By Royal Appointment: Devon’s lacemakers

By Royal Appointment tells the story of Devon lace through collections at RAMM. RAMM launched this exhibition in early 2020, but as with many things that year it wasn’t open for long. This Collections Story gives you the opportunity to revisit the show online, or browse the content for the first time.

RAMM borrowed many of the objects in the exhibition from other museums and private individuals. Where this content is available online there are links to the relevant webpages.

Two of RAMM’s most longstanding volunteers, Carol McFadzean (left) and Liz Trebble (right), co-curated By Royal Appointment. Nicknamed Cagney & Lacey, they are the super sleuths of the lace world. Their research over several decades gives a voice to the frequently overlooked people who made lace for England’s high society.

Colour photograph of two women sat at a table looking at samples of lace

Gallery Photos

Expand the sections below to read more.

Many of the objects from this exhibition are available online. Individual object records may have more information and additional photographs.

This exhibition unravels the threads of some previously untold stories, revealing the beauty and technical skill of Devon lace made for the fashionable elite. It gives voice to the unacknowledged makers who often experienced hardship, poverty and disability. In Devon, children learned lace-making from a young age. It often supplemented an income from fishing or agricultural work. Men, women and children all made lace, and for people who were physically less able, the trade provided their only means of subsistence.

Queen Victoria’s wedding lace was made at Beer on the East Devon coast in the months before her marriage in 1840. It boosted the trade and enhanced the reputation of Devon lace. Even now, local families recount romantic stories of their lace-making forebears, some of whom made lace for royalty. Years after her death, memories of the queen’s wedding lace remained and fashion writers expressed a continuing fascination with this most delicate of textiles.

Colour photograph of a Honiton lace butterfly made in white cotton thread on a blue background

“There is not a cottage in all the county [of Devon] nor that of Somerset where white lace is not made in great quantities so that not only the whole kingdom is supplied with it but it is exported in great abundance.”

— Cosimo de Medici, 1669

Lace-making in Devon began in the late 16th century. Devon is famous for Honiton lace. Yet over time, many styles of lace came to the county to accommodate the fashions of the day and economies of production.

Brussels, Lille and Midlands

Colour photograph of a white lace cap back with very dense floral motifs on a blue background
Brussels lace cap-back. About 1730.
Brussels is a bobbin lace using fine linen thread. This piece formed the back of a lady’s dress cap. It lacks a crown, a frill which would have sat over the forehead and long lappets which trailed at the sides of the cap.
Colour photograph of two wooden continental lace bobbins
Continental lace bobbins
Brussels lace is made using ‘continental’ bobbins which are made of wood and bulbous at the end.
Colour photograph of a sample of white Lille lace trimming on a blue background
Lille lace has an elegant, light and airy appearance. There is a link between Lille designs and those of Devon trolly. Lace historian and collector Frances Bury Palliser owned this sample. Her collection came to RAMM in 1869.
Colour photograph of two decorated bone lace bobbins with pink and silver spangles
East Midlands lace bobbins
Unlike Honiton bobbins, East Midlands lace bobbins are bone as well as wood. They have ‘spangles’ – glass beads or old coins attached by metal wires to add weight. This keeps the heavier thread straight.
Wide piece of white lace edging using Bucks Point technique
Buckinghamshire lace edging. Mid-19th century.
A continuous lace made on the pillow, commonly known as ‘Bucks point’. This piece has a point ground edging with single tallies and picots in the net. The small repetitive design made an ideal edging or trimming. Some designs were the same as Devon trolly.

Honiton lace

Honiton lace is the most well-known Devon lace. People made it throughout East Devon. Stagecoaches took boxes containing this expensive bobbin lace – more costly than jewels – from Honiton to the fashion centres of Bath and London, giving rise to its name.

Colour photograph of white lace edging on a blue background
Honiton lace edging. About 1725-40.
Early Honiton designs were very dense with little space between the motifs. This scalloped design is finely worked in linen thread, similar to that used in continental laces at the time. The stylised flowers and leaves are worked in wholestitch and halfstitch with snowflake fillings used to join sections together.
Honiton lace trimming, about 1870.
Honiton lace is a ‘piece lace’. Makers join individual sprigs (motifs) together to produce a textile. The decorative part of Honiton lace is the fillings within the spaces of the sprig. They often have attractive names such as pheasant’s eye and Devon honeycomb.
Colour photograph of wooden Honiton lace bobbins on a white background
Honiton lace bobbins. 18th to 19th century.
Honiton bobbins have no spangles (beads) as the thread used was fine and the weight of the wooden bobbins was sufficient to keep the thread straight. Many were plain. Some had decorative carving with red or black wax designs that indicated their place of origin e.g. boats and fish for Beer.
Colour photograph of a mounted lace cap
Honiton applique child’s lace cap, 1830-60.
Handmade sprigs of flowers and leaves, on top of machine-made net, make this delicate cap. Handmade net took a long time to make and was therefore incredibly expensive. With the invention of machines, the skills to make net by hand were almost completely lost in Devon.

Other Devon lace

Other styles of Devon bobbin lace include Devonia and Colyton chromatic (both varieties of Honiton), Kerswell, Woodbury Greek and Devon Trolly. Queen Adelaide introduced Woodbury Greek in the early 1840s to alleviate the poverty of the lace-makers in Woodbury parish. It is unique to Devon.

