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Charlotte Elizabeth Treadwin was born in 1820 near Dulverton, Devon as Charlotte Elizabeth Dobbs. She was apprenticed to a dressmaker in North Molton, before moving to Woodbury where she learned lace making. She quickly became expert in the craft, especially Honiton Lace.
In 1848, Queen Victoria commissioned Miss Dobbs to make a Honiton Lace handkerchief, earning her a Royal Warrant. Queen Victoria was already familiar with Honiton Lace when she incorporated a Honiton Lace flounce into her wedding veil; some think this was also made by Miss Dobbs, but there is no evidence to support the view. Miss Dobbs won a prize medal at the Great Exhibition in 1851 for articles of Honiton Point lace, including a Honiton Point Lace Flounce. A prize at the Cornwall Polytechnic Exhibition followed in 1852, and in 1855, her reputation spread to the continent, where she won a First-Class Medal at the Exhibition Universalle, Paris, and was also successful at the 1868 Paris Exhibition. An advert in 1861, when her business was based at 27 Cathedral Yard, now part of Pizza Express, listed her range of lace which included bridal and bonnet veils, handkerchiefs, collars, sleeves and garniture laces. She also provided court dresses and costumes for fancy dress balls.
After the Paris Exhibition, she started importing a monthly parcel of stock from Paris, assuring her customers that she would stock "... the most Fashionable Goods at Moderate Prices". She was a little racy, in a Victorian sort of way, for she stocked the latest French Lingerie. Her business developed, and she became involved in restoring and cleaning antique needlepoint lace. By 1858 she was appointing agents to distribute her lace products.
In 1859 she again travelled to Paris where she engaged experienced assistants to work in Exeter. She found time for mixing business with pleasure when she purchased tickets for the inner enclosure, of the Grand National Archery Meeting when it visited Exeter in 1859. Her adverts suggested that ladies could purchase shawls, cloaks and flounces from her shop, for the event.
John Treadwin was an Exeter watchmaker and silversmith, whose own shop, next to the National Provincial Bank, was just a few yards away from Charlotte Dobb's lace shop at No 27. Being close neighbours, a friendship developed; one day in November 1848, Treadwin carefully locked his shop, at the end of the day and called on Miss Dobbs. Two hours later he returned to his shop to discover the door open, and the window display of silver watches and chains had been stolen. Investigations indicated that a skeleton key had been used to gain entry to the shop. Although the police investigated the theft, they never tracked down the thief.
Despite the stolen watches, the friendship of Miss Dobbs and John Treadwin blossomed, for they were married on 28 January 1850 at Gulliford Chapel, Lympstone.
Both her husband, and the Exeter artist, George Townsend produced designs for her workshop. Her Van Dyke Point patterns, a reproduction of 17th century designs, were some of the 508 designs patented by her.
The South Kensington Museum was presented with eighteen specimens of Mrs Treadwin's lace, in 1868, as examples of Devonshire lace. The Lords' Commission Council on Education expressed the museum's gratitude with a letter from Henry Cole, director of the museum.
She presented the newly opened Albert Memorial Museum with a large collection of lace in 1869, that was intended for reference, by laceworkers. Her knowledge on the history of Honiton lace became so extensive that she published a book, in 1873, entitled "Antique Point and Honiton Lace" which contained instructions for 'Making, Transferring, Mending, and Cleaning laces of every description'. The publication contained 100 illustrations and would have been a popular addition to any Victorian lady's bookshelf. Ten years later and she presented a paper, which was read for her, by Mr Dymond at the Devonshire Association in August 1883.
She moved her premises to 5 Cathedral Close in 1868, where she built up a clientèle that included Queen Victoria and the Princess of Wales. The Queen had been a patron of the lace maker since 1840, when she ordered a Honiton Lace wedding dress from her. In 1873, she introduced her 'New Mediaeval Laces' for ecclesiastical purposes and furniture decoration. Customers could purchase by post, and specimens of lace were often sent on approval.
For many years her assistant Miss Herbert, who started working for her at the age of 13, lived on the premises, supervising the twenty, or so, assistants who worked at Cathedral Close or as out workers. After Charlotte Treadwin's death Miss Herbert continued the business and visited Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle with samples of lace, receiving the Royal Warrant in August 1891.
Charlotte Elizabeth Treadwin died on the 6 December 1890, aged 69 and was buried in Higher Cemetery. Her coffin was covered in wreaths from women from across the nation, and an employees wreath was inscribed 'A token of respect from employees of deceased, who will always fondly treasure the memory of one who has won their esteem and affection'. Mourners included Frank and William Dobbs, her brothers, Miss Emily Dobbs, her sister, and several nephews and nieces. Her sister, Emily was also a lace maker, and was herself, buried in Higher Cemetery in 1908.
The Queen said on the death of Mrs Treadwin that she "... was a remarkable woman, and one of whom her fellow townsmen were justly proud".
In 1891, Charlotte Treadwin's prize certificates, medals and Royal Warrants were given to the Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. Almost a 120 years later, a special display of her lace work is to be installed when the museum re-opens in 2010.
Charlotte Treadwin's gravestone was in poor condition, and parts of the front of the headstone were flaking away. The Devon Lace Teachers and Exeter City Council paid to have a new gravestone made which was unveiled by the Lord Mayor on the 18 March 2009. The Civic Society are arranging to have a blue plaque placed on the wall of 5 Cathedral Close.
Sources: The Flying Post, Carol McFadzean, and a short article based on a dissertation by Shelley Tobin.
5 Cathedral Close was Charlotte Treadwin's lace workshop.
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