|It does not appear the lacemakers
did anything special on New Years Day. Undoubtedly they joined in with
whatever their local community did on such a day. Jones and Deer record
the ancient custom of apple gifting, where the children would carry an
adorned apple from house to house offering New Years Blessings. In return
they would be given small gifts. (p29)
||Again, whilst not a specific lace celebration,
it is nice to imagine the young lace makers celebrating St Agnes Eve, when
girls are supposed to dream of their future partners. The ritual they had
to follow was; make a wish, pick a pin from the pincushion and pin it to
your sleeve. Go to bed lying on your back with your hands behind your head.
If you do this you will dream of a kiss during the night (Jones and Deer
This was a
holiday for the lacemakers at Hanslope (Bucks). The learners put the candlestools
away at half-past four, " and they’d be lissom to do it." At North Marston
(Beds) the mistress of the household when evening drew near used to call
|out, "Candlemas, candleless."
As you can tell, this was the date when they
stopped using candles to make their lace by in these areas.
At Cranfield it is recorded that they used
February the 14th as their day when they stopped using candles.
Jones and Deer records that; "Legend popularly
has it (though there is no real evidence to substantiate this) that St.
Valentine’s Day originated in the Roman feasts of Luper-calia, which occurred
at this time of year, and the martyrdom of a certain Saint Valentine. In
fact there were two Saint Valentines martyred in Rome in 269-270 AD, about
the same time as the Luper-calian festival, who have generally become confused
- one was the Bishop of Terni, the other a priest or physician who is also
often invoked by sufferers of epilepsy.
VALENTINES DAY FEBRUARY
The 14th February was probably
also chosen for St. Valentine’s Day because, in folk-lore, it is the day
on which birds choose their mates. The two bluebirds, which figure on so
many Valentine cards therefore, represent two lovers bound together in
spirit from this day on - a pretty conceit.
|In the 18th century,
lovers in the Lyme Regis would have their initials entwined and worked
together into a piece of lace. Lyme Regis lace was very fine quality and
would have been quite a lot of work. How many romances were finished before
the lace was, I wonder?"In Devonshire it was the custom for the young lads
to whittle bobbins for their sweethearts who were lace makers. If their
gist was less than 1 dozen they were either considered very mean or their
affections were possibly measured less than desirable!
There are many inscriptions of love and devotion
on bobbins that could have been given to a lace maker by a young man, though
it has to be said that most of the love and romance inscriptions appear
to have originated from the girls. We are not told if they were specifically
given on St Valentines Day, however it would certainly be an appropriate
day to offer such a gift
Lacemakers would work together around a
candle stool during the dark, winter days. To economise on candles there
was a candle stool that comprised a single candle surrounded by a number
of water filled flasks. The function of these flasks was to magnify the
light of the single candle to those gathered around it. A function that
it does well as I have made a number of lace maker's lamps over that past
few years. (We even used one during an electrical back out a few months
ago. I could just about read by its light from across the length of the
Insert a picture
of a candle stool and my lace makers lamp
|The most experienced lacemakers would have
a position of privilege closest to the light, whereas the younger girls,
with better eyesight and less skill, would be positioned at the back. The
use of candles was strictly regulated, as the cost would have to come from
the girls’ hard-earned wages. On Shrove Tuesday (whether it fell early
or late) their candles were always blown out, not to be lit again 1 until
3rd September, Nutting Day.(Wright p )
At North Crawley (Bucks), Riseley (Beds)
and other villages, Shrove Tuesday was also a half-holiday. At North Crawley
the Parish clerk always rang the Pancake Bell at eleven, and as soon as
the sound, "Pan, pan," filtered down from the church tower the women, who
had been waiting for it, ran, helter-skelter, out of their cottages to
the belfry, each carrying a pancake and endeavouring to be the first to
offer it to the clerk. (Wright p
Palm Sunday celebrates Christ’s entry on a donkey
into Jerusalem, when people strew his path with palm branches to honour
him. Crosses made of palm are still blessed and distributed in many churches
today, and carried around the church during the service. This custom has
been practised in England since at
||least the 5th century, and although it was
banned during the Reformation as idolatrous, has never died out entirely.
