My Family and Nottingham Lace

In memory of Horace Edward Bostock (1912 -1969)

During this dreadful pandemic, I have been thinking a lot about my Father who died far too young at the age of 57, when I was only 19. I wonder what he would have thought about the times we live in and how the world has changed since his untimely death in 1969. I felt the urge to write about my father’s ancestors and, in my small way, to honour his family.

This is a story that begins, 8 generations ago, in 1661 with the birth of a William Bostock in Trowell, Nottinghamshire and is the story of a family and a place. It is also a story of 350 years of English History that started in rural villages, then moved for nearly 200 years to the cities during the Industrial Revolution and finally in the 20th Century broke free from the shackles of place and class, as a result of increased social mobility and the upheavals of two world wars.

The story is of my father’s predecessors and like all of these stories stretches back into the mists of time, but the date of 1661 is the first definitive record that is known about our family tree ‘the Bostocks of Trowell’. The Bostock name itself is also far older and the likelihood is that its origins lie in village of Bostock Green in Cheshire. The village of Bostock or, in its original form, Botestoch was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1087 and to support this theory, the majority of the Bostock family trees converge back to Cheshire or other Midland counties.

Everything that I have learnt about the Bostock name including my own family tree has been researched and compiled by Roland Bostock and before that his father Edward, now sadly deceased. The amount of research and work involved over many years by them has been enormous and I would like to thank Roland for his endeavours, which has made it possible for me to write this article. Genealogy of the Bostocks

I have also exchanged further valuable information with Rosemary Probert, a distant cousin of mine, whose family are also direct descendants of our Great Grandfather. Rosemary has been working on her family history for many years and has produced an enormous database covering hundreds of her related family trees. Rosemary’s Family History

Trowell is a small village of 2,500 people on the Derbyshire border, 6 miles west of Nottingham city centre and there has been a village here since Saxon times. It is here that the trail begins with William and Sarah and carries on for another approximately 120 years until the story switches to the industrial heart of Nottingham. In William and Sarah’s time, there probably weren’t more than a few hundred people living in the village.

In the research carried out by Roland, the Bostock Family Tree that commences in Trowell is the largest of all the Bostock family trees and was for a very long time confined to the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire borders. It was dominated by trades such as coal mining, spinning, weaving, lacemaking and labouring, with very few professional people to be found along the way.

William Bostock (1661-1713) – Married to Sarah (1663 -1712) in ???

We cannot be absolutely sure that William and his wife Sarah were born in Trowell, but we know from the Parish Records that they both died there and were buried in St. Helen’s Churchyard in Trowell, within a year of each other. It is likely, however, that there may have been Bostocks in Trowell for many generations before them, as a quick online search of Bostocks in the area reveals a large number of connections to Trowell. Intriguingly, just 2 miles down the road from Trowell in the village of Sandiacre, is a Bostocks Lane.

There are no further records of what work they did, but at that time prior to the Industrial Revolution, this would have been almost exclusively a rural community and most people would probably have worked on the land, eking out a living.

John Bostock (1689-1743) – Married to Sarah Greasley (1697 – ?) in 1723

John Bostock (1724- ?) – Married to Mary Bough (1727- ?) in 1750

The next two generations, William’s son John and then his son John were both born in Trowell and their is very limited information about them. They appear to have spent their lives in the same limited rural area, as John and Mary’s son Jonathan was born in Stapleford in 1764, just 2 miles down the road from Trowell.

Jonathan Bostock (1764-1837) – Married to Dorothy Lowe (1766 -1801) in 1786 and to Ann Hopkin (1771- ?) in 1802

Although Jonathan was born in Stapleford, he appears to be the first person in his family to make the move to the City. Records show that by the 1780s he was in Nottingham and married to his first wife Dorothy in 1786 and after she died, he married Ann in 1801 in Radford, where they and their offspring lived for the next nearly 150 years. Unfortunately we have no record of where they exactly lived or their occupation, as this was all prior to the first major Census of 1841.

