Friday, 30 December 2011

About Period Blankets. Part One.

18th Century Wool Blankets.
White blankets were very popular in the 18th century. This white blanket coat is good cover in the snow, but not so good when there is no snow on the ground.

The wool blanket is a vital part of any 18th century travellers equipment. Wool blankets have also been used as matchcoats and for making blanket coats, leggings and moccasin liners.

“…a most terrible Storm came on…we are quite without shelter…passing our Time sitting in the Snow under an Oak with a Blanket wrapped round us.”
~ David Thompson, Northern Plains, 1798
I have been researching 18th century blankets, both trade blankets and home hand woven blankets, bed-rugs and coverlids, and the information has been very hard to find! The harder it got, the more convinced I was that this research needed doing. This research will be ongoing, as I find most of my research is, but at least I can publish what I have so far in the hope that it may help other Living Historians.

Here is my friend Mungo's blanket lean-to, which is a reasonable example of how one might construct such a shelter. More here: http://www.mungosaysbah.com/2008/10/walk-in-valley-how-to-build-simple-lean.html
An interesting historical fact is that some people in the 18th century used their blankets to make shelters rather than wrapping the blanket around them for warmth, as in this example: “…setting poles slantwise in the ground, tying others cross them, over which we spread our blanket and crept close under it…”
~ John Bartram, near Lake Ontario, 1743 (Bartram, 38 ).
But since reading similar quotes I have found the following:
in 1716 unscoured Witney cloths used for waterproof coverings or clothing were mentioned in a poem by John Gay, implying that they were widely known.

And the poem: 'True Witney Broad-Cloth with its Shag unshorn/Unpierc'd is in the lashing Tempest worn . . .': quoted in Plummer and Early, Blanket Makers, 42.
From: 'Witney borough: Economic history: economic life 1500 to 1800', A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 14: Bampton Hundred (Part Two) (2004), pp. 77-88. URL:/ www.britishhistory.ac.uk/report.aspxcompid=116956&strquery=unscouredcloth  Date accessed: 31 December 2011.
Which begs the question, were these travellers using “True Whitney Broadcloth blankets? Something to at least consider.
An old lean-to frame in Henry's Wood.

bearskin : A particular sort of thick, shaggy woollen fabric (18th century) http://belovedlinens.net/fabdico/textile-dictionary-b.html

BEARSKIN a coarse, very thick woollen finished with a shaggy nap. As well as being made in Norwich, much cloth of this kind was produced in East Norfolk. http://www.norwichtextiles.org.uk/info/research-resources/glossaries
what did we ever realize from this ample store  - why, perhaps a coat (we generally did get that) and one or two shirts, the same of shoes and stockings, and, indeed, the same may be said of every other article of clothing - a few dribbled out in a regiment, two or three times a year, never getting a whole suit at a time … all of the poorest quality, and blankets of thin baize, thin enough to have straws shot through without discommoding the threads ...

“I marched with only my military suit, and my implements of war, without any change of dress or even a blanket ..."During the post-battle American retreat from Germantown Morris was captured by British soldiers, "and marched back to Germantown under a guard." His waiter made his escape, taking with him Captain Morris’s "blanket and provisions with a canteen of whiskey ..."That night having had no refreshment and "no blanket or any covering to shield me from the cold," he asked a sympathetic British officer for assistance. After being given some food he was brought "a large and clean Rose blanket ... for my use that night, I accordingly went out into the field, and lay down among the soldiers who were prisoners, wrapped myself in the blanket, kept my hat on my head, and slept soundly through the night..." Memoirs of James Morris of Litchfield, Conn., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty - Land - Warrant Application Files, National Archives Microfilm Publication M804, S16204.
A fragment from the corner of a Rose Blanket. The Rose blanket had one of these in each of the four corners.

Wool and woollen cloth making has been an important trade and industry in the Cotswolds and West Oxfordshire for hundreds of years. This was mainly because the local landscape is made up of large areas of open limestone grasslands or hill pasture which is very good for breeding and grazing sheep. Witney itself was sited on a fast flowing river useful for powering cloth-fulling mills and it also had good road networks connecting it with important trading centres [1]. A History of the County of Oxford XIV - Witney and its Townships
Townley, Simon(editor).
My old white Whitney blanket, no nap left on it any more. Where it has become threadbare, I have sewn on some "real" bearskin.


Gorges Smythe said...

Interesting bit of history. I think we have a tendancy not to make note of those things which we suppose to be common knowledge and thus lose them in the end.

Le Loup said...

I agree Gorges. I have made a few videos on simple skills. I had not bothered initially, but then I was asked to demonstrate. Once I started, I realised that to some it was not as simple as I first thought.
There are many skills some of us take for granted. I must try not to do that. As far as knowledge goes, I am still learning as you can see by this article. Still so much more to learn and pass on.