Dress owned by Thomas Hardy’s sister goes on display at Museum

Katharine Hardy

Katharine Hardy © DCM

Dorset County Museum’s textile archive includes a significant collection of clothing originally owned by Thomas Hardy’s family. Among the pieces is a stunning red bustle dress worn by his sister Katherine.

Until now most of the collection has remained in storage but a generous grant from the Daphne Bullard Trust has enabled the dress to be specially prepared and placed on display in the Museum’s Writers Gallery.

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

The bustle dress has been mounted on a bespoke mannequin with text panels and photographs showing the context in which it was worn. The dress, made in about 1889, consists of a bodice and skirt in red grosgrain silk. It is an evocative, personal garment with a tight-fitting, fashionable bodice and skirt. With its luxurious red silk and bustle, it is similar to the fashionable dresses Tess wears in Hardy’s famous novel, Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Displaying the dress both safely and sympathetically was a complicated project. A particular consideration was Kate Hardy’s large bust. She also had a very small waist and narrow shoulders so a special mannequin was adapted with additional padding in the relevant areas. A petticoat was added for support and padded arms allow the sleeves to hold their natural shape. Extra pads were finally attached around the hips to help support the weight of the skirt and prevent stress on the original fastenings.

To see the dress, visit Dorset County Museum between 10.00am to 4.00pm, Monday to Saturday.

Related Links:

Daphne Bullard Trust Hardy Signs

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Katharine Hardy’s Dress exhibited at the Dorset County Museum

Katharine Hardy

Katharine Hardy © DCM

A significant collection of Thomas Hardy’s family clothes has recently been researched and documented at Dorset County Museum. This collection, spanning three generations of the Hardy family from 1800 to 1928, tell us so much about the shape, tastes and lives of the original wearers. It includes Thomas Hardy’s embroidered christening robe, a crinoline dress worn by his mother and a striking red bustle dress worn by his sister Katharine (Kate). Until now most of this collection has remained in storage, as it requires specialist mounting and display.

Dorset County Museum selected Katharine Hardy’s dress for display, as it is particularly significant in terms of colour, design, Hardy family history and in illustrating descriptions of dress in Hardy’s literature.

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014 Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Bustle dress from 1890s owned by Kate Hardy, sister of Thomas Hardy –
Images © Jonathan Gooding 2014

Kate Hardy, born in 1856, was also involved in bequeathing the Hardy archive to Dorset County Museum. The importance of this collection is recognised through its recent inscription on the UK Register of Important Literary Heritage under the UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ programme.

The grant from the Daphne Bullard Trust enabled this dress to be mounted on a conservation-grade mannequin and displayed in the Thomas Hardy Gallery, in which there was previously no examples of dress. This display will be pivotal in engaging a new and broader audience for the Gallery. It is sure to stimulate public fascination and this visually attractive and accessible object of personal significance will bring the literature to life.

The Dress

Donated in 1984, the dress consists of a bodice and skirt in red, ribbed (grosgrain) silk. It was made in c.1889 by the linen drapers, Genge, Dixon & Jameson in Dorchester.

Kate Hardy (front left) with other teachers © DCM

Kate Hardy (front left) with other teachers © DCM

Kate Hardy (left) © DCM

Kate Hardy (left) © DCM

Tess of the DUrbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

An evocative personal garment with its tight-fitting, fashionable bodice and skirt, it closely resembles a dress worn by Kate, a local teacher, in photographs above. With its luxurious red silk and bustle it is also similar to the fashionable dress Tess wears in Tess of the d’Urbervilles when she is fleeing with her husband Angel Clare, having stabbed Alec d’Urberville:

‘Her clothes were of the latest fashion, even to the dainty ivory-handled parasol that she carried, a fashion unknown in the retired spot to which they had now wandered; and the cut of such articles would have attracted attention in the settle of a tavern.’

Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Penguin Classics, 2008, (first published 1891), p. 390

Conservation and Mounting the Dress

Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_001 Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_003

The intention of this project was to display the dress both safely and sympathetically by providing adequate support. It was also important for the result to look aesthetically pleasing to the museum visitor.

Dresses of this period were less structured and supported by petticoats although there is a small bustle pad attached to back of skirt.

Dresses of this period were less structured and supported by petticoats although there is a small bustle pad attached to back of skirt.

