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Lace Making in Turvey

Lacemaking in this area began in the late 1500's and was probably introduced by the Hugenots.  Some people say that Katherine of Aragon, the first wife of King Henry VIII of England, taught local people the craft - she was imprisoned in nearby Ampthill for a while.  This is a popular local myth, but sadly, almost certainly not true.

'Bone lace' or bobbin lace was worked in homes and special 'lace-schools' where children could learn this intricate craft.  In his book 'Former Days at Turvey', published 1908, Rev GFW Munby describes how 'little children sat, from nine to twelve in the morning, and again in the afternoon, every week day, except Saturday, in rows, with their little pillows before them, usually about ten or twelve in a room'.

The picture on the left shows an elderly lady at her lace pillow.  The pillow was usually stuffed with horsehair or straw until it was very firm - or the pins would not stick firmly in.  The pillow rested on a curious three-legged stool called a horse.

The pattern would be pinned on and then bobbins were wound with thread and hung in pairs.  Pins were added as the lace grew to ensure it took on the right shape.  The maker would have to regularly move the lace up the pillow as it grew in length.  When finished the pins were all removed and the lace was washed and dried ready for sale.

For fascinating old Newspaper clippings relating to the local lace trade.

Find out more about the equipment used to make lace (including video)

Lace In The News Lace Equipment

The lace makers were taught by parents, elder siblings, friends and at lace schools - few instructions were written down.  Often a pattern would be interpreted differently with each new user. Therefore we are not really sure exactly how some of the oldest lace patterns would have looked when made up.

It declined during the 19th century when machined lace was so much cheaper and quicker to make. There were also issues with health, education and morality!

Bedfordshire lace has a distinct pattern of 'leaf' shapes and edge picots. As well as the Beds style of lace, Turvey also produced the intricate Bucks style.

Most lace makers were women, however there were also men making lace - it was an ideal occupation for anyone who was unfit for more manual work, such as agriculture.  Young children also could learn to make lace and both boys and girls were taught.

This building in Newton Lane, Turvey is the old lace school. Here children were taught lace making (and some scripture).

Children making lace was a controversial subject. Parents often faced the choice of paying a penny a week to send their child to school.. or having them stay home and make lace, earning much needed money for the family.

In the 1830-1 Pigot's Directory for Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire there are 74 lace dealers listed.

The 1841 census lists 63.

Records from 1894-5 list just 4 buyers and 2 lacemen (dealers) in Bedfordshire, 2 in Bucks and 1 in Northamptonshire.



6 November

Thomas Knight



5 September

Henry Peers



26 September

James McCron

Dealer in Lace


5 July

Robert Peers

Of Olney, Dealer in Lace


6 September

John Hare

Of Olney, Lacedealer


30 June

Robert McCron

Of Olney, Lacedealer


4 November

Thomas Pinkerd


Lace Making  Burials in Turvey Parish Registers 1717 - 1809

Thomas Pinkerd’s wife was buried 6 days later.



6 June

Elizabeth Draper


13 January

Sarah Brice


6 March

William Newman


6 June

Susanna Church


5 January

Elizabeth York


30 January

Mary Woodin


9 May

Mary Rose


20 Decemeber

Richard Harlot


23 February

Ann York


13 August

Mary Harvey


2 June

Cathering Skevington


9 March

Ann Peers


23 October

Ann Smith


10 February

Susanna Hulat


6 June

Elizabeth Covington


16 September

Elizabeth Tucker


21 September

Jane Tebbutt


16 October

Ann Covington


13 August

Ann Staunton


26 August

Ann Plaisterer


26 January

Mercer Sumper


6 December

Elizabeth Howard


9 October

Ann Newman


24 October

Mary Johnson


8 December

Ellen Martemas


21 June

Elizabeth Hickman


14 June

Mary Sharp


4 February

Richard Prigmore


14 October

John Peers

Of course, this is only the ones who had their occupation noted - most burials didn't.

Lace making was very common, especially amongst older women.  Many children also made lace.

Very few occupations are noted in the Parish Register after 1770 -especially not those of the poorer classes.

Please note that before 1750, the year ended in March.

The 1847 Post Office Directory ha one lace dealer listed for Turvey - John Abraham of the High Street.

The 1877 Post Office Directory has John Gasking as a lace manufacturer, and he is also listed in Kelly’s Trade Directory for 1885  but there are no listings for the lace industry in Turvey by the 1898 edition of Kelly’s.

For more information on the Lace industry and lace making today why not visit the great sites of The Lace Guild and Tussah.

Traditional Bed’s lace.  Thank you to Rachel Cotton for this photograph.  Click to enlarge.

Tanders Day

Many lace makers celebrated the 30th November, as St Andrew was their patron saint.  The day was often called “Tanders”. This is the origin of the name of Tandy’s Close in Turvey.

Mr Charles Longuet Higgins of Turvey Abbey was born on St Andrews Day, 30 November 1806. Every year he would give the villagers figs to celebrate.

There are records of parties going on in the evenings, with games such as bobbing for apples and blind man’s buff played.

Yon villager who weaves at her own door
Pillow and bobbins all her little store.

William Cowper, “Truth” c.1790

The spinsters and the knitters in the sun,
And the free maids that weave their threads with bone.

William Shakespeare, “Twelfth Night” c. 1601

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