Liverpool Walker Art Gallery has been host to Emily Tinne’s wardrobe collection during the past few years. The exhibition ends on 30 March 2014. If you are fond of vintage wardrobe collections and planning to have a visit to the north, don’t miss it!
Emily Tinne was the daughter of a missionary family in India, born Emily Margaret McCulloch on 21 August 1886. During the long nineteenth century, British families abroad lived up to the schooling and education culture that was norm, sending off their children to school back in Britain. Emily’s parents followed this tradition and by the age of 7, she found herself living in an English boarding school. She then travelled to Edinburgh to live with her extended family and came down to Liverpool during 1906-7 for her first job as a teacher in Liverpool Training School of Cookery and Technical College of Domestic Science in Colquitt Street. It was here in Liverpool that Emily met her future husband, Philip Frédéric Tinne, a local GP who was the son of a famous Dutch family.
The Tinnes had settled in Liverpool during the Napoleonic wars (1803-1815). They owned plantations in Demerary, where they grew sugar cane, cotton, and coffee. They were nineteenth century ship owners and merchants, whose wealth was the result of their plantation work, import and export of goods and they were quite keen to maintain the success they enjoyed both financially and politically, so much so that they only gave up their slaves in 1835, almost two years after the Slavery Abolition Act 1833. Although Philip Tinne was born abroad in Georgetown, British Guyana, he shared the same educational tradition with the young Emily McCulloch – being schooled in England. He was sent to Eton, and then to Magdalen College (Oxford), where he read physiology. Later, he worked as a surgeon and returned to Liverpool in 1907 with high ambitions to establish his own surgery in Aigburth.
Emily McCulloch and Philip Tinne married in 1910 and settled in south Liverpool. Between 1911 and 1929, they had seven kids of whom six survived. Upon marriage, Emily Tinne found a different life to that of a teacher. She had to give up her teaching and settle as a housewife. Although one would imagine it a source of sorrow to lose one’s job as a teacher, this was not a particularly disagreeable situation for her. Emily’s life as a new member of the wealthy Tinnes was different to that of other Liverpudlian women. For one she had servants, cook and butler, general housemaid, nursery maid (nanny), a gardener and, of course, plenty of time to enjoy life with little or no domestic obligations such as experienced by her less well-to-do peers in Liverpool. The kids had governesses before attending local private school later and Emily had little or no share in their education. Although, this might have been a good situation for a woman to enjoy life fully, one may guess how bored she could have felt at times.
Between WWI and WWII, Emily made many purchases of dresses, shoes, hats and other accessories for her wardrobe collection. Although her daughters remembered her usually wearing drab clothes, she was keen to add to her wardrobe, making it one of the most interesting dress collections between the wars. According to the archives in Merseyside museums, she enjoyed shopping in Liverpool city centre and departmental stores. Her favourite shops included Cripps’ in Bold Street, George Henry Lee’s in Basnett Street, the Bon Marché in Church Street and Lewis’s in Ranelagh Street. But her most favourite is known as Owen Owen’s in Clayton Square, where she bought numerous items. Not only Emily enjoyed shopping and spending for what she really liked, but she also had a passion for bargain. She wrote to her son in 1934, an account of her hunt for sale:
I went on a voyage of discovery about gloves today & at [Owen Owen’s] I found some very good ones; the largest sizes that are made and reduced for the mid-season sale. They are sending four pairs for you to choose from. The girls gave me £2 to send you for gloves or for me to buy them.
Although Emily had a local dressmaker, shopping was something to be enjoyed; at times an act of local support to shop assistants, and at other, an obsession and passion for beauty, and a way of creating her very own collection – all possible by private wealth and generosity of Dr Philip Tinne who died in 1954. It is not surprising though, as Dr Tinne had wished to become a museum curator in his youth. But his family encouraged him to pursue a more prestigious occupation and study to become a surgeon instead. Liverpool historians agree that Emily cared for shop assistants and wished to help by going to shop almost every day! When she died in 1966, her daughter Dr Alexine Tinne was left with a huge wardrobe collection of more than 700 items, which she gradually donated to Liverpool museums, almost 40 years after her mother’s departure. Alexine’s fond memories of her mother make it possible for us to imagine the type of social class and personal characteristics that Emily Tinne represented:
She was a warm, pleasant woman who suffered badly from asthma and who loved nice things because she had had such an austere upbringing… She’d had a pretty hard time at boarding school and when she got access to money she enjoyed buying nice things… She was an extremely intelligent woman and she would go into town just to occupy herself [out of boredom]…
However, there is much more to Emily Tinne’s shopping obsession and wardrobe collection – according to her daughter’s and historians’ accounts. Emily had a passion for philanthropy. It was an act to support shop girls who earned exclusively on commissions. The collection is about one woman’s specific taste in clothing between the wars, but given that the majority of clothes have not been worn, the collection also portrays her inclination to communicate empathy and love for working women. The Tinnes had a fondness for the epistolary form of communication as well, demonstrated in their family letters. Pauline Rushton, exhibition curator suggests:
These letters add a new facet to the Tinne Collection, giving a rare insight into family life during a period of great social change. It is very exciting to read these intimate accounts of the everyday life of the Tinne family which help reflect the clothes they wore. This exhibition takes the story forward from the very popular A Passion for Fashion staged at the Walker Art Gallery in 2006. We now have a fascinating new dimension to the world of the Tinnes.
It is possible to conclude that Emily Tinne’s legacy is a spectacular one. She walked into shops, brought joy to shop girls, and shared her taste and wealth. An aesthetic walk to give and receive joy… she loved shopping for her collection and took delight in sharing for joy!