The history of the Paulise de Bush costume collection
Killerton holds the National Trust's biggest dress collection with over 20,000 items. Discover the history behind the fashion collection.
During the Second World War, Victor Anger’s niece, Audrey Deacon, went to her uncle’s home in Aston Tirrold, Oxfordshire, to escape the bombing in London. The Anger home was full of clothes dating back to the 18th century and whilst she was there, Audrey started clearing out the clothes to make room.
An enthusiatic collector
Paulise de Bush lived nearby and saw Audrey throwing out period clothes (mainly 18th and early 19th-century dresses). Not to let such beautiful costumes go to waste, Paulise bought many for her drama group, 'The Stockwells Players'.
Paulise became an enthusiastic collector of both theatrical and historical costumes, partly for use in her theatre productions. She also began exhibiting the costumes. During this time, Paulise met a lady named Atherton Harrison at a Women’s Institute talk and found they had plenty in common. Atherton was trained in theatre design and her husband, Harvey Harrison, was a filmmaker. In 1965, the three put together a 35-minute film - Fame and Fashion, featuring Paulise’s collection.
Rehoming the collection
Before her death in 1975, Paulise had asked Atherton to ensure the collection went to place a where it would be shared and viewed. True to her word, Atherton found a home for Paulise's period costume collection at Killerton, just as the house was opening to the general public in 1977. It was at Killerton that Paulise’s collection was first catalogued and it has has been looked after by the Costume Team at Killerton ever since. Displays have been created to showcase the items, with Atherton consulted until her retirement in 1994.
The collection at Killerton
What started out as the Paulise de Bush collection has grown since its arrival at Killerton. Now it includes over 20,000 items of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing dating from about 1690 to the 1970s. Shoes, jewellery, fans, hats, samplers, fine lace and beadwork also form part of the collection.
In recent years, curators have concentrated on enhancing the current collection and conserving the items. Their efforts are seen in the fantastic exhibitions on the first floor of the house.
Regretably, we do not have the capacity to accept any additions to the costume collection at this time.