Friday, 17 November 2017

The Keeper Of Lost Causes -Tackling The Family Albums

I come from a long line of hoarders. The dress my great grandma wore for her wedding in 1906 lives in the bottom of my wardrobe, my great great grandma's mourning jacket hangs on a rail encased in a suit carrier and my great great grandpa's top hat lives in a box on top of a cupboard. You'll find the Chinese parasol Grandma and her sisters played dress up with as children in the umbrella stand in our hall and her collection of Victorian mourning jewellery is safely stashed away in a box in my dressing table.

Inherited stuff - Victorian top hat, shot silk and velvet mourning jacket with jet beading and my ivory Edwardian wedding dress

Great grandpa's Cheshire Rifleman's regimental jacket survived the Boer War and now lives, complete with the corresponding waistcoat, on a vintage French mannequin in the dining room, occasionally worn by me.

But what of the endless paperwork and photographs my family have held on to for over a hundred years? Newspaper cuttings, party invitations, greetings cards, tickets, travel passes, identity cards, letters, postcards, holiday snaps, wedding photos, mementos of family gatherings and even envelopes of hair stuffed in lidless shoe boxes and yellowing paper folders, crammed into dressers and chests of drawers gathering dust and largely ignored for most of the past century.

With my brother uninterested and our house already bursting at the seams, I've spent at least an hour a day this week trawling through all the boxes, reading letters, retrieving interesting photos from the endless envelopes and unearthing the odd curiosity, finally managing to whittle down a century of memories into a single (vintage) album.

Here's Thomas William Harris, Mum's paternal grandfather, outside Grandpa's childhood home, Hamble Cottage in Kings Avenue, Stone in Staffordshire.

I knew my Grandma's father worked for the railways but had no idea that my Grandpa's father also did. I found his first class rail passes from 1916 and 1920 in amongst the boxes of stuff. While researching them I found an eBay seller listing a single "specimen" one for £145!

I also found this letter from the London-based chairman of the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company awarding him a medal for remaining at work during the General Strike of 1926.

The Coppack family were cousins of my Grandma and also family legends. John Coppack married Sarah Ellen Davies in 1859 and had fourteen children (William, Annetta, Elizabeth, Isabella, Agnes, John, Florence, Mary, Evelyn, Fred, Ernest, Harold, Cecil and Anne) all of whom survived into adulthood.

My Grandma's mother was one of seven sisters. I'm not sure which one she is (possibly seated, second on the right) but I think the mother is wearing the mourning jacket I inherited.

Here she is again. How incredible is that dress?

Here she is with my great grandpa. The scribble on the back of the photo reads "Silver Wedding 1888 - 1913". I don't think it was a happy marriage. My Grandma told us that he was a notorious womaniser and her older sisters were often sent off to retrieve him from public houses around Chester.

My Dad's James Bond lifestyle - exotic places, beautiful women, fast cars, daring pursuits and mysterious foreign gentlemen. These photographs were taken in 1949.

Meanwhile, also in 1949, while Dad was gallivanting with glamorous brunettes, hanging out with Moroccans on the Champs Elysee and climbing mountains here's Mum, still a little girl, off to catch a train from Chester station with my Grandma and her other sister, my amazing Great Auntie Maud.

I'm assuming one of these Victorian schoolboys at the British School in Chester is my Great grandfather. I'm loving the teacher in the bowler hat. 

Here's the Crosby family (Grandma, her sisters, parents and family friends) on a trip over the border to Rhyl in North Wales in 1924 ..... and there's my parasol!

A few snapshots from my maternal grandpa's life. Reg was an only child, born in 1913. He qualified and worked as a chartered accountant but the love of his life was cricket, acting as a scout for Worcestershire C.C.C for many years. His mother, Mary Alice Chapman (b. 1880) was the original wearer of my wedding dress.

Here's Grandpa as a boy. I loved this poem his Aunt Dorothy (b.1884) wrote to little Reg in 1919 about her recovery from Spanish 'Flu - which between 1918 and 1920 claimed more victims than WWI.

Here's Mum with her youth club gang, busking their way around the Scilly Isles in 1963. Always a sun worshipper - just look at that tan!

Mum's mum, my grandma, was one of three sisters. This is her older sister, Florence in 1910. The kimono was a gift from a relative who travelled to Japan and was a favourite family dressing up item for years. Unfortunately, after Dad developed dementia in 2010, he threw it in the bin. Florrie died in 1943 after joining a religious cult which didn't believe in modern medicine.

That's my Mum introducing me to my brother, Marcus in 1968. I was so jealous I stole a pair of scissors and cut every pom pom off his clothes.

