Scots Underwear marketing material, 1920s.

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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.

20131127-212955.jpg

Wilkinson and Riddell catalogues, 1932-1938.

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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

Email: museum@walsall.gov.uk.

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

RetailHistory

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