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.

 

George Smith the hangman

George Smith was one of the most notorious hangmen of the mid-nineteenth century, famous for executing William Palmer, also known as the Rugeley Poisoner.  A petty criminal himself, in and out of prison, Smith was a labouring man from Dudley and the Staffordshire hangman for sixteen years.

Until the last public executions in 1868, such occasions were a spectacle attracting large crowds with an expectation of a certain display.  The execution of John Tawell in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, drew crowds from London forty-five miles away, taken there by train, as well as people from the local area.  By the evening, farm labourers in their smock frocks and Jim Crow hats were described as streaming in to get a full view of the culprit.[1] In 1818 in Godalming, Surrey, farm labourers swelled the crowd who came to see the procession and execution of Chennell and Chalcraft, convicted of the ‘atrocious’ crime of patricide and murder of George Chennell, the correspondent commenting ‘we never observed so many smock-frocks and white hats in our life time’.  Chalcraft, who was convicted of murdering his master and a fellow servant, also wore a ‘new smock-frock’ for his execution, whereas Chennell, guilty of patricide, wore a black jockey coat, striped waistcoat and grey cotton pantaloons.[2]

At the time of William Palmer’s execution in 1856, as hangman Smith was described as a ‘respectable-looking countryman, about fifty years of age, dressed in a clean smock frock, such as drovers or farm labourers wear’.[3]  The fame that this execution brought him allowed Smith to trade on his reputation, acting as a ‘higgler’ or informal trader to sell himself essentially. [4]   However, he became insolvent, appearing in court in Stafford in the same smock frock he wore when acting as executioner, for which he had been reimbursed one pound.[5]  He was liable for the debts of a public house near Dudley where he had allowed his name to be used over the door, perhaps to attract custom as he had become something of a local celebrity.  The landlord absconded though, leaving him liable for debts he knew nothing about.[6]

Palmer’s execution was also re-enacted for travelling exhibitions using a tailor’s dummy, the proprietor boasting he had secured the services of the ‘real hangman’ although as Smith was at the time in prison for insolvency, this was carried out by an imposter much to the indignation of Smith.[7]  It seems that after the execution and bankruptcy, he traded on his notoriety, attracting customers to the Griffin Inn, Halifax, where he was a waiter. People came from Rochdale on special trains to see him in his white smock frock, and ‘receive their beer at his hands’.  He then went onto another pub in Bradford with other engagements afterwards.  In a court case at the York Assizes about the profits of the inn, one witness stated that he would not dine with the hangman, ‘as he did not like sitting down with a man who wore a smock frock’, whereas he wouldn’t have minded if he had been dressed as a gentleman, even if he was an executioner. The smock was here denoting a dubious character, partaking in blatant profiteering.  Smith was also described as a ‘chawbacon’, that is a yokel or bumpkin, so after the initial novelty, regular customers were driven away apparently disgusted, leaving the inn with further financial problems.[8]

Smith appears to have continued to act as executioner, carrying out the hanging of George Gardner for murder in 1862 in Warwick, the so-called Studley Murderer.  He again wore a long white smock, Gardner in a ‘short white slop’, though forgetting at first to put a cap over Gardner’s face, so he had to wait and face the crowd.[9] He also wore his white smock frock to carry out the execution of Samuel Griffiths in front of Chester Gaol in 1866,[10] and Hale and Brough outside Stafford Gaol, where he was described as looking ‘like one accustomed to the pursuit of farming’.[11]  Perhaps it gave Smith the air of a clergyman in a surplice.[12]  Perhaps it was just a cheap overall which he otherwise would have worn anyway but although common wear for many men during this period, the smock became associated with him as his particular dress.  One photograph of him in his smock survives in the Staffordshire Collections.

https://www.search.staffspasttrack.org.uk/Details.aspx?&ResourceID=615&PageIndex=1&KeyWord=william%20palmer&SortOrder=2

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Smith_(executioner)

 

[1] Cambridge Independent Press, 29 March 1845.

[2] Westmorland Gazette, 22 August 1818.

[3] Norfolk Chronicle, 21 June 1856.

[4] Western Mail, 5 January 1883.  Charles Moore was executed for murder at Stafford in 1853, the executioner described as a big man ‘rather conspicuously attired’ in a white smock frock, so likely to have been Smith, see Staffordshire Advertiser, 9 April 1853 and The Era, 17 April 1853.

