top of page

The Flat Cap on ... Curtains

Yesterday was one of those bright winter days where the sun was streaming in through The Flat Cap’s lounge window. Because the sun was so low in the sky it made watching daytime television a little problematical. At one point The Flat Cap considered drawing his curtains to cut out the glare, and unsurprisingly this got him thinking about curtains, and when and where they originated from. So he pulled together this blog.

The first curtains were pretty basic and made from animal skins. Cavemen needed a degree of privacy from other cave dwellers living in the same road. This was hugely important. If your neighbours weren’t that good at hunting and fishing they would be able to see inside your cave and then come round asking to borrow a leg of a mammoth, or a couple of large fish until they were able to go and catch their own. But being pretty rubbish at hunting and fishing they seldom did catch anything and so these people started to rely more on vegetables and fruit, eventually eschewing meat altogether. After a few years they got together and came up with the word “vegetarian” to describe themselves. Other people who thought it was mean to give animals food and shelter only to then kill them later on also stopped eating meat. These ideas caught on and before long they were all sharing recipes and opening their own restaurants.

Curtains also stopped people looking in and then knocking on your door and trying to sell you stuff, or getting you to sign up to giving money to the local donkey sanctuary, or sponsor a zebra in Zimbabwe, or join the local gym. These animal hides across the cave entrances also helped to insulate the home. In prehistoric times central heating was unheard of and the advent of 'combi' boilers was still several thousand years away. People back then had to rely on open fires to heat their homes, boil up the bath water, and dry their washing. Curtains were also a primitive form of sound proofing. This was important if you were having a row with your partner, and didn’t want next door’s cave dwellers to hear all your business. Like today the weight and height of your curtains was an indication of your status in society and those with the widest and longest curtains tended to have the larger and more upmarket dwellings.

Because animal hides were a bit cumbersome and prone to fleas curtain design needed to change. The Egyptians, who were good at spinning cloth, quickly realised that curtains made from linen and flax were less heavy and looked better too. Not content with these materials they soon began producing curtains made from wool, cotton and silk. The fashion quickly caught on and by the time people started building castles to live in the convention was to hang large tapestries over the gaps in the walls. The tapestries looked good, kept in the heat and kept out draughts. The coverings however made castles very dark places and people soon got fed up living in gloomy surroundings.

The good news was somebody finally got around to inventing glass. This meant windows could be constructed and buildings soon began to look bright and cheery. However just like the cave dwellers before them people wanted a degree of privacy. It was fine having windows to look out of but come evening time and the last thing folk wanted were nosy passers by seeing what you were having for tea, or which channel your television was tuned to. People therefore began to use curtains to shield themselves, and their eating and viewing habits, from those living nearby. By the nineteenth century almost every home could afford at least two sets of curtains and mass production made them a simple “must have” item of home furnishing. Unless you opt for window blinds today’s homes nearly always have curtains.

To find out more about curtains and curtain design The Flat Cap took the bus to his nearest Dunelm store, where he got chatting to a store assistant called Ron (not Ronald). Ron said he had worked in the store since 2014 and offered the following curtain related facts:

  • The Iron Curtain isn’t really a curtain made out of iron at all. Instead it was a term popularised after the Second World War to describe the political and ideological barrier that existed between the Soviet Union and its satellite states on one side, and NATO countries on the other. Genuine iron curtains can be found in theatres; the first of which was installed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane London to help prevent the spread of fire

  • In 1966 Alfred Hitchcock directed a film called Tom Curtain which unsurprisingly was set in the Cold War era. One of its stars was Julie Andrews but Ron said he preferred her when she was in Mary Poppins

  • When moving house curtains are not considered a fixture, but curtain poles, rods and blinds are. Ron said a lot of people leave the curtains anyway

  • There is a lady in Shrewsbury whose real name is Annette Curtain

  • The word “curtain” derives from the French word “cortine” and its origins come from the Latin word “cortina”, which should not be confused with the Ford Cortina; the latter being the UK’s best-selling car of the 1970s

  • Blackout curtains were used in Britain during the Second World War. The Blackout was introduced on 1st September 1939, two days before the declaration of war. The idea was to stop light escaping in case it helped enemy aircraft during bombing raids. If you didn’t have curtains then you could use paint or cardboard, or perhaps an old dark tablecloth to black out your windows

  • Curtains date back thousands of years and would be commonly draped over doorways in Ancient Greek and Roman buildings. The word “portiere” is now used to describe theses drapes. Back in Ancient Rome they would have used another word as French wasn’t widely spoken then, but Ron didn’t know what the word was. Maybe they were just all “cortinas” back then. And anyway the Italians now use “portiere” as the word for goalkeeper. Gianluigi Buffon is probably Italy’s best ever goalkeeper

  • Curtain wall was the name given to the outer wall of a medieval castle. It was used to protect the inner part of the castle and could be as much as twenty feet thick and more than forty feet high

  • More than 500,000 miles of curtain are made every year - enough to stretch from the earth to the moon and back

  • You can sometimes put curtains in the washing machine, but only if you have a delicate cycle and only on a low temperature

bottom of page