In 2013 Thornbury Museum was shown a patchwork quilt which had recently been discovered in a house in Shepperdine. The Quilt is a patchwork of red white and blue. In the centre (shown here in our photograph on the left) is a panel showing the old Thornbury Vicarage that had been demolished around 1895. Click on the photograph to see a larger image.
Around this central panel are squares, some embroidered with flowers and others with the initials of the business people of the town, often with small motifs signifying the appropriate trade. This makes it a wonderful “Thornbury Trade Directory” of 1900 in textile and tells us a lot about the town at that time. For example, one square (shown in the photograph on the right below) bears the initials of John Taylor Chambers and has a motif of a bar of music, very suitable for a music teacher. Another square has the initials of Alice Beatrice Underhill nee Chambers who was a draper and dressmaker in the High Street, with its example of ladies’ fashion. The quilt was made by a group of ladies led by Lucy the wife of John Taylor Chambers and thus is known as Mrs Chambers quilt. Click here to read more about Mr and Mrs Chambers
It was exhibited in the Museum for several weeks in 2014. It was feared that it would be sold to an overseas buyer as there is a great interest in such quilts, particularly in America. However it has now been purchased by the Museum.
Following its discovery the subsequent events revealed a fascinating story of why the quilt was made and how it was found. The story of the quilt was described in the Parish Magazine in April 2014 and we are grateful to the author of that account, Pauline Montgomery, for allowing to use it here.
The Story of Mrs Chambers Quilt by Pauline Montgomery
In 1894 the old Thornbury Vicarage was declared unsanitary and uninhabitable and was demolished to make way for a new one. The benefice of Thornbury had belonged to Christ Church College, Oxford, since 1546, but as reported in The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post in 1895, since Christ Church no longer had an income from the tithes of Thornbury it was felt unreasonable to expect the College to foot the bill entirely for this new building. So the cost (£1,695 5s) was to be met by public subscription together with donations from various sources. A money-raising bazaar was held in June 1895 and by 2nd June 1896 only £169 was still needed.
Four years later the Parish Magazine for 1 May 1900 reported that there was still a debt of £150 on the Vicarage and it was proposed to hold a Sale of Work during the summer to help clear the debt, “which ought not to be allowed to remain”. The Sale was to be in the Vicarage garden on 9 August. Alas, as so often happens in the British summer, these plans were “sadly interfered with by a deluge of rain, which quite prevented any out-of-door festivities”, according to the September Parish Magazine. Undaunted, the organisers and stallholders “rose to the occasion, and by dint of hard work all the morning, succeeded in turning the National Schoolroom into a very pretty scene, and all was ready at 2.30, the original time fixed.” They even ran the sale for a second day, on Saturday, so that people kept away by the rain had a chance to go. It was a lively occasion, with a rummage stall, penny dips, refreshments and two “admirable” entertainments from Miss H Lloyd and Mr Robertson. In addition “Miss C. Prevost, the authoress of a little play called ‘Granny’, very kindly came from Stinchcombe to act in it”. In the evening Lady Rachel Howard opened the Tennis Court at Thornbury Castle (a covered area between part of the outer and inner walls which seems to have been used on a number of public occasions) and a large company danced to music played by the Alveston Band. The sale was pronounced “a decided success”. There was no mention of it in the Parish Magazine write-up in the September issue, but in the accounts published in October, along with the income from the stalls, “Mrs Chamber’s Quilt” raised £8-1s-0d. The Sale of Work was able to contribute £70 to the Vicarage Fund.
Now let us fast forward to another August day 113 years later, when Colin Young and his sister Diana Screen were clearing Dairy Farm in Shepperdine, their family’s home for many years. In a pantry, under a pile of rope, they found a cardboard box containing damp sheets and various other miscellaneous items, some of which had been damaged by mice. Diana was about to throw it all away when she noticed some coloured material in the bundle at the bottom, so thought she would just have a look at it first. What she unwrapped was a hand-made patchwork quilt of red, white and blue squares, each one with a stitched motif – flowers, birds, animals or fancy patterns – and some with initials as well. What made the quilt so special was that a number of the squares obviously referred to Thornbury tradesmen or prominent townsfolk, identified by their initials and a picture indicating what they sold or produced, or what their profession was. No-one in the Young family had ever seen or heard about the quilt before, and Colin and Diana’s mother, Maud Young, could not recall it either.