[5] Lincolnshire Chronicle, 23 January 1857; Cumberland and Westmorland Advertiser, and Penrith Literary Chronicle, 24 June 1856; Worcester Journal, 17 January 1857, the pound later appearing on his bankruptcy schedule.

[6] Worcester Journal, 17 January 1857.

[7] Worcester Journal, 17 January 1857 and Birmingham Journal, 3 January 1857.

[8] Westmorland Gazette, 25 July 1857, and Exeter Flying Post, 30 July 1857.

[9] Worcester Journal, 30 August 1862; see also Coventry Standard, 29 August 1862, where the prisoners dress is described as a white smock frock rather than a slop, showing the closeness of the definitions.

[10] Staffordshire Advertiser, 28 April 1866.

[11] Wellington Journal, 31 December 1864; the executioner of John Holden in Omagh was also an elderly man wearing a smock frock, see Morning Chronicle, 30 August 1860.

[12] Indeed, the surplice was compared to the smock frock, particularly the workmanship that went into both garments, see Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 24 September 1943, p. 8.

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.

 

An object of dissent?

The current exhibition at the British Museum, ‘I object, Ian Hislop’s search for dissent’, displays around a hundred objects that challenge orthodox views or subvert the norm to question authority and I thought I would add the smock frock to this list.

There is a section in the exhibition about dress, ‘Wearing dissent’, which is an obvious way to stand out from the crowd and convey a message. Exhibited are items such as pin badges, garters and hats, all made and worn to express a particular view.  However, what I find more interesting, is when a common garment or everyday item is used to do this.  Sometimes the meaning is only known by those in the know and wearing or using that object is a way of showing solidarity with the cause.  As displayed in the exhibition, yellow umbrellas were adopted by demonstrators in Hong Kong in 2014 to protest against Chinese government reforms.  The ‘gilet jaune’ is another in France at the moment and the smock was one too in the mid-nineteenth century.  Common items that were worn anyway might not necessarily be recognised by authority as subversive and therefore defied detection but were known ciphers to those who shared similar beliefs.

The ‘smock frock’ and the ‘fustian jacket’ became two metaphors used by leaders of working-class movements challenging authority in the 1830s and 1840s, the ‘smock frock’ representing the aggrieved rural workers, whose conditions had arguable got worse than those working in manufacturing, the more famous ‘fustian jackets’.   With the political upheaval of the period, when working-class rebellion was seen as a very real threat by the authorities, political tracts were published for a penny each, appealing to the ‘Fustian Jackets & Smock Frocks’ – urban and rural workers, to take up the cause.  These covered subjects such as ‘Goody Goody, or State Education a National Insult’, or ‘Radicalism an Essential Doctrine of Christianity’.[1]  This radicalised and highly politicised interest is somewhat at odds with the image of a ‘smock frock’ wearing country yokel, boorish, illiterate and uneducated.

At a meeting of the Birmingham Political Union in 1836, ‘smock-frocks … and fustian jackets, were the prevailing costume of this enlightened auditory’.[2]   During a Chartist meeting in Wiltshire in 1841, before the crisis of the mid-1840s when starvation was a real problem for many rural labourers, the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor was called upon not to forget the ‘Jim Crow hats and smock frock labourers of Wilts, as well as the fustian jackets of the north’.[3]  Much of the labouring class already had many joint grievances.  O’Connor seems to have realised this as in a letter from him published the following year in the Northern Star newspaper he describes passing through Bilston, near Wolverhampton, where 500 Chartist members lived on one street, finishing his letter with the flourish, ‘Long life to the dear, good, and brave fellows, I call these smock-frock fellows, O’Connor’s own’.[4]

The smock frock was a symbol of the rural working labourer, but also one that was willing to challenge authority as part of a working-class movement to fight for a better life.

 

 

[1] Gloucester Journal, 6 May 1848.

[2] Royal Cornwall Gazette, 29 January 1836.

[3] Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, 8 May 1841.

[4] Northern Star and Leeds General Advertiser, 19 March 1842.

