Lace Making in Cosgrove

The Huguenots, from France, settled in the Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Northamptonshire area in the 1500s. They taught Northamptonshire people to make lace.
In the 1881 census there were nine professional lacemakers in Cosgrove and many more women and girls making lace at home. There was a Lace School in Stony Stratford.
Elizabeth Brown - lacemaker.
She lived at "The Barge" on Bridge Road in Cosgrove.
These patterns closely resemble those of real Mechlin lace, the spots in the net
are the Plaits or points d'esprit so popular in Northamptonshire lace.

Lace Pattern - The Old Woman of Cosgrove

From “Romance of the Lace Pillow” by Thomas Wright (H.H. Armstrong, Olney, Bucks, 1919)

Of lace pattern names –

But the most delightful name of all is surely the Old Woman of Cosgrove – Cosgrove being the Northants village (near Stony Stratford) where, it seems, “the moon changes in a barn.”

The named parchment of this lace was found by Mr A A Carnes among the collection of the late Mr A Coombes of Bedford.

Who the old woman of Cosgrove was, or why the lace was so named, is unknown. Was she some centenarian, or some Cosgrove oddity? Is there a connection between her and Barbara, wife of William Bradshawe (ob. 1585), to whose memory there is a venerable brass in Cosgrove Church? History is mute.

[note : Barbara Bradshawe died at only 21 years of age, so this speculation is unlikely.]

The Northamptonshire County Magazine

By Miss C. L. F. DALTON, R.R.C.

Once upon a time the wayfarer passing through Northamptonshire villages would always find pillow-lace makers at the cottage doors in summer; at other seasons, if he had the curiosity to peer t:rough the lattice, they would be seen by the fireside; the pillow spotlessly clean with its gay print drawter, worker and cover, supported on the well-made stand of oak, ash or beechwood, familiarly called “ The Maid.” On the dull gray parchment a fairy web would be growing, minute by minute, as the shining bobbins, gaily spangled with bright heads, twist and turn, the linen thread dexterously kept in place by a forest of pins.
A marvellous performance it appears to the uninitiated but, simpler process performance it appears to the be it confessed, it is a far than it looks at first sight.


A perfect example of Buckinghamshire lace with the Mechlin type of design on the Lille net. Mad by Mrs. Onions a native of Dean, Beds, who lived all her married life in Northants. She made lace for Queen Mary when the Princess of Wales told that some of it was for the robes of our present Prince of Wales when an infant. She made the pattern here shown in a London shop window for a fortnight but was unable to tell the writer the name or the locally locality though it was one of her most treasured recollections.

Pillow-lace making is a fascinating pastime today for those with leisure and with a desire to create something beautiful. It can be practised by anyone whose eyesight is too poor to do fine needlework. The idea that it is trying to the eyes is incorrect as a worker familiar with her pattern may be seen plying her thread in twilight long after her fellow with the needle has to lay it aside.

It is not possible to earn a living by the pillow as in times gone by, but many an old age pensioner is glad of the extra shillings she can add to her income.

Although the Lace School is an institution of the past, the Lace Class has taken its place and is recognised by the Board of Education, so that it is possible to teach the craft in some of the elementary schools. Within the period covered by the twentieth century the County Council in this and neighbouring counties have allowed classes to be held in school hours, and also have given financial help to classes organised privately, and the result is that quite a number of young people have been taught the craft.

Those wonderful bobbins are, to the workers, not merely lifeless little bits of wood and bone even today. Many have a history. What stories they could tell if the could speak! Births, marriages, deaths, are recorded with names and dates on delicately carved bone bobbins in letters of scarlet or blue. Events of importance in the county, too, find a place. The bashful swain caused the phrase “Marry me soon and love me for ever,” or Sweet love be mine,” which he dared not utter, to be traced in letters of brilliant coloured dots on the bobbin which he pressed into the hand of his sweetheart. That forward minx, Sarah, would have one of her treasures inscribed with “Love buy the ring.” and hopes that silent Torn would take heed as he watched it fly to and fro amid its companions of dark cherrvwood or plum, inlayed with box wood or pewter.

