Saturday, 11 December 2010

Edwardian Farm 5

Guest bloger Nigel Townshend with some background to Edwardian Farm.

Throughout the whole series of Edwardian Farm you get a real sense of a world changing, this was the time when globalisation was emerging and UK cottage industries were struggling to compete with factory produced goods. In Episode five of Edwardian Farm , we were given an insight into the cottage industry of lace making.

Lace making, as we know it today, has been around since the 16th Century and is thought to originate in Venice. Lace was soon being made across Europe, including England. For some reason, and I would be really interested to know why, Devon became associated with quality lace making, in fact half of all inhabitants of East Devon were lace makers. One place in particular that become synonymous with lace making was the town of Honiton, which became world famous for its lace, renowned for its beauty, delicacy and intricacy. 

I’ve always thought of lace as being incredibly intricate and beautiful, but I had never considered just how much time and work goes into producing it, so I was amazed to learn that to produce just a one inch square piece of lace, it  takes between 9 -10 hours! It was therefore not surprising to learn that lace was considered the jewellery of its day. Lace making was a real cottage industry and every girl in Honiton would be taught lace making, in fact in Devon, lace making was taught as part of the school curriculum up until 1960.

Lace was often made in groups with women sometimes specialising in one aspect of a design e.g. producing flowers, butterflies, etc. the more experienced ladies of the group would then collect and assemble the pieces. There is a wealth of information on the website of the Lace Guild of Great Britain

This video produced by The Lace Guild of Great Britain illustrates the basics of bobbin lacemaking and needle lacemaking:

In Croatia lacemaking is recognised as part of the country's intangible heritage the list of things the government are doing to preserve and promote lacemaking at the end of this short film is impressive.

In contrast to the delicate lace, the other main focus of the program was on mining.

Morwhellam Quay, which is where Edwardian Farm is filmed, is now a heritage centre  but in the 19 century it was the busiest inland port in Britain, where ships of up to 300 tonnes would visit to pick up copper which had been extracted from the George & Charlotte copper mine. Archaeologist and HCA Patron, Alex Langlands headed down the mine as he and fellow archaeologist Peter Ginn looked at one of the ways farmers tried to supplement their income.

By Edwardian times, rising costs of running the George and Charlotte mine, meant it could no longer compete with cheap foreign copper imports and the mine was abandoned .However, there was still some money to be made be scavenging the spoil heaps. This scavenging for copper, which involved breaking up rocks and looking for the copper ore within them, was known by the rather wonderful term, ‘fossicking’. The income from this was limited and many Devon farmers would also head across the river to Cornwall to the tin mines, Which is what Alex and Peter did.

However, before they could head down the tin mines of Cornwall, Peter Ginn visited blacksmith Simon Summers  to collect a pick axe, which needed repairing and hardening so it could be used for working with stone.

The process of hardening and tempering steel is straightforward but crucial. First Simon heated the tip of the pick till it was very hot – the metal was a cherry red in colour - he then cooled the very tip of the pick, leaving around two inches of steel still glowing red. thios makes the steel tip very hard but brittle (hardening) Simon then watched the colours change in the metal, as the heat flowed back towards the tip. As the steel warms it changes colour and each temperature/colour relates to a specific harness so it is getting gradually softer but tougher (tempering). Simon explained that this process allowed blacksmiths to temper steel at different strengths for different jobs for stone the blacksmith will look for a yellow/straw colour before quickly quenching the steel to stop any further softening.

For more info on blacksmithing including courses etc contact BABA

Working in the mine was a tiring, difficult and dangerous job. While the invention of a drill, that worked by compressed air supplied by a steam engine, speeded up the process (what could be drilled in an hour by hand, could now be done by machine in a minute) the job became more dangerous, due to the amount of dust that was created; this was particularly problematic when drilling through quartz and is why the drill was known as the widow maker.

All this talk of mining reminded of the Free Miners of the Forest of Dean, another heritage industry in danger.

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