Grandma's father on a Great Western Railway employee trip. Great grandfather is the mustachio-ed chap standing at the back on the right of the photo. Aren't the boots the man seated at the front of the picture incredible?

Joan's school was scribbled on the back of this photo. That'll be my Grandma (Mum's mum). She was born in Chester in 1915 so I imagine this picture was taken in around 1920. She's the little girl with the brown bob standing at the back.

Wearing Cheshire Rifleman's jacket (circa 1900) with psychedelic printed velvet maxi dress by John Marks (Bought from a vintage trader at the Clothes Show Live, 2009) worn with 1960s-does-Victorian leather lace-up boots (car boot sale) and felted wool hat (charity shop)
Still here? Thanks for sticking with me! Blogging really is such a brilliant incentive for cracking on with stuff. I'm pretty sure that if I couldn't share these photos with you they'd still be festering in a pile of boxes for another hundred years.

Can you believe that I still haven't watched Peaky Blinders? I've been trying to avoid Facebook since Wednesday night in case somebody blabs. Can't wait to catch up tonight.

See you soon!

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Down Mexico Way - Cool In My Roberta Vencillino Kaftan

Blame it on a blogger! When I commented on how fabulous Betty looked in a kaftan on a recent post about her holiday in Costa Rica she'd replied that it had been hard to find one. Although I own a few, I thought I'd have a quick browse on eBay and see if I could find any. The ones listed in the vintage section were either ludicrously over-priced or not vintage in the slightest so I had a scroll through the general listings instead.

Even by selecting UK Only it still took me an age to trawl through the fifty plus pages of listings but, Betty was right, in most cases the garments didn't remotely resemble kaftans, being either hip-length tunic tops, those polyester fringed kimono jackets which were the in-thing on the festival scene a couple of years ago or semi-sheer belted cover-ups resembling dressing gowns designed to be worn over swimwear. Anything resembling a traditional, floor length, cotton kaftan with wide sleeves was a rarity.

Then I happened upon the above photo. Although not listed as vintage it looked suspiciously like it was and the description, mentioning the panelled construction, metal zip and side pockets, suggested something a bit special. So I added it to my watch list and stalked it for days, finally submitting a bid in the dying seconds of the auction. I was thrilled to be the only bidder and to win it for £8, the starting price.

Just over an hour ago Izzy, our postman, knocked the door and handed over a heavy box with my name on it. Confused, I tore it open and there was my kaftan, neatly encased in bubble wrap along with a homemade lavender bag, weighing in at a whopping 1.5kg.

I was right. It's vintage. Roberto Vencillino was a native of Spokane in Washington State, USA. Over fifty years ago a dance class she was hoping to take in San Francisco got cancelled so she booked a trip to Mexico instead. During her travels she called in at a popular Mexican-Italian restaurant and struck up a conversation with the owner, Luis Vencillino, falling in love and marrying him shortly afterwards.

Roberta wanted her own career so she borrowed $250 from her mother, started designing clothing, hired some local women to make up her dresses and opened a store in San Blas, Mexico. There really was not much to buy here back then. My biggest seller was shift dresses. Remember them from the ‘60s? Knee-length in vibrant colours with lots of hand-embroidered flowers and birds. I sold them for $10, Roberta reminisced.

The couple moved to Mazatlán, Mexico in 1968 and opened a cottage industry shop, making the clothes in the back and selling them out front for the next twelve years. In 1980, they built a larger shop on land Luis bought “for a song” in the 1970s when the area was still a swamp. After moving premises they discontinued Roberta's designs, concentrating instead on crafts, textiles and clothing created by artisans from all over Mexico. Roberta & Luis have since retired but shop continues, run by the couple's son, Jason.
Info and photo SOURCE

A trawl of the internet while researching my kaftan threw up these Roberta Vencillino y Luis beauties - selling in excess of $200. You can tell mine was originally bought by a Brit - all that colour to choose from and they went for the black, brown and grey version!  

As well as being taken by surprise by the weight and the desirability of a Roberta Vencillino original the colour of mine shocked me, too. I didn't expect it to be grey! Hopefully I've worn it stylishly like Beate did HERE rather than indifferently, which I wrote about HERE. As the cotton is so heavy I won't be taking it to India (it's a tenth of my 15 kg internal flight allowance) but it'll be thick enough to keep me warm all winter long. 

Vintage 1960s handmade Roberta Vencillino y Luis kaftan (£8, eBay) worn with bastard massive Aztec-inspired brass earrings (originally Topshop but bought from a charity shop back in 2010 for 99p), Vintage African brass breast plate (Inherited from Mum), River Island suede ankle boots (£5, charity shop) 
In other news the For Sale board isn't up yet but the estate agent has already got viewings for The Cottage booked in. I'll keep you posted.

