In 2002 the Archives Centre was given one of Margaret Thatcher’s handbags. Well used and often photographed on the lady’s arm during the 1980s, the handbag is a firm favourite with visitors to the Archives Centre. It has already had two bespoke conservation display boxes made for it, and due to considerable use, was in need of a new display box. Various personal items that might have been carried in the bag (for example, a lipstick, handkerchief and mirrored compact) were boxed separately.
Lady Thatcher with this handbag when she delivered her famous Bruges Speech at the College of Europe, 20 Sept 1988. Ref: Thatcher Papers, THCR 8/2/34
Copyright unknown: efforts have been made to trace the copyright in this image and Churchill Archives Centre welcomes contact from the copyright owner.
In addition, the Archives Centre has recently been given another Thatcher handbag. This one has never been used by the lady, but is a limited edition (C243) of an Ebury handbag, designed by Anya Hindmarch and dedicated to Mrs Thatcher with two gold inscriptions just inside the bag, one saying ‘The lady is not for turning’ and the other from the designer saying ‘From someone that you inspired’. In an inscribed box and wrapped in lots of black (and unfortunately acidic) tissue, this handbag also needed some conservation work.
The Anya Hindmarch Ebury handbag as it arrived at the Archives Centre.
As it happens, Anya Hindmarch has just been awarded ‘Businesswoman of the Year’ (see this article in the Guardian) and has acknowledged that she was greatly inspired by Lady Thatcher when she set up her first bag business aged 19.
So earlier this year I was given the conservation task of re-boxing both bags and their contents. I set to work on the Ebury bag first, creating a polyester wadding and Tyvek cushion for the bag to lie on in its original box. It was then padded out with lots of acid-free tissue and its original protective cotton bag was folded over acid-free tissue and place on top of the bag. To protect the original box, a fall-flap box was made of archival corrugated board (light but strong) with internal panels of inert polyester foam, Velcro tabs at the sides and a tight-fitting lid.
Repackaged in archival materials with a new fall-flap protective box.
However, the first Thatcher handbag required a much more complex box design which would allow the handbag to be viewed by visitors without it having to be touched or removed. Following on from its previous box, a polyester foam base was created for the bag to sit in and then this was placed on a box plinth made of archival corrugated board in order to raise it up to aid viewing.
Having created the plinth, it then struck me that it was an ideal place to house a drawer containing the handbag’s contents. This would mean that when the lid was removed, the front of the box would fall open revealing a handwritten note by Mrs Thatcher explaining her frequent use of the bag on the inside of the flap and then the drawer would be opened to reveal some of its contents. Ta Da!!
Handbag and its contents in their new display box.
Once the drawer was made to fit into the plinth its contents were fitted into a polyester foam base with slots cut for each item, and the larger or heavier items supported in place by clear polyester straps. The box and front flap were then built around the plinth and base with a clear polyester ‘window’ in front of the bag and angled around the sides. The note from Mrs Thatcher confirming her use of the bag was placed between an thin archival board and film of clear polyester, welded on all sides and then adhered to the inside left-hand corner of the fall-flap. Finally, a close-fitting lid was made and two, individually shaped pieces of thick polyester foam were placed in the lid so that when it was placed on the box, the foam would support the bag in transit.
I wonder how long this box will last before ‘Mark 4’ is required?
Tags: Margaret Thatcher