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A Skelding Summary

Umbrella gets its name from the word umbra which means "shaded area". The original umbrellas (used thousands of years BC) were designed to protect dignitaries and holy men from the ravages of the sun in hot climates such as India, Egypt and China.

To be accorded such protection was a sign of status underlined in the very belief in these societies that the umbrella's canopy was the vault of heaven. Anyone under this shade was truly protected by God. Ordinary mortals were expected to bake in the heat.

Umbrellas were introduced to Europe by the Ancient Greeks to keep cool and then the Romans to keep dry. For some reason there is little mention of umbrellas being used in the Middle Ages which probably indicates that everyone then loved the idea of getting soaked to the skin. By the late 1500s, however, the Italians were fed up with head colds and the brollies came out again. Their use in Europe reflected status - the Clergy for example made great use of them. By the 1600s the umbrella was common in France and prevalent throughout Europe a century later. By the nineteenth century parasols had also become a symbol of social standing inspiring the ditty...

'The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and unjust fellow
But chiefly on the just because
the unjust stole the just's umbrella'

In the 1850s traditional cane ribs were replaced with a stronger steel frame allowing for larger span - and men became less self conscious of walking down the street with man-size black ones big enough for two.

This century the umbrella has undergone a change of image. Black is out - and a whole rainbow of bright colours is in. 'Any Umbrellas' sung by Flanagan and Allen was a popular song in the 1930s, Gene Kelly danced with one in 'Singin' in the Rain' (1952).

The Bulgarian Secret Service used a poisoned brolly to murder dissident Georgi Markov in London in 1978. On a less morbid note, and as we all know, Mary Poppins (1964) used her umbrella as a highly effective means of transportation when traffic jams got too much for her.

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This FAQ (frequently asked questions) is also a running Q&A (questions & Answers) so you can ask and we will answer or find out for you.

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Histories of Things
By Laurence Skelding

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