Bucks History Festival 2020

Very excited and honoured to be part of the upcoming Bucks History Festival, 12th-13th September 2020.  Having grown up in Buckinghamshire, I know the county well. My podcast covers some basic questions about smocks including:

  • Who wore smocks?
  • What are they made of?
  • When did people start wearing them?
  • What colours are they?

It also looks at some specific examples in the context of Buckinghamshire, including the wonderful collection of photographs of prisoners from the 1870s, some of whom also wore smocks.

https://www.buckscc.gov.uk/services/culture-and-leisure/buckinghamshire-archives/online-resources/victorian-prisoners/

Hope you enjoy!

Cottagecore and the smock

I wrote a few months ago about the popularity of smocking in current women’s fashion.  Now I have come to the conclusion that it is also re-entering male fashion, albeit in a very small way, at the moment anyway.

This has been helped by ‘cottagecore’, a subcultural online movement, which expresses a yearning for the pastoral, finding solace in nature. An aspirational nostalgia for a simple life, beyond the digital world, it has moved from outsider teen to more mainstream during the Covid-19 Pandemic and lockdown.  With anxiety about the future, including the looming global climate crisis, many people sought comfort in the newly renewed natural world, in both urban and rural areas, if only for a couple of months. The animals and birds have taken over the streets was a common news item at the beginning of lockdown. For some, the desire to live from a small piece of land and dressing in a way to express this, is the ultimate goal, even if, in the main, only vicariously lived through online portals.

The styles which have gone with this, for women, have been around for several months, the prairie dress, floral prints, flowing dresses and smocking and shirring.  As the Guardian highlighted a couple of weeks ago, cottagecore style for men has begun to go mainstream, celebrities such as Harry Styles and David Beckham, wearing cardigans and flat caps, with online searches for items such as smocks considerably up.

The smock is regarded today much as members of the aesthetic dress movement saw it: associated with rural otherness, hand crafted but practical, hardwearing but decorative – of the country ‘folk’.  However, for most of the nineteenth century, it was something else completely, but, in times of anxiety, this version of the smock periodically comes to the fore, adding comfort and representing a nostalgia for a particular manufactured vision of the rural that many yearn for, but which is probably unachievable for most and never really existed anyway.

In some ways, the silver lining of the lockdown was to give us a small slither of an idea of what things might have once been, traffic levels in the UK back to that of the 1950s, few aircraft around, blue skies and birdsong.  A brief new reality, where possible, savoured, in brief sorties outside, and now fast disappearing as we return to ‘normal’.  The yearning for nature and a simple existence is perhaps amplified, as our anxieties are still un-allayed. Wearing smocks and other cottagecore style clothing, offers a chance to visually express this yearning for change, for purity and a simple life, in a way visible to all, both online and in the street for men and women.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/apr/15/why-is-cottagecore-booming-because-being-outside-is-now-the-ultimate-taboo

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2020/jul/03/david-beckham-leads-the-way-as-men-flock-to-cottagecore-look

The smock as protective clothing against outbreaks of disease

As the Covid 19 Pandemic continues across the world, a PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) crisis has developed as frontline workers try to deal with protecting both themselves and others, and prevent further spreading the virus, by using protective clothing.  Plague masks are well-known as historical protective wear but during the nineteenth century the smock frock was also used as a protective overall against disease.

In Lincolnshire, in 1866, the smock frock was suggested as the best dress to wear when cattle plague struck.  In a meeting called to discuss the crisis, basic hygiene rules were discussed, for example, that there should be people solely to attend to the infected cattle, the smock frock suitable for protective garb as cotton would not carry the infection like wool articles would.[1]  It presumably could also be washed.   However, in Warwickshire, in 1865, Rinderpest or Cattle Plague was seen by one letter writer as being spread by smock frocks.  In cavalry regiments, he argued, when horses were ill, they were immediately isolated and the stables cleaned.  He urged ‘caution and cleanliness’, so suggested destroying smock frocks worn by those tending diseased cattle, as the ‘contagion’ would also be carried in the clothing; ‘for the smell of the smock-frock may infect the whole dairy of cows’.[2]  This was a virus, which has now been eradicated, but could be transmitted by particles in the air, so although not the smell, he was close to the way the virus was transferred.  Contemporary virulent diseases such as typhus were in fact transferred through clothing.

