I’m in trouble … again. It was a simple enough comment; I described Quilts 1700-2010 as an exhibition by women, for women. Of course I don’t mean to be exclusive but I don’t think it’s much to ask, one little exhibition which celebrates the feminine. I’ve just re-read Richard Dorment’s top five exhibitions for 2009 – Baroque (Bernini, Borromini, Tiepolo); Futurism (Boccioni, Severini, Carra and Balla); Palladio; Van Dyke; and Constable. I might be wrong but aren’t these all blokes? Anyway enough of my feeble feminist ranting… here is a story for the boys.
One of the joys of working on a major exhibition is the opportunity to acquire objects for the collection. In 2007 the V&A acquired a military quilt at auction, which was documented as being made by a William Brayley, who served in the Devonshire Regiment in India in the 1880s. A trawl of the Muster Rolls at The National Archives at Kew revealed no evidence of a William Brayley – the frustration at not being able to confirm the identity of our maker was immense.
But research is all about searching for different avenues of enquiry. A chance conversation with a friend resulted in another lead – before 1880 The Devonshire Regiment was known as The Eleventh of Foot with two battalions described as 1st/11th and 2nd/11th. A very generous Devon historian found reference to a Francis Brayley who was buried in the village of Mariansleigh on 28 March 1880.
According to regimental history, the 1st/11th Foot left England in 1863 returning home thirteen years later in April 1877. Full of anticipation I returned to The National Archives, calling up the Muster Rolls for the 1st/11th Foot for April 1877, their last month on detachment to India. There, indeed, was the name Francis Brayley, Private, Regimental Number 435.
T.58-2007 pieced wool hexagons, probably made by Francis Brayley, India, 1863-77
Private Brayley arrived back with his Battalion in April. In May, one month later he married Mary Ann Ash in the Parish of South Molton. Sadly three years later on the 21st March 1880 Francis Brayley died, cause of death Phthisis, better known as tuberculosis. Their son, William was eleven months old. Did Francis make his quilt as a wedding present for his patient bride to be, or did he acquire it as a souvenir – a reminder of his thirteen years loyal service to Queen and Country? One thing is for certain – Mary Ann treasured her quilt, a lasting memento of her brief but (we hope) loving marriage.