This article came from the Chronicle published Sep 1983. Page 67-69


(part 2)

Author: T.Joan Rendell


(Continued from (May 1983) page 56 – Vol.2, No.4)

We now come to the bonnets from Devon.

The first one, No.9, is a very late sunbonnet, round about 1920 and probably not a ‘working’ garment. The Arts and Craft movement had become very widespread indeed and its influence was on nearly everything. Hand embroidery was popular, and in particular there was at this time a vogue for scalloped edges. Underclothing and children’s wear were decorated in this way. This plain, pinky-tan, linen bonnet is an example of this work. The front is turned back about an inch and a half and edged with embroidered, uncut scallops in cream silk, A small linen-covered button holds the turn-back at the centre front, and one each side secures it at the bottom. The plain loose crown is pleated into a gathered curtain of about eight inches in depth which is also embroidered with scallops all round the edge, but these have been cut on the edge. It is machine made.

Bonnet No.10, in white cotton, is not quilted but corded only in single material. The front. has a turn-back edge three inches wide, of cheap machine-made broderie-anglais. A frill stands up at the back where it joins the crown, which is trimmed with an inch and a half wide insertion at the back to match the front. A short three and a half inch curtain is pleated on to the base, and the narrow strings are trimmed at the bottom with similar embroidery. The bonnet is of poor material and is probably factory work. This could date it to the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Bonnet No.11 is made of fine white twilled cotton. The front is quilted for about four and a half inches, curving round at the bottom as in bonnets of 1845. The main part is corded and frilled in single stuff. The back is quilted with two cords down the centre. It is bound at the bottom with self-material, but there is no curtain. The strings are narrow and short, and it is made on a lock-stitch machine.

The last Devon bonnet, No.12, is the only one in this collection which is caned instead of being corded. In the East Kent collection there is a very much larger proportion of these than in the West Country. While chance cannot be ruled out, it may be due to regional or local differences. Further investigation would be needed to clarify this point. The slightly upstanding poke brim, the fine pale pink lawn of which it is made and the fact that it is hand-sewn suggest that it may be an early example, possibly dating to the 1640s. It does not appear to have been worn or washed, as the material is new and increased. The front of the bonnet is frilled followed by several quilted canes, then in single material with tucked casings, comes a group of eight canes. These are fastened close together at each side, and fan out.on the top of the head to about six or seven inches wide; towards the back there are two close canes and a frill. The back itself is loose and plain and lined with white linen. The long curtain is eight inches deep, and bonnet and curtain are joined. without fullness, except for a few small pleats back and front.

The next two bonnets are the modern replicas, Nos 13 and 14. The first is a Liberty sunbonnet as made originally at Regent Street about 1925, for smart children’s wear at the seaside or in the country. The replica was made several years ago to illustrate an article. The same material, Tana lawn, was used for it as was used in the 1920’s. This is still being manufactured by Liberty’s, using the same; as were current over fifty years ago, but in slightly different shades. An orange shade is introduced into the modern print, which would have been entirely unacceptable in 1925 when pinks, blues, soft greens, and pale yellows were the only permitted tones for children’s wear in this type of design, where orange was particularly disliked.

Bonnet No.14 was cut from a pattern found on a loose sheet torn from a French publication depicting regional costume about 1900. The artist is Victor L.Huer. It shows the pattern in centimeters and two sketches of the cap in wear, a front and a side view. The strings are shown tied beneath the chin. Under the drawings are the following instructions: ‘Coiffer des environs de Challans pour les travaux de la campagne; montage de joncs daps dix cases de 16 x 3and a half agencies daps le tissue pour obtenir de la rigidite. Generalement en percale.’ The cut is similar to the flat bonnets, Nos.4 and 5, but with a decidedly French air about it! This cap is of interest as indicating that French field workers sometimes wore sunbonnets in place of the usual head shawl generally used by Continental peasants. It may, of course, have been a purely regional style or worn by younger and smarter women.

