At the weekend my mum and I took a trip down to West Somerset. The main reason for going was to visit the West Country Vintage Textile Market, something we’d intended to do last year but never made it. Well, this year we were determined to do it and, as it’s nearly a two hour drive down to where it’s based, we decided to take the opportunity to stay overnight. This gave us the idea of visiting the Bakelite Museum, which is based in Williton, West Somerset, on the day of our arrival.
If you’ve never heard of the Bakelite Museum, in it’s own words, it is “the world’s greatest collection of vintage plastics”. Yes, this museum (or should I say life long collection!) is stuffed full of different Bakelite pieces, as well as celluloid, lucite and all those other weird and wonderful early 20th Century plastics. It also contains lots of different inventions of this period, such as toasters, fridges, vacuum cleaners and much, much more.
The collection is huge! Based over three floors in an 18th Century watermill, you can’t help but walk around twice just to try and see everything. This Bakelite sewing machine was definitely one of my favourite pieces. I really wanted to get it down off the shelf and have a go with it. And this is the beauty of this place, you can touch just about everything.
Patrick, who runs the museum and owns every single piece(!), isn’t one of these precious museum owners that sticks everything behind glass, and he doesn’t hover over your shoulder waiting to tell you off. No, this is a man who wants you to truly experience each gorgeous piece.
In fact, you have to go and find him to pay your entry fee. I’m sure there are many people who have just walked straight in to museum and got away without paying. This is not right and as Patrick confessed to us, their lease is nearly up on the mill and they will need to move this whole collection soon but are struggling to find a place that’s affordable.
Anyway, I totally fell in love with this fire and really, really wanted it for my lounge. It would’ve fitted in perfectly with my colour scheme and just look at those gorgeous Art Deco lines. The finish on it is just genius, it looks like stone but is actually plastic. Seriously, how can anyone be so in love with a fire?!!
There were a few smaller pieces that sit behind glass, and rightly so, as these could easily disappear into people’s pockets. There was so many personal items, from beautiful buckles to handbag frames, fans, buttons, hair combs, jewellery and more. There was also lots of small household pieces like egg cups, serviette holders, tea strainers, and toast racks. There were rows and rows of toys, clocks, hairdryers, radios and even televisions. (My dad proudly informed me, when we told him about it, that he watched the Queen’s coronation on a Bakelite television!)
I was particularly taken with this sweet little trinket box. The late 18th Century lady is painted onto the imitation mother-of-pearl Bakelite lid and still looks incredibly crisp. I always find it really interesting that the 1930s, when Bakelite was really at its height, was always seen as a very modernist era but they also loved looking backwards too. The crinoline lady was all the rage in things like embroidery and other decoration and the Jacobean style was a big influence in furniture and soft furnishings.
Bakelite coffin anyone?!! Yes, this was definitely fitting for this time of year, although I’m not quite sure how biodegradable it is. However, this just goes to show just how many different uses there were for Bakelite. It was so much better than its predecessors as it was lightweight, durable, could be moulded into so many different shapes, it was resistant to heat and could have so many different finishes. That’s why so many of us love it so much. I have lots of Bakelite pieces in my home, from a 1950s telephone I actually bought from Patrick at the beginning of the year, to a pair of photo frames, a Jaz clock, a handy storage box and much more.
As I said before, there were lots of non-plastic items too, all from the early to mid 20th Century, and I loved the collection of hairdrying hoods on display. The one in the middle was my favourite because it looks very much like a 1920s one. You can just imagine all of the women coming into the salons to have their hair set in a Marcel wave underneath that. Oh, the stories it could tell!
And I couldn’t resist doing a video of this cigarette holder. Isn’t it amazing? I so wanted to stuff it up inside my coat and run off with it! (I promise I didn’t!). There were actually two identical ones on display, which is typical of this museum. They must have so many donations given to them from people who just don’t want something anymore and they end up having several of the same thing.
