Redcase Limited, of which I am Director, was formerly the company of the late Maria Bjornson. As one of the world’s leading set and costume designers for theatre and opera, she was in the course of her work always concerned with researching the history of costume intensively. Since 2004, Redcase has been engaged in creating a historical archive of original manuscripts and documents relating to the fields of activity so important to Maria and her profession.
This Historical Archive of original documents is additional to the large History of Costume Library of books which the company holds, collected by Maria during her lifetime, and the many rare additions to it that I have collected from sources all over the world since her death.
The Historical Archive contains an increasing number of unusual and unpublished documents from the seventeenth century to the present.
These include such unusual items as a note about shoes by Izaak Walton (author of The Compleat Angler) and an original warrant of the State Council dating from 1647 for suits of clothing for the imprisoned King Charles I, which gives details of his required clothing and even the name of his personal tailor.
A large ledger of a Mayfair cobbler records intimate personal details of the footwear requirements of famous people of the First World War period, including the then Princess Royal. We now know what she paid for her shoes, and what they looked like. The same is true of a vast array of the leading aristocracy of the day, and what kind of boots officers home on furlough chose to wear when absent from the trenches.
We have possibly the oldest surviving apprenticeship indenture of a young man apprenticed to a clothier, dated August 2, 1646. In this indenture, the apprentice was forbidden to commit fornication or frequent taverns for six years. Neither could he marry.
These documents not only record a great deal of detail about the clothes and shoes worn by people over a period of 350 years, but they are neglected sources for a rich seam of social history which has never received its proper attention. For these documents lay bare the economics of clothes, shoes, cloth, and the trades associated with them. We now know how much people had to pay for a pair of shoelaces at various times in history, or for a waistcoat, or ribbons.
This Historical Archive will continue to grow, and it is intended to make as many of its contents as possible available as free downloads over the worldwide web, on this website. Of course, this may not be possible for huge ledgers and long, oddly-shaped accounts documents. But as much as possible will be scanned for download.
I have personally typed transcriptions of some of the documents which are hardest to read, as my many years of familiarity with seventeenth century handwriting generally render it relatively easy for me to decipher these, and I know that few people without training as historians would today be able to read some of the more difficult ones. In order to make their contents more widely available, therefore, I have decided that transcriptions wherever possible should accompany the scans of the documents themselves. It is our hope that these materials may be helpful to historians and designers alike, as an elucidation of the fascinating world of what we wear, how we wear it, what we pay for it, and who makes it.
In addition to the manuscripts, the Historical Archive also contains a large collection of British Acts of Parliament relating to the areas of interest. These provide a broad view of the various tariffs and restrictions of supply of such things as silks, leathers, and linen, identify their sources, and give insights into the economic factors and trade concerns relating to materials supply for apparel of all kinds. So far, the documents are all in the English language, and no effort has been made to collect any documents in foreign languages, or to extend the international range of the collection beyond the British historical perspective, though this is not ruled out for the future.