Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Beamish Quilts and the story of Joe the Quilter

Just before I leave the Bowes Museum I want to share this pretty little plate.  It's Japanese Arita porcelain, made in c 1700 of hard paste porcelain and I think it's gorgeous.
And also on the Japanese theme - last night I watched The Last Samurai on one of those digital channels that shows things you meant to see but never got around to seeing.  I was ready to be cynical (even though I like Tom Cruise) but was actually rather impressed with the film and the scenery on location in Japan had me ready and yearning to get to Fujino.  DH and I had a little discussion over the shots of Mount Fuji...was it really Fuji san or was it Mount Taranaki in New Plymouth, NZ?  I've just checked on IMDb and yes, it's that famous stand-in for Mount Fuji:
In fact a lot of the film was filmed on location in New Zealand!
Okay I promised quilts...
At the Beamish Museum we were able to walk into houses all trapped in a time warp, with guides dressed in period costume, real fires burning and real activities taking place - black leading the range, baking caraway seed cake, doing the laundry, teaching a visiting group of school children.  Many of the beds were piled with lovely quilts, a lot of typical North Country wholecloth quilts with lovely hand stitching detail and some vivid Turkey red fabric.

In one house was a lovely selection of rag rugs, some "proggy" rugs and some woven mats which reminded me of Japanese country sakiori rugs (have a look at the fantastic example Nat has just acquired here.)
My DH treated me to a copy of this book
which I am delighted with.  As well as lovely pictures it contains stories of quilts and quilters, including the amazing story of Joe the Quilter which I had never heard.  Here are the full details, from the Monthly Chronical of North- Country Lore and Legend 1887

TERRIBLE and mysterious tragedy, vividly 
remembered for half a century after the 
event, was perpetrated in the neighbourhood 
of Hexham at the beginning of the year 1826. The 
victim, an old man of 76, was well known over all the 
country side as an honest, industrious, and kindly 

Joseph Hedley, better known as Joe the Quilter, 
had essayed in early life to be a tailor. He does not 
appear to have taken kindly to the goose, nor the 
goose to him, and he turned out to be but a useless 
knight of the thimble. But Joe had a good genius of 
his own. Although cutting coats and trousers was not 
in his way, and although sewing seams was far from 
being his peculiar forte, yet he developed a faculty for 
delineating flowers, fruit, and figures, which in time 
led him to adopt the profession of "quilting." There 
were no sewing machines in those days. Nought but 
the swiftly plied needle vied with the knitting wires 
in creating the new or repairing the old. There seems, 
therefore, to have existed a good field for the opera- 
tions of a quilter. It is hardly necessary to say how 
quilts of those days were made, or to describe them 
minutely when executed. Quilts of all days, we 
daresay, since quilts were made, have been much the 
same. Joe showed exquisite taste in devising the 
figures which he wrought upon the linen or cotton 
committed to his care. He first cut out the patterns 
in cardboard, then laid them on the cloth, which was 
stretched upon a frame, and with chalk or pencil 
marked the outline of the flower or leaf which the 
taste of his employers had selected. He soon came to 
have a stock of excellent figures, and, being popular 
with the lady members of families, his services appear 
to have been greatly in request. As a workman, he 
seems to have occupied a high place. Specimens of his 
work were known in different parts of England, and 
even Ireland and America heard of his fame. 

Joe spent the latter days of his life in, a small cottage 
in the parish of Warden, situated on the road between 
Warden church and the village of Cho^erford, and over- 
looking the North Tyne. The locality was at that 
period (as it is now) lonely and retired, and went by 
the name of "Homer's Lonnin." The cottage itself 
was unpretentious enough, although it was called 
Homer's House for what reason is not apparent. 
Low walls, a thatched roof, moss-covered stones, 
and weeds that made the rotten thatch look green, 
formed the beau-ideal of a witch or warlock's dwel- 
ling : but in connection with Joe it was merely 
known as the habitation of a human being of powers not 
exceeding the bounds set to those of ordinary humanity, 
except in the particular province of kindness to all living 
creatures. It is, of course, natural that people who knew 
the "Hermit of Warden" should speak highly, even to 
exaggeration, of his good qualities when he was robbed 
of life in a manner at once so brutal and BO mysterious. 
But the truth remains that the burden of all that was 
written of the unfortunate creature at the time was 
greatly and unreservedly to his praise, while certain facts 
indicate that he was not neglected during his life. His 
place of habitation secured for him the name of Hermit, 
though the quality of a recluse seems to have had a 
very slight hold of his character. The cottage was 
pulled down in 1872, so that all landmarks of the 
mournful tragedy have vanished, leaving nothing to 
recall the circumstance but the silent page of the local 
historian. A painting of the humble domicile, however, 
was made before its removal, and from it we have taken 
a sketch, reproduced from a photograph by Mr. Gibson, 
of Hexham. 

