Historic Clendon House christening gown restored
February 01, 2024 | Stories
A close-up of the Jan Clendon christening gown (Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga)

This is a story from our monthly newsletter, Heritage this Month.

John O’Hare | Hokianga 

When Clendon House Visitor Host Libby Shaw noticed that a family christening gown on display at the historic house in Rawene was a little the worse for wear, she was keen to do something about it.  

“I have a personal interest in vintage and antique lace work and clothing, so I was concerned that the christening gown was clearly in need of some repair,” says Libby.  

“I checked with our Collections Advisor, Belinda Maingay, and was given the okay and instructions on how to undertake some of the the work needed to restore it.” 

Christening gown (Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga)

The first step was to learn more about the history of the garment, and to confirm the best approach towards restoring it.  

“Belinda did some research on the garment and dated it to around 1880. She also discovered it had belonged to Marion Millar, nee Clendon, who was the daughter of James Reddy Clendon and Jane Clendon. All seven of her children were christened in this gown,” she says.

The gown was donated to us for the Clendon collection by Mrs. Frances Spender, a descendant of Marion Clendon. Today Clendon House is a Tohu Whenua, and is cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

Libby was able to draw on her extensive experience working with lace, which originated in her years of collecting antique and vintage lacework, doilies and clothing.  

Christening gown (Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga)

“I learned embroidery at a young age and was fortunate to have an elderly neighbour teach me most of what I know,” she says.

“During a short time in Quebec I was lucky to be given lessons from some very skilled women who were taught to hand sew by Catholic nuns.” 

The first steps Libby took were to complete a thorough inspection of the gown and record the work that was needed. She also took the time to identify the fabrics used and take photos of the damaged sections to source matching threads for the repair work.    

“Most of the work involved restitching the panels of lace back together, followed by blind stitches to reinforce and reconstruct sections of missing lace,” she says.  

“I felt an immense responsibility having been given this work, and so I wanted to do my best for the garment, the Clendon descendants and Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.”  

Marion Millar (Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga)

Libby’s skill and attention to detail are both very obvious in the final result according to Belinda Maingay.  

“Libby has done a tremendous job in restoring this garment back to a really great condition,” she says.  

“It was clear that she has significant experience with this type of work, and for us it was great that we could tap into some of that expertise. We’re very grateful for Libby’s careful work and patience with this restoration which took place over several months.” 

For Libby, the finished product makes it all worthwhile.  

“I am very pleased with the results of my work, knowing that this beautiful gown is going to last well into the next century,” she says.  

Clendon House
Te Tai Tokerau | Northland
Find out more about the Clendon whānau with a visit to historic Clendon House in Rawene, Hokianga.
Millar, Marion
O'Hare, John (author)
Clendon House
Maingay, Belinda

John O'Hare | Communications Advisor
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