Published online: History-Pieces.co.uk (2008)
Much has been written about clothing workers of East London in the period following mass immigration from Eastern Europe in the later part of the nineteenth century, but less attention has been given to the period before it. This paper therefore deliberately focuses on the situation of cap makers in the middle of the nineteenth century. This is done through an analysis of all cap makers recorded in the 1851 census in the registration district of Whitechapel, and through contemporary, first hand and eye witness accounts. The life stories of three of the Whitechapel cap makers are also presented, selected to show a variety of starting points and outcomes – a child’s story, a widow’s story, and an immigrant’s story.
Caps of various kinds have been worn and made in England for centuries. In the mid nineteenth century, a great variety of caps were worn. The main types of caps for women were night caps, morning caps and dress caps. For men and boys, there were cloth caps and boys’ fancy caps. There were also caps for particular situations, like widows’ caps and uniform caps.