Likewise in 1884, there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Northumberland.  Those who came into contact with infected animals were advised to change their clothing and wear a canvas or cotton cap, smock frock, a pair of overalls and a pair of boots or shoes, so their ordinary clothing was not exposed.[3]  Here, the term overalls, seems to refer to trouser coverings, as jeans were referred to in the US, originally worn over other trousers.   Both the smock and overalls could be obtained from local inspectors for loan free of charge, in an attempt to control the disease with these regulations. 

Today, once more, the importance of protective clothing, and the need to maintain and change that clothing, is again emphasized, as we fight a new virus with many of the same techniques – isolation, washing and personal protection through clothing.  The smock was the precursor to many of these protective gowns and lab coats.  Ironically, companies such as Burberry, who initially expanded through the manufacturing of smocks, have helped realise some of the growing demand for PPE by changing their current output to again make protective clothing for the NHS.[4]   

See also: https://hyperallergic.com/557541/alison-matthews-david-fashion-victims-and-germ-warfare/


[1] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 12 January 1866.

[2] Coventry Standard, 26 August 1865.

[3] Morpeth Herald, 20 September 1884. This was also the case in Gloucestershire, where a smock frock was to be kept entirely for use of the person attending the cattle and left on the premises, see Western Gazette, 28 September 1883

[4] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/burberry-ppe-donation-yorkshire-factory-coronavirus-a4423396.html

See also previous post about Thomas Burberry, 7 November 2018.

The Rebecca Riots

During the nineteenth century, when smock frocks were commonly worn by many men, they could also be used by those engaged in ‘criminal’ activity to prevent easy identification and facilitate a disguise of sorts. The Rebecca Riots were a series of protests against tolls charged to use local roads, as well as general poverty and poor conditions, in rural west Wales.  Protesters called themselves ‘Rebecca and her daughters’ probably after a passage in the Bible where Rebecca talks of the need to ‘possess the gates of those who hate them’ (Genesis XXIV, verse 60). In 1843 the Rebecca Riots were reported in the Gloucestershire Chronicle.  A mob of around a hundred people had assembled in Nantgarredig, near Carmarthen.  They were disguised, with their faces blackened, and wearing smock frocks, carrying implements to use as weapons.[1]  The smock frock had almost become a uniform so that the members of the ‘mob’ were no longer individuals but could act as one to carry out their aims.  It was also reported that a group of twenty-four men, some ‘dressed in smock frocks’, came down the Fishguard Road to over-run and destroy the Prendergast Toll near Haverfordwest, demolishing the gateposts and signboard.[2] 

The ‘riots’ have become infamous as the men who took part were often reported to have dressed as Rebecca, that is in women’s clothing. This ‘cross-dressing’ was also commonly used to take part in popular customs, part of the carnival ‘world-turned-upside-down’ order. Popular custom and popular protest shared characteristics such as disguise, using masks or blackened faces, and the transvestitism of men dressed in women’s clothes. Politics and protest could be integrated into customary celebrations, for example, mumming plays, May Day, Plough Monday and Whit week[3], the processions and gatherings of local communities giving an opportunity to air grievances, even if underhand and not overtly displayed.  However, in reality, the white gowns that many of the Rebecca rioters were said to have been wearing were probably smock frocks, which were widely available in Wales, especially in Cardiff and in the border region.[4]  The smock was white, loose, cheap, could stand-in for female dress and was usually commonly to hand for male labourers.  It was also symbolically complex, it’s meaning dependent on who was reading it.  As a symbol of rural poverty and oppression for some wearers, it is not unsurprising that it was used for popular protest.


[1] Gloucestershire Chronicle, 15 July 1843.

[2] Worcestershire Chronicle, 26 April 1843.

[3] K. Navickas, ‘”That sash will hang you”: Political Clothing and Adornment in England, 1780-1840’, Journal of British Studies, 49, July 2010, pp. 559-64.

[4] For example a smock frock was stolen from a house at Tredegar, see Hereford Times, 3 October 1863; and another similar case  at Llanddewi Rhydderch, near Abergavenny, see Hereford Times, 12 December 1857.  Smock frocks and hats were raced for at Abergavenny when waiting for the first sod of the Newport, Abergavenny, Hereford railway to be cut, Hereford Times, 31 January 1852.  See also M. G. Rees and C. Stevens, ‘Smocks in the Welsh Folk Museum Collection’, Medel, vol. 3, Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, one in the collection from the Dolgellau region, worn by a farmer and made by his daughter, p. 35, no. 45327/1. 

