The Waverley Inn, Halifax, Nova Scotia

SLR_8460-003While attending the Festival of Tall Ships, Man The Capstan, had the opportunity to stay at The Waverley Inn in Halifax. This Inn is tucked away at 1266 Barrington Street, and is a reasonable walk to the waterfront. There are many other Hotels and Inns in this downtown core, but none offers quite the same experience and ambiance of this unique three story bed and breakfast.

waverly1-001Once an elite Victorian private residence, the Waverley Inn is definitely pretty special, especially if you’re like me and prefer smaller and more intimate places to stay, and particularly if they are historical houses.

Lobby-I-001This house was built in 1865-66 by a wealthy merchant named Edward W. Chipman and his wife Mahala Jane Northup. Interestingly both these last names are listed in the family trees of certain Man The Capstan Crew members. Could there be a family relationship there? Perhaps!

The Chipman home was purported to be one of the most expensive and extravagant homes in the city of Halifax. Mrs. Chipman was a very fashionable lady, who was well known in Halifax society and she immediately began to host many dances and social events. These were attended by not only the local society, but also by the officers who were stationed at the Garrison. Hence, it seemed just the place for a group of Royal Navy Re-enactors like us, to spend a night or two.Roman-Sisters-II-001

Unfortunately, Mr. Chipman’s dry goods business failed and in just a short while (1870), the family could no longer afford this home. It must have been heartbreaking to see their lovely home turned over to the Sherriff of Halifax. Much of the furnishings were seized, and the house was sold at auction where it was bought by a real estate speculator named Patrick Costin.SLR_8285-001

He sold the house to two spinsters named Sarah and Jane Romans, who had been operating their father’s business, The Waverley Hotel. They added a new wing to the rear of the house and in October of 1876 they moved into their new location. Since then the Waverley has functioned as an Inn, owned by a variety of different owners. In 1960 the Sterling Hotel Company purchased it and did extensive restorations.

SLR_8270-001Today this house still operates as a lovely historical Inn, and Man The Capstan certainly enjoyed their stay there. We stayed in the Vanderbilt room, and the twin room right across from it, and were indeed very comfortable. The house is filled with antiques and period furniture, and beautifully decorated with the opulence of the Victorian period.  The breakfast room downstairs offers a healthful and generous breakfast with lots of variety. The staff is friendly and helpful, and the rooms are beautiful and very clean. I would definitely stay there again, and would recommend it as a place to stay if ever you are visiting Halifax , Nova Scotia.

Don’t for get to click on the pictures to get their full size and effect!waverly4-001

A Victorian Christmas at the O’Dell House Museum

SLR_2_5614-003The O’Dell House Museum is situated at 136 – George Street, in the beautiful and historic town of Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia. This very interesting Victorian house Museum, circa 1869, is now owned and operated by the Annapolis Heritage Society. Graced with beautiful period furnishings, art, photographs, and history, as well as a Genealogy Centre and Archives, this is a pretty special place.4460170492_4bb3e7fd52_z-001

Each year, “A Victorian Christmas” is hosted here, an event that is held over a period of two weekends in late November and/or early December. Two Christmases ago, Man The Capstan decided to attend. (yes I know this blog was a long time in coming, but better late then never), and did we ever enjoy it! For this outing, we donned…what else…but our Victorian bustle gowns! Our Royal Navy Captain and Marine Major, altered slightly, the way they wore their uniforms. The beauty of them is that they can be worn in several differing ways, which really helps when using them for different time periods.

