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Object of the Month

Labourer's Smock and Yoke

Farmworker’s smock late 19th or early 20th century 


The smock was worn by agricultural labourers of the Midlands, southern counties of England and to a limited extent, Wales.  They were commonly worn in the 18th century up until the mid-19th century when they began to decline in popularity.  People were moving into the towns for work where the wearing of the smock became not only impractical but dangerous when working on the machines.

The smock was worn for protection from the weather, to prevent clothes from getting dirty and to allow for freedom of movement.  This smock is reversible: both sides of the smock are identical with no obvious front or back.   If one side became dirty it could simply be turned around and work continue without the need to stop or change. Traditionally smocks were made of unbleached linen and cotton.  To make a smock the fabric would be cut into rectangles to avoid wastage, it would then be ‘smocked’ i.e. the fabric is gathered, and controlling stitches applied to the ridged surface to hold the gathers in place. Some smocks were oiled to make them waterproof.  

The image also shows a Yoke

A yoke is a shoulder pole made of wood that rests over the shoulders with the load balanced over either side.  This yoke dates from the around the 1850s and was used in Stretton-upon-Dunsmore at a Quarterman’s Farm.