A Fishy Tale…

As I have noted in my previous blog about milkmen [http://www.smockfrock.co.uk/the-white-of-the-milkman/], the white smock frock was a useful overall for those involved in food production and food selling, being washable and durable as well as suggesting cleanliness and hygiene.  It frequently turns up in sources dealing with the fish trade.  Of course, the maritime smock, worn by sailors and fishermen, which was plainer and shorter than the traditional smock frock, may have influenced this. [see illustration below, James Clarke Hook, Crabbers, 1876]  However, those involved in the fish trade seemed to favour a hybrid garment, somewhere in between the two versions.

 

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Joshua Cristall depicted the Fish Market on Hastings Beach in 1808, with long white plain smocks visible on several men at a time when smocks in general were not so embellished.  [see illustration below, V&A collection]  Indeed, when Joseph Foster died in 1909 in Hastings, it was noted that he had worn a white smock frock at his stall in the Fish Market in the Old Town,[1] so this was seemingly a tradition for some fish sellers there during the nineteenth century.

cristall

They also seem to have been worn by those in the London fish trade.  In a description of Billingsgate Fish Market in 1872, those who carried the fish from the transport to the auctioneers were described as clad in corduroy and smock frocks with sou’westers and wooden clogs, finishing off their practical outfits.[2]   A fish salesman, Edward Soloman, wore a dirty smock frock when he entered the breakfast room of the Three Tuns Hotel in Billingsgate, contrary to hotel regulations, and was turned out by the landlord.[3]  In 1881, a man put a white one on to sell fish in Billingsgate Market,[4] so white smocks seem to have been not uncommon.

Butchers too had a long association with the smock, the blue one in particular linked to the trade.  As smock manufactures diversified and specialised, particular smocks were made for the butchery trade which would have been less embellished than a traditional smock frock.  Edwin Butler sold ready-made clothes in Birmingham High Street, his stock in the mid-nineteenth century including butchers blue smocks.  In a dispute and alleged assault between a butcher and a Jewish salesman in Gloucester, the butcher was described as wearing ‘a dirty smock frock’.[5]  Even today, traditional butchers wear a white or blue and white striped coat as an overall, which seemingly has a lineage back to the smock.  Butcher’s blue has also become a particular type of colour still used for aprons and textiles associated with kitchen usage.  The smock continues to influence workwear even today.

[1] Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 16 October 1909, p. 9, where he was noted as a strong liberal and ‘ardent teetotaler’, a member of the friendly temperance society ‘Sons of the Phoenix’.

[2] Derby Mercury, 12 June 1872.

[3] Pall Mall Gazette, 8 January 1870, p. 2, London.

[4] Nottingham Evening Post, 29 October 1881.

[5] Gloucestershire Chronicle, 10 January 1846.  They were still wearing them at the end of the century, see a slander case between a butcher and a meat salesman in London, Illustrated Police News , 26 March 1898.

A smock moment!

Are smocking and smocks having a fashion moment?  Since I began working on the history of smock frocks a few years ago, smocking seems to have gradually crept into contemporary fashion.  With the move from body-con to what has been termed ‘frumpy’ or ‘dowdy’ fashion, where shape seems secondary to comfort, and perhaps chiming with politics today, both current feminist movements with women wearing what the heck they want to, ignoring conditioning to reveal flesh, and the idea of the homespun, handcrafted and nostalgic in a turbulent era, it also ties in with, increasingly importantly, what is seen as sustainable and wearable over a longer period of time. Influences for this ‘new’ fashion range from the smocks of Laura Ashley and the styles of Little House on the Prairie re-interpreted for TV in the 1970s-80s, to remembered childhood dresses and a sense of playfulness and dressing-up.

Vanguard fashion designers such as Molly Goddard, Batsheva Hay and the Vampire’s Wife have also been working with this look for several years.  As it has garnered more press, featured in Killing Eve series 1 for Molly Goddard for example, with her famous shocking pink tulle dress, and as celebrities choose such clothes for red carpet appearances, it has finally hit mass-production and the high street.  The phenomenon of the Zara polka-dot dress this summer is perhaps the result.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2019/aug/11/the-story-of-the-dress-how-a-40-zara-frock-stole-the-summer

Smocking is in fact an elementary way of shaping what otherwise could just be loose and tent-like.  Shirring, an even easier derivation from smocking, which uses elastic ‘to smock’ and negates the need for time-consuming needlework, has had a revival particularly for summer dresses. Vogue’s summer dress of 2019 was a neon green shirred sundress.

https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/ganni-neon-check-dress

