Margaret Marshall, The Workhouse costume volunteer

Photo of volunteer Margaret Marshall
Margaret looks after the volunteer costume team at The Workhouse National Trust

Margaret Marshall is a volunteer at The Workhouse, in charge of creating wonderful authentic outfits for our costumed interpreters.

Can you describe your role with us?

Together with a team of volunteers, I’m responsible for creating costumes and outfits worn by costumed interpreters at The Workhouse for school visits, living history days, storytelling and more.

How did you find yourself in this role?

I studied drama as part of my degree, with a focus on costume. I’ve worked as a costume designer/maker for various professional and amateur theatres.
I had more time once my grandchildren started school, so I volunteered at The Workhouse. I did handicrafts and thought I would be happily sat quietly sewing. Then someone discovered my theatre background and I was asked if I’d like to 'sort out the wardrobe'...

How do you design and make the costumes?

When I first took on the wardrobe, it consisted of items from charity shops plus grey flannel skirts and suits for the paupers. There were no ‘proper’ authentic costumes for other characters.
I drew on my experience of theatrical costumes and researched what staff would have worn in the 1830s and 1840s. There are books available showing scaled-down versions of the clothing, so we made use of these.

Tell us about who you work with

I’m part of a great sewing team called Dorcas– we meet every Tuesday morning and tackle whatever jobs need doing - from turning up hems to making buttonholes.
We have different skills, which is why it works so well. One of us is an expert in smocking and another can make tatted lace collars. We’ve even tackled tailoring, since discovering it's £600 to have a frock coat made. We produced one for £50 - it was so successful, we’ve made several.
On top of this, there are always running repairs to do – and the laundry.

What do you enjoy about volunteering with us?

I love my role at The Workhouse – I  work at my own pace and have lots of responsibility for what we work on, sourcing materials and setting budgets.
We get great feedback from visitors, staff and other volunteers. The volunteers tell us how good the costumes make them feel – it’s so much easier to convey what it was like to be the Master of a workhouse if you’re dressed the part.

Paupers, Petticoats and Pinafores

Don't miss our exhibition focusing on the design and construction of the recently introduced replica female pauper costumes, as worn in Southwell Workhouse during the 1840s.
Informed by extensive historical and archival research, Margaret and the sewing group volunteers have painstakingly reconstructed the costumes which are used for our re-enactment events.