Colour photograph of a beige and white lace collar, flat, on a blue background
Honiton point collar. Late 19th century
Honiton point is a needle lace made by applying tapes to pre-printed patterns. Decorative stitches join the tapes together. The first lace ‘kits’ gave society ladies the opportunity to learn point lace. Selling kits provided lace-makers with an alternative way of earning their living.
Colour photograph of a white lace tie on a blue background. This shows the detail at one end of a raised work butterfly with leaves and flowers
Devonia lace scarf. Around 1870.
Three-dimensional motifs are characteristic of Devonia lace. Often, butterfly or bird wings are attached to basic Honiton lace so the animal looks as if ready for flight. The trend for Devonia lace was short-lived.
Colour photograph of two wooden decorated Devon trolly lace bobbins
Devon Trolly lace bobbins. About 1800.
Devon trolly is a continuous lace made by the yard. It uses thicker thread than Honiton, hence heavier bobbins.
Narrow section of white Devon trolly lace - its triangular sections resemble a string of bunting
Devon Trolly lace trimming. About 1800.
Devon trolly is a ‘heavy’ lace. The style comes from Europe where the word for an outline of a design in thick thread is ‘trolle’. The bobbins used are also heavier than Honiton. The v-shaped edging is known as a Vandyke point.

Branscombe point collar About 1860

Branscombe lace dealer John Tucker introduced Branscombe point in the 1850s. This needle lace uses fine, machine-made tape and decorative fillings made by hand. It is quicker to make than Honiton lace and was a means of combating the introduction of less expensive, entirely machine–made lace. Usually one person would make each item, unlike Honiton lace where many people would contribute to a large piece.

Lacemakers use a needle, rather than bobbins, to create Honiton point and Branscombe point. They are quicker to make than Honiton lace and helped to combat the introduction of less expensive machine-made lace.

Lacemakers used linen flax until the import of cotton thread in the first part of the 19th century. They took great care not to waste any valuable thread or damage the equipment they required to make their living.

Making Honiton lace 2010. Liz Trebble, Devon lace teacher and RAMM volunteer
Colour photograph of the front cover of a book. It is red and gold and says 'Antique Point Honiton Lace By Mrs Treadwin'
Antique Point and Honiton Lace. By Charlotte Treadwin. Ward, Lock and Tyler, London, 1865.
This little book by Exeter’s most well-known lace dealer includes ‘plain and explicit instructions for making, transferring, and cleaning laces of every description with about one hundred illustrations, outlines and prickings of the principle antique point stitches and Honiton sprigs’. The publisher also sold sections of the book in paperback form for those who could not afford the whole book.
Lace-maker’s lamp or ‘flash’. About 1840.
Glass globes filled with water act like as a lens to intensify the light of a candle and direct the beam on to the pillow. Ellen Herbert of 5 Cathedral Close, Exeter probably used this lamp as it has her name inscribed on the glass. She may have purchased it from Hinton Lake, 43 High Street, Exeter.
Photograph of a sheet of brown card with hundreds of pin holes outlining a floral design.
Pricking, 19th Century.
A pricking card guides the lacemaker when making Honiton lace. This is a piece of thin card or thick paper with pin holes pricked through it. Pins secure the pricking to the pillow. As the maker works the design they place pins into the holes to secure the growing lace and determine its shape.
Colour photograph of a spherical lace pillow set up for work with a part worked piece of lace, blue cover cloth and many bobbins
Lace pillow set up for work. About 1987. Pillow dressed and lace worked by Cynthia Voysey.
Cynthia Voysey was a leading Devon lace-maker. The traditional lace pillow (as recommended by Charlotte Treadwin in her book Antique Point and Honiton Lace) is made of stout cotton, or ticking, and stuffed with chopped straw or bran. Workers could make their own pillows. Mrs Treadwin stocked ready-made lace pillows at 10 to 20 shillings each (1875), about £30-£60 today.
Colour photograph of a lace bobbin winder made in dark wood
Bobbin winder, 19th century.
Winding bobbins by hand is very time-consuming. Even small sprigs might require 20 pairs. More thread is wound on one bobbin of each pair and then only the thread required for the next work was wound on to its partner. Using a bobbin winder is a quicker method as the equipment tensions the skein of thread.

Faded RAMM logo
Thread, pins, needle pins, pricker with beeswax and fine sharp scissors are also part of a lace-maker’s box of equipment. Lace was first made using linen thread before the import of cotton.
Silk is also used.
Colour photograph of a paper pattern to guide the joining of lace sprigs to net. Some sprigs are attached to this piece.
Joining the sprigs for a cuff. Early 20th century.
The customer and the dealer decided on the design for each piece of Honiton lace together. They chose the sprigs and how to arrange them. Then, a ‘lace sewer’ joined them using the methods of each period. Lace sewers earned more than the sprig makers. Net stitch, brides and bars and needle lace were all methods of joining the sprigs.
Colour photograph of a green rose point lace pattern. It is partly worked in white lace
Part-worked rose point pattern About 1870. Sold by Mrs Charlotte Treadwin, 5 Cathedral Close, Exeter.
Point lace makers apply readymade braids to a paper pattern. Then needle lace stitches make the patterns and join the motifs. Accessories such as collars, cuffs and fan leaves could be made from the lace. Patterns like this were worked at home and satisfied the demand for antique revival laces in the second half of the 19th century.

“Queens have worn it with pride at the bridal altar and on the coronation days of their grandeur and glory. Still, it is the handiwork of ‘fingers weary and worn’, of women hungry, lean and thinly clad; of women working on the clay floors of low, damp cottages, whose coarse patched garments show their poverty all the more vividly against the slowly wrought tissues of the beautiful fabric they bend over from day to day.”

— A Walk from London to Land’s End and Back by Elihu Burritt, 1864
Black and white photo of an elderly lady sitting making lace

By the 19th century thousands of people were employed in Devon making lace. The work was usually carried out by women and children, but this was not always the case. Men also made lace, especially those who had been injured or were born with a disability that prevented them from doing other work.

Sepia photograph of a young man sitting with a Honiton lace pillow on his lap

Commentators on the lace industry have often taken a romantic view of a picturesque craft, emphasising the making of lace as a feminine occupation. However, men also made lace. The 1911 census shows Walter Linscott (1897-1982) as living on Clapps Lane in Honiton. It gives his profession as as a lace-maker. He was injured on active service with the army during the first world war and received the Victory and British War medals.

