Last week, on a cold day, with snow still on the ground, a group of quilters gathered at Beamish Open Air Museum (www.beamish.org.uk) at Beamish, County Durham, DH9 0RG, to view some of the historic quilts in their collection. I’d been quite unwell with one of those winter viruses that makes you feel you have been hit with a baseball bat, but I really wanted to take advantage of this special opportunity, which had been arranged by my friend Pat, so I went along too.
All the quilts are old ones (readers of this blog will know how much I love these – see ‘Fabric Auction and Fig-tree week’), so this was a rare treat. A number of the pieces were ‘whole-cloth’ quilts, so all of the top is covered with patterns produced by the quilting stitches, as you can see here:
We were reliably informed that the exotic-looking pattern was actually inspired by a hay-spade – hence the shapes!
Some quilts (like this green and white one from 1880) demonstrated the same lovely stitching over a patchwork pieced top (where different shaped material pieces are stitched together in patterns, before the quilting stitches are done).
A 1922 ‘crazy’ patchwork quilt (where pieces appear to be randomly joined, and are embellished with embroidery stitches, ribbons and sometimes beads) made its appearance, too:
However, the quilt that really caught my attention was this one from 1890:
For this pink, blue and white quilt, there was some information about the origins of the piece: it had come from the ‘Thompson family’ in ‘Weardale’ and was dated 1890.
Now, I am a genuine Geordie. My birth certificate and passport have ‘Newcastle-upon-Tyne’ on them, even if my southern upbringing has not furnished me with a Tyneside accent. I definitely had the impression that my ancestral roots were firmly planted north of the river Tyne. However, I am in possession of a monumental family bible (this is just one of the two volumes).
This volume (along with its pair) narrowly missed being sold at a car-boot sale one time. Fortunately, I realised my mistake and when I got it back home and opened it up, I found several pages of handwritten script (like the one below) about my ancestors:
In this list, Gradon is the surname and Thompson appears (twice) as a first name. It was also my uncle’s first name, but I remember being told as a child that Thompson had also been a family surname in the past.
There was also a very touching poem, inserted between the pages of the bible, written by a Catherine Gradon in memory of her son (called John Gradon), who died in 1852 and was buried in Stanhope in Weardale.
Now, Weardale is very much south of the Tyne, so I have had to revise my ideas about where my forebears lived, whilst marvelling that having lived in a number of different locations in the UK, I’ve now settled in Durham.
And here’s another little clue: a sampler from a relative’s house (a second cousin). This sampler is dated 1829 and the maker (aged 14, this time) is a ‘C.Thompson’. Her name is stitched in pale blue and is partly obscured by the frame at the bottom.
Sadly, I have nothing tangible to link me to the ‘Thompson family quilt’ at Beamish. (Do please get in touch if you have any additional information!) I will probably never know whether one of the Gradon/Thompson branches of my family made it, but here I am in 2015, one hundred and twenty five years later, working at designing quilts, including – as it happens – a pair of quilts in pink, white and blue…
I’m so glad I went on the trip.