The Keep Family
Keeps Worldwide
The Keep Family
THE KEEP FAMILY  Contributions to Society
                 Captain Arthur Stuart Keep, Aviator
                 The Keeps and Lace Making
                 Henry & Emma Keep, Rags to Riches to Philanthropy
                 William John Keep, Inventor
                 Keeps and Patents
Back to top

Back to Keep Family Contributions 

Index Page

Back to Keep Family Contributions Index Page
Back to Keep Family Contribution
Index Page



Although the origin of lace-making is unknown, specimens discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs suggest that the craft was being practised for several centuries BC. There are references to lace in the Bible, and from the beginning of the Catholic Church it has always formed part of the ceremonial vestments worn by its clergy.  In respect of England, lace making became an established cottage industry during the seventeenth century.  There were only two distinct areas of any importance: Honiton in Devon, and the East Midlands--namely Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire.

In respect of the East Midlands, legend has it that the craft was introduced in the early 16th century by Catherine of Aragon.  During her imprisonment at Ampthill awaiting her divorce from Henry VIII, it is said that she taught the villagers the craft of lace making. Whilst this is a delightful story, it is more probable that it was introduced by lace workers from France and The Netherlands fleeing religious persecution.  From 1563 to 1568 Flemish Protestants arrived in England to escape the Inquisition in the Low Countries imposed by Philip II.  In 1572 following The Massacre of the Feast of Saint Bartholomew, which saw the mass murder of thousands of French Huguenots across the country, more lace makers, many from Lille, arrived.  When Louis XIV rescinded the Edict of Nantes in 1685, there was another mass exodus, with approximately 10,000 religious refugees from Burgundy and Normandy.  The lace makers made their way to the established lace villages in the East Midlands.


East Midland laces, known as Point Ground, are based upon a grid, and are small, light, and delicate. They were popular with the middle classes, whereas Honiton lace was renowned as a luxury lace, on par with the best quality imported laces.  Queen Victoria decided on Honiton lace for her wedding veil, which promoted its popularity.  The Queen also wore East Midlands lace, and Mary Ann Barker, the granddaughter of Mary Alice Virgin (nee Keep), was honoured by being asked to make lace sleeves for one of her dresses.  She like many of the female Keeps living in Bedfordshire during the eighteenth and nineteenth century was involved in lace making, as the following extract from the 1841 Census for Kempston demonstrates:

    Name              Age           Occupation                     Born


Thomas Keep           50         Agricultural Labourer        Kempston, Bedfordshire

Mary Keep             50         Lacemaker                    Kempston, Bedfordshire

Catherine Keep        20         Lacemaker                    Kempston, Bedfordshire

Fanny Keep            15         Lacemaker                    Kempston, Bedfordshire

Amos Keep              8                                      Kempston, Bedfordshire

The craft was popular because it supplemented the meagre incomes of the poor families.  A good lace maker could earn up to one shilling and three pence a day, about 6p in today’s money, which was more than an agricultural labourer’s pay.  The lace makers worked at their craft for up to twelve hours a day, and would start at six a.m. through to seven or eight p.m.  During the summer months they could work by natural light outside the cottage, but during the night or in winter they relied upon candle light.  They used a flash-stool, or candle-block, which was a large candle stick surrounded by glass refracting flasks filled with water that acted as a concentrated lens for the candle light. The lace makers were positioned around the flash-stool, allowing up to five to work by the light of a single candle.  Also to keep them warm they would use "fire-pots", earthenware, brass, or iron pots with holes in them that were filled with hot ashes or charcoal and placed near the feet of the lace maker. This was to ensure the lace being worked was not discoloured and dirtied by smoke from the open fire in the cottage.


These Bedfordshire bobbins are completely different from other bobbins, because they do not have a bulbous shaped shank to give them weight. They have a slim shank that is weighted by a spangle of glass beads.  Also they are made of bone, as well as the traditional hard or fruit wood.  The bobbins were also decorated and inscribed often to commemorate important events, namely "Hanging Bobbins”, which were souvenirs of public executions.

To assist their concentration, whilst relieving the monotony, and to aid with the count from 1 to 19 or 19 to 1, lace “tells” were chanted. It was repeated, changing the number of pins at each repetition until the 19th pin was reached. An example of “tell” is:


I had a little nutting-tree,

And nothing would it bear,

But little silver nutmegs,

For Galligolden fair.


