Family Heirlooms -The Broach

We have all heard the traditional bridal rhyme, which details what a bride should wear on her wedding day to bring good luck to the marriage –

Something old,

Something new,

Something borrowed,

Something blue.’

For many traditional modern brides the ‘something blue’ usually takes the form of a ‘garter’. It certainly did in my case, and after my marriage I lent it to my sisters and some friends, so it was ‘borrowed’ as well as ‘blue’. However it was always returned, and I still keep it with ‘my’ wedding dress today. (By the way, I made my own wedding dress, and embroidered the Chantilly lace with thousands of seed pearls, which took me nearly a year to complete, and it was only finished a few days before the wedding).

I do not know what the item of ‘blue’ was for my maternal aunts’ or mother’s wedding, but I do know what the ‘old’, ‘new’ and ‘borrowed’ were.

The ‘something new’ for each of the five brides, who wore the family heirloom wedding dress was satin ‘ underwear,’ which had been carefully stitched and embroidered by each bride as part of their trousseau some months before, and had been carefully laid aside for the occasion.

The ‘something borrowed’ for each of the five brides who wore ‘the wedding dress’, was a long, hand- embroidered Brussels net veil, which was caught high on the head with a halo or half circlet of flowers.

When my mother’s eldest sister was married in 1937, she borrowed this veil from her closest and life- long friend, Arlie, who had married the year before. Subsequently each of the brides ‘borrowed’ it for their wedding, but each time it was returned to Arlie.

Now we come to the ‘something old.’ This was a gold ‘broach’, which was worn at the neck of the lace collar on ‘the wedding dress’ for each of the five afore mentioned brides.

‘The broach’ was not only worn by these brides, but the other daughters, and many of the granddaughters and great-granddaughters of Arthur and Harriet May Baxter.

Some of the brides choose to wear it as ‘a broach’, others as ‘a pendant’ and still others as a ‘bouquet ornament’. A true family heirloom.

The broach is a small circle of gold, enclosing a branch of delicate moulded gold leaves and petals. It is reputed to have been owned by a grandmother of Harriet May Baxter, and therefore a great-grandmother of the original 1937 bride and her younger sisters.

Although the details are sketchy, it is believed to have been fashioned from small gold nuggets found on the Lambing Flats (Young) goldfields in the early 1860’s.

The grandmother (and great-grandmother), is believed to have been Sarah Bell (nee Sargent), the daughter of immigrants, Thomas and Ellis (Alice) Sargent. Sarah Sargent married George Bell in 1844.

This couple had settled in Picton and raised a family of five sons and three daughters.

Sarah Bell died in 1865 and the broach passed to her eldest daughter, Harriet. When Harriet Bell died it passed to her younger sister, Emma.

Emma Bell died in 1936, and when the original Bell family home was dispersed, the broach was passed to Harriet May Baxter (nee Bell).

When her eldest daughter married a few months later in 1937, this broach was chosen as the ‘something old’.

The Broach

As I mentioned before it was also chosen as the ‘something old’ by many other subsequent family brides.

This heirloom remains in the family today, but not on the same branch as the heirloom wedding dress.

Family Heirlooms – The Wedding Dress

The wedding dress was originally made for my mother’s eldest sister in 1937. The seamstress is unknown, but is believed to have been a friend of the bride from her ‘dress-making’ days at Murwillumbah Technical College. Over the next eight years it was worn by three younger sisters, and a sister- in- law of the original bride. A total of five brides, my mother being the fifth.

The dress was made of magnolia bridal satin on princess lines, with a long fantail train, finished with scalloped and picoted edges. It had fagoting from the back-seam and several four-inch circular inserts of ivory Chantilly lace around the edge of the train.

At the neckline, was a small high collar of ivory Chantilly lace, edged with colour- matched Guipure lace.

Small satin covered buttons ran down the front of the dress, from collar to hemline.

Long sleeves, full and ruched at the shoulders, fitted from the elbow with an overlay of ivory Chantilly lace pointed at the wrist and edged with ivory Guipure lace.

A long ivory taffeta princess line petticoat went under the wedding dress, and had a dainty pattern of scattered small eyelets high over the bust line.

