Trea­sured togs

Shropham col­lec­tor’s chil­dren’s clothes

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

TINY, EX­QUIS­ITE dresses fill the room. Each has a rounded col­lar, short puffed sleeves and a smocked bodice glow­ing with in­tri­cate stitch­ing. There are hun­dreds, maybe thou­sands, of hand-made frocks in del­i­cate pas­tel silks and light-as-air cot­tons, sprigged with flow­ers and pret­tied with in­tri­cate em­broi­dery and no two are the same.

Stand­ing, al­most swamped by the rails of these jewel-like dresses, is An­gela Lynne. She has cre­ated this ex­tra­or­di­nary col­lec­tion of English nurs­ery clothes and equip­ment in the 45 years since her first baby was born. It is prob­a­bly the only col­lec­tion of its kind in the world.

It be­gan with a sin­gle dress, bought for her el­dest daugh­ter. She went on to have another four daugh­ters and fi­nally a son, and her col­lec­tion of nurs­ery clothes and equip­ment, toys and books, is still grow­ing.

The at­tic rooms of her home in Shropham, near At­tle­bor­ough, are now en­tirely given over to the world of the up­per class English nurs­ery of the early to mid 20th cen­tury. And the col­lec­tion is spread­ing through­out the house.

Guest bed­rooms on the first floor have a cou­ple of ex­tra vin­tage cots apiece, or toys first played with a cen­tury ago, or a trunk of tiny romper suits. Down­stairs, along­side the main fur­ni­ture of the din­ing room, there are child-size tea-party ta­bles and chairs. Prints and paint­ings of chil­dren line the walls and the col­lec­tion in­cludes prams too. Dolls lie in the toy prams and there are

also the old-fash­ioned coach-built prams once used by An­gela and her chil­dren.

Rooms which might once have been nurs­eries are laid out as a tra­di­tional day nurs­ery and night nurs­eries, com­plete with beds, baths, books, glass bot­tles of medicines, mother-of-pearl backed hair­brushes and all the other ac­cou­trements of child­hood for ba­bies who wore silk for best and were packed off to board­ing school at seven or eight.

An­gela her­self grew up in York­shire and even as a lit­tle girl she loved dolls and ba­bies and re­mem­bers her main am­bi­tion was to have as many chil­dren of her own as pos­si­ble.

She and her hus­band Ge­orge, now re­tired and a lay-reader for the lo­cal parish churches, have six grownup chil­dren and 14 grand­chil­dren rang­ing in age from three to 18.

An­gela still re­mem­bers buy­ing that first dress for her first daugh­ter. “I had two spin­ster great aunts and they took me to Har­rod’s and told me to choose a dress. All the way home I kept peep­ing into the lit­tle pack­age!” she said.

Even to­day she adores adding to her col­lec­tion, be­cause ev­ery dress is dif­fer­ent. Many will have been hand­made to or­der by seam­stresses for Lon­don bou­tiques, others lov­ingly cre­ated by nan­nies.

“I feel I am about the only per­son now able to recog­nise the makes, styles and ma­te­ri­als of these ex­clu­sive clothes,” said An­gela. “The only other peo­ple who could help in the iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of this spe­cific sub­ject would be old nan­nies and nurse­maids who are, lit­er­ally, a dy­ing breed.”

It is quite pos­si­ble An­gela knows more than any­one else on earth about the fab­rics, cuts, tech­niques, fas­ten­ings and la­bels and the slow-chang­ing fash­ions of up­per-class English chil­dren’s clothes. When she saw one of the Down­ton

Abbey chil­dren in long white socks, when they should have been wear­ing an­kle socks, she was so per­turbed she con­tacted writer Ju­lian Fel­lowes.

Her old­est dress dates back to the 1780s but nurs­ery cloth­ing from be­tween the 1920s and 1960s are at the heart of her col­lec­tion. She calls it the Christo­pher Robin to Prince Charles pe­riod and says it “must surely be con­sid­ered the pret­ti­est run in his­tory of chil­dren’s clothes.

“Chil­dren’s clothes were so beau­ti­fully made then – all finely stitched, smocked, tucked or tai­lored. The ma­te­ri­als were the purest of silks, lawns, muslins, linens, flan­nels, wools and tweeds. The colours were ev­ery pos­si­ble shade of cream, and all the de­light­ful tones of old stamp colours – dusky blues, murky fawns, faded greens, dull pinks – and ev­ery hue that looks pretty on a child.”

Her ab­so­lute favourites change. “I take them out, and puff them up with tis­sue pa­per, and each one is like a jewel,” she said.

There are dresses and romper suits, sturdy coats and shoes, knit­ted matineé jack­ets, bon­nets and pram sets.

On one sec­tion of rails is a line of lit­tle blue and white smocked frocks. Ev­ery one is sub­tly dif­fer­ent – the shade of the blue, the width of the stripes, a pat­tern within a stripe…

Rows of chil­dren’s coats are minia­ture master­pieces of early 20th cen­tury men’s tai­lor­ing; knit­ted un­der­wear threaded with rib­bon is stored in boxes; be­neath the rails are scores of lit­tle shoes.

Her fascination be­gan with her close ob­ser­va­tion of the ba­bies of the well-heeled fam­i­lies she vis­ited as a child in York­shire and con­tin­ued with her own brood, who grew up in Ded­ham, on the Suf­folk-Es­sex bor­der, mov­ing to Shropham 20 years ago.

She dressed her five daugh­ters and son in her beloved tra­di­tional styles and the clothes they wore, the prams she pushed them in and the books and toys they loved, be­came the heart of her col­lec­tion.

“I used to write to Start-rite in Nor­wich and get spe­cial or­ders of the tra­di­tional shoes they didn’t sell in Eng­land any more, but were made for the French mar­ket. I went to quite a lot of trou­ble to get old-fash­ioned things for them.”

“They were quite obe­di­ent!” she said, show­ing a pho­to­graph of all six, dressed in kilts and Fair Isle jumpers. “It was still, just about, the era of do­ing what your mother told you!”

An­gela is also a tal­ented artist and has painted charm­ing wa­ter­colours of her chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, mod­el­ling the clothes. Some of this art-work il­lus­trates the book she has pro­duced to cel­e­brate her still-grow­ing col­lec­tion.

Oc­ca­sion­ally An­gela gives a guided tour to peo­ple with a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est, but it is mainly a per­sonal joy and a record of an al­most-van­ished era. And she still scours sec­ond-hand shops, an­tique deal­ers and sales, and peo­ple who know about her col­lec­tion will of­fer her items dis­cov­ered in their own at­tics.

“Moths are my big­gest en­emy,” said An­gela, who has a freezer de­voted en­tirely to freez­ing tiny gar­ments she fears might be suf­fer­ing a moth at­tack.

And de­spite a life­time of dress­ing dolls, and then her own ba­bies, An­gela ad­mits: “I would still love to have a grand­child on their own for a few days, and dress them up, and put them out in one of the prams un­der an ap­ple tree, and give them back with rosy cheeks!”

Above: An­gela Lynne is an artist as well as a col­lec­tor. This is her pic­ture of her six chil­dren when young

Above: Col­lec­tor An­gela Lynne with just some of her vin­tage chil­dren’s clothes and toys.

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