SLR_2_5637-001The ambience, warmth, and beautiful period Christmas decor of the O’ Dell house, make this event well worth attending. The heritage society does a wonderful job of it, spending days collecting Christmas greenery from the surrounding woods, and then countless hours more in decorating the house with these natural treasures.

photo_1272856_resize-001Boughs, wreaths and bouquets of evergreen, holly, boxwood, moss and pine cones fill the house, adorning each doorway, staircase and mantle. Delightful touches such fruit pyramids on the dining table and sideboard, and dried floral bouquets brighten each corner of the house. An old fashioned Christmas tree with homemade and antique ornaments graces the lovely parlour. The golden flicker of candlelight, the fragrance of evergreen, and scents of baking and apple cider assail your senses as you enter. There is much laughter and conversation, and singing of the  traditional carols. You really feel as though you have stepped back in time! What a treat! The crew of Man The Capstan truly appreciated the efforts made and were definitely in our element.SLR_2_5624-001

Once a thriving Tavern and Inn, the O’Dell House was owned and built by Corey O’Dell in the 1860s. Corey who was born in St. John, New Brunswick on June 27, 1827, arrived in Nova Scotia in about 1849. He was a Pony Express Driver for the Kentville-Victoria Beach part of the Halifax-Victoria Beach run. This service was short lived and he returned to New Brunswick the following year.

He came back to Nova Scotia in the late 1850s with his wife and family to live in Annapolis Royal. There he purchased the property where the O’Dell house now stands. The house has fourteen rooms, including the tavern, which later became a grocery store, six bedrooms, dining room, front parlour and kitchen. It is situated near the waterfront, a short distance from the wharves in an ideal location for trade. Corey died March 14, 1887, a wealthy man.

SLR_2_5650-001The O’Dell House Museum and the Genealogy Centre are open year round.

The open hours for the O’Dell House Museum and the Genealogy Centre are:

Summer (from late May to early September):
Every day – 9 am to 5 pm
Winter:
Monday to Saturday – 1 pm to 4 pm
(weather permitting; a call ahead is advised). Closed Sundays.

Admission for the O’Dell House Museum and the Genealogy Centre is by donation; the suggested amount is $3.00.

The Importance Of A Hat!

A word about hats…

I love hats! To me there is nothing like a great hat to finish off an outfit. I think it’s really sad that hats are not more popular in this time period, for during most of our long course in history, hats were of great importance.

Millinery, which is the art of hat making, has existed as a trade in Britain since 1700, of course it  was practiced for many centuries prior to that. It was a lucrative career and one that even a woman could pursue.  Separate from the  Milliner was the Plumassier, who specialized in plummage and the dyeing and arranging of feathers. Feathers were, of course,  prized and very important, since no hat would be complete without at least one plume. The rich would pay a  veritable fortune for an elaborately feathered hat and some sported entire stuffed birds; that was until the Audubon Society put a stop to that!

Hats have always been used to protect the head and keep it warm since much heat is lost through the top of ones  head, however, hats have also, for many centuries been status symbols and fashion statements; there is nothing like a hat to draw attention to the face.They were large, small, plain and elaborate and were worn by both men and women. You would’ve known immediately what a man’s occupation was by the hat he wore, whether he was rich or poor, working or upper class. During the Regency period or Napoleonic era, a man of title or money would have worn a tall top hat or perhaps a bowler. It might have been made of wool, beaver fur or even horse hair. Sea faring men wore very distinguishable head gear with Captains wearing tricorns, bicornes, fore and afts or Chapeau de Bras.  Hats represent authority and were and are today still a part of a uniform for military men, police officers and others.

For women however, hats are and have most often been, a fashion accessory. Much effort and expense went into the procuring of the perfect hat and it is by far the most important one that any person can wear. There is an old saying that says, if you want to get noticed or get ahead, wear a hat. I believe the pun is intended.

Head coverings were not limited to fashion only however, and during many periods of history, there was real etiquette involved in the wearing of one. A lady of any class and during most historical eras, would not have been properly dressed  if she did not have something covering her head. This practice continued until as recently as the 1950s and 60s – my grandmother for example, would not have stepped into a church without a hat on her head. During the Victorian and Edwardian periods a woman would have been  in disgrace if she did not cover her head even if it was just to post a letter. Only the poor or the peasants sometimes went without head gear and even women of that class often wore caps, which  had the added advantage of keeping ones hair clean and tidy.

Hats have slowly lost popularity since about the 1920s, being used only for church attendance, weddings and other special occasions into the 1950s and 60s. Today, it is indeed rare to see an individual wearing a hat that does not serve a practical purpose, (unless of course if you are the queen) or isn’t part of a uniform. Sad but true.

