Museum sign
The Cowper and Newton Museum
The Lace Schools

The heyday of these schools was the early to mid 19th century. Their purpose was to teach young children how to make lace and earn a little money for their parents. In addition some reading and writing was taught. The quality of such teaching varied considerably from school to school.

At the two Lace Schools in Hanslope:

  • the children started on the narrowest edging, working 6 to 7 hours a day;
  • They were paid 6d (6 pence) a day;
  • They were not allowed to talk;
  • Children who were slow to learn had their noses rubbed on the pins and those who were inattentive had their hands rubbed raw for "looking off the pillow";
  • They were allowed ten minutes to scramble;
  • Another break was given over to breaking straw for stuffing pillows.


Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack jump over
the candlestick.

This is an example of a tell. Tells were rhymes chanted by children in lace schools. Their purpose was to instruct, to alleviate the boredom of repetitive tasks, and to keep up a constant work rate. Here is another tell:

Needlepin, needlepin, stitch upon stitch,
Work the old lady out of the ditch,
If she is not out as soon as I,
A rap on the knuckles will come by and by,
A Horse to carry my lady about,
Must not look off till twenty are out.


  • 'Needlepin': a tool to make 'stitch upon stitch': sewing
  • 'Work the old lady out of the ditch': pull your sewing loop through
  • 'If she is not out as soon as I': if you're not as deft as I am
  • The 'Horse' is a stool for my 'lady' : the pillow
  • 'Must not look up' etc: do not not away from your work until you have set twenty pins.

Adapted from "Lace Villages" by Liz Bartlett, published by Batsford, London 1991

There are no photos of the lace schools - they closed before photography was widespread. These pictures show two girls learning at a lace class and a little girl learning from her grandmother.