Stories from the Costume Collection

Whilst completing the important task of repackaging the museum’s costume collection for our ‘Cabinets of Curious Costume’ Project, we have also taken the opportunity, where appropriate, to undertake some extended research into this collection. We primarily focused upon items that it is possible to connect to a particular person. Within this blog, we will take a closer look at some of the interesting people whose garments and accessories are now in the museum’s collections.

A Naval Officer’s Wardrobe

I’d like to start with one of our military uniforms, a formal naval uniform previously belonging to Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Kirkland Rylands (1891-1972). Born on 9th January 1891 at Standford Hall, near Newport, Salop, Geoffrey Kirkland Rylands was the eldest surviving son of Thomas Rylands of Down House, Tockington, who was the second son of Mr Peter Rylands of Massey Hall, Thelwall.

Lieutenant Commander G.K. Rylands

A young Geoffrey Kirkland Rylands

Attache satchel belonging to Geoffrey Kirkland Rylands



Hat and epaulettes in metal box, part of the naval uniform of Lieutenant Commander G.K. Rylands circa 1948 – 1949

In 1903, he entered the Royal Naval College at Osbourne as a Cadet, being one of the first entrants under the Fisher Training Scheme. Two years later he passed on to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and in 1908 he was appointed as midshipman to H.M.S Commonwealth. In 1911 he received a commission as Sub-Lieutenant serving first in H.M Destroyers Vixen and Vigilant, and subsequently assistant surveyor in HMS Mutine. In 1912 he received a commission as a Sub-Lieutenant, serving in H.M ships Duncan and Amphion, and specialised in navigation. During the war he served in H.M ships Iron Duke, Leviathan, Ark Royal, Toaze and Titania. In H.M ships Ark Royal and Talbot he was present at the Anzac and Suvla Bay landings. Subsequently he proceeded to Salonika at the start of that campaign, and while there he was attached for a short time to the French Air Force for training as a bombing pilot.

Commander Rylands first went to sea as a Midshipman in 1907. He past first in his class from the navigation school at Portsmouth with an average of 99.9%. For his achievement he was granted the customary privilege of being allowed to choose the ship to which he should be appointed, he chose the Flag Ship Iron Duke. In 1914, just before war broke out, he took up an appointment in the cruiser Leviathan. In the same year he was appointed navigator to the first sea plane carrier, which was then being built from a converted oil tanker. This was the second Ark Royal and it was in this ship that he fought during the Dardanelles campaign. Towards the end of the war on 29th August 1918, he married Miss Norah Chester Master, youngest daughter of the late Rev F.C Master, of Highworth, Wiltshire.

After the war, Peter Rylands asked Geoffrey if he would join the family firm of Rylands Brothers and he joined on 5th May 1919 after retiring from the Navy. One of his earliest duties was re-equipping the Dry Mill with 2-holing machines. Geoffrey’s natural bent for Mathematics enabled him to devise piecework rates for wire drawing which took into consideration every known hazard. He also carried out much work in connection with punch tapers and at the same time a plant was installed for the hot setting of steel dies. After the war, he received the Order of the British Empire and later, Manchester University awarded him the Honorary Degree of Master of Science, a title which he felt he richly deserved. During his career, G.K Rylands worked in a number of positions within the manufacturing sector including Managing Director of Rylands Bros Ltd, Managing Director of Whitecross Co.Ltd, Director of Lancashire Steel Corporation and Director of Penfold Fencing Ltd (part of United Service Club).

A High Sheriff from Thelwall

Another local personality represented in the Costume Collection is Sir William Peter Rylands Bart, High Sheriff of Cheshire (1935-1936). Born in October 1868 in Warrington, Lancashire, William Peter Rylands was the son of Peter Rylands and Caroline Reynolds. For some time he was the head of the well-known firm Rylands Brothers. He was created a ‘1st Baronet of Thelwall’ in 1939.

His early life began with schooling at Charterhouse, Godalming.  He lived at Massey Hall, Thelwall until sometime after 1887 at the death of his father when it was left to the local authority, for educational purposes. On 6th June 1894 he was called to the bar Inner Temple. In this same year, Peter Rylands married Nora Mary, the eldest daughter of David de Angelis of Paris in Ulverston, Lancashire. In 1901, he is recorded as residing in Lymm with his wife Nora and their three servants and ten years later in 1911 he is recorded as living in Bingle Bank Lymm with his wife and now four servants. In 1939 he is living back at Massey Hall with his wife and servants.

