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Re-Fashioning the Working Class: Mechanisation and Materiality in England 1800-1856

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engels

Friedrich Engels

This post has kindly been written for us by Dr Alice Dolan, Economic History Society Anniversary Fellow.

My postdoctoral project comes directly out of my PhD thesis which was a social history of linen during the long 18th century. Linen was used by rich and poor for underwear and on beds and tables. Its ubiquity across all ranks of society makes it ideally suited to an analysis of how relationships with textiles varied over the life cycle. ‘The Fabric of Life: Linen and Life Cycle in England 1678-1810’ therefore considered experiences across the life cycle, exploring infant clothing, child labour and the temporality of domestic work within a Lancashire household. Adult daily life was uncovered through the themes of respectability, the commercial significance of linen and the relationship between bodily intimacy and the creation of emotional meaning. Finally the thesis finished by exploring burial practice with burial in wool rather than linen, which was forced by the 1678 Act for Burying in Woollen for economic reasons.

The thesis showed that linen was only dominated by cotton for plain textiles in the 19th century. Linen’s superior durability and cheaper price, alongside its essential roles in everyday life, meant that it continued to be used during the long 18th century. It took decades for cotton prices to fall far enough to change established material culture traditions. However by the 1830s, the British and Irish linen industries were in rapid decline. They were victims of low cotton prices, lengthier fibre preparation processes and a slower rate of technological innovation.

My postdoctoral project follows up where my thesis left off by investigating how mechanisation and falling cotton prices transformed working-class dress in the first half of the 19th century. Engels recorded a dramatic change in what people wore.

Wool and linen have almost vanished from the wardrobe of both sexes, and cotton has taken their place … [The working class] is scarcely ever in a condition to use a thread of woollen clothing; and the heavy cotton goods, though thicker, stiffer, and heavier than woollen clothes, afford much less protection against cold and wet, [and] remain damp much longer because of their thickness and the nature of the stuff.

Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, (1844)

This bleak summary of the clothing privations of the working class centres on material changes. Engels bemoans the disappearance of wool from labouring wardrobes, replaced by stiff, absorbent cotton, an inferior insulator. Centuries of reliance on linens and woollens were over.

I will explore these dramatic and rapid material changes over this academic year. In 1800 working-class people wore linen underwear, men wore woollen outer clothing, and women wore cotton, linen and woollen dresses. By 1850 the cotton, linen and woollen trades were fully mechanised in England. Hand-spinning had largely died out which prevented industrious families from producing their own textiles to reduce costs. By 1844, according to Engels, their choices were basically limited to one textile – cotton.

The effect of manufacturing changes on working-class clothing has been little studied, yet it is another facet of the Industrial Revolution’s effect on daily life and the global rise of cotton. This project directly traces the impact of these changes on what people wore. It focuses primarily on members of the working class able to choose their clothing, rather than the poor forced to wear uniforms by institutions.

I will complete two garment studies this year: underwear and trousers. My research into underwear asks when did the majority of working-class people begin to wear cotton not linen underwear (shirts and shifts/chemises)? Was the price of cotton fibre grown in America more important, or the full mechanisation of production in the 1830s?

I will also examine the rise of trousers. Before 1800 only sailors wore trousers, while everyone else wore breeches. In the early 19th century trousers spread across the working class and they were then adopted by the middle and upper classes. Old Bailey crime records testify to a growth in their popularity: trousers appeared in 161 cases in the 1800s and 2018 in the 1840s.[1] This case study will look at the materials used for trousers by the working class and whether they changed over the period. Was cotton exclusively used as Engels suggests? I will also examine how quickly the trouser fashion spread, whether men in some areas were more resistant than others.

My sources will include Quarter Sessions records from Yorkshire and a (still to be chosen) southern English county, surviving objects, images, autobiographies, adverts, shopkeepers’ inventories, merchants’ records and novels.

The evidence given at the Quarter Sessions provides insight into working-class clothing choices, textiles and colours as the following example from the West Riding Quarter Sessions shows. In early September 1826, Enoch Ant and John Wilson allegedly stole unfinished wool cloth from a manufacturer. Both were chimney sweeps. Wilson’s wife stated that John and Enoch made a pair of trousers out of the contentious cloth, an unusual example of domestic male production. However their endeavour was not successful, the trousers did not ‘fit him well between the Legs’ so Charlotte Wilson altered them to fit ‘better’.