When Jonathan and Dorothy arrived in Nottingham in the 1780s, vast changes were taking place in Nottingham, the Industrial Revolution was taking root and large scale lacemaking production was still in its infancy. The other main occupations for the population at this time, were hosiery, frame-knitting and coal. Within 50 years, Nottingham would be transformed from an elegant Georgian town into one of the worst slum cities in the country and lace and coal mining would be the main driving force.

At this point, it is worth giving a bit of background to lacemaking and its development in Nottingham from a small cottage industry into a world dominating mechanised business. Hand made lacemaking can be traced back to the Pharaohs in Egypt and prior to the 18th century it had been produced all over Europe, employing large numbers of woman in their own homes, working long hours, earning a pittance and producing fine and beautiful lace for the upper classes. As the saying went ‘By the Poor, For the Rich’.

Industrial Lace had its origins in the end of the 17th century when a certain clergyman, Rev. William Lee invented a machine called the stocking frame, which knitted stockings on a frame using fine needles, fifteen times faster than could be made by hand. However, for various reasons it was not taken up on a large scale until the 1700s when the frame was used for cotton and silk hosiery. Finally, in the 1780s in Nottingham, the stocking frame was then adapted by various people to enable production of a basic lace netting, heralding the commencement of the worldwide “Lace Trade”

Stocking Frame 1820

From then on, there were rapid developments in the production of proper lace on an industrial scale, but more of that later.

As there are very few records of Jonathan and his wife, it is not known whether he worked in the early lace trade, but, as we shall see, the fortunes of the people who followed were totally dependant on lace and lacemaking.

Joseph Bostock (1795 – 1864) – Married to Ellen Abel (1806 – 1856) in 1823 and to Caroline Oakland (1810 – 1877) in 1857

Joseph was the 4th child of Jonathan and Dorothy and other than his birth and marriage to Ellen Abel , there is no further information on the family, until the 1841 census, where they shown as living in George Street in Radford with 4 children and Joseph’s occupation was stated as being a lacemaker. The 1831 map of Radford below, shows that Radford was still a reasonably small area surrounded by fields, but if you then compare with the further map of 1861, it can be seen that the whole area had now been developed with very few green areas left, with the exception of the Nottingham General Cemetery built as a burial place for the new influx of workers and their families.

Map of Radford in 1831
Map of Radford 1863

By 1851, the census shows that Joseph and his family were now living a short distance away in No. 13 Chapel Street and his occupation was now stated as being a Bobbin and Carriage maker. His 15 year daughter was also working as Lace mender and his 22 year old son, William Henry, my Great-Great grandfather was working as a Smith and Fitter.

By this time, machine lace making in Nottingham was a major force, as a result of two inventions, one the Bobbinet Machine and the other the Leavers Machine, which by the 1840s were capable of producing lace on a vast, industrial scale. In 1841, the Leavers machine was adapted to incorporate the Jacquard system which was invented in France and which incorporated a pre-designed punchcard, which was fitted to the lace machine, enabling complex and intricate patterns to be created and able to replicate the most delicate hand made lace on an industrial scale.

This final innovation meant that machine made lace could hardly be distinguished from the hand made lace it was replicating, thus spelling the death knell for the hand made lace industry. The scene was set for a massive increase in production, resulting in Nottingham becoming the lace manufacturing centre of the world during the 19th Century.

A typical Leavers Machine can be seen below and these heavy machines were worked predominately by men, the Lace makers, who worked long shifts but were comparatively well paid compared to other trades.

What was produced was not the final product and it was left to the Lace finishers, mainly women, to work on the finished product “the black lead needed to be removed, and they needed to be bleached, dyed, dressed and be subjected to a number of other processes to convert them into finished lace acceptable to the public, whether it was a one inch breadth or edging, curtain or tablecloth, or hat veiling, mittens or shawl.” BBC article on Nottingham Lacemaking

The work for lace finishers was very poorly paid and the working conditions for these women was atrocious and illness, especially tuberculosis, was rife.