During his career, Peter Rylands held a number of directorships, published various economic and political articles, and worked on committees for tariff reform set up by Stanley Baldwin. He served on the Anderson Committee, a committee under the chairmanship of Sir Arthur Balfour to consider Industry and Trade. He was a member of the Board of Trade and Post Office Advisory Committees, and was knighted by George V in recognition of his work as President of the Central Committee. He was also a Freemason and initiated into the Cambridge and Warrington lodges. Among his milestones are becoming Managing Director of Rylands Brothers in 1898, JP for Lancashire in 1905, JP for Cheshire in 1906, President Federation of British Industries 1919-21, was Knighted in 1921 and stood as the President National Federation of Iron and Steel Manufactures (1930-1931). 

Sir Peter Rylands passed away in October 1948, sadly only one day before his 80th birthday.

Portrait of Sir Peter Rylands (1868-1948) painted by Hugh de Twenebrokes (1895-1937)


Fur hat with steel decoration, part of the uniform of the High Sheriff of Cheshire










The above portrait shows an oil on canvas from the museum’s fine art collections and is believed to have been painted circa 1920 but only gifted to the museum in 1973. In All Saints Church Thelwall there is a memorial window to Sir William Peter Rylands Bart and there is also a gravestone for him in the churchyard.

Gandys Clog Manufacturers

Throughout the 19th century, records from the local area contain a wealth of evidence for Gandy’s involvement in the shoe-making trade and other trades with links to footwear, such as hosiery. John Gandy was a hosier in The Market Place and Golden Square in Warrington in the 1820`s while Mrs Mary Gandy served the nobility, gentry and clergy in Church Street and Horsemarket Street. The connection between the Gandy family and shoes is even older. There are Gandys who were shoemakers in the 18th century, such as William Gandy of Prescot, who married Sarah Lingham in 1767 and John Gandy, also shoemaker of Prescot, who married Jane Whittle in 1768. 

A specialty of the Gandy cobblers was clogs: “When you talk of clogs in Warrington, people immediately think of the Gandy’s. And when you mention that name to-day you are referring to 70-year-old Mr. John Gandy, in Buttermarket Street, and his cousin Mr. Douglas Gandy, of Mersey Street, Warrington. Mr. Douglas Gandy took over the family business from his father Mr. William Gandy, who founded it in 1871. The main product of the Gandy cloggers were a hand-made wooden clogs, a Lancashire version of the wooden sabot which came to England with Flemish weavers. The clog was used in the tan-yards, factories laundries, breweries and works in the town. The clogs made by Gandys were sold all over the north to factory and textile workers, and in recent times have bee exported to America, Jamaica and other countries. 

Child’s clog made by Gandys

‘Gandy Shoe Repairs’ Shop Front












Top hat and tails for Warrington’s Town Crier 

We know that in Warrington there was at least one Town Crier or Bellman named John Smith and we are fortunate to have a very fine painting of him in the museum’s fine art collection. Smith was Town Crier between 1887 to 1905. He lived at 23 Stanley Street, Warrington which on 10th January 1905 is where he passed away. The painting shows John Smith in his smart bellman uniform, posed against a plain background and wearing a top hat and holding a bell in his right hand and a newspaper in his left. Not only do we have a fine portrait painting of John Smith, we also have the silver headband that would have run around the base of his top hat. Sadly as you can see, it is not quite as shiny as depicted in the painting and is in well need of a good clean!

John Smith (d.1905), Bellman of Warrington (1887–1905) by artist Annie Chrimes (1863–1942)





Silver headband from John Smith (Warrington Town Crier)









We hope that you have enjoyed this brief insight into some of the important people whose garments and accessories we have in the collections at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery. We are sure that more fascinating stories will be uncovered through further work on the ‘Cabinets of Curious Costume’ project, so stay tuned!

Supported by a grant from the AIM and Arts Scholars Charitable Trust Brighter Day Scheme