Smocking, in its many forms, is an easy half-way house between the capacious tent dress and something more form-fitting.  Since it became popular for women and children in the 1880s, smocking has periodically been used in fashionable dress and is now being referenced by modern designers with a nod to historical influences.  For example, the 1890s https://www.zara.com/uk/en/sweater-with-puff-sleeves-p09874106.html?v1=20664105&v2=1281662

1910s https://www.zara.com/uk/en/shirt-dress-p01131923.html?v1=25955587&v2=1281625

1930s https://www.zara.com/uk/en/floral-print-tulle-dress-p05584458.html?v1=23414255&v2=1281625

1970s https://www.zara.com/uk/en/floral-print-blouse-p02183244.html?v1=20511696&v2=1281626

(and that is just from one brand this season!), all eras when smocking has previously been popular. The shirred ruched version can be quite form fitting, as seen recently on Lila Moss at New York Fashion Week, in a mint green outfit, far from the capacious tent dress. https://www.hellomagazine.com/fashion/hfm/2019091077496/what-happened-at-new-york-fashion-week-spring-2020/

With echoes of a traditional male smock frock, it also increasingly chimes with remembrance of the rural and nature in times of climate emergency.  It harks back to the past whilst being anchored in contemporary feminism and social issues, evoking modesty, nostalgia, comfort, practicality, ease and playfulness.

Think it is having a moment!

Highwaymen!

A sub-section of the criminal fraternity, the highwayman, found the smock frock very useful to wear.  This may have been partly as a disguse.  As it was worn by so many men the garment tended to equalise appearance and make them indistinguishable from other smock frock wearers.  As in the case of the high vis jacket today, all witnesses remembered was the smock frock, and no other details.[1]  As early as 1784, two highwaymen were at work outside Salisbury brandishing pistols to rob a horse chaise and a post chaise [a fast carriage].  One was wearing a blue round frock, the other a dirty white round frock.[2]  An attempted robbery of a gig on the road by a man disguised in a smock frock with a handkerchief over his face and large slouched hat, was fought off by the traveller in the carriage, Mr Fayerman, a surgeon from Norwich, using a whip in 1816.[3]

During the 1820s and 1830s, the smock was commonly used by many men including criminals. In 1822, George Church was robbed of a silver watch on the road near Aldbourn, by two footpads, that is robbers without horses, the men ‘dressed like farmers’ labourers, in smock frocks’.  A fifteen guinea reward was offered for information leading to arrest.[4]  Mr Johnson of Ashbourne in Derbyshire was robbed of nineteen sovereigns near Manton in Rutland in 1828, by three men looking like a ‘lower class of hawkers’, two dressed in smock frocks.[5]  In 1834, just outside Salisbury, ‘a tall athletic man, disguised in a mask and white smock frock’, stopped Mr Beckingsale, a shopman travelling on a horse, held a pistol to his head and asked for his money and his watch.  The robber escaped, although only with eighteen shillings and the watch.[6]  In 1832, David Abraham, a hawker of jewellery from Birmingham, was returning home with goods and money worth £107, when he was robbed by two men on the road, one with a pistol who was wearing a white smock frock over a blue coat.[7]   Four men dressed in white smock frocks also attacked the elderly Roderick M’Grigor and his son returning home to Iver from Uxbridge, stealing a silver watch and other silver money.[8]

In 1857, it was still being used as a disguise, a man shooting Mr Ovenden, a draper, with a pistol on the road between Nutfield and Warwicktown, Redhill, in Surrey and stealing his money. The draper had given the man, who appeared to be a labourer, a lift in his cart before he turned on him on a lonely part of the road demanding his money or his life.  The draper first thought it a joke but was then shot.  A large reward of £100-200 was promptly offered for information, the suspect carefully described by Mr Ovenden, as wearing a short navigator’s slop or smock frock, ‘very much worked about the breast and neck’.[9]  Many smocks would have been relatively plain and ready-made with little to distinguish one from another, so where there was something different to note, this was remembered.  However, it appeared to be a successful disguise with few reports of the capture of any of these ‘highwaymen’.

[1] See also the gilet jaune protests in France, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/03/who-are-the-gilets-jaunes-and-what-do-they-want.

[2] Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 19 July 1784.

[3] Norfolk Chronicle, 5 October 1816.

[4] Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette, 23 May 1822.

[5] Northampton Mercury, 20 September 1828.

[6] Sherborne Mercury, 24 February 1834.

[7] Coventry Herald, 28 September 1832.

