Tuesday 26 June 2018

Baby clothes: common and elite, written sources and survivals

Written Sources
Detail from the Saltonshall Family, Tate Gallery

In Thomas Deloney’s 1597 work The Gentle Craft, a list is given of clothing needed to prepare for the birth of a child, it includes, “beds, shirts, biggins, wastecoats, head bands, swaddlebands, cross cloths, bibs, tailclouts, mantles, hose, shooes, coats, petticoats...” The table below lists the clothing of three mid to late seventeenth century babies, and shows that little had changed, although obviously the richer you were the more you had. These three babies reflect three levels of society; the poor, the working class and the well to do.

1691 poor – These are the items provided for Reeve’s girl by the overseers of the poor at Aylesford in Kent in 1691. (1)

1668 working class - On the 22nd April 1668 Richard and Joyce Bamford of Great Paxton, Huntingdonshire discovered a baby abandoned under a bush. The baby was taken to a woman called Mary Corbet who undressed the child. Four days later a widow, Mary Chambers, of St Mary’s parish Bedford, admitted that the child was hers. Both Mary Corbet and Mary Chambers list the clothes the child was wearing, they are different. As Anne Buck states in her article, “the lists show the difficulty of interpreting garments from their names alone.” The two women, living only a few miles apart have different names for what are obviously the same items. (2)

1698 well to do - Mary Thresher in Billericay had her first child in 1698 and wrote down a list of “my small child bed linning”. She also produced a second listing, which may be for a different child, however as the first list does not include any clouts, I have included the clouts from the second list in the table below.(3)

1691 poor
1668 working class
1698 well to do
Overseer’s account for Reeve’s girl
Mary Corbet
Mary Thresher

a holland shift
a shirt
6 fine shirts
2 pure fine holland half shift lacet att neck and hands
2 barrows

2 beds
a linen bed and blanket
a linen bed
2 holland beds in white
2 pure fine holland bed
2 clouts
a double clout
and one double cloth under it [the bed]

4 dozen and 4 diaper clouts
24 fine holland clouts
18 small flowered damask clouts
12 large figur’d damask clouts
one undercoat
one uppercoat
a red sweather
a red wascoat
6 fine calico dimity wascoats

a holland neckcloth
a neckcloth
6 fine neckcloths
2 fine neckcloths lacet

a holland biggen
one biggen
6 pure fine bigons

a linen hood
a white calico hood
6 head sutes of fine stript cambrick lacet

6 pure fine night caps lacet
2 stitched caps

double cross cloth
one double cloth pinned over the face
6 pure fine forehead cloth double lacet
6 double lacet forehead cloths to the [head] sutes
one blanket
two blew blankets
two blew lincey woollsey blankets, cast over with brown thread

two red blanketts
two red blankets

a bib

2 pr of pure fine holland little linen pillow

6 fine bellibands

8 fine long stays

4 pr of pure fine holland glove
2 pr of pure fine holland glove lace

Most of these types of linen and garments continue through the eighteenth century. The pre printed list of possible garments that was annotated when a child was taken in by the Foundling Hospital in London on their Billet of Description has: “cap, biggin, forehead cloth, head cloth, long stay, bib, frock, upper coat, petticoat, bodice coat, barrow, mantle, sleeves, blanket, neckcloth, roller, bed, waistcoat, shirt, clout, pilch, stockings, shoes.”


The National Museum of Childhood is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and has an extensive collection of baby clothes. Below are links to the 17th century items in the V&A collections. Other surviving baby clothes can be found in the Museum of London, the Museum of Fashion Bath, Nottinghamshire Museums and others. 
V&A Item O319493, link on left

V&A – 1650-1675 -http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O80860/christening-mittens-unknown/ Mittens, cap, forehead cloth and bib
V&A – 1650-1699 - https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O362824/baby-clothes/ bib, cap, mitten only
V&A – 1650-1699 - https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O318686/baby-clothes/ mittens and two pieces of lace only
V&A 1680-1710 - https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O362391/baby-clothes/ cap & forehead cloth only


Barrow – by the 19th century this is being described as “A long sleeveless flannel garment for infants.”
Bed  - according to Buck this was, “a cloth extending from the breast to the feet, wrapped round the body and folded up over the feet.”(4)
Biggin – a close fitting cap
Clout - nappies for the English, diapers for the Americans, as Jane Sharp puts it, “Shift the child’s clouts often for the piss and dung.” (5) There is a good general article on nappies here http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/journals/conservation-journal/issue-22/nappies-at-the-national-museum-of-childhood/
Sweather – swathes are swaddling bands, but here the word sweather appears to be being used for a waistcoat. Thomas Cooper’s 1565 Thesaurus gives, “the first apparayle of children, as, swathes,..and such lyke.”


1. Spufford, Margaret and Mee, Susan (2017) The clothing of the common sort 1570-1700. Oxford: OUP, p.60
1. Buck, Ann (1977) The baby under the bush. Costume, vol.11, pp98-99
2. Clabburn, Pamela (1979) “My small child bed linning.” Costume, vol. 13. pp38-40
4. Buck, Anne (1996) Clothes and the child. Bedford: Ruth Bean
5. Sharp, Jane (1671) The midwives book, or the whole art of midwifery.


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