From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Chiltern YAC and their 'Following the Threads' project

Over the next month or so we will be hearing from the YAC groups involved in the From Ordinary to Extraordinary project. These blogs will tell us about the focus of the project, who is involved and what they have been up to.

Today's blog focuses on the project created by Chiltern YAC. Chiltern YAC is investigating part of the forgotten local heritage of Buckinghamshire, the area where their group is based. Their project is titled: Following the threads: pinning down child workers in the Chiltern lace making industry 

Young Leader, Rosie O'Toole, who is a producer/scriptwriter/director for their project film tells us more.....




The Industrial Revolution and its effects on the Chilterns are far from unknown – trades like coppicing for firewood, billeting, bodging and pole-bathing for chair-making slowly died out during the 19th century, as imported timber became a cheaper option and the local furniture industry declined. Yet, some of the trades that faced the same fates, and were just as important to those living in the Chilterns, are frequently overlooked.

The cottage industries consisted of crafts like spinning, weaving, dyeing and straw-plaiting, and were nearly always completed by women and children within the home. Lace-making was especially important in and around Buckinghamshire, to the point where girls and boys both were taught in childhood and adult men would fall back on it during times of hardship, although less skilled than their female counterparts. The invention of machines that could replicate a netting similar enough to replace hand-made lace devastated many families’ main source of reliable income, and the wider impact on the Chiltern area, in combination with other effects of the Industrial Revolution, was not recovered from for several decades after. It was the children who worked in the lace-making industry in its height, however, who Chiltern YAC have spent the last few months learning and creating a short film about.

The Project

Chiltern YAC invited local historian Rosemary Mortham to a meeting, to interview her about the history of lace – in particular, the lace schools children attended. We attempted lace-making ourselves as well, under the guidance of Alex Atkins, to varying levels of success. As November rolled around, bringing with it the feast of the patron saint of lace-making, we tried our hands at baking cattern cakes, a traditional fruity St Catherine’s Day treat, and looked back at our visit to Little Missenden Church, where medieval wall paintings of the saint can still be seen today. We celebrated Christmas in style as well, making another batch of cattern cake due to popular demand and testing out different games more fortunate Victorian children would have played: marbles, pick-up-sticks, bagatelle, hopscotch, shove ha’penny.

We were lucky enough to have several local projects and organisations eager to help, including the Chiltern Conservation Board’s Woodlanders' Lives and Landscapes and Chiltern Society/Seer Green and Jordans Society Our Living Village projects, the Cowper and Newton Museum, and the Chiltern Open Air Museum. They’ve aided us in researching children and lace-making, accessing contemporary documents, photographing examples of lace and lace-making equipment, and more, so huge thanks to everyone who has gotten involved.

Chiltern YAC is now in the process of turning all we’ve learnt into a short film. I’ve been working alongside fellow young leader, Aaron, to put together a storyboard and script, with the help of leaders, Janet and Nigel. We recorded the film’s narration in our last meeting, with every member taking a section. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be working hard to complete the final edit of our documentary, and the finished film Following the Threads: Pinning Down Children in the Chiltern Lace-Making Industry will be available to watch online by the end of March.


Intro to the writer

Rosie is one of our two brand new Young Leaders at Chiltern YAC. She is a longstanding member of both the Chiltern and the Aylesbury YAC Branches, joining both at the age of 8, and was the 2018 Young Archaeologist of the Year. She is passionate about archaeology and heritage and has taken on the role of producing and directing our in-house film for the FOTE Project.

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