November 15, 2019

Alcester Benefaction Board part 2

The second panel from the benefaction board from Alcester Church that has been sent for conservation, and tweeted by @DrClaringtons. Thanks again to Claire for permission to use her photos. The board has been dated to 1632.


This board represents a verse from Proverbs:19:17 ‘He that hath pittie upon the poore lendeth unto the Lord’ and shows a blind man and a cripple receiving food, drink and clothing. The poor cripple doesn’t even have a shirt on his back and has covered himself partially with some sort of tatty cloak. On his one good leg he’s wearing one of those heel-less boots that shepherds and other agricultural chaps seem to favour. The advantage in the 17th century would be that he could buy a pair of boots and get twice the wear as left and right sided footwear was a thing of the future!  The blind man however seems a lot more well to do with a decent doublet and falling band, over the top of which he wears a gown with hanging sleeves. Maybe he’s a lawyer who can’t practice now he’s lost his sight?

The benefactors look a rather smug lot, and they seem to be offering drinks rather than clothes. Our poor cripple doesn’t look like a shirt will be forthcoming  for a while yet!

November 13, 2019

Alcester Church Benefaction Board


The benefaction board from Alcester Church has been sent for conservation and Dr Clare Strachan has tweeted about it. Go to @DrClaringtons to see more details about the piece and its origins. Here I will look at the four paintings which caught my eye. There aren’t many primitive portraits from the period with nice clothing details so I wanted to put them up and add my thoughts. It’s dated to 1632 and looking at the clothes I think it’s about right, though its quite likely to be slightly earlier. Definitely no later.


The first panel is based on Psalm 41: ‘Blessed is he that considereth the poore and needy’ Here we have donors handing out aid to a barber, a carpenter & a butcher.

The workmen are holding the tools of their trade and wearing doublets and generously cut breeches, hose and latchet shoes. They both have linen aprons to keep their clothes clean. Notice the apron overlaps the tabs of the doublet. The butcher has a wide stiff collar and the carpenter a ruff at the neck. The barber is wearing a long buttoned coat (or maybe cloak) over his doublet, holding scissors and a comb and sporting what looks like a longish, rather ‘blinged up’ apron.

The benefactors are dressed similarly The guy with the money bags on the left is the only person that isn’t bareheaded, not sure why but he’s wearing a felt brimmed hat and a ruff collar.

Thanks to Dr Clare for permission to use the photos. There’s more stuff on her excellent twitter feed. Here’s a picture of the whole thing. More to follow.


August 15, 2019


IMG_9806Yet another of the figures carved by an unknown craftsman in (we think) 1636 or 37 and preserved in plaster in the Royal Armouries museum. This appears to be a young lad playing the fife, though part of his instrument has disappeared. He wears a short coat with plain shoulder wings, plain linen cuffs and a small linen band on his shirt. He’s also wearing a brimmed felt hat on his head.

IMG_9807From the front we can see his coat is unbuttoned at the bottom and that he has pulled his shirt out in a fashion you can see in some high status portraits from the time. He’s been given a plain shoulder belt for his sword and some latchet shoes tied with a ribbon

IMG_9808IMG_9809From the rear you can see the decorative knot that he’s tied in his garters.


On the right hand side you can see the case for his fife, the feather plume in his hat and what looks like a regimental favour in his upturned brim.



Here is the lad, photographed when the staircase and the figures were still in their rightful place in Cromwell House in Highgate, London

August 13, 2019


IMG_9774Continuing the series of figures that used to adorn the staircase of the house that was once known at Cromwell house in Highgate in London we have this fellow, carved we presume like the stairs in 1636 or 37. The original carvings have disappeared, but they live on as plaster casts in the Royal Armouries stores where I was given access to take photos. Hitherto they have only been visible from one or at most two angles but as we have seen so far, viewing the whole figure throws up all sorts of interesting details, not least this chap. He is quite sad now, having lost grip of his musket (and some of his fingers), but the gun still survives. The front view shows his plain soldier’s coat, linen falling band, breeches, hose and latchet shoes. He is also accoutred as a musketeer with a bandolier of ‘boxes’ that carry the gunpowder charges for his musket, a sword belt and a morion helmet which we shall return to presently.


