Friday, 4 October 2013

Mystery of the lace lady

My visit to St Fagans, near Cardiff last weekend (see last blog post) set me thinking about Ag Labs, or agricultural labourers which many of us have on our family trees. To refresh my memory of ours, I dug out the 1871 census image for the Percivals, who lived in Chappel, Essex.

Browsing the entry for William Percival and his family, I noticed that his wife Eliza and two other women neighbours were listed as being (when I finally deciphered the handwriting) Tambour Workers.

Having no idea what a tambour worker was, I googled it and discovered it was a type of lace maker. The art of Tambour lace-making originated in the Far East and its name originated from the frame the workers used, shaped like a drum or tambour.

Tambour or Coggeshall lace

The craft was introduced into Coggeshall, less than 6 miles from Chappel, around 1812 by a Frenchman, Monsieur Drago. With the help of his two daughters, M. Drago taught a group of women and children in the village to make lace using a traditional tambour hook, which has a small barb on its shaft rather like a fish-hook, and it became known as Coggeshall lace.

With the Napoleonic wars causing a scarcity of Tambour lace, business blossomed and throughout the 19th century lace was made in homes and villages all around Coggeshall.

Inevitably, with war and then industrialization, the trade declined, though there was an attempt to revive it in the 1930s by promoting it to the Royals and three Coggeshall handkerchiefs were given to Princess Marina on the occasion of her marriage in 1934.

It was while browsing Coggelshall Museum's website and reading the history of  lace making that I spotted the lady in the photograph...

Mrs Percival...
with the tablemat she made as a wedding gift for a Royal lady-in-waiting in the 1930s

I wonder if anyone in Coggeshall knows which Mrs Percival she is and whether she's related to my husband!

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