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Window Display January 2019

Our January Window Display,  which focuses on Sewing,  is kindly sponsored by Lanhydrock Accountancy Practice.

Sewing has always been associated with hard work, prudence and virtue.  It has also been predominantly associated with women throughout history, who, for centuries, have been exhorted to practice… hard work, prudence and virtue.

But there is also a rich history of men sewing in various capacities.  Sailors and soldiers made and mended their own clothing. Life on board an 18th century warship was punctuated by ‘make and mend’ day, in which normal duties were suspended to allow sailors to repair their clothing.

The tailor was the supreme example of the man-who-sewed, working primarily on men’s clothing and more complex forms of women’s dress.
What the tailor and the sailor have in common, is that they sewed because they had to – either to make a living, or because nobody else was available to work for them. 

While many working class women also sewed out of necessity, the practices of sewing, embroidering and knitting were constructed as suitable, even necessary, amusement and activity for a lady.

Poor women and girls had few respectable options for earning their own living, and the needle trades   were often their only resort, despite the appallingly low pay. Most work was ‘piece work’ done at home by women and children. The work, which often lasted from dawn until midnight, was injurious to the eyesight and the spine, and the poor pay was compounded by the fact that women had to pay a deposit to their overseer for the materials, repayable upon delivery of goods.


The first sewing machine was patented in the United States by Isaac Singer, in 1851.

The early sewing machine was most definitely a status object. Decorated with lacquer and housed in a fashionable cabinet, these machines were designed to sit at the heart of the drawing room, advertising the domestic virtue of the lady who occupied it.

It was not until prices began to drop after 1900 – and poorer women could buy them on hire-purchase – that the sewing machine became strictly utilitarian. The increasing availability of shop-bought clothing meant that home sewing lost its cachet, and became a thrifty expedient to be hidden where possible.

Advertisements for sewing machines reflect this shift, with the earliest ones extolling the style and beauty of their product, to be replaced with assurances of discretion and portability once the machine lost status.

During the reign of Queen Victoria fabric was generally plentiful and mass-produced cottons were readily available. 
Dress prints in all-over, small, floral patterns were particularly popular (examples can be seen in Mary’s patchwork.)
Patchwork was made by people from all walks of life.  In rural districts it was still very much linked with thrift and economy.  Mostly people made bedcovers which were interlined and quilted for warmth.  

Recycling clothing and furnishings was a thrifty way of saving money – there were no handy cheap department stores selling duvets! In 1830 there were 8 dressmakers and drapers in Lostwithiel,  gradually declining to 3 drapers in 1902.

Business card for John Cripps, Linen and Woollen Draper,  Market Street (now Queen Street).

Mrs Mary Parkin Beckerleg (1849-1924)

Mary Parkin Beckerleg  (née Colliver) was born in 1849. She came to Lostwithiel with her cousin, Francis Secombe, from  Altarnun in the 1870s to work at the Royal Talbot Hotel in North Street.
Francis was well known in town, he was in charge of the horses and drove the horse drawn wagonette which brought visitors from the railway station to the hotel. The stables were on the site of the present day Talbot Hotel.  Mary was a cook.

On the 12 December 1877 she married William Wenmouth Beckerleg, a saddler, whose shop was on the corner of Duke Street and Albert Terrace (now 'The Golden Dynasty' takeaway).
They had four children, Louie, Mary, Beatrice and Percy living at 75 King Street. However William died early in his 50s leaving Mary to continue the ‘Beckerleg’s Saddlery’  business.

She died in May 1924, age 75.

The staff of Beckerleg’s Saddlery business  on the corner of Duke Street and Queen Street c.1900 
In the 1902 Directory the owner is Mrs Mary Parkin Beckerleg.
The Chinese Take-away now occupies the premises.

Behind the Sewing Machine is a piece of a patchwork coverlet made by Mary Beckerleg c. 1880/1890. 
It was made by reusing the best pieces from worn out dresses,  curtains and cotton shirts.

  Thanks to Lanhydrock Accountancy Practice for Sponsoring this display.