Friday, 1 March 2019

Bearing cloths

Bearing cloth in the Norwich Museum collection

In my blog post on baby clothes I didn’t mention bearing cloths. Bearing cloths, sometimes referred to as mantles were the outermost cloth babies were wrapped in for such things as being presented and being baptised. 

Late fifteenth century ordinances for the “Christening of a Queen’s child” say, “Yf it be a prynce, an Erle to bear his trayne and if yt be a prynces, a Countesse to bear yt.” In fact, for royalty the mantle or bearing cloth was so long it took several people to carry it to the christening. A c.1565-75 drawing of a royal christening shows a lady carrying the baby, while behind her at least three people carry the train of the bearing cloth. (1)

Among the nobility and gentry the bearing cloth was not as large, but was still as sumptuous as they could make it. When Perdita, in A Winter’s Tale, is discovered abandoned as a baby, the comment is made, “Looke thee, a bearing-cloath for a Squires childe”.   In 1629 a squire’s wife, Elizabeth Coke of Bramfield had a crimson damask bearing cloth costing 25 shillings. (2) Going higher up the social scale, in 1623 the Howards of Naworth Castle had a bearing cloth made and the bill reads, “for 5 yeard of dameske to mak a bearing cloth £3 6s 6d, for taffetie to lyne it 32s, for lace 11 ounces to it 57s 6d.” (3) The lace being listed in ounces means that it was a metallic lace, probably silve or silver gilt. The total cost of the bearing cloth was £7 16s 0d. Bearing cloths from this level of society do sometimes appear in paintings, notably the Cholmondeley ladies, sisters painted with their babies (shown below), and the Saltonstall Family, both of which are in the Tate Britain collection. 

Detail of the Norwich bearing cloth lace
There are survivals of bearing cloths. The seventeenth century example in the Norwich Museums Collection is in the more traditional red, as Shakespeare says in Henry VI, part 1, “Thy scarlet robes, as a child’s bearing cloth.”  This bearing cloth has connections via the Buxton Family to the Pastons of Oxnead Hall. It is of crimson silk velvet lined with ivory silk and edged with gold and silver lace incorporating spangles. The Norfolk Lace Makers have produced a reproduction of this cloth for the Strangers’ hall museum in Norwich, and information on how they copied the lace is available on their website.

Another seventeenth century example is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, this is in a pale blue / green silk satin, two lengths put together with the seam running along the centre length of 133 centimetres (52½ inches), the width is 104 centimetres (41 inches). This is the same construction as the Norwich example, and like the Norwich example it has a wide edging of metallic bobbin lace. 

Bearing cloths appear in various probate inventories at various levels of society. In 1619 Henry Randoll, a smith , has “a bearing cloth & childs coat 2s” in his inventory. (4) In 1631 Rose Palmer, the widow of a butcher, has “ bearing say for a child” listed. (5) Bearing cloths are also left in wills. In 1637 Bridget Hammond, a widow, leaves “to my grandchild Lydia Stuward... my bearing cloth.” (6) Also in Suffolk, in 1649 Mary Chapman specifies, “My bearing cloth should be for the use of my sister and daughters, each to have it when they have occasion to use it, and she that last bear children to have it forever.” (7)  
The Cholmondeley Ladies. Tate. CC-BY-NC-ND

The term bearing cloth gradually disappears by the end of the seventeenth century, though the term mantle continues. It has been suggested that the reason is that total immersion baptism also disappears. If you don’t need a naked baby just wrapped in a bearing cloth, then you can dress the child in christening robes. In 1698 Mary Thresher had nine mantles in her childbed linen including, ones in white satin, dove-coloured satin, blue and white satin trimmed with silver and white sarsnet. (8) 


1    Cunnington, P. and Lucas, C., (1972) Costume for Births, Marriages and Deaths. London: Black. Quote from BM MS Add. 6113, f. 122v. and drawing from the College of Arms MS. 6 f. 78.

2     Buck, A. (1996) Clothes and the Child. Carlton: Bean. p.26

3     Ornsby, G. ed. (1878) Selections from the Household Books of the Lord William Howard of Naworth Castle. Publications of the Surtees Society, vol. 68, p.205

       Emmison, F. G. (1938) Jacobean household inventories. Publications of the Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, vol 20, pp1-143. p.74    
5     Jones, J. ed. (2003) Stratford-Upon-Avon Inventories, 1538-1699 Volume II (1626-1699). Dugdale Society, vol 40, p40-41 

6     Evans, N., ed. (1993) Wills of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury, 1636-1638, Suffolk Records Society, vol. 35, p.103

