Joseph Hedley, known as Joe the Quilter, was an 18th-century individual who made his living from quilting. Joe had worked first as a tailor and later as a quilter. Very sadly, he met a violent end – he was murdered in his small cottage in Northumberland. The murder case remains unsolved to this day. He was an elderly man when he died. He had nursed his wife until her death and had continued to live alone in a very modest two-room cottage (with his chickens in the other room!), so it seems unlikely that he was killed for his money. There was a huge amount of interest in the case at the time and a drawing was made of Joe’s cottage (see the print below). Other drawings were made of the interior of the house. A sale of his possessions took place, so it’s also possible to know exactly what he owned.
The cottage was destroyed in the 1870s, but after a search using old maps, the footings of Joe the Quilter’s cottage were discovered in Walden and they have recently been excavated (you can find out more about the archaeology work by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post). Some stone, brick and flagstones were moved to Beamish Museum. Based on this body of work, Joe’s cottage has been re-built, using some of the original materials, at the museum. The cottage has a thatch made from heather, just like the original..
Beamish Museum was awarded £10.9 million by the Heritage Lottery fund which has enabled a project entitled ‘Remaking Beamish’. As part of the project, Joe the Quilter’s cottage was re-built within the Georgian area of the museum, which is set in the 1820s. The museum is about a 30-minute drive from my house. Those of you who read this blog regularly (thank you!) will remember that I wrote about their 1950s weekend earlier this summer here or (if you have been following me for a long time) a post I wrote about some of the quilts in the museum’s collection here
On July 21st and 22nd this year, there was an official opening of Joe the Quilter’s cottage, which I missed because we were away in France. As soon as we returned, I went to have a look.
The cottage is small within and simply furnished with items of furniture which match the descriptions in the sale list mentioned above. Here are his bed and his dresser.
It seems extraordinary that beautiful quilts (including whole-cloth white ones, quilted in white thread), were stitched by hand in such a small and relatively dark space with chickens pecking close by!
I was fortunate enough to see and photograph some of the china pieces which were dug up during the archaeology work. Back in the studio, I drew and painted them in watercolour, before putting them into repeat. This became the ‘China Mosaic’ design, which you can find here.
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Here is the link to the archaeology work: https://beamishbuildings.wordpress.com/tag/joe-the-quilter/