Apparelling Orphan Heiresses

The Tasburgh Group, English schoolSay that ten times fast…

I have uploaded two more accounts:

Account Extracts for the Farmor Children

which contain clothing purchases made for Children Mary and Richard by their father’s Executor after his death; and

Clothing Extracts from the Sandwich Book of Orphans

Recording expenditures made by wardens for the orphans under their care.

The children in the Farmor account were fairly well off; they had clothing of taffeta as well as wool. Mary Farmor, for instance, received the following clothing in 1581:

a pair of shoes
a pair of knit hose
a petticoat of mockado, decorated with parchment lace, murrey sarcenet and fastened with hooks and eyes
a gown with yellow taffeta sleeves
another workaday gown of mockado
sleeves, partlets and coifs of holland
three cauls, two of silver and gilt, as well as a shadow

The other years are sparser in clothing references, but a couple of items caught my eye: Young Richard, at age 8, was given “a string to his myttens”, which immediately brought to mind images of my youth, with my mittens run on a string up one sleeve and down the other so that they wouldn’t get lost. He was also given wooden-soled pattens. I can just see an eight-year-old boy clattering down the halls of his house in them, making an unholy racket, scolded by the cook for wearing them inside.

Richard also had a doublet and venetians of popinjay green taffeta and yellow sarcenet made for him in 1586, when he was 11 years old. How adorable is that? He also received a shooting glove that year–for archery? This entry made me envision Richard’s first day at the archery butt, proudly and self-consciously wearing his new glove as he worked to pull a bow back and land an arrow in the target.

The most interesting orphan in the Sandwich Book of Orphans is Thomasine Walters, an heiress in a small way with an income of 10 £ a year in rentals. She lodged with a couple of people as well as going to a boarding school in Canterbury, and the account sheds some light on her wardrobe and other textile-related activities.

In 1591 she had a gown of 2 yards of violet broadcloth made for her, interlined and lined with 2 yards of bays and a yard of cotton, for her to wear at boarding school in Canturbury.

In 1592 she had a waistcoat made for her out of 7/8 of a yard of Devonshire Kersey, and a petticoate of one and a half yards of stamell cloth made for her as well. The next year she had another waistcoat of Devonshire Kersey made, this one of 1 1/4 yards; one can imagine she had grown quite a bit that year.

in 1593 she had another gown, more elaborate, made for her out of 10 yards of “lyle grosgrain”. The gown was stiffened with buckram and bent, lined with bays and had a pair of whalebone-stiffened sleeves. It was decorated with tawny bobbin lace. A petticoat of peach-colored broadcloth was made for her as well, bound with 3 yards of lace, decorated with 6 1/4 yards of black and red billiment lace (two rows of trim around the bottom?) and with statute fringe. Her smocks this year were, interestingly, made of buckram; a coarser cloth than one would expect with a gown and petticoat of this quality. However, in the same year that the gown was made, there’s a mention that she married a man named Harker; perhaps the gown and petticoat were for the wedding.

The account also illuminates Thomasine’s experience with needlework. Yarn is purchased for her on several occasions so that she might knit stockings. A sampler is also bought for her, as well as several purchases of “sylke”–presumably embroidery floss, given the cheap price. She is given two shillings to buy some silk to work a coif, and a “seame of French worke for a koyf” is bought at near the same time. in 1593, she also purchases “a cushen to make lace uppon” AND “36 stickes to make lace”. Possibly the ” fine Wight thrid to woork withall” that she purchased was intended for the same purpose.

There’s another tidbit of information in Thomasine’s accounts that interested me: one of her renters was a tailor of modest means, a dutchman named John Martin. The book records income for her renters, and I was able to discovered that Martin paid 20 shillings a year for rental of his house. Useful information in my ongoing quest to find out just how much an average tailor made in profit a year.

Clothing the Elizabethan Poor

A beggar woman, symbolizing poverty. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

A beggar woman, symbolizing poverty. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

There’s not much available on what the penniless wore in the 16th century. They had hardly anything of value and rarely showed up in pictures of any kind.

Fortunately, there are some sources available. I’ve just put one of them online:

Excerpts from the account books of the Tooley Foundation: Poor Relief in Ipswitch, 1580s-1590s

Ipswitch was lucky to have a generous and civic minded merchant, Henry Tooley, donate his substantial estate to helping the poor of the town when he died. The Tooley foundation maintained hospitals and poorhouses, worked to employ the poor, housed, fed and clothed those with nowhere else to go, and–most admirably of all–kept precisely detailed accounts of what they spent all of their money on.

The records date from the 1580s and 1590s. A variety of clothing items were bought and made for men, women and children at the various houses and hospitals.

Peasants harvesting grain. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

Peasants harvesting grain. Trevilian Miscellaney, 1602

Women received the following items, paid for by the Tooley foundation: petticoats, waistcoats, frocks (aka gowns), smocks, shoes, knit hose, aprons, coifs, kerchiefs,leather shoes and neckerchiefs. Men received shirts, doublets and hose, jerkins, ruff bands, knit hose, long coats and leather shoes.

