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I’d visited the Museum of Somerset, run by the South West Heritage Trust, which also runs the Somerset Rural Life Museum, just once before, very shortly after it had reopened in 2011. For over a hundred years the museum has been housed in the 12th century Taunton Castle, rescued and restored in the latter part of the nineteenth century by the still flourishing Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society

When I visited early in 2012, I had been waylaid by a large and very comprehensive ground floor geology room in the Grand Hall of the castle, and seen almost nothing of the rest of the museum. I had never been back. Now I was aware that a temporary exhibition that had caught my eye had only a few more weeks to run, so, my regular first Friday walk having been cancelled yesterday, 3rd February, I seized the opportunity to use my bus pass to get to travel free for 80 minutes (50 minutes by car) to the county town, and spend a few hours there.

After an obligatory coffee, I popped out to the courtyard for a photo,

then made straight for the room showing the display previously advertised as:

In Fashion: How a Changing World Shaped What We Wear

‘In Fashion’ explores how changes in society have shaped fashion from the late 1700s to the present day. Long-lasting traditions, social status, new technologies and media influence have all had their part in shaping what we wear. So too have the disruptions of war, the landmarks of birth, marriage and death, and the human desire to escape from old constraints.

Sadly, I felt it did not live up to its promise, so it was as well that there was no charge. From the description above, and that of the welcoming volunteer, I was expecting a chronological display and information covering more than two hundred years of developing fashion, and explanations of why. Instead, in only a certain discipline of chronology, the story was that of 20th century fashion with a few other items tacked on. I could remember three-quarters of it myself – and it was, to be fair, quite nice to nostalge.

Afterwards I had plenty of time, so spent the rest of the morning walking round at those parts of the museum I had not seen on that one earlier visit, and after lunch in the café, I went to visit the splendid church I had noticed (I don’t know Taunton well) on the short walk from bus stop to museum.

Here then is a selection of the photographs I took on my way round, of a large proportion of the items in the fashion exhibition (in the order they were displayed) and then a small selection of those I took in the rest of the museum. The splendid church will be the subject of my next post.

19th and 20th century christening and wedding garb
Three-year-old boy’s silk mourning dress, c. 1860. Singer treadle sewing machine, early 20th century. My grandmother had one just like this well into the1950s. This one is displayed the wrong way round – c.f. the name in wrought iron below the table – or for use by a left-hander.

I can remember the times when making one’s own clothes was quite normal, and much less expensive than buying them ready-made. And this mid-fifties shape is very familiar.

Mass production and standardised sizing came in during WWI and requisitioned manufacturers continued to use the methods they had learned during it. Far end, cotton motoring dust coat, 1920s.
Rayon and crimplene dresses, 1940s and 1960s respectively.
Glass beaded silk chiffon dress c.1926
Silk evening dress 1950s, and Teddy boy suit 1959
Mini skirt and hot pants, late1960s. I wore both to work in Whitehall, and was the first to wear a trousers suit in H M Treasury. Nothing was said, and it was pleasing to see much more senior women follow suit – in trousers that is, not the hot pants.
Silk sack-back dress, c. 1760
Embroidered waistcoat, c 1760
Silk crinoline dress, c 1860 (( think)
Cavanagh evening dress, faille and tulle, c 1959, worn by Raine McCorquodale, later Countess Spencer

I spent just a few minutes in the military history part of the museum.

Bugle, 1888. ‘The bugle has long been the symbol of light infantry and rifle regiments’.
I was interested in the fate of this woman. Florentia, wife of General Sale, was taken prisoner during ‘the British Army’s disastrous retreat from Kabul, 1840-41’, and suffered much hardship thereafter.

There were many more rooms to the museum than I had realised.

The Frome hoard
The Low Ham mosaic, c 359 AD/CE telling the story of Dido and Aeneas
Taken from the upper gallery of the Great Hall
Capricorn, emblem of the Roman army’s Second Legion Augusta (in Britain during Boudicca’s revolt), found close to the Roman lead mines on the Mendip Hills, 50-200 AD/CE

Every now and then, a reminder one was in a very old castle.

Thomas Lyte of Lytes Cary, 1558-1638, jewel given him by King James I in thanks for having traced his ancestry back to the Romans
Virginals, 1675
The philosopher John Locke, born in Wrington, Somerset. Studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller, c 1704.

A small, beautiful, very high-ceilinged circular room was decorated with many sayings associated with Somerset in some way.

This saying was one of four, each for a season, on the huge Taunton Cabinet, made by John Steevens for the Great Exhibition, 1851.

A few things were ‘discovered’ by Somerset people.

Silver Amulet, Naples, c. 1900

A room was devoted to the Monmouth Rebellion. Some of Judge Jeffrey’s Bloody Assizes were held in this castle in 1685.

List of 514 rebels tried at these Assizes, of whom 144 were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered

This was the church I had already decided to visit in the afternoon, the, now Minster, church of St Mary Magdalene. There’s very little greenery around it now.

And I left via the castle’s courtyard.