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‘WESSEX WOMEN’ Museums celebrate the region’s inspirational women

Wessex-Women-Lace-making-cushion-Dec-2019‘Wessex Women’ is the theme of the latest objects tour between Poole Museum, Dorset County Museum, The Salisbury Museum and Wiltshire Museum. Each has chosen an item from their collections to tell one of the many untold stories of the region’s women.

The Salisbury Museum has chosen a fascinating Downton Lace Pillow from its collection of Downton Lace and lace-making equipment. Downton Lace is the name given to the type of lace made for edgings and inserts made in the 19th and 20th centuries in the area around Downton in Wiltshire. The pillow, which is like a hard bolster cushion, includes patterns, prickings, pins, threads and bobbins. Seeing this object, it immediately becomes clear that making lace is an intricate and calculated process. Evident also is the level of skill and time required to create a piece of lace. The lace bobbins which hold each thread, are made of wood and were often hand-carved, sometimes by the lace-makers’ sweethearts and could probably tell a fascinating tale or two of their own.

The women of Downton played a large part in this local trade, earning a little extra money to support their families. For the most part, all that remains of their stories are the items like the lace pillow, samples and bobbins. However the museum collection does include photographs of the old lace-makers, giving faces to the women from this part of Wiltshire’s history. This includes Mrs Robinson, who revived the tradition and created the 20th century Downton Lace Industry, which finally closed in 1965. Happily many of today’s lace-makers continue to make these special patterns from Downton.

The other museums focus on a Victorian ‘knocker-upper’ who walked the streets of Poole, waking people up in time to go to work; a pioneering Dorset-based artist who carved in Purbeck stone; and a ‘trowel-blazing’ archaeologist who became famous for her excavations of prehistoric sites in Wiltshire.

All the objects are currently on display at their home museums, then after three months they will rotate around the others in turn until October 2020. The tour is just one of the joint projects between the partners of Wessex Museums, working together to bring exciting new events and exhibitions to the region.