56a East St Helens Street, Abingdon

35812554_10212144364739937_5698558231761125376_nIn 1994 a bundle of rags was found beneath the attic floorboards of a house in Abingdon. The house is believed to date back to at least the 15th century and has a wealth of historical detail which Rachel, the current tenant was pleased to show me when I visited in June this year. The rags turned out to be what was left of a doublet of a 17th century style and something which on close inspection reveals a wealth of detail of a rare example of a common piece of clothing from our period. Janet Arnold reportedly dated the doublet between 1625 and 1630 when she looked at it and it’s hard to disagree, the sloping waistband would seem to suggest pre 1640 but the waistband and metal eyes post c.1620.

35686849_10212144367219999_5805321343394119680_nLuckily when I called we were able to remove the perspex cover over the doublet and the north facing picture window enabled me to take some detail shots with my phone. Looking at the doublet as a whole it is obvious that it was made for a small person, possibly (as has been suggested) a 5 or 6 year old boy who had just been breeched and that this was his very first doublet. What is left is 37 cm across and 38 cm long. All that remains is the left front, part of the left sleeve and fragments of the collar. The whole thing is in a very fragile state and it is still heavily soiled from being hidden. It was made from 2:2 twill woven wool and an initial analysis when the doublet was conserved found the presence of the compound indigotin. This indicates that it was originally blue and has faded to brown over the centuries. The buttonholes and some of the visible construction threads still retain a faint blue colour that reinforces the theory.











The doublet’s interlining is all that’s left of the right side and it’s obvious that this was a coarse, tabby weave linen. There’s no evidence of any form of belly stiffening, but the collar was stiffened with layers of paper sewn together. The lining of the doublet was a finer weave linen that can be seen in the photo on the right hand above, centre right edge.


What remains of the left hand sleeve has a shoulder wing which seems to have been doubled over, or made from two layers of the blue wool and seemingly sewn on with the sleeve, though it could possibly have been whipped on afterwards. It’s impossible to see without moving it. There’s no sign of waistband tabs which is an unusual construction. Tabless doublets aren’t shown in portraits as far as I can work out. Maybe the tabs could have been removed neatly at some stage for any number of reasons without leaving any real trace.


The collar is a mess, but you can see the linen lining and the layers of paper that were used for stiffening. Possibly they were glued together to make a kind of pasteboard. This was a relatively common method and collars (ie the stiffening) could be bought as easily as buttons. Check out too the running stitches on the collar in natural thread. Not all tailor’s work was neat, especially where it would be hidden.


The 18 buttonholes down the front are worked in linen thread and are quite small compared to the buttons. There are four buttons left, each one about 8mm in diameter, worked in linen thread over a fabric or possibly a carved wooden core. They look like they have always been linen coloured, but I can find no analytical evidence for any dye stuffs such was found  in the wool. It’s also debatable whether they are made of silk or linen. Someone with a microscope needs to go back and double check. There is also an iron eye sewn to a fragmentary piece of linen waistband for joining to the waistband of a pair of breeches which places the date of the doublet post c 1620.


Thanks to Rachel for showing me around her house and to Oxford Preservation Trust for arranging the visit. This doublet is a real treasure. Luckily it is in good hands.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: