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B.306-1996 Child’s spectacle frames; British, 1960-69

Pair of child’s National Health spectacle frames, of translucent pale pink cellulose acetate.  The frames are rounded, with a straighter and slightly winged top, and have a high joint with a plain bridge and clear acetate pads; the hinged ‘curl’ sides are reinforced with a metal core, and terminate in curved metal earpieces.

The donor in his letter states that children’s spectacles of this type ‘were produced on the most simple of machinery…they were made by many British manufacturers to the ministries (sic) general specification [and] each licensed manufacturer would mark the frame with his four letter code….’

Acquired by the donor during his career as a dispensing optician with R W H Clements, London.

The NHS scheme whereby children were given free spectacles lasted from 1946 to 1988, when it was phased out in favour of vouchers.

Image reference: 2012FP9907

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

MISC.85-1986 Mourning garment; Girl’s mourning coat of black sateen; England, 1921

Girl’s mourning coat of black sateen lined with pale blue cotton.  The coat is in a waisted, single-breasted style with a flared skirt and wrist-length sleeves with split cuffs of self fabric. The squared neck is embroidered all round with sprays of forget-me-nots in coloured silks, and the cuffs are trimmed with laid and couched pale blue silk.  The garment fastens at the centre front with press studs beneath three bound and embroidered buttons, and was originally stitched closed at the base of the front opening.

Worn by the donor, Eileen Amy Brock (b.1915), in connection with the death of her father, William Claude (Will) Brock, a private in the British army serving in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). He died of heat stroke in Basra on 21/07/1921.  The coat was made by Eileen’s mother, Amy.  (Information on Will Brock’s death is from the IWM, which has his letters).

Image reference: 2006AF3185

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

B.382-1993 Baby’s bonnet of embroidered pink silk trimmed with lace; Hungary, 1920-1929

Baby’s bonnet of pale pink silk crepe with a lining of pale pink silk.  The bonnet has a circular crown piped in matching silk crepe, and is trimmed with lace insertion and hand embroidered sprays of flowers in pink silks.  The edges are trimmed with a frill of scalloped lace over a pleated lace-edged flounce of pink crepe, and the front edge with a wired band of flowers made from matching silk ribbon.  The bonnet fastens beneath the chin with a looped tying string of pale pink satin ribbon. One of several garments bought by the donor in a baby clothes shop in Budapest as ‘antique’, when she was expecting her 1st child in 1943, and baby clothes were in very short supply.  She commented that she did not realise then how impractical they were: they were not used for any of her children.

'Blue for a boy; pink for a girl' is a comparatively modern idea, and there seems to be no agreement on how or when the tradition arose.  Blue was regarded as a  protective colour from ancient times onward, and its use as an amulet could be extended to any prized asset.  As male heirs were generally preferred, they were considered more in need of protection.  Pink may have been considered a suitable colour for girls as a contrast, when there was a certain amount of feeling against green and even yellow for use in children's clothing.  In some European countries, blue is a colour associated with the Virgin Mary, and thought appropriate for girls; pink is then for boys, and may be considered as a shade of red, sometimes associated with St Joseph.

Image reference: 2008BT4712

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

MISC.731:1, 2-1992 Toddler slipper; Pale blue felt; British, about 1940. With a low wedge heel; vamp with appliqué motif of an animal playing a musical  instrument.

Brand: Chilprufe

Image reference: 2010ED1567

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London/Chilprufe

B.8-2003 Nappy, Cotton and hemp nappy with Union Jack flag design, made in Scotland by Ella’s House in 2002

This nappy is made from fabric printed with the Union flag design, produced as a souvenir for the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. It was made by Ella’s House, who specialise in the use of environmentally friendly materials. It was an unexpected success and over 100 sold in the first three days.

Image reference: 2008BT9636

Image creditline; ©Victoria and Albert Museum,London/Ella’s House

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B.878-1993  Swaddling band; probably Italian, late 16th century

This is the oldest piece of children’s clothing in the Museum,of Childhood’s collection. 

During the Italian Renaissance childbirth was encouraged, celebrated and commemorated. Newborn babies were swaddled for the first 6 to 12 months of their lives. A decorative band such as this was the last to be applied after the child had been wrapped in plain bands. Swaddling was thought to strengthen the spine and help baby’s body develop. The whole body was bound, leaving only the head free to move which rendered the child warm, still and kept them out of harm’s way. These bands were usually just plain linen but the few that survive, decorated with embroidery or lace, were for occasional use.


B.95:1, 2-2009 Girl’s coat and bonnet set in peppermint green wool, fully lined, made by Minimode c.1961 in England.

This matching coat and bonnet set was made by Minimode in the early 1960s. It was worn by a girl called Karen when she was about three years old. Minimode produced good quality and stylish clothing for children from around the late 1950s. Minimode still make good quality children’s clothes today but their label is now produced exclusively for the British High Street chain, Boots.

Image reference: 2010ED1332 

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London


B.67-2013 ‘Poolesbrook, Derbyshire - Contented’, Black and white photograph  mounted on card, by John Heywood, 1974

Taken from a series entitled ‘My Family and other Children’ a photographic study of childhood spanning 40 years, photographer John Heywood documents the everyday lives of children from his local estates, against a backdrop of suburban England.

