The restrictions resulting from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic meant that no meetings were held in September, October or November 2020.
Meetings resumed in January 2021 using Zoom on-line.
The following reports of meetings in the 2020-21 season are available:
Jan 27: "Women at Pompeii" - Helen Lockhart.
Members were treated to their first experience of an online talk from HHA by local historian and club secretary Helen Lockhart on Wednesday 27 January via Zoom. Starved of regular face to face talks since February last year, over 100 members via 65 screens logged on to hear Helen’s fascinating account of the lives of women who lived in the Roman town of Pompeii in the First Century AD.
Research following excavations of Pompeii reveal that, prior to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79, women were often able to be quite independent and influential; maybe unusual for a male dominated society of its time. Helen illuminated her talk with colourful slides showing evidence of material culture in public buildings, villas, gardens, brothels, bath houses, tombs, statues, wall paintings, relief sculpture, mosaics, jewellery, wax tablets and inscriptions. Stories about the women gleaned from these varied sources was all the more interesting because it was much harder to find than evidence of what the men were up to at the same time.
Not only elite women such as a priestess and local benefactress or successful business women and wives of wealthy men were discovered. Artistic, literate women, barmaids, money lenders, female slaves, freed slaves and prostitutes had also left their mark in the material fabric of the town. Helen covered a variety of topics including marriage, motherhood, inheritance, political influence, mystery cults, education, fashion, hairstyles and make-up. It was especially interesting to learn how many women in this ancient society were acquiring greater freedoms and how they used their influence in the politics of their society through their husbands or independently. Although women had no right to vote, it was perhaps surprising to learn that they were able to inherit and keep money and property rather than hand it over to their husbands. Divorce was legal and relatively informal and husbands who abused their wives could be punished by law.
Contrasting stories told of Eumachiae, a wealthy priestess who paid for an important public building and built her own magnificent tomb so that she would be remembered, and of the slave who was freed and went on to become the wealthy mother of a public official. A large number of wall paintings in the excavated ruins revealed scenes of women writing, playing instruments and readings scrolls. Daughters of the elite were educated, learning Greek and Latin as well as practical skills. At the other end of the social hierarchy, Helen had found evidence that prostitutes and adulterous women were forced to wear male togas as a punishment for their behaviour.
This successful foray in to online events during the pandemic restrictions will be followed on 24th February with a talk from Dr Caroline Ness on Jo Mattli, a once famous London fashion designer of the 1950s who lived and died in the Newbury area.
[Dr Caroline Ness HHA Committee]
February 24: “‘Mattli of Mayfair’ Berkshire’s famous couturier of the 1940s-1970s” - Dr Caroline Ness.
Fashion historian and textile conservationist, Dr Caroline Ness, also HHA committee member, delivered a truly fascinating and immaculately researched online Zoom talk about Swiss-born, London based fashion designer Giuseppe ‘Jo’ Mattli (1907-1982) and his local connections.
She delivered an illuminating account of the once famous couturier who lived at Curridge, near Newbury. Caroline presented a vast array of fashion photographs, press cuttings, newspaper and magazine articles, drawings and garments from the Mattli Archive at the Fashion Museum, Bath, which she has been instrumental in organizing, researching and curating. Caroline has also contributed a chapter on Mattli for the V&A book of London Couture.
Mattli grew up in Lugano, moving to England in 1926 to learn tailoring and then continued his training in Paris, returning to London and opening his own couture house in Sloane Street in 1934. In the same year he married his first wife Olga, a White Russian émigré who had modelled for him and created hats for his collections. In 1947 he married his beloved French-born second wife Claude, who modelled for him and became sales director for the business.
As Caroline explained couture was the highest form of clothing design, created as an individual piece, expertly made to measure, carefully fitted, finely embellished and expensive to buy. From 1934-75 Mattli ran his couture business from prestigious addresses in and Mayfair and Knightsbridge, sharing premises in Basil Street with fashion designer Charles Creed from 1955-64. Mattli was a contemporary of Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell, but unlike these more high-profile designers his name was rather lost to memory when Mary Quant and Biba captured the headlines in the 1960s.
Mattli was part of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (IncSoc) established in 1942, to reinvigorate London's post-war couture industry, promoting British fashion design, while being economical with the quantities of material used. This minimal approach to fabric during post-war austerity in Britain made it hard for London designers to compete with Paris couture houses like Dior. Meanwhile, Mattli also worked with nylon and synthetic fabrics and was exporting designs to the USA by 1948.
