Snubbed! Lacemaker whose expertise was too good for the judges
Honiton museum curator Margaret Lewis
- Credit: Honiton Museum
This banner screen was made by Miss Ann Ward for the Bath and West of England Agricultural Society Honiton lace competition in June 1871.
She was not awarded a prize because the gentlemen judges from South Kensington did not believe that the lace had been made in England owing to its high quality.
Ann offered to make another in front of the judges.
Later, the prize was sent to her, but she refused to accept it and sent it back. At the end of June that year the banner screen and other examples of Ann’s Honiton lace were exhibited at the Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.
However, Ann was extremely successful when she entered in other exhibitions which were far more prestigious than the Bath & West. She won a bronze medal in Edinburgh in 1886 and a silver medal in Paris in 1900. Before being shipped out to an exhibition in Chicago in 1893, Ann’s lace was displayed in the Dolphin Assembly rooms for local people to admire.
She won a gold in Chicago and another in St Louis in 1904. Queen Mary loaned two fan leaves and a handkerchief made by Ann Fowler which was designed by her niece Bessie Dalton Ward to be displayed at the British Exhibition in Paris in 1914 and she was awarded a gold.
Ann was the holder of many Royal Warrants having been honoured with commissions from both English and foreign Royal families. Patrons included Queen Victoria, Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Princess Louisa, and the Duchess of Teck.
Queen Mary ordered a dozen frocks for her eldest son who later became King Edward V111.
Ann was born in Honiton in 1840, the eighth of ten children of Benjamin Ward a coach builder and his wife Elizabeth. She married William Fowler, a Somerset-born commercial traveller at St Paul’s Church in 1876.
She was the leading lace manufacturer in the Honiton area for more than 60 years and was renowned for the high quality of workmanship. Ann employed around 200 lace makers, ran a lace school and founded the Honiton Lace Shop. In many of her newspaper advertisements, Ann claimed that her business was established in the 15th century – perhaps that was a compositor’s error.