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   ‘A warm House for the Wits’  The craft, trade or science of Capping in Britain


Woollen caps and British cappers were widely appreciated from the 13th century to the changing fashions of the 16th century. Cappers’ guilds performed in the Corpus Christi pageants; prosperous members equipped shops, endowed manufactories, and became burgesses, aldermen, mayors and politicians. Fifteen distinct callings were listed in the manufacture of caps, with ‘capknytters’ recorded from 1422.

Cappers combined with cardmakers, wiredrawers and pinners who provided some basic materials; they were forbidden to make ‘any caps of any cloth not knit’. The use of ‘web yarn’ or of ‘cloth yarn’ was condemned as ‘deceitful practice’.   


Capping statutes controlled standards of quality and price. The late 16th century decline of the ‘craft, trade or science’ formerly employing 8,000 people in London - ‘twice as many in the land beside’ - threatened to increase poverty and crime. In 1571 unsuccessful legislation to enforce the wearing of woollen caps was intended to keep the country’s knitters working. As fashions changed exports dwindled, and cappers struggled to survive despite Queen Elizabeth’s helpful intervention.


It is impossible to know exactly how they worked but most surviving caps found in museums were knitted, fulled, raised and shorn, with some showing traces of dye. Many specimens were dispersed from early-20th century London excavations, others were found in small provincial towns, bogs in Ireland or Scotland, and shipwrecks such as Henry VIII’s warship the ‘Mary Rose’, or HMS de Braak.


Cheaply made, easily seen and interpreted, knitted wool berets are still effective in military, civilian and commercial use.


                                                                                                                Any Cap, whate’er it be

                                                                                                                Is still the Sign of some Degree.’   (Elizabethan Ballad)


Kirstie Buckland      


(Followed by


DEVELOPMENT OF CAPPING                                                                             SURVIVING KNITTED CAPS

DISTRIBUTIION & ORGANISATION                                                                     THE VALUE AND SALE OF CAPS                                                    MATERIALS – WOOL, WIRE                                                                                WHO WORE CAPS?                         

KNITTING                                                                                                             LES BONNETS ROUGES                                                                              FINISHING                                                                                                             157 references.)


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