Wednesday 20 March 2024

Honiton lace and Flemish refugees


There is a tradition, repeated in Mrs Bury Palliser’s authoritative History of lace, that Honiton lace was introduced to Devon by Flemish refugees escaping persecution from the Duke of Alva in 1570. However, there is no primary evidence for such an influx of lacemakers and Palliser based her assertions on the appearance of Flemish sounding surnames in parish registers. H J Yallop in his doctoral thesis on the History of the Honiton lace industry questions whether these surnames actually had Flemish origins. He also notes that they were first introduced into England centuries before the invention of lacemaking and most are first found in Honiton registers in the seventeenth century. Yallop found no evidence for an influx of Flemish refugees in the late sixteenth century.

He also argues that the obvious place for Flemish refugees to land in England would have been London, Essex and East Kent, and there is evidence of refugees settling in these areas. To travel along the English south coast as far as Devon, passing several ports on the way, to land on an open beach in Devon seems complete folly. Interestingly, Yallop notes that the first mention of refugee lacemakers arriving in Honiton to start the lace industry in the sixteenth century dates from a book on Devonshire history published in 1822, based on some confused information received from a local Honiton lace manufacturer. In fact, by the sixteenth century the Devon cloth industry was well established and the area was home to many weavers, fullers, tuckers and dyers as well as pointmakers. The latter made points, which were narrow braids or laces used for tying parts of garments together, using a technique similar to bobbin lace making. It therefore seems much more likely that the Honiton lace industry was a natural development from the local weaving industry.

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