        Tymms, S. ed. (1850) Wills and inventories from the registers of the Commissary of Bury St Edmunds and the Archdeacon of Sudbury. London: Camden Society, p.220  
8       Buck, A. (1996) Clothes and the Child. Carlton: Bean. p.28

Friday, 14 December 2018

Review of Patterns of Fashion 5

Patterns of Fashion 5: the content, cut, construction and context of bodies, stays, hoops and rumps c.1595-1795, by Janet Arnold, Jenny Tiramani and Luca Costigliolo, et al. London: The School of Historical Dress, 2018. 160p., £35. ISBN 978 0 99317442 1

I have had my copy of this for a few weeks now; it is an absolutely tremendous resource. It examines forty one surviving items.  The first twenty one pages are an introduction to the subject including such things as the terminology used for the different parts of the garments, the materials they were constructed from, and the examination of surviving drawn and printed patterns. There is also information on staymakers themselves, their customers, and how to put on stays. The last section of the introduction looks at hoops and rumps. 

Pages 30 to 152 form the bulk of the book, looking at the forty one surviving garments, divided into two sections the bodies and stays, and the hoops and rumps. Many of the garments have not had patterns taken from them before, several of them have but in far less detail. For each garment there are a large number of colour photographs of the original and portraits of similar items being worn, plus a pattern with detailed notes.

The Elizabethan/16th century garments 
There are three Elizabethan period items: the Dorothea Sabina bodies that appeared in Patterns of Fashion 3, the Elizabeth effigy bodies that were first examined in Costume, vol.41, 2007, and a Spanish farthingale of linen stiffened with ropes of bents.

The Stuart/17th century garments
There are thirteen seventeenth century bodies or stays, plus an ivory stay busk in the book, but there are no hoops from this period. There are two distinctly Dutch/German stays from the museum in Darmstadt, of the type that can bee seen in the portrait of Rubens with Isabella Brandt. The other stays are mainly in English or private collections. The garments include the stays that were found under floorboards in Sittingbourne. 

The Georgian/18th century garments
There are fourteen eighteenth century stays, ten hoops and one rump. They are from a wider range of museums including those in Stockholm, Munich, Paris, Toronto, New York, Boston and Williamsburg, as well as British museums.  

Codicil: the last nine pages
In this section is information on taking measurements, on the scales of the various patterns, and on the drafting of patterns.There are photographs showing reconstructions of some of the garments. There is a two page multilingual (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and some others) vocabulary of terms, and finally a page of references.

The book can only be ordered from the publisher, The School of Historical Dress, for more information go to

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Men in aprons: 1590-1720

Fig. 1: Robin the Cobbler, 1655

Although aprons are more normally associated with women in the early modern period many tradesmen wore aprons, and references appear in literature, wills, probate inventories and illustrations of the period. In fact the term apron-men is often used to indicate tradesmen. In Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Menenius Agrippa says “You and your apron-men; you that stood so up much on the voice of occupation” 

Leather aprons

Aprons for men in the dirtier, heavier trades, came in leather. In Shakepeare’s Henry VI part II John Holland, an armourer comments that “the nobility think scorn to go in leather aprons,” and Peter, his apprentice says, “Here, Robin, an if I die, I give thee my apron: and, Will, thou shalt have my hammer.” 

This association continues across later centuries as well. The young Benjamin Franklin in one of his first essays says  that ‘‘the Generality of People’’ were unwilling to judge what they read until they knew ‘‘who or what the Author of it is, whether he be poor or rich, old or young, a  Schollar or a Leather-Apron Man.” Franklin and his father were printers, and when Franklin formed a club in 1727 it was originally called the Leather Apron Club, the political connotations of this have been examined by several writers. (1, 2)

Of nine men for whom we have aprons in their wills or probate inventories, only two are specified as leather. In 1632 in Suffolk,  George Keritch a single man, bequeaths his brother in law “my leather apron and my hedging gloves” (3) While in 1621 the mason John Cheetam of Stockport lists both an apron/barmskin and a barmskin.(4) Barmskin is listed in the Oxford English Dictionary as a dialect term for a leather apron. 

Leather aprons are also frequently associated with shoemakers and cobblers. An illustration of Robin the Cobbler (Figure 1) in the 1655 pamphlet The Witch of the Woodlands shows him wearing a leather apron. These aprons were often made from a whole skin and one corner might be pinned or buttoned to the doublet to form a bib.  

Fabric aprons

Fabric aprons were made from various materials. Canvas was one option, and in 1609 Richard Mascoll, a butcher, owned three canvas aprons (5) Spufford mentions a 1658 yeoman who owned both a calico and a holland apron (6), and another yeoman in 1682 has four blue aprons of unspecified fabric.(7)

Which tradesmen wore aprons?

