Lace Makers


Bobbin or pillow lace making was probably introduced into England by Flemish refugees escaping from religious persecution in the sixteenth century. Many settled in the Midlands. The Huguenots, lace makers from Lille in France, soon joined them.

There were 5,800 lace makers recorded in Northants in 1851, as women and girls turned to pillow lace making as a means of increasing the family income, especially in the rural villages. At its peak in 1851, over 11% of the parish were involved in lace making.

The demise of the hand made lace trade started in the 1840's, when machines began to mass produce lace and the local lace craft declined thereafter.

There are two basic types of hand-made lace:

Needle lace which is made by using a needle and thread and variations on the buttonhole stitch.

Bobbin (or Pillow) lace which is made by twisting and plaiting a large number of threads, each wound onto and weighted by a bobbin, on a stuffed pillow.

Lace Dealers

Lace orders were made through a system known as "putting-out" (also used in the early boot and shoe trade), meaning that lace dealers would supply lace makers with patterns and thread for products for which they had orders, or knew they could sell, and then come back to buy the finished lace, deducting the price of the thread.

The censuses show John Hornsey as being a Chelveston lace dealer/buyer from 1861–1891. He was previously described in the 1841 census as a Hawker (a vendor of easily transportable merchandise), so it appears he spotted this as another opportunity.

Lace Makers

The censuses show the following lace makers in the parish:

1841 — 2.

1851 — 47 of which 7 were aged 10 or younger.

1861 — 39 plus 3 (Mary Burton, Mary Kirk and Ann Marchant) retired lace makers.

1871 — 43.

1881 — 19.

1891 — 6.

1901 — 1.

The youngest recorded was Eliza Burton of Caldecott aged 7 in 1851. The only male lace maker recorded was George Barfield (aged 11 in 1851), son of Thomas Barfield of Water Lane (Ag Lab).

Updated: 27/11/2012.