Bucks Lace Industry

The Wolverton Express 12 August 1904

Bucks. Lace Industry


A very pleasant afternoon was spent on Friday by a number of the workers employed in the lace industry in Bucks, at the residence of the Hon. Rose E. Hubbard, Seven Gables, Winslow. In all about 100 partook of the lady’s hospitality. The women began to assemble at 3.30 p.m., and enjoyed a short stroll in the grounds of seven Gables, and also paid a visit to the kennels of Miss Hubbard’s famous Pomeranian dogs. Tea was served in a large marquee at four o’clock, at the conclusion of which the Hon. Rose Hubbard delivered a very interesting and instructive address to the lace workers. She said the revival of the lace industry in Bucks. commenced about the year 1875, when the Hon. Lucy Hubbard paid a visit to Bruges, in Belgium, and brought back from thee some fine specimens of lace made in Liege. On her return to this country she at once interested herself in the revival of the industry, and the entry made in her account book in 1876 showed that she purchased £20 worth of thread and had received an advance of £200 in order to enable her to set up business. In 1876 specimens of lace, including Bucks point lace were sent to the Exhibition at Philadelphia, America, and they were awarded honourable mention. The result fully justified the venture, as in the following year no less that £75 was received in orders. About this period too some Buckinghamshire lace was purchased by the late Queen Victoria. In 1878, however, the Hon. Lucy Hubbard entered a convent. The work was then carried on in a less regular manner till 1882, when the industry was transferred to an ecclesiastical warehouse in London; but it was the deprived of personal interest the industry did not flourish. In 1889 or 1890 Miss Rose Hubbard endeavoured to revive the industry of copying Italian laces, and the scheme was carried out until, as they were aware, the country was divided up into centres for the development of the trade. Miss Hubbard then went on to refer to the pioneers of the lace industry in Newport Pagnell, Buckingham etc., and extending into Bedfordshire. She said the North Bucks Lace Association was formed in 1897, and the president was Mrs. Carlile, wife of their present M.P., and they employed between 500 and 600 women. There was no competition or rivalry among them but what the Association aimed at was the employment of women, together with improved prices for lace. Their labours, however, were now confined to their own particular district. Since January, 1903, exhibitions of lace had been held at Crystal Palace, Watford, Woodstock, Maidenhead, and Grosvenor-place, in connection with the North Bucks Lace Association. Their lace too, had been exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition, some of it being purchased by the Queen. In conclusion, she said during the past year the Winslow industry, with its 76 members, had sold £1,383 worth of lace.

In connection with this interesting event, the history of the industry of Buckinghamshire lace-making, as given in an admirable little book on Buckinghamshire, by E. S. Roscoe, may not be without interest to you readers:-

“The rise of the lace-making industry of Buckinghamshire, essentially a homely handicraft, harmonising well with the tranquil character and scenery of the county, as been ascribed to two different causes. The first that it was established by a number of Flemish lacemakers, who emigrated to England from the Low Countries to escape from Spanish tyranny. They settled in the north-east of the county, chiefly about Newport Pagnell and the surrounding villages, and in an adjoining part of Bedfordshire, and the industry gradually extended to Hanslope on the west, and Olney on the east. But is hardly likely that foreign lacemakers would have settled in this particular part of England had they not known that there existed in it an industry similar to that which they carried on in their own land. It was probably this knowledge which caused French emigrants to come to Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire in 1794. For the other cause we are referred to the residence of Catherine of Aragon at Amphtill, in and on the borders of Bedfordshire, from 1531 to 1533 pending her appeal to the Pope. She was proficient in the art of needlework, and there is good reason to suppose that she solaced herself not only by practising the art, but spreading it among the surrounding peasantry; and until the latter half of the 19th century, “Catharn’s” Day, November 25th. was kept as the annual holiday of the art of lace-makers. As time went on a knowledge of the art of lacemaking extended throughout the county of Buckinghamshire, and De Foe, who used to travel over every part of England says of Aylesbury. ‘many of the poor here are employed in making lace for edgings not much inferior to those of Flanders; but it is some pleasure to observe that the English are not the only nation in the world which admires foreign manufactures above its own, since the French, who gave fashions to most nations, buy d’Angleterre or English laces.’ And of Newport Pagnell he says: ‘The town carries on a great trade in bone lace, and the same manufacture employs all neighbouring villages; while Don Manuel Gonzales, in 1730, speaks of its lace as little inferior to that of Flanders. It was practiced alike by men and women, and in 1801, out of 1,275 inhabitants of Hanslope, 800 were lace-makers. In the middle of the last century the number had declined to 500; today not more than 50 can be found who understand how to make lace and who practice the art at all. In several of the larger villages, schools existed for its teaching. So long ago as 1626 Sir Henry Borlase founded and erected the free school of Great Marlow for 24 boys and for 24 girls to knit, spin, and make bone lace, and though as an industry it has decreased (583 women and 3 men were regular lace workers in the county in 1901), to this day it is a special industry of the county. Buckinghamshire lace is and has been always, pillow lace, but there are two kinds, differing in pattern, though not in their manner of manufacture – bone or bobbin and pillow point. But this use of the word point is inaccurate, since point lace is, strictly speaking, lace made with a needle on a parchment pattern; each kind, is, however, by no means difficult of imitation, and the demand for it is so fluctuating as to prevent it, at the present time from being a large or continuously flourishing business. But now, as two or three centuries ago, the manner of working is the same, and in many parts of Buckinghamshire one may see a woman with the large round pillow on her lap, to which the paper, whereon the pattern of the work is drawn, is marked out and fastened by a number of pins, round which the thread is worked by quickly moving bone bobbins.