During the 1950s Mattli was famous for his haute couture designs commissioned by aristocratic and wealthy women, as well as stars of stage, screen and television. He designed costumes for several British films from the 1940s-1960s including ‘The Red Shoes’ in 1948 starring Moira Shearer. He also designed costumes for Anna Neagle and Margaret Lockwood. During the run up to the 1953 Coronation, London couturiers were busy creating garments for debutantes and society women. The ‘Coronation Parade’ held at Claridges and attended by the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, included gowns by Mattli. Coverage of the Coronation abroad was important in promoting British fashion. However, Mattli is not known to have created garments for senior members of the royal family, perhaps due to rumours of his youthful Communist sympathies.
Mattli was known for practical, wearable, understated, finely detailed garments, which included tweed coats, slimline afternoon suits in boucle wool, cocktail dresses in silk jersey and lace. He was famously photographed by Norman Parkinson for British Vogue in 1953, with top models including Barbara Goalen, wearing his designs. In 1955 Mattli was the first London couturier to move into ready-to-wear fashion, under his own label, retailing at Marshall & Snellgrove, Fortum’s, Harrods and exclusive boutiques, while also exporting to Canada and New Zealand. He went on to design for wholesale enterprises such as the Co-operative Society and Grattan Catalogue. He contributed to Reynolds News in 1954, advising women on how to present themselves. Unlike many of the other IncSoc members, Mattli's name remained familiar throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, through his ready-to-wear clothing and his Vogue series of couture dress making patterns. He also appeared on the BBC television sewing series Clothes that Count in 1967. He continued to create some couture for special clients into the 1970s, but his legacy is for making ready-to-wear fashion available to all.
In the 1960s and 1970s Mattli and Claude rented Grange Farm at Curridge, staying first at weekends and then more permanently. An article in the Newbury Weekly News for 24th February 1773, included a photograph of the Mattlis happily at home in Curridge. Many years later Caroline approached the Newbury Weekly News about contacting local people who had known Mattli. The paper published a letter to that effect and many locals responded. Rachel Furr of the family jewellers in Hungerford, suggested to Caroline that Mattli’s executors should donate press books, newspaper cuttings, drawings and garments to the Mattli Archive. Mary Crosthwaite who had worked for Mattli in the 1960s, helped Caroline better understand the construction process of his garments. Mary had been photographed in 1955, modelling for Balenciaga in Paris, in one of the most iconic images of 1950s fashion. Another local resident Genevieve Mather was friendly with the Mattli and Claude, inheriting their pet pug dog, when they sadly died within a year of each other. Debutants Emma Heape, Susan Ward at Chilton Foliat and Mary Ann Parker Bowles at Donnington, all wore Mattli wedding dresses. Joanna Burrows the Mattlis’ physiotherapist from Newbury also talked to Caroline. Apparently, they were keen art collectors owning sketches by Lucien Freud. After Mattli’s death at Curridge in 1982, obituaries appeared in the Newbury Weekly News and The Times. Memories, photographs and garments from those who worked for him, were his assistants, seamstresses and tailors, his clients and friends, make a major contribution to the assessment of Mattli’s significant contribution to the post-war British fashion and textile industry.
[Helen Lockhart, HHA Secretary]
March 24: “Hungerford in 1795 - a close-up look” - Dr Hugh Pihlens.
Hungerford Historical Association’s programme of on-line meetings continued on 24 March with a notably local flavour. Dr Hugh Pihlens chose 1795 as an interesting and novel year to study Hungerford’s past.
It takes a skilful historian to single-out a specific year 230 years ago as a subject to enthral a Zoom audience. Dr Pihlens is well-known in the town for his broad historical interests and for managing the Hungerford Virtual Museum. His research into life in 1795 yielded a fascinating picture of the
shape of the town, its inhabitants and its working life.
He framed the talk around a map drawn by William Francis in 1794, many years before the Ordnance Survey first mapped the area. This beautifully drafted map shows that the shape of the town, though a third of its 21st century population, was largely as now.
This was the year following the Act of Parliament that authorised the building of the canal. So in 1795, there was no canal and of course this was 50 years before the railway.
Transport therefore focussed on roads and the importance of Hungerford’s position on two major routes, north-south and east-west. The many coaching inns received around 120 coaches a week and it needs little imagination to understand the number of ostlers and horses involved, not to mention the mess on the roads.
Dr Pihlens spoke about many of the characters that lived and worked in the town – the tanner Edward Westall, the Apothecary William Lucas, the vicar Henry William Majendie and many more. The life of the town was illustrated by the wide variety of trades that prospered, partly as a result of the coaching trade and many of which no longer exist – the mantua maker, the peruke maker and the stay maker. The existence of the “hiring fair”, where workers paraded their skills in the Market Place in the hope of being hired for the forthcoming year, truly harked-back to this bygone era.
