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The Cowper and Newton Museum
The Decline of the Bobbin Lace Industry

Two Acts of Parliament influenced the decline of the bobbin lace industry:

  • the Education Act (1870 in England & Wales, 1872 in Scotland and elsewhere) providing free, compulsory, elementary education for all children up to the age of 13;
  • and the Workshops Act setting out minimum requirements for hours worked and conditions of employment.

These Acts, together with the competition from machine lace and from imported lace, put the industry into terminal decline by the late 19th century. Designers ceased to work and there was a danger that old skills would die out. Patterns had become corrupted with time and the quality of the lace produced was poor.

Philanthropic Movements such as the Society for Promoting Industrial Villages were formed to help co-ordinate the collection, sales and standard of the lace produced, and to enhance the happiness of its workers.

Such societies often romanticised the lace makers and the industry. They did, however, fulfil most of their aims; often through aristocratic and royal patronage. Countess Spencer was the President of the Midlands Lace Association. The Duchess of York (later Queen Mary), ordered 330 yards (301.62 metres) of Buckinghamshire Point. Queen Victoria in 1896 placed an order so large that an entire winter's work was guaranteed for many.

Locally, Harry Armstrong set up the Bucks Cottage Workers' Agency in 1906 (see NEXT below).

A bobbin winder