Lacemaking and Political Engagement: Election Bobbins
These Bedfordshire bobbins inscribed with electoral slogans, of a type used in the major local industry of lacemaking (to hold thread), underline how candidates sought to appeal to socially diverse women – who were heavily involved in lacemaking – as well as men, and how items of material culture afforded voters and non-voters alike a means of political expression.

The bobbin in the foreground was probably distributed as a free gift during Frederick Polhill’s successful campaign for the Bedford election of 1830. It bears the inscription ‘POLHILL FOREVER’ (Polhill’s name is partly visible, upside-down, on the nearest side of the bobbin). In his account of the election, the Tory newspaper editor Richard Muggeridge records that Polhill gave a speech underlining his support for local lacemaking to ‘loud cheers’, and that, when Polhill was elected (by a margin of just one vote), the chair he was chaired in was ‘profusely covered with rosettes of Bedford lace’.

Surviving election bobbins are associated with the lacemaking areas of Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, and Northamptonshire in the early nineteenth century, and can also tell us about differences and connections between the electoral cultures of different areas, and about the emergence of particular forms at particular times.

Bedfordshire Election Bobbins, and examples of lace from the Lester Lace Collection, Copyright The Higgins Bedford