Dr Amanda Briggs-Goode from Nottingham Trent University Lace Archive talks about the history of Lace.
The lace archive housed in the School of Art and Design at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is unique in many respects; it goes beyond what might ordinarily be expected of a repository of textiles. Loose hand and machine made lace samples sit together with products of a bygone era. The collection provides an opportunity to examine beautiful fabrics and samples of lace while unveiling insight into several other inter-related issues.
Established at the beginnings of art school education in the UK the archive offers testimony of the teaching process in the Victorian era demonstrating a particular focus upon the lace design process; from design through technical resolve and ‘draughting’ to commercial product applications. Other items within the collection include a large body of design portfolios which were acquired at European great exhibitions alongside design intelligence reports ent to Nottingham from ‘spys’ in Parisian couture houses and at ‘society’ events; with the intention to inspire new designs as well as offer an advantage through commercial acumen.
The social history of the lace industry is also evident through business records and documentation where, for example, you might note how gender roles were defined through the various jobs within the industry and how economic value was assigned to each discreet function within the making and manufacture of lace as well as the business operating costs. The substantial library of books also documents the industrial heritage of manufactured lace developed in Nottingham and surrounding counties. The archive demonstrates the rich and valuable heritage of Nottingham Lace and the city’s unique and central position in the development of this now global industry.
In the mid 19th century hand made lace was an expensive commodity and considered a luxury item. The mechanization of lace production meant that it could be democratized, enabling the Victorian middle-classes to consume what was previously unaffordable. Lace was of practical, economic and social significance,i and the relationship between what was often described, as ‘real ‘versus’ imitation lace was hotly debated in consumer and women’s magazines of the time. To ensure that Nottingham lace convinced the consumer an investment in design and designers was required. The archive of today is the result of benefactions from the past industry’s support and belief in the need for a School of Art and Design.
‘To us, as a peculiarly manufacturing nation the connection between art and manufacture is most important, and for this merely economic reason (were there no higher motive) it equally imports us to encourage design since it tends to advance the humblest pursuits of industry’ii
This quote is take from a Report of a Select Committee on Arts and Manufactures in 1836, established to address the concern over the loss of overseas markets despite the technical excellence of British products.
- Sample book donated by William Felkin containing lace samples from 1850 – Nottingham Trent University Lace Archive
The select committee concluded that investment in British design education was the missing ingredient which would help to quell the rising tide of foreign competition. As a result the Government Schools of Designs were created, the first of which was the Royal College of Art in 1837, followed by Manchester and York in 1842 and in 1843 the Nottingham Government School of Design was founded. These Schools were granted aid on the conditions that they followed the ‘metropolitan’ curriculum and that they could raise funds from the local industry and benefactors. In Nottingham a committee had been established with 52 members including lace manufacturers Richard Birkin and Thomas Adams amongst others. The first school was opened at the People’s Hall in Beck Lane with the mission to ‘provide elementary instruction in design for manufactures, and in the history, principles and practice of ornamental art’. Nottingham was ahead of this interest in design education as drawing classes had been established since the opening of The Mechanics Institute in 1837.iii The School of Design occupied several sites around the city until the foundation stone was laid on Waverley Street for a purpose built design school in 1843, the building opened in 1865. This building called Waverley Building still forms the one of the main sites for the School of Art and Design today. The impact of the teaching and training of design and technical skills for the lace industry in the school of art and design is contentious, while there is evidence of the success of design in the many awards that were given to the school and many of its design students there are also clear challenges to this through various institutional documents and publications which questioned the quality of the education the lace designers were receivingiv. What is clear is that the School of Design has continued to develop, grow and succeed to be recognized as the School of Art and Design as part of Nottingham Trent University.
The minutes of the early school of design identifies that the need for both textile examples and a library of text books to support instruction were required. As many of the governors were lace manufacturers, support for developing a teaching collection was forthcomingv. William Felkinvi, the author of ‘History of the Machine-Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufactures’ ‘presented the school with four pattern books containing thousands of cotton and silk point laces’vii. Later, significant donations were made by the British Lace Federation of designs and drafts by the renowned lace designer William Pegg (1864-1946) and this was followed by donations from lace manufactures; Thomas Adams, Zachariah Sketchley and, by the son of G.W. Price, of the Price Memorial Collectionviii.
Records of donations to the archive were either not made or have been lost or destroyed over the intervening years and therefore knowing in what order things arrived into the archive is not possible. However, the archive as we know it today has a vast variety of resources in the 75,000 items, including: samples of hand made and machine made lace mainly from the UK and Europe; design portfolios; sample books; text books; business records, photographs, some machine parts and a small amount of film footage, examples of lace ‘prickings’ and jacquard cards. It is our intention that the archive continues to inspire students of the future.
Dr Amanda Briggs-Goode, Nottingham Trent University Lace Archive.
i Brompton, R, Lilies and Lace:An investigation into the relationship between hand and machine made costume lace through fashionable middle class consumption 1851-87, PhD unpublished thesis, Nottingham Trent University, 2002
ii Lyon, R, A History of Nottingham College of Art and Design, George Searson Ltd, Nottingham, 1970
iii Jones, C, The History of Nottingham School of Design, Nottingham Trent University, 1993
iv Debates about the effectiveness of the education are evident through a range of documents from the School of art and design, records of the borough of Nottingham and the records of Nottingham Chamber of Commerce. This is clearly articulated in Mason, S Nottingham Lace 1760s-1950s, Sheila Mason, Nottingham, 2nd edn 2010, pp 181-189
v Smith, B Nottingham Trent University’s Lace Archive, Textiles Magazine, Issue 1
vi Felkin first published this book in 1867
vii Private correspondence with Sheila Mason May 2013.
viii Op cit