Lacemaking exhibition celebrates Sidmouth’s past
- Credit: Archant
A chance find in an old cardboard box during a clear-out at Sidmouth Museum has provided a unique insight into the town’s lacemaking traditions.
Volunteer Jenny Moore found a number of envelopes with scraps of lace with different patterns on them tucked inside. They turned out to be local designs that were displayed in the shop of Miss Hannah Barnard in a sample book.
Miss Barnard ran her shop in Barnwell House, in Old Fore Street. The shop, next to The Anchor Inn, is now the beauticians’ Beauty Within. It stayed open until the early 1960s and displayed the Royal Coat of Arms in the window commemorating the royal warrant granted to her great-grandmother.
Lace expert Bee Barford said: “Customers would come into the shop and choose the motifs they wanted.
“These would then be produced by women working in Beer and Sidmouth and elsewhere in the area. When they had been made they would be joined together or mounted on net.”
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The restored pages of the sample book form a centrepiece of the new exhibition at the museum, which celebrates the craft.
Visitors can even have a go at making lace themselves.
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Lacemaking was an important industry for this part of Devon.
The lace made throughout the area was known as ‘Honiton lace’. Often the women who made it would be married to fishermen or farmers and the lace provided a vital way of supporting their families during the winter months.
Even children would be involved, making the smaller elements like tiny flowers. They would be sent off from the age of seven to lacemaking school.
“The women worked in their own homes by candlelight with the lace magnified by lacemaker’s lamps,” said Bee.
Often they were not even paid a proper wage, but received payments in kind like some food for the family.
In 1960, Miss Barnard’s premises were filmed by the BBC. By then it was becoming clear that the lacemaking trade was fast becoming a piece of history. And the shop that was even then a bit of a museum piece now finds itself recreated in the town’s museum.