A particular consideration was Kate’s large bust as it was difficult to weigh up “filling” every fold but wanting the bodice to look as natural as possible.

A particular consideration was Kate’s large bust as it was difficult to weigh up “filling” every fold but wanting the bodice to look as natural as possible.

Kate Hardy had a very small waist and narrow shoulders so a museum grade mannequin was purchased. This was adapted by padding relevant areas with polyester wadding. Strips of wadding were sewn onto the torso with care taken to work symmetrically. When the correct shape was acquired the entire mannequin was covered with cotton jersey. The fabric was left unstitched in places to allow more padding to be added if necessary when the dress was finally placed on mannequin.

Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_004 Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_005

A calico petticoat was made and attached to the torso and net flounces were sewn in layers to support the skirt and accentuate the slight train of the dress. A silk overskirt was made to prevent the net catching the fragile lining of the skirt and enable ease of dressing the mannequin.

Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_008 Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_009

Padded arm supports were made with a slight curve to allow sleeves to hold their natural shape. These were attached at the shoulder point only and allowed to hang freely to enable easier dressing of the mannequin.

Conservation Mounting of Kate Hardys Dress_010Extra pads were attached around the hips to help support the weight of the skirt and prevent stress on the original fastenings.

A pattern was taken of neck and conservation board cut to shape and covered with a grey polyester fabric. The neck circle of the mannequin was covered in same way and reattached by sewing. A ‘bib’ was sewn onto the mannequin to match and fill the open neckline for photography and display.

The intention was to bring this vibrant dress belonging to Kate Hardy to life and this has been achieved. The dress is well supported on the adapted mannequin and is now on display in the Dorset Writers Gallery, enhancing this space with its dramatic presence.

Displaying the Dress

The display opened in the Thomas Hardy Gallery on Friday 12th December, 2014. The garment is displayed in a case together with Kate’s black and white striped parasol. It is the first time that it has been displayed alongside photographs of the wearer and in the context of Thomas Hardy’s literary heritage.

Displaying Kate Hardys Dress_004 Displaying Kate Hardys Dress_005
The dress is positioned in front of an illustration of Stonehenge, from the serialisation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles in The Graphic, 1891. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, wearing a similar dress, is resting on a slab of stone before being arrested © DCM

The dress is positioned in front of an illustration of Stonehenge, from the serialisation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles in The Graphic, 1891. Tess of the d’Urbervilles, wearing a similar dress, is resting on a slab of stone before being arrested © DCM

A text panel, labels and photographs interpret the dress in the context of Kate Hardy’s life, and the rich array of clothing described in Thomas Hardy’s works, illuminating fiction with fashion. The display also reflects the inspiring and engaging potential of collections, uncovering new research and displaying previously unseen objects for public enjoyment.

Displaying Kate Hardys Dress_001 Displaying Kate Hardys Dress_002

The dress will be linked with the Thomas Hardy: Fashion, Fact and Fiction exhibition at Dorset County Museum, planned for April 2019. This exhibition will examine Hardy’s work from a fresh perspective in the context of fashion, interweaving costume with images, letters, literature and diaries. It will be based around a core Dorset County Museum collection of dress worn by Thomas Hardy and his family, fashionable dress and rural workers clothing.

Dorset County Museum is very grateful to the Daphne Bullard Trust for its generous support in making this project possible.

Helen Francis, Mounting Conservator
Lucy Johnston, Curator
Dorset County Museum,
12th December 2014

Related Links:

Daphne Bullard Trust Hardy Signs

The Altar Frontal from Wool Church

From the ‘Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Archaeological Society’ Volume 55 1934, an article written by the G. DRU DRURY, M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., F.S.A entitled ‘The Altar Frontal From Wool Church.’ (Read the 21st day of November, 1933.)

This interesting frontal is made up from portions of mediaeval vestments, which local tradition would have us believe came from the neighbouring Cistercian Abbey of Bindon.

In the year 1886 the Vicar and Churchwardens of the Church of the Holy Rood, Wool, placed it with the Dorset County Museum, and being extremely fragile, it was carefully repaired by Mrs. Stillwell the following year.

The descriptive references by Hutchins and his continuators are scanty and inaccurate ; and the fact that, during the 47 years our museum has sheltered this fine example of mediaeval embroidery, no adequate description has been attempted can only be regarded as a reproach, with the object of removing which this paper has been written.