Fig. 2: Barber, 1688
So far we have mentioned armourers, carpenters, printers, hedgers, masons, shoemakers, cobblers, butchers and yeomen. Other tradesmen who leave aprons in their probate inventories, but do not indicate what they are made from include barbers and vintners. A page of Randle Holmes illustrations of workmen for his Academy of Armory can be seen here, showing a labourer, shoemaker, smith and baker wearing aprons. Below are a few, it is not a comprehensive list, of the trades for whom we have references for or illustrations of men in aprons.


In 1638 Anthony Hatt, a barber left  “3 aprons and other shopp instruments...” in his probate inventory (8). In 1632 William Turner’s probate inventory listed among other things, “two ould shearen clothes two ould towelyes and one ould apren”(9). Randle Holme in his Academie of Armory 1688 has a crude woodcut of a barber (Figure 2) and says, “A barber is always known by his cheque parti-coloured apron; it needs not mentioning; neither can he be termed barber (a poller or shaver as anciently they were called) till his apron be about him.”
Fig. 3: Brewer, 1625

Brewers, tapsters and vintners

Those who worked in brewing and in the making and sales of beers, wine and spirits often wore aprons. In 1616 Thomas Ablestone, a vintner left “1 shirt, 1 aporne, 5s” in his probate account (10). One of the Roxburghe Ballads, dating to around 1625, shows a master brewer (Figure 3) with an apron hanging from his waist. 

Building Trades (Masons, carpenters, joiners, etc.)

We have mentioned the leather aprons of the mason, and in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when a commoner says that he is a carpenter, Marullus asks him, “Where is thy leather apron and thy rule?” Randle Holme depicts a joiner and a box maker, both wearing aprons.

Fig. 4: Confectioner, 1647
Food Trades (Butchers, bakers, cooks, etc.)

We have already mentioned the butcher who owned three canvas aprons. The 1641 pamphlet The Lamentable Complaints of Hop the brewer and Kilcalfe the butcher, show both men in aprons. The 1647 broadsheet These Tradesmen are Preachers shows a confectioner in an apron (Figure 4)


Smiths of various types are among the leather apron trades, as can be seen in another of the These Tradesmen are Preachers illustrations. However the 1635 In Praise of Black Smiths broadsheet appears to show them in fabric aprons, note the addition of tassels at the bottom corners of the aprons. (Figure 5)
Fig 5: Blacksmiths, 1635

Street vendors

At least nine of the men in Laroon’s 1688 Criers and Hawkers of London series have aprons, these are: the vinegar seller, the oyster seller, singing glasses, puff pastries, knife grinder, tinker, onion seller, pear seller and river water. The various Cries of London series had been around for many years and often plagiarised one another, but there are differences. The late 16th century mat seller doesn’t have an apron, the early and mid 17th century ones do, and the Laroon version doesn’t. (11) The later street sellers seem to have longer aprons that earlier, as can be seen in Laroon’s pear seller, note that like this apron, many are tied at the front. (Figure 6)
Fig. 6: Pear seller, 1688


1. Newman, S.P. (2009) Benjamin Franklin and the leather-apron men: the politics of class in eighteenth-century Philadelphia. Journal of American Studies, v.43(2), pp. 161-175.
2.  Kulikoff, Allan, (2014) Silence Dogood and the Leather-Apron Men. Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies, v.81 (3), pp. 364-374.
3.  Evans, Nesta, ed. (1987) Wills of the Archdeaconry of Sudbury 1630-1635. Suffolk Records Society, v. 29, p.189
4. Phillips, C. B. and Smith, J. H., eds. (1993) Stockport probate records, vol 2, 1620-1650.  Record Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, v. 131, pp.154-6
5. George, E. and S. -eds. (2002) Bristol probate inventories, Part 1: 1542-1650. Bristol Records Society publication v.54, p.8
6. Spufford, Margaret (1984) The Great Reclothing of Rural England. (London: Hambledon), p. 128
7. Williams, L. and Thompson, S. eds. (2007) Marlborough probate inventories 1591-1775. Wiltshire Record Society, v. 59, p.165.
8. Williams, L. and Thompson, S. eds. (2007) Marlborough probate inventories 1591-1775. Wiltshire Record Society, v. 59, p.85.
9. Wilson, J. H. ed. (1983) Wymondham Inventories: 1591-1641 Creative history from East Anglian sources, no. 1, p.35
10. Brinkworth E.R.C. and Gibson, J.S.W. eds. (1985) Banbury wills and inventories. Pt.1, 1591-1620. Banbury Historical Society, v. 13, pp.213-14.         
11. Laroon, Marcellus (1990) The Criers and Hawkers of London; edited with an introduction by Sean Shesgreen. (Aldershot: Scholar Press)