by Jeannie Swales
This patchwork quilt is something of a miniature marvel.
The whole quilt is actually quite large, measuring 141cm by 235cm, plus a black taffeta valance, which was almost certainly added later. But each tiny hexagon – and there are thousands of them – is only around 1.5cm across. Each rosette of hexagons is made of richly coloured silks – quite possibly pieces of ribbon, judging by the quality of the fabric – bordered in black velvet. The workmanship is exquisite and, rather poignantly, it’s unfinished: the meticulous tacking stitches are still clearly visible.
Unusually, we have a lot of information about the maker of the quilt, which is believed to have been stitched in the late 1800s.
She was Eliza Stather, born at Hotham in East Yorkshire (then, of course, the East Riding of Yorkshire) in 1843, to John and Hannah Stather.
We can follow Eliza’s long life – she lived to be 85 or 86 – through her appearance in various censuses from 1851 to 1911.
In 1851 and 1861, she was still living in Hotham. She’s missing from the 1871 census, but by 1881, then in her late 30s, she crops up as a ‘lodging house keeper’ at 7 Albermarle Terrace, Scarborough. In 1891, all we know is that she was still in Scarborough – but by 1901, and again in 1911, she was still a lodging house keeper, but now at 4 West Street. She died in the town in 1929.
The two later censuses also give us a picture of her family life. In 1911, she shared her address with Harriet and Wm (presumably William) Dickinson – her older sister and brother-in-law – and their daughter, Mary Lizzie Dickinson.
Ten years later, Harriet and William, then both 72, were still living with her, and described as ‘assists in lodging house’. Mary was 44, and the household had been joined by her brother, Arthur Ernest, who was a year older. The surname of all four is given this time as ‘Dickenson’, with an ‘e’, not ‘Dickinson’.
The ages of the older family members, and the fact that Mary and Arthur were both born when their parents were in their late 20s, also rather gives the lie to our modern perception that Victorians both gave birth, and died, early.
The quilt is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects that have been acquired by the borough over the years. They are used by researchers ranging from professional to amateur academics, freelance writers producing articles for magazines to television production companies, students studying art, costume design, geology, history, and tourism.
If you have an enquiry or would like access to the Collections, please contact Karen Snowden, Head of Collections, on 01723 384506 or Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org