This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which granted certain women the right to vote for the first time in a British Parliamentary election. To celebrate this important milestone, Berrington Hall and Croft Castle, two National Trust places near Leominster, are launching exhibitions and programming which share their forgotten female stories and help to redress the balance.
From Tuesday 1 May, visitors will be able to admire an exquisite eighteenth-century court mantua dress at Berrington Hall, in a new mansion exhibition, ‘A dress fit for a king’. The dress was originally owned and worn by Ann Bangham, the wife of the first owner of Berrington, Thomas Harley. The court mantua is made of the finest silk, with gold thread, and is in pieces. It is extremely rare and in very good condition.
Conservation and Engagement Manager, Derw Thomas, is excited to be able to share Ann’s story with visitors: “There is no known portrait of Ann, but in conserving and reconstructing her dress, we can also begin to unfold her story.” The National Trust’s textile conservator has been working on the fabric of the dress, learning not only about its condition, but also its structure and form.
Visitors can also discover a contemporary artistic response to the dress by local artist, Lorna Brown. In the bedroom on the first floor of the mansion, visitors will be able to step inside an immersive and captivating mixed-media art installation, which tells the story of Ann from a different perspective. Flowers symbolic of motherhood and family blossom amongst large versions of the Georgian lover’s eye miniature; together, they allude to the life of Ann as the “watched woman” and invite visitors to consider and perhaps declare, ‘Eye am She’.
At nearby Croft Castle, visitors can discover more about ten key women associated with Croft from Saturday 5 May through objects and paintings in the castle. They can discover more about the Croft’s royal connections to Elizabeth I and Princess Charlotte, the efforts made by Katherine Croft and her daughter Elinor to buy the castle back in 1923 and the vital contributions Dorothy Kevill-Davies and Anne Page Croft made to the war effort on the Home Front from 1914-18. Each object will be marked by a rosette in the colours of the Women’s Suffrage movement; purple, white and green. Visitors can then vote for the stories they found most inspiring, as well as discovering more about some of the women who work at Croft today.
On weekends from Saturday 9 June, visitors can also add their signature to Croft’s commemorative table runner in the dining room of the castle; signature cloths were very popular during the early twentieth-century as a way of fundraising, commemorating an event or just as a statement of friendship and solidarity. Families can sign their name on an oak leaf and add it to the tree, or alternatively, they can bring a piece of fabric along which means something to them. It will eventually become a piece of art which will adorn the dining table and visitors can return to see the oak tree grow throughout the year.
Berrington and Croft will also be running tours and events which expand on the theme of women’s history, throughout 2018. Both exhibitions form part of the National Trust’s wider year-long programme, ‘Women and Power’, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Act at special places across the organisation.