We gaze in awe at the cardboard box in front of us. The Museum Curator opens it with appropriate care, like a magician about to pull a rabbit out of a hat. We wait expectantly as he unfolds the tissue paper protecting
a precious item from Worthing Museum’s amazing costume collection. We are about to see, in glorious close up, Queen Victoria’s knickers.
Mr B, who
is the only man in our group, asks jovially if he should avert his eyes. This provokes a lot of giggling from our companions. Mr B glows, not from embarrassment at the prospect of a Close Encounter with Female Underwear, but because everyone has laughed at
his joke. He does like to be properly appreciated and it is possible that I don’t always laugh as loudly or as long as I should at his merry quips. I Must Do Better.
The lid of the box is lifted, the tissue unwrapped, the historic bloomers revealed. They are HUGE. And I do mean HUGE. They are made of finest cotton and have the Royal crest embroidered at the waist. Apparently Queen Vic used to order twelve
sets of underwear at any one time. I suppose it was like the Victorian equivalent of a Marks and Spencer’s multi-pack. The Curator informs us that there is no way of knowing whether our Not-So-Merry-Monarch ever wore this particular pair of knickers
but the Royal crest tells us that they are definitely hers and she wouldn’t have passed them onto anyone else. I can't help thinking that Queen Victoria would not be at all amused to know the hilarity with which her bloomers were received.
Queen Victoria’s Knickers are but one of the many highlights of this, the Questers’ “behind the scenes” visit to the Costume Collection at Worthing
Museum. Questers, regular readers will remember, is a group which goes on visits - mostly near, though occasionally far – in the interests of learning more about this place we call Home. I have a particular interest in this visit being a success as it
is the first time I have stepped up and offered to organise a Questers’ trip.
I thought it was high time I did so. Mr B and I have enjoyed so many great
trips out (most of them documented in the Daily Blog, of course) that it seemed only right to pay back some of the pleasure. I am a great believer in pay back – in the best possible sense, you understand. I did have it in mind, when I put up my hand
to volunteer, that this should be a relatively easy visit to organise. There was no requirement to organise transport, for a starter, and the cost (£5 a head to cover our contribution to the Museum) was modest enough not to involve payment in instalments
or anything financially complicated like that.
Now in the Olden Days, when I was a Working Gal, I organised many an event. A trip to the local Museum should
be a piece of cake in comparison. Nevertheless this morning I had the familiar butterflies in my stomach. Would everyone turn up? Would the lift be working for the couple of members who could not manage the stairs? Most important of all, would everyone
Thanks to Gerry, the Curator of the Costume Collection, the answer to that last question was a resounding “yes”. Did we know, he
asked us, that the Worthing Museum’s Costume Collection is one of the most renowned and respected nationally, with only the V&A and Bath being considered more important? We all felt very, very proud of our Home Town. There are more than 30,000
individual items in the collection, from wedding dresses to handbags, from shoes to jewellery. The collection includes wedding dresses from virtually every decade back to the 1750s.
Rather more beautiful – and a good deal smaller - than Queen Victoria’s bloomers, is an embroidered jacket dating back to around 1615 – 20. Careful study has proved that no fewer than four needle-workers stitched this garment.
We wonder how long it took them and admire the neatness of the stitching – the wrong side every bit as neat as the right side.
I like the fact that this
collection does not contain costumes which could be described as haute couture. Its focus is on home-made or shop-bought garments – clothes which tell the social history of our times through their design, shape, material and size. The majority
of items have been donated – and fashion from the 60s and 70s is welcome, now being considered officially historic. Feeling old, I wonder if the Museum would like my wedding dress, veil and tiara – still in its original cardboard box from C &
Like Queen Victoria’s bloomers, my wedding dress could be History!