Lady Mabel College: Cloaked in History

If you read our fascinating lookback into the history of Lady Mabel College last year, you may remember that 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of Wentworth Woodhouse opening its doors to the young women who studied to be physical education teachers there.

On Friday 17th January, 70 years to the day from when the first students stepped over the threshold, we were invited to a celebratory event at the house to meet some of the former students including the ladies we interviewed from across the country as part of our remembrance feature.

It was a pleasure to be in the company of such fabulous women, including Sybil Wilbraham who was the very first student through the doors in 1950 and who was also celebrating her 89th birthday that day.

One common thread we noticed when meeting the former students was how they were all so very similar in their manner, conduct and eloquence, obviously all having had the same courteous grounding during their respective times at college.

Some replicated those golden days by donning the iconic cherry red cloaks that have become synonymous with Lady Mabel College.

Like goddesses in their flowing red cloaks, many may have seen and admired them around the village of Wentworth at one time or another, but not many knew who they were.

These cloaks are the inspiration of a new contemporary community arts project which is launching to mark the 70th anniversary, curated by textile artist behind the Common Threads project, Gemma Nemer.

Gemma Nemer, Jo Owen and Sue Gravill with the Lady Mabel archive material
Gemma Nemer, Jo Owen and Sue Gravill

This innovative community textile art project is a revelation, using the idea of storytelling cloaks to depict college life, including the Laban’s Principle of Movement which was the ground-breaking PE technique the students learned whilst at college.

Gemma has been working with the community and local art and fashion students to recreate the cloaks using salvaged antique fabrics which will act as a canvas to tell the Lady Mabel College story.

The pattern cutting has been led by former Lady Mabel College student, Barbara Arnold, who brought her own cloak to Gemma’s Elsecar workshop where the pair worked tirelessly to fabricate the original pattern.

To be able to accurately tell the Lady Mabel story by the book, Gemma has been working with Lady Mabel archivist, Sue Gravil, for the past year to collate archive material which has been kindly donated by members of the Old Students’ Association.

They are also keen for the community to submit their own memories and old photographs to include in the project.

Once finished, the hand-embroidered textile cloaks will appear as shadows in the pillared hall at Wentworth Woodhouse.

The textile embroideries pictured here were made by workshop attendees at the Common Threads textile sessions, a project that is part of Gemma’s Great Place artist residency, which highlights the her-stories of women from Wentworth and Elsecar who had a lasting impact on the community

And the Lady Mabel College students did just that.

Whilst at college, they needed to behave in such a way, having the reputation of this new college to uphold, along with the honour of living at a place like Wentworth Woodhouse. Similarly, once they graduated, they became pioneers in the teaching posts, working with a new way of thinking that completely overhauled modern physical education.

The small preview will be on display in May to tie in with the Lady Mabel College Old Students’ Association’s AGM meeting which is being held for the first time at Wentworth Woodhouse this year.

As a co-creation project, Gemma is working within every aspect of the community to ensure everyone has the chance to be involved before the exciting installation is put on display in the near future.

If you have any stories, memories, photos or generally want to get involved the community textile art project please do get in touch via email at