[8] West Kent Guardian, 2 December 1837.

[9] Cheltenham Chronicle, 24 February 1857.

‘Dead Stonebreaker’

How the smock frock was depicted by artists has, to some extent, been dependent on the contemporary political situation. During the Napoleonic Wars, and especially during the blockade, at its strongest between 1807 and 1809, agriculture, and the production of food to feed the nation, were inherently patriotic with model labourers depicted in smock frocks.  During the difficult period of the 1840s, with the rise of Chartism and labour movements and the ever-present threat of rural starvation, few agricultural paintings were exhibited, seemingly out of place. Instead, genre scenes with the domestic affectations of the labourer, the myth of the virtuous peasant, contented, pious and devoted to farm life, were welcomed into middle-class homes as a balm against threats of revolution and Chartism.  From the late 1840s and 1850s, an awareness of rural poverty and distress began to permeate artists’ depictions, the Pre-Raphaelites, founded in 1848, striving for naturalism, rejecting the earlier approach of the virtuous peasant’s happiness.

In 1857, Henry Wallis, who was connected to the Pre-Raphaelites, painted ‘Dead Stonebreaker’.  For Wallis, this reflected the consequences of the unfavourable external conditions of society, contrasting with his most famous painting, the ‘Death of Chatterton’, which focussed on the personal internal struggles of one man and his supposed suicide.  The ‘Dead Stonebreaker’ depicts, as a review put it, ‘A man in a smock frock…dead upon a stone heap’.  The contemporary reviewer was sceptical about the subject, suggesting that if the painting wasn’t so titled, the viewer would just think the man asleep: ‘There are no indications of unusual poverty or disease about him, to warrant such an end; for his smockfrock is in very good condition for a stone breaker’s; and judging from his face, we should pronounce him to be both healthy and well fed.’ However, a review in the London Daily News was more compassionate: ‘Poor wretch, all his path in life has been beset with thorns! But he is at rest at last; no one waits for or will seek him; no one will miss him. His … face and low brow, tell of stolid ignorance and abject misery. He has never been a poacher or housebreaker; or come to London to be refined into a swindler and pickpocket….He is very dead.’  Although this subject struck a chord, the dark hues of the painting did not find favour with this critic.

The painting showed man’s oneness with nature, the stone breaker expiring with the day, a stoat on his foot.  The rural setting focussed the attention of the viewer on what were perceived to be rural problems:  the inhumanity of stone breaking, often work given to the able-bodied poor in a workhouse, and so the implicit criticism of rural poor relief, although also reflecting an universal concern for the poor.  The geographically remote setting provided a detached scene for universal issues to be played out with the indirect criticism of industrialisation.  His dress, including the short smock, is workwear, suggesting hard manual labour rather than a rural idyll which, despite the backdrop, it is not.

Such socially conscious art continued to develop, showing the down trodden reality of many labourers’ lives and became increasingly popular, collected by middle-class merchants, industrialists and professionals. Influenced by French artists such as Jules Breton, this movement reached its peak in the 1880s with the paintings of George Clausen, who using photography, drew labourers from life, although by this point, the smock frock was infrequently worn by them.

 

dead stonebreaker

Oscar Rejlander’s ‘The Wayfarer’

rejlander

Oscar Rejlander was a photographer who found a way to depict a version of everyday working life, without this being too vulgar and disgusting for middle-class viewers. Originally Swedish, he had settled in Wolverhampton in around 1846. Trained as an artist, he therefore constructed scenes with settings in a studio.  Cameras were not taken onto the streets but models brought into the studio where they could be controlled and characteristics toned down with suitable clothing provided if necessary, a practice also carried out by the photographer Henry Peach Robinson. The search was for the picturesque and the passive, nothing threatening the status quo but embodying timeless virtues, and this was found in natural surroundings with rural workers, particularly those wearing a smock.   ‘The Wayfarer’, seen above, was reviewed by the Athenaeum in August 1859 in terms of art:  ‘It is admirable in light and shade, in broad daylight effect, and in exquisite detail.  It is, in fact, an Italian picture perfected with Dutch truth’.  The old labourer, going ‘to claim his parish’ and stopping for ‘a humble meal’ was critiqued in detail: ‘There is exquisite finish and work, too, about the plaited breast-plate of John Anderson’s smock frock as well as about the little quilled plaits and foldings that run like armlets round the wrists.  The veined hands are beautifully given; and, indeed, the whole thing is a triumph of photographic arrangement and manipulation’.  With his method and his artistry, Rejlander bridged the gap in photography between the contrived and the authentic.

