17th Century Rochester Roulettes Make Your Hair Curl

Wig Curlers on display at the Guildhall Museum, Rochester. Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)
Wig Curlers on display at the Guildhall Museum, Rochester. Image ©Rachael Hale (The History Magpie)

Frizzed, framed, padded and bagged. During the 17th and 18th Century wigs styles changed dramatically but one thing remained constant – the need for the perfect curl.  But without the mighty GHD and BaByliss curling tongs to come to the rescue what was a girl, or gent, to do?

Enter the wig curler. Also known as roulettes or bilboquet, wig curlers are made from fired kaolin (pipe clay) and are short, bulbous-ended, tubular rods that were heated in an oven or hot water before use.  The wig hair, either human or animal, would have been covered in strips of damp paper before being wrapped around the heated curler and secured with a rag.

Various sizes were available and once re-styled, the entire wig was baked in an oven to set the curls. Getting the temperature right must have been a nightmare but many a wig maker, ladies maid and valet perfected the technique.

The French revolution was responsible for ending the fashion of wig-wearing as they became a symbol for the ‘evil’ aristocracy and all that it stood for.

The tradition has remained within the legal system, however, where it’s viewed as a symbol of authority and many examples of these former every day essentials have been recovered. The wig curlers shown above were found at Eastgate House in Rochester and can now be seen at the Guildhall Museum in Rochester.

Fancy a visit?

The Guildhall Museum is housed in a beautiful 17th century building which has some stunning plasterwork ceilings and incredible permanent exhibitions. Highlights include the full size replica prison hulk, Dicken’s Discovery Room and the Rochester ‘Riverside Eye’ interactive camera.  A huge variety of children’s activities are also on offer and best of all its free to visit!  

So take a trip to Rochester’s High Street and discover it for yourself. Directions and full visitor information can be found on this link  – Guildhall Museum visitor information

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