Ready-made clothing is so easy to obtain today that we have forgotten
how our ancestors coped with the problem of obtaining decent clothing.
Old wills frequently show bequests of clothing - in Issue 22, we
published the will of Mary Stentiford which distributed her wardrobe
around her family in great detail; in Issue 28, you can read William
Emmett Stentiford's will which disposed of his clothing to his brother
before mentioning goods or property of any other kind.
There is a tailor among the English Stentaford ancestors of Eric
Stentaford - a John Stentaford who, in 1800, was working in the port of
Dock in what was called a "Slop Shop". These were the very
first shops selling ready-made clothing (or "slops") for men;
their customers were itinerants such as sailors or emigrants who simply
could not wait around for "bespoke" tailoring.
Until the end of the 19th century, working women would
have made their own garments or, for special occasions, enlisted the
help of the village dressmaker who also made stays and bonnets. Fabric was used and re-used and skilfully
repaired if damaged, before being cut down to make children's clothing.
Even so, women did visit men's tailors because they provided an essential
service - they had the facility to bleach out colour and to dye garments
black - absolutely essential following a death in the family.
Men's shirts were made at home. These were long garments, the
back tails being drawn up between the legs as an alternative to modern
underpants during the day. At night, the front and back tails were let down and the same
garment was used as a night shirt. The village tailor provided suits for
weddings (which a man would continue to use on Sundays for years after),
working trousers and waistcoats. Stockings for all the family were
knitted at home and boots, shoes or clogs came from the village
The 1851 census gives a figure of 599 for the population
of the village of Atherington and its environs. No less than 5 tailors served the needs
of this comparatively small population - Robert Gibbs, George Loosemore
and Richard Slee all had tailoring businesses of their own, providing
competition for George Stedeford, who in the absence of a son of his
own, took his grandson Thomas Beer into partnership in his declining
years. Two dressmakers - Mary Ann Govier and Sally Loosemore were on
hand to cut down adult clothing for children or to provide finery or mourning clothes for the women of the