Rejlander moved to London in the 1860s becoming a more formal portrait photographer, although he also collaborated with Charles Darwin, photographing human expressions for him.  However, this ‘sterile and manufactured’ tradition in art photography was gradually replaced by the social realism of the 1880s with photographers such as P. H. Emerson who took cameras outside.[1]  With more portable equipment such as the hand camera, and the introduction of the manufactured dry plate, photography became more accessible and cheaper leading to an explosion in amateur photography.  Forming societies, and with a constructive purpose in mind, record and survey work soon became popular, particularly documenting the rapidly disappearing rural way of life.    An address to amateur photographers in 1891 on rustic life studies noted that rustic labourers ‘on account of the peculiarities and oddities of their dress, and their careless and simple habits…many of the villages are…rather uncouth.  But still they are welcoming, clean and healthy…There is, therefore, nothing objectionable in mixing with them’.[2]  Portraits of elderly men in smock frocks were soon the result.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Gustave_Rejlander

Science Museum Group. The Wayfarer. 1990-5036/11024. Science Museum Group Collection Online. Accessed May 13, 2019. https://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects/co8346013.

[1] A. E. Linkman, ‘The Workshy Camera: Photography and the Labouring Classes in the Nineteenth Century’, Costume, 25, 1. 1991, pp. 37-40.

[2] Cited Linkman, ‘The Workshy Camera’, p. 50.

 

Smocks at The Great Exhibition of 1851

Corresponding with the peak of smock making and smock wearing is an example held by Abingdon Museum in Oxfordshire (OXCMS:1980.96.266).  It was made for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and so never worn.  It is a round smock, thus reversible, and made of fine linen.  It is smocked in honeycomb stem diamond patterns with embroidery on each side of the smocked panels, with three roundels containing variously flowers, a sheaf of corn, bees, and a woman on a sofa, possibly a smock maker, being crowned by an angel, the surround covered in hearts and leaves.  The wide collar is also embroidered with roundels, containing agricultural implements including a plough, harrow, rake, fork and shovel, and the inscription ‘success to Agriculture – God Speed the Plough’.  The infill embroidery has various motifs including sheaves of corn, hearts, flowers and leaves and there are similar embroidered panels at the top of the sleeves and on the cuffs.  It is an amazing piece of embroidered embellishment.

The smock was made by the firm of Harris and Tomkins, based in Abingdon, then in Berkshire, and described as ‘Wholesale Round Frock Manufacturers’ and ‘wholesale clothes manufacturers’ in trade directories of the 1840s.[1]  Abingdon was a centre for smock manufacture, Harris and Tomkins in competition with Hyde and Sons.  They had a shop in the High Street and both John Tomkins and Henry Harris, were from respectable local elite families sewn into the fabric of the town.  Family members fulfilled roles such as magistrate and alderman, upholding the reputation of the area.

The Great Exhibition was to show the best in international manufactured products, showcasing British goods against international competition, and whilst the smock has perhaps come, over the fullness of time, to symbolise something else, the display of a garment by clothes manufacturers perhaps fitted the brief to a greater degree than now realised.  It was apparently designed by their foreman Thomas Watson and worked by Esther Stimpson of the nearby village of Radley. Her sister Hannah, worked another smock also exhibited.  This way of manufacturing smock frocks was common at the time.  Smock cutters were male and often worked from a central base, rooms in the retail shop or factory.  Smock pieces were then taken out to be worked on and made up by women, either in the streets of Abingdon or the surrounding villages. Class 20 of the Great Exhibition was ‘Articles of clothing for immediate personal or domestic use’, and no. 111, Harris and Tomkins, manufacturers, were sandwiched between a quilted coat and instrument for quilting, and a ‘life preserving elastic cork jacket’, alongside stocking and hat manufacturers.  According to Jackson’s Oxford Journal, 18 October 1851, although failing to win a prize medal, their contribution won an ‘honourable mention’ for being ‘exceedingly well made by two cottagers’.

The smock remains a magnificent example and will hopefully be on display again this year when an exhibition of smocks opens at the Oxfordshire Museum from April 20th in the Treasures Gallery, Fletcher’s House, Park Street, Woodstock, OX20 1SN.

https://apps2.oxfordshire.gov.uk/srvheritage/recordSearch?offset=1

[1] Robson’s Commercial Directory of Berkshire, 1840 and Pigot’s Directory of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, 1844.