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Monday, June 22, 2015

My lacemaker forebears

While researching my family tree I came across an eight-year-old relative in the nineteenth century, who is listed in the census as 'lacemaker'. This sent me off to search for others of the same occupation within my family. I found 16 women listed as lacemaker on either a census between 1851 and 1881 or on their marriage certificate.

So I have been researching Buckinghamshire lacemaking.

My seven times maternal great-grandfather, William Ray, 1675-1727,  was born in Piddington, Oxfordshire. He was probably a farm worker, and married Margery Mukell, born in Buckinghamshire in 1677.

Their son, John seems to have married Sarah Coxhead, of Buckinghamshire, by licence in St Mary Magdalen, Beckley, Oxfordshire and the couple settled in Marsh Gibbon, Buckinghamshire in 1836 where they had seven children, all of whom lived their lives either in Marsh Gibbon or the neighbouring Edgcott as agricultural labourers.

Their son John drew the attention of authorities in 1806 at the age of 57, when he was accused of stealing a rail fence, an accusation dismissed by proclamation.

St Mary's Twyford
The same John had married Mary Pangston of the neighbouring parish of Twyford in 1775 and this couple also had seven children, baptised in the local parish of Twyford. All their children were agricultural labourers. Their youngest son, Robert, married Mary Susannah Tue of Charndon, Buckinghamshire in 1818 and Robert and Mary's son, Thomas, born a year later, was my 2x great grandfather.

Robert and Mary had eight children at a time when enclosures and urbanisation were forcing people off the land. Mary died aged 61, but Robert lived into his 80s, a pauper for the last decade, taking in lodgers to make ends meet.

the ground of Bucks lace
Their children were mostly labourers or married to labourers, but the women and children began, as did many others, to take up lacemaking to supplement their income. Bucks lace, worked on bobbins, was bought by travelling middle-men who visited the main lacemaking villages, amongst which were Charndon, Chearsley and Marsh Gibbon.

At least 17 of the women in Robert and Mary's extended family in these three villages were lacemakers in the nineteenth century: Susannah, Ann, Fanny, Mary, and two Sarah Rays, Rebecca, Martha and Mary Ann Lamburn, Ann, Mary and Martha Parker, Sarah and Elizabeth Badrick, Rosa Briscoe,Mary North and Anne Neary.

The industry was served by lacemaking schools, run by a village woman in her home. Parents paid a small amount for their children to attend and be drilled in lacemaking. As they learned, their lace was sold to the laceman and the profit shared between teacher and parent. More than one Ray female aged 8 is listed as lacemaker on censuses.

As the century drew to a close, machine-made Nottingham lace put the cottage industry out of business. In 1880 legislation made primary schooling compulsory, speeding up the closure of lace schools.

There was a lot of hardship and exploitation associated with Bucks lace. It did, however, enable families on or below the poverty line a tiny margin that gave them options they would not otherwise have in a society that was shedding the agricultural way of life on which so many depended.

I am very proud of my association with these women, their skill and labour to improve their families' lot. I include as much of their story as I have been able to reconstruct in my blog because their contribution should not be forgotten

1 comment:

Lyn Warner said...

Fascinating that you could trace back not only the family but also their occupations, and so many of them lacemakers!