A Sweet Life - Fashion in a Liverpool Sugar Merchant's Family

By Culture24 Staff | 02 April 2009

Emily Tinne on honeymoon standing. Picture © Dr Alexine Tinne

Exhibition preview: A Sweet Life - Fashion in a Liverpool Sugar Merchant's Family, Sudley House, Liverpool, from April 9 2009

One of the largest surviving collections of period clothes to come from one person's wardrobe is to go on display at Sudley House.

The clothes belonged to Emily Tinne and the exhibition offers a fascinating insight into her family life through her amazing wardrobe of clothes dating between 1910 and 1940.

Alongside the 21 outfits and two cases of accessories there is a huge collection of letters exchanged between Tinne, her wealthy general practitioner husband Phillip and their six children.

The family were originally Dutch sugar merchants who steeled in Liverpool in 1813 and went on to amass a sizable fortune importing sugar, molasses, coffee and tropical hardwoods.

"It is very exciting to read these intimate accounts of the everyday life of the Tinne family which help reflect the clothes they wore," said curator Pauline Rushton.

"This exhibition takes the story forward from the very popular Passion for Fashion staged at the Walker Art Gallery in 2006. We now have a fascinating new dimension to the world of the Tinnes."

Black and silver lurex evening dress (circa 1925). Picture © National Museums Liverpool

It is believed that Mrs Tinne may have been trying to help others in buying such a huge collection of clothes, as the bulk of the collection was acquired in the 1920s and 1930s during the Great Depression. Her purchases would have helped the sales assistants, who were paid on commission.

The letters illustrate the close, tender relationship between the parents and their children as they update each other on what they have been up to socially or at home.

Dr Tinne reveals a droll sense of humour in a 1934 letter to Ernest: "Mummie and I went to a conversazione in Walker Art Gallery last Thursday night," he wrote.

"About 1000 people there, of whom we knew four. We had a lecture on 'how to appreciate a picture'…then had a look round the Autumn Collection and came away. Hardly anyone in evening dress. Those in it covered themselves with cloaks and coats."

Dr Tinne's son, Ernest, followed in the professional footsteps of his father, going on to become a doctor and a surgeon.

Printed silk day dress, silk and rayon (circa 1924-25). Picture © National Museums Liverpool

In a letter to his son Dr Tinne said: "One of my patients, a man, died – his wife said to me 'I bought a bottle of whiskey for him, and just think, he only finished half of it.'"

He revealed: "I was not destined to be a doctor at first and merely became one to earn a living. The advantages of a doctor are that you are never out of work, except through ill health, and that you have a fairly good social position. The only other consideration is whether the work is distasteful."

The letters also offer an insight into how the Tinne household operated, unravelling occasional problems with the servants.

In 1926 Emily wrote: "The new housemaid is a rotter but the old cook is all right."

Mrs Tinne's daughter, Alexine, donated the collection to National Museums Liverpool, and many of the clothes had previously been stored in tea chests at the family's home in Clayton Lodge, south Liverpool.

For more information visit Liverpool Museums or call 0151 724 3245.

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