Having been given the privilege to catalogue pieces stored in the attic of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, many items caught my attention. These items have all been donated to the House and, although not originally owned by the family, they are all items that could have been owned and used by a middle-class Victorian family like the Gaskells.
My personal interests lay in the ornate items, in particular, a tortoiseshell comb, a chainmail purse, and funnily enough, a fish fork. The latter is silver-plated and in near mint condition with a flora pattern running along the handle and forked area. Due to the nature of its purpose, we believe the specialised flatware ranged in date between the 19th and 20th Century, as this is when the trend of their use peaked.
As for the tortoiseshell comb, its age was apparent, oxidation tainted the silver casing, which was also peeling away from the tortoiseshell in places. Engravings along the casing suggested its origin, the lion symbol signifying its British heritage and silver authenticity, the anchor showing it was manufactured in Birmingham.
The chainmail purse shows the most wear with a moth-bitten inner silk and suede linings as well as holes in the chainmail. We think the purse was made between the 19th and 20th Century. It is testimony to the craftsmanship of housewives in the early 1800s, interlocking metal rings by hand at home, as well as early 20th Century fashionable trends forcing their mass production in factories. I was surprised to see a seemingly modern design being used by the Victorians.
Alongside guidance and support, we collectively untangled the threads of memories attached to these objects in the attic. Whilst we might only use a fish fork in a smart restaurant, they still exist; we still seek the latest fashions, and we still comb our hair. I found great comfort in this. I was reminded of a quote from Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel North and South ‘as she realised what might have been, she grew to be thankful for what was’.
Kira Wallace, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House