Object of the Month – Lace Machine

Our first selection of 2019 is a model of John Heathcoat’s patent lace machine ‘Old Loughborough’ 

What is it? – This machine was created for use during a lawsuit. The model was made in Nottingham and was transported to London on top of the Express Coach for the trial.

Why is it significant?- Mechanisation of the lace industry changed life in Nottingham dramatically. Handmade lace had been very expensive, so the market for luxury lace goods was restricted. Mechanisation reduced prices and opened up mass markets at home and abroad. As demand grew so did employment in the Nottingham lace industry, census returns show a rise from approximately 8,000 employees in 1841 to approximately 25,000 in 1901.

This is the only surviving example of the famed ‘Old Loughborough’ lace machine, the first to be successfully commercial. It made a simple net called bobbin net which could be hand embroidered, replacing the earlier knitted laces produced on adapted stocking frames.

Tell me more – As lace machinery was developed, patents were disputed. Our model was created for the Bovill v Moore legal case in 1816. The jury decided a machine developed by Browne and Freeman could not be awarded a patent in its own right because it was merely a development of John Heathcoat’s earlier “Old Loughborough” which had already been patented in 1809.

Sergeant-at-Law Copley, acting for the defence, had been trained to use the model and explain the parts of both machines very competently. His “masterly handling of the case” boosted his legal career, he went on to become Lord Lyndhurst and serve as Lord Chancellor of Great Britain three times.

In our opinion – It was the development of this machine, that inspired John Levers to take lace machines to the next level, through the development of the twist net Leavers lace machine, just a few years later in 1813/14. The adaption of steam power and the addition of patterning Jacquard machine in 1839 brought full mass production to the lace industry and made both Nottingham’s lace and machines that made it, the envy of the world.” –
Ann Inscker, Curator of Archaeology, Industry and Communities

The Model Lace Machine will feature in the new Nottingham Lace Gallery currently being designed by exhibition designers Casson Mann.

Read more at the BBC’s History of the World website
Read about Heathcoat of Tiverton in the National Archives
Read about lace making on the Nottingham Industrial Museum website