The Staithes bonnet

During lockdown our ‘Object of the Week’ features proved extremely popular. Now that we have re-opened time is a little more stretched so we thought we would bring you ‘Object of the Month’ instead.

Our first object is the Staithes bonnet.

The Staithes bonnet was traditionally a working hat for fishermen’s wives, made from a yard of cotton material.

The women carried boxes/baskets (skeets) of herring, crabs and lobsters on their heads. The bonnet had a double crown for support, a frill to stop drips from running down the neck and a poke at the front to protect the face from the sun.

Carrying baskets on the head gave the fisherwomen extremely good deportment.

They placed a bun shaped coil on top of the bonnet to relieve the weight on their heads and to improve balance. In Staithes these were known as a ‘rowler’ or roller.

The Staithes bonnet has a corded front to shade the face and to protect from bad weather or sea spray. A bow at the back is mainly for decoration and to divert any water from the baskets down over the frill and away from the neck.

The ‘strings’ or ties were generally not tied but flung over the shoulders or crossed under the hair at the back.

The drawstring to gather the bonnet meant it could fit the shape of the head or be let out and the bonnet smoothed out for ironing.

Bonnets could be purchased from Seymours shop at the end of the High Street in Staithes, from the late 1880s. Bonnets were always made in Staithes and never ‘bought in’.

Before WW1 every woman and girl in Staithes wore a bonnet. There were just 3 colours of bonnet; white, black for mourning and mauve for out of mourning. Some widows wore black for the remainder of their lives. White material was difficult to source during the war and coloured printed cotton was used. A black bonnet was sent to Queen Victoria on the death of Prince Albert, which she is known to have worn.

These hats can be seen as part of our 2020 costume exhibition, ‘Mad as Hatters’.