Sunday, 4 November 2012

Shambellie House

Some time ago I posted about the 'Off The Peg' exhibition at the National Museum of Costume Scotland. Finally, I've got round to posting about the museum itself.

Shambellie House, which was built in 1856 for the Stewart family, is an archetypal Scottish Victorian country house.

Shambellie House - crow step gables and pepperpot turrets

Charles Stewart, the great grandson of the original owner, donated his superb costume collection to National Museums Scotland in 1977. He also bequeathed Shambellie House to the nation to be used as a Museum of Costume. Although the first floor rooms which are used for special exhibitions are now fitted out as standard museum display spaces, the permanent collection is arranged in rooms which still reflect their original use.

The first room you enter is the dining room, which is furnished in the taste of the period, with dark furniture and bold red carpets and wallpaper. The dresses are examples of the bustle style that was fashionable in the 1870s and 1880s.

Bustle-era dresses in the dining room

The grey silk dress on the right was worn as a wedding dress in 1873, while the narrower skirt of the striped dress on the left suggests a later date of 1875-79. Finally the magnificently bustled grey silk satin princess line dress in the foreground is slightly later again; late 1870s to early 1880s.

After the solid, heavy décor of the dining room, the drawing room next door is much lighter. The dresses in here all date from the 1890s. This is the only room is which the clothes are displayed on figures rather than mannequins, and I must say that I found it distracting, especially the gentleman with the deep tan at the back!

1890s fashions

The dark red velvet dress in the background was made with a day bodice in the early 1890s, and the evening bodice on display was made a few years later. The beautiful satin brocade dress in the foreground was also made in the early 1890s, by Ellen Oliver of London.

Entering the library you return to dark décor. This has the effect of making the woman's white cotton pique riding coat and breeches look even more striking.

Woman's tailored riding outfit

These were made in around 1913-1920 for Miss Katherine Stewart, who wore them in Egypt or Palestine, hence the use of white.

Upstairs in a light and airy bedroom are fashions from the period after World War II.

Post-war fashions

The pale green artificial silk dress on the left was worn by a bridesmaid in 1961, while the grey pleated silk chiffon cocktail dress on the right dates from 1958.

I spent ages admiring the clever use of striped fabric in this Jean Desses suit from around 1952; it is only when you look at it closely that you realise that two different stripes have been used.

1950s suit jacket

I loved the fact that so many of the rooms had been left as they were when Shambellie House was a family home, and this was even the case with the bathroom!

Undies hanging up in the bathroom

Charles Stewart was among other things a book illustrator. He first began his collection of garments so that he could study them for his work, but as well as historical clothing, he amassed an impressive collection of fancy dress.

Fancy dress

Due to the extreme fragility of some of the items, this is the only part of the collection displayed behind glass, hence the strange reflections in the photograph.

Shambellie House is now closed for the winter, but sadly, it may be closed for good. It is part of the National Museum of Scotland, which includes a number of museums spread around Scotland. However the NMS is now considering closing its costume museum, claiming that the running costs are too high in relation to the number of visitors. Although small, Shambellie House is a fabulous museum, with helpful, friendly staff and a lovely atmosphere, and it would be a great shame if this little gem was lost.

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