In the 1950s when I was a teenager we lived in the west of Ireland. My father got a job abroad and I was sent to a boarding school while my parents were away. Because we were protestants it was hard to find a place to take me and I ended up at a small school that had only about 12 pupils both boys and girls.
There was a simple clothes list - no uniform or anything - and at the bottom it said "a mackintosh and gum boots will be supplied by the school".
The weather in Galway can be dreadful in the Winter and as there were no organized games our exercise consisted of runs and long walks in any weather. We were indeed each supplied with a pair of very heavy duty gum boots and a long black rubber mackintosh. These macs were just like the more common white or fawn riding macs and like them had leg straps, a wide belt, an inverted pleat at the back and a high storm collar. (In fact they were made specially for this school by a firm called Waterproofs Ltd in Co.Cork who made a lot of riding macs for schools all over the UK - mainly girls' schools.) On the collar was a tab that fastened across our throats or chins, or even mouths, and instead of buttoning across as riding macs did, they had a strap and buckle and could be pulled very tight by this.
Unlike the SBR mackintoshes of today, these old waterproofs were matt black rubber and very, very heavy. When they were properly done up with the knee straps fastened, the belt drawn tight and buttoned to the throat, they kept out most of the worst Irish rain that was driven in from the Atlantic by the Winter gales.
The headmaster or his wife would take us for these walks and if it was very hot would inspect our macs before we set off to make sure they were properly done up. Often they would pull the belt or the throat fastening a bit tighter. I got a fantastic feeling when wearing my mackintosh especially on a really wet day in heavy pouring rain.
I became a rubber mac enthusiast and it was so sad when rubber and rubberised cotton waterproofs passed into oblivion. Of course the white riding mac lasted until the early 1980s especially in the country and I used to go to some events on wet days to see people wearing them.
The late 70s and early 80s were the last time for anyone who liked riding gear - riding macs were still around, rubber riding boots had just been developed and stretch jodhpurs had become commonplace. Lovely girls in these clothes looked a picture and were a real turn on for me.
Waxed cotton has a lot to answer for and has spoilt the wet weather equestrian scene.
It's good to hear of something really nice happening in a small country school in a Catholic country. No pics of the 'wet weather equestrian scene' - pre-lapsarian, of course - I suppose? There must be millions, but I've had little luck in finding them...
Thank you so much for such an interesting letter.
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