There I was in the dry cleaners minding my own business while checking in a pair of my husband’s trousers, when my eye caught sight of a pamphlet advertising a Wedding Dress Festival. Hmm, nothing too exciting about that on the face of it; but on opening the booklet my exhibition antennae started twitching. This wasn’t about selling frocks, but was about showing some of the beautiful dresses that were worn in the lovely church of St Mary in Pulborough over the past 100 years as a way to raise money to repair one of the church’s bells which has become damaged.
What a great idea! This delightful exhibition displays 24 of the fabulous dresses worn by local people on their special day, and many were actually worn in the church in which they are on show. Dresses date from 1908 to the present day, each reflecting the fashion of the era in which it was made. Displayed alongside each dress is a card with a short history of the occassion and in many cases a photograph of the wedding day. Stories range from the couple who’s aunt and uncle had to ski down the Jura Mountains to get to their wedding in Switzerland, the couple who were led down the aisle by a lone piper and who had a full pipe band for their silver wedding to the sad story of the lady who married in 1908 gave birth to a son in 1910 and suddenly died in 1912, her husband remarried but had no more children but kept his first wifes’ wedding dress which was passed to her son and subsequently down through the family today.
The church was filled with delicate floral scent from the wedding arrangements together with evocative organ music to create a joyful atmosphere. Many local people were sharing their own wedding memories as well as reading the stories and even watching the short film sequence of a 1940 wedding showing the couple leaving Hove station by train for a short honeymoon before the groom went back off to war, this makes interesting viewing to see a wedding restricted by wartime clothes rationing! Other notable display items are the authentic handmade Chinese bride and groom outfits worn recently by a local couple who, interestingly are not Chinese themselves! The fabulous morning suit worn by local man Rob Aylott with it’s Dandy-style Byronic lacy cuffs andbow-tied cravat.
What a fantastic idea to raise funds for a worthy cause, everyone loves church bells, there is something peculiarly English about them. I really enjoyed this display, it was lovely to see cherished vintage textiles in their natural state up close and personal and not behind glass cabinets, although in some cases it is becoming evident that if these lovely dresses are to survive professional conservation will be necessary. To round off the exhibition some of the dresses have their accessories on show and it is lovely to see veils, bags, hats and in one case a replica bouquet. There is even a display of some handmade lace in the same style as that worn by Kate Middleton!
I have kept my own wedding dress and hope that perhaps one day one of my daughters will take it on and look after it.