Thomas Burberry

In 1856, Thomas Burberry (1835-1926) set up a draper’s shop in Winchester Street, Basingstoke, Hampshire, which aimed to cater for the local population.  He seems to have started manufacturing his own clothing relatively quickly as by time that the 1861 census was taken, he was stated as employing seven men, three boys and seven ‘females’.  The women were likely to be employed making up shirts and smocks.  Burberry would have sold ready-made smocks to local men as a draper and four were left in his remaindered shop stock in 1909.  By 1871, he called himself a clothes manufacturer, employing eighty people, probably mainly women who would make up clothing in their own homes, as ‘out-door’ workers.  He patented his famous gabardine in 1879.  This was a breathable fabric that repelled water due to its twill weave and proofing of the yarn before and after manufacture, an alternative to the rubber of Mackintoshes.  As durable and practical work wear, the smock seems to have influenced Burberry’s development of their branded outerwear, a patent gained in 1896 for a coat put on over the head for farmers and sportsmen, much like the round frock.

Although Burberry moved away from working clothing to garments for country pursuits, such as shooting and fishing, their experience with smocks still influenced their products.  In 1903, they advertised ‘Burberrys Weather-all’, illustrated for fishing but described as for ‘Professional, Town, Sport and Country Wear’, a fly fisherman endorsing it for keeping him ‘dry as a bone’.  It came in the colours of black, grey, fawn, drab, brown and olive, thus very similar to smock colours and played on the term ‘overall’.[1]  By 1935, another fishing coat was advertised, the ‘Lancaster Smock’, popular since earlier in the century the advertisment claimed.  This you stepped into, the smock forming a tent-like covering to protect the lower limbs, so very similar to a traditional smock frock.

burberry

Now the Burberry name is synonymous with luxury and British heritage, the company’s latest campaign shot against iconic London landmarks. The origin of the firm, as a high street drapers selling workwear such as smocks, is often forgotten. However, the smock was mentioned in a recent Guardian interview with Christopher Bailey, formerly Burberry Chief Creative Officer, as waterproofing inspiration for Thomas Burberry.  As the new TB [Thomas Burberry] logo is promoted by Burberry, the firm seems to be looking back to the era of its foundation although I have yet to spot any smocks on the Burberry catwalks.

[1] See John Johnson Collection: Men’s Clothes 1m(20b), Bodleian Library,

http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?url_ver=Z39.88-2004&res_dat=xri:jjohnson:&rft_dat=xri:jjohnson:image:20070813153203dt:1

https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2018/mar/24/burberry-christopher-bailey-designer-not-snobby

The Art of Kate Greenaway

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901) is famed for her illustrations of children in ‘old fashioned’ clothing, the girls often in neo-classical dress styles.  A talented artist, she was also on the fringes of the dress reform movement, which was influential for the upper and middle-classes as the aesthetic dress movement during the 1870s and 1880s.  The looseness of the smock frock’s form and the elasticity of the smocking allowed freedom of movement. Its simplicity and the Arts and Crafts feel of the embroidery, traditional and hand-crafted with care, was more appealing than over-elaboration and machine-made embellishment, fitting well with the movement’s ideals.

Greenaway’s drawings from the 1870s and 1880s adapted a style of dress that she had seen as a child growing up in Rolleston, Nottinghamshire, close to Newark, a centre for readymade smock frock manufacture.  Greenaway is often credited with introducing this style of clothing for children.  Her first book, Under the Window, published in 1879, featured boys in various coloured smock frocks.  A newspaper commented in 1880 that dozens of elaborately stitched and gathered smocks could be seen hanging in ready-made clothes shops if women wanted to study the newest fashion for children. The rusticating of children’s fashion was also noted in 1881, said to have been influenced by the illustrations of Kate Greenaway. Little smock-frocks were ‘all the rage’ with bright stitchery on the ‘old milkman’s elaborate yoke’.  For Greenaway, as in rural areas, boys wore smocks and she was criticised by Lady Harberton of the Rational Dress Society for children’s clothes that were ‘unsuited to the practical needs and comforts of boys’ and girls’.

IMG_20180728_104326

Greenaway may have popularised the style initially for boys, the smock fitting well into the trend for elements of play and fantasy in boys’ clothing of the period, for example sailor suits and kilts. However, unisex smocks followed the aesthetic for children’s clothing during the 1880s, influenced by the dress reform movements.  The style spread into everyday children’s wear, with variants of different qualities for different occasions, for example silk for best or occasional wear, becoming a ‘common’ fashion item, a situation that remains today.  Widely adopted and mass-manufactured, a constant demand kept prices low for consumers of all classes.  This adoption of a working garment, as with also the sailor suit although this had more militaristic connotations, became associated with middle-class dressing practices, although it was widely adopted across all classes.  By the late 1880s, ‘Liberty’ smock frocks for children were being sold throughout the country, for instance at Corder and Sons, high-class dressmakers in Sunderland, presumably made-up with Liberty fabric.

