Hats and Hairdos

Museums across Cumbria have joined together to open virtual doors since February. As many as 122 of us are taking part in ‘My Local Museum’ social media campaign with weekly themes. The campaign’s running until Tuesday 18th May, the day we open our real museum doors again. It’s been a lovely way for everyone to see the amazing collections we all look after. As hairdressers reopen following Lockdown 3, our collective of Cumbrian museums is exploring the theme of Hats and Hairdos. We’re looking at the early Quaker refusal to doff ones’ cap, and the hairstyles captured in our embroidery panels.

Detail of George Fox on the Ulverston Healing panel

Quakers believe that all people are equal in the eyes of God, which led early Quakers to refuse to practice ‘hat honour’. They wouldn’t take their hats off or bow to anyone regardless of title or rank.

One of the most famous Quakers who refused to doff his cap was George Fox, the founder of Quakerism. He said “When the Lord sent me forth into the world He forbade me to put off my hat to any, high or low”. He famously refused to take his hat off in the presence of the magistrates and ministers of Cromwell’s reign. “Proud flesh,” says George Fox, “looks for hat-honour”

The Quaker founder later recalled: “O! The blows, punchings, beatings and imprisonments that we underwent, for not putting off our hats to men! Some had their hats violently plucked off and thrown away, so that they quite lost them.” Many male Quakers were indeed imprisoned for this crime.

Detail of Kathleen Lonsdale on the Scientists panel

When it comes to capturing hairdos, there are some fabulous examples in the 77 modern embroideries that make up the Quaker Tapestry, of which 40 are on display in the museum at one time. Each tells stories of people across the centuries who made history with their deeds of discovery and daring.
One of those was Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971) – a Quaker chemist who was instrumental in developing the science of crystallography. She was a peace campaigner and a prison reformer and an influential author on all these topics. You can read more about her incredible achievements in our earlier blog.

Kathleen Lonsdale’s son said the embroidery of his mother, on the panel about scientists, was the best picture he had of her. A personal friend exclaimed, “That’s exactly her hair. She never could do anything with it!”

Detail of Punk hair styles on the QPAC panel

Begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, two of the 77 panels that were produced depict punk hairstyles. One is linked to a panel about unemployment and another two punk hairstyles can be found on a panel about the Quaker Peace Action Caravan.

It’s been 50 years since punk hairstyles came to signify new attitudes and new ways of seeing the world. Part of a 1970s rebellious, anti-establishment movement that set out to break all the rules of conventionality. It’s wonderful to see three hardcore punk styles recorded on these panels of social history – tall mohawks and spiked hair, bleached or in bright colours.

If you’re looking for some hair inspired embroidery – and you don’t mind a pun – why not have a look at Bramley Hare

2 comments on “Hats and Hairdos

  1. Mary nee Beyts on

    My mother, a chemist herself, was a great admirer of Kathleen Lonsdale. When she came to speak at our meeting house in Hunter St Liverpool some 65 years ago I must have been about 8. She arrived off the bus, walked down the road to our house and her hair was a magnificent silver halo. I waited bated breath for her to come back downstairs. When she came I couldn’t believe that the halo had gone. Her hair was ordinary. It did not occur to me that naturally she had brushed it. I was bitterly disappointed.
    After her stay with us she went to Japan presumably for a conference. A parcel arrived with presents for each of us and a letter to me. My mother suggested I kept it because one day someone would write a book about her and ask for memories. Although I kept it for a long time I’ve no idea where it is now. She sent my sister and I little Japanese needle cases. I still have mine. Our baby sister was given a set of crystallography sticks and balls. I remember being absolutely disgusted “what can a baby do with chemistry things” My mother tried to point out it was a very good toy. What the boys were given I have no idea but KL certainly made an impression on our family. I think she was a mother of four herself. One reason I was sent to Ackworth School was because her children had studied there. My mother was not from a background where children were sent away to school but my father was. They were very keen that as the eldest I should be sent away so my studies were not affected by taking care of younger siblings. I wasn’t aware that this plan was only for me and when I came home I kept saying to my next sister “When you go to Ackworth” so naturally she expected to go and in the end my poor parents sent each child for different reasons.

    • Vanessa Eaves on

      Thank you so much for sharing your memories with us. What an amazing encounter that must have been. Who knows perhaps the letter she wrote to you will turn up one day, but never-the-less it’s a wonderful memory to have 🙂


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“We were entranced not only by the Tapestry panels and the social history on display but also by the ambience of the Meeting House, the interpretation and information made available to us. It is a very good memory for us.”

Sutton Coldfield Ladies’ Gardening Club