Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hannah Hughes and Buckinghamshire Lace

These lace bobbins have been passed down in our family for generations and they inspired me to find out a little more about who it was in our family who used them and what type of lace they made.  Fortunately an Aunt interested in Genealogy had done some research and we were able to identify Hannah Hughes, my Great Great Grandmother on my Father's side, as the lace maker.

Hannah Hughes
  Hannah Hughes was born Hannah Lovell, in 1848 at Aylesbury, Buckingham, England, and had a rural upbringing living in a whitewash stone cottage with stone floors.  She worked as a lace maker in her youth, and while she never learnt to read or write, she was nevertheless, evidently very astute.  
The Countess Kintore
She came out to New Zealand in 1873, on the Countess Kintore, with her husband James and their 4 year old daughter.  The Countess Kintore was an Aberdeen clipper that carried hundreds of passengers to New Zealand, between 1868 and 1874. 

So it is likely these lace bobbins came out on the ship with Hannah.  All three are turned bone, and the wire on the ends of the bobbins would have had coloured glass beads known as "jingles", attached to them to weight them down.  Two of the bobbins have messages carved around their shafts.
One reads: 
MYRLA : GOODGAME : DIED : MARCH : 7 : 1869 : AGED 27, : 
and the other:  

The dates on these lace bobbins suggest that Hannah was still making lace in 1869, but what sort of lace?  In rural England in the 19th century, people were quite isolated and did not leave the area they lived in.  This meant that different regions developed their own unique styles of lace.  In Buckinghamshire where Hannah lived, a bobbin lace known as Buck's lace, (short for Buckinghamshire lace), was made.  Buck's  lace is similar to French Lille, and it is believed it was brought to England by Huguenot refugees from Mechlin near Brussels and Lille, who settled in the East Midlands in the latter half of the 16th century.  

Its funny how things fall into place sometimes isn't it?  Last week I bought this wonderful Weldon's Encyclopaedia of Needlework, and inside it had a section on laces. 

Here are two borders of pillow-made lace made in Buckinghamshire in the first half of the nineteenth century.  The upper border has a repeating pattern of berried stems, diagonal interlaced stems and (along the edge) floral stems, all on a ground of six pointed star mesh.  Ornamental star diaper (diaper is to weave or decorate in a diamond-shaped pattern), in the fillings are used. 
Bucks lace has a hexagonal net ground, and uses a gimp thread to outline the pattern. 

This lace border has a repeating row of rounded compartments filled with diapered openwork in variegated and "point net" grounds alternating with leaves on a small hexagonal mesh.

So now we know a little more about Hannah and the wonderful lace she made. The lace collar she is wearing in the photo above looks like it could be Bucks lace, and was probably made by her.  I wonder if she continued to make lace once settled in New Zealand.  I think life would have been very hard for her as her husband James died 3 months after arriving in New Zealand.  What family treasures these lace bobbins are, they carry memories of Hannah, and remind us of those who went before us.


  1. That's awesome JoJo, really interesting thanks for sharing that. The bobbins are gorgeous as is the lace they turned out.

  2. Hey thanks for the research and story about this Jo Jo I find it hard to imagine not reading and writing but I wonder whether Hannah would then be using her lace making as a way to record her thoughts and ideas and be able to 'read' them later. Maybe this became a key literacy for her. She would have had to spend so much time doing it and I guess she was following a pattern of lace making but her thoughts would be laced into it would be neat to be able to 'read' them. It does say to me though that she must have been careful competent, disciplined and focused to have done this work. I wonder how many pieces she started and didn't finish - just wondering if that is a heredity feature that I can relate to? I wonder too the importance of the wording on bobbins to her - were they family members? A woman and a man in their 20's .. could be a tragic story there but it sounds like Hannah experienced her own tragic stories. 1873 in New Zealand as a widow with a 4 y o girl she obviously had to remarry really quickly. There was a shortage of Women at that time so I guess she would have had a bit of a choice.
    Hey the name Myrla Goodman should read Myria.

  3. So interesting to read about our family! I wonder who those poor souls were that died so young :( Sounds like her life took a complete and permanent turn. I wonder what it was like for her... She must've left so many behind.

  4. Thanks for your comments and really interesting comment Lynda, that lace making was Hannah's way of recording her thoughts. I think textile crafts have been ignored as art, and called crafts, and yet they are about ideas as much as some of the installations we see in Art Galleries today. I just wish we had some of her lace to read.