When in full fig, carry a Brigg

What could be more English?

This article is taken from the June 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

 “Illusions,” said Somerset Maugham, “are like umbrellas — you no sooner get them than you lose them, and the loss always leaves a little painful wound.” An umbrella from Swaine Adeney Brigg is no illusion. It is as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. The loss of one would certainly leave a painful wound — notably in one’s wallet. For with its shaft fashioned from a single strip of timber, its shell of shining silk and collar of silver or gold, a Brigg bumbershoot does not come cheap.

I acquired mine by fluke. One day at a loose end at the Commons, I decided it was high time I replaced my latest lost brolly. I have a habit of leaving them as gifts to strangers all over the shop. Restaurants, hotels, trains and aeroplanes, I even abandoned one in Buckingham Palace. So my intentions, whilst honourable, were also economical. 

As I set out in search of my purchase I ran into my dear friend Simon Hoare, a flaneur to his fingertips. “What are you up to?” he enquired. “Well, I’m off to buy a new umbrella,” was the essence of my reply. “Right, follow me,” roared Hoare as he hauled me off in the direction of the ‘dilly. En voyage he revealed that his own umbrella had outlasted his Oxford days and, now aged over 30, was still going strong. I had no idea of our destination until we turned into Burlington Arcade. Then the penny (soon to be 40,000 pennies) dropped.

The fine old firm of Thomas Brigg & Sons joined forces with the equally august agency of Swaine Adeney in 1943. Brigg brought its brollies whilst Swaine Adeney contributed leather luggage to the new enterprise of Swaine Adeney Brigg. In so doing they founded one of London’s finest purveyors of gentlemen’s luxury goods. 

Regrettably no member of the founding families is involved with the firm today. It is now owned by the French Chargeurs Group who plan to sell our quintessentially Anglo-Saxon appendage to the world. Hence Brigg’s new “Kingsman” design adding a touch of West Coast glamour to West End weather. This polished chestnut beauty may not be bulletproof, but with its silken canopy measuring a capacious 27 inches, it is certainly waterproof wherever you are.

And what could be more English than an immaculate umbrella

And what could be more English than an immaculate umbrella with a whangee cane crook? Just one twirl of the furl summons up John Steed, suave and sophisticated, wisecracking with Mrs Peel or Duff Cooper, done up to the nines strolling down Downing Street, one of the few who knew that Munich was no place for a gentleman. A good umbrella is not simply a tool with which to keep off the rain or hail a taxi, it is a symbol stating your style, an insignia indicating insouciance.

Of course, symbolism can vary in time and place. The Chinese believe umbrellas betoken longevity and good fortune. In pre-Wolfenden London, when both law and social convention meant certain messages had to be carefully coded, brollies were a secret sign. They say that the gift of a gentlemen’s umbrella at a society wedding signalled that however blissfully ignorant the bride might be, everybody else knew the groom preferred to dance in a different ballroom. 

If true, it is surely the world’s wonder that Willie Maugham was not buried beneath an avalanche of umbrellas when he married Syrie Wellcome in 1917. Alan Lennox Boyd, reputedly, received one, perhaps sent spitefully by his brother-in-law Chips Channon. Channon, no stranger to hypocrisy, of course kept his own umbrella furled tightly on his arm. 

But whatever the legends of long life, luck or blushing bridegrooms, everybody needs a brolly. So why not get a good one, with the added admonition to “use it not lose it”? To look soigné in any season, buy the right rig: invest in a Brigg. 

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