Pensioner amasses UK's biggest collection of handkerchiefs - a staggering 4,500 of them

A pensioner has amassed the UK's biggest collection of handkerchiefs - a staggering 4,500 including one from the Somme and others containing secret escape maps. Brenda Mathews, 76, started collecting hankies aged eight, when a friend brought her one featuring a printed seaside view as a souvenir from a holiday to Sussex. It sparked an obsession further fuelled when tissues replaced cotton hankies, prompting the mum-of-two to start snapping up commemorative ones. Writing about them in magazines and giving talks about special sets inspired people to begin sending them to her - along with their often incredible stories. One favourite is a brown hankie from WW1 soldier Frederick William Taylor, bearing his initials, and taken to wipe his brow at the battle of the Somme. Brought home, it was treasured by his widow who gifted it to Brenda 15 years ago. Some commemorative hankies feature maps of the Maginot and the Siegfried lines, where allied and enemy forces fought. One of the oldest hankies is large and beige, with a red border, from 1886, called a Fulton's military handkerchief. Used for imparting military instruction to infantry, it contains life saving tips like how to shelter and trumpet calls. A fundraising hankie in the collection is from 'The Absent Minded Beggar Fund' started by the Daily Mail, to support families affected by the Boer War, in October 1899. Sales of it raised millions for a hospital to be built in Hampshire. Gran-of-six Brenda has amassed her hoard from charity shops, antique fairs, and donations, with help from husband, Peter, 86, who worked as a railway personal manager. The former secretary said her interest in wartime ones is partly due to her being born on the day American forces dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima. Brenda, from Burgess Hill, West Sussex, said: "It's so special that people bring these stories to me. "I love to bring them to others to help people appreciate what went on in the past. "I feel very privileged to have been entrusted with these touching and fascinating mementoes by their owners. "I've been lucky enough to be given some fascinating hankies that people have treasured over the years, and that encapsulate life-changing moments for them. "I've really enjoyed all the research, and had so much fun collecting them. "I think it must be the largest collection in the country." This video was filmed on the 11th November 2021.

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