‘What is wanted are collections of scraps of ancient lace arranged in books, where the design and the workmanship of the various kinds can be closely studied.'(The Queen, the Lady’s Magazine and Newspaper, July 7, 1883)

Charlotte Treadwin and Frances Bury Palliser beat the author of this article in the Queen magazine by just over ten years. They presented their collections of lace samples to the new museum intending them to be studied by designers and artisans.  Charlotte’s gift arrived on August 22nd 1868, and Frances presented hers on May 29th 1869.

Their contribution to RAMM and snippets of their own intriguing careers were  reported in the regional and national press.  There is so much more to these two women than their mutual interest in collecting ‘scraps of ancient lace’.

So who were these women, and why are they so important?

Charlotte Treadwin (1821-1890) was an important lace manufacturer, who built a successful business in the city centre. Her achievements are still revered by 21st century lace-makers and design historians. Frances Bury Palliser was a writer, collector and historian of lace. Her book, A History of Lace, remains a classic reference work on the subject.

The first wing of the museum had been opened in 1868.  It was viewed as ‘the most important modern building in Exeter’.  It incorporated a free library, a reading room, the schools of science and art, and an art gallery.

As the city’s memorial to Prince Albert, the project was proposed by Sir Stafford Northcote, Conservative MP for Exeter and Secretary to Prince Albert for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The vision was to build ‘the fittest form of a local memorial (because it would) continue to future generations the special benefits to which the person to be honoured had in his lifetime most devoted himself.’

The lace-maker’s story

By 1868, Mrs Treadwin’s business was well established at 5 Cathedral Close. The daughter of an Exmoor  farmer, she had arrived in Exeter via Woodbury.  The 1841 census records Charlotte Dobbs and her sister living at Darby’s Cottages in Woodbury. Charlotte had been apprenticed to a Mrs Passmore, a dressmaker, on leaving her Exmoor home.  At Woodbury she is described as a milliner. The word was commonly used to describe a dressmaker and supplier of small wares, including trimmings and lace. It’s likely that Dobbs was also connected with a lace school and dealers in the area.

Charlotte became a Royal Warrant holder in 1848, after supplying Queen Victoria with a lace bordered handkerchief.

Throughout her long career as a lace-maker, teacher, designer and businesswoman, Treadwin collected samples of English and Continental laces.  The samples were collected as reference to be examined, analysed and sometimes unravelled to explore how they were made. They informed Treadwin’s own practice of design and making lace, including experimental pieces. Many of the samples  were eventually assembled together in a large album.  Each page was arranged meticulously and stitched onto coloured satin according to type and technique by Charlotte’s assistant Ellen Herbert. Ellen left the album to the museum on her death in 1928.

An interactive digital replica of the album may be seen in the first floor gallery Finders Keepers, where collectors’ tales are revealed.

Image caption: A sample of ‘Fleurette’, Treadwin’s registered design of 1848.