Friday 29 May 2015

Baskets - the early modern carrier bag

Louise Moillon - Scène de marché avec pickpocket

The 17th century equivalent of the modern carrier bag was the shopping basket in rush or wicker, in fact baskets have been described as “One of the most important containers in the early modern period both for storage and carriage”. (British History Online, 2015)

The OED describes a basket as being “A vessel of wickerwork, made of plaited osiers, cane, rushes, bast, or other materials.” Bast is flax, hemp, jute and similar plant fibres. Osiers or withies are specifically flexible willow twigs or branches. Basket making was a fairly well represented craft, there were eight basket makers listed in the 1608 muster list for Gloucestershire. (Tawney, 1934)

England did not produce a collection of genre paintings in the way that many European countries did so we have little in the way of visual evidence for what was used. Most people will be aware of the 1640 Hollar engraving from the Ornatus Muliebris of the maid with her rush basket, others will be aware of the various Cries of London series, showing women with baskets on their heads. Here we have baskets for two different functions; the first is for putting your shopping in, the other is for taking goods to market, or from one place to another, the equivalent of the old costermonger basket. 

The costermonger style appears in many European Cries as well as the London ones. Possibly the oldest of the “Cries” are these Parisian ones in the Bibliotheque Nationale, which as the text says are gendered, in that the women are more often shown carrying goods in a basket or pot on their head, while the men are more often shown carrying goods on their backs. For a quick history of Cries have a look at Shesgreen (2013)

Oyster seller
There are several series of Cryes of London and, as Shesgreen has said, each “is a synthesis of its precursors.” (1990) An early 17th century series sold by Richard Newton includes 12 women in the set, half hold things in their hands with no carrier, 4 have baskets over their arms (see the oyster seller left) and 2 carry baskets on their heads. The Manner of Crying Things in London, sold by Peter Stent, shows no baskets over the arm, though one is held under the arm, and one of the four women with a basket on her head has a basket with a central handle implying it could be carried over the arm. Stent opened his shop in 1642 and died in 1665, the Stent collection of prints was sold to Overton by his widow. (Globe, 2008) (Clayton, 2008) In contrast to the Stent Cries the c.1667 Common Cryes of London, printed by John Overton, shows  eighteen women, 8 carry baskets on their heads, 9 carry baskets, or something similar, over their arms, and one carries goods loose. A late set of cries by Marcellus Laroon are the most naturalistic. These were published in 1687; six of the women in the series carry baskets over their arms. In all these cases it is as well to remember that they are not women shopping, they are women selling; however they show the types of baskets available to the housewife, especially in the case of Laroon's basket seller, who not only has a load of different table baskets on her head, but also carries some straw hats, see below.

So that is what market criers and traders are using, but what about the “housewife” doing her shopping. Hollar’s Theatrum Mulierum and Aula Veneris would appear to indicate that carrying a basket is widespread in Western Europe across a range of social levels, from the merchant’s wife in Holland, the woman of Antwerp, the country woman in France to the servant maid in Cologne, not to forget the English kitchen maid from his Ornatus. There are two paintings by the French artist Louise Moillon which show a range of baskets, top right you see her Scène de marché avec pickpocket dating from the 1630s, the purchaser has a lidded wicker basket over her arm, while the seller has a range of baskets containing vegetables and fruits. Have a look also at her La marchande de fruits et de légumes

British History Online, 2015. Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. [Online]
Available at:

[Accessed 19 May 2015].
Clayton, T., 2008. Overton family (per. c.1665–c.1765)’, In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford. [Online]
Available at:

[Accessed 21 May 2015].
Globe, A., 2008. Stent, Peter (b. in or before 1613, d. 1665). In: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. [Online]
Available at:

[Accessed 21 May 2015].
Shesgreen, S., 1990. The criers and hawkers of London, engravings and drawings by Marcellus Laroon. Aldershot: Scholar Press.
Shesgreen, S., 2013. Cries of London from the Renaissance to the seventeenth century. In: R. Harms, J. Raymond & J. Salman, eds. Not Dead Things: The Dissemination of Popular Print in England and Wales, Italy, and the Low Countries 1500-1820. Leiden: Brill, pp. 117-152.
Tawney, R. H., 1934. An occupational census of the seventeenth century. Economic History Review, 5(1), pp. 25-64.


Thursday 14 May 2015

Umbrellas 1600-1720

Figure 1
Items such as umbrellas and parasols to give shelter from rain or shade from the sun have a long history; they appear in bas reliefs from Assyria in 700 BC, from archaeological digs in China and in other ancient cultures. They seem to come late to Western Europe, one of the earliest depictions being in Jost Amman’s (1539-91) engraving of the Grand Procession of the Doge of Venice.
The appearance of the word in English comes at the end of the 16th century. Florio Italian English dictionary, A World of Words (1598), has the Italian word Ombrella translated as “a kind of round fan or shadowing that they use to ride with in sommer in Italy, a little shade.”  There is a watercolour of a horseman with an umbrella dated 1598 on Pinterest, it supposedly comes from the LACMAC (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) collection, but I have not been able to find it on the museum’s website. 

Coryat in his Crudities (1611)also speaks of umbrellas as being carried by Italian horsemen, and costing “ at the least a duckat.” He describes them thus; “These are made of leather, something answerable to the forme of a little cannopy, & hooped in the inside with divers little wooden hoopes that extend the umbrella in a pretty large compasse. They are used especially by horsemen, who carry them in their hands when they ride, fastening the end of the handle upon one of their thighs, and they impart so large a shadow unto them, that it keepeth the heate of the sunne from the upper parts of their bodies.”

