Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Our Miss Sivewright

An Oxfordshire lace maker at work at her pillow.
Three or four years ago I came into possession of a box of lace making equipment. It belonged to a friend of ours whose pastime it was when she was young. This equipment was probably passed down by her mother because even without prior experience of handling bobbins I could see that most of them were very old.

In the bottom of the box were strips of card with thousands of tiny holes carefully pierced through them and outlines drawn over the top. These were obviously lace patterns. Many were yellow with age and two carried inscriptions. The most interesting of these was the one with instructions written upon it in old brown ink... 

'To be worked only for Mrs (?) - The Rise - Oxford'

Though I tried and tried, I just could not work out the lady's surname. I could see plainly the name began with an 'S' but I thought it ended in an 'R'. Therefore none of the letters between made any sense at all. It was just an indecipherable scrawl.

Two 'Oxfordshire' lace bobbins from the box. These are known as 'Bucks point trolly bobbins' The largest is a 'thumper' and it really is a beast of a bobbin considering the extreme delicacy of 'Bucks point ground' lace they were asked to make. Both possess pewter gingles, but neither possess pretty bead spangles dangling from the bottom. And they were never meant to. These were tools and tools fit for the serious purpose of work! 

My client's instructions were to sell what I could for her. So I listed a number of items on Ebay and successfully shifted half or more of what I had. I was happy that quite a few items were acquired by one going by the user-name of 'dontbhasty'. She was clearly a proper collector because she selected only the most interesting items as all serious collectors do. And I seem to remember that she was particularly interested in these 'prickings' and certain types of bobbin. But then my client friend moved away, we lost contact for some time, and so I stopped selling for her. 

Two weeks ago I recommenced. And began with a listing of the item under discussion. In the description I freely admitted that I hadn't a clue about the surname and requested an answer if anyone had it. The next day that answer arrived, and of course, it was my old customer Dontbhasty who provided it.

"Hello Jeff, SIVEWRIGHT is the name"

And of course it was! If only I'd read the 'R' as 'T' and then' IGHR' AS 'IGHT' then I might have worked it out for myself.

Dontbhasty won the auction and I sent the pricking off to her. When I received feedback I reciprocated but then sent a message requesting further information. In the meantime conducted a little Internet research of my own when to my astonishment not only did I found Mrs Sivewright out, but also discovered where she'd once lived...

'Sivewright Mrs, Headington Rise, Headington Hill.'

Not our miss, but just how I imagine her...
And there's me thinking all along she'd turn out to be anonymous. Yet another wealthy 'must have' client for whom I believed some factory or another had designed and made lace exclusively and expressly for. I really hadn't thought she'd be traceable. But things didn't stop there. I then discovered that she was not quite the wife of an idle rich inheritor of an Oxford pile I'd imagined her to be when I came across the book, 'Fine Buckinghamshire Point Lace Patterns Belonging to the Misses Sivewright and Pope'.

Dontbhasty filled me in...

"Hello Jeff,

Miss Sivewright was the 'lady', Miss Pope was an experienced lacemaker. They seem to have been in partnership for some time, they later moved and traded in Torquay. 

Let me know if I can help further. 


Our 'Miss' Sivewright, as it turns out, was not anonymous at all. She was an Oxfordshire businesswoman and perhaps a designer with a flair for pattern. Miss Pope it seems was the Golden Goose with her remarkable ability with the point of a needle — turning the ideas in Sivewright's head into prickings for the making of beautiful lace. What with the acumen of one and the talent of the other, in Oxford and between them, they seem to have produced fine and desirable products of the highest quality, and sold them.

And then they moved to Devon. These two busy 'Misses'. Together...

J. M. W. Turner, 'A View of Oxford from the South Side of Heddington Hill, 1803–4.
Ashmolean Museum. Miss Sivewright's house, 'The Rise', is left in the picture.

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