One great thing of course about re-enacting or dressing in historical reproductions is that we can go a little hat crazy…

Behind the Uniform, Addendum

Behind the Uniform, AddendumFirst off, I just want to quickly add that Shara is home from the hospital. Mom, dad and son are all healthy and happy (though certainly tired). Johanna is there right now, rendering some assistance, but all is well and we’re very excited!

It has been some time since we’ve updated everyone on the status of the uniforms, in classic Behind the Uniform fashion. I had intended on finishing this “series” with Part III, but have since realized I have neglected a fair bit of information, specifically as it relates to the second Royal Navy uniform, and the Royal Marine’s uniform. This blog, then, is intended to bring these up to speed on that front, and to chronicle the key differences, inspirations and details behind these selected uniforms. If you haven’t read the first three parts, you can play some catch up here, here and here.

I’ll begin with the second Royal Navy uniform, as it deviates in style from the first iteration significantly. One might already notice in photos we’ve published that they do appear different—perhaps the easiest variation to pick out would be the style of pants. The first uniform uses dark navy pants, while the second makes use of white, knee-length breeches. You can see the difference quite clear in our first video blog. I’ll take a moment to reference back to Behind the Uniform, Part I:

So you can imagine the difficulty we had in deciding what type of uniform to create. They were all different! There wasn’t a step-by-step process we could take in developing something that demanded accuracy. To deviate from the uniform’s intended appearance would be a grave mistake—these reproductions are not swashbuckling outfits or thrown-together seafarer costumes. They represent a proud history of servicemen, and to capture such a dignified history demanded a certain attention to detail.

The above illustrates the difficulty Man the Capstan has had in designing these various uniforms. Before regulation came into effect in the 18th century, every uniform was different from another in some manner. Even after Royal Navy uniforms became regulated by the Admiralty, there were some deviations they could not account for. At this juncture we could not depend upon the rigidity of uniform policy, and had to find the correct, or the favoured style to emulate. This is where personal taste came into play.

Hornblower, BushMyself, I am more partial to the uniform of the early 19th century, a style that came about during the height of the Napoleonic Wars. C.S. Forester’s Hornblower series, and its A&E made-for-T.V. version, is a perfect example of this slow transition. The stoic Captain Edward Pellew is commonly found in white knee-length breeches, stockings and a cocked hat. As time progresses, however, and fashions change (the blue pants come into being, the naval chapeau de bras sees its introduction, etcetera), Pellew and his contemporaries (Captain Sawyer, from the Renown episodes) are rigid in their favouring of white breeches, while younger officers take to the blue. The first naval uniform, then, is far more similar to the uniforms worn by younger officers in the early 19th century. It’s worth pointing out, however, that white stockings and breeches were still worn, but perhaps in a more formal environment.

Tim (our Captain Edward Martin), however, has taken to the breeches and buckled-shoes style, and had his uniform fashioned in such a manner. To complete the look, and perhaps to add a bit of flare to the normally rigid, formal look of stockings and shoes, he had his shirt ruffled and acquired a jabot. It gives the second uniform a certain roguish, swashbuckling appearance. A great contrast with the first uniform. You can see a great shot showing the three pant-styles of each uniform, taken at the Blomidon Inn.

Pants of the Military Uniforms

These two uniforms also deviate from one another as far as the coat is concerned. The first coat is laced with 1″ bias-and-stand gold trim, while the second uniform uses 1/2″ bias-and-stand gold trim. The difference can sometimes be hard to spot, as both coats are trimmed in the exact same manner. The reason for this was not a question of taste, but rather one of convenience; our supplier of military trim was out of 1″, and October 31st was quickly looming ahead, and we wanted to debut the uniforms on that date (you can read about it here). Rather than wait, we ordered the 1/2″, which suited just fine. In fact, there are instances where such lace was used, and there was no set system for how wide the gold trim had to be.

