[My Chamber of Textile Thoughts. No: LVII | By Viveka Hansen]

It is uncertain for how long people have been making their clothes waterproof with various kinds of wax or tarpaulin, but at least in the 1700s these methods were in common use and in the preceding century the so-called oilskins became popular – for outdoor needs, working coats and particularly for seamen’s clothing. The Mackintosh raincoat was also invented in the 1820s with its rubberised fabric, whilst the new Garbadine fabric rapidly became popular when it was invented by Thomas Burberry in 1879. These matters have been researched from several angels in my monograph The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914, which will here be exemplified and added with a few facts based on sources giving further proof for the protection of outdoor clothing.

Waterproof coats of Garbadine fabric and the so-called Urbitor which was lightweight as well as weatherproof were popular materials for outdoor garments in the early 20th century. The Hatter & Hosier Robert Spanton of Whitby advertised Burberry’s waterproof coats in the local Whitby Gazette, in this notice from 1912 he also stated that the firm by now was an ‘Appointed Burberry Agent’. (Whitby Museum, The Library). Photo: Viveka Hansen.

Waterproof coats of Garbadine fabric and the so-called Urbitor which was lightweight as well as weatherproof were popular materials for outdoor garments in the early 20th century. The Hatter & Hosier Robert Spanton of Whitby advertised Burberry’s waterproof coats in the local Whitby Gazette, in this notice from 1912 he also stated that the firm by now was an ‘Appointed Burberry Agent’. (Whitby Museum, The Library). Photo: Viveka Hansen.

An early historical source for weather protection of sails in Whitby was included in William Scoresby the Younger’s notebooks for 1821 and 1822. Both books reinforced necessary equipment for the ‘Sailmaker’ who needed to bring ‘Canvas, Tarpaulin, Whipping, Sewing thread’ with him in various quantities for the Arctic whaling trip. Presumably the tarpaulin was not only in use for the sailmakers needs, sailors must themselves have been able to apply tar to their clothes and also to restore the waterproofing when it wore off.

More than seven decades later there is instead proof for the possibility to buy Mackintosh coats in Whitby. James N. Clarkson & Son at 19 Bridge Street sold according to this announcement in Whitby Gazette on 17 May 1895 among various clothes and textile furnishing: ‘Mackintoshes and Imperial Cloaks – A complete and useful variety, both in style and material.’

It is hard to get a glimpse of the oilskins worn by the fishing community in Whitby on the numerous photographs by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, but this family portrait in 1889 is a rare example showing the oilskin jacket under the fisherman’s arm. (Photo: Frank Meadow Sutcliffe).

It is hard to get a glimpse of the oilskins worn by the fishing community in Whitby on the numerous photographs by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe, but this family portrait in 1889 is a rare example showing the oilskin jacket under the fisherman’s arm. (Photo: Frank Meadow Sutcliffe).

Wind- and waterproof garments like a woollen knitted gansey were often made very tight fitting as if to provide the body with an extra skin. The sleeves would be quite short so that the cuffs would not be in constant contact with cold water, though during particularly cold or wet weather oilskins would also be worn over these knitted sweaters. Oxford Dictionary lists the following about “oilskin” ‘heavy cotton cloth waterproofed with oil – a fisherman’s outfit of yellow oilskin.’

This type of outer garment also appear in a local advert in Newton’s Guide book for Whitby printed in 1903. The hosiery R. Jackson & Son of Bridge Street now advertised everything that a gentleman could possibly need, drawing particular attention to ‘Gentlemen’s Umbrellas, Waterproof Coats, and Oilskin Clothing of every description’.

It may also be noted that without receiving waterproof treatment, the long-lasting fashion of wearing large capes or cloaks – if one could afford to buy such a large amount of cloth for a single garment – was of course weather protecting in themselves. This fashion plate of 1834 from “Theaterzeitung” shows very clearly the large quantity of cloth needed to make a full-length cape. However, few outer garments of this type have been preserved, since the fabric was ideal for re-use to make children’s clothes and the like once the original was out of fashion. (Fashion Magazine “Theaterzeitung” 1834.)

It may also be noted that without receiving waterproof treatment, the long-lasting fashion of wearing large capes or cloaks – if one could afford to buy such a large amount of cloth for a single garment – was of course weather protecting in themselves. This fashion plate of 1834 from “Theaterzeitung” shows very clearly the large quantity of cloth needed to make a full-length cape. However, few outer garments of this type have been preserved, since the fabric was ideal for re-use to make children’s clothes and the like once the original was out of fashion. (Fashion Magazine “Theaterzeitung” 1834.)

The advertisements in Whitby Gazette also gives further evidence for water protective clothes. Among others in November 1876 the family hosiers, glovers and shirt makers Greensmith & Thackeray at no. 12 St Ann’s Staith, Whitby advertised for a wide range of winter clothing; including waterproof and ulster coats as necessary items.

The Edmund Crane & Co drapery in Bridge Street noted for example instead in the spring of 1909: ‘Notice, Important to the Public, We don’t close our Establishment on Whit-Monday. Instead, we intend making a Special Show of New Spring Goods.’ The announcement concerned fabrics for sewing into clothes; alternatively, if the customer preferred, clothes could be made up by a tailor or dressmaker, or ready-made in the form of ‘Smart Tweed Coats, Waterproof Coats, Cream Costumes, Dress Skirts, Belts, Ostrich Feathers, Lace Ties, Corsets to every figure and every price…’ In other words, clothes typical of Edwardian ladies’ fashions, together with the popular waterproof garments that had begun being worn more widely in the 1880s and 1890s. A final example comes from 18 April 1889 as Skelton and Jefferson of Hinderwell, sold among other jackets etc ‘The New “Princess” Waterproof Cloak.’

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Sources:

  • Hansen, Viveka, The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914 – A lively coastal town between the North Sea and North York Moors’, London & Whitby 2015. For full list of Notes & Bibliography, pp 404-423. (Additionally: Research material from the period 2006-2014, including surplus photographs and various facts not possible to fit into the book)
  • Whitby Gazette, 1855-1914 (Whitby Museum, Library & Archive).
  • Wikipedia: Garbadine & Mackintosh.

(The monograph The Textile History of Whitby 1700-1914 is available here: The IK Foundation).

PLEASE REFERENCE AS FOLLOWS:

Hansen, Viveka, ‘Waterproof Garments – The Long Nineteenth Century (B 15)’, TEXTILIS (March 3, 2016); http://textilis.net/ (Accessed: Day/Month/Year)