Ruskin Lace
Elizabeth Prickett

Early history of this craft

The History of Ruskin Lace began in 1883 as a result of an idea revealed by John Ruskin and put into practise by Albert Fleming, a friend of John Ruskin and a fellow trustee to the Guild of St. George. A Trust founded to assist craft workers establish their business.  In this instance to set up a Cottage Industry of spinning and weaving of linen as there had been a previous history of this occupation in the locality.  The first spinning wheel was to arrive from the Laxey Woollen Industry on the Isle of Man who had previously been a beneficiary  of the Guild of St. George, this duly arrived at Neaum Crag in the hamlet of Skelwith Bridge at the foot of the Langdale valley, the home of Albert Fleming.  Here Marion Twelves who had come northFour generations of Mrs Pepper's family from Broxbourne in Hertfordshire as housekeeper to Albert Fleming took up the challenge to make the spinning wheel work and then pass her newfound knowledge on to others in the Langdale valley.  A local carpenter reproduced other spinning wheels and a premises acquired by the Guild of St. George to accommodate the necessary equipment at Elterwater, another hamlet in the Langdale valley.  When the spinners were proficient they could take their wheels home and were paid the rate of 2s/6d per pound.  The yarn then needed to be woven, the first length of Linen came off the loom, Easter 1884, though this fabric was of interesting texture, the spinners quickly become more skilled.  The result was to produce articles from the linen with a variety of embroidery applied, one type being what is now called Ruskin Lace.  John Ruskin is proclaimed to have brought patterns of needlemade lace from Italy where he saw examples on church linen, no evidence as to in what form these patterns came has been found, it is felt that if Marion Twelves had a physical piece of work to guide her, the work that was given the name ‘Greek Lace’ would not have been worked as she adapted the technique, to work the pattern directly on to the linen, as the work that John Ruskin saw was most probably worked as a motif and then applied to the linen.

1889 Marion Twelves, took her industry to Keswick to work with Mrs Canon Rawnsley, leaving Mrs Bag bought locally 1916 for 12/6 (62 pence) Elizabeth Pepper an already skilled spinner, weaver and needlewoman in charge of the industry at Elterwater.  This venture would appear to flourish for a number of years, according to an order book now in the Ruskin Museum, before moving the Industry to Tilberthwaite, just a few miles from Elterwater.  An alter cloth was worked and gifted to the local church at that time, this is now in the Ruskin Museum, unfortunately in a rather fragile state, having been miss treated and stored in a starched state.  The industry continued for a number of years, then gradually declining during the First World War years.  During that time many exhibitions had been attended including the Home Arts exhibitions that were held in the Albert Hall in London, as a result of this contact Elizabeth Pepper was invited to teach Queen Alexandra to spin at Sandringham in Norfolk.  There are many artefacts relating to this era in the museum.

The bag on the left was worked in Coniston and sold at a Craft Exhibition in 1916 for 12/6p



Photographs copyright © Elizabeth Prickett 2002 all rights reserved