Major CotardNow, though the Marine uniform was the last design to be decided on, or planned for, it was the first uniform completed. Technically speaking, it’s the only uniform really complete. We’re still waiting on lace for both of the navy uniforms, while the Marine is 100% complete. The design and layout of the Marine coat was far more difficult to nail down, and we referenced quite a few sources, including historical references (the NMM), artistic renditions (old paintings and portraits of serving Marines) and Hollywood. The Marines had some differences in their uniforms as well, just as the Navy did, and it was proving to be a challenge to decide how to arrange it. Eventually, just as with the others, we settled on personal taste. Steve, our Marine, chose a design worn by Major Côtard (Greg Wise) in Loyalty, the second-last episode of the Hornblower series. It seemed perfect, as Steve had already decided on the rank of Major. The pants are the same material as the first Royal Navy pants (the navy blue)—the coat is fashioned with scarlet gabardine. The buttons are an interesting story, actually. They were originally purchased for the RN coats, and are solid brass with an anchor stamped on them. When we found the King George RN buttons, they were quickly discarded. Finding RM buttons, in silver (the tone we wanted) is hard! So, with some silver plating Johanna had procured, we plated the brass buttons and they came out a brilliant silver. They matched the uniform perfectly.

Military Heritage Trim Metallic, SilverThe trim of the Marine coat is very different from the RN coats. First off, it is silver (that much is obvious, I trust). It is a wire lace, however, which is significantly different from the bias-and-stand variety we’re using for the navy uniforms. While roaming for appropriate lace, we decided to check with Military Heritage first (our lace supplier), and stumbled upon this silver metallic wire trim, the same used by many Government agencies, and also typically very expensive. It was on sale (I assume they had limited quantities, or had to buy a lot to complete an order, and had leftover), and we picked up 10 metres to trim the Marine coat. The final result was spectacular—it had an aura of quality and authenticity that’s difficult to replicate.

Save those differences noted above, there are smaller variations as well—all of the swords of the uniforms are different, and there are some accessories that one uniform will have, but another won’t. Guns, sashes, pocket-watches, hip-flasks, etcetera. They are all wonderfully different and unique, each of them an individual creation that has grown and will continue to grow as we acquire more accessories for them. We really have discovered that half the battle is sewing these uniforms—the other half, and the more challenging portion, is decorating them with the flash and pomp that is expected of imperial Great Britain.

That’s about it for the uniform variations. There may or may not be another Behind the Uniform post—it depends how construction proceeds! Hopefully the bias-and-stand trim we’ve ordered from Military Heritage arrives soon, and we can finish the RN coats.

Before I go, I’ll give you folks a peek at an album cover I’ve been working on for our Capstan CD, titled Man the Capstan: Sea Shanties and Folk Music. I most assuredly will use an old painting of some sort. Before I do, I need to make certain it’s in the public domain. I must say, though, I’m quite attached to this one, showing the bold H.M.S. Victory breaking the French line at Trafalgar. Let us know what you think!

Preliminary Album Cover

Democracy 250, 18th Century Costume Ball

A Lovely Event

On October 2, 1758, the first Grand Assembly in this country met in a small wooden building in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This was to be the birth of parliamentary democracy in Canada. There were twenty-two men chosen to represent people from all over Nova Scotia. Although they were all white, protestant, male, and land owners, the democratic process nevertheless grew from that point on, with Nova Scotia leading the way. Read more here.

We had a marvelous time!

Nova Scotia is marking this very important historic date with a year long celebration of events called “Democracy 250”. You can view the schedule of events here. There are all kinds of things going on, one of which we have been privileged to attend.

On Thursday evening an 18th century costume ball was held at the World Trade and Convention centre in Halifax, in their grand ballroom. Although I don’t have the exact numbers I would say that almost 400 people attended the glittering $125.00 per person event. Well worth the money my husband and I agree. Most of the attendees threw themselves happily into the flavour of the evening, the majority arriving in a beautiful array of wonderful and authentic costuming and uniforms.