This postcard bears the caption, ‘Honiton lace workers and apprentice’. The photograph shows Fore Street, Exmouth and features (left to right) Mrs Horne, Harry Widdon (the town crier) and Mrs Long. It is likely this scene is staged and that Harry was not, in fact, a lace-maker.

Sepia photograph of two ladies and one man sat outside a house with lace pillows on their laps

Before the larger manufactories were established lace-making took place at home. Often whole families were involved in the process. They received a few shillings for their work or else received payment in kind, such as food. Known as the ‘truck system’. This was outlawed in 1779 but continued illegally well into the 19th century.

Photograph of a postcard depicting floral lace sprigs, a bee made in lace and a lady sitting with a lace pillow on her lap
This image of a lady sat at her pillow and surrounded by Honiton lace sprigs features on many Honiton postcards. We do not know her name.

As most lace-makers came from poor backgrounds, often their names are not recorded in contemporary documents, and the identities of many talented makers have been lost. There are some exceptions.

Colour photograph of a white Honiton lace collar on a blue background. One of the Pile sisters from Otterton made it.

The five unmarried Pile sisters are Otterton’s most famous lacemakers. They lived on the green. Mary, Eliza, Blanche, Harriet and Elizabeth Pile were the daughters of a bootmaker. All worked in the lace trade in the 1850s, at a time when East Devon lace was in great demand.

One of the Pile sisters made this mid-19th century guipure collar. Bullocks heart motifs and leadworks are among the traditional features in this design.

Sepia photograph of a lady sitting making lace with the pillow on her lap.
Photograph of Jane Cabe (1833-1914). About 1900.
Jane lived her whole life in Exmouth. She learned to make lace at a ‘school’ aged seven years old. The census records Jane as a seamstress.
Colour photograph of a white triangular lace cuff with leaf motifs on a blue background
One of a pair of Honiton lace cuffs. About 1900.
Jane Cabe made this pair of Honiton lace cuffs. Guipure bars link the motifs..
Colour photograph of a white lace sprig of leaves and flowers on a blue background
Honiton lace sprig. Made by Anne Liddon, about 1840.
Anne Liddon (née Bilke, d.1849) was born in London. She married Captain Mathew Liddon of the Royal Navy who was posted to Devon.
Colour photograph of 13 white lace flowers on a blue background
Honiton sprigs Made by Anne Liddon, about 1840.
Dealers bought sprigs from many different lace-makers in their area. No one article or garment was the work of one lace-maker as each specialised in a particular motif. However, any group of lace-makers required a similar skill level and a similar tension in order to produce a high quality piece of lace.
Sepia photograph of a lady stood outside a cottage. She is wearing a white apron
Photograph of Fanny Connabear. About 1890.
Fanny Connabear (1836-1909) lived in Morchard Bishop. The census records her as either a lace worker or needle woman. She was known locally as ‘the children’s friend’. It is likely that she worked for Mrs Treadwin who had an outlet in nearby Chumleigh run by Mrs Treadwin’s sister Ann.
Colour photograph of white lace on a blue background.
Branscombe point tie. Made by Fanny Connabear about 1890.

Individual lace-makers purchased thread from their associated dealer. The dealer compared the weight of the thread sold and completed sprigs. This prevented the worker from making money ‘on the side’. Each worker made only a small selection of designs dependent on their ability.

It was essential that every member of a lace-making family brought home an income, no matter how meagre. In major lace areas such as East Devon, lace schools were commonplace. They taught children as young as five or six lace-making by teachers or ‘dames’. Yet many schools did not teach them to read or write. Classrooms of up to 30 girls, and sometimes boys, worked long days by the dim light of a lace-maker’s lamp. Pupils paid a small fee for tuition but the dames kept the best examples for sale.

Photograph of a black and white print showing children learning lace in a school
A Decaying English Industry – A Lace School in Devonshire. Percy Macquoid, Print.
Like any textile manufacture, lace was the victim of fashion. The industry had been in decline towards the end of the 18th century and really was only resurrected by the wedding lace made for Queen Victoria in 1839. The print shows the conditions of working in a lace school to learn the ‘art and mystery’ of lace.

Mrs Caroline Hayman ran the largest of six schools in Otterton, paying for pupil’s work in goods from her shop. ‘The usual hours are from 8 am till 6 pm, and if the children have not done their work they are kept till 8.’ Lace-makers learned to work by candlelight by the age of ten. Older girls would share a candle, sometimes working into the early hours to complete an order.

In 1862 the Children’s Employment Commission exposed the harsh conditions faced by pupils at lace schools. After the Education Act of 1870 fewer children attended lace schools. The common image of the lacemaker became that of an elderly woman sitting at her pillow outside the cottage door.

In 1898 Annie Whittaker learned to make lace from her mother. In turn, Annie taught lace-making to adults and children in East Devon, as well as the female inmates of Exeter Prison. She was strict – no talking was allowed – but her outstanding teaching methods led her to found the Devon Lace Teachers in 1949.

“Mrs Whittaker travelled to school by motorbike, wearing a leather Flying helmet and a man’s greatcoat, with her legged leather boots. The boys were fascinated by her […] and were always willing to give a helping hand, then they would cheer her and make various engine noises!”

Devon within Living Memory, by Devon Federation of Women’s Institutes
Photograph of Elsie Luxton. 1997.
Elsie Luxton, one of the original Devon Lace Teachers. In 1997 she received an MBE for her services to lace-making.

colour photograph of a white Honiton lace primrose on a blue background
Honiton lace primrose. Made by Elsie Luxton, 1973.
In 1979 Elsie Luxton, one of the original Devon Lace Teachers, fulfilled a need by writing the first modern book on making Honiton lace – The Techniques of Honiton Lace. An illustration of this sprig is on the frontispiece.