The last bonnet, No.15, may not be a sunbonnet, although similar in style. It is made of black gros-grain. The brim is frilled at the edge and has five quilted casings at half-inch intervals. These contain wire, not cord or cane. The plain crown is pleated on to the brim and is cut on the cross. It continues down to make the short curtain and is drawn up with elastic at the neck. The strings are made of ribbon.

The museum at Taunton has recently been visited, and, by the very kind co-operation of the Costume Curator, Mrs.Val.Stevens, the most interesting sunbonnets there were examined in detail.

The Taunton collection consists of eight cotton sunbonnets and a silk bonnet. This, a widow’s bonnet, came from Charmouth in 1957. The date appears to be beteen 1840 and 1650, and it is. made in black crepe-de-Chine which, fortunately, has not discoloured. The whole thing is very elaborately made with quilting, frills, cording, and tucks, in addition to a separately made quilted and corded band over the top of the crown. The curtain is long and double, unusual in silk, and the strings are of the same material.

It is from such bonnets that the sunbonnet ultimately derived, and it is particularly interesting to have an actual specimen showing the connection between the silk headgear worn by ladies in the cities and the identically shaped cotton sunbonnets used by girls working in the fields over the next half century.

Four of the bonnets from Taunton appear to make a set, and probably belonged to a family of girls. One of them is clearly a child’s garment and the rest are rather small. They are all made in a rather cheap cotton and are in different colours. Two are pink, including the small one, one is blue, and the other is white. The making up is not identical but they are all corded and tucked in the usual way. The curtains are rather short, and all are sewn on the chain-stitch machine.

The next item is a white checked bonnet, and as the crown is short and the curtain is long, it probably dates from the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The front is very closely corded and the head tucked, corded and gathered into the back of the cap. It is hand-sewn.

The next bonnet to be considered comes from Mrs Gardener-Brown of Stoke St-Mary and is not dated. However, it has a registration mark stamped on the inside of the cap showing a small oval with the words: ‘The Cycle Sunbonnet round the edge and a registration number. ‘RD 17348’ in the centre. The Taunton Museum has checked this number, and it is known to have been in use only after 1884. It was a kind of patent and was used to protect the cut and construction, which is most unusual, from being copied. The front is corded as usual, and the crown is plain and is attached to the front part only. The rest hangs freely at the back of the head. The curtains each side arc attached to the bottom of the corded front only, and have drawstrings to tie at the centre back, which thread through two small loops underneath the loose crown. The bonnet is trimmed all round with a frill of machine-made broderie-anglais and an insertion of the same on the curtains. It is chain-stitched.

Mrs Ford, of Bishops Hull, Taunton, was the donor of the next cotton sunbonnet, and it was worn by her grandmother, who died at Bagborough in 1924, aged 84. The material is printed with pink polka dots. It is somewhat faded. It is made in the usual way, corded and tucked and gathered into the band at the back of the crown. There is no curtain, but as there are several threads on the band, it may have had one originally. It is machine-made, but the band is sewn on by hand.

The donor of the mauve sprigged print bonnet was Mrs Beeby, who gave it to the Museum in 1945. It is made in the usual method, but three different materials, all in the same colour, have been used. The main part of the bonnet is in a small print, the curtain is in a st. ped design, and the strings are in an open flowered pattern. It is a pretty effect., one which we are accustomed to today.

There are a small number of sunbonnets locally in private hands, and more widely in other museums in Somerset, Dorset and Devon (see article ‘by Avril Landsell in Strata of Society, Costume Society Conference, 1973).
It will be realised that this is not an exhaustive study, but a mere nibbling round the edges of the subject. We hope that this short investigation into the provenance of these pleasant bygones, their history and construction will prove to be of interest to readers in the Somerset area, and also to others living further afield who are interested in this subject.

Authorities consulted:

Anne Buck : Folk Life, Vol.14, 1976.
Willet Cunningham : The Perfect Lady, pp.18-19.
Joan Rendell ; Costume No.12, p.91.
Martyn Brown.: Somerset and Dorset Notes and Queries, Part 305,p.230
Avril Landsdell Strata of Society. pp.41-45 : Costume Society : 1973.

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