Here we feature something which is certainly old, but not beaded or pretty or finely sewn. It isn’t brightly coloured or in good condition, but bears the charm of a utilitarian garment from another age.
Discovered in the gable end of Henfield Workhouse (now private homes) we have here a pair of stays. Mostly linen, patches upon patches and worn to rags. Badly nibbled by rodents and saturated in dust (which is mostly mud), they bear witness to lying in the straw and dirt of old walls for a long time. The tabs at the waist have all been sewn on after the stays were made. Evidence of boning channels remain, but not the stiffening. I am guessing at c. 1800.
The workhouse was open from 1735/6 to 1835. Were they deliberately concealed and left as a charm or deterrent to evil spirits? Hidden and forgotten? Or merely used to plug a hole? We will never know. They are on display at the museum from 2023.
Neptown's Rothery Field with the Workhouse at left, 1908. Image: Henfield Museum
The old Henfield workhouse has also divulged other, more macabre secrets over the years. In the 1990s, a mummified cat with a mummified bird in claw were discovered under the floorboards of the second floor. Meanwhile, at the other end of the same floor, half of a sheep's head was found!
These, we can perhaps more reliably ascribe to the area of wards against evil, although most modern renovators would perhaps prefer to find the stays - or an elderly shoe! Another, better preserved example can be found at Horsham Museum.