Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Ellen (Nelly) Weeton Stock: Walker and Patchworker

Early-19th century patchwork
None of these is Nelly Weeton's work
but it's a good excuse to look at some hexagon bedcovers

Liverpudlian Ellen Weeton Stock wrote a letter to her daughter Mary, September 9, 1824, enclosing a
"piece of patchwork...out of an old Quilt I made above 20 years ago; it may serve as a pattern. The Hexagon in the middle was a shred of our best bed hangings; they were Chintz, from the East Indies, which my father brought home with him from one his voyages. He was never in the East Indies himself, but probably purchased the chintz in some foreign market."
You might have come upon Nelly Weeton walking briskly through Prescot 200 years ago, a century before this photo was taken. She would have been on one of her daily walks, perhaps on a 12-mile hike to Liverpool to buy fabric. In the package for Mary she included the quilt piece and some scraps. 
"Print for patchwork is sold by weight, in small bits such as I have sent you. I purchased it in Prescot market, 4th, inst [this month]. The man asked 2 s. 8d. p.pound. I thought it dear, so I only bought 2 oz., for which I gave 4d [4 pence]. I thought it would be sufficient for you for the present."
From the collection of the Telfair Museum

Like many people I stumbled across Miss Weeton (her marriage was so terrible that her biographers refuse to use her married name.) I recently met her in her letterbooks, which were published in the 1930s.

Miss Weeton; Journal of a Governess...: 1811-1825

I'd never heard of Miss Weeton until I saw a book in the library stacks and was quite surprised to find what an extraordinary woman she was. A contemporary of Jane Austen, she was born a year later in 1776 but she lived far longer dying in 1849. Not having the same financial support from her family that Jane did, she had to work as a governess (horrors!) She was also an "excellent walker," as Jane described herself.  Nelly was a writer too---but not of fiction---of letters, voluminous letters, which she carefully copied and indexed in her letter books.

Papers dated 1865

Edward Hall came across some of Nelly Weeton's letter books in the 1920s and published them with his editorial comments in 1939. Her biography has been filled out since then but Hall knew that she was the orphaned daughter of a ship captain who was killed in a battle during the American Revolution. She had relatives but didn't really get along with her aunt or her brother. She became a governess and didn't care for that social position or for her employer (I'm seeing a pattern here, but maybe she was wronged.) She had a little money of her own from rents.

Kansas Museum of History

Her worst error was marrying a small-time cotton mill owner in 1814. Aaron Stock may have married her for her money---a pittance though it be. Under the marriage laws her property became his and then he immediately began to abuse her. She gave birth to a daughter Mary but when she got a separation from Stock he obtained sole custody, permitting her to see her daughter only a few times a year and banishing her from the town.

Nelly did write to Mary while she was at school and that's where we see her attention to needlework, hoping to influence her daughter's education from afar.
"On opening the parcel, you will find I have recollected your requests. As I found when I saw you...you had not a distinct idea of the real length of an inch, foot, or yard. I have sent you a small ivory case with a ribbon marked for a a yard...I expect you will keep it very neat, and not spoil it by childishly amusing yourself with repeated unrolling and rolling it."
Page from the letterbooks, a copy of a letter she mailed

She also sent Mary ribbon she'd inherited from her mother, which was "taken in a prize which my father captured during the American war, between the years 1775 and 1782 [when he died]  The vessel was Spanish."

A month later she recorded in her diary:
"Wrote a letter to Mary, and took it myself, along with a little print for patchwork, to the cottage at Parr Hall gate [Mary's boarding school]."
The most amazing thing about Nellie Weeton is her penchant for walking and her complete flouting of convention. She took vacations BY HERSELF to Wales and the Isle of Man, and spent her time there walking, walking and walking---20 miles a day by herself.  Just not done!

From the McCord Museum

Nelly Weeton seems to have been quite a thorough person. If she was going to write----she wrote volumes. If she was going to walk she walked miles. One wonders what her patchwork looked like.

The letterbooks revealed a rather sad life, ending in 1825 with her money gone, her daughter taken away and estranged from her brother and his family as well as the terrible husband. But since then more information has been found.

From a quilt in the American Museum of Folk Art

Alan Roby stumbled upon a used copy of Edward Hall's book and became a fan of Miss Weeton. He's recently written Miss Weeton Governess and Traveller, in which we find out that she lived many years after the end of the letterbooks, most of them pleasantly spent with her daughter Mary and family. So Nelly's story has a happy ending, and we hope she kept on walking, kept on buying patchwork scraps for a few pence and kept on sewing hexagons together.

Read about Roby's book here:


TakeMeThereTotes said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story! I love stories of strong women and add the fact she loved Patchwork, well she is a hero in my books. I hope she did reunite with her daoughter and finished out her days peaceful.

Nann said...

Walking twelve miles to buy fabric! "Nevertheless, she persisted." Thank you for bringing her story to our attention.

Barbara Brackman said...

She loved to walk. 12 miles was Nothing.(perhaps was a tad obsessive compulsive). You'd probably like these books Nann.

Cyndi Sommers said...

I've been making paper-pieced hexagons for over 20 years. They are my favorite way to use scraps!

Kerry said...

Maybe she loved the countryside? Or the peace and quiet. Thank you for this - plus a happy ending!

Susie H said...

So glad you gave us a happy ending for Nellie. I too like walking but I walk for pleasure (& exercise) not for purpose (as in to buy fabric).

Holly said...

I love this story! Thank you for sharing it. I think she was amazing, despite the hardships she endured. I'm so glad there was a happy ending for her. The hexagons are amazing too. Recently I've come to understand how therapeutic (addicting) basting scraps to paper really is. I may someday use up all my scraps.

Anonymous said...

Miss Weeton was not a Liverpudlian. She was born in Lancaster. After her father died she moved to UpHolland with her mother and younger brother. UpHolland is on the outskirts of Wigan. As an adult she worked as a governess in a number of areas in the UK, before marrying Aaron Stock and moving to his home in Wigan. It was only after their marriage failed that she made a permanent home in Liverpool.