Several doubtful points were cleared-up by a visit to the Department of Textiles at the Victoria and Albert Museum, with a photograph of the frontal; and I take this opportunity of recording gratefully my indebtedness to Mr. C. E. C. Tattersall for his kindness and courtesy on that occasion.

The most gratifying fact established was that the embroidery is undoubtedly English, though the velvet was probably all imported from Italy.

Most of the work dates from the end of the 15th century; and some of it may even be 16th century, the figures on the second and fourth strips being just about as late as any pre-reformation type.

The  Altar  Frontal from Wool Church

The Altar Frontal from Wool Church © DCM

The frontal is composed of eight approximately equal vertical strips joined together to fit an altar 4ft. 6ins. in length by 3ft. high. These strips differ both in design and material, four being of velvet and four of linen, but in the latter case, not all of the same texture.

The first strip (from the left-hand side) is of blue velvet, the pile of which has nearly all worn off. It is embroidered with coloured silks and gold thread in a design of “fish flowers” and sprays. The name” fish flower” is derived from the fancied resemblance of the central portion to the inverted body and tail of a fish. The rich blue of the velvet still survives in the centres of the two flowers and where it has been protected by the sprays here and there. It is not difficult to imagine this as part of a sumptuously decorated chasuble ; in fact there is in the Victoria and Albert Museum a red chasuble of late 15th century date which is embroidered with practically the same design.

The third, fifth and seventh strips are all from one piece of velvet—probably from a cope—once a rich purple but now faded to a brown colour. The design of “pine flowers” and sprays is finely embroidered in coloured silks, the heads of the flowers being of white linen applique and worked over. Comparison with a cope of purple velvet in the Victoria and Albert Museum which, though still definitely purple, – has faded in places to a colour nearly resembling these strips, confirms this opinion as to their original colour, in spite of the fact that Hut chins mentions brown velvet. Furthermore Mr. Tattersall reminded me that though red, blue, green or purple vestments are frequently mentioned in the inventories of church goods of 1552, brown is unknown.

The  Altar  Frontal from Wool Church © DCMThe second and fourth strips are parts of orphreys made of rather coarse linen embroidered with silks in the designs of figures standing on the ground, beneath architectural canopies, the style of which dates them as late 15th or early 16th century work. Some of the orphreys of English work of this period in the Victoria and Albert Museum exhibit canopies similar to these in general form, in the character of the vaulting beneath the canopy arches, and in the round-headed recesses of the shafts.

It will be noticed that the figures on these two strips face inwards towards each other, doubtless because they formed parts of orphreys from the front of a cope, but not all the panels are complete as to their tops and bases.

Saint Matthias? © DCM

Saint Matthias? © DCM

It is not easy to determine whether these bearded figures represent prophets, apostles or saints, much less to assign them names. None of them have ecclesiastical vestments and with one exception they wear a nondescript kind of “traditional” costume, of forgotten origin after generations of copying; possibly in like manner the very identity of the persons represented may have meant little to the worker who carried on the tradition. The top figure of the second strip carries a spear and wears a large flat-topped hat, his hair and beard are white. The middle figure, who carries a long-handled axe, also has white hair and beard, but appears to have a halo rather than a hat; the upper part of his canopy has been cut off, consequently it is not certain that his position in relation to the

Moses? © DCM

Moses? © DCM

figure above is the original arrangement. The lowest figure with brown beard and small pointed hat might (as has been supposed – Hutchins’s History of Dorset, 3rd Edition, Vol. 1, p. 361.) represent Moses holding the tables of the law in his left hand and a rod in his right.

On the fourth strip the top figure with a long brown beard is dressed as a merchant with a belt and gypcière, his turban hat has a long liripipe which depends below the level of his right knee. The second figure with white hair and beard has a halo and grips a long knife and may perhaps represent St. Bartholomew. The lowest figure has brown hair and beard with ruddy cheeks, he wears a tall pointed “Steeple” hat with a broad turn-up and carries a scroll in his left hand.

St. Cuthburga, Abbess of Wimborne? © DCM

St. Cuthburga, Abbess of Wimborne? © DCM

The sixth strip is also part of; an orphrey, perhaps the central strip of a chasuble. It has been rubbed very bare of its silk embroidery, exposing the linen surface which is of very coarse texture.