The Liberty Mab Smock, a revival of the traditional garment, supposedly based on Greenaway’s designs, remained popular and a stock garment for children of both sexes into the twentieth century. Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the future Queen Mother, was photographed wearing one in 1907 and Clara Frances Lloyd, who worked for Liberty, recalled making them into the 1920s. Lloyd, who worked in the embroidery rooms at Liberty, recalled that they ‘did more smocking than embroidery…[it] was a speciality of the house’, the popularity of the style aided by Princess Mary, who dressed her boys in smocks, thus giving them royal kudos.  Prince George and Princess Charlotte continue to wear clothing based on this smock today, now seen as classic garment.

princess charlotte

 

Carters and smocks

Carters were essential to nineteenth century life, being the people who helped transport goods and produce around the country.  This could be on a fairly local scale, acting as local carriers, but they were also employed to move goods around by horse-drawn carts at dock yards and similar working environments, as well as transport quantities of produce around farms, a role the tractor would eventually take over.

IMG_20170215_082526620

Carters at Liverpool Docks

They likewise could fulfil long-distance movement of goods, as haulage companies would today.  They were one of the occupations that became associated with wearing the smock frock in both rural and urban settings, carters and waggoners seen at hiring fairs, according to Thomas Hardy, in their smocks with a piece of whipcord twisted around their hats looking for work.  In the 1880s, looking back at earlier in the century, a gentleman remembered a driver in a smock frock waiting with his horses and waggons in Piccadilly, otherwise known as the start of ‘the road to Reading’, or the A4 today.  As the report remarked in 1884, ‘Few people nowadays ever think of that biscuit-making town as they saunter idly along Piccadilly’.

So strongly did the smock and the carter become connected that in processions and more formal occasions it was the dress that they chose to wear.  In 1846, for the Milborne Port Friendly Society procession, carters wore their smock frocks and straw hats decorated with red and green ribbons as they were in charge of a waggon parading the new church bells through the local streets.  Indeed, ‘Waggoner’s Frocks’ or ‘Carter’s Smock’ was a generalised name given to the garment in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for example, the Workwoman’s Guide of 1838, which included instructions about how to make one.  These jobs and the people who did them, were probably one of the most visible wearers of smocks to observers in urban areas. A waggoner’s smock survives in Lincolnshire, owned by G. Codling, a waggoner of Nettleham, Lincolnshire.  On each button is a picture of a wagon and the name ‘G. Codling’, so this may have been a way of promoting the business as much as any practical dress by the mid nineteenth century.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the role of the carter diminished as horse power became mechanised and like the smock frock itself, was superseded by new jobs.  Along with shepherds, it, however, remained one of the occupations most associated with wearing the smock frock.

Smock Racing

From the medieval period until the eighteenth century, the smock was a female under-garment, worn next to the skin to help preserve expensive outer garments.    The smock could be elaborately embellished with embroidery, a practice still carried out in the Elizabethan period.  The lady of the house usually worked the embroidery on the collar, hem and neckline, and round the bottom of the long sleeves, Queen Elizabeth having hers embroidered with caterpillars and birds. The term smock was superseded by the shift and then the chemise, all essentially the same garment.

IMG_20171121_120440_928

This is a rare example, dated 1580-1600, displayed recently in the ‘Lace in Fashion’ exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Bath, embellished with embroidery and Flemish bobbin lace.

 

A letter from a lady, May Kensington, in 1888, noted the smock races held in Mayfair during the reign of Queen Anne, when young girls would race for an elaborate smock or chemise.  This tradition seems to have continued throughout the eighteenth century.  In an account of ‘rural sports’ in Margate in 1808, the whole event was slightly ridiculed by the reporter.  The prizes were paraded through the town on a triangular pole before the sports started at noon, a typical showing of the prizes. Over a thousand people of ‘all ranks and descriptions’ attended. The ladies race, ‘under 60’ for a new Holland chemise, only had one entrant, a fisherman’s daughter, despite the fact that the prize was advertised as being equivalent to a fashionable gown and petticoat.  The amusements were directed by those of ‘a superior class’, the day passing generally with ‘fun and good humour’.  Parson Woodeforde’s diaries describe watching  a smock race in 1784 in Norfolk for Whitsun festivities, and rural sports such as races in a variety of ways, three-legged or wheelbarrow for instance, remained important events in the annual calendar.  During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it seems to have been not uncommon for girls and women to run and race, with even specialist female runners developing.  Locally, the names of those who were good at running were well-known for the annual and occasional events where races were held.  However, women were increasingly sidelined from participation from the early nineteenth century onwards.

