Another batch of objects has been added to Fielding’s Office, this time with a decidedly personal theme. While the Chamber is accessorized with a mix of small objects that either belonged to Betty Lewis or illustrate an aspect of her life that we know of, we don’t have the same luxury in the Office. Sadly, there are no objects surviving in our collection that once belonged to Fielding himself. In order to introduce some personality into his private work space, we have selected several items that no doubt would have been at home in the room.
Visitors will notice the recent addition of a tricorne hat and hat box to the room, now sitting on the open desk beside Fielding’s easy chair. Proper gentlemen in the 18th century never went out in public without a hat, and the tricorne was a popular style. However, Fielding Lewis and his contemporaries would not have called it a tricorne, or tricornered, hat as we do today. It was more commonly referred to as a cocked hat, in reference to the edges of the broad-brimmed hat being folded up, or cocked, to create the look we are familiar with. Cocking the sides of a hat was done for style, but it probably started as a practicality. Powdered wigs were becoming more elaborate as the 18th century progressed, and while a hat remained a requirement in public, it became more acceptable to simply carry it under one’s arm rather than mash a beautifully coiffed wig with it. These gentlemen’s hats could be made of a short-hair fur, such as beaver, or boiled wool or even silk. They were usually trimmed in silk ribbon and decorated with an embellished cockade, which might hold feathers or other adornment. In Fielding’s Office, however, we are displaying the sort of cocked hat that would have been worn in the working world. Our hat dates to approximately 1770, and is made of simple boiled wool, with a plain cotton ribbon trim. There is no cockade, and it clearly shows creases from many years of being worn firmly on the head, probably without a voluminous powdered wig. It is intended to emphasize the fact that the Office is a working room, where Fielding conducted business not entertainment. If he had just walked in the door from a daily tour of his fields or storehouses, this is the style of hat that he would have flung on the desk as he sat down in his chair.
Speaking of flinging things, visitors will also notice a pair of wool stockings casually flung over the back of the easy chair, as well. These are original stockings dating to the late 18th century, and are in remarkably good shape for how they were intended to be used. Much like hats, stockings were a requirement in daily dress. Fancier stockings were made of silk or cotton, while wool stockings were for work and more commonly worn by laborers. However, many of Betty Lewis’s store accounts that survive in Kenmore’s archives show that she quite regularly purchased one or two pairs of wool stockings, along with other household goods. While it might be assumed that she was purchasing these stockings for slaves or servants, the small number bought at one time indicates that they were intended for a smaller group of people, perhaps her husband and five children. It seems likely, therefore, that Fielding was wearing wool stockings in his daily work. We show them in his Office, as if they too were cast aside after a walk through the fields.
Lastly, we have added a pair of spectacles to the room. While Fielding does not wear spectacles in the only known depiction of him (the portrait by John Wollaston, ca. 1765), his eye problems were well-documented. Even in the Wollaston portrait he is shown with a crossed eye, a condition which is mentioned in several contemporary descriptions of him. It seems likely that spectacles would have been a necessity for Fielding, and always nearby. The pair on display date to approximately 1775, and were made in England.
I hope you will stop by soon to see Fielding’s Office as it truly begins to take shape!