I have been researching the lives of the tambour beading women of the Holmer Green area in the last century as part of the Woodlanders’ Lives and Landscapes project.
Tambour beading is the embroidery skill of sewing beads and sequins on to fine fabrics as panels in ornate patterns for high-end costumes produced by London fashion houses, worn by royalty, film, stage and TV stars, and brides. It was carried on around the village of Holmer Green, north of High Wycombe, during much of the last century – from 1912 to the 1970s – by local women working in workshops or in their own home. Some village women worked as agents, getting the work from London and passing it round the villages to their family members and neighbours to complete. Little detail was recorded on paper so we have to piece together clues from people’s memories.
I’ve been looking at the history of this fascinating occupation by searching through the census records for the villages and conducting interviews with local women who remember their mothers, aunts and grandmothers doing beading work.
Tambour beading in Holmer Green
The tambour beading business was started in the Holmer Green area by Bernard Stapley, a London embroidery manufacturer who in 1912 brought over a French expert to teach the skill to Mrs Carter (a well-known Holmer Green tambour beader and agent, whose recorded memories of her life give precious detail about how the business worked).
Mr Stapley set up workshops in Little Missenden and Holmer Green for his London business, employing up to 50 women. After the First World War he opened a tambour and beadwork factory in Great Missenden High Street, and sold his Holmer Green workshop to CE Phipps of Hazlemere, which was then sold to Stanley Lock in 1956. Stanley Lock became a partner in Hand & Lock, a leading London embroidery atelier (https://handembroidery.com/) working for clients making dresses for royalty and celebrities, and ceremonial costumes, banners for royalty, city guilds, and military. Several Holmer Green women did outwork for them.
Embroidered Arts Exhibition
Hand & Lock has an annual competition for the finest embroidery the ‘embroidered arts’ where you can see wonderful historic and contemporary embroideries from around the world. This year the exhibition included the history of Hand & Lock, so I visited to get some idea of the work that the Holmer Green women did.
The venue was the Bargehouse, a ‘raw, edgy’ exhibition space on the South Bank by the Oxo Tower. It was a very striking location, with peeling walls and graffiti.