“It makes us cringe these days”: Killerton House National Trust and the alteration of Elizabeth Petipher Cash’s everyday Quaker bonnets

Hannah Rumball

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Killerton House National Trust houses over 20,000 garments in its rich dress collection, many of them matching the category of ordinary clothes. In November 2015, for my PhD into British women’s Quaker dress, I consulted this vast source for surviving everyday clothing with a Quaker derivation. Two of their late-nineteenth century Plain poke bonnets, intended for daily use, were aesthetically outstanding for the striking and incongruous nature of their feathered adornments. Their embellished appearance was far removed from the lifelong commitment to the religiously prescribed moderation in dress, known as Plain dress, adhered to by their original owner and wearer, Elizabeth Petipher Cash. This paper details my initial shock and bewilderment at their appearance. It unpicks my discovery that two dyed Ostrich feathers, donated to the museum in the 1930s, had been crudely sewed to the exterior of each bonnet - under Killerton House costume collection direction – sometime between 1970 and 1990. It is the story of how these two everyday nineteenth-century bonnets underwent radical alterations for the purposes of mid-twentieth century display.
Further research, and consultation with the current curator Shelley Tobin, revealed that the establishment, cataloguing and display of the dress collection was overseen by self-styled costume consultant, Atherton Harrison, for nearly twenty years, until her retirement in 1994. Despite the passage of time, Harrison’s legacy can still be seen in several of the garments which underwent radical alterations by a group of “Thursday Ladies” employed by Harrison to work on objects intended for display. My discussions of this practice, will reveal glimpses into the past ambivalence towards displaying the mundane in historic houses. This paper is a new and unique contribution to the understanding of how historical curatorial treatments may impact upon contemporary researchers’ fundamental reading of surviving everyday garments and how researchers reading of ordinary dress may be misled by questionable past practices.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 29 May 2018
EventTextiles and Dress from Below: Ordinary and everyday textiles and dress in museums and historic houses - University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom
Duration: 7 Jun 20187 Jun 2018


ConferenceTextiles and Dress from Below
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Museums
  • Historic houses
  • Dress
  • Everyday life
  • Quaker
  • Conservation


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