THE URSULA SUIT
Around this time last year we had the good fortune to purchase a jacket that we had been hunting/discussing/obsessing about for sometime. The Holy Grail of wax cotton jackets known as an Ursula Suit or Admiralty Suit. One year on from our initial posting regarding the suit, the story still excites and fascinates us, and it is still the unquestionable favourite in our collection.
Much has been written about this obscure WWII Royal Navy submarine suit, as with anything, some good, some bad and some rubbish. This is what I discovered in a year of research, by no means definitive, but closer than anything I have read.For those that do not know the legend, we have the gentleman below to be grateful for the Ursula suits creation, though undoubtedly this was amongst many more important achievements!
“the only consolation was the comfort that a Barbour (Ursula) Suit gave when those seas where coming solid over the bridge rail. Those poor bastards in the destroyers still had Pusser’s oilskins, seaboots and a towel round thier neck, which did nothing to keep the seas out” – Gus Britton WWII submariner and Naval historian
The Ursula suit is a waterproof protective waxed cotton garment designed and manufactured specifically for use by bridge and deck personnel on Royal Navy submarines during the Second World War. Post war, the remaining suits ended up in the hands of bikers, as did lots of military surplus; a fitting end when you consider the suits creation.
The Ursula suit owes its origins to the one-piece waxed cotton motorcycle over-suit manufactured by Barbour in the late 1930’s. The garment was manufactured from tan-coloured waxed cotton, the velvet-lined collar with buckled throat strap, zip fly front, and two plain patch chest pockets. The one-piece motorcycle over-suit appears in the Barbour catalogues of the mid-1930’s, and would seem to have been discontinued by the early 1950’s.
Shown below is an early pattern Barbour racing suit from our collection (now the property of the Barbour archive). Unusual in that it has no pockets.
Captain George Phillips took command of the submarine HMS Ursula in 1937. Submariners wore general Royal Navy issue clothing, and he felt dissatisfied with the existing protective clothing. Through observing one of his crew wearing a one piece Barbour suit, he privately approached Barbour and commissioned a modification of a one-piece suit into a new two-piece design of jacket and separate trousers.
* Cross section sketch of HMS Ursula
* HMS Ursula’s Jolly Roger.
The Ursula was re-appropriated by bikers as the perfect trial competition outerwear. It would appear that quite often the hood has been removed, but an Ursula without doubt.