Tuesday 3 November 2015

A 1623 tailor and seven other Marlborough tailors 1592-1691

Quirijn van Brekelenkam - Tailor's workshop c.1661
This post looks particularly at the 1623 probate inventory of the tailor Ambrose Pontin of  Marlborough, in the county of Wiltshire, and at the seven other Marlborough tailors with probate inventories made between 1592 and 1691.(1) Pontin’s inventory is perhaps unusual in that it gives an idea of his equipment, and also shows the wares of an early craftsman retailer. There hasn’t been a vast amount of research done on how ordinary people purchased clothing at this time, but he may well be typical as a supplier. In market towns such as Marlborough the population, of about a thousand people, would be swollen on weekly market days, and it has been suggested that by 1660 the market places were surrounded by retail and craft shops. (2)

Relative values

Looking at the other, non farming, men of Marlborough who had inventories taken in the period 1620-1642, Pontin, with a total worth given as £90-18s-2d is near, but by no means at the top, of the range. John Cole, a 1626 tanner, was worth considerably more, £143-10s-4d, and two men worth a lot more were William Brewtie, a 1640 innholder, £279-8s-0d and Walter Jeffrys, a 1641 baker, £225-13s-0d. Pontin’s worth is similar to that of Anthony Gunther, a 1624 glover, £89-2s-6d, and John Heath, a 1637 innholder, £95-0s-7d. Below these with values of more than £50 are a barber, shoemaker, haberdasher and baker. With values between £30 and £50 are a dyer, a parchment maker, a glover and a barber. Those with values between £10 and £30 are two weavers, a cooper, a tanner, a heelmaker, mercer, butcher, carpenter, glazier, and shoemaker. Right at the bottom end,with values under £10, are a buttonmaker, baker, tailor and carpenter. This shows that tailors could run from the poorest to the richest of tradesmen. 

In the century from 1591 to 1691 there are eight Marlborough tailors listed in the inventories. Thomas Cockye 1592, Ambrose Pontin 1623, William Dawnce 1632, Robert Millington 1678, William Cornish 1685, Thomas Have 1689, John Mundy 1691 and Francis Smith 1691. Their values range from the £4-2s of Dawnce to £94-14s-6d for Millington. The total worth given is not necessarily an indication of how rich or otherwise they were, or how successful as tailors. 

Robert Millington 1678 for example, is the richest at £94-14s-6d, however £80 of this is in “debts due to the deceased.” William Cornish 1685, is another high value tailor worth £87-7s-0d, however although described as a tailor he is obviously functioning as a farmer, as he has harrows and ploughs and £31 of his worth is “corne upon the ground,” that is a crop in the fields. Francis Smith in 1691 appears to be doubling as brewer, he has his own brewhouse and cellar and owns eleven keevors (mash tubs), a furnace, boiler, 9 vessels and 3 horses for beer (in this sense it is a  horse as a frame, as in a saw-horse or a clothes horse).


Pontin is the only one who lists any cloth in stock, and he kept a considerable amount having, 104 yards of ordinary woollen cloth (£13), 357 yards of coarse woollen cloth (£26- 5s), 13 yards of fustian (13s), 40 yards of broad list (in this sense list is a strip of fabric, or a edge of cloth, or an edging fabric (OED)) (2s), and 5 yards of linen cloth (6s). The amount of coarse cloth he had would seem to indicate that he is making for the ordinary working man. He purchases his cloth in the city of Salisbury, just over 25 miles away, as he owes £6 4s for cloth bought there.

Tools of the trade and point of sale

Most tailors use chests for storage. Pontin appears to store his cloth in chests as he had “nine coffers 10s” Thomas Cockye 1592, also has, “In the shoppe 2 great chests £1 13s 4d”, even Dawnce the poorest tailor had “one chest, three coffers, one box.” Thomas Have, another poor tailor has “1 chest, 1 truncke, cofer and 4 boxes.”  From Cockye’s inventory we gather he has a shop, Francis Smith also has a shop, but we do not know what was in it, as the appraisers value only what is in the “chamber over the shop.”

From the Nuremberg House Books (4)
Pontin, in another part of his building, and unfortunately with this inventory the appraisers do not specify rooms, has a chest, a shopboard, 2 irons and 3 pairs of shears, together worth 7s. The OED has two definitions for shopboard, either or both of which might be applicable here. Firstly “A counter or table upon which a tradesman's business is transacted or upon which his goods are exposed for sale,” and secondly “A table or raised platform upon which tailors sit when sewing.” Three other tailors, Cockye, Dawne and Have, also own shopboards, while irons and shears appear in the inventories of both Cockye and Dawnce, Dawnce’s being specified as a pressing iron. 

Then Pontin has the odds and ends, not worth enough for a full listing; “girdles, laces, gartering and pinnes” worth 5s-8d. There are “silke lase and remnants of taffety” worth another 5s, another “little box, a remnant of cotton, 1 paire of stokins (stockings) and 4 yards to measure cloth” totalling 1s.  He has 11 yards of loom work, which may well be what we would call braid, and “more in little remnants of woollen cloth, 4s.” 

To get around Pontin has a horse, and with it two pack saddles and one riding saddle. The only other tailor to own as horse is William Cornish, but I think his horses, he has five, are for his farming, not his tailoring.

Ready to wear

Pontin is the only one who has sale items of clothing in stock, “20 sale dubletts, £5,” “12 pair sale breeches £3” and “6 sale jerkins 17s,” but it was not just woollen items, which these would have been. He also had “10 dozen and 10 falling sale bands” worth £3 5s., that is 130 falling bands at 6d per band. These prices are very similar to those in the 1628 inventory of the chapman John Uttinge of Great Yarmouth.(3) Uttinge had laced falling bands at 8d each, plain bands at 7d each and 27 bands for men at 3d each.  Pontin also has “2 dozen and a half of small made wear, 8s,” we don’t know what these are.

The tailors’ own clothes

For most of the tailors a simple figure is given for their wearing apparel, and often this includes other items. Millington, the richest has wearing apparel worth £2 as does Cornish, Pontin’s clothes are worth £1, while poor Dawnce has clothes worth only 1s. Have’s wearing clothes are lumped in with the money in his pocket at £2 10s. Smith’s wearing apparel is lumped together with his books and is worth £5. Mundy has wearing apparel and linen listed as worth £7, often wearing apparel relates only to the woollen clothing, and wearing linens are either not listed or are listed separately. The earliest tailor,Thomas Cockye 1592, is the only one whose apparel is listed, he has; “2 dubletes, 2 pare of hose, a cloke, a felt hatt, a pare of shooes and a jirkin £1”


1. Williams, Lorelei and Thomson, Sally. Marlborough probate inventories 1591-1775. Chippenham : Wiltshire Record Society, 2007.
2. Cox, N. and Dannehl, K. Perceptions of retailing in early modern England. Farnham : Ashgate, 2007.
3. Spufford, M. The great reclothing of rural England: petty chapmen and their wares in the seventeenth century. London : Hambledon Press, 1984.
4.  Die Hausbücher der Nürnberger Zwölfbrüderstiftungen. The illustration of a tailor in his workshop is taken from the House books of the "Twelve Brothers" an almshouse in Nuremberg, each man entering the almshouse was painted starting with its foundation in the middle ages and ending in 1806. The complete set has been digitised and is available at http://www.nuernberger-hausbuecher.de/

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