This guest post comes from Danae Tankard, a Senior Lecturer in Social and Cultural History at the University of Chichester. It follows on from Mark’s recent post on ‘Material Culture from Below’ and further demonstrates the potential of court depositions for examining the material culture of the lower orders in early modern England – here, their clothing. It provides an introduction to Danae’s broader body of work on the clothing of the rural poor in seventeenth-century England. You can follow Danae @morley1640.
Yet with that and such like words I made shift to buy me some clothes, and then I went to church on Sunday, which I never could do before for want of clothes to go handsome in. My father being poor and in debt could not provide us with clothes fitting to go to church in (so we could not go to church) unless we would go in rags, which was not seemly.
This passage is taken from the autobiographical writings of Edward Barlow, the son of an impoverished husbandman, born in Prestwich in Lancashire in 1642. Written retrospectively when Barlow was a thirty-one year old seaman and had learned to read
and write, it describes the period leading up to his first departure from home aged twelve or thirteen. Since his father could not afford to indenture him as an apprentice, Barlow worked for his neighbours, harvesting and haymaking and carting coal from the local coal pits, for which he received ‘but small wages’ of about two or three pence a day. By making ‘shift’ he was able to buy himself some clothes to ‘go handsome in’ to replace the ‘rags’ that he had worn before. The significance of these new clothes in Barlow’s account is that they allow him to attend church, something he could not do before ‘unless [he] would go in rags, which was not seemly’. His description of his clothing as ‘rags’ may be an exaggeration but it enables Barlow to express his sense of shame at having nothing decent to wear to church. However, Barlow does not want just any clothes: he wants clothes ‘to go handsome in’. In other words, he wants to look good. Continue reading