Photo Gallery: Stitches tell the tale of a woman’s mental anguish

The Frayed exhibition at the Time and Tide museum. New exhibits including another Lorina Bulwer embr

The Frayed exhibition at the Time and Tide museum. New exhibits including another Lorina Bulwer embroidered letter.Ruth Battersby-Tooke, curator of the county's costume and textile collection with the new letter about to be put on display.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014

An incredible embroidered letter hidden in a County Durham attic has come home to Great Yarmouth along with some fascinating workhouse records from the town which experts believed had been destroyed by fire.

The letter, created by Yarmouth resident Lorina Bulwer more than 100 years ago, has been bought by Norfolk Museums Service thanks to a grant from the Costume and Textile Association and will join two of Bulwer's other works which catalogue her mental anguish in an exhibition at the Time and Tide Museum.

The new occupants discovered the hidden treasures – embroidered panels up to two metres in length which had been left in the attic by previous owners – and searched the internet for more details about Lorina Bulwer. They discovered the Frayed: Textiles on the Edge exhibition in Yarmouth and contacted museum staff.

The letters, stitched in close, angry capital letters, were created by Lorina when she was an inmate in the female lunatic ward of the Yarmouth Workhouse and catalogue a stream of consciousness, complaints, observations, allusions, accusations and suggestions.

Lorina's work, hand-stitched on to a patchwork of fabrics, featured on BBC's Antiques Roadshow in January which in turn prompted a viewer to call in to reveal they had a collection of ledgers from the Yarmouth workhouse from a period just before Bulwer was a resident.


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Costumes and textiles curator Ruth Battersby-Tooke said: 'It's the stuff of a curator's dreams! We always felt that there must be more of Lorina's embroidered letters out there somewhere. It's so clear that she found the process of stitching her thoughts therapeutic that she would have made many more in the 15 or so years that she spent in the Great Yarmouth Workhouse.

'We were ecstatic about the discovery and delighted that the finder wanted the two pieces to come into the collections of Norfolk Museums Service.'

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Joy Evitt, chairman of the Costume and Textile Association, added: 'We are absolutely thrilled to be able to purchase this object for the museum. We can't wait to see the samplers all together – they are amazing.

'This is a lovely way to celebrate the contributions the association has made to Norfolk Museums Service over the past 25 years. Almost £100,000 has been raised for the improvement of the storage for collections and for new acquisitions.'

Lorina Bulwer was born in 1838, never married and helped to run a boarding house in Yarmouth until the death of her mother in 1893. Shortly after this, she became a resident at the town's workhouse where she created her samplers.

The Bulwer samplers will also be joined for the final four weeks of the Frayed exhibition by the newly-discovered ledgers from the workhouse – it had previously been thought that no documentation from the workhouse survived from this period due to a fire. Dating from a slightly earlier period than Lorina's time at the workhouse, the records do not mention the seamstress by name, but they do note some of the people who appear in her samplers, including a number of doctors.

They also provide a fascinating insight into daily life at the institution, including details of diagnoses of patients in the lunatic ward and what inmates were allowed to wear. They will not be on display, but can be viewed by appointment by visitors.

Johanna O'Donoghue, curator of Great Yarmouth Museums, said: 'It's wonderful that, in classic Antiques Roadshow fashion, new work by this remarkable woman has come to light along with documentation that will provide an important context for her life, as well as an insight into an important institution in the town.

'With the addition of these new items to the collections, we are gradually fitting more pieces of the puzzle together and making fresh discoveries about the family history that shed new light on this extraordinary survival.'

Frayed: Textiles on the Edge is at Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth until March 2 and also includes textiles including the Elizabeth Parker sampler from the V&A Museum and work by leading contemporary artists such as Tracey Emin, Sara Impey, Georgie Meadows, Jacqui Parkinson, Jane Whiteley and Rosalind Wyatt.

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