IMG_9775On his left hip hangs a simple cross hilted sword suspended on a simple shoulder belt.

IMG_9776Now this is interesting. In the small of his back is what would appear to be a hank of cord, neatly coiled or twisted in a pear drop shape, hanging from his bandolier. This must represent the match-cord that was used to fire his musket. As we shall see the match on his musket is represented as quite thick cord. We have wondered if the shape represents a ball that pulls easily if you need another piece to replace a burned down match in the heat of battle?


IMG_9777On his left side you can see the bullet bag on his bandolier and nice detail of his shoe ties, which are just plain laces unlike the fancy rosettes on the drummer we looked at earlier.


Here are three views of his musket. It’s quite short so we can either see it as a short carbine type musket or maybe the carver thought it would be more practical for a staircase not to have it sticking up too much.


Three views of his head. Originally this was thought to represent a soldier wearing a montero cap, but looking closely we can see that it’s actually a morion helmet (or maybe a domed felt hat) and that the brim has broken off. The nice feather plume on his gives him a jaunty air, though he doesn’t look terribly happy does he?


And here is a photo of our man in situ from Phillip Norman’s monograph of London that shows him carrying his musket at the shoulder.


August 12, 2019

Pikeman with Shield

IMG_9801Continuing the series of figures that originally adorned the staircase at Cromwell House in Highgate, here’s an interesting fellow. I’m presuming he was a pikeman as his polearm was probably snapped off early in his life as a newel post, but you can see where it would originally have fitted into his right hand gauntlet. He carries a shield in his left hand and is wearing a morion on his head, adorned with a jaunty feather.


IMG_9802He also has what looks like a high, but simple linen falling band at his neck and what would appear to be the tassets that form the upper leg protection of a pikeman’s corselet peeping out from below his shield. He is wearing a tightly cut pair of breeches, fine hose and over hose on his calves and a pair of latchet shoes with generous side cut outs.



On his left side you can see his pikeman’s tuck hanging from a simple shoulder belt or baldrick and the tails of his coat peeping out from beneath the back plate of his armour. Nice rosettes on his breeches at the knee too.


The rear view.

IMG_9805Left hand side. You can clearly see the hinges that hold the tassets to his armour. Again, decorative rosettes, this time tying his latchets decoratively.


This last image shows our man in situ, the photo was taken in the 1930s and culled from the website “Staircases of Old London”. It looks like the original feather on his morion was quite tall!

August 4, 2019

Drummer Statue

Although they can’t be accurately dated as they have disappeared, the statuettes that formed the newel posts of the carved staircase inside what is known as Cromwell House in Highgate, London are generally assumed to have been originally placed there at or shorty after the time the house was built in 1637/8. As I said the original wood carvings have now disappeared, (presumed stolen whilst the house was derelict), but their ghosts are still extant. They can be seen as plaster casts kept in the National Armouries’ store in Leeds I was lucky enough to photograph them last week and here is the drummer of this little trained band ready for action.


He is wearing a thigh length coat and tightly cut breeches under which is his linen shirt and presumably the attached collar and darted linen cuffs. Possibly his coat has some fine lace decoration around the edges; it’s not easy to work out from the carving style but it does have some smallish shoulder wings. The shoes have worn away so we can’t really deduce anything about his footwear, but was can see some nice detail in his drum which seems to hang from a leather strap.


Here’s his back. Nice rosette ties on his garters.




Right hand side view and some nice details.




Finally, two more pictures, a photo from the 1930s that I found on a website called Staircases of Old London that shows our man in his original habitat, and a drummer that the 1642 Tailor helped to dress that I was reminded of when I first saw the statue. Thanks to Matthew D Crosby for his permission to use the colour image.



Here’s the link to Matthew’s page which is recommended.

February 28, 2017

Anthropometamorphosis Appendix 1

Exhibiting the Pedigree of the English Gallant.

