How lacemakers in Calais ended up Down Under

A statue of immigrants at the Migration Museum, Adelaide, housed in what was the Destitute Asylum, where Eugénie Goldfinch spent several months after arriving from Calais

Over several decades, waves of British citizens have moved to France for a better life. But when the political winds of Europe suddenly change, they find themselves marooned with nowhere to go. Sounds familiar? Perhaps, but this was 1848, as The Connexion discovers…

In the early 1800s, at the height of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, Nottingham was to lace what Bordeaux was to wine.

Thanks to John Heathcoat’s Bobbinet lacemaking machine, production was at an all-time high. There were just two problems.

At home, the Luddites were smashing the machines to protect their jobs while, abroad, the French were imposing crippling tariffs to protect their own lace industry.

So, on the principle “if you can’t beat them…”, a group of Nottingham lace manufacturers moved to the continent, taking their workers with them and smuggling in machinery.

The chosen site for this industrial bridgehead was Saint-Pierre, just south of Calais. England and France had only just declared peace after the Napoleonic Wars but resentment among the French seemed to evaporate as the English factory owners recruited local workers.

Intermarriage followed and, Paris being the world centre of fashion, business flourished. By the 1840s, the Calais region was the Dordogne of its day, home to some 3,000 British expats with their own church ...

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