George Quayle’s Tricorn Hat

A post by conservator Zoë Lanceley.

As well as caring for the objects in the People’s History collection, the Textile Conservation Studio also carry out work for TCSOC168_BC_ (1)private clients. This helps to support the wider work of the PHM.

We recently took on the job of conserving two hats owned by the Manx Museum. The hats date from the late 18th Century and were both owned by a man called George Quayle (1751-1835) who was a prominent politician and banker on the Isle of Man. The Manx Museum is currently preparing an exhibition about George Quayle, which will include both of his hats. (Nautical Museum, Castletown)

I am currently working on one of his hats, a stylish tricorn cocked hat with metallic braid, tassles and a black silk corsage. Just below the corsage is a gold coloured button with the triskellion symbol and motto of the Isle of Mann: ‘QUOCUNQUE JECERIS STABIT’ (Whichever wayTCSOC168_BC_ (10) you throw, it will stand). The term ‘cocked’ refers to the three sides of the brim which are turned up. George Quayle’s initials are inside the hat, as well as the maker’s paper label. The makers label reads: ‘Wagner, Hat maker to their Majefties (sic), Pall Mall, London’. As well as making hats for the Royal Family, Wagner’s also made hats for the military. You can tell George Quayle wore his hat many times as perspiration is present around the lining of the crown.

The hat is made from a single piece of beaver fur felt and dates from about 1790. At this time lots of different furs were used to make felt, but the finest hats were made from beaver fur felt. During the manufacturing process it was necessary to use a form of mercury (mercuric nitrate) to felt the fibres together. Unfortunately mercury is very poisonous, and hatters (who made hats) often became very ill, displaying symptoms such as shaking and hallucinations. This is where the term ‘Mad as a hatter’ TCSOC168_BC_detail_ (3)comes from.

When I looked at the hat under the microscope I made an interesting discovery. The metallic gilt braid has tarnished to a dull grey colour, but in some places gold paint has been applied over the tarnish. It is a mystery to me why or when this was done; did George Quayle do it to spruce up his hat? Or has someone else applied the paint more recently? As a conservator it is really interesting to make discoveries like this, it all adds to the mystery of the past.

Over its life time the hat has been in the wars and is quite damaged. Most of this damage has been caused by moths, as unfortunately beaver fur is delicious food for moths. They have nibbled their way around most of the crown of the hat and the TCSOC168_BC_detail_ (15)middle of the silk corsage. The first thing I did to improve the appearance of the hat was to very gently clean the surface with a tiny low powered vacuum cleaner and a soft paint brush. This helped remove dirt and dust which had accumulated on the hat. I also picked off fragments of moth casings (which moths leave behind after pupating from larvae to grown up moths) and loose bits of fabric which had been nibbled free.

Initially I had planned to reshape the hat by humidifying it (which would cause the felt to relax), and apply support patches across splits in the felt. Despite my best efforts this wasn’t possible, as the felt remained very rigid even after lots of humidification. Even though the hat looks very fragile, the felt is surprisingly robust. It feels very much like stiff cardboard. Despite the tough exterior, the lining is still fragile and handling the hat should be kept to the absolute minimum. My priorities TCSOC168_BC_detail_ (22)now are to make a safe stable support board for the hat to be stored and displayed on. The board will be covered in grey fabric so that it fits in with the exhibition at Manx Museum, and will have a dome on it to support the hat. I am also in the process of making a box for the hat which it can be stored in permanently when the exhibition is over.

It is really interesting to work with objects which have been well used by their owner, particularly when you can identify who that person was. I’m sure this hat will make a fascinating contribution to the George Quayle exhibition.

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Thoughts at the end of the Wollstonecraft Project

A guest post by University of Manchester Researchers in Residence, Camilla Mork Rostvik and Lucy Johnson

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Williamson (c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Williamson (c) Walker Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

It’s difficult to say what we will miss most from our time as researchers in residence at the People’s History Museum. In collaboration with the University of Manchester, our project focused on researching the Mary Wollstonecraft portrait in Gallery One, a stunning, powerful visual representation of one of the founders of modern feminism. We have enjoyed working with the friendly and knowledgeable staff, from the café that helped us out with emergency water bottles to the front desk beautifully writing up our events on the blackboard that greets visitors. It has been very insightful to work with different people across the museum, such as the events, curator and outreach team. We encourage other researchers to get involved with the People’s History Museum and their brilliant collections and helpful attitude to external people hosting events.

Over the six months Lucy and I organised six events to celebrate, challenge and change the visual representation of Mary Wollstonecraft. We began by working with Manchester-based artist, Helen Mather, on a beautiful poster that outlined the events.

In early March we dedicated two tours of the PHM galleries to feminism and Wollstonecraft, and enjoyed hearing the groups’ thoughts on the portrait, gender politics and the future of equality.

In April, campaigner and Wollstonecraft-champion, Roberta Wedge, joined us to speak about her campaign to get the first statue of Wollstonecraft erected in the world.  Her passionate lecture on the life and work of Wollstonecraft, and why we must not forget her, moved us and the audience.

In May, we invited Professor of Romanticism Sharon Ruston from Lancaster University to speak about Wollstonecraft and natural history. She gave the talk at the Working Class Movement Library on the day after the general election. Many found comfort in her concluding statements about the high number of women in government today, as we came to grips with the Conservative success.

Professor Ruston joined us again for an academic panel at the PHM, joined by Dr. Laura Kirkley (Newcastle), Dr Emma Liggins and Dr Sonja Lawrenson (both MMU). Speaking about Wollstonecraft and race, motherhood and literature respectively. The audience was treated to original research and insightful comments on modern feminism.

16 May 2015, Stewy, Wollstonecraft & Graffitti @ People's History Museum (24)Our penultimate event was all about art as we invited graffiti artist Stewy in to make a new Mary Wollstonecraft portrait. Stewy shared a small and brilliant documentary about his thoughts on graffiti, feminism and Wollstonecraft. After this we followed him out to watch his image of Wollstonecraft take shape. There was a lot of excitement as she appeared in all her life sized glory in a windswept Manchester. The piece is currently living in the museum, and we can’t wait to see what they will do with her. Stewy stayed on to sign posters and chat, and there are still some gorgeous, signed screen prints available to buy from the PHM shop.

Our final event was all about poetry. Feminist collective Stirred Poetry guided a group of both poets and non-poets through some creative exercises, and by the end of the day we had written individual and collective poems. These were all beautiful and powerful, do check them out here.

Over the course of these events our suspicions have been proved right. People are passionate about Mary Wollstonecraft. They, like us, want to know more about her and we suspect there is a lot more to learn. We want her represented visually as well as creatively and lyrically and we think the PHM portrait of her is incredibly important to how we should study her today. We want monuments and discussions, research and debate. There is simply not enough attention paid to one of the most important women ever to have lived, loved and worked in this country.

Where next? Soon we will be meeting with the PHM for the last time. Lucy and myself hope to contribute to academic research with a paper on the portrait and our art historical findings and hopefully more people will be encouraged to visit the portrait and study it themselves. We also hope to write a leaflet for a feminist tour of the museum and to encourage the museum to make some changes. We are sad to see the end of this project but we know we will visit Mary again. In my last line of my last poem from the poetry workshop I wrote: “I’ll miss you.” We certainly will.