The Passage to India was well received

The hour long reception prior to dinner, gave all a chance to chat and admire the dress of their compatriots. The beverages flowed freely and the appetizers were delicious. These were served by the most conscientious of white gloved staff until the piper called us all to dinner. The decor was lovely, the tables elegant and dressed with pristine white table coverings and silver center pieces. The food, which consisted of a five  or six course meal, was very period and yummy and included a delicious harvest squash soup, roast pork, blueberry dessert and finished off with a glass of Port. Although I’ve not often sampled Port, my husband rather likes it, and it did seem a fitting way to end the meal.

"An Officer and a Gentleman"

The King ( George II at the time) was toasted liberally throughout dinner and the conversation was lively and vigorous. The music was provided by the Nova Scotia Symphony which performed in 18th century style. This added a terrific ambiance to the evening. A re-enactment group gave a lovely demonstration of 18th century dance, and the lesson after-wards was greeted with much enthusiasm by the guests, the dance floor being filled to capacity.

We stayed until the Symphony packed up and went home. Although the evening ended early, (it was a Thursday night), I can’t say when I’ve enjoyed myself more. Our compliments go to the organizers, whose skill and attention to detail really made this an awesome evening.

It was our first time out in our costumes and even though we felt we were quite prepared, there were some challenges to overcome. Some of these were getting a five hoop skirt into a modern day car, using an escalator or a ladies room in such a big dress, and keeping track of the large fore and aft hat. These were taken in good stride and indeed, added a sense of hilarity to the occasion. All in all, I would say we managed quite well and are ready to have another go at it anytime!

“To the King!”

Behind the Uniform, Part III

Poster advertising the 18th Century Costume BallIt has been a few weeks since my last update, and I regret that very much. Classes have tied up my free time for the large part (I attend Acadia University in Wolfville), which leaves little opportunity for recreational writing! Progress on the Man the Capstan projects, however, has proceeded undeterred.

Two of our projects are finalized—Passage to India, a lady’s gown which Johanna has been working on (read about it here, and here!) and the Royal Marine’s uniform. There is still so much to add regarding the Marine’s uniform, but we’re going to save that for another update until we have a few more pictures. Johanna and Steve recently bought a digital SLR (the Canon Rebel XSI, I believe), and it is rocking—we’ll have plenty of opportunities to take some really phenomenal shots, and we’ll be sure to get some rapid updates here with some brand new photos.

Johanna and Steve also recently procured two tickets for an event in Halifax, which falls under the year-long Democracy 250 celebration. It was two-hundred and fifty years ago that democracy was first practiced in Halifax, and one of the many events to commemorate this is an authentic 18th Century Costume Ball. Well, how convenient for us that we started these “costumes” a few months ago! Johanna put in some extra time to get the Marine’s uniform ready to go, as well as some significant final touches on the Passage to India. As of right now, they should be finishing their meal and getting ready to dance (the event was tonight). Expect pictures in the next few days!

This post, however, was intended to bring to a close the Behind the Uniform series, touching on the few remaining accessories necessary to bring a Royal Navy uniform to life. I believe that in the conclusion of my last post I mentioned the sword, hat and boots. Let’s start there!

Replica of Lord Nelson's sword, reputed to have been used at TrafalgarAs it turns out, these three items (along with the lace) would account for some of the most expensive purchases here at Man the Capstan. The sword was the most difficult—there are hundreds of options to choose from, and frankly, nearly all of them are way out of budget. We quickly determined that a functional sword was unnecessary (we figured that the chance the need may arise for cold, naval steel, would be decidedly low, albeit incredibly cool). There are many online shops you can order weapons from—axes, mauls, maces, swords, daggers, bows, muskets and event flintlock pistols. Functional, full-tang, replica, etcetera—it was all available, and usually far overpriced. Pictured right is a replica of Lord Nelson’s sword obtained from Military Heritage, in the 1827 pattern (issue replica), reputed to have been worn at Trafalgar. Check out this, and more, at MilitaryHeritage.com!

The temptation to buy the 1805 replica of Lord Nelson’s sword (with accompanying sword knot) did present itself, but wisdom and the almighty budget prevailed.