Continuing my discussion of John Bulwer’s book from 1653, I’ve skipped to the back and the appendix where as he says in the text:

“Upon the Relation of this intended Practicall Metamorphosis, I perceived that all men thought me to be necessarily ingaged to touch upon the transformation and deformity of Apparell; the thing offering it selfe so naturally, every Scene almost affording some emergent occasion or other for such a Discourse. Which conceit, I confesse, I had admitted, but that I desired to keep close to my proper Argument. A little therefore to answer expectation, I thought good to annex this Appendix, wherein I shall a little explaine this Proverbe, God makes, and the Tailor shapes.”

It’s strong stuff, but his theory seems to be that whatever strange fashion had been thought up in England, there was a foreign country where it had already been thought of. For instance painting your face, using beauty patches and wearing large earrings.

His captions, not mine by the way, They’re not terribly PC, but then neither is most of this book. The chap with the earrings has also waxed his moustache I suspect and is wearing a smart linen band over his doublet.

He compares slashed doublets (nice 1630s style one in the woodcut) to tribesmen in Africa who use body scars as a tribal marking, and goes on to discuss the mid seventeenth century lowering of the waist line


“When we wore short-wasted Doublets, and but a little lower than our Breasts, we would maintaine by militant reasons that the waste was in its right place as Nature intended it: but when after (as lately) we came to weare them so long wasted, yea, almost so low as our Privities, then began we to condemn the former fashion as fond, intollerable, and deformed, and to commend the later as comely, handsome, and commendable.”

This all sounds very familiar, fashion seemed to change as much then as it does now.

Then he moves on the the ladies. He’s no less scathing, and yes those are boobies (low cut bodice, nicely dressed hair):



“That upstart impudence and innovation of naked breasts, and cutting or hallowing downe the neck of womens garments below their shoulders, an exorbitant and shamefull enormity and habit, much worne by our semi-Adamits, is another meere peece of refined Barbarisme, as if it were done in designe, as one saith, whose thoughts were neare upon contemporary with my conceit, to facilitate an accommodation with those American Ladies in the Court of King Atabiliba,or Pocahuncas “

My favourite part still is the shoes, but I will leave that for another post.



February 21, 2017


=man transform’d: or, the artificiall changling historically presented, in the mad and cruell gallantry, foolish bravery, ridiculous beauty, filthy finenesse, and loathsome loveliness of most nations, fashioning and altering their bodies from the mould intended by nature; with figures of those transfigurations. To which artificiall and affected deformations are added, all the native and nationall monstrosities that have appeared to disfigure the humane fabrick. With a vindication of the regular beauty and honesty of nature. And an appendix of the pedigree of the English gallant. This book was written by John Bulwer and first published in 1650. The second edition in 1653 had added woodcuts. Here is the author from the front page of the second edition looking suitably authorial dressed in one of those artistic cloaks that artists seem to like (maybe it gives good reason not to paint all those messy costume details) with a plain falling band (spot the overlapping edges) and a nice decorative tassel on his bandstring.

John Bulwer. Anthropometamorphosis: man transform'd (London, 1653)

John was a doctor, but took a sabatical to write several books exploring the body and communication by gesture which was a particular interest. This tome as the title suggests is all about how the body can be altered from its natural state by clothes, tattoos, body adornments etc. Some of his information came from Dutch colonial settlers and the work has been described as one of the first studies in comparative cultural anthropology. The fronticepiece is very interesting and some of the characters depicted appear later in the book. For our purposes the lady bottom centre is worth studying as not many rear views appear in contemporary illustrations. You can see the petticoat gathers, the cut of her bodice and the rear of her kerchief. I also quite like the guy on the left with a face in his bum. Perhaps literally talking out of it?



Anyway, what drew the book to me was this image of a girl in a tight laced bodice and the descriptive text. It’s in chapter 20 (he calls them scenes); Dangerous Fashions and desperate Affectations about the Breast and the Waste. The girl is wearing a linen coif on her head, a tightly laced bodice with sleeves and a nice layered kerchief.


John is pretty forthright in his opinion. He says: ‘Another foolish affection there is in young Virgins, though grown big enough to be wiser, but that they are led blindfold by Custome to a fashion pernicious beyond imagination; who thinking a slender waste a great beauty, strive all that they possibly can by streight-lacing themselves, to attain unto a wand-like smallnesses of waste, never thinking themselves fine enough untill they can span their Waste. By which deadly Artifice they reduce their Breasts into such streights, that they soon purchase a stinking breath; and while they ignorantly affect an august or narrow Breast, and to that end by strong compulsion shut up their Wasts in a Whale-bone prison, or little ease; they open a door to Consumptions, and a withering rottenness.’

