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Coggeshall, Essex and Tambour Lace

Whilst researching the last family tree, I came across the Johnson family of Coggeshall, Essex, and Tambour Lace making. Thomas and Ann Johnson had 12 children, 6 sons and 6 daughters. I couldn’t find much reference to Thomas apart from that on his youngest daughter’s marriage his occupation was given as silk mercer. I knew that Sudbury, Suffolk was known for silk making, but I hadn’t heard of Coggeshall, so I found a website for Coggeshall Museum, where the Johnson family were mentioned. Coggeshall Museum - preserving the past for the future

This next paragraph is taken from Coggeshall Museum website: “Around 1820, an émigré, probably from Brussels, lodged with Thomas Johnson and he and his daughters acquired the new skill of Tambour lace making. “Later two of Johnson’s daughters married James and William Spurge who were also lace-makers and the two businesses combined and set up in the Great House in Church Street. Now divided into three houses, the easternmost one is known as ‘Saunders’ after the clothier who built it in the 15th century.

There they began to teach the women and children a method of decorating net by using a tambour hook. Thus began the making of Coggeshall Lace (sometimes called Tambour lace). Tambouring produces a line of chain stitches and originated in the Far East, where the workers used a round frame resembling a tambourine or drum. This they could grip between the knees, thereby releasing both hands for tambouring. Coggeshall workers used a rectangular rather than a circular frame and this type is still used today”.

In the 1841 census I found the mother, Ann Johnson, head of her household, with 5 adult daughters at home, all lace or dressmaking, and 2 adult sons (not lace or dressmaking 😊 ). In 1841 there were 247 tambour lace workers in Essex mostly living around Coggeshall, and in 1851 there were 382 lace makers before the decline began. Lace manufacturers and dealers co-ordinated the workers by obtaining orders from London.

The two youngest daughters, Hannah and Emma Johnson married two brothers, James and William Spurge as mentioned above. The two oldest daughters, Sarah and Eliza Johnson remained spinsters (I don’t like the word “spinster” but it is kind of apt in their case), and in the 1851 census they are living with their sister and brother-in-law, James and Hannah Spurge, all three women are tambour lace making. By the time of the 1861 census Sarah and Eliza Johnson are 61 and 46 and living together and are “proprietors of houses”, so it seems they’ve all done quite well for themselves.

In 1861 only 84 lace makers were in the district. The deterioration in demand for tambour lace makers was influenced by changing fashion, and the invention of sewing machines and machine made laces.


A Coggeshall Tambour Lacemaker

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