A Straw Bonnet Story by Volunteer Ann Grimmer

Straw Leghorn Bonnet

While using the British Newspaper Archives for some research I kept seeing adverts for Rutland Straw Bonnets throughout the 19th century. Having never heard of such a bonnet I asked at the museum if they had.  They were not aware of any special bonnet made in Rutland but they did have a very old straw bonnet in their collection. Maybe it was a Rutland Straw Bonnet?

It was fetched out of storage and photos sent to Veronica Main MBE, an authority on the history and an expert on straw hat plaiting. Veronica kindly sent back a detailed report advising that the bonnet was of a fine quality, professionally made and a type commonly known as a Leghorn bonnet. The plaits of Leghorn bonnets were made of Tuscan wheat, rye or a type of grass plaited into continuous lengths which were then stitched together edge to edge or overlapping to produce the two principle pieces of a bonnet – the crown (hood or cornetto) and the brim. This bonnet also has a third piece, a curtain or bavolet attached at the nape section of the crown.

Leghorn or Livorno, in Tuscany, is the Italian port from where the bonnets or their component pieces were exported and from whence the name derived.

The Leghorn bonnet in the museum collection was donated by a descendant of Sarah Reddish who married farmer Richard Seaton of Manton, Rutland. It was worn by her at their wedding in 1825. One can imagine an excited Sarah going into Nottingham from nearby Basford to purchase a smart bonnet for her wedding.

Sarah Reddish b 1793 (possible baptism St Mary’s church, Nottingham) and Richard Seaton baptised 1785 in Ketton, Rutland were married on 23rd March 1825 in St Leodegarius’ Church in Basford, Nottingham. It is quite likely that Sarah’s father, William Reddish, was the miller of Basford, the Reddish family being millers in various Nottinghamshire villages, Basford being one of them. 

Richard’s parents were farmers Richard Seaton and his wife Sarah (nee Buckworth) of Ketton. Rutland.

How did Sarah from Nottingham come to marry a young man from Rutland? There were Reddish and Seaton families in several Rutland villages so Sarah could have met Richard Seaton while visiting relations in Rutland and milling was a trade common to both families.

After Richard and Sarah’s marriage they lived and farmed many acres at Manton, Rutland where they had six children – Richard Buckworth 1826-1903, John Reddish 1827-1862, Rowland Buckworth 1829-1834, Sarah Ann 1831-1856, Mary 1832-1923, Rowland Buckworth 1834-1923 and Arthur 1836-1906.

Their father Richard died aged sixty two on 17th January1848 having written his will on 21st August 1847 leaving his estate to his wife Sarah and his children. It included a three acre parcel of land that was in the process of being sold to the Midland Railway Company which at that time was constructing a new railway line from Peterborough to Syston including Manton Station. Sadly Richard did not live to see the opening of Manton station or see the first train going over his land in March 1848.

Sarah and her children continued to farm the land at Manton, which by 1851 had increased to 400 acres; eight farm labourers and two house servants were also employed. Sarah died on 3rd October 1865 aged seventy three years. Both she and her husband Richard Seaton are buried in Manton churchyard.

Unfortunately, neither Veronica nor my on going researches have as yet provided any clues to the mystery surrounding the origin of the name Rutland Straw Bonnet.

Our thanks go to Ann for all her research and blog post. We would also like to thank Veronica Main MBE from hatplait.co.uk for her fantastic report on the bonnet and to Julia Park from Conservation Services for undertaking the conservation work before display.

The bonnet is on display in our special temporary exhibition Top To Toe: Vintage Fashion Accessories from the Museum Collection. The Exhibition is on display until Saturday 11th March 2023.

We would love to hear from anyone has any further information on “Rutland Bonnets’.

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