Colour photograph of a Honiton lace sampler made in white thread. There are many different fillings
Honiton lace sampler. about 1840.
This sampler was probably a teaching aid made to show a variety of Honiton fillings prior to the publication of any technique books. It was common practice for techniques to be remembered by the worker rather than having a diagram or written words.
Black and white postcard showing 15 children and one teacher sat outside with thier lace pillows and a bobbin winder. the caption reads 'Some of the workers of the Chudleigh School of Devonshire lace'
Chudleigh lace school photograph
Miss Edith Lord set up the school in the early 1900s, financed by Lord Clifford of Ugbrooke House until it became selfsupporting. She moved the lace school to Newquay, Cornwall, on her marriage but returned to Chudleigh in later life. Lent by Carol McFadzean
Colour photograph of a design drawn in white on brown paper for a triangular lace shawl
Design for Honiton lace shawl. Helena Jessie Kyomersly Cornish (1850-1941), 1873, gouache on paper.
This stunning design for a lace shawl won Exeter School of Art student Helena Cornish (aged 23) the National Bronze Medal. At this time the School of Art was based in the same building as RAMM. Helena and her twin sister Katherine were the youngest children of the vicar of Ottery St Mary. They remained at home until they were in their 30s. In later life the census record Helena as a ‘Sister of the Poor’ (Anglican) and later a Sister of Mercy (Roman Catholic) in London.
This work was conserved in 2020 with support from The Textile Society
Colour photograph of a design drawn in white on brown paper for a rectangular piece of lace. Motifs include passion flowers and morning glory.
Design for piece of Honiton lace. About 1870, gouache on paper. Possibly by an Exeter School of Art student.
This design depicts passion flowers and convolvulus or morning glory flowers. It is interesting that these designs were produced at a time when making bobbin lace and lace schools were in decline.
Colour photograph of a design for Honiton lace made in white on brown paper. Motifs include leaves and flowers
Design for piece of Honiton lace. About 1870, gouache on paper. Possibly by an Exeter School of Art student.
Lace dealer Charlotte Treadwin was concerned that lacemakers were not trained to draw or design since ‘lace designing is not much understood at the School of Art’. It is likely that the student who drew this design had never made lace.

Saved from the flames The Woodbury Salterton Lace Find

In 2002 a unique lace find was discovered at Woodbury Salterton C of E Primary School. Crammed within a linen bag that had ‘To Burn’ written on its flap were over 700 Devon trolly lace samples and items for Queen Victoria. It caused considerable excitement amongst lace-makers nationally and internationally. Woodbury lace-makers sent samples to Queen Victoria in a satin bag trimmed and embellished with lace in the hope she would place an order. Each lace sample indicated the price per yard ranging from 2½d to 9 shillings, (76 pence to £543 at today’s value). Some have the initials or names of the women making that pattern of lace. People made Devon trolly along the East Devon coast until the mid-19th century, when machines could make similar lace that was far less expensive.

Queen Victoria’s ‘work bag’. About 1840.

A small bag with metallic Devon trolly edging. The bag is also lined with satin and wadding placed between the two layers like a quilt. A newspaper in 1841 described this as a work bag. Lent by Woodbury Salterton C of E Primary School.

Sheets of Devon trolly lace. About 1840

These two sheets of lace samples are part of the ‘Woodbury Salterton lace find’. The find contained over 700 samples of Devon trolly lace all priced by the yard, but with varying prices for the same design on different pages! Lent by Woodbury Salterton C of E Primary School.

Close up photograph of a white guipure lace garniture on a blue background.

“A pattern for lace must have clean lines, exquisite proportions and a fine sense of fitness and economy; but there must be more than that. There must be imagination and human sensibility. At times a design may even have a touch of something beyond the lines, an illumination, an inspiration.”

Marian Powys

Devon trade directories of the 19th century provide information on the many businesses in the county dealing in lace. This includes Budleigh Salterton, Exmouth, Sidmouth and Honiton. Lace dealers and manufacturers also appear in Exeter from the 1820s, often with premises in Cathedral Yard. Among the most successful lace dealers in the county were John Tucker of Branscombe and Charlotte Treadwin who was based in Exeter.

John Tucker and family

John Tucker set up a lace business in Branscombe in the 1830s. By the 1850s he employed over 500 lace-makers, including 284 from Branscombe, about a quarter of the village’s population. John’s daughters Louisa and Mary were both expert lace-makers and produced unique floral designs for their father; his son ran the London office. Tucker’s lace was synonymous with good quality and workmanship and was awarded prize medals at international exhibitions. The firm had the distinction of supplying lace to the Royal family. It closed when John died

colour photograph of snowdrops made in white lace on a blue background
Honiton lace snowdrop. Made by Louisa Tucker about 1870.
Louisa drew inspiration from the natural world. Her local wild flower designs are unique to Tucker’s firm.
An elderly lady with a shawl over her shoulders stands with a nurse in this sepia photograph
Photograph of an elderly Mary Tucker with a nurse.
Bonnet veil. Probably made by Tucker’s firm, 1864.
This small, semi-circular veil was possibly part of Mary Tucker’s ‘going away’ outfit after her marriage. It is made of good quality machine net scattered with king bobbin lace rings. The top edge is threaded with cream ribbon.
Colour photograph of an ivory Honiton lace wedding veil over an ivory gown
Wedding veil, 1864. Possibly made by Tucker’s firm, Exeter
Veil worn by Mary Tucker for her marriage to Henry Ford on 6 December 1864. The machine-made net is embellished with Honiton lace sprigs and edging. Each corner has a large floral spray of stylised bell-shaped flowers.
Colour photograph of an elegant ivory silk wedding gown, mounted on a mannequin, photographed on a blue background
Wedding dress. 1864 Made by Miss Bromfield, Hole Mill, Branscombe.
Silk wedding dress worn by Mary Tucker. It is beautifully made, very light and would have been wonderful to wear. The simplicity of the dress shows off the exquisite veil that accompanied it.
Colour photograph of white wedding boots
Silk boots, 1864.
Silk boots with a linen lining worn by Mary Tucker for her marriage to Henry Ford on 6 December 1864. The wedding was a high profile occasion for Branscombe, the Tiverton Gazette called it a ‘festival’. The couple provided the poor of the village with ‘a beautiful dinner and tea’.

