Lyme Regis Lace

This description of the lace made at Lyme Regis, Dorset, England is taken from ‘History of Lace’ By Bury Palliser, published by S. Low, son & Marston, 1865

The points of Lyme Regis rivalled, in the last century, those of Honiton and Blandford, and when the trade of the last-named town passed away, Lyme and Honiton laces held their own, side by side, in the London market.

The fabric of Lyme Regis, for a period, came more before the public eye, for that old, deserted, and half-forgotten mercantile city, in the eighteenth century, once more raised its head as a fashionable watering-place. Broad Street was inhabited by lace-makers. They were great gossips, and had a store of traditions that would fill a volume. Seated at their doors in summer, or collected in winter round the fire, they repeated to the visitors stories of valiant deeds done by Lyme men in “troublesome times,” or rehearsed elegies on their darling Monmouth, who promised when he was king that Lyme should join Axminster and Charmouth, regain its former prosperity, and hold as many thousands as it then did hundreds. The ladies whiled away their time in listening to their stories, buying their points, or in the excitement of sixpenny raffles, by means of which many a fine head or apron was disposed of. Prizes were awarded by the Anti-Gallicau Society6 to Miss Mary Channon, of Lyme Regis, and her fellow-townswoman, Miss Mary Ben, for ruffles of needle point and bone lace.

The reputation of the fabric, too, of Lyme Eegis, through the ladies who sought its invigorating breezes, reached even the court ; and when Queen Charlotte first set foot on English ground she wore a head and lappets of Dorset manufacture. Some years later, a splendid lace dress was made for her Majesty by the workers of Lyme, which, says the annalist of our southern coast, gave great satisfaction at court. The makers of this costly product received, however, but fourpence a day for their work.

The laces of Lyme held the preference over all other fabrics for their superior durability. Like all good articles, they were expensive. A narrow piece set quite plain round an old woman’s cap would cost four guineas, nor were five guineas a yard considered an exorbitant price.

It was a favourite custom at Lyme for lovers to have their initials entwined and worked together on a piece of ornamental lace.

Old Catherine Power, the last of the town lace-makers, was also a teller of fortunes. She would often beg a copy of initials about to be worked in point, that she might take them home, “just cut the cards,” and tell the future destiny of the young couple.

The making of such expensive lace being scarcely found remunerative, the trade gradually expired ; and when the order for the marriage lace of H .M. Queen Victoria reached the southern counties, not one lace-maker was to be found to aid in the work in the once flourishing town of Lyme Regis.

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