Interesting Conversations

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Millfield: the family home of William Stephens Clark, Helen Priestman Bright Clark and their children from 1889 to 1935

Reading Edwardian letters can be a tricky thing! Handwriting may look stylish on the page, beautiful even, but getting to grips with their actual reading can be an altogether different matter. So, in conjunction with our MCG cataloguing project one of our talented volunteers, Wendy, has been producing transcripts of associated documents to assist researchers in the future to understand the contents and context of this resource.

What began as an associated project however is beginning to illuminate the value of many other family archive collections. Take for example the Millfield Visitors Book of 1897-1910. One can only imagine the dinner party conversations between the Clarks and the continuous flow of suffragist, liberal, socially aware and academic visitors, many of the Quakers, who stayed with them. How influential would this forum have been to the spread and development of ideas?

On this anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 it is interesting to reflect on the visitors to Millfield in just one year 1904, a year when frustration with the lack of progress in women gaining the vote led to the beginnings of militant action. Helen Priestman Bright Clark, who had been publicly campaigning for women’s suffrage since the 1870s, played hostess to her equally long-time suffragist aunts Margaret Tanner, Anna M Priestman and Mary Priestman in July 1904.

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The Priestman sisters photographed at Millfield in 1891: Anna Maria Priestman (L), Margaret Tanner (standing) and Mary Priestman (R)

Early August 1904 sees the signatures of American guests Anna Howard Shaw and Lucy E Anthony, alongside this very special greeting written by the American activist Susan B Anthony:

at the home of William S Clark – Street – Somerset – England
At last I have been in the home of my friend Helen Bright Clark and have seen her
all – except the son John, is just married and away on his wedding tour – it is
an ideal home – all the daughters have chosen their profession – and seem to
have a purpose in life – may they all be prosperous and all be happy, is the best wish of their friend Susan B Anthony

September of the same year sees a visit by young relations Fay McLaren (later known as the activist Lady Norman) and Henry McLaren (elected Liberal MP in 1906) at the same time as Joseph Chamberlain’s niece Charlotte. Staying with the family from 4-7 October Emily Hobhouse – whose descriptions of work post Boer War in South Africa were to have such an influence on Margaret Clark.

Altogether 74 visitors are known to have stayed at Millfield during 1904 – a mix of relations, Quaker Friends and fellow campaigners from around the globe from Somerset to Australia.

I for one would have loved to have been a fly on the wall!

Shoes With Sole

Rationing introduced as part of the war effort during World War II reduced the amount of leather available for making shoes for civilians. Shoemakers were therefore forced to experiment with different materials to replace this depleting resource in their shoes.

One solution to this problem was to use natural resources. Norway and Denmark made use of their fish resource, after their animal hides were confiscated by occupying forces. They did this by replacing their confiscated leather with fish skin. Brightly coloured dyes and textured pebble surfaces disguised the inferior quality of the material.

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Within our collection we discovered examples of fish skin being used on the upper section of various shoes. These unusual shoes were wartime experiments from the early 1940s. They were created by the shoe company Eduard Rheinberger A.G. of Pirmasens in west Germany.

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The fish skin is surprisingly robust, having survived almost completely intact, and has a noticeably intriguing pattern compared with leather.

However, the use of fish skins did not necessarily begin in the 1940s. The decreasing length of skirts in the 1920s sparked a change in fashion, increasing shoe production. By the end of the 1920s sea leathers had been invented, which used the skins of fish in the shark family. Although commonly used in Japan, this was a quite innovative idea in Europe. One of the earlier designers to use sea skins was Salvatore Ferragamo, who used sea-leopard to make his shoes from 1928.

By Rebecca Wormald, Documentation Officer

Shoe Digitisation Passes 100,000 Images Mark!

Single right women’s tan kid leather front lace boot; American Made, 1900 (SOMAG/1234/2300)

The Shoe Digitisation Project has just passed a massive milestone; we have now taken over 100,000 images of shoes!

Since 2014, a dedicated team of professionals have been working on the project to clean, document, repackage and photograph our historic shoe collection. We now have a photographic record of over 7,000 shoes predating 1979, and the team are shortly going to start on the 1980s collection.

The honour of the 100,000th image went to this gorgeous front lace boot, made in America in 1900.

 

Celebrating a ‘Roarsome’ Exhibition!

In September, the Alfred Gillett Trust hosted a hugely successful pop-up exhibition of fossilised ichthyosaurs found in Street as part of the national Heritage Open Days initiative. Over 2,200 people attended the four day exhibition, which saw the fossils on display in the town they were found for the first time in 40 years.

16 large ichthyosaur fossils were on display, as well a selection of smaller fossils found in the local area. Known as ‘sea dragons’, ichthyosaurs were dolphin-like marine reptiles which swam in the warm seas which covered Somerset around 200 million years ago. Street is known internationally for the quality and quantity of the fossils found in the local blue lias rock.

