Broderers visit to Chertsey Museum - 3 October 2023

The first written mention of Chertsey was by Bede in c750 – and is probably most famous for its’ links with Magna Carta, being within the borough of Runnymede.   Chertsey Museum opened to the public in 1965 and in 1975 saw the first display of costume and textiles from the Olive Matthews Collection.

Miss Matthews was an inveterate collector of costume and textiles from an early age. Born in 1887 and brought up in a comfortable and middle-class home in north London, she was encouraged in the common Victorian habit of collecting and regularly shopped in the Caledonian Road market.  Olive befriended market traders at a time when the value of “old clothes” and textiles did not enjoy the appreciation of today. A gentleman’s night cap dated about 1600 was purchased for a few pence!  The market closed in 1939 and at the start of the Second World War, Miss Matthews moved with her family to Trumps Green, near Virginia Water.  Self-taught, she continued to buy clothes, textiles, lace, shoe buckles, buttons and handkerchiefs.  By the time of her death in 1979, her collection comprised over 4000 pieces and was recognised by the V&A as being of national importance.

Grace Evans, Keeper of Costume at Chertsey Museum had identified 20 pieces from the Olive Matthews Collection that highlighted a range of embroidery and textiles from 1600 to the 1930’s. We were invited to huddle round Grace while she shared each piece and stories about the piece.  Everyone was completely surprised by a rather nice linen dress, embroidered and ribbon trimmed in blue, clearly designed to be worn with a bustle – when we learned it was an early tennis dress!  We were assured it had been made in linen to allow it to be washed – unlike a platinum coloured lamé cocktail gown by Paul Poiret complete with “under arm staining” – that’s the lady like expression for sweat.

It was an amazing opportunity to see such historic textiles and embroidery up close and if you did not join the Broderer’s visit, Chertsey Museum is well worth a visit.

Detail of tambour-work embroidery from a men’s dove grey silk dress suit, c.1780s.

Detail of a platinum lamé cocktail gown showing beadwork, titled ‘Goddess’ and designed by Paul Poiret, c.1927

Detail showing ribbon-work roses on a Robe de Style, c.1924 – 1926 

All costume images: © The Olive Matthews Collection, Chertsey Museum. Photos by John Chase Photography

Grace Evans can be seen on the Master’s left at the end of our visit.