Blandford, Dorset: The Blandford Fashion Museum

I make no attempt to hide the fact that I have the most juvenile sense of humour, so I’ll just admit it up-front: I only visited the Blandford Fashion Museum because it was built by Bastards.  Yes, the Georgian building that the museum is housed in was literally built by a pair of Bastards; the brothers John and William Bastard. I’m pretty sure bastard has been a derogatory term since at least medieval times, so I’m not quite sure why the two were saddled with such an unfortunate surname, but they don’t seem to have lived up to it in either sense of the word, since they were both legitimate Bastard children, and they rebuilt most of Blandford after the fire of 1731, and it is a reasonable looking town (despite it also having an unfortunate name).

  

Anyway, our visit to the Bastard House, I mean, Blandford Fashion Museum, got off to a somewhere awkward start due to some confusing signage outside. The museum is also home to a tearoom, and the sign outside that said they were only open til 4…as it was already 4:02 by the time we arrived, we thought we were too late. However, when we walked around to the museum entrance, there was an “Open” sign hanging from the gate, and a sign saying that their spring hours, which began on the first of April (this was the end of April) were from 10-5. There was a gentleman working in the garden just next to the front door, so we asked him if they were still open, and he seemed uncertain, but told us to go in anyway and see if anyone was at the admissions desk. Fortunately, there was still a volunteer there, but she was busy counting up the day’s takings when we walked in. Feeling uncertain, we offered to leave, but she assured us that it was fine, because they were supposed to let people in until 4:30 anyway, so we paid her a fiver each, and began to look around the museum.

  

Unfortunately, while the admissions lady was perfectly nice, and didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry, the same couldn’t be said of the tearoom staff. Though we had absolutely no intention of taking tea, and told them as much, we had to listen to the continued grumblings of the tearoom ladies throughout our visit, as they bitched about having already closed the tearoom, and wanting to go home (and to be honest, I’m not quite sure why they couldn’t have just gone home. They certainly didn’t contribute anything positive to our visit). They had already turned the lights out in most of the museum, so the poor volunteer at the admissions desk, who clearly had some mobility issues, had to come over and turn them back on for us (which is why some of the pictures are really dark), and unlock the rooms that they had already locked up. We felt really horrible and guilty about the whole thing, but we had already paid, so we just rushed through the museum as quickly as we could, feeling uncomfortable the whole while.

  

As for the museum itself, I think I would have quite enjoyed it if I didn’t have to hurry through. The collections were arranged in 10 or 11 different rooms of the house, and whilst there were only a handful of outfits in most of the rooms, the signage was generally quite good, and some of the clothes were really neat. Take that fruit-print dress from the ’50s, above left, which I would totally wear (actually, I have a pineapple dress, but it’s not as good as that one!).

  

Sadly, there was no mention of the Bastards in the house (the admissions lady was telling us a bit about the history of the museum, which was started by a lady called Mrs. Penny, and I was already biting the inside of my lip so I didn’t start laughing in anticipation of her talking about the Bastard brothers, but she left them out altogether. Eagle-eyed Marcus did spot one mention of them outside a different building, as you’ll see at the end of the post to prove I’m not making them up), but there were a few amusing anecdotes amongst the object labels, including one about the man who devised and wore the first top hat in 1797. Apparently, “passers-by reacted with horror” and he was later fined for daring to wear such an unusual piece of headwear. Of course, a few decades on everyone was wearing the damn things!

  

And, as you can see, the mannequins were also pretty good (i.e. creepy)!  The earliest pieces of clothing were Georgian, and there were a couple Victorian dresses, but most of the collection was 20th century. There were also separate displays of hats, shoes, lace, buttons (including Dorset knobs, for which the bread products are named, due to their resemblance to the buttons), and coats.

  

I am not a fan of winter; in fact, pretty much the only positive, as far as I’m concerned, is getting to wear a good coat, so I really enjoyed the coat room. I probably have about ten winter coats already (in fairness to me, they’ve been acquired over a number of years, and that’s pretty much all people see of your outfit for four or five months out of the year, so I don’t think ten is an excessive number), but I would definitely happily add that cool reversible coat from the ’20s (above left) to my collection, though it doesn’t look all that warm.

