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Pockets of History

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Linen pocket with embroidered woollen floral design, eighteenth century © Fashion Museum, Bath - Bath and North East Somerset Council Appliquéd and embroidered pocket, early-mid 1800s © Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, Worthing Borough Council Patchwork pocket, late 1700s- early 1800s © The Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland Single pocket, early 1800s © TCheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, Cheltenham Borough Council

The Pockets of History collection contains new digital photographs of over three hundred tie-on pockets of the 1700 and 1800s, with overviews and close-ups of details. The photographs come from the first survey ever made of women's tie-on pockets surviving in Britain. Very few have been photographed before.

The teaching of needlework to girls during this period often involved the making of scaled-down simple garments and it is possible that some of surviving exercise pieces have become thought of as 'dolls' clothes.

The pockets are in almost thirty different collections across the country, the majority in public museums and a tiny number in private hands. The survey and the website are not intended to be comprehensive, but rather their purpose is to provide sufficient examples of tie-on pockets to establish an understanding of their construction, materials and decoration and to facilitate comparisons between pockets normally geographically dispersed in different collections. Many of the pockets are fragile; it is hoped that the information contained in the photographs will help to preserve them by reducing the need for handling them.

Pockets were common but obscure objects, without great value and used by women of all social backgrounds for a long period of time and very few of those that survive have a known provenance. So it is not always possible to be certain about dates or materials. Therefore in some cases information given in the website about extant pockets may be provisional.

The website also contains visual and written material that has been selected to show in other ways how the pockets were made and used, even how they were lost and stolen, and what they meant to people at the time. The website has examples of paintings, prints, novels and letters, along with records of court proceedings, newspaper stories, advertisements, bills and inventories. As everyday objects, the pockets featured over time in many kinds of public and private source and the website can only give a taste of these.

Who is the collection for?

The Pockets of History collection is made for everyone interested in historic dress and textiles from a general or a specialist perspective. It is a unique visual archive of many surviving examples of women's tie-on pockets of the 1700s and 1800s. It is also designed to tell the story of the social and cultural life of these once common, now largely forgotten objects. The website can be searched in different ways so if you are a designer, maker or embroiderer looking for ideas and inspiration, or a curator, conservator or historian in search of references and sources, or a newcomer to this area of interest, there should be relevant material for you.

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Materials        Decoration        Getting Pockets        Using & Losing Pockets


Scandal Refuted, or Billingsgate Virtue, by C. Williams, 1818 © Guildhall Library, Corporation of London

The Pockets of History research project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the University of Southampton. Additional support was provided by the Pasold Research Fund. The Hampshire County Museums and Archive Service, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Fashion Museum at Bath also gave invaluable aid throughout the project. We acknowledge the help of many other individuals and organisations with the wider research project and its outcomes, not least the team at the Visual Arts Data Service. We are particularly indebted to Dr Jonathan White, members of our AHRC Pockets of History Steering and Expert User Groups and colleagues at the Textile Conservation Centre and elsewhere in the University of Southampton.

Further information


The information within and all images that appear may be used for educational purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended for any other purpose, without prior permission of the copyright holder(s).

Contact Details

Address: Barbara Burman
Pockets of History
c/o VADS

Image credits



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