Machine with the Jacquard Fitted

Joseph’s work, as a bobbin and carriage maker, was not as prestigious or as well paid as the Lace Makers who worked the machines. However, it was a recognised trade, making parts for the machines, probably in one the large specialist machine making factories that were springing up in Radford and elsewhere. The picture below, shows a typical brass bobbin and carriage that Joseph probably would have made to be used in the Leavers Machines. It is a far cry from the wooden bobbins that were traditionally used in hand made lace.

In this article, I have barely touched the surface of the Nottingham Lace Trade. For anyone wanting to discover more about the history of Industrial Lace making in Nottingham during the 19th and 20th centuries, there is a wealth of information online. In my research, I also discovered a book written in 1982 called ‘The City of Lace’ by David Lowe and Jack Richards which I found invaluable and it is still available to purchase for those wishing to learn more about the lace trade.

William Henry Bostock (1828 -1907) Married to Isabella Goodman White (1837 – 1914) in 1858

My Great Grandfather was the 3rd of 4 children born to Joseph and Ellen and was married to Isabella Goodman in 1858. There is an intriguing mystery surrounding his marriage to Isabella and how they met. William Henry’s mother Ellen Abel had died 2 years earlier and in 1857 Joseph, now a widower, had remarried Caroline Oakland, a widow, who just happened to be the Mother of Isabella Goodman. So Father and Son ended up marrying Mother and Daughter, within a year of each other.

But who met who first; was William Henry courting Isabella and introduced Caroline to his father? This is the more likely scenario as Joseph had only been a widower for a year when he married Caroline, which suggested that he might have known her for sometime, but we will never know the true story; another tantalising glimpse into the lives of our ancestors.

Once married, William and Isabella moved a short distance away to the Parish of St. Marys, where in the 1861 he and Isabella both had an occupation as Tobacconists and were living with a 9 month old baby Caroline. This move to a new occupation seems not to have been a great success as by 1871, they were living in another house in Mill Street and William’s occupation was stated as being a Lace Machinist and by this time they already had 5 children, with Caroline having apparently died between the 1861 and 1871 (no records of her death can be found at present).

In 1871, they were back in Chapel Street, where William had lived with his parents, but now in No.28 and it was here they lived for the rest of their married life, no doubt close to friends and family. By 1881, they had 8 children between the ages of 2 and 18 living at home. William’s occupation was as a Machine Smith at the John Jardine Lace Machine factory nearby, a son aged 18 was working as a Plumber and Gas Fitter also at John Jardine and the 2 oldest daughters, aged 15 and 17 were also working in the industry as Lace Menders, Two other younger children were still at school. It can be seen that the fortunes of the family were totally tied up with that of the lace trade.

It is hard to imagine what life was like in a road like Chapel Street, with 10 people living in a small terraced house and unfortunately we have no photographic record, as the original worker’s terraces in Chapel Street (now renamed Highfield Street) disappeared in a large slum clearance project in 1955, where large swathes of old terraces in Radford were demolished, often to be replaced by the high rise flats that were so popular in post war Britain.

Day to day life must have been incredibly tough for so many people living in these conditions, but somehow people survived and often prospered. An impression of how they might have lived can be gleaned from this mid 20th century photograph taken from a high window overlooking the crowded terraces, which would have been a view unchanged from a 100 years earlier.

The last we hear of William and Isabella together is in the 1901 Census, William has survived to 72 and is listed as a Superannuated Lace man i.e. he was receiving a Company Pension. Things had moved on since the early days of the lace trade, the trade union movement had arrived in Nottingham in the mid 1800s and had transformed the conditions of the lace workers and men with a skilled trade such as William were rewarded for their loyalty with some sort of financial security in their old age, thus enabling them to avoid the Workhouse, unlike many of their generation.