Our sword, not as glamorous, certainly, but adequete!Eventually, we found something (pictured left). We bought an excellent officer’s sabre (in gold), that cost (with shipping from California, blargh) about $80.00. It was worth it, however—it was the cheapest, and finest-quality sword for the price we could find. Alongside the sword, we ordered an authentic R.N. sword knot, the same variety that’s used in the present-day Royal Navy.

The sword comes with scabbard rings as well, so when a sword-belt is purchased, she’ll hang comfortably from the hip with hangers, as it should.

We still need to buy two more swords for the Marine and the other R.N. uniform (the Marine is using my gold one tonight for the Ball), but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.Naval cocked hat, c. 1748, taken from NMM.ac.uk

Now, the hat presented a real problem. For months, ever since the project started, we scoured the Internet looking for appropriate hats. The problem here is twofold. First, choosing the right hat was difficult, depending on the time period. Cocked hats were losing popularity towards the end of the 18th century (see attached picture of an older cocked hat, taken from NMM.ac.uk). Older admirals and distinguished Captains often held to the old style they were accustomed to. Younger naval officers, however, took quickly to the new fashion that had been appearing in London, in response to a trend that was taking quick hold across the channel in France. The chapeau de bras was a cocked hat of sorts, worn in the fore-and-aft fashion, that could be folded and tucked neatly beneath the arm when not in use. At the turn of the 19th century, the chapeau bras saw widespread use in the Royal Navy. The Hornblower series illustrates this transition nicely, in fact (and I’m not sure if it was accidental or not). Our intrepid hero, Horatio, wears a cocked hat (the older style) in the beginning of the series. Episode 5, on the deck of the HMS Renown, Hornblower has taken to the chapeau bras, and wears it alongside his fellow lieutenants. The insane Captain Sawyer—an old friend of Nelson, and a distinguished naval officer of many years—still wears the older cocked hat.

Velvet-felt chapeau de bras, from the Sutlers Stores — this is a beautiful hat, and the Sutlers have some incredible productEventually, we opted for the chapeau bras. It looked cool, and it fit into our time period more accurately (we’re figuring around ~1805 or so).

Secondly, finding an affordable chapeau bras was turning out to be an impossible task. Most sutlery and reenactment sites were charging over $200.00 in some cases (and in others, far far more), and that was far beyond the Capstan budget. Granted, these hats are beautiful hats (the pictured let comes from the Sutlers Stores, a gorgeous selection of hats, belts, and other accessories). I contacted a number of milliners, and while they were exceedingly helpful, and directed me to lovely choices, all of those hats were very expensive. As much as I’d love to have a fully trimmed, velvet-felted hat, it just wasn’t feasible. We began to lose hope in finding a decent chapeau bras (and we even were looking to see if we could make our own, a scary thought) until we found Hatcrafters.

Our wool-felt chapeau bras, in the midst of being trimmed — notice our tailor's choice of clamps?These guys were awesome. Within sixty seconds of finding their site, I had navigated to the catalogue and found the hat we needed. Right there, in front of us. The chapeau bras, wool-felt hat, in black. And the best part? It was $80.00! Shipping would bring that up, naturally, but the goal we set was a hat for under $100, and we found it. We immediately ordered two, in the right size, and when they arrived they were perfect. Well-lined, with a quality leather sweatband, with nary a defect. There were a few wrinkles in the shape of the hat, but a bit of steam above a kettle fixed that pretty quick. The third hat just arrived a few days ago, and right now we’re all set as far as hats are concerned. The Marine had has been fully trimmed, with silver gilt wire and a black cockade. In fact, Steve (our Marine) should be wearing it tonight at the Ball (I can’t wait for the pictures). Pictured right is our Marine’s hat in construction!

