A Day in the 1940s

Yesterday I was the guest speaker at Todmorden Mills Museum 3rd annual Fab Forties day. It was a bit of a time-trip for me to begin with because I worked at the museum from August 1985 to March 1987. When I was there, the two original houses on the site were an 1838 house interpreted as an 1850’s mill-owner’s home, and a Regency-style cottage thought to have been built in about 1817, and restored to the late 1830s. However, now the mill owners house has been re-interpreted. The house has been duplexed to represent two 1890s mill workers residences (as it actually had been in the 1890s), and with further research it was discovered the ‘Regency’ cottage was built in 1851, and has been made over to represent a wartime 1940s interior.

The 1940s kitchen

The museum site is beautiful – a little piece of the country in the middle of the city. This was an industrial community from the 1790s until the 1940s. Most of the original buildings are gone but for the two houses, Canada’s oldest paper mill (which is now a community theatre and art gallery), and part of a brewery, (which is now administrative.) Appropriate with the wartime 1940s theme, the back parking lot was once the site of a German POW camp.

It was a perfect setting, and perfect weather, for a trip to the past. Visitors were encouraged to bring picnics and then enjoy the activities which included: the theatre converted into a Victory dance hall, complete with live dance band, wartime food ‘treats’ offered from the 1940s kitchen (warning, skip the mock fudge – its AWFUL!), vendors of 1940s vintage items, my lecture on fashion in the forties, a costume contest, vintage cars, and my favourite – a popsicle vendor (with updated organic flavours for today’s palate.) This is an event to keep your eye out for next year — I think the soccer game and Father’s Day drew some of the crowds away from this year’s event, but there is no reason this shouldn’t become hugely popular in coming years.

Contestants for best costume. The man in an original 1942 uniform won best male costume (more men came in costume but were too shy to compete.) It was a tough call for best female costume but in the end the woman in the brown dress and Victory roll hairstyle took home the prize.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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