On the occasion of the Queen’s birthday yesterday, I’m sharing a tentative Royal connection I discovered several years ago while researching my husband’s family history.
It began while I was browsing the 1871 census and read the entry for my husband’s 2x great-grandfather William Percival, who was living in Chappel in Essex with his family. I noticed that his wife Eliza and two other women neighbours were listed (when I finally deciphered the handwriting) as Tambour Workers.
Having no idea at the time what a tambour worker was, I googled it and discovered it was a type of lace maker. The art of Tambour lace-making originated in the Far East and its name comes from the frame the workers used, shaped like a drum or tambour.
The craft was introduced into Coggeshall, less than 6 miles from Chappel, around 1812 by a Frenchman (or he may have been Belgian), Monsieur Drago. With the help of his two daughters, M. Drago taught a group of women and children in the village to make lace using a traditional tambour hook, which has a small barb on its shaft rather like a fish-hook, which in later years became known as Coggeshall lace.
With the Napoleonic wars causing a scarcity of Tambour lace, business blossomed and throughout the 19th century lace was made in homes and villages all around Coggeshall.
During my research, I stumbled upon the photograph below. Its caption read:
“Mrs Percival, with the tablemat she made
as a wedding gift for a Royal lady-in-waiting in the 1930s”.
This prompted me to contact a distant cousin of my husband to ask if he knew which Mrs Percival this was. He got in touch with another family member, Evelyn Percival (nee Beard) who shared with him her memories of lace-making in the family. Evelyn’s grandmother, Emma Percival (nee Mann) was a lace maker, as was her aunt Rosa (Rosa Louisa Thorp, nee Percival).
Evelyn explained that custom was for the lace makers in nearby Great Tey (where many of my husband's ancestors were born) to deliver their finished work to a Miss Surridge in Coggeshall. The job was given to a boy in the family and Evelyn knew that when her father, Albert, was a lad he had the job of taking the lace to Coggeshall on Saturday mornings. It was a walk of about three miles there, and three back, earning himself a small fee which he used to spend on a custard tart for the journey home. Evelyn presumed that he wasn't alone in this task, that there would be a small army of boys also making the journey delivering lace on behalf of their respective families.
Evelyn said that her aunt Rosa was particularly skilled in her craft and it's said in family circles that some articles she made ended up in Royal households. She even won an award for her work as far away as Belgium, though was unable to go and receive it until after the end of WW1.
Inevitably, with war and then industrialisation, the trade declined. However there was an attempt to revive it in the 1930s and this is where another Royal connection comes in. On the occasion of the marriage of the Duke of Kent, the son of George V, in 1934, three Coggeshall handkerchiefs were given to his bride Princess Marina.
The mystery Mrs Percival
So, back to the photograph and the identity of Mrs Percival making the Royal tablemat. Evelyn identified the lady as the wife of Percy Percival. I found two Percy Percivals associated with the local area. One was born in Chappel in 1898, but never married. The other was born around 1904 in Great Tey. Percy’s father was Arthur Percival, and his grandfather was James Percival… who just happens to be the brother of my husband’s 2x great-grandfather, William, who was born in 1828.
So, if this is indeed the wife of the Percy Percival, it means the lady in the photograph is Florence, nee Williamson, who married Percy in 1937.
If you want to learn more about Coggeshall Lace, check out the Coggeshall Museum website where there's further information about the lace's Royal associations.