The story of HMS Venomous

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Nottingham by the Sea
1817 - 2017
The 200th Anniversary of the start of mechanical lace making in Calais using a Levers loom smuggled from Nottingham

In 1816 when Nottingham was the world leader in lace manufacturing, three Nottingham men (Clark, Bonington and Webster) dismantled a Levers loom and smuggled the parts to Calais, where it was reassembled. In doing so they risked transportation to Australia, because the movement of skilled artisans abroad and the exportation of machinery were strictly forbidden until 1824 and 1843, respectively. Others quickly followed from all over the East Midlands, bringing their skills and knowhow with them. So, from this small precarious beginning, a vibrant Anglo-Calaisian lace manufacturing industry flourished in Calais, which still exists today, albeit on a much reduced scale.
The English ‘colony’ in Calais once numbered many thousands, complete with Anglican and Methodist churches, English schools, cricket clubs, shops, pubs, doctors, undertakers, performances of Gilbert and Sullivan operas and an English language newspaper. East Midland lace manufacturing terminology was adopted by the French, as were the traditions and practices of East Midland lace workers and factory owners. Calais is the only town in France, where plum pudding is (still) served on Christmas Day!

All this came to an abrupt end in May 1940, when the Nazis invaded France. What remained of the English colony in Calais fled to Great Britain.

This event was two years in the planning. The main points were to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the beginning of lace manufacturing in Calais, to promote interest in the historic links between Nottingham and Calais, and to build support for a National Museum of Textiles, Costume and Fashion for Nottingham by giving people the chance to visit the International Museum of Lace and Fashion in Calais. About 48 people came from Nottingham and elsewhere in England, of which 28 were members of the choir.

Renewing the links between Nottingham and Calais

Notre Dame de CalaisThe performance of English choral music by the Choir of Saint Mary’s Church Nottingham on 11 November 2017, a symbol of the links between the two cities, was part of the annual musical weekend, Les Rêves de Notre-Dame de Calais (The Dreams of Our-Lady of Calais) held in Notre-Dame de Calais, the only church on the Continent built in the English Perpendicular style. The audience, from both Nottingham and Calais, was in excess of 800 people, more than at any previous concert at this annual weekend music festival.

This period of British rule came to an end in 1558 when François de Guise recaptured the town, causing Mary Tudor of England to famously utter "When I am dead and opened, you shall find Calais engraved on my heart."

The church was badly damaged in September 1944 courtesy of the RAF, a few days before the liberation of Calais by the Canadians, and precious religious artefacts were pillaged. The nave transept and tower were repaired in 1945 but the interior work remained unfinished for more than sixty years until work recommenced in 2009. Most of the restoration work is now complete and the main task remaining is restoring the organ loft over the west door and replacing the organ itself. Most of the wood carvings that decorated the organ loft have been recovered but it is proving difficult to locate a redundant organ in Britain suitable for this building and location and the cost of dismantling, transporting, repairing and reassembling a church organ is a major issue. A small electronic organ will be used on 11 November.

Those responsible for this work are very conscious of the English heritage and a Tudor garden has recently been planted round part of the church, designed by the English garden historian Caroline Holmes of Cambridge. The Peter Beale nursery has also produced a white rose appropriately named 'Notre-Dame de Calais' which was exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show before being planted in the new garden and offered for sale.

As with all old churches in France, Notre-Dame belongs to the town and is now being used as a splendid venue for concerts, conferences and exhibitions.

Lace Museum in CalaisBeginning in 1816 when Webster, Clark and Bonnington smuggled a loom from Nottingham into Calais, Calais became a centre of lace manufacturing, eventually outgrowing Nottingham. Now only three or four firms are still making Leavers lace. Dentelle de Calais ® (Calais Lace) is a registered and protected trademark (like Camembert de Normandie),  exclusively reserved for lace made on Leavers looms by master lacemakers of Calais and Caudry using a unique method of knotting between the warp and weft, which dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. Next time you pass through Calais visit  the fabulous International Museum of Fashion and Lace.

Nottingham has the largest collection of lace in the world but closed its costume museum and moved the collection to Newstead Abbey where it is in permanent storage. The new Lace Hall under construction as part of the Nottingham Castle renewal project could serve as a taster for the National Museum of Textiles, Costume and Fashion in the old Lace Market area of the city.

The restoration of Notre-Dame de Calais and the campaign to create in Nottingham an equivalent of the internationally renowned Museum of Fashion and Lace in Calais are part of an initiative to renew the historic ties that once existed between Nottingham and Calais. If you would like to know more about this contact Philip Emerson

Calais also has an interesting war museum inside the WWII Nazi communications bunker in the Parc Saint Pierre, opposite the spectacular town hall. And in June this year the striking statues of the two wartime leaders, Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle, were officially innaugurated as a symbol of the Anglo-French alliance.

De Gaulle and Churchill, Calais, June 2017

The statues of Churchill and de Gaulle at the entrance to the Park Richelieu were inaugurated on 24 June 2017
Present in the picture are: Patrick Berthaud the sculptor, Natacha Bouchart (2nd from left) the Mayor of Calais, Vincent Berton Sub-Prefect for Calais, Pierre Henri Dumont Member of Parliament for the Pas-de-Calais, Lady Soames, Nicolas Soames and Lord Llewellyn the British Ambassador.
Credits: Voix du Nord

Return to
Escape from Calais
The evacuation of British citizens from Calais by HMS Venomous on 21 May 1940
L'évacuation des citoyens britanniques de Calais par les V & W

The story of HMS Venomous is told by Bob Moore and Captain John Rodgaard USN (Ret) in
A Hard Fought Ship
  Buy the new hardback edition online for £35 post free in the UK
Take a look at the Contents Page and List of Illustrations


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