The fossils were found in local quarries in the 19th century by Alfred Gillett, a cousin of the founders of Clarks the shoemakers. Clark family members were also interested in the fossils which were being discovered in the area, and this impressive collection gradually developed. First displayed in Glastonbury Town Hall in 1880, the fossils were soon moved into a purpose-built Geological Museum in Crispin Hall in Street, which was opened in 1887.

Noted geologists and academics visited the collection to study them, along with tourists and residents in the locality of Street. Such was the importance of the collection and the affection held for the fossils in the area that the newly formed Street Urban District Council chose the ichthyosaur as their symbol in 1894. It is still used today by local societies and associations.

The fossils were finally taken off public display in 1978 when they were moved into storage for conservation. The Trust plan to begin a project to properly document, conserve and re-display the collection, and are looking for volunteers to help with this project.

One visitor said, “exciting days ahead for Street with these wonderful things being ‘rediscovered’…thank you Clark family/ Alfred Gillett for having such a fantastic archive.”

For more details on the fossils contact us or ring the Alfred Gillett Trust 01458 444060.

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Outdoor Cinema a Hit in Street

Outdoor cinema event in collaboration with Strode Theatre, 28th July 2017.Film fans braved the summer showers this weekend to attend the first outdoor film festival in Street organised by Strode Theatre. Over 500 visitors enjoyed three nights of films on the big screen, in the grounds of the Grange, a Grade II manor house in the heart of Street which is home to the Alfred Gillett Trust.

Mamma Mia! kicked off the festival, with visitors singing and dancing along to the hits of Abba. Family favourite Jurassic Park saw Clarks Village reverberate to the sound of dinosaurs, with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel rounding off the festival on Sunday night.

The Alfred Gillett Trust is an independent charity which was set up to preserve the cultural history of shoemaking in the Street area and beyond, and has its archive and reading room at the Grange. Visitors were treated to cinema adverts from the 1960s as part of the evening entertainment, giving a taste of what the archives from Street have to offer.

Natalie Watson, Interim Director of the Alfred Gillett Trust said, “Our collaboration with Strode Theatre shows how community groups can work together to create interesting cultural events for the people of Somerset. This is a great addition to the various events the Trust are planning which we hope will increase access and awareness of the fantastic collections we have on our doorstep here in Street.”

New Strode Theatre Manager Fares K Moussa said “I am delighted to have been able to offer this first short programme of outdoor films in partnership with the great team at Alfred Gillet Trust. The grounds of the Grange make a perfect location for events like this. Our hope is that we can develop this event over the years to provide wider communities with great summer outdoor arts and entertainment.”

The team would like to thank all the volunteers who helped make the event a success, as well as St John’s Ambulance for providing support and local producers House’s Cider from West Pennard.

Strode Theatre has a packed programme of cinema and live broadcasts and full details can be found at www.strodetheatre.org.uk or by ringing 01458 442846. For more information about the Alfred Gillett Trust, conact us.

‘Sea Dragons of Somerset’ exhibition coming this September

This September, the Alfred Gillett Trust are hosting a free pop-up exhibition of fossilised ichthyosaurs found in Street as part of the national Heritage Open Days initiative. From 7-10 September, the public can view the fossils and learn about how they were found and what they tell us about the local environment.

19 large ichthyosaur fossils will be on display, as well a selection of smaller fossils found in the local area. Known as ‘sea dragons’, ichthyosaurs were dolphin-like marine reptiles which swam in the warm seas which covered Somerset around 200 million years ago. Street is known internationally for the quality and quantity of the fossils found in the local blue lias rock.

The fossils were found in local quarries in the 19th century by Alfred Gillett, a cousin of the founders of Clarks the shoemakers. Clark family members were also interested in the fossils which were being discovered in the area, and this impressive collection gradually developed. First displayed in Glastonbury Town Hall in 1880, the fossils were soon moved into a purpose-built Geological Museum in Crispin Hall in Street, which was opened in 1887.

Noted geologists and academics visited the collection to study them, along with tourists and resident in the locality of Street. Such was the importance of the collection and the affection held for the fossils in the area that the newly formed Street Urban District Council chose the ichthyosaur as their symbol in 1894. It is still used today by local societies and associations.

The fossils were finally taken off public display in 1978 when they were moved into storage for conservation. Now, for the first time in nearly 40 years, locals and visitors alike will get a chance to come face-to-face with the famed sea dragons.

The exhibition will be open to the public from Thursday 7 to Sunday 10 September from 10am to 5pm. Entrance is free, but donations towards the care and future display of the fossils would be gratefully received.

Volunteers Wanted for the Clarks Point of Sale Digitisation Project

 

Clarks Tor Shoes, (1935)

Clarks Tor Shoes, (1935)

The Point of Sale (POS) collection is one of the biggest and most historically significant collections held by the Alfred Gillett Trust. Not only it is one of the largest collections of its kind in the UK, but one of the most complete. With objects ranging from 1851 to the present day, with only minor gaps, it visually tells the story of the rise of C & J Clark Ltd. from a local company selling wool lined slippers to one of the most competitive footwear companies in the world.

