Harry Armstrong's 'Lace Factory'

A Lace Trail around Olney (Revised)

Harry Armstrong's 'Lace Factory'

Olney, England MK46, United Kingdom

Created By: ODHS

Point of Interest Details

At Point of Interest No. 4 you should be standing just beyond the former Butcher’s shop (No. 55 High Street) and be situated opposite ‘The Lace Factory’ on the other side of the street.

The site in the High Street (opposite) was vacant as the buildings had been destroyed by fire in 1924, so Harry employed local builder George Knight to erect in 1928 The Lace Factory, as it became known . Harry wanted a building ‘the like of which Olney has not seen before’ and George had to talk him out of Corinthian columns and other fanciful designs.

'Topping out' ceremony on the factory building

Being the time of the Great Depression, it was made mostly with second hand materials. The only new work was the carving on the façade, which originally included three huge carvings over the front door of a bobbin winder, candle-stool and a bobbin stand.

Lace Factory Employees - July 1931

Lace was never made in the Lace Factory. It was used as offices and as a warehouse, where lace was sewn onto garments or any article that Harry thought could be adorned with lace! It was then packed up into parcels which were sent out worldwide. The lace was still made by women in their homes and brought into the Lace Factory for sale or collected by agents in local villages. Out of their earnings the lacemakers had to buy the thread for the next week’s work!

Harry advertised his business in women’s magazines and by sending out postcards touting for business from individual women or women’s groups. A response would result in the dispatch of a parcel of lace ‘on appro’ (approval). Prospective purchasers were given a month to pay up or return the goods. The late Cis Elderton who worked in the office for him said they lost very few parcels. People were honest in those days, she said!

See Cis in the video talking about the prices paid by Harry Armstrong per yard of lace

Harry was quite a character as he traded as ‘Mrs Armstrong’, believing women were more likely to buy lace from another woman! Sadly, he died at the early age of 56 while on a business trip to Scotland in 1943.

Lace Collar with a nine-pin edging, square ‘leaves’ and a ‘plait and picot’ ground

Thereafter lacemaking in Olney, as a business, was only carried on by a few older women who made lace for gifts.

Lacemaking enjoyed a revival in Olney in the 1970s, following a national resurgence of the craft in the 1950s and 60s through the efforts of the Women’s Institute and local adult education classes, when the once traditional cottage industry became a leisure time craft. The ‘Olney Lace Circle’ was formed in the 1970s and continues lacemaking today, still as a leisure time activity.

Link to the Olney Lace Circle

Next, turn around and, with extra care, cross the road using the uncontrolled crossing. Then, walk back towards the Market Place, a distance of around 200 metres, and pause at No. 24 The Honey House, Point of Interest No. 5.

This point of interest is part of the tour: A Lace Trail around Olney (Revised)


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