A woman would receive either a “peticote and a wastcote” or “one frocke”, but not both; and for the men, they almost always received “one jerkine and i payre of bryches”, or “one cote”, with doublets mentioned only once. Which raises the interesting possibility that, in this case, a jerkin was either a) a synonym for doublet, or b) worn directly over the shirt.

The fabrics used for these items were cheap and practical. (more…)

Orme’s Tailor’s Bills

Today’s contribution to the Research Singularity:

Read Mr. Orme’s Bills from Tailors, Haberdashers and Other Merchants

I found this collection of bills at the Public Records office. They were a bunch of loose-leaved single and double sheets of paper in a porfolio. Some looked like they’d been written yesterday; others were waterstained, torn, burned on the edges, or had holes eaten into the paper. Some were written in beautiful, flowing secretary; others appeared to be written by Dr, Jekyll’s alter ego.

It got me thinking about what a miracle it is that these things survive. (more…)

A Fistful of Probates

Probate Inventories are inventories taken at the time of someone’s death, and are meant to catalog the value of everything they own in order to come up with a true value for the person’s assets–useful when calculating estate taxes, etc.

A probate inventory usually progresses methodically through the person’s house, listing the worth of their furniture, kitchen equipment, farming equipment, etc., etc. In some cases, the clothing for a person is summed up in a succinct “His Apparell: 1L”. Sometimes we’re  luckier, and the inventory contains a more detailed listing of the person’s clothing, with a value given for each item.

Even so, probate inventories are rarely an accurate glimpse into a person’s possessions or belongings. Items always disappeared between a person’s death and an inventory-taking, and clothing was a notoriously portable form of wealth.

In the book Wills and Inventories from the Registry at Durham, Probate Inventories for a number of merchants are listed–including fabric merchants. Drapers, Mercers, and Haberdashers. The contents of their shops are given in detail, with prices for all of the fabrics and small wares they contained. This is a valuable snapshot into the life of tailors and others working with cloth–what fabrics did they buy, of what colors, and how much did these fabrics cost?

I loaded a number of probate inventories into DressDB from Durham Wills and Inventories today. Some were for merchants, others for people with particularly detailed wardrobes. All are of interest and use to the textile and clothing historian.

William Wray, Haberdasher

I just finished transcribing and reading through the account book of William Wray, a farmer and haberdasher–dealer in fabrics and small wares–in the town of Ripon.

One of the questions responsible for beginning my research into tailors’ bills and accounts was a simple one: what did a tailor or cloth-seller make? To answer this, I had to find out how much his materials cost and how much they sold for. This opened up a whole nest of additional questions: what sort of profit did a tailor make? What about the people he bought things from? How often did a draper buy from his suppliers? Did a cloth merchant have the concept of wholesale vs retail rates? Did he sell things to different people for different amounts?

This account book has answers, or at least suggested possibilities, for several of these questions. It lists the purchases that Wray made from cloth suppliers–how many yards of what fabrics, for how much–and also records who he sold things to, and for how much. It covers the years 1588 to 1597, and contains several hundred entries.

A thorough investigation and data-crunching session will be needed to suck these accounts dry of all that they have to offer (yeah, I know, it’s on my list of things to do) but here are some of the interesting things I noticed during the transcription.

Wray bought things from a lot of people, but he bought  a surprisingly narrow range of goods. The fabrics he bought–buffin, sackcloth, rash, jean fustian and milan fustian, durance–were modestly priced, affordable by the merchants and well-to-do yeomen of the town. Black and purple were the fabrics he had the most of; after that it was green, orange tawny and straw-color.

He bought from each of his regular suppliers between three to six times a year, supplementing these with the occasional purchase from others. Those one-off purchases appeared, on the whole, to cost slightly more than supplies from his regulars.

He sold lots of silk embroidery floss, fringe (black, and black-and-crimson fringe), and ribbon–everything from silk satin ribbon to lowly linen inkle tape. He also had a store of soap, starch, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, sugar candy and other small whatnots. He sold cheap narrow taffata (levant taffeta), gartering, and buttons of hair, silk and thread.

He bought a lot of his stock on October 11 of every year, which puzzled me until I realized that this was Michelmas day in the Elizabethan era. There must have been a festival or fair in Rippon, where various venders of fabric and small wares gathered.

He sold goods on to petty chapmen, men who traveled the roads with their wares on their back or on a wagon. He sold to the wives and men of the community, and even to a local knight, Sir Mallory.

And he made a profit of approximately 40% on the goods he bought and sold. (The buffin fabric, at least). Interestingly, Sir Mallory, Esquire, paid a third again as much for a yard of purple buffin as did another, less exalted townsman.

There’s a lot to be discovered in these accounts yet…I’ll post more conclusions as I find them.

Read Wray’s Account Book