THE announcement that Wippell & Co. are to cease this week (News, 29 September) ends an institution that many have known and loved since 1789. One particular concern is what will become of the Warham Guild academic hood.
In many ways, it is the ecclesiastical “Marmite” hood — loved and loathed in equal measures by clergy and others alike. Will it wither away, becoming a museum piece, or are future signs promising? I believe the latter.
Percy Dearmer was the creator of the Warham Guild in 1912, and its academic hood. As an Anglican organisation of craftsmen and artisans, its mission statement was to “augment the studies of the Alcuin Club and the directives of The Parson’s Handbook” within the context of “the making of all the Ornaments of the Church and of the Ministers thereof according to the standard of the Ornaments Rubric, and under fair conditions of labour”. Dearmer headed the Guild until his death in 1936. The lifespan of the Guild after that, however, was relatively short.
The life span of the Guild, though, was relatively short and critics of the closure of Wippell have argued in the press that it had a slow death.
In an article published in the Church Times in 2022, reflecting on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (News, 27 May 2022), Dearmer is is fêted for having reinvigorated the Anglican clerical workforce, its corporate sense of pride reflected in the renewed attention to dress: “There is, in this new millennium, a palpable sense of pride in clerical dress. We see tailored cassocks, rich silk stocks, long cathedral-style surplices, broad scarves, and a tendency to have the academic hood made in the faux-medieval shape (promoted by the Warham Guild) that would gladden the heart of Dr Dearmer.”
AS VICAR of Primrose Hill (1901-15), Dearmer used his church as a practical laboratory for the principles he had outlined in his key texts: The Parson’s Handbook, published in 1899, and the later Ornaments of the Church and of the Ministers thereof, in 1920. Before the founding of the Warham Guild, Dearmer introduced the notion that existing academic hoods were “false hoods”, having strayed far from the original medieval hood designed for simple day-to-day wear.
As a result, he considered that his prototype hood “X”, introduced soon after 1913, was not only true to the historical development of the academic hood, but should be considered as the “real” hood. Central to his thinking was the frequent reference to 1 Corinthians 14.40 (AV): “Let all things be done decently and in order”. Hood “X” was an attempt to clericalise the academic hood which was both “decent” and “in order”.
Dearmer’s two prototype hoods, “X” (left) and “Z” (right)
In May this year, I corresponded with Robin Richardson, the chairman and director of Wippell, who confirmed that the current clientele for Warham hoods is predominantly clergy. This was further supported by the Revd Kenneth Crawford, of Robes of Distinction, who indicated that orders were from clergy and allied church personnel — organists or choristers.
The Episcopal Church in the United States has, in some circles, taken the hood to its heart. From c.1974, Nashotah House Seminary, in Wisconsin, through its strong links with Wippell, made the decision that students and faculty members would have the option to wear the “cassock-cape”-style hood — the Warham hood version — as well as regular-shaped hoods.
Furthermore, the hood is thriving in the digital age, courtesy of social-media groups for clerical and academic dress. Dearmer’s heart would truly be “gladdened”. Interest grows both in the UK and abroad for this most distinctive of academic hoods. Over the previous century, it has adapted slightly. A few robemakers have, over the years, taken up the baton and manufactured the hood for a small but growing client base.
Given his single-mindedness regarding this hood, a suitable two-edged epitaph may also rest in his own words, taken from Dearmer’s 1909 Body and Soul: An enquiry into the effect of religion on health: “Upon us lies the responsibility neither to neglect things because they are old nor to reject them because they are new.” At this point, I picture Dearmer choking on some of his earlier words, surrounded by the aficionados of his hood.
Dr Michael Bunton was recently elected to a Fellowship of the Burgon Society, a learned society and educational charity for the study and research of academic dress, through an examined dissertation: Decently and in Order: The Warham Guild hood.