The Revd Liz Brown, Vicar at All Saints' Church in Goxhill and Holy Trinity Church, Barrow with New Holland, shares details of her passion for all things Victorian. 

The banner image is also from Liz's home - a very refined looking cup, saucer and teapot and writing box. 

Liz writes:

"I suppose everybody has their own lockdown stories. A colleague told me last week that she'd learned Welsh during our enforced lay-off, I know several people who discovered a new appreciation of nature as they made the effort to take their permitted exercise on daily walks and I completed a “Run 1,000 miles in a year” challenge by the end of June because there was much more time for running. My real lockdown epiphany was much less hectic though – I just slipped quietly into the 19thcentury and found it very welcoming.

"All my life I've been fascinated by the Victorian period. I love the literature, I love the furniture, the architecture, the social history, the politics – and the clothes. My husband and I have spent almost twenty-five years furnishing and decorating our small Victorian terraced house in the style of the period and 'neutral colours' don't cross our threshold.

"From time to time we've hosted specifically Victorian evenings with food cooked from recipes of the time, everybody in 19th century dress and suitable entertainment – music, stories, poetry and so on - but my “Eureka!” moment came a few weeks into lockdown when the penny dropped that I could do this all the time. Why was I living amongst the trappings of another era every day but treating the clothes as 'costume' or part of the dressing-up box? That morning I joined the hoards of people who were having a clear out during lockdown, but I was clearing out anything which couldn’t be incorporated into a version of 19th century dress.

"Female clergy have a head start on this as most of us have at least one long black skirt. Ebay proved very useful and I started to wait for the post and the retro parcels like a kid waiting for Christmas; it's amazing what's out there once you start to look. All the same, I really wanted authentic clothes not just a long dress or two and I eventually found a wonderful lady in Cambridge who makes skirts from original 19th century patterns. Things were looking up.

"So far this is just a story of a bit of eccentricity but there was a serious side to it as well, although I didn't realise it when I threw my mini skirts cheerfully into bags for the charity shop. Before anybody starts the lecture on how vile life was for huge swathes of the population during the Victorian age and how only a relatively few very privileged people had a comfortable life, I absolutely agree and I don't advocate a mass return to Dickensian Britain. I feel as passionate about pain-free dentistry and decent sanitation as anybody else – not to mention child labour and draconian social policies. However, one thing does lead to another and while my original aim was merely to embrace the Victorian aesthetic, I've discovered more useful aspects of a retrospective life too. 

"Since the clothes from authentic patterns were so lovely and as I had a friend who encouraged this absolute needlework virgin to have a go, I decided to try to make one of these authentic skirts myself . Sewing machines arrived in domestic settings in the very late 19th century but I don't have one, so this creation would be entirely hand-sewn – and since it had eleven panels, that was a good deal of seams! At the same time another friend and Churchwarden at Barrow, Chris, was coming to the end of her life after a battle with lung cancer and as her family and I spent several days at her bedside, I came to appreciate the gentle, repetitive task of hand-sewing when I came home from the hospital rather than trying to switch off instantly. That skirt couldn't be rushed or whizzed through a machine and it gave me something to do with my hands while my mind was somewhere else or while I gave God the dubious benefit of my opinions on protracted death – a sort of needle and cotton version of the rosary.

"I didn't start my Victorian Experiment as a pseudo-spiritual exercise and I don't think of it that way. I did it (and do it) because I love the style of that era, and the tragedy of Covid 19 made me think that life was too precious not to live it the way we really want to, if we can. All the same, I think it has had more of an effect than just giving me yards more material to manage on the stairs.

"As our world was increasingly mediated through computer screens and 'Zoom', I learned the values of real things which take time to create and can't be bought in six different colours with the click of a mouse. I learned the pleasure of creativity and the sense of achievement which comes with making something we love entirely from scratch and by hand. I learned to talk to God more easily as I plodded up and down those everlasting seams and I learned that life doesn't need to be lived at the gallop to qualify as being productive or satisfying. Less really can be more.

"Inevitably, life is a little more hectic now that our churches are open for worship again and the full lockdown has eased, but my Victorian Experiment continues and I'll be sticking with it. We can't turn the clock back and it would be unwise to try, but we can embrace the elements of the past which enhance our lives as they are today and whether you long for purple hair or Victorian clothes, we only pass this way once, so it's now or never.

"Meanwhile, a few weeks ago I was walking through one of the old streets in Barton on my way to see a friend and a lady was walking with her little boy on the other side of the road. As I passed I heard him say to his mum, “Look, Mummy! A ghost lady!” 

"I'll settle for that."