Female races were increasingly seen as risqué, the women running in just their shift or other garments which allowed freedom of movement, so that they were showing off their bodies.  Decency and respectability were more important than winning a prize and it was therefore difficult to get participants.  However, men continued to run and, during this period, the smock also became associated with masculine attire, developing into a garment with a different usage.

Rowlandson’s 1811 print, shows such female racing:

rowlandson

A country seller?

By the 1870s, the smock frock was seen as old-fashioned and associated with the countryside.  In the increasing urban sprawl of the late nineteenth century, the unspoilt countryside was looked upon with both nostalgia and as a source of purity.  To many town dwellers, those who lived there had better lives with fresh air and wholesome food, although the realities could be very different.  The smock became linked with the nostalgia that many urban dwellers had for their rural childhoods and the naturalness of the countryside.  It was a garment that could thus also be used to good effect by conmen.  In newly appearing suburbs, ‘the countryman’ often appeared dressed in a ‘snowy’ white smock frock to sell his home grown produce to unsuspecting housewives. In 1879, one purported to sell cheese and butter homemade by his wife.  Tasting the cheese, so as not to be duped, the housewife found that she had a bargain, the ignorant countryman selling his cheese for nine pence a pound instead of a shilling charged in the shops.  The deal was struck, the countryman disappeared and the buyer was left with a cheese that when unwrapped for supper was ‘hot and dry and rank flavoured’ and not at all what she had tasted on the doorstep.  The plug used to take the sample was tampered with, the good cheese placed at the end, so it appeared that the ‘rank’ cheese was being honestly tasted.  The butter too, was likely to have been tampered with, genuine butter cased over the filling of something else altogether.

Despite the Food Adulteration Acts of 1872 and 1875, food tampering continued, then as now, playing on consumer anxieties both about retailers and food producers and the sense of vulnerability and lack of control when not in charge over your own food production.  ‘Bad’ food became a preoccupation of Victorian reformers during much of the nineteenth century, spearheaded by the medical journal, The Lancet, and given publicity by magazines such as Household Words, run by Charles Dickens.  The desire for a bargain and to eat good food cheaply, was a preoccupation then as today, and without enforced regulations, the question of honesty and trustworthiness were paramount.  Some frauds were relatively benign but others were outright dangerous, such as sulphate of lime and alum in flour and sulphuric acid and lead in vinegar.  Meat too, could come from indistinguishable sources and indeterminate animals.  The appearance and manner of a seller was all there was to enable a judgement of somebody’s trustworthiness.  The smock frock was a useful tool to suggest honesty with its rural associations, even if in reality, the countryman’s ‘dairy farm [was]…situated in a back street in the rural regions of Whitechapel’.

 

 

Easter Smocks

Easter was traditionally the time to wear new clothes, with its associations with rebirth and renewal.  It was also the end of Lent and thus cause for a celebration, the lean months of the year over.  By the fifteenth century, it was seen as bad luck if you didn’t wear new clothes at Easter.  If you managed to do this, with the economic outlay that this implied, good luck would follow for the rest of the year.  In a newspaper report in the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald in April 1862, it was described as ‘a positive dereliction of duty if Hodge does not appear in a new velveteen coat or smock frock covered with fancy stitching’, for the Easter holiday.  It was an important celebration, the working men having ‘few “red letter” days compared with those on the Continent’.  The ‘red letter’ came from the idea of marking important holy festivals in red on the church calendar, a practice carried out since at least the fifteenth century.  Public holidays such as Easter and Christmas were a rare guaranteed break for workers, Bank Holidays not introduced until 1871.  The lack of religious festivals in England compared to other countries on the continent, also meant less time off, with the UK still today having the lowest number of public holidays in Europe, resulting in a Labour pledge in the upcoming general election for four more.

As always, the newspaper report, describing the new smock frocks and gowns with ‘very lively coloured’ ribbons, also focused on that Easter perennial, the weather.  Hoping for better weather than last year and for ‘skyey influences’ not to disrupt the gathering, a successful Easter celebration and enjoyment by all was hoped for.

Easter Bunny!

easter bunny