Herd Groyne Lighthouse River Tyne.
There is a third lighthouse, just upstream of the pier, on the Herd Groyne at South Shields (which was constructed in 1861–67 to preserve Littlehaven Beach, then known as Herd Sands, which had begun to be washed away by the change of currents caused by the new piers). This very unusual lighthouse resembling a 1940s sci-fi movie space craft was built by Newcastle-upon-Tyne Trinity House in 1882 (ownership was passed to the Tyne Improvement Commission the following year). It consists of an upper hexagonal part (including the lantern) of wood and corrugated iron construction, sitting on twelve cylindrical steel legs. The whole structure is painted red and stands 49 ft (15 m) in height.
The Barbour story began in 1894 in the Market Place in South Shields, England. Today the 5th generation family owned business remains in the read, with Barbour’s headquarters located in Simonside, South Shields. Although it sources products from around the globe, Barbour’s classic wax jackets are still manufactured by hand in the factory in Simonside and each year over 100,000 jackets are processed via the central, subsidiary and local customer service operations.
In 2004, Barbour began to work with Lord James Percy, in the design and marketing of its flagship shooting clothing range—the Northumberland range. Technically advanced and highly acclaimed in 2005, the Northumberland Range won the Shooting Industry Award for best clothing product, and the Linhope 3-in-1 won the Shooting Industry Award for best clothing product, 2008. Percy was also involved, alongside Vice Chairman Helen Barbour, in designing the new Barbour Sporting collection launched for Autumn Winter 2011.
Barbour now has 11 of its own retail shops in the UK, and a presence in over 40 countries worldwide including the United States, Germany, Holland, Austria, France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, New Zealand and Japan.
There are now over 2,000 products across the two seasons and the collections now cater for Men, Ladies and Children. Broadening out from its countrywear roots, today the heritage and lifestyle clothing brand produces clothing that is designed for a full lifestyle wardrobe. As well as jackets and coats, the Barbour wardrobe includes trousers, shirts, socks, knitwear and a range of accessories.
Nevertheless, in whichever area the company now operates, it remains true to its core values as a family business which espouses the unique values of the British Countryside and brings the qualities of wit, grit, and glamour to its beautifully functional clothing.
HISTORY OF BARBOUR WAXED COTTON: CLASSIC OUTERWEAR
You can’t think of the classic Barbour wax cotton jacket’s provenance without a nod to England’s nineteenth-century marine industry. And if necessity is the mother of invention, hat tip to hardworking 15th-century mariners who slathered their sailcloth in fish oil. It’s the earliest known iteration of waxed cotton, the textile we admire so much these days for its weather-resistant functionality and timeless appeal. Resourceful ancient fishermen repurposed worn sailcloth as capes for themselves: the same properties to make their sails more efficient in dry weather, and lighter during storms, also kept their own backs dry.
A few centuries hence, “oilcloth” had morphed into a linseed oil-saturated Egyptian cotton, a flax plant derivative replacing the erstwhile smelly fish oil as a weather deterrent. A cheap alternative to leather, oilcloth could be used in many of the same applications. Problem was, linseed oil also made the material stiff in cold weather (and thus prone to cracking), and turned it yellow. It took a long time to dry once it was soaked, and it was toxic to some degree. Still, it served its purpose in the marine industry and remained more or less unchanged from the mid-nineteenth century until the 1930s.
It was then, over a period of two years and with the combined efforts of three companies, a new generation of proofed cottons emerged, now impregnated with paraffin-based wax instead of linseed oil. The result was a pliant and breathable, water-resistant cotton that did not yellow. Manufactured exclusively for outerwear, the newfangled waxed cotton in short order supplanted oilcloth as the preferred material for heavy-duty foul weather gear.
Although J. Barbour & Sons Ltd. did not invent waxed cotton, the company was an early champion and purveyor of it. Barbour called the first thick, waterproof waxed cotton fabric Oilskin, and its clothing line Beacon Brand. Oilskin outerwear answered the demands of sailors, fishermen, and river, dock, and shipyard workers in coastal South Shields, a busy port in the North East of England that is still home to Barbour. Waxed cotton also appealed to farmers and gamekeepers, and even found its way into Barbour motorcycling apparel as early as 1934, later popularized by American actor and cycling enthusiast Steve McQueen.
THE MANY FACES OF MODERN WAXED COTTON
Nowadays the terms “oilcloth” and “waxed cotton” are sometimes used interchangeably to describe the same material, in spite of their real and historic differences. Our partners at Barbour make outerwear of waxed cotton manufactured to different specifications depending on its anticipated use:
Sylkoil is an “unshorn” wax where the cotton comes straight from the loom while it’s slightly fluffy and is then dyed and waxed. The natural imperfections of the weave are reflected in the rich variations of color and finish. Over time, this fabric softens into a lovely, slightly peachy looking cotton between waxes.
Thornproof is a lustrous wax with a deep color and even touch. The cotton is calendered between rollers and then dyed. The resulting finish is smooth cotton which we term Thornproof because it is extremely resistant to snags and pulls from spiky plants such as brambles and hawthorn.
In spite of waxed cotton’s utility and appeal, modern polymers (GORE-TEX® is an example) have threatened its extinction in recent years. And it is really no wonder: they’re more practical and require less maintenance.
This begs the question, why choose a Barbour waxed cotton jacket? You could as easily ask why a book holds sway over a tablet reader, a mechanical watch over a digital one, or wood over laminate, and the answer would be the same: because it possesses a depth of character its modern counterpart lacks. When you wear a Barbour jacket, you are wearing a piece of history.
And in the end, waxed cotton has rallied: while the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries may have seen its widest use in the marine industries, the classic waxed cotton jacket has made a comeback as essential outerwear for the discriminating country sportsman, fashion maven, and urbanite alike. It is a garment that develops patina with age, each mark a reminder of a page in a chapter, or a chapter in a story.
For many of us the waxed cotton jacket never went out of style. As stewards of a living garment—one that will likely enjoy use by multiple generations—we proudly wear this wardrobe beacon of our forebears.