Eat my Hat
Sailors kept their chewing tobacco in their hats, the linings of which became soaked in sweat and tobacco juice. If they ran out of tobacco they would take out the linings of their hats and chew them. [http://www.plymouth.gov.uk/navalsayingsdh accessed: 11.07.2016]
So this famous phrase has a nautical origin! Sailors and their hats are today’s theme:
One of the perks of being an archaeological conservator is that you get close to artefacts. Really close! Even closer! So close in fact, that you can hold, smell and properly look at artefacts: back, front, sides, and all around. And we conservators like to look closely. We like to see what an artefact is made from, how it is made, what condition it is in, and what that can tell us about the people that made or used it.
I recently had the privilege to work on the collection from the Stirling Castle protected wreck owned by the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Society on a project funded by Historic England’s commissions fund and headed by the Maritime Archaeology Trust. The main aim of this project was to catalogue and consolidate the archive, to enhance access to this fantastic wreck assemblage dating to the early 18th century.
Some of my favourite artefacts were beautiful knife handles, an ivory comb and copper alloy cauldrons. But two items stood out: leather hats. Items of clothing rarely survive in the archaeological context. But due to special preservation conditions for organic materials, such as leather, wool or linen, wreck sites play an important role in redressing the imbalance by allowing us an insight into clothing and dress, which are under-represented in collections when compared to non-organic materials, such as ceramics, for example.
The hats stood out from the rest of the Stirling Castle collection for a number of reasons:
- Beaver felt and wool seem to be the prevailing materials for hats of this period both in surviving examples and in art;
- The style and method of construction also appear unusual for the period;
- They are very well preserved: they are better-preserved than other leather artefacts from the same collection, such as the shoes or book covers;
- There are no parallel finds known to us at the time of writing
Because these hats are so unusual, we are trying to learn as much about them as possible. They are a strong contrast to the leather shoes which are regularly found in shipwreck contexts and are well-understood, e.g. Mary Rose (1545); London (1665), HMS Invincible (1758).
And this is where you come in: We have embarked on a project to study and investigate these two hats from various angles. We have chosen a multidisciplinary approach combining scientific investigations with art historical research as well as citizen science.
We’ve identified some surviving hats and contemporary images of hats, but we need your help to find more. We are putting the word out there asking members of the public as well as museums and collections to look at paintings and drawings of hats, or even hats themselves, dating to around the end of the 17th to early 18th centuries. Our aim is to collate a database of other hats and depictions of hats, to be able to compare our two hats from the Stirling Castle with other examples.
Here is the other hat from the assemblage:
To examine the hats more closely, have a look at the 3D animations of the Hastings hat and the Ramsgate hat: click and drag to rotate in any direction, and see inside the hats, use mousewheel to zoom. (Best viewed in Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari 10.9 and above, IE 11)
As you can see, the hats are constructed in several pieces, with one piece for the top of the crown, the main body of the crown overlaps at the front and is laced at the back with a thong, and finally a wide brim.
We are mainly focussing on maritime scenes in paintings and drawings, due to the obvious maritime connection of the hats to the wreck of the Stirling Castle, but are interested in other depictions or real-life examples of similar looking head gear from other contexts too, perhaps hats worn by working-class people such as labourers and agricultural workers. These can be of any date to help with the comparison, but late 17th to early 18th century works would be especially helpful.
Please tell us as much as you can about the images or surviving examples of hats: where they’re from, their date and context, and a brief description of the style of hat, and its construction, and send us a link or photograph if possible.
As an example of what we’re looking for, have a look at this engaging 18th century image and the caption we have written for it.
The citizen science part of the project opens today, 1st August 2016, and will run until 31st August 2016. It will be shared on the @HE_Maritime Twitter account with the hashtag #LeatherHats. Please feel free to share widely, using the same #LeatherHats hashtag. If you have any clues, ideas or images of hats you would like to share with us, please contact us by commenting on this blog, on Twitter @HE_Maritime, or by e-mail at StirlingCastleHats@HistoricEngland.org.uk
Angela Middleton, Archaeological Conservator, Historic England, and Serena Cant, Marine Information Officer, Historic England.