The case was taken to Court because John unlike Enoch took his stolen kersey to a tailor who was suspicious because it was ‘unfinished’ or ‘raw’ and got a hawker to ask around for missing cloth. This means the final finish had not been applied to the textile. Kerseys were cheap woollen cloths. They were woven and then the surface was felted. The unfinished kersey lacked its fuzzy surface. Kersey protected its wearers against the elements and it was cheap, therefore it was popular with the lower classes. The stolen kersey was drab, meaning that it was undyed and was a grey-beige colour.

Clearly all chimney sweeps were not clad in stolen textiles. However, this case gives an example of what was considered appropriate and even desirable cloth for these two chimney sweeps. And it was even worn by one, if only for a few days before discovery. Examples like this will help to build up a picture of the clothing and colours worn by working-class people in 19th-century England. Furthermore, because a specific textile name is given, we are able to get an idea of what the outfit might have looked like, even if we don’t know the exact cut of Enoch’s trousers. The case also inspires questions – did John and Enoch have trousers because they were more practical garments for chimney sweeps? – Did certain professions adopt trousers earlier than others for practical reasons?

In summary, my postdoc examines the first half of the 19th century, a period with an unprecedented rate of change in working-class clothing. To uncover the role of mechanisation and declining fibre prices I will look at changes in fibres used for underwear. Research into trousers will also consider issues of materiality, as well as uncovering how quickly this new fashion spread amongst the working class.

 

Learn more

Florence Montgomery, Textiles in America 1650-1870 (London, 2007)

Vivian Richmond, Clothing the Poor in Nineteenth-Century England (New York, 2013)

John Styles, The Dress of the People (London, 2007)

 

[1] Advanced search ‘trowser* trouser*’ on 03/03/2015.

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New reviews: James I, French mercenaries, Welsh missionaries and Greek crises

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James_I_EnglandWe start today with Alastair Bellany and Thomas Cogswell’s The Murder of King James I. David Coast and the authors discuss a book which adds much to our understanding of early Stuart politics (no. 1963, with response here).

Next up is a review article by Helen Roche of Mussolini’s Greek Island: Fascism and the Italian Occupation of Syros in World War II by Sheila Lecoeur and History, Time, and Economic Crisis in Central Greece by Daniel M. Knight, two books which leave our understanding of current Greek attitudes to the past inestimably the richer (no. 1962).

Then we turn to Routiers et mercenaires pendant la guerre de Cent ans, edited by Guilhem Pépin, Françoise Lainé and Frédéric Boutoulle. Christopher Allmand recommends a valuable contribution to our understanding of the weaknesses of the French crown in this period (no. 1961).

Finally we have Andrew May’s Welsh Missionaries and British Imperialism: The Empire of Clouds in North-east India, and Andrew Avery believes this work deepens our understanding of British colonial experience in 19th-century northeast India (no. 1960)­.

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New reviews: women appeasers, Islamic views of the West, childhood and travel in Russia

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Nancy-Astor-001We start this week with Julie Gottlieb’s ‘Guilty Women’, Foreign Policy, and Appeasement in Inter-War Britain, as Daniel Hucker and the author broadly agree over the first gendered history of British foreign policy in the age of appeasement (no. 1959, with response here).

Next up is Arabic-Islamic Views of the Latin West: Tracing the Emergence of Medieval Europe by Daniel G. König. Harry Munt and the author debate a key resource for future scholars interested in medieval Muslims’ views of their non-Muslim neighbours (no. 1958, with response here).

Then we turn to Shirleene Robinson and Simon Sleight’s edited collection Children, Childhood and Youth in the British World. Rosie Kennedy and the editors discuss a collection which enhances our knowledge and understanding of the histories of childhood and youth (no. 1957, with response here).

Finally we have Exploring Russia in the Elizabethan commonwealth: The Muscovy Company and Giles Fletcher, the elder by Felicity Stout. Tatyana Zhukova recommends a book which will appeal to students and researchers of Elizabethan political culture (no. 1956).

 

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Man of 70 million words Philip Carter joins the IHR

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carterThis post originally appeared on the School of Advanced Study website.

Historian and digital publishing specialist Dr Philip Carter is set to join the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) as its new head of digital publications. He will take up his post at the institute, a member of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study (SAS), in mid-October.

Dr Carter, who replaces Professor Jane Winters, now the School’s chair in digital humanities, is currently senior research and publication editor at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (ODNB), and a member of the history faculty at Oxford University. At 70 million words, the ODNB is the world’s largest collaborative research project in the humanities, and records the lives of 60,000 notable figures in British history.