Mrs J T Tucker

Colour photograph of four folded samples of lace. Some have Mrs J T Tucker's sales label attached
Valenciennes and Mechlin (Brussels) lace, About 1870, Sold by Mrs J.T. Tucker, 233-4 High Street, Exeter.
Unusually this lace still has its original shop labels. Mrs J.T sold it in her Exeter shop. Tucker who specialised in fashionable goods in the latest styles. At the time of manufacture both machine and handmade lace was still an essential part of the female wardrobe.
Purchased for the museum by the Friends of RAMM
colour photograph of the front cover of a promotional booklet. 'Models Robes & Nouveautes. Mrs J T tucker & Sons. 243&244 High St. Exeter. this writing is surrounded by cherubs
Promotional booklet. Mrs J.T. Tucker, 1879, Maclure & Macdonald, Lithographers, London.
A promotional pamphlet advertising the re-opening of their Exeter showrooms. The first page reads, ‘Mrs JT Tucker & Sons have the pleasure to announce their return from Paris and Brussels with a beautiful variety of novelties from the salons of the leading Artists of Fashion including many exquisite specialities.’

Charlotte Treadwin & Ellen Herbert

Charlotte Treadwin (1802-1882) is Exeter’s most important lace manufacturer. Far from the stereotype of the elderly villager working alone outside her country cottage, she had a background in fashion and great ambition. She was also an astute businesswoman trading in imported millinery, as well as promoting locally made lace at a time when lace was an important element of elite fashion. Mrs Treadwin’s business paid a fair wage in cash rather than groceries. Her firm exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the International Exhibition of 1862 and won numerous royal commissions and prize medals. Charlotte Treadwin and her successor Ellen Herbert both received Royal Warrants.

Portrait photograph of Charlotte Treadwin. She is seated at a desk, while wearing a dress and looking to the left.
Photograph of charlotte Treadwin
Queen Victoria granted Charlotte Elizabeth Treadwin (née Dobbs) a Royal Warrant in the 12th year of her reign. The queen’s first order was a handkerchief with roses and thistles growing out of the cambric. She paid Charlotte £7.
Charlotte Treadwin’s Royal Warrant, 28th June 1848.
Sepia portrait  photograph of lacemaker Ellen Herbert
Photograph of Ellen Herbert. W.P. Little, Exeter.
Aged 13, Ellen Herbert became an assistant to Charlotte Treadwin at her lace manufactory in Exeter. She eventually took over the business in 1891 and continued to make, sell and restore lace on the premises until her death in 1929.
Ellen Herbert’s Royal Warrant, 29 November 1901.

Now regarded as an internationally important designer and lace-maker, Charlotte Treadwin was an ambitious businesswoman with a background in the fashion industry. Born on Exmoor, she took up an apprenticeship with a dressmaker and milliner. While still a young woman, she learned lace in Woodbury, Devon, and by 1844 was in partnership with Ann Barns at 14 Bartholomew Street West, Exeter. Ann Barns went on to run the Regent Street, London, branch of the business. Charlotte was successful in business long before she married John Treadwin, a watchmaker, at the age of 30.

Charlotte ran her manufactory on very modern lines, compared to the traditional rural system of outworkers and middlemen. She paid her workers a fair wage in cash, rather than in goods. Local newspapers also recorded her benevolence to Exeter charities and institutions including Exeter Female Penitentiary and the West of England Blind Institute.

Treadwin’s last showroom and lace manufactory was at 5 Cathedral Yard from 1867 (ASK Italian restaurant restaurant was at this site until 2020). Her obituary states that she was ‘a woman of culture and taste who had the best interests of the trade at heart’.

Small trade card showing a photograph of a circular piece of lace
Carte de visite. H Mower, Exeter, about 1882.
This carte de visite shows the posy surround made by Charlotte Treadwin for the Duchess of Edinburgh.
Colour photograph of the front cover of a small booklet advertising Charlotte Treadwin's business
With compliments booklet. After 1880.
A small advertising booklet detailing the history of Mrs Treadwin’s business.
Photograph of a black and white print showing a sample of lace
Specimen of Honiton Lace by Mrs Treadwin of Exeter Day & Son, Lithographers to the Queen 15 March 1853, lithograph.
This design for a lace flounce won Mrs Treadwin a medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition. Unfortunately the lace no longer exists. It was destroyed in a fire during its return trip to Exeter. There are samples in Mrs Treadwin’s sample book.

