Music: The Bonelace Weaver’s Song – Part 1

And upon Sep. 5 1681 I had accasion to go to Chesterfeild, where I met with a bone-lace-weaver with whom I burgined to take a doughter of myne apprentis, Elizabeth by name so for 3 pounds 10 shillings we agreed and bound she was Sep. 14 being Chasterfeild faire day for 4 years…

The Autobiography of Leonard Wheatcroft of Ashover 1627-1706
Derbyshire Record Society Vol XX, 1993

Leonard Wheatcroft Jr. (May 1, 1627 – January 1, 1707) was born and lived in Ashover, Derbyshire, achieving fame as a poet and diarist. See for a short biography detailing his many other interesting activities. The passage above, from his journal now in the Derbyshire records office, describes the apprenticeship of his daughter Elizabeth to a bone lace weaver in 1681.  Wheatcroft married Elizabeth Hawley in 1657, and they had nine children. Their daughter Elizabeth was born on June 25, 1670, and lived to be 81 years old.  Eleven year old Elizabeth was not too fortunate in her training, her first teacher (her ‘Dame’) died in 1683. She was then bound to another presumed lacemaker, Mary Jenings, who died half a year later.

The Bone-Lace Weaver’s Song was written by Wheatcroft about 1650 and celebrates the independence of the professional English lacemaker. Roy Palmer published Whitecroft’s Bonelace Weaver poem in the “Ballad History of England” (1979) from a manuscript in the Ashover Parish Records, D253A/PZ11, Derbyshire Records Office. The words were also published in Bedfordshire County Life magazine, issues 18 and 43.

Helen Watson and Susie Adams with the group Muckram Wakes made a recording of the song on an album called “A Map of Derbyshire” in 1973.  The English folk singer and historian Roy Harris (1933-) wrote the music for this effort, and he is usually so credited by other artists. Graeme Meek recorded a version on LP on the album “Strawplait & Bone Lace”, with an accompanying songbook published by the Luton Museum and Art Gallery in 1984. Other performances include Chris and Siobhan Nelson at, posted October 5, 2010, and Lucy Ward with the group Cupola,, posted February 6, 2011.  Two audio versions are available on Itunes, one by by the group Grace Notes (Maggie Boyle, Lynda Hardcastle, Helen Hockenhull – this is the same Helen Watson who did the Muckram Wakes recording) on the album “Anchored to the Time” (released October 22, 2001), and another by Sarah Underhill on the album “Strange Sweethearts” (released November 24, 2010). You can actually hear clicking bobbins in the Underhill version. The version given below is the Palmer transcription of the Derbyshire manuscript. Various artists have used some different wordings; please see the comments for a few examples.  Someone in the area should see if they can find the original to check the words.

Note the use of ‘u’ for ‘v’ in the text below. The ‘beaver’ mentioned in the last stanza I believe is a term for a bearded man. One LaceNews reader also suggests it might have something to do with a beaver hat, which makes sense since the previous line talks about wearing lace on the head (I think the term ‘head’ needs to be taken as a woman’s ‘headress’, which evolved into the cap/lappet set first seen in the later 17th century). Felted beaver fur hats were worn in Europe by both men and women from 1550 to 1850, and pelts were first imported from Scandinavia and Russia. Faced with the near extinction of the animal in these areas, America took up the demand. I think the word  is being used as a pun.

“Peg and Nan” is more difficult. I found a poem “Ballad of Injin Ink” by John Williamson Palmer (1825-1906) where a sailor’s tattoos are described:

Around his arms, all down his back,
Betwixt his shoulder-blades,
Are Peg and Nan and Patsy Ann,
And mer and other maids

So the reference might be to bawdy songs. In fact the whole poem is a fascinating and unparalleled comment on the character of the 17th century English lacemaker. I’ve never seen anything else like it.  And, very recently, some wonderful new information has come to light which I will write up in Part 2 of this post. Stay tuned.

(Here is myrthe and melody)

I am a maid new com to towne,
but lounge I will not tarry.
I haue but two years for to stay,
and then I thinke to marry.
But if a briske younge man com in,
and that is no deceuer,
to corte him then I will begin,
Like a bone-lace weauer.

