When this bonnet was made, braided straw for the hat trade in the United Kingdom was often the product of child labour. In a report to the Children's Employment Commission in 1842, one contributor, Major J G Burns noted that in areas where it was concentrated, such as Luton and Bedford, straw braiding could be an absolute bar to a child getting any education at all, "because children as young as three can learn the craft, and their parents are hard to convince that paying for their schooling is necessary when they can earn a living instead". Young children were in any case preferred by some employers as being not only cheaper to employ, but sometimes easier to teach handwork techniques to since their fingers were more pliant.

The evidence submitted to the Children's Employment Commission was gathered by asking the children and some adults (in some cases those whose children worked in the same place as they did themselves) a standard set of questions; they afterwards signed their name, or made their mark if unable to sign. Many of the children had received some education: typically they could read but either couldn't write, or couldn't write fluently; occasionally (but much more rarely) they could write but not read, which in some cases may have been indicative of undetected problems with eyesight or health.


  • Title: Bonnet
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: 1830/1840
  • Location: England
  • Provenance: Given by Miss R. Taylor
  • Medium: Braided straw with net, satin, silk and glazed cotton

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