Lent by Liz Trebble

Large wide section of white Honiton lace on a blue background
Guipure lace garniture. Late 19th century.
This wide piece is a flounce that would decorate the lower section of a crinoline dress.
Purchased for the museum by the Friends of RAMM
Colour photograph of two white, long, narrow pieces of Honiton lace on a blue background
Guipure lace garniture. Late 19th century.
These smaller sections are sleeve frills. Matching pieces in design like this are known as a garniture.
Purchased for the museum by the Friends of RAMM
Rectangular piece of white lace with floral motifs on a blue background.
Honiton point lace. About 1870.
Charlotte Treadwin took great care over her designs. She lodged patents for many of them, some she called ‘Exeter Lace’.
Colour photograph of a white lace lappet on a blue background. Motifs include leaves and bows
Half lappet in Honiton lace. Made in Charlotte Treadwin’s manufactory, about 1870.
A pair of lappets were worn on the head attached to a cap and would hang down the back of the neck as ‘streamers’.
colour photograph of a piece of white lace that looks a little like a section of bunting on a blue background
Vandyke point, late 19th century
Mrs Treadwin’s reproductions of old needle lace became a major part of her business in the late 1800s. Vandyke point is taken from Italian style. This is a replica of old lace on the monument of Lady Pole in Colyton Church 1623.
Coat of arms made in white lace. Motifs include keys and a knight's head
Coat of Arms, about 1875.
Including a coat of arms, or family crest, in a lace item was commonplace. The piece would be unique to the family. This design represents the Kennard family crest. The Latin phrase loosely translates as ‘But hope is not lost’.
Colour photograph of white lace samples mounted on red silk. The samples include flowers and bees
Charlotte Treadwin’s lace sample album. Compiled by Ellen Herbert, 19th century.
Ellen Herbert compiled this album of lace samples. It includes many pieces of antique lace collected by Charlotte Treadwin, along with many of her award-winning designs inspired by them. The square of Honiton lace with the French bee in each corner lined a box sent to the Prince Imperial in 1855. In the centre is a much older Honiton sprig known in the trade as Napoleon’s hand, from being made in the time of Napoleon I. More photographs from this album are available.
Faded RAMM logo
Letters from Ellen Herbert to Adeline Sparkes 1926.
In this letter Ellen Herbert mentions that she has sent some lace patterns to patients at the Western Counties Institution at Starcross, near Dawlish. Originally known as the Western
Counties Idiot Asylum, Ellen notes that ‘the inmates make Pillow Lace, Honiton mostly’.

This trade cards reads 'LACE MANUFACTURER BY APPOINTMENT [Royal Crest] MISS HERBERT (Successor to Mrs Treadwin) Begs to call attention to her varied Stock of Lace ... Rose and Venetian Point, Flemish, Honiton, English Point; also Ecclesiastical Lace. CATHEDRAL YARD, EXETER. SPECIMENS SENT ON APPROVAL.'
Ellen Herbert’s Trade Card Early 19th century.
Ellen Herbert took over Charlotte Treadwin’s business at Cathedral yard. F.F.R. Rowley, curator of RAMM in the early 1900s, remembered Ellen Herbert fondly. He described her as ‘a distinguished looking little lady, very refined features and lovely white hair, always daintily and quietly dressed’. A complimentary remark, although perhaps patronising in today’s world.
White lace crown motif on peach satin
Crown lace motif. Made by Ellen Herbert about 1902.
Ellen Herbert designed this crown for Queen Alexandra. ‘By command of the Queen, I am to tell you how extremely her Majesty admires the lovely pin cushion you have been so kind as to give her. The Queen fully appreciates the delicate and refined work which has been put into it and would like to convey this from her to your clever workers. Her Majesty hopes long to use this beautiful and useful Coronation present.’
lace pricking (piece of card with pinholes to outline the pattern) for a crown
Crown lace pricking. Made by Ellen Herbert about 1902.
Colour photograph of a lily pad leaf made out of Honiton lace
Honiton lace lily pad leaf. Made by Charlotte Treadwin’s workshop, About 1867.
This sample bobbin lace motif represents one of a number made by Charlotte Treadwin’s Exeter workshop. Made in cotton thread, the water lily leaf motif was intended to be assembled with others as part of a larger piece submitted to the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1867.
White lace collar on a blue background
Athlone collar, about 1875.
This collar belonged to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter HRH Princess Alice, the Countess of Athlone. Unusually, the ground joining the sprigs is in the form of decorative fillings. There is no delineation line where the fillings alter. This technique is unique to Treadwin’s work.
Large piece of white Honiton lace on a blue background
Albany flounce, about 1882
This exquisite piece was reputedly designed for the Princess Helena of Waldeck- Pyrmont (Duchess of Albany) as a wedding gift. Part of the flounce is in RAMM’s collection and the other at Allhallows Museum, Honiton. But two mysteries remain: Why are the armorial initials within the flounce either MA or AM when her name was Helena? Who placed the order? In Mrs Treadwin’s book about her business she states it was a ‘lady of Exeter’. But could it have been Helena’s future husband Prince Leopold or Queen Victoria?
Detail of a section of white lace on a blue background. The closeup shows the initials 'A' and 'M'
Detail of the Albany flounce showing the initials ‘A’ and ‘M’.

The fortunes of the Devon lace trade have fluctuated throughout history. In the 17th century the government put a ban on imports and Charles II proclaimed that no ‘foreign’ lace could worn in the kingdom. This gave the British lace-making industry a boost. But in the early 18th century an act of parliament abolished the restrictions on imports and, once more, local lace-makers faced stiff competition from France and Flanders.

In the early 1800s, the isolation of Britain due to the Napoleonic Wars across Europe, caused the cost of East Devon lace to increase. However, by the 1830s the local lace industry was once more in decline. It needed a royal intervention to revive it.

In 1839 the young Queen Victoria commissioned Jane Bidney of Beer to make a lace flounce. The first occasion she wore it was for her wedding to Prince Albert on 10 February 1840. Victoria treasured the flounce. She wore it at the weddings of her daughters and grandson, and at many other events. Through the Victorian period the Royal household appointed a number of East Devon lace-makers to supply them, such as Esther Clarke of Honiton, John Tucker of Branscombe and Charlotte Treadwin of Exeter.

Colour photograph of a Honiton lace butterfly on a blue background

“I wore a white satin gown with a very deep flounce of Honiton lace, imitation of old. I wore my Turkish diamond necklace and earrings, and Albert’s beautiful sapphire brooch.”

Queen Victoria’s journal, 10 February 1840

Victoria’s wedding dress caused a sensation. Aristocratic ladies and the daughters of the wealthy middle classes demanded Devon lace for their wedding dresses too. But the new-found success of the trade was not just down to weddings, lace played a part from cradle to grave. From the 1840s it was popular for infant’s christening robes, and the strict etiquette surrounding Victorian mourning made black lace a favourite for widows’ dresses and even for coffin palls.

