Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Lace ruffs in the late 16th century

 

By the 1580s lace ruffs began to get wider as well as deeper. They also began to become slightly flatter and probably more comfortable to wear, although they were obviously worn for display not comfort. Paintings of the time also show some being left open at the front rather than forming a complete circle around the neck. These wider ruffs often required some support under them to keep them in place as even strong starching was not enough to keep them displayed properly. The supports could be underproppers, supportases or rebatos (but that will be the subject of a future blog as there is so much to say about them!) or even a small plain ruff under the larger one. Ruffs made mainly of lace also became popular towards the end of the 16th century. Until then lace had tended to be used as an edging attached to a fine linen ruff (see my previous blogs about ruffs on 19 May and 31 March). The image shows part of a miniature of Queen Elizabeth I by Nicholas Hilliard in the V&A collection. The ruff is made of lace and seems to include spangles or jewels around the edge that are also attached to her hair and ear, it must have looked spectacular in candlelight.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Hanging lace bobbins celebrating executions

 

These bobbins are known as hanging bobbins but they don’t just hang on the pillow like other bobbins they actually celebrate hangings of those convicted of murder. Seven executions are commemorated in six hanging bobbins, most were public hangings at Bedford Goal although one took place at Newgate Prison. Those in the image record the hangings of William Worsley in 1868 and William Bull in 1871. William Worsley’s was the last public execution carried out in Bedford. He and Levi Welch were tried for the murder of William Bradbury in Luton, but Welch turned king’s evidence and said Worsley had inflicted the fatal blow. Worsley was hung and Welch was given 14 years penal servitude for stealing from Bradbury. However he appealed on the basis that anyone giving information leading to the conviction of the murderer was entitled to a free pardon and he was released 3 months later. William Bull’s execution took place in private at Bedford but still attracted a large crowd to the town. Bull, a 21 year old labourer, had murdered Sarah Marshall, a poor, simple old woman, in a motiveless drunken rage in her home, and his execution was popular with the local people. The other four hanging bobbins record the executions of Matthias and William Lilley in 1829 for the attempted murder of a gamekeeper; Sarah Dazeley in 1843 for poisoning her husband; Joseph Castle in 1860 for murdering his wife; and Franz Muller in 1864 for the first murder on a railway train.

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Repeat pattern design in lace

 

Researching some lace designs from the archive I’ve been interested to see how the pattern is developed and how the various elements fit with one another. Most designers use a grid to help in positioning the units within the pattern. The pattern in the image above requires several gridlines for the main design and the border that runs around it. Interestingly although the border has been designed to accommodate a corner the central design hasn’t and just seems to end at the edge. In the border, the main motif in the corner block is exactly the same as those in the rest of the border but the edgings have been reworked to form a corner. It seems quite a simple and elegant way to make a border design. According to the late 19th century designer Lewis F Day the simpler the border the better because it should frame the main design without dominating it, just as this one does. In contrast, the main floral design has been cleverly laid out to allow linear repeats with no need for drops but it does not seem to lie well against the border. Perhaps this piece is still a work in progress and the designer made adjustments to it for the final version. I doubt it though as it looks quite resolved in other ways. Perhaps the border and main design are not meant to work together but are two separate designs, one for an all over pattern and the other for a border. We will probably never know but speculating is part of the fun!

 

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Lace smuggling

 

Smuggling French and Belgian lace into England was a profitable venture in the 18th century. The favourite method was in a coffin either replacing the body with lace or tucking lace around the body. When Bishop Atterbury died in France in February 1732 his body was returned to England for burial in Westminster Abbey, where the High Sheriff of Westminster found £6000 worth of French lace concealed in the coffin. Customs Officers soon became wise to the practice and all coffins coming from mainland Europe were opened as a matter of course resulting in a sharp decrease in the number of British ‘deaths’ on the Continent. The relatives of the Duke of Devonshire who died in France in October 1764 were not amused when his coffin was opened and the body poked with a stick to ensure it wasn’t a bundle of lace. Coffins were not the only hiding places however, on one occasion a loaf of bread was found to contain £200 of lace, and books, bottles and babies wrapped in lace were also used for smuggling. The loss of customs duties was only one reason for the smuggling, another was the desire of English lacemakers to exclude continental lace from their home market. In 1764 George III ordered that no foreign lace was to be worn at his sister’s marriage that year and in the following year English lacemakers petitioned parliament to demand the prohibition of foreign goods. However, French and Belgian lace was so desirable that these measures had little effect on the smuggling trade.