The Old Penny House was a school for young girls run by Sarah Duxbury. You can still see it in the High Street. She taught the girls reading and writing, as well as lace making.
Life was difficult for these young girls. There would be no heating in the house apart from the fire pots or 'dick pots' the girls put underneath their skirts. These were usually made of earthenware and contained hot wood ashes. Their hair was tied back in order to reveal their necks so that they could be slapped if the work was not satisfactory. Their heads were also pushed down so that their noses were pressed against the pins.
Next door to the Old Penny House was The Honey House. The family there kept bees. They made a drink called megthelin which was made of honey. On St Andrew's Day each year the family were allowed to serve the drink to the lace makers to celebrate the day. They ate saffron buns and the children played games.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, when machine made lace was coming into its own, new ways of attracting people to buy handmade lace were being thought of. Two lace designers in Olney, John Millward and William Soul did much to keep the craft alive. Lace crowns for muslin caps were designed as these were small and relatively quick to make. This helped the lace maker to survive yet another recession. In the wake of the Industrial Revolution however, the numbers of skilled lace makers dropped and by the end of the 19th Century lace making in Olney was a cottage industry.
Harry Armstrong, a lace dealer, occupied a building in the High Street known as The Lace Factory during the early 1900's. Lace was never made here although lace 'joiners' would have pieced together the lengths of lace that were measured and sorted."
With thanks to Olney Lace Circle
Sources: Lesley Hancon, Niki Durbridge
Lace Villages - Liz Bartlett and Romance of the Lace Pillow - Thomas Wright
For more information, please the entry for the Olney Lace Circle and www.olneylacecircle.co.uk/lacemaking
With thanks to the Cowper & Newton Museum for their photos of lace - the originals are on show at the museum, together with a history of lace making.