Photograph of a sepia photograph of Jane Bidney - a Victorian lacemaker
Photograph of Jane Bidney (1802-1882)

On 14 August 1837, shortly after Queen Victoria came to the throne, she appointed Jane Bidney as a lacemaker to the Royal household – she was the first to receive this honour. Jane’s business was at 76 St James Street, London. Over the next two years the queen paid Jane £181-8s – a sum equivalent to around £11,000 today.

In 1839 Jane supervised the making of what became the queen’s wedding lace. She employed Honiton lace-makers from her home town of Beer.

Victoria wore this ‘wedding lace’ frequently on special occasions. The veil was sometimes used as a shawl.

Queen Victoria’s wedding lace consisted of:

  • A flounce, 65cm deep and 366cm in circumference. Sprigs of scrolling stems, bearing large exotic leaves and flowers are applied to machine-made cotton net. The queen ordered it in March 1839 before her engagement.
  • A bertha collar, 14cm deep at the centre and widening to 19cm at the shoulders. It has the same design as the flounce, on a reduced scale.
  • A veil 141cm square made from matching cotton net. The applied border of Honiton lace reflects the design on the flounce, but is more open and less structured and lacks the exotic leaves and flowers. The queen ordered the veil and bertha after her engagement in November 1839. The lace-makers had just six weeks to make them.

Her Majesty the Queen kindly lent the following photographs and works of art:

Queen Victoria. Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73) 1842, oil on canvas.
This is the first official portrait Queen Victoria commissioned from German artist Franz Winterhalter. He went on to become the royal couple’s preferred painter producing over 100 works for them. Here the Queen wears her wedding lace and sapphire and diamond
brooch which was a wedding gift from Albert. View on the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

The marriage of TRH the Duke and Duchess of York, 6 July 1893. Amadée Forestier (1854-1930) 1893, watercolour.
The Duke of York and Princess May (the future King George V and Queen Mary) married during the tropical July heat of 1893 in the Chapel Royal, St James’s. Queen Victoria sits on the right wearing a dress adorned with Devon lace and a veil. Once again she is wearing her wedding lace. View on the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

Queen Victoria and her page, Arthur Ponsonby. Alexander Bassano (1829-1913) 1882, albumen print on card
In this photograph The Queen is dressed for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Albany and wears a small coronet, Honiton veiling, sleeve trims and skirt. She is wearing her wedding lace. Her page, Arthur, holds her train. View on the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

Queen Victoria (1819-1901): Diamond Jubilee. W & D Downey (active 1855-1941) 1893, carbon print
The Queen wore her wedding lace on many special occasions. This photograph was used as an official Jubilee portrait although it was actually taken in July 1893 at the wedding of the future King George V and Queen Mary. View on the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

Portrait photograph of Queen Victoria (1819-1901) dressed for the Wedding of The Duke of York, 1893. W & D Downey (active 1855-1941) 1893, albumen print.
This seated portrait again shows Queen Victoria dressed in lace for the Duke’s wedding, taken from a different angle. View on the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

Queen Victoria on her deathbed, 1901 1901, gelatin silver print.
The Queen died on the 22 January 1901 at Osborne House. This postmortem portrait shows her lying on her bed covered by her lace veil and flowers, holding a cross. It was widely believed that the Queen was buried with her wedding veil, but this is not the case. It remains with the rest of her wedding lace in the collection of His Majesty The King. View on the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

Colour photograph of 'The Graphic' open at a page showing a drawing of Queen Victoria's wedding.
The Graphic, Royal Jubilee Number 20 June, 1887
This edition commemorates Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee. It is open at pages showing the marriage of Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840 where she wears a dress laden with Honiton lace.
Colour photograph of 'The Graphic' open at a page showing a drawing of the christening of the Princess Royal
The Graphic, Royal Jubilee Number 20 June, 1887
This page (facing the one above) shows the queen wearing her lace wedding flounce at the christening of her daughter the Princess Royal in 1841. The lacemakers of Woodbury Salterton supplied the Honiton lace christening robe as a gift. Subsequent children of the Royal Family also wore the robe.
Photograph of a gallery at RAMM containing the By Royal Appointment exhibition. The Cosprop replica of Queen Victoria's wedding dress is in the foreground.
Replica of Queen Victoria’s wedding dress 2016. Designed and made by Rosalind Ebbutt, Emma Burke and Kat Goodall.
Jenna Coleman wore this dress in the ITV series Victoria. It is a replica of the ivory dress with lace, 5m train, lace veil, flower corsage and headdress worn by Queen Victoria on her wedding day. Jenna is just 5cm taller than Queen Victoria. The original wedding dress (1840) is in the collection of Her Majesty The Queen. Lent by Cosprop Limited
Colour photograph of Queen Victoria's coat of arms made in white Honiton lace.
Honiton lace crest. Made by Esther Clarke’s manufactory about 1850.
This crest was displayed above the Roborough flounce on one of the connecting walkways above the main exhibition space at the Great Exhibition of 1851. It is worked in very fine linen thread. It took one person six months to make. The unicorn alone required 350 bobbins – a number without parallel at the time. This piece of lace is on display in RAMM’s Making History gallery.

Roborough flounce, About 1850. Made by Esther Clarke’s manufactory.

Esther Clarke of Honiton received a Royal Appointment in 1837. She produced this magnificent flounce at the request of Lady Rolle and Sir John Buller who commissioned her to ‘furnish an example of Honiton lace such as yet had never been exhibited’. Her sister-in-law Eliza designed the flounce and the patrons paid the expenses of £400 for lace-makers’ wages. It took forty women eight months to create the lace. During the last month an extra ten women worked at night. The flounce won a medal at the 1851 Great Exhibition for ‘design and quality unequalled in its class’. Lent by Allhallows Museum, Honiton. View the flounce online.