Since 2004 he has been responsible for the Dictionary’s pre-1800 content and for developing and extending its online edition in a changing digital environment. More recently, he has promoted the ODNB online as a resource for first-time research in the humanities, and has managed a series of digital partnerships with external academic programmes and heritage organisations. His recent publications consider the opportunities for, and future of, large-scale online reference works.

Professor Lawrence Goldman, director of the IHR, is delighted to welcome Dr Carter as a colleague at the IHR. ‘I know him to be a brilliant historian of modern and early modern Britain, with extensive experience of historical research at the highest level,’ said Professor Goldman. ‘His wide academic range and interests, the network of professional contacts he has amassed, and his long experience of both print and online publication, make him the ideal person to lead the IHR Digital Publications Department.’

Dr Carter will be responsible for the existing IHR Digital resources such as British History Online and the Bibliography of British and Irish History, both of which are used extensively by historians and members of the public. He will also develop new digital historical projects, some of them located in the Institute of Historical Research, others in collaboration with other SAS institutes, and some with external partners in the university and heritage sectors.

Educated at Magdalen College, Oxford – where he gained a first class degree in history and studied for his doctorate – Dr Carter specialises in 18th-century British social history. His book, Men and the Emergence of Polite Society, Britain 1660-1800, was an innovative study of social relations in this period, and he has since published on aspects of 18th-century Britain and historical biography. His contributions to the Oxford DNB include more than 150 biographies of people active between the 17th and 20th century. As publication editor he also has considerable experience of organising academic events, the use of scholarly information in social media, and promoting of historical content to non-specialist audiences.

‘I’m very pleased to be joining the Institute of Historical Research and the excellent team at IHR Digital. The IHR enjoys a national and international reputation for quality and innovation, and IHR Digital has been central to this for more than 20 years’, said Dr Carter.

‘I look forward to continuing to provide, and extend, the key IHR resources on which historians and students depend, and to working with staff at the Institute to develop new ways of exploring the past. I’m particularly keen to widen participation in, and discussion of, digital history as an exciting discipline. I also look forward to working with Jane Winters, who’s done so much to make IHR Digital a success, and with other researchers across the School of Advanced Study.

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New reviews: C19 refugees, Elizabeth I, Kissinger and the Ottoman Empire

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shaw2We start this week with a semi-Brexit-appropriate book, Caroline Shaw’s Britannia’s Embrace: Modern Humanitarianism and the Imperial Origins of Refugee Relief. Tehila Sasson and the author discuss a book which traces the 19th-century history of refuge in Britain (no. 1955, with response here).

Then we turn to Elizabeth I and her Circle by Susan Doran, as Valerie Schutte praises a book which is refreshing in its scope and methodology (no. 1954).

Next up is Greg Grandin’s Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman. James Cameron recommends a highly ambitious, very stimulating and extremely readable work (no. 1953).

Finally we have State, Faith and Nation in Ottoman and Post-Ottoman Lands by Fred Anscombe, and Alex Drace-Francis believes this book will be of interest to anyone researching or teaching Ottoman or comparative imperial history (no. 1952).

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Medieval Merchants and Money

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boltonLaunching later this month, the IHR is delighted to announce the publication of Medieval Merchants and Money, a volume of selected essays celebrating the contribution to scholarship of the medieval historian Professor James L. Bolton. Expanding on a 2013 conference on the same theme, these 16 essays address different questions in medieval economic and social history, focussing on merchant activity, trade and identity. What did medieval merchants read, for example? How did mercantile and military activity interact with one another? And what did it mean to identify with one mercantile company over another? Looking at both rural and urban economies, this volume offers a small cross-section into the ongoing research that connects to James L. Bolton’s pivotal and diverse work in economic history.

The book launches on 30 June, and is available for pre-order at www.store.london.ac.uk.

 

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New reviews: rational action, Russian religious toleration, royal touch and US left

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thomas_0First up this week is Rational Action: The Sciences of Policy in Britain and America, 1940–1960 by William Thomas. Tom Kelsey and the author discuss a book which deserves serious attention from historians of science (no. 1951, with response here).

Then we turn to The Crisis of Religious Toleration in Imperial Russia: Bibikov’s System for the Old Believers, 1841-1855 by Thomas Marsden. J. Eugene Clay believes this book to be a major contribution to understanding the history of Russian state policy toward religion (no. 1950).

Next up is Stephen Brogan’s The Royal Touch in Early Modern England. Benjamin Guyer praises a book which offers a compelling revision of popular religious belief and practice in early modern England (no. 1949).

