Aboard a man-of-war, the cry “Up or Down!” was not an uncommon one to hear in the morning hours—it signaled the beginning of the naval day, as the watch below in their hammocks, resting precariously close to one another, would have to rise to meet the tasks and challenges set before them by the ship’s warrant officers. Up or down indeed; either rise with the cry from your betters, or be “relieved” of your resting place with a quick cut of your hammock strings! I’m sure it wouldn’t take too many tumbles to condition instant readiness!
The anecdote is meaningful—it’s been a while since I’ve written a blog update, and I mean to correct that negligent behaviour. Life has a way of intervening, and a busy schedule often affects the priority we place on Capstan updates. That doesn’t make it right, certainly, but it does present itself as a reasonable explanation!
We’ve a few updates to convey. Firstly, I will be working on a decent summation of our Tall Ships experience in 2009. We’re coming up on the one year anniversary of the event, and while we’ve posted a boatload of pictures (found here), I haven’t yet written a detailed narrative of the experience (which still strikes me as one of the most evocative and wonderful trips yet). It’s on the way!
This post, however, will focus chiefly on some recent work Man the Capstan has accepted (referenced with our lovely header and the title of this post). We don’t usually perform work outside of our own interests, but have always pondered on the opportunity to offer our services to others in the community (both geographically and online). Our tailor, Johanna, is a very resourceful woman and extremely talented with a sewing needle (as evidenced by our growing collection of reproductions). With history as our guide and inspiration, she has been able to craft some very elegant and accurate replicas.
It turns out that a chance encounter in a grocery store led our official town crier, Lloyd Smith, to inquire about our services; it seems he had a uniform that was quite well-worn that needed some restorative work. Johanna’s experience with tailoring has always been from the ground-up (creating a uniform or dress from scratch, using her own patterns and materials), so we approached the job tentatively but with enthusiasm! After having viewed the uniform in question, it seemed like a possible endeavour and certainly seemed like an exciting task! We offered a quote for our services, and having obtained approval Johanna set to work.
Before we get into the details of the restorative work, I did want to comment a bit on our very personable town crier. Mr. Lloyd Smith is a talented appointed official with the Town of Windsor, but also serves as town crier for many municipalities in the region including West Hants, Kings County, Wolfville, New Minas, Kentville, Kingston and Greenwood. Mr. Smith attends many events within Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley in his official capacity, invoking the historical charm of the region with his theatrical talent and presence—to be a town crier, I’ve learned, is not a simple matter; it is a skill and talent that takes training, experience, and perhaps most importantly, personality! Lloyd Smith is the most dedicated and senior of town criers in all of North America, having served his communities loyally for over thirty-one (31) years!
In his capacity as crier, Mr. Smith has a couple of uniforms in his possession; the one that Man the Capstan was to restore would be his bright red, circa 1760, 45th Regiment of Foot uniform, a highly accurate garb that had seen better days. The uniform is comprised of soldier-red breeches, waistcoat, coat and cloak; the coat and waistcoat is lined in silver bias-and-stand military lace. The buttons along the coat and waistcoat are silver as well. The breeches and coat had several areas of wear, leaving parts of the cloth threadbare (in some areas, especially where Mr. Smith would tuck his bell under his arm, holes had begun to manifest).
The silver bias-and-stand lace had become tattered, worn and had most certainly lost its shine and lustre. Man the Capstan recommended that all of the military lace be replaced. The buttons had to be restored or replaced, and the holes on the arms and breeches would have to be patched. Thankfully, the breeches were easily corrected with a patch that fit neatly along the seam of the seat. For the arms Johanna had to be creative; after conferring with Lloyd they agreed that a contrasting colour and material could be used to create a “protective” patch—a soldier’s brown in suede that, when completed, looked fairly charming! Though perhaps not quite accurate for a soldier in the 45h Regiment, it was perfect for a town crier who would tuck a bell ‘neath his arm. It made the uniform particular to his vocation!
In my opinion, however, I believe the most stunning work was the replacement of all the lace. This was an incredibly time-consuming task. All of the old lace had to be carefully removed. This included all of the waistcoat, all of trim around the pockets and cuffs and all of the lace on the cloak. Replacement lace had to be ordered from our very good friends at MilitaryHeritage, who shipped it to us in a very expedient manner (thanks again guys!) Comparing the new lace to the old, it was clear that such an addition would breathe a incredible amount of life into the uniform. The buttons were silver, but in poor condition. Using a technique we picked up from our Marine uniform reproduction, Johanna was able to apply some silver plater to the buttons (after having removed every single one, however), which gave them a new lease on life!
The uniform was dry-cleaned and pressed before work began, so after the restorative work had been complete it looked like a new uniform. Johanna was quite pleased with how everything turned out, and Mr. Smith received some very nice comments following the work. It had been Man the Capstan‘s first real official gig (that included some form of monetary reimbursement), and was quite a success. Mr. Smith and the Town of Windsor were a treat to deal with, and all of us here are very excited to see Mr. Smith in his 45th Regiment of Foot while at work!
Until next time!