Image reference: 2013GK2565

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum,London/John Heywood

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MISC.1052-1991 Scoop-necked sleeveless dress of violet silk with a threaded écru stripe in the weave; écru coloured yak lace trim; probably UK, 1870-1879

During the 19th century the lace industry in the UK employed a considerable number of children and young girls. They usually worked from home, and their finished work was bought by dealers (less the cost of any patterns and thread supplied). While working from home would give a more pleasant environment than, say, a factory, the lace workers were very much dependent on the dealers to pay a fair price, and would often work many hours a day to make enough money.

image reference: 2006BF1407

Image credit:  ©Victoria and Albert Museum,London

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B.81-1995 Child’s ‘pudding’ or safety hat of padded cotton made in the UK between 1775 and 1800

This ‘pudding’ is a safety hat for a young child learning to walk, designed to fasten horizontally around the head above the ears. The ‘pudding’ consists of a horseshoe-shaped roll of glazed pink cotton with four lightly padded triangular flaps attached at regular intervals, two of them fastening together over the head. Many small children in the 17th and 18th centuries wore this type of hat, which helped to protect them from head injuries if they fell. The nickname of ‘pudding’ comes from the padded roll’s similarity of shape and size to the type of sausage called ‘pudding’, a popular food still eaten today.

Image reference: 2006AN5665

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

B.272-2010 Card mounted tinted photograph of a girl wearing red and white gingham shorts and top and holding a spade, taken on the south coast of England, by Remington’s Photo Service (A.H. Remington), 1920-39.

Photographs and postcards taken by studios such as Remington’s were a popular souvenir of a family trip to the seaside. This image also captures the types of garments that would have been worn by children on the beach during the 1920s and 1930s.

Image reference: 2010EJ6725

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum,London/Arthur H Remington


B.17-1994 School photograph; British, 1915-25

The boys’ clothes show the transition to the fashions of the post-WW1 period from those of the Victorian and Edwardian eras: the majority wear jumpers with collars (some with ties), but one or two wear jackets (including one Norfolk jacket) and two boys wear Eton collars; one boy standing at the back, with his head bandaged, wears an army combat jacket. A London County Council Copy book (No A17) is visible on the master’s desk in the foreground, with a chalk-box, an inkstand, and a bundle of pupils’ copy books tied with string.

Image reference: 2010EH1099

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum,London

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MISC.102-1986 Victorian swimming costume made of white calico with printed red pin-strips, made in England between 1870 and 1880

Sea bathing first became popular for health reasons in the 1790s: King George III set the fashion for sea-bathing when he visited Weymouth in 1789. As seaside holidays grew in popularity, seaside bathing became more widespread, and was often seen as a restorative or ‘cure’ for a number of diseases.

Improvements in travel and increasing numbers of visitors by coach or train meant that seaside towns were able to invest in more and more sophisticated forms of entertainment, and by 1890, Weston-super-Mare boasted an alpine railway and a shooting gallery, a maze, bandstand, helter skelter, water chute and Theatre of Wonders.

Although there was a lot of fun to be had, adults would have remained fully dressed on the beach. This was not simply due to modesty - people would not have been used to wearing so few clothes, fearing they would catch cold. Those who were prepared to bathe in the sea, would be towed out in a large, covered horse-drawn cart. They would then change under cover and emerge from the back of the cart into the sea. Even so, at this time, few people knew how to actually swim, the idea was simply to take a dip in the water.

Children, both girls and boys, would have worn swimming costumes very much like the one pictured, although some boys and men bathed nude at separate beaches. Many children’s bathing costumes would have been made at home using quite a thick material which when wet, would become much heavier. Each summer, dressmaking magazines such as ‘Myra’s Journal’ would run features on clothing for the seaside, the idea being that readers could then order sewing patterns for the garments depicted.

Image reference: 2006AF3171

Image credit: ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Misc.18-1985  Girls coat made of russet wool, made in England under the Utility Scheme 1941-1948

This coat and hat for a little girl were made under the Utility Scheme, the UK government’s regulations to control manufacturing and eliminate waste of resources during World War Two (1939-45) and the period of austerity afterwards. The Utility scheme launched in 1941 with the distinctive logo ‘CC41’, designed by Reginald Shipp, for use by manufacturers whose products met the rules. It used standard designs to avoid waste of materials and the use of un-necessary details in manufacturing: this coat has only one row of buttons instead of the two that would be usual for the style. The inclusion of the hat probably indicates that it dates from the early years of Utility clothing. The coat and hat are probably former shop stock which failed to sell, and were stored away when fashions changed. The wartime ‘Make Do and Mend’ campaign encouraged restraint, repair and re-use wherever possible; because of the smaller size and simpler construction, children’s clothes for this age group were particularly likely to be made at home by their families rather than bought in shops. Buying new garments at this time was quite difficult, needing coupons from the limited number issued to each person, as well as the monetary cost. Families sometimes had to use the adult’s coupons to get new shoes or winter coats for their children who had outgrown their old ones. The alternative was to buy second hand garments, or to go to a dealer who was willing to break the government regulations- technically a criminal offence. 

Image reference: 2010BU0150

Image credit: © Victoria and Albert Museum,London