Sunday, 29 April 2018

Barley Hall and Wolf Hall

While I was strolling round York last week, I came across an amazing attraction (it's not really a museum) which I didn't even know existed. Until about 30 years ago, no-one else knew it existed, either. Barley Hall was tucked away behind a derelict office block, and was only discovered when the modern building was about to be demolished.

Barley Hall, the entrance

The oldest parts of the building date from about 1360, and the rest from around 1430. Now fully restored, it has been decorated to replicate how it would have looked in around 1483.There are no barriers or glass screens in place, and you are encouraged to pick things up.

The Great Hall (on the right) from outside . . .

. . . and inside, showing the open hearth

As well as looking round the hall itself there was something more to pique my interest; some of the costumes from Wolf Hall were on display.

There are also some costumes from other television series about Henry VIII and his wives, but I've limited the post to the Wolf Hall costumes. First up was this costume worn by Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford (Anne's sister-in-law).

Jane Boleyn

Because the costume is all black, it's hard to see the details. However on this side view it's just possible to see the side opening of the bodice (click on the image to enlarge it).

Bodice detail and Henry VIII photobomb

(In the background is one of the costumes from the 1970 BBC series, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Click here for a great article from the always wonderful Frock Flicks about these costumes.)

The thing which I really noticed about this costume was the beautiful chemise underneath.

Chemise love

When I was looking for online images of the costumes (of which more later) I noticed that the chemise was very similar to this one worn by Liz Cromwell - which made me wonder if several were made, or if the same one was used for multiple characters.

Liz Cromwell. Image © BBC

Next was a costume worn by the Duke of Norfolk.

Suitably ornate costume for a duke

Close-up you could see all the different fabrics which has been used.

Even the gloves are decorated

Sleeve detail

In the next room were more costumes.

(L to R) Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, Katherine of Aragon and Stephen Gardiner

Gardiner's costume was quite plain, befitting a man of the church, albeit with fur trim. Katherine's costume was also dark, but made from a greater variety of fabrics than Jane Boleyn's and again trimmed with fur.

Katherine of Aragon and Stephen Gardiner

Gable hood

Showing the contrasting sleeve fabric

I was intrigued by Anne's shoes. Who knew that wedge heels were popular in the Tudor period? I assume that this was just to give the actress height.

Thomas Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, and curious shoes

Thomas Cromwell's costume was described as coming from quite early on in the series, when he was wealthy enough to afford fur, but still wearing wool rather than costlier fabrics.

If I'd been bemused by the shoes, it was nothing compared to the shock of finding metal grommets on this costume! Given how much the BBC stressed the accuracy of the costumes when the series aired, I can only assume that like Anne's wedges, this was something which was not meant to show when the costume was being worn.

The horror!

There were still a lot of details to like though, like this cuff.

Beautiful gathering and hand stitching

Anne's costume, like several of the others, used lots of different trims and fabrics together to create the overall effect.

Lace fastening just visible on the long sleeve

Lots of different trims on the French hood

I don't remember this dress from the series at all, in fact none of the costumes appear in any of the images I've found online. I shall have to find a pile of hand-sewing to do, and sit down and watch it again.

The Wolf Hall costumes are on display at Barley Hall until the end of May.


  1. Neat! We were in Ireland in 2010 and they had a display of costumes from The Tudors in Trinity Church in Dublin (a bunch of castle interior shots were done there for the show); it was a fascinating display. I really liked that show. I did have a hard time getting into Wolf Hall (both the book and the series, despite my large admiration for Damian Lewis as an actor). I should give it another go for the costumes if nothing else. Thanks for the push!

    1. Thank you Juliana. I'm hoping that re-watching Wolf Hall will be the prompt I need to get on with my knitting!

  2. As an American, I can hardly fathom losing track of a building lot this age. What a remarkable rediscovery!

    1. This is actually the second time I've heard of this happening. A few years ago a friend of mine was sent to draw a building which was about to be demolished (she is an archeological draughtsman) in order to make way for a new development in Chester, where I live. A decorative plaque on the outside was dated '1909', and it looked like an ordinary brick building. When she got into the attic she found that it was actually a medieval timber building with a later brick shell added! Needless to say, the development had to be changed to incorporate it.

  3. What a great place to stumble across! I watched Wolf Hall right up until the last episode and then didn't finish it because it irritated me so much. The costumes were fabulous though and it must've been amazing to see them up close.
    The exterior of Barley Hall looks like one of the settings for Doctor Who's Shakespeare episode. It's very similar with the stairs leading up. xx

    1. It was great to be able to take in all the details. There was so much detail which you just wouldn't see properly while watching it on TV, but had been done anyway. xx