Safe outdoor exercise is vitally important for everyone's physical and mental health during lockdown - and all year round. According to the "Walking Works" report by Macmillan Cancer and the Ramblers Association, "we could prevent 37,000 deaths every year, just by taking a walk". And MIND has lots of tips and information on the positive mental health benefits of being outside.
It can be hard to muster up enthusiasm on a drizzly November day, however, which is why we need to grab a handy umbrella to get out and get rid of those rainy day blues. But how much do you know about the history of umbrellas? We take a peek at how they've been used for practical and decorative purposes in the past ... and even taken into war!
In the beginning
The first umbrellas were really parasols, used in Egypt and other ancient civilisations to protect the elite from sunshine, not rain. Made from palm leaves or feathers in a canopy shape, they had a practical and often symbolic purpose - some believed that the bigger the parasol, the more important the person! Beautifully decorated oil-paper parasols, like those pictured above, date back nearly two millennia and are still used in traditional Chinese weddings.
Parasols were brought to Europe in the sixteenth century, pioneered by Portuguese colonists who saw them being used in Asia. They became popular in England, France and Italy, although waterproofed umbrellas didn't come into use for many more decades.
Practicality vs style
Umbrellas were rarely used by British men until the late 1700s and were sometimes called "Hanways" after the first London man who regularly carried one. They were heavy and hard to carry round, being made from oiled silk, with wooden or whalebone ribs and a thick wooden handle. The Duke of Wellington, always ready for action, even had a dagger set into his handle!
For many years, umbrellas were seen as practical, slightly dull, items that were very different to lighter, colourful parasols. These were far more suited to women's fashion and flirting purposes, as recognisable to Jane Austen readers and Regency era lovers.
From fashion to the battlefield
In the nineteenth century, London-based Samuel Fox's steel ribbed umbrella paved the way for lighter weight modern designs. Hans Haupt also made a major breakthrough by inventing the first folding umbrella in late 1920s Berlin. And in 1956, the National Umbrella Show in London showed they had become fully fledged fashion accessories, with designs including gold lame with matching mink muffs for evening and miniature music boxes set into handles!
Personally, we prefer a slightly more artistic version of a classic style such as the Monet's Poppies Fields design above - but practicality remains key. Although being practical can mean very different things to different people - for example, the eccentric World War II hero Major Digby Tatham-Warter ...
The Major used to lead his troops into battle with a raised umbrella, paired with a pistol and on occasion a bowler hat. He said it was because he couldn't remember military passwords and it helped identify him to his own side, as "the bloody fool carrying the umbrella could only be an Englishman"! He survived the war and was even portrayed in Richard Attenborough's film "A Bridge Too Far" - here's more about his amazing story.
Our movie moment ...
Peach Perfect had our own brush with the film world last week when we headed down to Pinewood Studios with armfuls of umbrellas for Arcadia Pictures' crew members and cast (see above)! Although filming details were kept closely under wraps, we can reveal that they ordered lots of our ever popular Rainshader Sports Umbrellas, as pictured at the top of this post.
We hope you've enjoyed finding out more about the history of umbrellas and you're feeling more inspired to get rid of those rainy day blues - even if you're not quite ready for singing in the rain! Here's a final picture of our super stylish, innovative Blue Daisy Inside Out Umbrella which we hope will put a smile on your face. And you can find lots more stylish, fun designs in our Outdoor Gifts Collection.