Lace made by Miss Dalton (author of this article)

The pillow lace of the Midlands is more often than not called Buckingharnshire lace, but Northamptonshire was none the less prominent as a centre of the lace making industry. Within the last hundred years the lace made in either county could not be distinguished with certainty from that made in Huntingdonsliire or Bedfordshire, but in earlier times Northamptonshire certainly had a character peculiar to her workers. It was lightly designed, and scattered over the net ground was usually a powdering of dainty square spots, technic ally known as points d’esprit. It was popularly called "Baby Lace,” and no mother in the county would have dreamed of not making at least one tiny garment with an edging of this fairy fabric, however poor she might be. Lace workers at various periods were to be found among the refugees who took shelter in our county from the troubled areas of the Netherlands and France, as also in neighbouring shires. Buckinghamshire adopted the type of design beloved of the Mechlin lace makers. It was usually a cunning display of wonderful sprays of flowers of thick clothstitch, which resembles the weave of linen, outlined with a thick linen thread called gimp. Bedfordshire preferred the style of the Lille and district workers, who depended Oil the gimp thread making the design as it wandered here and there, in and out, through the net ground.

Northamptonshire had its own characteristics. The clothwork of the Mechlin lace was utilised for small designs of conventional trend, anti geometrical shapes combined with the vagrant thread of Lille. The little points d’esprit, which also hailed from France, took the fancy of our county, and we called them leadwork or plaits.

This shows a characteristically Northamptonshire pattern but the net is the more elaborate French ground known also as Hair-pin, Six pointed star and a Kat stitch, the last being a corruption of Katherine - that queen having been credited with using it, but this cannot be verified.

In all Midland counties the net making the background was the Lille net wrongly called point ground. "Point” should refer to work with the needle, but a term so familiar it would not be possible, even if considered advisable, to alter. A more elaborate net was made by some of our lace makers and is called French ground, whilst a number of others, both of foreign and English origin, are to be found as fillings for spaces occurring in the design which it was not desired to fill with either point or French ground.

There is another type of lace made without a net foundation that survives in Northamptonshire, apart from the Maltese style introduced in the nineteenth century. It is called Katherine of Aragon lace. This ill-fated Queen, who resided in neighbouring counties, was buried in Peterborough Cathedral in 1536, and up to a day within the ken of some of the older residents the young maids of that city elected a quecn on November 25th and paraded the streets singing a song in memory of Queen Katherine, as she was credited with having taught the lace craft to our country people.

The lower design illustrates the French influence, the design entirely depending on the working of the gimp thread to form the pattern.
The upper design is a pattern typical of Northamptonshire lace work.
Pattern typical of Northamptonshire lace work.

The lace of today, no doubt, is very different from that which she made, but the fact remains that the linen gimp thread runs in the centre of the clothwork design instead of surrounding it, and this is distinctly a characteristic of old Spanish lace; so there may be some foundation for the title as it is a method of using the gimp not as a rule practised by French or Flemish workers. It is thus used in old ltalian lace, and it is probable that travellers f rom Venice taught the craft in the native country of King, Henry VIII's first Queen.

Most of the old lace patterns have names, some of the foreign ones surviving, such as “ Lille" “Noyen,” “Aimé” “Gretchen.” Descriptive titles, such as “Big Ring,” “ Little Ring,” “Diamond,” Diamond and Ring,’’ “Zig-Zag,’ are common. " True Lovers’ Knot,”

Duke’s Garter,” "Earring," "Chain," were favourites with Northamptonshire workers. "Beehive,” “Oak,” “ Acorn,” “ Tulip,” “ Marigold," and a host of other flowers form the graceful designs worked in the Mechlin style.

Names that give no clue to clue to the pattern abound "The Old Woman of Cosgrove,’’ ‘‘Pretty Dick," "Quaint," "Lady Denbigh," “Patience,” are among them.

The study of the history of lace-making, the local traditions and old customs, and the songs of the lace schools (known as ‘‘ tells “), are full of interest, and all should be preserved. Tracing the Flemish and French origin of many of the names in the county, collecting data concerning the different implements of the craft, searching records for the names of the men and women whether of high or low estate, who have been intimately connected with the industry, give a wide field for the energies of those who rightly consider that such researh is worth while.

These designs clearly show the Flemish influence,
i.e., clothwork pattern outlined in the gimp thread.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century lace making in Northamtonshire was chiefly carried on in and around Wellingborough, an in the villages on the south-west side of the county. It was computed that from nine to ten thousand persons mostly young women and children were engaged in the industry. They earned from twopence to eighteen pence per day. The women made the lace at home, the children at school where they learned the work. In many cases the lace schools, conducted by a woman in her own house, was the only school in the village. The alphabet and simple spelling was sometimes taught as well.