Good advice I say. There’s a lot more to look at in this book, particularly the appendix on the English Gallant. I shall return,


February 10, 2017

Strange Nevves from Newgate

…and the Old-Baily: or The proofs, examinations, declarations, indictments, conviction, and confessions of I. Collins, and T. Reeve, two of the Ranters taken in More-lane, at the Generall Sessions of gaol-delivery; holden in the Old-Baily the twentieth day, of this instant Ianuary, the penalties that are inflicted upon them. The proceedings against one Parson Williams for having four wives, and Iohn Iackson a Scots minister, condemned to be drawn, hanged, and quartered, for proclaiming Charles Stuart, King of England, with the strange and wonderfull judgement of God shewed upon one T. Kendall, a Ranter in Drury-lane who fell down dead as he was affirming that there is no God, or hell to punish. Published according to order


A scurrilous 17th century tabloid, published in London in 1652, although someone has handwritten 1650 on the cover. The text details criminal trials in London the previous week and include John Jackson a Scots minister sentenced to death for supporting King Charles, ‘one Williams’, convicted of multiple bigamy, and two ranters arrested for ‘blasphemy’ in Moor Lane. The scene is pictured on page three along with a rather racy description.


The text says ‘Collins, Reeves and others were sat at table eating a piece of beef. One of then took it in hand and tearing it assunder said to the others “This is the flesh of Christ, take and eat” The other took a cup of ale in his hand and threw it into a Chimney Corner saying ‘This is the blood of Christ“. And having some discourse of God it was proved that one of these said “That he could go into the House of Office and make a God every Morning“. By easing of his body and blowing through two pieces of Tobacco Pipes he said “That was the Breath of God“. There was also proved many other Blasphemous Words and uncivil behaviour, as the kissing of one another’s Breeches, more lively represented by this figure: (naughty picture alarm, but notice the length of his shirt tails)




The bad people (crime never prospers children) were punished to six months in prison. The chap above has separated the breeches and doublet by unhooking the two and is holding up the long tails of his shirt. The naughty lady has a nice coif, a waistcoat and petticoat plus I suspect an apron and kerchief.

Further on in the text is the story of another Ranter, Mr Kendall who was caught and tried for lewd behaviour in Drury Lane, discoursing with a woman whom he called his Fellow Creature (I think we all know someone like Mr Kendall) and was persuading her to have his pleasure with her and said there was no God or Divell, affirming that all things come through Nature. Here he is in pictures.

Screen Shot 2017-02-10 at 17.38.53.png

Neither did Mr Kendall prosper, even in his smart suit and cloak, for no sooner had he made the appointment than he was struck dead on the spot. As the text goes on to say, “A Sinner doeth wickedly an hundred times and his Dayes be prolonged yet remember for all this he must come to Judgement“.



February 10, 2017

Puritan Lady

British (English) School; Portrait of a Puritan Lady

Another unnamed portrait by an unnamed artist, this time in the Berwick Museum and Art Gallery. The canvas is dated 1638 and the title it’s been given says she’s a puritan. This was the catch all title for the collection of independent protestant sects, all slightly different from the next that grew up in the first half of the seventeenth century and exploded during the turmoil caused by the war. However she could just as easily be a member of a more established church group, or even a (gasp) catholic, there’s no way to tell from what she’s wearing how she worshipped.

The fine details show her double layer linen cuffs and the layers of fine see-through linen that comprise her neck covering. It’s up for debate, but around this time it could have been called a kerchief or a partlet. Both terms were in use, we just don’t know what (if any) distinction there was between the two. The layers however are so thin that you can see her smock beneath the fabric. The details of her bodice (or maybe waistcoat) are tricky to see as it has been painted so blackly there are no details. She has a coral bracelet on her wrist. These were worn as good luck charms and also were thought to have healing properties. Her hair seems to be undressed. but she has covered it with a magnificent broad brimmed hat.