Articles tagged with: bill

Archive Catwalk

on Monday, 04 December 2017. Posted in Archives

As shown by one of this year’s Explore Your Archive themes #Archivecatwalk ‘the history of fashion is the history of people’. Archives can provide a unique insight into the fashion of the past from sources such as inventories, wills, household accounts, bills, photographs, drawings, magazines and periodicals, diaries and more. Sometimes they can provide evidence where little else has survived. I’ve picked a few examples from our collections for this blog, but there are many more out there!

Inventories, wills and bills

Inventories can provide evidence for the garments and quantities of clothing in households of varied status. Textiles and clothing are not only revealed through bequests in wills but in the given occupations of testators including clothiers, cloth-workers, glovers, haberdashers, hat makers, draper, cordwainers, weavers etc.

1300-165 1 Probate will of Anne, Duchess of Somerset, 1586

Bills and accounts give us dated evidence of prices paid for all sorts of clothing and textiles, such as this example in the papers of sisters Miss Mary Codrington of Walcot in Bath (died 9 March 1754) and Miss Dorothy Codrington (died at Bath in 1768).

WSA 1178/610/1

We also hold a detailed bill for Lady Elizabeth Seymour dating to 1669 which is mostly for clothing. It includes white and coloured worsted stockings; fabrics including tabby, lutestring, satin, sarsnett, venetian, cambric, farindin, avignion, parrigone, tifiney; laced shoes, and a “pare of golosus”; damask and jessemy powder. Rather pleasingly it also includes an entry for 8 pounds of that most essential of items ‘iockaletta’ (no prizes for guessing!).

WSA 1300/2819

Women in the mid-17th century often wore low cut bodices laced down the front with ribbons and coming to a deep point, a linen collar (which was sometimes transparent) ¾ length sleeve with turn ups of lace. They would have worn gowns and petticoats (which are also listed in Lady Seymour’s bill). There was also a fashion for adding ‘patches’ to the face which satirist John Bulwer described as the ‘vain custom of spotting their faces out of affectation of a mole, to set off their beauty’. The shapes could vary from spots, to stars, crescents, or even ‘a coach and horses cut out of black ‘court plaster’. Amazingly this was a fashion which lasted for more than 50 years.

For men the custom of wearing a periwig was adopted following the King appearing in one in 1663. Samuel Pepys recorded his wearing of a periwig in his diary, and is seemingly a little disappointed not to have provoked more interest: “I found that my coming in a periwig did not prove so strange as I was afraid it would for I thought that all the church would presently have set their eyes upon me” The fashion lasted for nearly 100 years, although the use of powder did not begin until the latter part of the 17th century.

Nearly 100 years later, a 1741 inventory of the Earl of Ailesbury’s clothes in London and at Tottenham includes suits of cloth in various colours, flowered crimson velvet, bargen, camelet, flowered silk, 4 tied wigs and 3 bobs, silk and thread stockings, 4 swords, buttons, shoe and knee buckles in gold, silver, pinchbeck and enamel.

WSA 1300/2821

Magazines and periodicals:

In a collection of family papers we have 11 copies of ‘The Ladies Cabinet’ magazine covering fashion, music and romance. This 1835 edition includes an advert for ‘French and English Corsets’ with the Patent Black which is ‘instantly unlaced in cases of sudden indisposition’. There is also the Elastic Stay which prevents pressure on the chest in the case of pulmonary complaints and the Gestation Stay, which gives necessary comfort and support to ladies during pregnancy. The corset had come back into fashion after the earlier ‘Empire’ gown of the end of the 18th century. The pursuit of this style led to some extraordinary effort; Laver notes in ‘A Concise History of Costume’ (p162) that in one corset advert a mother is advised to make her daughter lie face down on the floor so she might place a foot in the small of her back to obtain the necessary purchase on the laces.

WSA 946/314

In slightly less restricted attire, a 1928 magazine snippet shows the remarkable speed record-holder Mrs Bruce (see our Principal Archivist’s blog on some of her favourite archives to learn more about Mary Bruce’s extraordinary story). Post war, fashion began to pick up again, and the flared skirt which had lasted throughout the war was replaced by a more cylindrical ‘barrel’ line with shorter skirts (knee length). This can be seen in this sketch where she is described as ‘a picture of practical smartness in her redingote of beige and grey tweed. With it she wears tan gloves and a felt hat to match’.

WSA 1700/59

Some Treasures from the Lacock Archive

on Saturday, 15 March 2014. Posted in Archives

Over the last few months, I have been cataloguing the Lacock archive with the help of several volunteers and just about every day I come across some interesting documents, some of which I hope to share with you over the next few months.


Recently, for example, I have been able to find out information gained from wills and other legal documents about the identity of illegitimate children of John Talbot (1717-1778), one of the owners of the Lacock estate who was married but widowed after only two years, and had no children from the marriage. He did, however, have at least four children with local women. At least two of the children were provided for in John Talbot’s will (another had died, and it is assumed that the fourth did too but no evidence has been found). However, he was clearly very concerned about the welfare of his children and tried to ensure that they would be provided for not just in a legal sense. A very touching letter has been found in the archive, dictated just before his death to his friend John Santer, which shows his concerns. This is a lovely thing to find in the archive as it shows the human side of an aristocratic family who, especially with the issue of illegitimacy and inheritance, tended to keep very discrete.

A transcription of some of the letter shows John’s troubled mind:

Unlocking the personalities behind the archives…

on Friday, 22 November 2013. Posted in Archives

The Lacock Unlocked project is well under way now and the cataloguing and indexing side of it now has over 30 volunteers. These volunteers are either listing and indexing bundles of documents, or putting information onto our database. It means that instead of unlocking and exploring one thing per day, we are unlocking and exploring six, so to speak!


I love it when the listing volunteers show me something that I had no idea existed, or parts of a story that I didn’t know were there. We keep discovering new words for things and ways of saying them, finding information about places and families through bills, deeds and other items in the archive. I particularly enjoy finding information about people who crop up in the archive, and the example here is a letter from John Ivory Talbot to his cousin Henry Davenport in 1725, which gives anyone interested a wonderful insight into John’s family life, his way of writing, what annoys him (apparently, Henry Davenport’s not writing to him is on his mind!). Just a simple letter like this provides great information about a personality.


We are attempting to piece together many clues and it is fascinating when these jigsaws are completed but also when someone finds a new piece that leads us or them down a different route.

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