(Jones and Deer p)
A custom which is apparently peculiar to
Laceland is that of eating figs on Palm or, as it is here more usually
called, Fig Sunday. Tons of figs are sold at Olneyand the surrounding villages
on the preceding Saturday. (Wright p 202)
|April includes the "Fools Day" and also
St George’s Day. It does not appear that the lacemakers did anything other
than the local customs at these times.
|MAY DAY MAY 1ST.
May Day would have been enjoyed by the lacemakers
and whose to say that from time to time a lacemaker may well have been
voted "Queen of the May"
May Day was kept as a holiday by the lacemakers
in some villages. At Fenstanton (Hunts) sweets and frumenty (Wheat boiled
in milk, sometimes with plums, nutmeg,
|cinnamon or sugar added) were made and eaten,
and garlands taken from house to house while the children sang part of
what is generally known as the Hitchin version, of the May Day song.
At Mears Ashby, (Northants) the children
carried a branch of May, on which dolls were dressed in lace, round the
village, the May song.
Whitsun also falls in May and is a popular
time for fairs and fetes. No doubt a "fairing bobbin" or two would have
been bought and gifted to a loved one.
Fairing bobbins are described as being rather
gaudy. They were bought at the travelling fairs and
|comprised of a bobbin that had a single
groove that travelled the length of the shaft. In this groove was placed
a strip of silver foil and it was then kept in place with a single binding
strand of brass wire.
Here is a picture of one that I have made
|June has the longest day of the year. By
this time the lace makers would have been making their lace outdoors as
long as the weather
||allowed. It is during these months that
those pictures of the lace makers outside of their homes along with their
lace pillows must have been taken. them to.
|Perhaps St Swithins day would have been
of most interest to our lacemakers, for if it rained on that day, the legend
says that it would rain for a
||further 40 days. That would put them back
indoors and perhaps make them somewhat less productive than if they were
able to make lace outside in the summer sunlight.
|St Bartholomew’s day. would have been significant
to the Huguenot lace makers, whose second exodus to England (the first
was 1563 - 1568) was
||triggered by a massacre on St Bartholomew’s
day (August 24) in the year. 1572. I have not found any record of its significance
to those Huguenot lace makers in England.
The time for the harvest festivals. After the
hard work of the harvest time, the farmers would put on a sumptuous feast
was given by the local farmer for their workers. There was much cider drunk
||many dances enjoyed, and a good time was
to be had by all. There is little doubt the lacemakers would have joined
in, probably because their father, brothers or boyfriends had helped wi9th
Jones and Deer record the following; "Nutting
Day. This is the day on which children would traditionally go out into
the local woods to gather hazelnuts. The nuts are supposed to be perfectly
ripe at this time - in fact this is often later, but before the calendar
change, Nutting Day would have occurred later in the month. However 21st
September, St. Matthew’s Day, is also known as The Devil’s Nutting Day,
on which day nuts should not be picked. In some parts of the country it
NUTTING DAY. SEPTEMBER
thought that you should never gather nuts
Nutting Day was the day on which lacemakers
were allowed to light candles to aid their work. They could use candles
during winter from this day until Shrove Tuesday in spring. Old lacemakers,
who spent long hours at their pillows, were advised to refresh their tired
eyes by bathing them in gin. This apparently stung a little but enabled
workers to continue for at least two more hours. Eye strain and poor light
must have meant blindness for some women."
"As one of the quarter days, Michaelmas has
for many centuries been an important time for payment of rents and generally
settling up. It was also a time when people could terminate their service
and be hired elsewhere at one of the many Hiring Fairs that took place
on this day. These Hiring Fairs were sometimes called Mop Fairs, and workers
for hire would carry an emblem of their trade - a mop for a maid, a whip
for a carter, a straw for a cowman or a crook for a shepherd. This emblem
would be swapped with the new employer for a ribbon and a good-will token
of a shilling to be spent at the fair
And when the tenants come to pay
their quarter’s rent, They bring some fowls at Midsummer, a dish of fish
at Lent. At Christmas a capon, at Michaelmas a goose, And somewhat else
at New Year’s Tide, for fear their lease fly loose!" .( Jones and Deer)
|As we have already discovered, the fairs
were a time when special bobbins were bought either as gifts or as a momento
from the fair. They were gaudy, and often had many colours on them, but
the key factor was a spiral groove that has a tinsel inlay kept in place
by a wound brass wire. Springett records that the name fairing was originally
a generic name for the "glittering china ornaments, fancy baubles, cheap
sparkling jewellery, (which) were all made to attract the unsophisticated
boy or girl."
