Dressing Mrs Dunch at Avebury Manor

Avebury Dressing Mrs Dunch ©National Trust Abby George

A replica Tudor gown, delicately made by a group of National Trust volunteers, will be fitted to a live model this weekend, to show the complexity of Tudor dresses.

This Saturday, 21 May 2016, Cathrien van Hak, the house manager at National Trust Avebury Manor will be taking some time out from her usual duties to pose as Mary Dunch, a 16th century resident of Avebury Manor.

Dressing Mrs Dunch – the finished dress ©National Trust/ Abby George

Dressing Mrs Dunch – the finished dress ©National Trust/ Abby George

‘Mrs Dunch’ will start out in her undergarments and will be dressed layer by layer until she is wearing a full crafted replica Tudor gown. As she is dressed, Dawn Gill, the assistant house manager, will explain all the different complexities of the garment and the techniques used to create it.

Sadly we know little of Mary Dunch herself, other than she was married to William in 1547 who was a successful and tactful courtier. Mary and William Dunch bought Avebury estate in 1551 and built the beginnings of what we know today as Avebury Manor. He rose to become an Auditor of the Royal Mint under Henry VIII and later became High Sheriff of Berkshire for Queen Elizabeth I.  This gives us an idea of Mary’s status in society and therefore what she might wear, as society was controlled by your rank and earnings.

The National Trust volunteer sewing group have been working hard for over a year to recreate a Tudor gown in the style that Mary Dunch would have worn. The project involved recruiting volunteers who had good sewing skills already but who were also prepared to work to improve their standards.  During the research stage of this project, it was discovered that a Tudor “semstris” could produce detailed work of up to sixteen stitches to an inch – a challenge that was well met by the costume group.

Members of the Avebury volunteer sewing group at work on Mrs Dunch’s gown ©National Trust/ Abby George

Members of the Avebury volunteer sewing group at work on Mrs Dunch’s gown ©National Trust/ Abby George

Dawn Gill explains more: ‘Of course, the gown had to be made in a way that replicated Tudor dressmaking skills as much as possible, as we endeavoured to represent the craftsmanship of the time. The layers had to be correct, the choice and colour of fabrics, the other materials, the stitches, the embroidery, the fit and shape of the gown. All of this was important to us to truly represent Mrs Dunch as she might have looked circa 1560.’

The dress will be on display in Avebury Manor for all visitors to enjoy and the dedicated and enthusiastic team of needlewomen (and man) are already planning another textiles project, be it a Tudor embroidered floor cushion or a Georgian muslin dress.

Dawn continues: ‘The interest and commitment of the volunteers has been exceptional. They, like so many other National Trust volunteers across the country, have freely given of their time and knowledge and skills and enabled us to create a new resource for our visitors to enjoy.’

If you would like to come along and watch ‘Mrs Dunch’ being dressed you will find out more information at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/avebury or call 0844 249 1895.


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