A clump of human hair is not what you expect to find when cataloguing a historic archive. However, the keeping of loved ones’ locks was a more common practice in the years past, particularly before the camera became commonplace. The Bankes Archive is home to two different locks of hair, each telling their own tale.
Family members would keep locks of hair from relatives who had passed away, as mementos and sentimental keepsakes. This crumpled envelope holds the hair of Anne Bankes, born in 1759. The inscription reads:
‘Hair of my dear Daughter Anne Bankes who died Feb 25 1778 & would have been 19 had she lived til April 23 following’
The cause of Anne’s death is a unknown, although the risk of disease was much higher in the 18th century, despite Anne’s higher status. This envelope and hair were clearly very dear to her mother Margaret Wynne Bankes (1724-1822), and the fact that the envelope and its contents are still in the Bankes Archive today is testament to its significance within the family.
John Ralph Bankes
The second lock of hair belongs to John, son of H.J. Ralph Bankes and Hilary Strickland Constable, taken when he was two years old. The keeping of a baby’s lock of hair was a common good luck superstition, and the tradition that still persists today.
The inscription gives a sweet description of John at the time: describing his eyes as deep blue, his complexion as ‘Pink & white Rose’ and very pink lips. It also lists what he was wearing – ‘Jersey – grey, blue stripes; Knickers grey; Socks grey; Shoes tan‘.
The lock is kept within two envelopes – one inscribed by his grandmother Henrietta Bankes, with a note ‘Please do not lose‘, and the other by his aunt Daphne Bankes.
Both these unusual documents show how the Bankes valued family,both in the late 18th century and in the 1930’s, and offer us a glimpse into their worlds of the past.