Rare plaque fist evidence of lace making in Honiton

Brass plaque replica in slate

A replica in slate of the brass plaque on the tomb of James Rodge - Credit: Honiton Museum

In 2005, the original and rare brass plaque on the tomb of James Rodge outside St Michael’s Church was being vandalised and attempts had been made to remove it. The Trustees of Allhallows Museum were given permission to commission a replica of the plaque, made of slate, to replace it, and the original is now safe and on display in the museum.

It is the first written evidence of lace being made in Honiton. It reads “Here lyeth ye body of James Rodge of Honiton in ye county of Devonshire (Bonelace siller hath given unto the poore of Honinton p’ishe the benyfit of 100L for ever) who deceased ye 27 of July AD 1617 Remember the poore”.

James Rodge was a wealthy man - the average wage in 1617 was just two pounds a year. James was sick of body when his will was written and signed on July 4th. First, he committed his soul ‘to Almighty God my Creator,’ followed by a gift of £10 to Honiton Church. The hundred pounds that he left to the poor of Honiton was owed to him by Francis Courtenay Esquire (4th Earl of Devon) and John Pole Esquire (Ist Baronet of Shute) both Members of Parliament.

He ensured that his wife Alice was well provided for. He left her £200 plus his dwelling house and its contents. He bequeathed £200 in trust to each of his sister’s four children and his best cloak to his friend William Taylor who lived in Fleet Street, London. Another friend Robert Manchester who lived in Surrey received his sword. James left all his godchildren 20 shillings. He appointed Richard Northcott and Walter Pearce of Honiton to be overseers of his will and left them five shillings each.

Assuming that James conducted his business for around 30 years before he died, it suggests that his lace-making trade in the Honiton area was well established profitable and flourishing during Queen Elizabeth’s reign.

Westcote in his “View of Devon” wrote in 1620 that in Honiton there was an abundance of lace and fine flax thread was spun in Axminster.

A survey taken during 1698 revealed that a quarter of the population in East Devon were lacemakers. 1,341 of them lived in Honiton. At that time Honiton lace was valued at up to £6 a yard compared to Buckingham lace which only cost £1.50 a yard.