Each year on the 2nd Saturday in September was the lace makers’ holiday when wetting the candle-block took place, which meant that the lace makers would eat and drink together.  At this event young men would join in with the party games, which included jumping the candle-block:


Jack be nimble
Jack be quick
Jack jump over
  the candlestick  


The local lace industry was dependant upon child labour, especially from lace schools.  Originally the Overseers of the Poor would pay an experienced lace maker to teach the children in workhouses so they would be able to part fund their upkeep. Lace making was at the expense of the poor children’s general education, and merely child exploitation.  The children worked long hours for minimal wages to meet unreasonable demands from their Overseers who employed brutal punishment regimes to ensure that both output quotas and quality were met.  No consideration was given to health problems due to poorly ventilated overcrowded working conditions. The 1851 Census shows Joel Keep, born 3 April 1836 at Kempston, Bedfordshire, living with step mother Ann, his brother James, and half sister Rebecca in the Bedford Union Workhouse:



                   Name         Age           Occupation                    Born
 Ann Keep         41        Lacemaker                   Ludington, Bedfordshire
Joel Keep        15        Agricultural Labourer            Kempston, Bedfordshire
James Keep       12        Agricultural Labourer       Kempston, Bedfordshire
Rebecca Keep      7        Lacemaker                   Kempston, Bedfordshire
The introduction of cheaper machine-manufactured lace in the mid-nineteenth century sounded the death knoll for hand made lace.  Two Acts of Parliament directly influenced the decline of the East Midlands bobbin lace industry.  The Education Act 1870 in England & Wales provided free universal, compulsory, elementary education for all children up to the age of 13, and the Workshops Act 1867, which set out the minimum requirements for hours worked and conditions of employment.  Not only did they oversee the lace schools but the ongoing supply of skilled workers.  Also by 1860 the import duty on lace was removed completely, allowing better quality continental laces to compete with the inferior domestic product.


Whilst it was operating, the East Midlands lace industry provided a source of income for the poor families of the region, but it was the lace dealers who profited most.  They not only bought the finished product, but sold their patterns and threads to the lace makers.  Many paid for the lace with tokens, which could only be exchange at their shops.  From the will of Ann Keep, born 1792 in Wellingborough and died on 17 June 1852, we know that her nephew William Keep of Newport Pagnell Buckinghamshire was a lace merchant.

Whilst lace was an important cottage industry in Bedfordshire, so was straw platting. From the 1851 Census of Cardington, Bedfordshire, we can see that William Keep’s wife Emma Keep (nee Peacock), was a straw platter:


Name              Age       Occupation                  Born


William Keep      30    Agricultural Labourer     Cardington, Bedfordshire

Emma Keep         31    Straw Platter             Warden, Bedfordshire

Betsy Keep        11    Lacemaker                 Kempston, Bedfordshire Eliza Keep              10    Lacemaker                 Kempston, Bedfordshire

George Keep        8    Scholar                   Cardington, Bedfordshire

Frederick Keep     6    Scholar                   Cardington, Bedfordshire

William Keep       3                              Cardington, Bedfordshire

Francis Keep       1                              Cardington, Bedfordshire

The platted straw was sold to the hat making industry which thrived in Luton, Bedfordshire, and is why Luton Town Football Club is affectionately known as “The Hatters”.

The wooden objects are the bobbins that carry the thread and keep it taut.  The East Midlands bobbins have the spangle, the loop of coloured glass beads on the base, which makes them unique.  They are collectible objects, especially the commemorative bobbins that were sold at special events, such a public executions.  Also they could be used as love tokens, a young man could present his sweetheart with a bobbin with a message of his love for he marked on it.  From the black and white photograph of the pillow and lace making in progress you will see all of the bobbins and thread hanging from the pins on the pillow that show the design of the lace.  A lot of people think that the coloured beads were there to assist with the intricate design, which is wrong. They provided the weight to the bobbin.

The lace was made on either a square pillow that sat on a three-legged bowed horse, or a bolster pillow, which rested on a trestle horse.  George Simms Keep, born in 1866 in Eastcotts, Bedfordshire, was a shoe maker by trade, who also made pillows for lace making.  His wife Emma was a lace maker.  The lace design was copied onto parchment, which was known as the pricking.  It was then attached to the pillow with brass pins ready for the weaving, plaiting, and twisting of threads to produce the lace.   The thread was wound onto the long neck of the bobbin and secured with a hitch to the short neck. The bobbin also ensured that the thread remained taut whilst being worked by nimble quick fingers.

The DNA Project 


Arthur Stuart Keep was the second son of Ernest Edward and Annie Keep. Ernest was born on 26 November 1858 in Kingsbury, Warwickshire, and later went with his family to Australia as the Messrs. Keep Bros. representative in Sydney. During his tour of duty Arthur was born on 15 July 1891 in Burwood, Sydney, New South Wales. Later when the family returned to England, Arthur joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in September, 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War. He served abroad from November, 1915, until he was invalided home in 1916.

