I spotted this interesting looking bonnet at the back of an antique dealer’s stall.      Upon seeing it properly,  I was intrigued to find that it did not really conform to any definite  fashion period,  but that it certainly had some age to it.     Enquiring about it, I was told that there was a photograph that went with it.


TBC   P10/42-44


The photograph was duly produced, and was of a pretty young lady, wearing the actual hat.   In a fairly ornate oak frame, it was rather dirty, with some damage to the moulding, but of sufficient interest to make me put my hand (rather deeply !) in my pocket and buy the items.


A good clean up, and close inspection revealed the photograph to have been taken by a Victorian photographer named  EDWIN HADLEY   of Nottingham.    He appears to have had more than one studio in the area, and to have produced a variety of work, a lot of it portraiture.


It was only when enlarging this image that I noticed the  Edwin Hadley ‘signature’ stamped into the surface of the photograph as well.  After much discussion with people who have far greater knowledge than I do, we came to the conclusion that it might have been a photographer’s prop , to be worn by clients to create a pretty picture.


That the two items go together, I am certain.


The bonnet has a most strange construction, and I think is a mish-mash, using an older bonnet as a base.believed-to-be-a-photographers-prop-more-details-6

This picture shows the inside of it, with its pretty cotton fabric lining covering  thick layers, tightly stitched together with really tough twine, which form rigid gathers , creating the back part of the bonnet.       Also to be seen in this image is the dilapidated wire arrangement  which surrounds the front edge of the bonnet, and forms the framework  on which the lace border is supported.    Further research is needed to try and find out if it is Nottingham lace, for which the area is famous.

I shall do a few remedial stitches to catch it back in place.

The outside  back part is an amazing oval panel of embroidery of gold threads  and ‘pearls’,    surrounded by an upstanding frill of gold metal thread lace ; really quite sumptuous !                         believed-to-be-a-photographers-prop-more-details-4

Whether these components are of the same period I do not know.

Pinned to the back is an enormous flat bow,of wide woven silk ribbon, with long streamers.   Pinning decorations on seems to have been quite common in Victorian times, which believed-to-be-a-photographers-prop-more-details-1makes for some difficult decisions nowadays for curators, as the pins are often rusty by now, and spoil the fabrics.   This picture shows both sides of the ribbon, which is a sort of silvery grey colour, and shown at approximately life size.


TBC   P10/42-44

Across the top of the bonnet is a panel of gold coloured fabric, with a woven design of leaves, and narrow diagonally  striped borders ;  again, I do not know if these elements are contemporary with one another.








Forming an extension to the front and sides is the wire framework mentioned earlier, silk bound, and overlaid with a band of lace.  So there is another avenue of research.    All this from one little hat, and a photograph.

I sent images of both to specialist  Jayne Shrimpton,  who is a professional dress historian,  and an  expert in  dating family photographs  and paintings,   to see if she had any information regarding  the use of a bonnet as a sort of photographer’s prop.                                                              ( )                                                                                      She is of the opinion that the young lady is actually the photographer’s model, and is dressed up in ‘historical’ clothing probably provided by him.   She says ” these kind of images were popular with the public around the early 1900’s.”                                                        What she can say , for certain, is that the photograph was taken some time between 1904 and 1914…..with 1911 as the most likely date.       The style of the card mount is definitely pre World War I   , and the oak frame is of the same period.

I find it fascinating that this small piece of social history has survived, and would be delighted if anyone has anything else to add to the little  story.

Whilst trawling the internet, I found an American site showing de-commissioned hats from a museum offered for sale.     I feel the picture below has echoes of my bonnet.




Would anyone else agree ?     It is described as  ”  A gold bullion and sequin cap, about 1840.   It would have belonged to an extremely wealthy woman !”   Asking price was $2250.    It seems to have the same pleated back (although mine is obscured by the huge bow) , and the basic shape is extremely similar if you ignore the extension on the front and the ribbons.  I wonder if mine was originally like this .I







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