Thankfully there was a little shop, next to a tea room, where you could purchase some genuine Bakelite pieces. I was tempted by quite a few but only ended up buying this beautiful green Art Deco trinket box. It’s actually even better in real life than it looks here. The finish on it is similar to the little 18th Century lady trinket box, where it almost looks like mother-of-pearl. It’s perfect for my lounge and now sits in pride of place on one of my bookshelves.
We had a cup of tea in the tea rooms but didn’t stay for cake as it was just too cold. It was possibly the coldest day of the year so far and we weren’t quite prepared for the lack of central heating in both the museum and the tea rooms. So, a word of warning, if you do go outside of the summer months, wear a big coat!
However, like I said, Patrick is planning to move this collection, probably within the next 12 months. He is looking for somewhere in Bristol as this will be easier for people to get to (Williton is a tiny village and the museum is off the beaten track), but if he can’t find anywhere he may move it to France!! So, I would highly recommend going as soon as you possibly can. The museum is officially open from the 1st of March to the 31st of October, however, during the winter you can make an appointment to visit outside of these dates. Just give them a ring. Patrick is lovely and will happily open it up for anyone who is as passionate as he is.
The next day it was on to the West Country Vintage Textile Market, and guess who was the first person we saw as we walked in, yep, Patrick from the museum! This vintage fair is put together by three of my most favourite vintage sellers, Sue from Vintage to Victorian, Liz from The Washer Woman and Donna from Donna Flower Vintage. (I stole the photo above from Donna’s Instagram!). All three of these ladies sell the most gorgeous textiles, haberdashery, clothing and accessories. I’ve bought from all of them many times and often see them at the fairs I frequent. We always have a good chat and they never disappoint with their vintage goodies. This fair was no different and I ended up buying something from each of them.
Sue mainly does haberdashery and fabric but does offer a good selection of Victorian whites, although mainly christening gowns and bloomers. I always, always end up buying something from her stall and this time I picked up three beautiful plastic (I’m haven’t yet tested if any are Bakelite) brown buckles. I may use the middle one for my 1930s jacket, but I’m still undecided about my trimmings for that. I also got an unused roll of lingerie braid, which looks 1930s/40s. When I finally feel brave enough to make some lingerie this will be just perfect.
The 24 French glass buttons were from Liz and I’ve already used 18 of them. They were exactly what I was after for my crochet top, which is now totally complete and I’m wearing it as I type this. I cannot wait to show you it, I cannot tell you just how gorgeous it is!
I also bought this beautiful black 1930s hat from Liz. I knew she had a good stash of hats because I bought another 1930s one from her just a few weeks ago at another fair. However, I wasn’t prepared for just how many. She couldn’t fit them on her stall so, as she literally lived 15 yards up the road, she laid them out in her dining room and took me over to have a good look. There were so many I wanted, however, I was very strict with myself and only bought one. (Big pat on the back, Cate!)
This one actually doesn’t look much on the stand but once it’s on, oh my god!! It is absolutely classic early 1930s and looks very much like the one worn by Leila Hyams in Island of Lost Souls. I’ve been after a simple black 1930s hat for a while now and this fits the bill perfectly.
I won’t reveal what I bought from Donna just yet as they’re a bit special and will feature in a post very shortly. However, if you love good quality vintage clothing Donna Flower Vintage is definitely one place to look. She always has really dreamy pieces and, honestly, I could’ve spent a fortune with her. My mum and I are planning to head down to her shop in Barnstaple, Devon next year as I have been itching to go there for several years now.
Surprisingly I didn’t buy any fabric (shock, horror!) but I’ve bought so much lately, all vintage, that I really just need to get on and use some of it first.
Donna Flower Vintage and The Washer Woman will be at The Vintage Bazaar this weekend in Frome, Somerset, so be sure to check that out if you’re in the area. I’m not going as I’ll be out celebrating my birthday with my family! However, The Vintage Bazaar, which is run by Liz (and the fabulous Claire from Daisy Darling), is then at Devizes, Wiltshire on November the 26th (I will be there!). And the three lovely ladies are already planning the vintage textile market for next year. Check out Liz’s blog for more details.