Dr. Trelawney's Cabinet of Historical Curiosities: This Month's Subject: Stockings

By Pollard, Justin | History Today, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Dr. Trelawney's Cabinet of Historical Curiosities: This Month's Subject: Stockings


Pollard, Justin, History Today


Anti-slavery campaigner John Woolman (1720-72) refused to use the products of slavery, such as indigo dye, and so was often a vision in white, from his raw linen shirt to his white stockings and uncured leather shoes.

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) had a habit of wearing the coarse clothes and black worsted stockings favoured by country servants. It led one hostile critic to refer to her as a 'philosophical sloven'.

The artist George Gray (1758-1819) only ever exhibited one painting at London's Royal Academy (a fruit still-life, in 1811) and is best remembered today for having invented a method of weaving stockings from stinging nettles.

The mental instability of George III (1738-1820) was explained by his doctors as being due to a 'humour' in the legs which had travelled to his bowels caused by the king's refusal to change out of his wet stockings.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) tried for four years to write a biography of Oliver Cromwell but found the task impossible. In December 1843 he gathered up his manuscript and notes and threw the whole lot on to the fire, much to the alarm of his wife Jane who was sitting darning stockings in the corner.

Sir Leonard Chamberlayne (c. 1504-61) was appointed captain, keeper and governor of Guernsey by Queen Mary in September 1553. In return for the almost vice-regal powers he was granted, he sent Mary a New Year's gift of the island's main export: knitted stockings.

Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800) and Elizabeth Vesey (c. 1715-91) arranged literary breakfasts where the usual pursuits of cards and drinking were replaced with philosophical discussions. At some point in the 1760s this group of men and women began to refer to themselves as the bluestocking philosophers, probably to indicate that they were more interested in discussion than formal dress. Later the term became associated purely with the women at the centre of the group and the term 'bluestocking' was born. …

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