So far the references are solely to umbrellas being used for shade, and both Randle Cotgrave's Dictionary of the French and English Tongues (1614)and Fynes Moryson's Itinerary (1617) have this meaning for the word. The term parasol seems to appear later, an early description is in 1676 when  John  Locke in his Journal of his Travels in France writes of, “Parasols, a pretty sort of cover for women riding in the sun, made of straw, something like the fashion of tin covers for dishes.”

Figure 2.
By the early 17th century portraits are beginning to appear containing umbrellas, but not in England. Two from the 1620s are Van Dyck’s 1623 painting of the Marchesa Elena Grimaldi (Figure 1), and a portrait now in Versailles of Ann of Austria, attributed to Jean de St Igny, (Figure 2)  where the umbrella behind her is shut. In 1670 Charles Le Brun painted Chancellor Séguier and his suite, a painting now in the Musée du Louvre. (Figure 3)

By the beginning of the 18th century their use for by women keeping off the rain, was established in England, so that John Kersey's Dictionary (1708) describes an umbrella as a "screen commonly used by women to keep off rain". John Gay in his Trivia, or The Art of Walking the Streets of London (1716) writes of “underneath th’ umbrella’s oily shed, Safe thro' the wet, on clinging pattens tread.”  While Dean Swift in issue 228 of The Tatler (1710) wrote that, “The tucked-up sempstress walks with hasty strides, While streams run down her oil'd umbrella's sides.” 

It seems that some in London provided umbrella’s for their clients. In Thomas Baker’s play The Fine Lady’s Airs (1709) the aptly named Mr. Nicknack declares that “Mrs. Trapes in Leadenhall Street is hawling away the Umbrellas for the walking Gentry.” While a December 1709 issue of the Female Tatler advises somewhat sarcastically that, “The young gentleman borrowing the umbrella belonging to Wills Coffee House in Cornhill, of the mistress, is hereby advertised that, to be dry from head to foot on the like occasion, he shall be welcome to the maid’s pattens.”
Figure 3

Defoe in Robinson Crusoe (1719), gets Crusoe to make himself an umbrella, writing that, “"I spent a great deal of time and pains to make an was a most useful thing to me, as well for the rains as for the heats. I took a world of pains at it, and it was a great while before I could make anything likely to hold; ... I spoiled two or three before I made one to my mind. But at last I made one that answered indifferently well; the main difficulty I found was to make it to let down. I could make it spread, but if it did not let down too, and draw in, it would not be portable for me any way but just over my head, which would not do. However, at last, as I said, I made one to answer. I covered it with skins, the hair upwards, so that it cast off the rain like a pent-house, and kept off the sun so effectually that I could walk out in the hottest of the weather with greater advantage than I could before in the coolest, and when I had no need of it, I could close it, and carry it under my arm."

All three illustrations are from wikimedia commons, and links have been made to them. 

Saturday 9 May 2015

Waterloo Study Day- 9th May 2015

I have just returned from the Waterloo Study Day organised by the Costume Society in Bath, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. As you can see from the photograph several members dressed in circa 1815 outfits for the day. The day was split with talks from Rosemary Harden, curator of the Fashion Museum Bath, and Nigel Arch, former director of Kensington Palace for the Royal Historic Palaces in the morning, and a demonstration of dressing an early 19th century lady and gentleman in the afternoon.

Rosemary Harden spoke about the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, which took place in Brussels just days before the Battle of Waterloo. She gave information on the ball itself, on the fashions in ball gowns around 1815, and finally on two ball gowns in the collection of the Fashion Museum, which were reputedly worn at the ball.  A photograph of the two dresses can be seen on the Costume Society’s page for the event. She spoke about the dresses, and the research she has done since an article on them was published in Costume. (Byrde & Saunders, 2000). The family history the donor was that the dresses were worn by the sisters of a Mr. Perceval, and there was an Hon. Mr Perceval on the invitation list for the ball, but he cannot be pinned down, and nothing can be proved, though the dresses are the right date and style.

Nigel Arch spoke about the battle itself, and the uniforms that were worn at the time, describing them as fashionable, magnificent, but not practical. He described how certain elements of central European dress ended up in western European military uniform, the shako, the sabretache, and hussar uniform. He explained how the different armies wore different coloured uniforms, and why this might have come about. Nigel has written in the past about the use of the red coat as a brand for the British army. (Arch, 2007)

In the afternoon we had the on stage dressing of two people from the shirt out in the case of the gentleman and from the shift in the case of the lady. The two can be seen fully dressed to the left. The gentleman’s outfit was based on an original in Salisbury Museum, a militia coat that had belonged to a Captain John Swayne. The lady’s outfit was based on a morning dress of c.1798-1805, also in Salisbury Museum, and re-created from the pattern taken by Janet Arnold (1977).

Arch, N., 2007. The Wearing of the Red: The Redcoat and the British Brand. Costume, Volume 41, pp. 99-104.
Arnold, J., 1977. Patterns of Fashion 1: 1660-1860. London: Macmillan.
Byrde, P. & Saunders, A., 2000. The "Waterloo Ball" dresses at the Museum of Costume, Bath. Costume, pp. 64-69.