William died in 1907 and he was the first person in the Bostock Family in a position to leave a Will, bequeathing the house at No. 28 Chapel Street, which by this date was fully owned by William, to Isabella to live in or to let out for the rest of her life. The estate was valued at £206, the equivalent of £25,000 in today’s money. The fact that William had managed to pay off a mortgage on a house, as well as bringing up 10 children, demonstrates how conditions for the trained working classes were beginning to change by the turn of the century.

An extract from the Will can be seen below:-

Extract from The Will and Last Testament of William Henry Bostock dated 31st July 1908

The Will also stipulated that after Isabella’s death, the house in Chapel street should be sold and the proceeds split equally amongst the surviving children. As there were 8 children still living when Isabella died, the proceeds for each child would not have amounted to a great deal.

Isabella lived another 7 years and and in the 1911 Census, 3 years prior to her death in 1914, she was living alone in Sherwood, so we assume the house in Chapel Street had been rented out. Why she was not living in their old home until her death is another one of those mysteries that is probably lost forever; were her memories of the house in Chapel Street happy or unhappy?

Both William and Isabella had lived long lives for their time, 79 and 77 respectively, had been married for 49 years and Isabella had given birth to 10 children, of which 8 also lived relatively long lives. Their story is one of hardship, no doubt, but also of resilience, endurance, strength and ultimately hopefully they had a pride in their achievements and dare one to hope, a happy marriage. They are buried in Nottingham General Cemetery in Radford, less than half a mile from where they had lived most of their lives.

The only surviving photograph that the family has of our Great, Great Grandparents can be seen below, taken in the early 1900s, possibly about the time of the marriage of Albert Joseph to Ellen Haida, the Grandparents who I never knew, and who are also shown in the photograph. It is tempting to think that the shawl that Ellen is wearing, might be a present of Nottingham lace from her new family.

From Right to Left, William Henry Bostock, Albert Joseph Bostock, Ellen Haida Bostock, Isabella Goodman Bostock, Will Watts? Ellen’s brother, Photo taken early 1900s

Albert Joseph Bostock (1878 – 1947) Married to Ellen Haida (1880 – 1934) in 1902

As the 19th Century gives way to a new century of social upheaval and two world wars, so the story moves away from Lace and from Nottingham. There was change in the air and many people were on the move, wanting a better life. Of William and Isabella’s 8 children, 3 stayed in Nottingham, 2 emigrated to Pennsylvania, 2 moved a short distance to Derby and Albert Joseph my Grandfather married Ellen Haida from Kent, and settled in Enfield, North London.

They had 4 sons and this photograph taken around 1930 shows them all, William (Bill) who emigrated to Mexico, Albert (Bert), Arthur and Horace, my father. But this is the story of Nottingham and lace , so the continuing saga of the Bostocks in the 20th century will have to wait for another time.

The Bostocks circa 1930, From Left to Right William (Bill), Ellen, Albert Joseph, Arthur, Horace and Albert (Bert)

And what of the lace industry? It reached its zenith at the turn of the 20th century, but like many industries worldwide it was devastated by the first world war and its decline can be traced from then. There was a gradual decline in production exacerbated by the Great Depression and the Second world war, and by 1950 the trade was all but finished.

Today, no lace manufacturers exist in Nottingham city, the last closing its factory in 2011. However, the flame is being kept alive a few miles away over the border in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, coincidently less that 2 miles from Trowell, the place where my story commenced.

Here the Cluny Lace company are still going strong, the last remaining factory in England making traditional Leavers lace, using the machines that created a revolution in the 19th century. The Mason family at Cluny Lace started making lace on the first basic lace machines in the 1760s and the present owners are the 9th generation of the Mason family to carry on the tradition and long may it continue. Their recent high point was to provide the lace for Kate Middleton’s wedding gown. The short clip below shows one of their Leavers machines in action and it is truly a wonder to behold, a testament to Victorian inventiveness and ingenuity.

Also, there is a resurgence worldwide in traditional hand made lace, and the craft is going back to its roots. It appears that the production of lace, one way or another is safe and in good hands in the 21st century.

Published by John Bostock

Retired and living in St. Leonards on Sea, but still learning about life. All views are my own.

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