The Springetts also tell us that the tinsel
used was a thin strip of tin. Huetson tells us that they were made of bone.
Perhaps he is correct in that his collection contained only bone fairings.
I find it hard to accept that bobbins that were, "gaudy and cheap" were
made only from bone, which would have to have been more expensive. It has
raised another question that you might well be able to answer for me. Do
any of you have any "wooden" antique fairing bobbins in your collection?
Please email on this matter if you can contribute to it.
The Feast of St. Audrey is celebrated on October
17 this day. In Ely, a fair was once held in St Audreys Chapel. "At the
various stall’s it was usual for a cheap variety of
ST AUDREYS DAY.OCTOBER
|bobbin lace to be sold. This was of such
poor quality: that. any, poor lace was eventually as St. Audrey's. This
in time became shortened to "tawdry" and this is, apparently, where the
term, which refers to anything that is cheap and poor." Jones and Deer.
I include this for two reasons. I personally
had the greatest fun of the year on Guy Fawkes Day as a young boy and lad.
I have many tales to tell about the fun of preparing for, and then enjoying,
this great English festival. Most of you will be aware that its origins
date back to the attempt in 1605, of a certain Guido (Guy) Fawkes and his
cohorts, to blow up the Houses of Parliament. We celebrated it with, large
bonfires (and I mean large) and as many fireworks as we could afford after
the WW2. Of course we did not celebrate it during that war.
GUY FAWKES DAY.
|The second reason is that a special festivity
is practiced at one of the lace centres of Honiton lace making, Ottery
St Mary in Devon. In another article I told you that I once lived in that
area and am aware of the tradition in that town (though have never seen
it) They carry and roll barrels of burning tar through the streets of the
town "at breakneck speed" Jones and Deer. At dawn they let off home made
cannons to wake up the population. So our Honiton lacemakers would have
enjoyed themselves in Ottery St Mary each year on Guy Fawkes Day.
CUTTING OFF DAY.
Eve of St. Catherine’s seems an appropriate
‘Cutting Off Day’. For lacemakers, Cutting Off Day was when they "cut off"
and sold the lace they had made. Originally, lacemakers would produce only
one pattern, with which they had become conversant. This would have been
worked in one continuous piece, corners being a relatively modern innovation
(corners were formed by easing and gathering the lace to fit the garment)
and, on Cutting Off Day the lace dealer would take the lace from each pillow
and pay according to the length produced. In many are as fine lace would
be paid for by the shilling, the lace would be covered with one shilling
pieces and the lacemaker was paid the amount thus arrived at. This was
only one of the cutting off days during the year.
|The other thing that they did on the Eve
of St Catherine's Day was to prepare a Catherine Bowl. This comprised of
apples roasted until their pulp would fall into a bowl of cider which was
spiced with cinnamon and sugar. It was then strained and offered to the
With this a background, think what fun the
well-known game of jumping over the candlesticks would be! Wee told that
the lace makers had to jump over the lighted candlestick, without extinguishing
the flame on pain of bad luck all the year around. This custom is said
to be the origin of the Nursery Rhyme,
Jack be Nimble, Jack be quick,
Jack jump over the candle-stick.
DAY NOVEMBER 25TH. (CATTERNS)
[The two great holidays of the lace-makers was
Tanders (St. Andrew’s Day, Nov. 30th), and Catterns Day (St. Catherine's
Day, Nov. 25th) Catterns was observed chiefly in north Northants
and Beds; but in the greater part of the East Midlands the principal holiday
St. Catharine was the patron saint of the
spinners, to whom the lacemakers considered themselves related. As time
went on, Catharine the Saint became confused with Katharine the Queen,
that is to say, Katharine of Aragon (wife of Henry the Eighth) of Kat Stitch
fame, who was born on Dec. 6th, old St. Catharine’s Day. Wright
gives a couple of pages of description of these festivities, but I summarise
a few here.
Of course we are all aware of the custom
of baking Cattern Cakes on this day. The origin of this was the concern
of Catherine of Aragon, who when hearing the plight of the lace makers
of Bedfordshire, burnt all her lace and commissioned new lace, thus keeping
the lace makers employed. There after the lace makers contributed to a
fund that provided tea and cakes on this day. I will not repeat a recipe
here as Jones and Deer has one and most lace magazines carry a recipe regularly
for Cattern Cakes.
