Alan and Vanessa Hopkins have been collecting historical clothing, textiles and accessories in the United Kingdom for more than forty years. Their Collection spans a period from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries and includes items representing all social classes although, as poorer people wore out their clothes, the bulk of the Collection is inevitably from the better-off part of society.


Norah Lush was born in 1881, in Kensington; her father was a Bank clerk.
He died in 1900, and in 1901 Norah was working as a secretary, and living with her widowed mother in Ealing. This photo could have been taken for her twenty-first birthday. By 1911 Norah was working as a governess. On the right is the silk dress she wears in the photograph.

“What ordinary people wore is the most interesting to us because it relates more to the real life of the past.  It would be nice to find out about the lives of the actual people who wore the clothes in our Collection and occasionally we have been able to do this.”

For the Hopkins the value of their Collection lies in the fact that contemporaneous clothing, textiles and accessories reveal a great deal about the social attitudes and economics of any society. For centuries wearing a corset (or stays) was considered as morally essential for women as it was to provide the body shape in fashion at the time. Eighteenth century accounts from the Charity Hospital, Bedford, record money being specifically allocated by the authorities to provide stays for girls.

It is important that people making costumes for period drama and the living history movement have access to surviving clothing, the better to get a proper understanding of the physical characteristics of the period dress that they are dealing with. Some of the Collection can be handled and used for taking patterns, and examining construction and sewing techniques; more fragile articles can be displayed on figures.

Once premises have been secured, the School will be able to provide the facilities for good access to original garments, textiles and accessories for all sorts of groups with varying reasons for studying costume and encourage the greater appreciation and use of original craft practices and skills.