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Rum & Ribbon

During this festive season, if you find yourself waking up feeling 'groggy', you might like to think back to the origin of the word... 

Earlier this year I visited Hanbury Hall, a William and Mary-style National Trust country house in Worcestershire. Whilst marvelling at the large brass horn of the gramophone in the Ladies’ Parlour, an enthusiastic volunteer explained the meaning behind the phrase ‘put a sock in it’. This had been, she said, a very practical request to dampen/reduce a gramophone’s volume level as the device had no volume dial the only solution was to literally stuff something inside to muffle the sound.


With my etymological curiosities piqued, she turned to a small print of Edward Vernon. He had been an admiral in the Royal Navy in the 1740s and - although it was seen as a fabric for the lower socio-economic classes - he wore a grosgrain cloak, woven from silk, mohair and other wools, leading to his nickname 'Old Grog'. As was the custom in those days sailors aboard his ship were given a daily ration of rum. Admiral Vernon decreed that the rum must be diluted to help preserve the health of his crew. Following his mandate the sailors named this new cocktail ‘Grog’. Often they would store up their rations in order to binge, but would unsurprisingly experience ‘groggy’ symptoms the next day. 

It just goes to show the influence of textiles both past and present and their significance within our culture. If you’re doing any last minute holiday wrapping with grosgrain ribbons or choose a swig of ‘grog’ to welcome in the new year, why not raise a toast to Admiral Vernon and his fabulous cloak... hopefully you won’t be cursing him in the morning!

A mighty bowl on deck he drew,
And filled it to the brink;
Such drank the Burford's gallant crew,
And such the gods shall drink.
The sacred robe which Vernon wore
Was drenched within the same;
And hence his virtues guard our shore,
And Grog derives its name.

Dr Thomas Trotter, writing in 1781 about Vernon and his Grog

You can read more stories of Grosgrain in Selvedge issue 61.

Guest blog post by Head of Communications, Clare Bungey.



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