  

Anyway, I definitely think this museum had some potential (though a fiver might be a bit steep), but our visit was unfortunately tainted by those tearoom ladies and their attitude problem. If the museum is actually open until 5, as the sign outside and the website claim (and the volunteer agreed with), I don’t understand why it was a problem for us to visit at 4 (and we were out the door by 4:30, so they still technically got to leave early). I think they need to sort out what their opening hours actually are, and make sure all the employees and volunteers are aware of them. Also, although I enjoyed most of the signs, one of the rooms mysteriously had none, just empty stands (perhaps it was those tearoom ladies being overzealous in shutting the place down early?) which is a shame, because additional information was definitely crucial to the experience, and I would have liked to know something about the dresses I was looking at in that room. So 2/5 for our particular awkward experience, which I would like to stress is not the fault of the volunteer, just those mean tearoom ladies (who were presumably being paid), but I’d be willing to bump it up to 3 if that hadn’t happened, because the displays were clearly lovingly arranged by someone, and the signage was surprisingly good (save for a mention of Barbra “Streisland” and of course the missing labels) for a small local museum.

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9 comments

  1. Shocking behaviour, I hope their employers see your blog! I like the fruit dress too, though I would never be so reckless as to expose that much skin to the sun these days.what I definitely don’t like is that orange / yellow striped number. What the hell is that?

    1. I’m not crazy about the sun either, but let’s be honest, it’s not like Britain is known for having lots of hot and sunny days. I think I could safely risk it, albeit with plenty of sunscreen slapped on if it was even the tiniest bit sunny. And yeah, the orange and yellow thing is super gross, and the weird ruff resting on the neck stumps of the headless mannequins doesn’t help the look.

      1. I have got slightly burnt a couple of times even in Scotland by thinking that way! Orange and yellow must have been a 60s thing – old photos show me and my sister in a fine range of creations featuring that combination and, in my case, one in yellow and lime green. But nothing quite as hideous as that one!

  2. “Bastard” is one of my very favourite words – no doubt, to the chagrin of many – so if I were somehow in the area and knew of the place, I’d have been hot on your heels to visit it. And vintage dresses! This is almost too much for me. But I’d have been put off by the grumbling tea-ladies too. I very seldom want to be at work either but, if it’s technically during my working hours, I wouldn’t bother banging on about it.
    And I have to say, that is a very fine point you’ve made about winter coats being all people see of your outfit. I’d never thought of it that way – makes me feel better about my own collection.
    That fruit dress is superb – and your pineapple one sounds just as fun. I also really enjoyed the headless satin dress looking at itself in the mirror. And you’re right about the mannequins – especially the “Ladies Taking Afternoon Tea” pair. The one on the right’s a little too life-like for me.

    1. I am very sweary, but I don’t actually use bastard all that much (though I still think it’s funny!). I am very American in my choice of swears, which probably means some of the message gets lost here – I nearly got hit by a car the other day crossing the road when the driver failed to use a turn signal, and I of course screamed, “Nice turn signal asshole!” when I probably should have yelled, “Nice indicator arsehole!” so he knew what I was talking about.
      I think if they wanted to close early, they should have probably taken down the “Open” sign from the gate, because then we never would have ventured in. I definitely get wanting to go home early, but at least go about it in the right way – when I used to work at an ice cream shop, we’d sometimes turn the lights out early and go hide in the back until all the customers left, which is probably the sensible way to go about it.
      And yes, I definitely feel that a large winter coat collection is justified, particularly since moving to Britain where very few buildings are adequately heated in the winter, so sometimes you don’t take off your coat even if you’re inside all day. Multiple coats are a necessity!

  3. So sorry you had your visit marred by the tea ladies – how very odd. It looks like a nice little fashion collection though – even if you had to make a run through it!

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