Captain Aubrey and his black "Hessians"The last problem presented would be footwear. This is one of those “blurry” lines in the whole debacle. Taking a look at older uniforms (and particularly in paintings and portraits), officers often wore different footwear, depending on a number of conditions such as style, the occasion, and personal taste. Taking a look at pop culture and mainstream media, for a moment, the intrepid Captain Jack Aubrey of Master and Commander wears white breeches with black leather Hessian boots. It makes for quite the swashbuckling appearance (especially with the white ruffled shirt). Hornblower takes to a number of styles, from long navy breeches with buckled shoes, to white breeches, stockings and shoes. Some officers use black boots with navy breeches as well. You can see an example of Aubrey’s black ‘hessian’ boots, with the white breeches.

Personally, I liked the look of the longer navy breeches (down to the ankle); the former blog posts show that’s the direction we took. With this style, you can’t have stockings, though you could wear buckled shoes. Instead, I opted for black leather boots. I like Aubrey’s look, and wanted to try to incorporate that into the uniform.

The problem? Leather is expensive. There are polyurethane alternatives, but honestly this takes us back to the “costume” debate; you can spot plastic and polyurethane miles away, and we want to avoid that. The trick was finding a decent pair of boots that looked good, and were a decent price.

Pleaser's Maverick knee-high leather bootsThe Internet, once again, proved invaluable. A few listings on eBay were tempting. We avoided them all mainly due to size concerns. Large calves run in the family, and as honest as many eBayers tend to be, we cannot afford to order boots that won’t fit, and must be sent back (or resold). Amazon.com has a marketplace, and on it we found a listing for a pair of boots manufactured by a company called Pleaser (they do a large assortment of footwear), called the Maverick. (I wonder if this link will still work, if not a quick google search of “amazon.com maverick boot knee” should return some results).

For about $100.00 (with tax and shipping), we had a great pair of boots that not only fit great, but look great. The cuff can be turned down, as shown, or unfolded for a taller boot. I like the flexibility of the pig leather, and the authentic look. We may have to look at getting some extra soles added for extra walking. I have a feeling the rubber will just not cut it. You can see the boot to the right.

There are a number of other accessories the uniform will feature, small things sucha a pocket-watch with a gold anchor fob, looking glass, boatswain whistle, etcetera—for the most part, however, the first Royal Navy costume is complete. We are still waiting on about ten metres of bias and stand trim for the front lapels (which is why we’ve avoided posting more pictures here, like an artist hesitant to show an unfinished painting). We’re hoping that the lace will arrive soon, and we can finish this project. October 31st is coming up fast, and come Halloween the Capstan Crew will be out in force for a night out.

I noticed a steady increase in traffic these past few weeks; I encourage any interested parties to leave a comment, or pose a question! Stay tuned, we’ve many more updates coming!

Behind the Uniform, Part II

Wolfville's historic Blomidon InnIt’s fantastic to see so many of our contributors authoring posts here at Man the Capstan! Things are really picking up, and we have some exciting events coming up on the horizon.

Before I get into more detail on the uniform construction process (and in this part I’ll be looking at the materials used for the coat, as well as some detail on a few accessories), I did want to mention that Man the Capstan had its first “gathering” of sorts—a briefing, if you will. We came together on September 9th for nearly three hours, and discussed the project, its present status, and where we hope to be in the near future. We also made some arrangements for an upcoming event for the Capstan Crew—as most of the costumes will be nearing completion by October 31st, Man the Capstan may be ready to debut the reproductions in public very shortly, and to a great location.

I won’t get into too much detail on what we have planned, as that’s for another blog post!

Back to the uniform, now (in case you missed it, here’s Part I). We started gathering supplies for the first R.N. reproduction in high summer. After we had received the patterns for the coats, we needed to find an appropriate material that would best reflect what was used historically. Back then, of course, the most accessible material (and the most practical) for military use was wool. Wool varied in quality, depending on how wealthy a given officer was, but the most common was broadcloth—contemporary broadcloth can be made out of nylon or polyester, but in England in our time period, it was made of heavy strands of wool. When I say “heavy”, mind you, I really do mean heavy. You put on a full dress coat, sans lace, you’re looking at eight to twelve pounds of cloth!

Close up of the gabardine, and the watch!

