This lilac silk dress belonged to Hilda Smerdon. It reflects the romanticism of the Edwardian period, delicate in its design with embroidered floral patterning on a layer of silk tulle and lace over the new slim line skirt of the 1910s. To add a glitz of glamour there are imitation diamonds along the collar and fashionable ties on the sleeves.
Hilda was born in 1889, the only child of cabinet maker and his wife. She may have been privately educated; she certainly received piano lessons. By 1911 she was working as a shop assistant in a Drapers and Milliners in Woolacombe. Perhaps she made the dress herself?
By 1913 Hilda was an enthusiastic member of the Ancient Order of Foresters, Chief Ranger of the ladies “Court” and winner of the ladies’ Whistling Competition. Friendly Societies were established to provide social and financial support. By paying a few pennies a week into a common fund, members could receive sick pay and funeral grants when needed. In Barnstaple the Foresters had 1200 members. They held a Bazaar in 1913 where ancient Barnstaple was reconstructed in the Pannier Market, raising over £1000 to build a new hall in the High Street.
We have photographs of Hilda with a Royal North Devon Yeomanry Officer and a dog, who reappears as a mascot in photographs of the regiment about to leave Barnstaple at the outbreak of the First World War. We thought the officer must be her sweetheart, but when Hilda married in 1920 it was not to a Yeoman.