Thursday 23 February 2023

Lace making in the workhouse


Any kind of work in the workhouse sounds grim but I hope the lacemakers at least enjoyed somewhere to sit and a bit of peace although the lighting was probably bad and ruined their eyesight. Thomas Wright in his survey of the Buckinghamshire lacemakers includes some information about the Olney workhouse. Work was not optional and all inmates had to do something for their keep. Often men were employed breaking stones or doing other hard physical work and the records show that although spinning was the original employment for women the policy changed after 1720 and from then onwards they had to make bobbin lace instead. All the strips of lace were sealed at the end while they were on the pillow to stop anyone cutting any off and they were sold for the benefit of the parish. The workhouse regulations noted that anyone stealing or cutting off the lace seal would be severely punished. The Olney workhouse accounts showed that selling bobbin lace produced an income of about £30 per annum but that had to be offset by the costs of thread and equipment. Lacemaking was not well paid at the best of times and having to make it in the workhouse must have been quite disheartening.  

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