Cropwell Ploughboys' Costume
Article type: Correspondence
The following correspondence was initiated by a message which Peter Millington posted on the Morris dancers’ Discussion List inviting anyone visiting Nottingham Castle Museum to pause in the Threads exhibition area. One of the cabinets there holds the Cropwell ploughboys' costume of 1893, about which he wrote in Traditional Drama Forum(Millington, 2002). The correspondence adds to our knowledge of this costume.
Looking at the images and reading some of the descriptions and questions in your article, I have some thoughts from the point of view of a graphics person.
One thing is regarding the relative size of the images - which you observe is disproportionate. I'd wager this is due not to ignorance or unsophistication, but rather to practicality. The animal images are apparently from templates - probably pictures collected for the purpose by the person who made the shirt. They were either traced or cut-out. I say this because the stylisation is different from the images of the human figures, which I'd guess were made by the craftsman or taken from another, more "folk-art" source. The former seem to be by the hand of someone with traditional artistic training, the latter are more "naive" (which is not to judge the artistic merit of either, only to distinguish the styles). I conclude that the person simply made the animal patches the size of his templates, and didn't worry about relative size.
Another thought is the mystery of the words being on the shirt, whereas the original description says the words are not there. Even before I read that I noted that the words looked "crowded" as though they were added in later by another person - the spacing around them is inconsistent with the spacing around the rest of the elements (generally). This leads me to suspect the backwards N and S are a "folksie" affectation.
Thanks for your comments on the Cropwell costume. I agree with pretty much everything you say.
It's seems pretty likely that the maker(s) used templates. In fact we have the evidence to confirm this with the cut-out horse sent by Mr. Howell (1893) to Lavinia Chaworth-Musters. To my eye, the female figures conform to the sort of fashion pictures that appeared in the illustrated magazines of the 1890s, so that could be their source. I can't imagine estate workers taking such magazines (although one should never make assumptions). Mrs. Chaworth-Musters quite probably had such magazines, and her servants may therefore also have had access to them. Such magazines could also have been the source of the animal and bird images.
One thing which I didn’t know about the costume when I wrote my article, but which is included in the exhibition notes is that the red figures are made of cotton and the black figures of silk. The latter material must have come from someone fairly well off, which perhaps again suggests the hand of Lavinia C-M. She could have added all the black figures and words later. In fact, if you imagine the costume without the black figures, it looks much more balanced and symmetrical, and less naïve.
I agree that the backwards "S" and "N" are a "folskie" affectation. In my experience of manuscripts written by Nottinghamshire "peasants", they were highly literate, and would not have made such a basic mistake.
This all seems to point to Mr. Howell having supplied Mrs. Chaworth-Musters with the shirt appliquéed with red figures, which she then sent to Ordish (1893) to use in his talk, and to which she (or her servants) later added the missing words and further figures in black silk. What do you think?
The reason I said the design was "generally" well-spaced is because of some of those black figures appeared "sandwiched" in, so that supports your theory. I agree with you that if the black shapes were removed from this shirt, it would be more balanced, though there would be a lot of "white space" left at the sides - but that could very well be what was intended.
[See the attached photographs, digitally processed by Bill to remove the black figures and words:]
Front of the costume without the black fabric (left), and with (right).
Back of the costume without the black fabric (left), and with (right).
You could be right about the female figures being from magazines, but my thought on that is that they are very similar in stylization to the male dancers - which are not likely to have been taken from an outside source.
Superb doctoring! Illustrates my/our point nicely.
The "lot of white space" when you remove the black figures and words is interesting. When the Owd Oss Mummers did their reconstruction in 1975, we did not know the 1893 costume still existed, so we had to work from the descriptions and Howell's template only. Our costumes were more akin to your doctored version. We had the minimum of figures - one horse on the chest, and I think a plough. (I can't put my hand on the photos at the moment. [In fact they are 35mm slides, so I cannot scan them.]) Tom Fool had "In comes I" on the front, and "Out goes I" on the back. The reason we had so few figures was because our costume maker found it too hard work, which I think says something about the original.
As regards the "dancers", you really need to look at just one figure in isolation to assess the style, since it is clear the groups were made by cutting folded cloth with a single shape. My feeling is that these too could have come from a magazine or similar printed source. However, you could equally be right about them being original naïve folk art.
Peter Millington (2002) The Cropwell Ploughboy's Costume of 1893
Traditional Drama Forum, Jan.2002, No.4
Internet URL: www.folkplay.info/Forum/TD_Forum_4_Cropwell.htm.