Come Rain or Shine - Historic Umbrellas and Parasols
Shield and Shade
Hull Museums Costume and Textile collection has 89 umbrellas and parasols. Umbrellas are mainly used as a rain shield by men and women and parasols are used as a sun shield only by ladies during the 19th century and early 20th century.
Umbrellas and parasols have a long history. They are seen in paintings and statues of Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome as well as in China. Used mainly for protection from the sun.
The word umbrella comes from the Latin Umbra meaning shade. Dr Johnson's first dictionary describes them as "a screen used in hot countries to keep off the sun, and in others to bear off the rain" (1755).
Parasols appeared in England as a sun-shade in the 17th century. They were used by women in the early 18th century for protection from the rain as well.
By the Victorian era, parasols were very popular to keep the sun off, as a sun tan was not fashionable. They were made from silk and fine cottons with extra trimmings such as fringing, tassels and lace.
We know that parasols were used, sold and repaired in Hull. The museum collections has a receipt is from a local umbrella and parasol maker Thomas Mapplebeck who had a shop at 39 Lowgate. In 1852 Mrs Lightfoot, the wife of a local solicitor, had 2 parasols covered, one with slate silk and one of gingham, and another parasol repaired.
One Man and his Brolly
It wasn't until the 1750s that a man ventured out with an umbrella. He was Jonas Hanway, who, because of his bad health, thought it necessary to protect himself from the rain and always carried an umbrella around with him. This exposed him to ridicule by the public, some of which was very unpleasant.
Early umbrellas were made of oiled silk with heavy wooden frames which made them difficult to open or close when wet. Whalebone (baleen) was also used but this still made the article heavy. It wasn't until 1852 that Samuel Fox invented the steel ribbed umbrella claiming that he was using up stocks bought for making corsets. This made umbrellas much lighter and more portable.
The Folding Brolly and Beyond
There are many claimants as to who invented the first collapsible/telescopic umbrella. In 1920s Hans Haupt in Berlin made a pocket umbrella and in the1930s the USA produced a collapsible umbrella called the 'Growey Umbrella'. Both claim to be the first to invent a collapsible umbrella.
Strong nylon canopies came into use during the 1950s which could be manufactured in many different colours and clear PVC canopies were fashionable for a short while in the 1960s.
These days umbrellas are made of very light weight plastics and Teflon coated fabrics, but are essentially the same construction that Samuel Fox made in 1852.
- the first shop dedicated to selling umbrellas was James Smith and Sons of 53 New Oxford Street, London, opened in 1830 and still open today.
- the Museo dell'Ombrello Nr Milan in Italy is the only umbrella museum in the world.
-the Duke of Wellington owned an umbrella with a dagger set into the handle.