Ever in the pursuit of historical consistency, we took to the Internet and attempted to find some wool goods, specifically a broadcloth or coatweight wool. Unfortunately, not only is this material largely inaccessible for what we need, it’s also exceedingly expensive. For the yardage we needed, broadcloth was out of the picture. We took a trip to a fabric store in the city, hoping to find something cheaper, and happened upon gabardine—even more important, we found it in the precise colours we needed. Navy, off-white (an ivory kind of colour), and scarlet (for our intrepid Marine). Gabardine was far more affordable as well, and we could easily line the coats in order to capture the proper weight of broadcloth. A coat of this manner has to hang properly, and we thought we could achieve such an effect. You can see an example of the gabardine in the pocket-watch picture, to the right.

Before any serious cutting could commence, it seems fate struck and we hit jackpot. Our seamstress, on an outing to another fabric store, happened upon a heavy wool-nylon blend (80/20). It was navy, it was heavy, and it was perfect. It had the texture, appearance, and weight of a heavy-woven wool cloth. Thankfully, there was enough left (it was a clearance item) to sew one R.N. coat.

The wool-nylon blend, cut and ready to go

So the first coat was made out of the wool-nylon blend (you can see it being cut out, to the left) . The interior of the coat is lined with an ivory satin and ivory gabardine (the arms and torso are in the satin, while the tails are lined in the gabardine). The pants were a polyester blend (which is nice as far as wrinkles and creasing are concerned), and are also navy in colour. The waistcoat is gabardine (also lined in satin), and all told, every piece came together perfectly. More than anything we were increasingly impressed with the look and feel of the wool-nylon blend. It was sturdy and really fit the part.

Textiles aside, one of the most important part to the R.N. uniform is the gold and glitter. Of all the components for the R.N. uniform, the cloth and the lace were some of the most expensive. Lace is tricky—you can’t afford to be cheap (no pun intended, there) with the lace. It is such an iconic part of the uniform; the difference between a costume and a uniform, we soon found out, was the difference between cheap, fabric-store gold lace, and authentic metallic military lace.

Gilt wire lace, the expensive stuff

We had a few choices here, as well. The Royal Navy used a variety of laces. In the late 18th century (ending sometime in 90s) the Navy used bias-and-stand gold lace—a gold metallic tape with a very unique pattern (of which the lace is known for). Towards the 19th century the Navy adopted a gilt wire lace (shown right). The bias-and-stand feels more to be threaded metal, whereas the gilt wire feels like woven wire. It’s sturdier, more difficult to work with, and very very expensive. We found some gilt wire for $22.00 CDN a metre, and we needed fourteen metres! That would be $310.00 for lace per uniform, which works out to about a grand on lace alone for the uniforms. That really wasn’t feasible.

The bias and stand lace on the left, with buttons

So we opted for the bias-and-stand. It was still historically accurate, though perhaps a few years behind our intended period. The bias-and-stand proved to be easier to work with than the gilt wire (we actually procured some silver gilt wire for the Marine, but I won’t get into that right now) and has a certain charm of its own. The bias-and-stand was ordered from Military Heritage, a fantastic site that has a host of great supplies for reenactors and history enthusiasts. They’ve created uniforms and accessories for movie projects, documentaries as well as heritage work for the Government of Canada.

Royal Navy Buttons, ca. 1950

One of the greatest tools, we’ve found, has been eBay. The buttons for the coat (and the waistcoat) concerned us—many online sutlery and reenactment sites listed buttons as being quite expensive. When you need over thirty buttons per uniform, that can add up to be quite the unnecessary expense. Fortunately, eBay proved to be an invaluable resource. For our R.N. reproduction, we fount a lot of actual Royal Navy gold-tone buttons (featuring the King’s Crown)—we believe they date to the 50s, when Great Britain had a King. This was a relatively small expense, and we ordered enough buttons to cover both Royal Navy uniforms.

With the cloth, lace and buttons covered, I’ll save Part III for the sword, hat and boots! Stay tuned for more Captsan Updates here at Man the Capstan!