A Sweet Life at Sudley House

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lady in front of display of clothing

Dr Alexine Tinne in front of one of her older sisters’ dresses

It may surprise you to know that obsessive shopping is not a recent phenomenon. Almost a century ago the shops of Liverpool were frequented by a certain Mrs Emily Tinne, a woman who made today's wannabe WAGs in Liverpool One seem like mere amateurs in comparison.

For Mrs Tinne shopping was more than just a necessity or a hobby, during the Depression she even elevated it to a charitable event. She was very concerned about conditions for women, especially the unmarried girls working in shops who received no salary and relied on the commissions from sales to make ends meet in those difficult times. Mrs Tinne would often buy expensive items like fur coats and glamorous evening gowns just so that the shop assistants would get the commission, even though she never wore many of these extravagant purchases.

Not surprisingly she amassed a huge collection of clothing for herself and her large family during the period from her marriage in 1910 until the outbreak of war in 1939. Many years later her youngest daughter, Dr Alexine Tinne, donated this collection to the decorative arts collection at National Museums Liverpool. Numbering more than 700 items, this is now probably the largest surviving collection of period clothes from one person's wardrobe in Britain.

Many people will remember the first exhibition about the collection, A Passion for Fashion, which was held at the Walker in 2006. Since then a large collection of letters has been discovered, which reveal a lot of background information about the well dressed family. Insights from this correspondence have been used to build up a broader picture of their lives for a new exhibition, A Sweet Life, at Sudley House

I was lucky enough to meet Dr Alexine Tinne when she came in today to give her approval to the exhibition before it opens to the public tomorrow. She talked fondly about her mother, who she remembered as being a very kind hearted and generous lady. Alexine's father, Philip Tinne, came from a wealthy family of sugar importers, a source of income that was relatively unaffected by the Depression in the 1920s. Besides doing her bit to support shop assistants, Alexine remembers that her mother was involved in running a couple of hostels for women where she was not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get stuck in with the practical work. She also worked with Bessie Braddock campaigning for pensions for spinsters. The whole family were involved in hosting garden parties for pensioners from Toxteth and Garston in the summer, which people queued for 2 hours beforehand to get into. Alexine and her sisters would prepare bunches of flowers for the guests in jam jars on the table, then give tours of the garden. The family also took part in Christmas concert parties at Garston hospital, inviting the whole cast back to the house for a cold turkey dinner afterwards.

Pictures of family life, including Alexine herself as a baby, and a number of accessories from the collection, help to round off what could only be described as a very sweet exhibition. You can have a sneaky preview peek at some of the displays in our A Sweet Life exhibition Flickr set.