Clothes and Materials.
When I went to art college I had no idea what sort of clothes art students would wear, I’d had years of wearing school uniform. I was considered a bit of a rebel at school. We were expected to wear navy blue shorts and a white airtex shirt for sports. My mother was very fashion conscious and a brilliant needlewoman, she made my shorts into a navy playsuit that would not look out of place on a catwalk today. The teachers looked askance but allowed me to wear it. In the sixth form I insisted on wearing a black polo neck pullover rather than a blouse and tie. Mum loved quality and made all my other clothes…the patterns were the best from Butterick or Vogue. I can remember Viyella dresses and a beautiful coat. Her own clothes were always elegant. I believe that this was part of her that my father couldn’t understand. There was a major row when she bought a pair of Clarks sheepskin lined, expensive boots (her view was that quality products would last longer), I loved those boots, it was so hard to get rid of them when she died at fifty.
When she left I was sixteen, I was a bit at sea when it came to clothes, fortunately the fashion was for dirndl skirts which are about the easiest thing to sew. I borrowed my neighbours hand Singer sewing machine and bought cheap material from the market to make my own. It was very common for people to make their own clothes, the clothes on sale in shops still suffered from the shortage of cloth during rationing. they had the Utility mark on them.
Before the war my father called himself a journeyman. His speciality was in painting and decorating plus sign writing. I was impressed by his sign writing brushes which were crow quills very long and thin, he used them for shop and pub signs. He worked for himself and could turn his hand to most trades in the building industry.
Old thatched cottages were being bought up as status symbol homes, we had lots in the villages around us. The woman owner of a high class independent dress shop employed my father to renovate hers. She went bankrupt and couldn’t pay him but in compensation I could choose some clothes. They were definitely not the sort of clothes I would wear but he insisted. I chose a brown tweed suit and a pair of corduroy olive green trousers. My father insisted that I should wear the suit for my interview, he said I needed to look respectable! I took it to college with me and never wore it until the end. My suit became the interview suit for everyone to borrow when their bohemian looks wouldn’t do!
When I got to Corsham my polo’s were OK and the green trousers. Trousers weren’t that usual for women at that time, I think jeans were just coming in but we couldn’t get them. I soon noticed that the women students were wearing circular skirts teamed with a black high necked cardigan worn backwards (with the buttons at the back.) To finish off the ‘look’ it was de rigeur to wear a small brightly coloured scarf. Women were more numerous (3/1) and much younger than the men, we had mostly come straight from school. The men were either ex servicemen taking the opportunity given them to retrain as teachers or young men who had just finished their National Service. The most ubiquitous piece of clothing for both men and women was the duffle coat. We bought them from ex army stores, the men wore the sand coloured ones, the women white ones as worn by the navy in the arctic and Howard Hodgkin (a fellow student) a black one! Howard married one of the girls in my year, they split later.
Living quarters. Monks Park the hostel for the women. The barracks were behind the house.
The art school was split between three sites Corsham Court itself, Beechfield which also contained the hostel for the men and Monks Park the hostel for the women. The women had rooms in the old army barracks. They were wooden huts some long ones with separate rooms for about ten students and smaller more desirable ones for four students. I was allocated a room in a long hut. There was a communal kitchen and bathrooms at one end plus two music practice rooms with pianos. By the time you had imported some of your own things the rooms were totally adequate. I was one of the first to move in, the others came gradually and we shyly encountered each other making tea in the communal kitchen. We were from all over, you could hear Welsh, Geordie, Lancashire accents. We soon made friends and you felt a sort of loyalty for ‘your hut’. In the second year I moved to a smaller hut and felt quite a traitor. Having a boy friend, as I did all the time I was there, also cut you off from the female bonding.
We ate breakfast and our evening meal in the Monks Park house. The men living at Beechfield had to go all the way to Corsham Court for their meals. It couldn’t have been much fun getting up early then having to cycle or walk quite a way especially in bad weather.
Beechfields, the hostel for the men.
We could buy all our art materials in the college shop in the basement at the Court. I had a county grant but I still needed to earn extra money, I worked in the college kitchen on Sundays and always had holiday jobs (more later) Materials were always short . We painted on board which we primed in our huts. Anyone who wanted the experience of painting on canvas had to go back to the army surplus store and buy up old canvas mattress covers. Wood could be bought locally for the stretchers. It was years before I had the experience of painting on canvas. Shortages really bit in when it came to teaching practice; schools had hardly any materials. Most of us had to take paper with us. The cheapest paper that we could buy in the shop was newsprint but it was too flimsy for children to paint on. On the few drawings I have which I did at that time the newsprint has gone yellow. We took the newsprint back to our huts in our portfolios (not easy carrying a portfolio when you are on a bike) and painted the sheets white with decorators paint. Wherever you went at Monks Park during Teaching Practice time there were pieces of paper laid out to dry, all down the corridors in the huts and on the floor in student rooms. You were lucky if the school had paint. It is difficult to believe now that there is such a huge variety of materials available, how much we had to improvise because of the shortages.