Two female saints in veil and wimple are worked upon it; the upper figure bears a church in her hands, the symbol of a foundress ; the lower one holds a cross in both hands and might perhaps represent St. Helen. Their canopies are of an earlier type than those just mentioned.

The eighth strip is again part of an orphrey and is worked on linen of fine texture. The design consists of two male saints, each adorned with a blue halo, standing beneath canopies. The lower figure holds a chalice in his left hand but the object held by the upper figure is not now recognisable though it appears to terminate above in a small round knob. The canopy is only complete in the case of the lower figure, and though this resembles in some respects those on the sixth strip, it is not the same, the pediment has a more stately pitch and the diaper work is better, and a date may be assigned to this earlier in the 15th century than any of the others.

The Altar Frontal from Wool Church © DCMIt would seem, therefore, fairly obvious that the sixth and eighth strips belonged to different vestments, and it is a not incredible supposition that the sixth strip, in so far as its canopy work is concerned, may have been a rather poor copy of the eighth strip.

But there are parts of yet two more vestments incorporated in the frontal. On either side of the second strip a thin edging has been added consisting of green and gold “cut velvet” while between the third and fourth strips there is a similar edging of crimson and gold “cut velvet” Both of these are Italian and of 15th century date.

The fragments, preserved between glass in the small frame, came from the back of the Altar Frontal at the time it was repaired by Mrs. Stillwell.

With the Council’s permission I submitted them to Mr. Tattersall for his opinion, and have since labelled them in accordance with it.

The Altar Frontal from Wool Church © DCMNos. 1 and 2 are pieces of 15th century Italian velvet, doubtless from a cope. The crimson pile, which is woven on at least two warps, is cut to show a design in gold. A fine example of such a cope is to be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Nos. 3 and 4 are pieces of the green and crimson edging dividing the strips, described above. The green velvet is much rarer than the crimson. It was noticed that several of the vestments in the Victoria and Albert Museum had an edging of this material round the bottom.

Nos. 5, 6 and 7 are pieces of handwoven linen of various texture and colour, used as linings for the frontal.

To summarise briefly, it is definitely established that there are incorporated in the frontal parts of at least three vestments, probably a chasuble and two. copes, and parts of three different sets of orphreys; but whether the orphreys belonged to these particular vestments or were taken from others it is impossible to say.

Now in regard to the traditional connection with Bindon Abbey, what is the evidence?

It must be acknowledged at once that there is no real evidence and, after all, it is hardly likely that there should be; nevertheless where a strong local tradition exists in matters such as these it is unwise to ignore it.

The compilers of the 3rd Edition of Hutchins’s History of Dorset state that “it was probably brought from Bindon Abbey” Hutchins himself, in the 1st Edition, states rather more explicitly “it is most probable it belonged to Bindon Chapel and was preserved when that and the house were burnt in the Civil Wars.”

The house and chapel here referred to were built by Lord Thomas Howard (created 1st Viscount Bindon in 1559) who “raised a fair house” out of the monastery ruins. The actual position of this house and its domestic chapel cannot now be determined with any certainty, but it seems probable that it covered very much the same area as the present house within the Abbey precincts. It was burnt down during the Civil Wars about the year 1644.

A return of Church utensils in 1550 belonging to this Bindon Chapel is quoted by Hutchins, (Hutchins’s History of Dorset, 3rd Edition, Vol. 1, p. 352.) which includes a pair of vestments and an altar cloth. Perhaps this may have been the source of his idea.

In the Inventory of Church goods of 1552 (Proceedings, Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, Vol. XXV., pp. 210 &211.) the ” Chapell of Byndon ” possessed “one payre of vestments of rede & gryne saye” and “one alter clothe”

In the same Inventory “The parische of Woolle” had ” iiij payre of vestmentes with branchis of silke. ij copis with branches ” ” iiij aulter clothes ” : of which ” one cope and all the table clothes ” were allowed for the church use.

On the face of it the supposition of the late Rev. W. Miles Barnes (Ibid, p. 198.) would seem to be quite likely, viz.:—that these vestments and the remaining cope were eventually made up into altar hangings after purchase from the Commissioners, of which the frontal is all that now survives.