Costumes fit for a King…and a Queen, go on display in York

If you’ve ever fancied yourself as the next dashing Mr Darcy or Elizabeth Bennett, Barley Hall in York is the place for you. The city’s medieval townhouse, Barley Hall, is host the first public appearance of costumes worn by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in the multi-award winning film, The King’s Speech, alongside a whole host of other BBC and Hollywood favourites.

The costume displays are part of York Archaeological Trust’s new “From Hamlet to Hollywood: fashion from film” exhibition which will run until May 2012. The exhibition displays costumes worn by some of the best-loved stars of stage and screen, and explores changes in fashion from Tudor times through to the 20th Century.


The collection includes clothing from the 1550s through to 1940, demonstrating the styles and detailing of each period in clothing ranging from cravats to hats, ball gowns to wedding dresses.

Among the wardrobe treasures on display will be Mr Darcy’s riding coat worn by Colin Firth in Pride and Prejudice; the 1940s style red velvet dress donned by Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey; the 1811 lilac ball gown worn by Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility; and the jewel encrusted stage dress worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Young Toscanini. Visitors will also see the outfit worn by Colin Firth as King George VI in the recent King’s Speech.


Other world-famous actors and actresses who have brought the costumes to life include Dame Judi Dench, Kiera Knightley, Nicole Kidman and the late Heath Ledger. The clothing has also featured in much-loved series such as Cranford, Lark Rise to Candleford and The House of Eliott.

Says Sarah Maltby, Director of Attractions at York Archaeological Trust, “The study of fashion, costume and clothing to demonstrate wealth, poverty and status is one that has interested historians for many years, and gives a further perspective to those archaeological discoveries which allow us to explore the lives of people from the past.

“This exhibition presents a unique opportunity for visitors to see these fine garments up close and under one roof whilst learning about clothing through the eras to build a picture of ancestors who wore them.

“It’s a real privilege to bring this collection together and demonstrate the fascinating changes in fashion. Where else would you be able to brush against Mr Darcy’s lapel or compare dress sizes with Hollywood’s leading ladies?”


The costumes have been supplied by London-based Cosprop Exhibitions which have recreated many of the period fashions for film and television series.

The Trust has organised a programme of clothing-themed events to accompany the exhibition, which will run in its current format until 2012. Visit for full event details. For more information about York Archaeological Trust and its attractions visit

See also our feature on Medieval Dress