Finally we have The Cultural Left and the Reagan Era: US Protest and Central American Revolution by Nick Witham. Evan McCormick reviews a deftly and concisely written book which confirms the enduring importance of US interventions in Central America (no. 1948).

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New reviews: First World War, Irish witches, British documentaries and early modern astrology

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sneddonWe begin this week with Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary, 1914-1918 by Alexander Watson. Jonathan Kwan and the author discuss an important book that reconfigures our understanding of the First World War and of European history (no. 1947, with response here).

Then we turn to Andrew Sneddon’s Witchcraft and Magic in Ireland, and Mary Ann Lyons believes this book provides an excellent, fresh insight into the nature of beliefs about these phenomena (no. 1946).

Next up is A New History of British Documentary by James Chapman. Patrick Russell recommends a book whose methodology and contents raise numerous questions (no. 1945).

Finally we have the latest in our occasional podcast series, as Jordan Landes talks to Darin Hayton about his new book The Crown and the Cosmos: Astrology and the Politics of Maximilian I (no. 1944).

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New reviews: Victorian politics, Scottish parliaments, Irish nationhood and American Baptists

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victorianWe begin this week with Victorian Political Culture: ‘Habits of Heart and Mind’ by Angus Hawkins. Simon Morgan and the author discuss a judicious and elegant synthesis of recent research which will appeal to novices and aficionados alike (no. 1943, with response here).

Next we turn to The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, and Julian Goodare gives three cheers for this latest product of the digital age, and an extra cheer for the remarkable monument of 19th-century scholarship it is based on (no. 1942).

Then we turn to And so began the Irish Nation: Nationality, Nationalism and National Consciousness in Pre-Modern Ireland. Joan Redmond believes this book shows Brendan Bradshaw’s continuing ability to provoke debate, and to pose questions regarding some of the central issues in early modern Irish history (no. 1941).

Finally we have Thomas S. Kidd and Barry Hankins’ Baptists in America: A History. Matthew Bingham recommends an ideal choice for students, the general reader, and scholars of American religion (no. 1940).

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Women entrepreneurs and Bronze Age man added to Oxford DNB

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Houghton_EC8.Ed377.Y800g_-_Mrs._Guppy's_Dialogues_for_Children,_1800_-_coverThis post has kindly been written for us by the ODNB’s Philip Carter.

The May 2016 update of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography adds biographies of nearly 100 men and women active over 4000 years of British history.

May’s update provides a special focus on eighteenth and nineteenth-century women entrepreneurs and industrialists. New additions include the Bristol inventor, Sarah Guppy (1770-1852), whose many patents include a suspension bridge crossing the River Avon—years before Telford and Brunel; the Derbyshire colliery owner Ellen Morewood (1741-1824), and the domestic servant and autobiographer, Mary Ann Ashford (1787-1870).

Early modern religious biographies include Anne Hooper (d. 1555), one of the earliest wives of a bishop in the post-Reformation period. Hooper’s letters chart a period of intense religious and personal uncertainty.

Modern salon culture is captured in the lives of Caroline Jebb (1840-1930), a leader of academic life in Cambridge, and Mary Jeune, Lady St Helier (1845-1931) whose influential political circle brought together Winston and Clementine (Churchill).

The earliest new addition is Racton Man (fl. c.2200 BP), the skeleton of a Bronze Age warrior at The Novium Museum, Chichester, whose ‘biography’—based on forensic science—can now be written. May’s update also includes two pioneers of tattooing: George Burchett (1872-1953) and Sutherland Macdonald (1860-1942). Macdonald coined the term ‘tattooist’ (‘tattoo’ + ‘artist’) to better convey the artistry of his work, and both men numbered members of the aristocracy and royalty among their clients.

The new edition also extends the ODNB’s coverage of historical groups and networks. Essays include the members, works, and legacy of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood; the Erasmus Circle of scholars who championed the great Dutch humanist from the early 1500s; and participants in the Northern Rising (1559-70). Essays on more than 320 historical groups—early medieval to late modern—are now available in the ‘Themes’ area of the Oxford DNB online.

Finally, 4000 new links have been added from ODNB entries to online resources providing alternative perspectives on an individual. These include links to 850 English Heritage Blue Plaques, 650 monuments in Westminster Abbey, 200 person records in Queen Victoria’s Journals, 200 Poetry Archive and BBC recordings, and 2500 correspondence records created by the Oxford history project, ‘Early Modern Letters Online’.

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