Wedding veil, lace, linen / muslin, maker unknown, Honiton, Devon, England, 1881
Honiton lace is the most famous of all English hand-made bobbin laces and represents a textile art requiring great skill. It evolved from a combination of Flemish and English lace-making skills in Honiton, Devonshire. Clothes had become in the 1600s, an immediately recognisable symbol demonstrating wealth and defining a wearer's status. The evolution of lace as a fashion fabric ensured demand by both men and women for exclusive high quality pieces that commanded exorbitant prices. Fortunes were squandered and estates were mortgaged to acquire it. Such was the importance of lace, that during Queen Anne's reign (1702-1714), Honiton lace became an article of currency used to finance the Jacobite rebellion.
Lace was an essential part of a lady's attire and was often given as a present. Since the early 1600s, Honiton lace has enjoyed the patronage of many members of the Royal family. Queen Adelaide had a wedding dress specially made of Honiton lace to encourage home industry. The children and grandchildren of Queen Elizabeth have been christened in a Honiton lace christening gown.
The hand-made lace industry suffered a rapid decline in the 1800s as cheap machine made lace flooded the world market. Honiton bobbin lace varied greatly in quality in the 1800s. The excellent quality of this wedding veil owned by Ella Bickersteth, only daughter of Monier Monier-Williams, makes this an important comparative piece for other Honiton lace accessories.
Its fine provenance and photographic support material add considerable value to the acquisition.
Machine made drochel net appliques with complex floral pattern which is more sophisticated along the edge suggesting a different designer or lace maker worked the corner motifs. Leaf motifs are 'shaded' by one side in whole stitch and one side in half stitch to give varying transparency. Bundles of thread outline edges and features of the design. Gimp thread is incorporated to emphasise the design. The evil has been expertly mended in several places. The technique of appliqueing sprays on a net ground was widely used for wedding veils.
Honiton lace is the best known name in English lace and takes its name from Honiton in Devon, England. Lace has been made there for over 400 years. It is likely the lace-making skill was inflluenced by Flemish lace-makers. Honiton was a textile town and had in place an infrastructure suited to out-workers. With trading links to London, Honiton lace quickly became popular amongst wealthy men and women. Honiton lace varied in quality from expensive as the thread used was very fine and pattern-making was time-consuming to unrecognisable lumps affectionately referred to as slugs, snails, bullock's hearts, elephant rumps and frying pans.
Good quality Honiton lace was used to decorate clothing of the nobility and the rich. Lace was made into collars, shawls, handkerchieves, bonnets and flounces. The large pieces of lace were designed by an artist and comprise lots of small sprigs. The individual sprigs were made by different home workers and assembled by a specialist. Designs are based on animals and other natural motifs with the most popular motifs in Honiton, the shamrock, rose and thistle.
The lace wedding veil was worn by the donor's great grandmother Ella Chlora Faithful Monier-Williams (1859-1954) for her wedding to Samuel Bickersteth (1857-1937) on 21 June 1881. Ella's eldest grand-daughter Ella, also wore the veil on her wedding day, 19 July 1939.
Ella was the daughter of Sir Monier Monier-Williams, professor of Sanskrit and founder of the Indian Institute in Oxford. In May 1866, Ella was photographed by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) as one of the models for Alice of "Alice in Wonderland" fame. In 'Reflections in a looking glass: a centennial celebration of Lewis Carroll, Photographer', Ella reminisces "...he gave one the sense of such perfect understanding, and this knowledge of child nature was the same whether the child was only seven years of age, or in her teens...A visit to Mr Dodgson's rooms to be photographed was always full of surprises."
The Bickersteths are a family noted for the last six generations for their tradition of service to the Church of England including a number of bishops, chaplains, a Minister of Parliament, poet and hymnographer.
Samuel and Ella had six sons. A catalogue of papers of the Bickersteth family, 1815-1976 is held at the University of Oxford, Bodleian Library. In 1995, an edited version of an eleven volume record known as the Bickersteth Diary, 1914-1918, was published. The diary was kept by Ella for her sons, one of whom was in Australia at the outbreak of war.