The Zoom talks organised by the Hungerford Historical Association have been highly successful and on this occasion, Dr Pihlens had an enthusiastic audience of around 130 including some from Bedwyn Historical Society and even one family in Australia.
Much of the material that Dr Pihlens referred to can be found on the Hungerford Virtual Museum website (www.hungerfordvirtualmuseum.co.uk)
which is a fascinating free-access site.
[David Whiteley, HHA Treasurer]
April 28: “Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Calne” - Nick Baxter.
Nick Baxter, author and retired history teacher, gave the Hungerford Historical Association a detailed and insightful account of the time the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived in Calne, Wiltshire, from November 1814 to March 1816. The famous Romantic poet lived in an elegant Georgian terraced house opposite the church with his friends John and Mary Morgan and Mary’s sister Charlotte. Separated from his wife in London and by now heavily dependent on Laudanum and alcohol, Coleridge suffered a nervous breakdown shortly before moving to Calne from the village of Ashley near Bath. His time spent in Calne proved to be restorative and, as he regained his health, his work became productive once again.
Coleridge wrote his much respected ‘Biographia Literaria’, a collection of poems ‘Sibylline Leaves’, and finished his famous poem ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ whilst living in Calne. His play ‘Remorse’, premiered at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in 1813, was performed by travelling players in Calne in August 1815 during celebrations of the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo. Nick brought Coleridge and his friends to life, explaining his care for them during a smallpox scare in the town, his financial assistance when they were in debt, and his friendships with Lord Byron and William Wordsworth. Coleridge appeared to have been close to Charlotte, describing her and her sister Mary as his ‘dear loves’; so there may have been much to keep him in their company. Largely estranged from his family, his son Hartley managed a visit during the summer of 1815 against the wishes of his Uncle.
Sadly Coleridge’s friends, including Paul Methuen of Corsham House and the Marquis of Lansdowne of Bowood, could not help him when his addictions resurfaced. Following drunken scenes and embarrassments, not to mention trouble with his publishers, he decided to return to London. He managed this with the financial help of The Literary Fund and Lord Byron. From this time Coleridge lived in Highgate with his friend and physician Dr James Gillman and his wife Ann. He was to die there 18 years later.
Illustrated with a wealth of paintings, historic maps, contemporaneous ephemera and recent photos providing interesting comparisons of the town in the past and present, Nick held attention with an absorbing description of the life Coleridge was leading during his time in the locale. He concluded that Calne was the place the poet regained his self-worth and was at his most productive for some years.
[Caroline Ness, HHA Committee]
May 26: “Designing the part - Dame Ellen Terry (1847-1928)” - Dr Veronica Isaac.
At a recent talk via zoom for HHA, dress historian Dr Veronica Isaac recounted the life of famous Victorian actress Dame Ellen Terry, focussing on her personal and theatrical wardrobe. Veronica worked in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Dept. for several years and researched Terry’s surviving costumes at her former home, Smallhythe Place in Kent, for her PhD.
Terry’s career spanned seven decades during which she defied Victorian morals and conventions by marrying three times, having two illegitimate children and embarking on at least two long-term love affairs. Acting was considered an immoral way of life for a woman and after leaving her first husband, the artist George Frederick Watts, to live with her lover Terry was cut off from her family. She became an icon of the Aesthetic movement initiated by her early marriage to Watts who painted his teenage wife wearing the type of unconventional, un-corseted clothing first adopted by the followers of the Pre-Raphaelites and popular with the artistic, bohemian elements of Victorian society who railed against mass-production in any form. Terry aspired to a life of beauty by fully adopting the Aesthetic styles and came to understand the power of dress as part of the art of theatre.
Terry was closely associated with the actor Sir Henry Irving with whom she enjoyed a professional partnership of over twenty years. Veronica explored key moments in Terry’s life using many fascinating images of her wearing a variety of extraordinary performance costumes as well as continuing to wear Aesthetic dress off-stage. Alice Comyns Carr, costume designer for Terry for many years, used these styles for roles such as Portia in the Merchant of Venice and famously a dress decorated with iridescent blue-green beetle wings for Lady Macbeth in which she was painted by John Singer Sargent in 1889. Veronica was most fortunate to be able to study this historic dress at Smallhythe Place whilst it was in the process of conservation and we were fortunate to learn from Veronica about this fascinating and pioneering actress.
[Caroline Ness, HHA Committee]