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A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE UMBRELLA

The actual origin of the umbrella is so ancient as to be lost.  It is quite probable that the umbrella was evolved from a primitive shelter of leaves carried by some old Adam long before the earliest known civilisation came into being.

As social life developed from family to tribe and from tribe to small kingdoms the leafy shelter developed into a canopy, which in turn became more ornamental and finally became a symbol of rank.

Whilst man however may have given ceremonial value to the umbrella it is woman's changing fashion that we owe much of its development.

EASTERN ORIGINS

According to Chinese legend the origin of the umbrella goes back to about 2000 years B.C., and in China more than in any other country the umbrella became a distinctive mark of rank.  Emperors and Imperial rank in Japan, Indian Princes, Assyrians and Persians also used umbrella to denote rank.

RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS

Use of the umbrella in religious ceremonies is associated with tree worship.  In his fifth incarnation the Hindu God Vishnu rises from hell bringing Varuna's rain giving umbrella with him, whilst some figures of Buddha are shown adorned with umbrellas.

THE UMBRELLA COMES TO EUROPE

Apparently the umbrella entered Europe via Greece, Italy and Turkey.  Tradition has it that the Normans brought the umbrella to England with them (presumably some sort of canopy regalia) in 1066, but there is nothing very tangible to support this.  Umbrellas were however in common use in France in 1620.  It is often claimed that umbrellas were introduced to England by Jonas Hanway about 1750, but this is definitely not correct.  They are mentioned in Gays Trivia, The Art of Walking the Streets of London, published in 1712 and also in the Female Tattler for December 12th 1709.  But Jonas Hanway was the first Englishman to carry an umbrella regularly.  He was pelted by coachmen and chairmen for his persistence, since they saw this craze could endanger there own means of livelihood.

It should be remembered that in those days the only covered transport was the private coach or Sedan chair.  Also that the umbrellas were very heavy, ungainly things made with whalebone or cane ribs, mounted on a long, stout stick of about 1" in diameter and covered with a heavy cotton fabric, waterproofed by oiling or waxing.

Only on a few public buildings was rainwater led from the roofs by gutters and fallpipes.  In the main the water simply ran off the roof into the street.  Although sometimes it was collected in gutters under the eaves and poured out like a miniature Niagara Falls, through the mouths of grotesque gargoyles at each corner of the building.  Pavements were unknown and the gutter or kennel was in the middle of the street.  The choice was then either to carry one of these portable tents or get soaked.

By 1787 the umbrella had achieved some considerable measure of popularity within a short period of time and the French ladies umbrellas had achieved remarkable elegance, and on the continent they were used as much as a sunshade as protection from rain.  And it is from this period and via the sunshade that umbrellas began to develop into something lighter and more graceful.

Between 1816 and 1820 men's umbrellas had again reached a weight of over four pounds, but ladies umbrellas continued to be much lighter, weighing less than one pound.  This was partly due to the use of finer fabric of silk and by the substitution of light iron stretchers, but in general umbrellas in this country, until the middle of the last century, were made with ribs of whalebone for the best quality and of split cane for the cheaper quality.

Then in the late 1800's came the development of the Fox Steel Ribs and Frames.  And so the modern umbrella was born.