One of the most satisfying aspects of history research is when by pure chance a number of seemingly unrelated snippets of information come together to create a story. In the case of Mrs Chamber’s Quilt it was only by luck that the Museum had recently had access to three bound volumes of old parish magazines. Even more of a lucky accident was that one of these was for 1900, with the story of the Sale of Work told over successive months and the specific reference to “Mrs Chamber’s Quilt” in the accounts. So when Mrs Screen and Mrs Young brought the quilt into the Museum and the stitched signature “L Chambers” was revealed on the centre panel as they unfolded it, everything fell into place. It seemed that there was every chance that the quilt we had before us was the very one that had been created a century earlier to help pay off the debt on the old Vicarage. It was an exciting moment.
Where had Mrs Chamber’s Quilt been for all those one hundred years? The Young family provided one possible answer. Colin and Diana’s grandmother, Mabel Young, was the daughter of Josiah and Mary Ann Hall, licensees of the White Lion in the High Street, for over 50 years. After Josiah’s death in 1900 Mary Ann carried on until she died in 1908, when Mabel and her brother Frederick took over. The Young family think that the quilt may have been at the White Lion at this time. In 1917 Mabel married Joseph Edward Roach Young. It is possible that she took the quilt with her when she left The White Lion after her marriage and it had stayed in the family, eventually ending up at Dairy Farm.
What do we know about its creator, Lucy Chambers? She was born in 1850, the daughter of George Chambers, a Thornbury grocer. She married her cousin, John Taylor Chambers, in 1872 and in 1875 they bought Rosemount House at the top of Thornbury High Street. Lucy ran a small private school in the house and it is possible that some of the girls may have helped to create the quilt squares. Lucy and John had three children; the first, a girl named Geraldine Elsie Emily, died in August 1877 aged just one year and seven months. Their sons, George Courtenay, and John Maurice Augustus, were born in 1878 and 1881. John Maurice (known in the family as “Gus”) was a keen photographer and probably took the photograph of the old Vicarage which his mother copied to create the beautifully executed picture of the building in the large centre panel of the quilt. She died in 1904, aged 54, just four years after the quilt featured in the Vicarage Fund Sale of Work. There is a brass plaque on a wall in St Mary’s Church which reads: “In Memoriam Lucy Chambers. Called to rest July 22nd 1904. Presented by the Thornbury Communicants Union”. Her husband was the organist at the Church for sixty years and is represented by a stave of music on one of the quilt squares.
We are told that strictly speaking the quilt is a coverlet, as although it is created from squares stitched together (236 plus a large central one), it does not have a layer of padding between the squares and the backing, nor does it have the traditional zig zag quilting stitching. Works such as this, usually made up of red and white squares, as Mrs Chamber’s quilt is, were once very popular and were often known as bazaar quilts, created to raise money for particular causes, often church-related. People would pay to sponsor a square which was then produced bearing their initials or some other symbol particularly related to them. It is very possible that Mrs Chamber’s Quilt is such a work. We can also only speculate as to whether it was raffled or auctioned at the Sale of Work.
Mysteriously in October 1901 the parish magazine shows that the quilt having already helped with the vicarage fund continued to raise money – this time for St Paul’s Building fund. St Paul’s church in the Hackett is part of the parish of St Mary’s Thornbury. The report shows that there was a fete at Buckover in August which raised £30 10s 3d and that £3 18s 8d of this was raised by ‘Mrs Chamber’s quilt’.
If anyone knows any more about the quilt or its whereabouts, please get in touch with the Museum, Tel. 857774, email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Museum volunteers and the Young family would be delighted to find out more!