Bit of a dilemma tonight - Peaky Blinders is back but it clashes with The Apprentice! What do we watch and what do we save for Thursday?  I'd better have a rum and reflect.

See you soon!

Monday, 13 November 2017

The Colour Purple

It's no secret that I hate winter but rediscovering this coat almost compensates for the plummeting temperatures.

1970s jumper worn with 1970s purple lace maxi (used to belong to my friend, Nikki), vintage suede platform boots and crochet skull cap (both charity shopped), Pom-Pom trimmed tribal belt (present), Dents' cerise leather gloves in top photo (car boot sale)

What lies beneath? Don't adjust your computer screens, long-time readers, jumper-phobic Vix is wearing... a jumper! I spotted this Missoni-esque bell sleeve poking out from the £3 knitwear rail on a secondhand stall on the market. Most of the stall's stock is of the mainstream high street variety but every once in a while I spot a vintage gem, like this stunner and, funnily enough, the coat in the top photo. 

I'd mentioned sharing a few of the things I rescued from my parents' house in my last post. As we're about to redecorate I've stashed the bulkier pieces in an outbuilding until we're ready to display them in all their glory. Treasures include an Egyptian Revival fire surround with the corresponding peacock blue ceramic tiles (last seen HERE), a walnut Art Deco standard lamp (identical to THIS but when Jon's rewired it, rest assured that ours will be adorned with a far funkier lampshade) and, most excitingly, Mum's partially furnished 1930s Tri-ang doll's house (same model HERE) which I was convinced she'd given away years ago. Sadly it'll need even more restoration than The Cottage!

Here's Mr Punch the Victorian cast iron door stop. Until I googled him I'd never noticed he was taking snuff or that the dog was wearing in a top hat. Just goes to show that if you see something every day of your life you stop looking at it properly. My brother & I weren't that fussed about keeping him (we've stubbed our toes on it more often that we care to remember) but Jon loves him and as he's put his back out loading the skip and braved the spider ridden cellar and attic we thought he should have him. 

How could I not keep this 12" tall Art Nouveau Morris Ware vase? Hand-painted in all of my favourite colours, if it was a dress I'd wear it. Designed and signed by George Cartlidge for S Hancock & Sons, it was produced in Staffordshire between 1912 - 1920. Morris Ware was originally produced to compete with Moorcroft but looking at completed listings on eBay, Morris Ware seems to sell for more. Back in my misspent youth I "liberated" a couple of these encaustic tiles from a building destined for demolition, giving one to Mum and keeping the other. Along with the rest of my encaustic tile collection, it'll be put to good use when we redo the bathroom.

My brother and I found this Mid-Century Polish-made wooden ornament in a box amongst Dad's stuff, neither of us had ever seen it before, but looking at his old passport (something else we uncovered for the first time last week) for a young man from a working class family, he was very well travelled and probably brought it back as a souvenir (along with the Bitossi cat and the bronze model of Athena who both live on our mantelpiece).  

Handsome devil, wasn't he?
I wrote a blog post about my Dad's adventurous life HERE

Dad trained with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He travelled to the States on business a few times when we were kids but I didn't know he'd been in the 1950s.

Can you imagine what it was like travelling to Germany just seven years after the end of WWII? 

Remember the Victorian scrap screen I've had since I was a child? It was starting to disintegrate and look very sorry for itself but I had a brainwave. Mum had kept all my childhood books - extremely tatty as many were already old when I inherited them and I'd almost read them to death. I knew that if I sent them to a charity shop they'd end up in the bin. Why not salvage the pictures and display them somewhere they could be seen every day (as opposed to being hidden away on a dusty bookshelf)?

 There's early Twentieth Century biblical stories and fairy tales, a 1920s nursery edition of Peter Pan, Mum's wartime Alison Uttleys as well as a dilapidated Yellow Submarine paperback and my first Ladybird book from the 1960s plus some treasured greeting cards sent from family members between 1906 to 1951. I've attached them to the screen with a liberal application of PVA, stained them with  water from 10 teabags stewed overnight and will varnish them when it's all dry. 

So not too much of a hoarder, am I? Over the weekend I've managed to whittle down the endless bags of family photos & documents ranging from the Victorian era to the 1960s to a livable minimum. If I get a chance this week....the to-do list is another whopper....I've try and share a few interesting finds with you, it'll be an incentive to get them in some kind of order.

Linking with Patti & The Gang for Visible Monday.

See you soon!

Friday, 10 November 2017

The House That I Grew Up In

The parental home is finally empty and ready to go on the market.