This white lace  handkerchief is embellished with the surname ‘Brocklebank’ which suggests the name of its owner.
Honiton lace-edged handkerchief. About 1870.
The surname ‘Brocklebank’ suggests the name of its owner.
Honiton lace sprig including the emblems for England (rose0, Scotland (thistle) and Ireland (shamrock)
Honiton lace thistle motif about 1848 Charlotte Treadwin, about 1848.
This Honiton guipure motif includes roses, thistles and spray of shamrocks -all are royal emblems. Charlotte Treadwin used this thistle motif on her first order from Queen Victoria – a handkerchief in 1848.
Pair of white Honiton lace cuffs with sycamore leaf motifs
Honiton lace cuffs. About 1870 .
A pair of lace cuffs with flowers and sycamore leaves, cat’s paw and ‘shell’ sprigs.
Pair of Honiton lace scarf ends comprised of fern leaf motifs.
Scarf ends Mid-19th century
During the mid-19th century there was a great craze for collecting ferns. As a result ferns are a common motif in pieces of lace.
Photograph of two, white lace flora scarf ends sold by Pophams in Devon
Scarf ends About 1930.
Pophams, a department store in Plymouth, sold these cuffs. The sale tag is still in place meaning they were never used.
Faded RAMM logo
‘Queen’s Star’ lace pricking. About 1820.
The note on this pricking might refer to patterns for a dress made for Queen Adelaide, wife of William IV. Queen Adelaide supported the Devon lace industry in the 1820s after the distressed lace-makers petitioned the Queen. She famously ordered a dress of sprigs mounted on machine-made net from Mrs Davey of Honiton. According to Frances Bury Palliser, ‘the skirt was encircled with a wreath of elegantly designed sprigs, the initial of each flower forming the name of Her Majesty.’
Photograph of guipure lace made in white cotton with rose and leaf motifs.
Honiton lace cap. About 1860.
Guipure lace made in cotton with rose and leaf motifs.

Queen Victoria. John Haslem (1808-84) 1848, enamel on copper

Queen Victoria asked Winterhalter to paint her portrait in her wedding clothes as a surprise present to Albert for their seventh wedding anniversary in 1847. This is a miniature copy of Winterhalter’s portrait showing her wearing her wedding lace. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen. View on the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

Wide photograph of a gallery at RAMM containing the By Royal Appointment exhibition. Lady Sidmouth's lace train is in the foreground
Lady Sidmouth’s Train. About 1920
Lady Sidmouth (née Mary Murdoch Ferguson) wore this lace train when she was presented at the Royal court on 24 June1920. Lent by Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre, Budleigh Salterton.
Colour photograph of an exhibition gallery at RAMM. In the foreground a black lace coffin pall is laid over a white coffin-shaped plinth
Honiton lace coffin pall. About 1900
Covering coffins with a pall was commonplace at Victorian funerals. A lace pall is very unusual and would have been for someone important. Black Honiton sprigs have been applied to machine-made net. Lent by Carol McFadzean.
Colour photograph of a lady making lace

“Lace-makers are inspired by the craft’s heritage. These days it is made for the joy of producing a unique piece – not as a means of income. Today some lace-makers’ work is more akin to modern art.”

– Carol McFadzean, 2020

Handmade lace is no longer made in Devon commercially, but the skills to make it have not been lost. Lace-making classes run throughout the county attended by men, women and children. Students and teachers exhibit their laces in exhibitions and competitions around the world.

Devon makers continue to send gifts of lace to the Royal family on special occasions. In 1982 the lace-makers in Beer made a book of nursery rhyme figures for the christening of Prince William. It is common to destroy designs for royalty once the piece is complete.

Lacemakers still use traditional techniques and also develop new ones. Historic collections, such as RAMM’s, offer unique opportunities for research and inspire new designs. Lace is still made in white cotton but frequently coloured silks are employed to add a modern twist.

Colour photograph of a framed drawing. Flowers and leaves are drawn in white lines on brown paper. There is a sample of lace resembling shamrock leaves in the frame.
Design for Honiton lace and lace sample Around 1873, gouache on paper with lace sample.
It is likely that a student at Exeter School of Art drew this lace design. The students were often entered into national competitions for their lace designs and many won prizes. A small piece of the lace has been worked. The work was conserved in 2020 with support from The Textile Society.

It is likely that the art student did not make lace from their design. This means creating prickings from it is quite challenging. Never the less Devon Lace Teachers and RAMM volunteers Carol and Liz took inspiration from the leaves and flowers to design a new piece of lace especially for this exhibition – ‘The Exeter Chromatic’. It brings RAMM’s extensive lace collection into the 21st century.

Colour photograph of a framed floral lace design made in coloured silks
Exeter Chromatic lace Made and designed in 2020 by by Anne Buzzacott, Pauline Cochrane, Sylvia Harbison, Carol McFadzean, Holly Morgenroth, Shirley Pavey, Alison Thoburn, Liz Trebble and Pat Webber.

‘Exeter Chromatic’ is a tribute to the Colyton chromatic shawl designed by in 1851 W.L. Gill of Colyton. He exhibited it at the Great Exhibition. Flower sprigs made in coloured silks were attached to black machine-made net. Even though black lace became very fashionable in the 1850s due to influences from the continent, the shawl was something very innovative. This shawl is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It is not uncommon for 21st-century Devon lace-makers to make traditional designs in coloured silks.

The Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery would like to express its gratitude to the following individuals and institutions who have helped to make this exhibition possible.

Carol McFadzean and Liz Trebble, members of Devon Lace Teachers and longstanding RAMM volunteers, for their invaluable assistance with the content and loans for this exhibition.

The Textile Society for a grant to conserve two 19th century lace designs.

Lenders of additional objects:
Her Majesty The Queen, Allhallows Museum, Honiton, Cosprop Limited, London, Dean and Chapter Exeter Cathedral, Devon Lace Teachers, Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre, Budleigh Salterton, Mrs Gould, Pat Perryman, Pat Webber, and Woodbury Salterton C of E Primary School.