If that he be a gentellman,
and vowes he’ll loue me kindly,
then for him I’le doe what I can,
and striue to please him finely.
Of if he be a yoman good,
and to me no deceuer,
then I will striue to pleas his mood,
Like a bone-lace weauer.

We get our liuing with our handes,
hauing our wits about us.
We hope to purches hous & lands,
tho young men the doe flout us.
But let them all say what y can,
Wee’l trust no deceuer,
Wee’l sing you songs of peg and nan,
Like a bone-lace weauer.

We keepe out hands both whit and neat,
our pritty lace to handle.
We sing our sonits all compleat,
By daylight or a candell.
And when out Task we ended haue,
Our Mistris shews such fancy,
We sport ans sing, that all doth ring,
O Braue Bone-lace weauer.

And thus we leade most merry liues,
We heed no young mens saying.
We scorne for to be married wiues,
Wee’l keepe our fingers playing.
Wee’l weare braue laces on our heads,
We scorne as yeat a beauer,
Wee’l worke a pace, Braue flanders lace,
O braue Bone-lace weauer.

This entry was posted in Music. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Music: The Bonelace Weaver’s Song – Part 1

  1. Pamela says:

    Fascinating. You are correct that ‘beaver’ refers to a bearded man. The term is still in use today, especially in the Royal Navy.
    I was surprised to see the reference to Flanders lace when Elizabeth was working in the Chesterfield area. Also there was a cockiness about the song. We can earn our own keep, we don’t need a man to do that, but if he be good, we might consider him!

  2. Clare says:

    There are a few interesting changes in the versions performed by the two groups you listed. The first change is to the first line of the fourth stanza, where they use “we keep our fingers white and neat”, and they end with “to the Bone-lace Weaver dancing”, rather more sassy than the “brave Bone-lace weaver.” They repeat the ending from prior stanzas for the last line for the final verse, “like a Bone-lace weaver”. The music also varies slightly between the groups, specifically in fifth line of the stanzas. Always fascinating to hear the changes in folk music over time and distance.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • lacenews says:

      Another variation, “Wee’l weare bone laces on our heads,” instead of “Wee’l weare brave laces on our heads,” in the last stanza. Which actually makes a bit more sense. And I like the dancing bone-lace weavers much better. Again, someone in the area should look up the original manuscript. Palmer did so many transcriptions, he may not have paid really special attention to this one. Errors were certainly possible.

  3. lacenews says:

    Lesley Blackshaw has kindly allowed me to post an insightful note she sent to the Arachne listserver on 8/25/11. I’ll find some information on Harris and add it to the main article.

    Grace Notes sing this song with Stockinger. The sleeve notes say:
    “Before the Industrial Revolution lace worker worked in cottages or small barns and they enjoyed a relatively prosperous life. They were cheerful and independent and it shows in the words of Bone Lace Weaver. Leonard Wheatcroft wrote the lyrics in 1650 and Roy Harris wrote the tune of this version much later. Stockinger is a much angrier song and tells of the hardships experienced by women workers during the Industrial Revolution.”

    Slightly idealized, maybe, but the songs make a good contrast.

  4. Anna Morris says:

    Very interesting, finding out such things as songs and history–

  5. David says:

    This can only be speculation but I think that songs of Peg and Nan refer to songs about Saint Margaret and Saint Anne. The latter was the patron of Flemish lacemakers who celebrated her feast and sang dozens of different songs in her honour. I’ve not found a Flemish (or English) lacemakers’ song about Saint Margaret of Antioch, but as a virgin saint who defied her father and her seducer, she’s the kind of woman who might have appealed to lacemakers (not dissimilar to the Sainte Catherine, Santa Catalina, Santa Caterina whose song was popular among French, Spanish and Italian lacemakers). That celebration of women’s autononmy and rejection of marriage would fit with the rejection of the beaver [hat], a mark of a married woman at the time.

    • lacenews says:

      Very interesting, thanks so much! Some day I’ll do a post on patron saints of lacemakers – every country has a different one. I haven’t heard of St Anne in this regard, but I’ll look into it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s