Not deterred by this setback he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), gaining his wings in August, 1916. For several months he was engaged in ferrying aircraft and then in January, 1917, he was posted overseas as a test pilot.


A year later he was transferred to the Trenchard’s Independent Air Force, No. 55 Squadron, stationed in Alsace-Lorraine and flew the D.H.4S, a light two-seat day bomber designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. Arthur took part in daylight bombing raids on Mannheim, Coblenz, and other targets and was awarded the Military Cross after the famous Cologne raid, at that time the longest daylight bombing operation of the 1914-18 war. He was wounded and invalided home again in July, 1918.

Arthur Stewart Keep

In June, 1919, Arthur joined Westland Aircraft as an Air Ministry test pilot, and on demobilization in 1919 he became the company’s first independent Test Pilot. In this capacity he carried out all the test flying of the Westland Weasel, a two-seat fighter/reconnaissance single engined tractor biplane designed to replace the Bristol Fighter.

  Arthur took the prototype Westland Limousine on its UK maiden flight, with the temporary registration K-126, during July, 1919. When demonstrated to the Press on 31 July 1919, it was generally agreed that Westland had created a most attractive single-engined four-seat light transport commercial aircraft.
A Formation of DH-4s
Westland Weasel
Westland Limousine
Westland Six-Seat Limousine

Westland then developed a six-seat Limousine civil aircraft, which was specifically produced to enter the Air Ministry competition for commercial aircraft, held at Martlesham Heath in the autumn of 1920. The purpose of the competition was to select the best designed civilian aircrafts to replace the converted military ones operating on commercial European air routes

The Westland entry was piloted by Arthur Keep, and during one of the flights he alarmed his passengers by entering the cabin for a chat and a smoke while the aeroplane continued on an even keel. In a close fought contest against the Sopwith Antelope, a single-engined tractor biplane flown by Harry G. Hawker, Keep took the £7,500 first prize in the small aeroplane class. It all came down to the last test, an emergency landing. Each competitor had to make three approaches over a row of small balloons and land and stop in the shortest distance.  Their average distance decided the winner; however, if any aeroplane was damaged on landing, it was automatic disqualification. Keep won the toss and elected to let Hawker and his Sopwith Antelope to go first. On his third attempt Hawker misjudged his landing, resulting in the plane’s undercarriage being badly damage, which according to the rules was an automatic disqualification. The six-seat Limousines went into production, while the model used in the competition was sold and used as a spotter aeroplane for the Newfoundland Sealing Fleet and later in Labrador during the gold-rush.

Westland Walrus

Arthur also tested the prototype Westland Walrus, a carrier-borne reconnaissance biplane for the Royal Navy. The Walrus had flotation bags and an observation blister and carried a crew of three. Following his flight, Captain Keep remarked that the machine was somewhat vicious in its behaviour. Production aircraft began to be delivered to No. 3 Squadron RAF at RAF Leuchars in 1921.

No. 3 Squadron was subsequently split up to form independent Fleet Spotter Flights in 1923, although, despite the extensive navalisation, the Walrus never operated from carriers. The Walrus continued in service in the Fleet spotting role until replaced in late 1925

Westland Dreadnought
Arthur Keep then became involved with the Westland Dreadnought, which represented M. Woyevodsky, a Russian inventor’s "flying wing" theory that the fuselage and wings should be in the form of a continuous aerofoil. The initial test flight took place in May, 1924, and ended in disaster owing to control difficulties, which caused the aeroplane to stall at one hundred feet and crash.

Arthur Keep was seriously injured, which resulted in him having both legs amputated. Despite this misfortune, which ended his flying career, he continued his connections with Westland as technical superintendent, later becoming a director of Petters Limited, a subsidiary company.  He continued until he retired in 1935.


Captain Arthur Stuart Keep, MC., died on 3 December 1952 in Long Sutton, Somerset, aged 61.  In his obituary carried by “Flight and Aircraft Engineer No. 2293 Vol. LXIII, Friday, 2 January 1953,” Mr. A. H. Lukins is cited as saying: “Those who knew Arthur Stuart Keep will remember him as a fearless pioneer, whose work polished one small facet of the now bright jewel of British aviation and one whose sense of humour kept him going in circumstances that would have broken the spirit of a lesser mortal.”

MORE Science, Technology and Industry on the Next Page 
More Science and Technology on the Next Page