THE star exhibit in the Museums Costume and Social History gallery, a mourning dress worn by Queen Victoria in 1892, was once used for dressing-up games, the donor has revealed.
There was laughter in the gallery as in the presence of fellow members of her family, Jean Barnett described the fun and games she had enjoyed as a child.
Later she said: “It was so big that two of us could get in it and then wrap the rest of it round us!”
The full importance of the garment, obtained by the family in lieu of a debt and since donated by them to the museum, was not appreciated at the time. Now it is carefully conserved and has been the subject of in-depth study by archivist and costume researcher Natalie Tilbury.
A special event was staged on Saturday, May 25th to mark the 200th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth.
Guest of honour at the event was Michael Foster, a Deputy Lieutenant of the County.
Next to the display case bearing the dress Queen Victoria wore for the funeral of her grandson the Duke of Clarence is Mr Foster’s donated dress uniform in his former role as High Sheriff of the county.
Introducing guests, museum curator Julian Porter said the amalgamation of Bexhill Museum, founded 105 years ago, and the former Museum of Costume and Social History founded by Christine Portch and Isobel Overton (now Bader) in 1972, meant that the Egerton Road premises now housed a notable costume collection. This had its origins in Mrs Portch’s former Thalia School of Speech and Drama.
He welcomed the Deputy Lieutenant and Mrs Rosemary Foster, Jean Barnett, her son Robin and grandson Oliver, together with Christine Portch’s son Stephen and his wife Janine, Natalie Tilbury and Dr Shelly Katz and other family and friends of the costume museum’s founders and former costume museum curator Pauline Bullock and her husband Stanley.
He said the Old Town museum had opened in a notable year.
The earliest written reference to Bexhill had been the granting of a charter for the building of St Peter’s Church in AD772. The museum had formed part of the town’s 1200th anniversary celebrations,
The Deputy Lord Lieutenant revealed that he owed a debt of gratitude to Christine Portch and the Thalia School for aiding his speech-making as a lawyer and former MP.
Natalie Tilbury told the assembly she had become aware of Bexhill Museum’s remarkable collection when she studied the history of art. It had been an immense privilege to research the history of Queen Victoria’s dress.
Briefly outlining Queen Victoria’s long and distinguished reign, she emphasised the importance placed in Victorian society in marking the period of mourning after a family death – though in the queen’s instance this extended for four decades after the death of the Prince Consort.
Guests at the event organised by Georgina Bradley and Stella Hales-Morris later enjoyed a strawberry cream tea in the Education Room.
Natalie Tilbury gave a further talk for the benefit of members of the public during the afternoon.