The digitisation project aims to create a searchable visual database of the collection. In order to do this, the POS must be cleaned, have its record updated on our museum database, be condition checked, photographed, repackaged into archival and museum standard packaging to minimise degradation, and finally stored in our custom-built archive storage facility.

As a volunteer on this project, not only will you get to see a stunning visual history of the company, but be part of an exciting project that gives you a behind the scenes look at how the heritage sector works. Working with original objects, you will be trained onsite in handling, cleaning, and use of the database by the Project Manager.

Pat Keeler, a current volunteer says, “Working with Point of Sale items such as posters and display cards is extremely interesting, both visually and from an historical perspective.”

If you can give a minimum of 7 hours Monday-Friday, are interested in advertising and marketing, have a keen eye for detail and have ICT skills, please get in touch with Project Manage, Karina.

Download the role description here.

By Karina Virahsawmy, Project Manager/Assistant Curator, Alfred Gillett Trust

International Women’s Day Event Success

The Alfred Gillett Trust, a heritage charity based in Street, held a very successful 4-day celebration in honour of International Women’s Day on 8 March. Over 4 days, the Trust welcomed over 520 visitors to enjoy a range of free exhibitions, performances and activities to mark the 100-year-old global event aimed at celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.

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The Alfred Gillett Trust is a heritage charity which preserves and promotes the cultural heritage of shoemaking, and cares for the historic collections of C & J Clark Ltd., and the Clark family which established the global shoemaking company. At the event, the archives were opened up to visitors, which highlighted the stories of six remarkable Street women who have influenced the pursuit for gender equality through their roles in the suffrage movement, the shoemaking industry and medicine.

Annie Clark for example, qualified as a doctor in 1878 at a time when women struggled to receive a higher education. Florrie Bond worked as a foreman in the Trimming Room at Clarks until her retirement in 1946, and Hilda Clark undertook important relief work during and after WWI, which included setting up a Maternity Hospital for refugees in France.

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The Trust brought together local artists, women’s groups and performers to explore the role of women in today’s society and prompt all visitors to reflect on their own experiences and beliefs. This included a large-scale sound and light installation by Elena Hutchcroft and Karolina Nieduza, a photographic exhibition of Navajo grandmothers by Joseph Hunwick and a moving mixed-media installation by Charlotte Humpston reflecting on a mothers’ grief at losing her daughter.

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On International Women’s Day, itself, the historic Grange came alive with the captivating voices of local choirs and performers, the Lonesome Doves, the Avalonian Free State Choir, Lily Anne and Leela Bunce. The final day of the exhibition saw a performance by Street Sings Choir and the Trust welcomed the Street Society who were serving refreshments and cakes.

The Trust would like to extend thanks to all the performers, artists and volunteers involved with the event, without whom the event would not have been the success it was.

The Trust will be hosting a regular series of FREE talks, seminars and workshops at the Grange over the coming year which will focus on the achievements and beliefs of some truly inspirational local women. The first talk by Kathy Jones, the Priestess of the Goddess, will be on Thursday 6 April on “Feminism, Goddess Spirituality and Motherworld”. Reserve your free place here.

BRAND DESIGN COMPETITION – WIN £250

We are re-branding, with an innovative competition, which is aimed at providing local young people with an exciting opportunity for career development and cultivating network skills.

The competition is open to 17-26 year olds who are not currently paid marketing/design professionals and will see the winner designing a new brand direction for the charity. The winner will receive £250 and see their design form the basis of the Charity’s future branding for the next 5 years.

The winner will be announced at a special presentation evening in the Autumn, where the shortlisted entrants will be have the opportunity to showcase their work and network with art, design and marketing professionals.

The competition brief can be downloaded BRAND DESIGN COMPETITION BRIEF V3. We also held two information evenings on Tuesday 26th and Thursday 28th July, which provided further information and guidance which can also be downloaded THE ALFRED GILLETT TRUST.pptx version 2

If you would like any further information or guidance please contact Sam Bradley at The Alfred Gillett Trust at enquiries@agtrust.org.uk or on 01458 444060.

The closing date for entries is 5pm on Friday 2nd September 2016.

Being an Investigative Sleuth: Finding Andrew Johnson and Henry Kay Henrion

Detective-GirlWhilst cataloguing and numbering the Point of Sale collection, I’ve come across many interesting things: symbols used as illustrators’ signatures, famous actresses and photographers collaborating with Clarks, plus angry starfish and dancing crocodiles.

The angry starfish and dancing crocodiles we’ll come to another time, but the fun part of not knowing too much about graphic designers, illustrators, and artists from the 1910s to the 1950s, is the research I get to do to find out more about them. It’s important to understand these collaborators holistically to contextualise their relationship with Clarks. This can help us to try and work out how the Company made decisions about working with these designers, illustrators and artists.

So I had to take off my Documentation Beret and pop on my Detective’s Fedora, which has gotten more use whilst working here, and do a little investigating.  Unfortunately with Google and Wikipedia being so easily accessible and increasingly accurate, there are sometimes very few opportunities to do a bit of proper sleuthing, so I was quite excited when I came across Andrew Johnson and Henry Kay Henrion.

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