‘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)

Lace collections at RAMM

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. Frances presented hers on May 29th 1869.

Selected items from RAMM’s lace collection are available online.

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

Why are these two ladies so important?

Charlotte Treadwin, nee Dobbs, (1821-1890) was an important lace manufacturer. She built a successful business in Exeter’s city centre. 21st century lace-makers and design historians still admire her achievements. 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 opened in 1868.  People viewed it 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.

Sir Stafford Northcote was the Conservative MP for Exeter and Secretary to Prince Albert for the Great Exhibition of 1851. He proposed the museum as the city’s memorial to Prince Albert. 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, Charlotte’s business was prospering at 5 Cathedral Close. The daughter of an Exmoor farmer, she arrived in Exeter via Woodbury. Then became an apprentice to dressmaker Mrs Passmore.  Later, the 1841 census records her as a milliner living with her sister living at Darby’s Cottages in Woodbury. At this time the word ‘milliner’ often describes a dressmaker and supplier of small wares, including trimmings and lace. It is likely Charlotte was 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, Charlotte collected samples of English and Continental laces.  She kept this reference collection for examination, analysis and sometimes destruction. She could replicate the techniques in the samples by carefully unravelling them.  They informed Treadwin’s own practice of design and making lace, including experimental pieces. Later Charlotte’s assistant Ellen Herbert assembled the samples into a large album.  She arranged each page meticulously. She stitched the samples onto coloured satin according to type and technique. Ellen left the album to the museum on her death in 1928.

An interactive replica of the album is in the Finders Keepers? gallery. This space explores the stories of RAMM’s early collectors. The album can also be viewed online.

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