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Killerton's fashion collection

Visitors explore the Tree of Life fashion exhibition inside Killerton House
Exploring the Tree of Life exhibit | © National Trust Images/John Millar

Killerton house is home to the National Trust’s biggest fashion collection, with more than 20,000 items of historic clothing and accessories. The collection, which includes pieces from as far back as the 17th century, was started by Paulise de Bush before it was taken on by the team at Killerton in the 1970s.

New 2024 fashion exhibition -

The fashion exhibition is now closed whilst the team get ready for the new exhibition, opening February 2024.

What’s in the collection?

What started out as the collection of one woman, Paulise de Bush, has grown since it arrived at Killerton in 1978. It now contains a huge selection of men's, women's and children's clothing and accessories.

The oldest piece is a men’s sleeved waistcoat dating from 1690. However, it’s 20th-century fashion that’s particularly well represented, with a large number of couture pieces from big-name designers such as Chanel appearing in the collection.

A famous piece is the Charles Bayer corset, and there’s also a bridal accessory from about 1840. As well as clothing, there are many pairs of shoes and impressive examples of jewellery, fans and handbags.

Exhibiting the fashion

The vast collection is meticulously cared for by a team of curators. As it’s impossible to display every item at once, the fashion team create regular exhibitions on the first floor of the house. Each exhibition showcases about 80-100 items from the collection.

Collection contributions

Regrettably, we’re not able to accept any additions to the costume collection at this time.

A view of clothes displayed as part of the Active Minds and Busy Bodies fashion exhibition at Killerton, Devon
The Active Minds and Busy Bodies fashion exhibition | © National Trust/Malcolm Jarvis

Who was Paulise de Bush?

During the Second World War, Paulise de Bush, who lived near Aston Tirrold in Oxfordshire, noticed that her uncle, Victor Anger, was having his house cleared out. Items being removed included a huge selection of period clothes, mainly dresses from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Not wanting to let such beautiful costumes go to waste, Paulise bought many of them for use in her drama group, The Stockwell Players.

Building a mighty collection

Paulise became an enthusiastic collector of both theatrical and historical costumes. Some of these were used in her theatre productions, but she also began exhibiting the costumes. She then befriended a lady named Atherton Harrison at a Women’s Institute talk.

Atherton was trained in theatre design, while her husband, Harvey Harrison, was a filmmaker. In 1965, the three put together a 35-minute film featuring Paulise’s collection, called Fame and Fashion.

The collection comes to Killerton

Before Paulise died in 1975, she asked Atherton to make sure that the collection went somewhere it would be shared and viewed. True to her word, Atherton found a home for her friend’s vast period costume collection at Killerton, just as the house was opening to the public in 1977.

Paulise’s collection has been cared for, and added to, by the Costume Team here ever since. Atherton was consulted on the fashion displays at Killerton until she retired in 1994.

A view of the study room at Killerton, with red walls and two grey sofas

Killerton's objects and collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Killerton on the National Trust Collections website.

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