As I said my mother was the last bride to wear it, and as young children we remember it hanging in a calico bag in the back of our mother’s wardrobe. Occasionally after much ‘begging’ on my younger sister’s part, as well as my own, our mother would get it out, and we ‘oohed and aahed’ over it. Although we could run our little hands over its smooth soft surface, and trace out the fine lines on the lace, with tiny fingers, we were never permitted to wear it, nor take it out of its hanging place ourselves.

However, our mother ‘gave’ us several ball gowns she had made and worn before her marriage, which we loved and often ‘dressed-up’ in as young children.

In early 1960 I went off to ‘High School’, an educational opportunity neither of our parents were able to have, although they would have done very well. My early high school days meant a long daily ride on a bus, and in later years having to board away from home during the week and returning home only at week-ends and holidays.

In 1963 the place of employment of our father closed, which necessitated the family moving to a town some hundreds of kilometres away. I was still boarding away from home, and it was up to our mother to pack up the home ready for the move.

There was a delay in our ‘new’ home being made ready for the family, so our mother and younger members of the family went to live with our widowed grandmother, on the family farm.

Finally our family moved and we settled into our new life.

However about this time, the children of my parent’s older siblings, were contemplating marriage themselves, and every few months a ‘wedding invitation’ would arrive in our mail-box.

With all the talk of weddings, the conversation turned to our mother’s wedding dress in the calico bag at the back of her wardrobe. My sister (closest in age to myself) and I calculated it would have been ten years since we had last seen it, and our youngest sister,(many years younger than us), who had arrived during that time, professed she had never seen it, and didn’t know it existed.

All the laughter and gaiety came to a sudden stop, when we looked at our mother. Tears welling in her eyes, she said she didn’t know where it was. The first question, which broke from our shocked lips was, ‘What happened to it?’

Then through tears our mother admitted, somehow it had been ‘lost’ in the move. She didn’t know how, but it may have been mistakenly placed with a pile of belongings she felt she could not pack for the move and choose to burn, (although she always regretted doing this for the rest of her life.) These included many things we would be glad to call family heirlooms today, such as letters, keepsakes and mementoes of her life as well as ours.

After many tears that afternoon, the wedding dress was never mentioned again, although I know we all thought of it often, especially as our own weddings approached. This was out of respect and love for our mother, who felt such guilt over its disappearance. Although she was the last to wear it, she felt it belonged to the family, and would not have knowingly disposed of it.

Fast forward some forty years, and my siblings, myself, as well as our fifty first cousins, have married and raised families of their own.

Our parents, as well as most of our aunts and uncles have died.

I have spent more than forty years tracing our ancestors, with promises to write them all up in books some-day, and I have also dabbled in ‘scrapbooking’, making special albums for our grandchildren as well as for my siblings.

A few years ago I visited an aunt, one of my mother’s younger sisters, with whom I have always been very close. I was showing her the scrapbook I was putting together for one of my sisters. This included photos and the story of our parent’s ‘Wedding Day’. I recounted to her the sad story of the ‘missing wedding-dress’ and how guilty our mother felt about it being lost.

My aunt gave instructions for me to ‘pour the tea’, which had been put aside to ‘brew’ in the teapot, and she disappeared into her bedroom. She soon emerged with a crumbled calico bag and inside was ‘the wedding-dress’. She never knew my mother thought she had destroyed it.

It would appear my mother had returned it to the ‘family home’ when she was staying there between packing up and moving, and in all the rush and confusion had forgotten she had done so. When the old family home was broken up some eighteen years later, my mother wasn’t present, and didn’t know about the ‘rescuing’ of the wedding dress. How I wish I could have told her before she died.

For the last couple of years it has been one of our most cherished family heirlooms packed away in a cupboard.

Wedding Dress

Recently I brought it out, and a sister and I carefully mended, ironed and then displayed and photographed it, before packing it away carefully in archival tissue paper and box.

Wedding Dress 2

Next weekend we are having a ‘Cousin’s Day’ at Murwillumbah for all the descendants of my maternal grandparents, Arthur and Harriet May Baxter. For the occasion I have written a book, with lots of photographs, recounting the story of this couple and their children. Included in the book is the story of this wedding dress and the five brides who wore it.

Wedding Dress 3