Silken memories

PUBLISHED: 17:03 13 July 2009 | UPDATED: 15:22 20 February 2013

Dress

Dress

This collection of family treasures belonging to a Shropshire family has been gifted to the V&A

Silken memories

This collection of family treasures belonging to a Shropshire family has been gifted to the V&A

Visiting Anne Thirlwall Davies at her Shrewsbury home it is obvious she has a strong sense of family history. The walls are hung with portraits of ancestors - the type more usually seen in stately homes.
Anne's maternal family name is Thirlwall and she is descended from a Northumbrian family that knew great riches in the 16th and 17th centuries. Indeed, it was her descendants who built Thirlwall Castle, a few miles west of the market town of Hexham in around 1369, the ruins of which were restored under the auspices of England Heritage and are maintained through the care of the Northumberland National Park.
Now Anne's pride in her past has led to her making a donation of cloth and clothing dating from the mid 17th Century to the Victoria and Albert Museum fashion department.
She has been the custodian of these items since her mother's death and wanted them to be safeguarded for future generations.
They were discovered locked in a cupboard in an elderly relative's home and passed down to Anne's mother. "My sister Sandra and I moved to Shrewsbury with my mother when we were children, but we still had relatives in the north, and we were always aware of our family history. We had an elderly relative living there whose home had a mysterious cupboard which was not unlocked until she died. My mother was present when the cupboard was finally opened and it was like a treasure chest, there was clothing, shoes, fabric, coins and papers all dating back to the time when my family was fortunate enough to have been very prosperous," says Anne.
"There was a beautiful dress, matching shoes and lengths of silk. There were leather-bound notebooks and ledgers that had everything from recipes to tenant lists and cures for various conditions including small pox and indigestion.
"When I was younger I think the items thrived at our home which didn't have central heating at the time but recently I have begun to worry about their safe-keeping. They are wonderful things to have in your possession, but because of their age I did feel a degree of responsibility for keeping them safe and in good condition, so we decided they should go to the V&A.
Susan North, the V&A's curator of 17th and 18th Century Fashion, said: "Usually when items like these are discovered they go to auction, so it really is very special to have them gifted to us. We have clothing from this era in our collection, but it is rare to find pieces with the detailed embroidery that there is on the dress. Similarly, the bearing cloth is in excellent condition because it has rarely been used and it is unusual to find a silk cloth of this nature woven with silver and gold gilt thread. They are great acquisitions."

V&A South Kensington, London SW7 2RL, tel: 020 79422000
www.vam.ac.uk

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