Here are some other things from Wright.
In some of the towns and villages the bellman
used to go round before daybreak ringing his bell and calling out:
Rise, maids, rise! Make your Cattern
Bake enough, and bake no waste, and let the
bellman have a taste.
At Kettering, Ampthill and other places,
Cattern cakes, made of dough and caraway seeds, were sent about, and the
evening was given up to singing, dancing and feasting; the principal dish
being stuffed boiled rabbit " smothered with onion sauce." At Podington
(North. Beds) they kept Cattern on old St. Catherine's Day "by wetting
the candle-block," that is, taking tea together and eating Cattern cakes.
After dancing to the music of a fiddle they crowned their diversions by
supping on a great apple pie.
|Here is his description of the Candlestick
The girl or boy mentioned turned so that
he or she faced outward from the ring, and they continued to dance till
all had turned, when the difficult feat of jumping the candlestick, lighted
candle and all, was attempted. In other places, including West Suffolk,
which was formerly a lace-making centre, the song was,
Jack, be nimble I Jack, be quick!
The name of any boy or girl was inserted in
both the rhymes. The object it seems was to clear both the candlestick
and candle without extinguishing the light. If the light was extinguished’
ill luck was supposed to follow during the subsequent twelve months. One
of these candlesticks, two feet two inches high, is preserved in the Museum
at Aylesbury but the height of the candle added to that would give at least
another three inches. The feat of leaping it was, at any rate for a girl,
not an easy one. The festivities finished by letting off Catharine wheels,
but all these customs have died out.
Jack, jump over the candlestick,
And again he records;
The people of Wendover (Bucks) called Catterns
"Candle Day," it being the first day on which they commenced to make lace
by candlelight, and they celebrated it by eating " wigs,"’-round, spongy
gingerbread-like cakes, flavoured with caraway seed, which obtained their
name from their thick rim which resembled the curl of a Georgian wig; and
drank "hot-pot," a liquor compounded of warm beer spiced with rum and thickened
with beaten eggs. At the lace schools the girls and boys danced in a ring
round the great lace-maker’s candlestick, singing:
Wallflowers, wallflowers, growing
up so high,
All young maidens surely have to die;
Excepting Emma Caudrey, she’s the best of
She can dance and she can skip,
And she can jump the candlestick.
Turn, turn, turn your face to the wall again.
"St Andrew is the fisherman apostle and is,
of course, the patron saint of Scotland. There are many tales surrounding
his life (and how his relics came to Scotland) and a great number of miraculous
and heroic deeds were attributed posthumously to him. It is thought that
a monk brought some relics to Fife in the north of Scotland, where he built
(at an angel’s instruction) a church in what is now the city of St. Andrew’s.
ST. ANDREWS DAY NOVEMBER
When the Picts, then converted to Christianity,
won a battle against the English due to ‘the appearance of St. Andrew’s
cross in the heavens" they took the Saint as their patron. The Saint’s
day be-came a Scottish national holiday, and there is great, feasting on
this day." Jones and Deer.
At Tanders, the Olney people congregated
in one another’s housen.’ No candy was made,
|but frumenty or, as it was generally called,
‘thrumety " eaten and rich metheglin" (made hot), with toast floating at
the top, was drunk.
There was clearly a lot of alcohol drunk
as one landlord is recorded as taking out a three-day licence! The games
enjoyed were bob apple, where the apple and a piece of candle was alternately
offered. When blindfolded the results might not be too nice on some occasions.
Tanders cake is 3 1/2 lbs of dough, (? that
is what it says!) 6 ozs lard, 6 ozs sugar, 1 oz caraway seed. (You are
reminded by Wright to use Brewers Yeast.)
At Stoke Goldington they made sweets called
I think you should get hold of Wright and
enjoy not only his description of these holidays but the whole book!! J
" Thomasmas, falls on the 21st December,
very near the true solstice the turning point of the year, with the longest
night and the shortest day. Its importance in the Christian
ST THOMAS' DAY DECEMBER
|calendar stems from ancient rituals surrounding
the solstice, as of course do many Christmas celebrations.
I can not find a reference to our predecessors
celebrating this day.