"The Cottage" has been empty for seven years. Just weeks after Mum died in 2010, Dad developed rapid onset dementia and was considered a danger to himself. He was taken away to live in secure accommodation and never returned. At first we had grand plans to do up the house and sell it on but were advised by the experts to leave well alone. Unrestored - totally original - houses are a rarity and apparently in high demand. My brother had toyed with the idea of moving in and restoring it himself but on reflection the task was just too daunting.

So, after an initial declutter, for seven years we left it as it was, using it as storage for our out of season stock and for items too heavy to cart to the charity shop - "The Cottage" is directly over the road from Stonecroft - we can see it from the bedroom window. Dad died two years ago and sorting out his estate took an age (I did it myself, saving thousands of pounds but almost sacrificing my sanity).

The bulk of the paperwork was completed just as the festival season kicked off so any house plans got put on the back burner until that and the Autumn fair season were over.

Last week with just one local fair left to trade at until next Spring we got the estate agent round to value the property and we agreed to have the house completely empty and ready for sale by the end of this week.

My bother & I had already taken the bits and bobs we wanted and I was determined not to hold on to things just for the sake of it. I have memories, I don't need stuff. Call me rash but I've donated everything from Moorcroft vases, a complete Edwardian Minton Greek Key dining service, a collection of wooden writing slopes, hallmarked silver cutlery, Staffordshire flat backs and a plethora of dainty Victorian china to Cats Protection and the Salvation Army. My brother even gave away his huge childhood collection of 1970s Action Men. Yesterday I had the mother of all fires and burnt almost every scrap of paperwork my family have hoarded for over a century. 

You know what? Finally, after seven long & stressful years, a huge weight of responsibility has been lifted from my shoulders and I feel f*cking fantastic!

My parents bought "The Cottage" in 1971 for £5,500. The original owner, a wealthy widow who owned a timber yard in the town centre, had died several years previously and the house, still full of her belongings, had been unoccupied for years. Her only remaining relative, a distant cousin, was furious that she'd only left him the house in her will with no mention of her alleged fortune. In his anger he ripped the place apart, smashing furniture and tearing up carpets in a vain attempt to discover the cash. It was never found. My brother and I spent hours hunting for it as children - many of the floors lift up to reveal secret boxes built into the floorboards. Maybe it's still there, stashed away somewhere safe. 

My money is on it being somewhere in the huge cellar which extends under the house and beyond, as far as the boundary hedge in the front garden. Not that you'll catch me in there, there's too many spiders.

So feast your eyes on "The Cottage" in all its originality. We've already been approached by several interested parties wanting to do a deal but, to be honest, I'd rather leave it in the hands of the professionals. I don't want people haggling over our childhood.

The garden occupies an area of over a quarter of an acre but we've sectioned a portion of it off which we'll sell at a later date. 

I'm an architectural salvage nut and absolutely love the original outside toilet - it's even got Walsall stamped on the cistern. I was terrified to use it as a child!

According to the original plans this little room that leads off the scullery is the china pantry. There's a bell push in the back lounge that the lady of the house used to press to summons the maid from here.

Now its empty this is my favourite room, the epitome of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic the architect was striving for when he designed and had the house built in 1910. There are two neighbouring houses in the avenue built in an identical style but the bloke who owns the house next door knocked this wood panelled part of his lounge down and had steps built leading to a full-sized cinema room in the cellar. I've got a terrible feeling the buyers of The Cottage will do the same. At least I've have this photo for posterity.

Other than the carpet & the switch everything here is original, including the brocade seat pads and the brass lantern

Mum & Dad weren't really into DIY (or housework!) although the breakfast room had a bit of a face lift in the 1980s.  We've rescued the stained glass windows from the summer house, that'll be a future project.

 The Anaglypta on the boxroom wall is original to the house - as are the coat hooks . This room used to be piled to the ceiling with bags of Mum's clothes. The first time I saw the floor was a few years ago.

The psychedelic wallpaper in the bathroom (and the separate loo) was an addition when we moved in. I wonder if looking at it every day subconsciously influenced my love of 1970s prints? 

The pedestal sink, towel rail and the pink opaque glass light shade (in the sink) are all original to the house. Dad had central heating installed after I left home, I grew up without it - and was probably the healthiest child at school, I never had a day off sick.

This was Mum & Dad's bedroom.

This was my bedroom until I left home and Mum took it over.

The view from my old bedroom window.

This was my brother's bedroom. It had a face-lift in 1980s. The toy cupboard is original and empty for the first time in 46 years!

  What a physically and emotionally draining week. I've got rid of so much stuff - but I've also uncovered a few interesting bits which I'll share next time. 

We've dropped off the keys at the estate agent and spent this afternoon in 'Spoons - being all grown-up doesn't mean we can't have some fun.