The Quilter did not at one time occupy his cottage 
alone. Like other men, he had married ; but his married 
life proved in the end to be a burden and a severe drain 
on his slender resources. His partner was much older 
than himself, and was, besides, confined to bed for eight 
years before her death. Joe met the adverse circum- 
stances manfully. With true affection he nursed his 
ailing wife through her lingering trouble, performed all 
domestic operations, and watched over her till she died. 
Having alternated the lighter labour of quilting with 
a turn at the reclamation of a piece of waste land near 
his dwelling, Joe in course of time managed to convert it 
into a garden, where gooseberries grew which young 
couples from neighbouring farms and villages came to 
share with each other on Sunday afternoons. Some 
people possess a happy aptitude for putting blushing 
lovers at their ease, and there are others before whom 
the tender passion dare not and cannot show itself. 
The Quilter belonged to the former class, and his con- 
versation or banter eeems to have been as accept- 
able to his young visitors as his supply of fruit. Joe 
had another class of visitors, and this feature of his 
story recalls an interesting phase of social life. There 
were pedlars and beggars in those days. The joint 
profession was rather an honourable one than other- 
wise. The members of the tribe often acted 
the part of newspapers, and carried from house 
to house the latest intelligence and the most highly 
flavoured accounts of the exciting in fact, the horrible 
in fancy, or the supernatural in gross superstition. In 
lonely farm-houses the beggar with a wallet of news 
was, metaphorically speaking, "high placed in hall a 
welcome guest." Joe's cottage was often the resort of 
the more respectable of these peripatetic vendors of 
household necessities or articles of ornamentation, which 
found a ready market when going from home was not 
so common as now, and when shops were fewer and 
further between. By this means the Quilter added to 
his popularity with his neighbours and the public 
generally ; for he got good stories from these wandering 
visitors, and he could retail them with considerable 
effect. It is even said that Joe at some time of his 
life connived at smuggling, which is scarcely sur- 
prising when we consider the times and the char- 
acter of many of his guests. The secluded position 
of Joe's cottage must have suited this business wonder- 
fully well, although it does not appear that it had ever 
been carried on under his eyes to any considerable extent. 
The distance of his home from neighbouring habitations 
seems to have made him liable to other dangers besides 
the temptation of baulking the exciseman ; and it is 
reported that he would have perished from want during 
a severe snowstorm had not a Hexham clergyman the 
Rev. R. Clarke, to whom, we believe, the late General 
Gordon was distantly related gone through the drifts 
to his assistance after other efforts to reach him had 
failed. This occurred in 1823, three years previous to 
Joe's miserable death. 

A mystery deep and as yet unfathomsd hangs around 
the end of honest Joe. On the evening of Tuesday, 
January 3rd, 1826, he returned to his cottage, having 
been at Walwick Grange in the afternoon. He had 
brought home his pitcher of milk, with other marks of 
the kindness of the farmer's wife. About six o'clock, 
William Herdman, a labourer living at Wall, called on 
returning from his work to sit with him for a few 
minutes. Joe had a good fire, and was preparing some 
potatoes for his supper. About seven o'clock, a female 
pedlar from Stamfordham called to inquire the road to 
Fourstones, having missed it in the darkness of the night. 
Old Joe came to the door and gave the necessary 
directions, gallantly observing that he would, if he had 
been younger man, have been glad to have acted as her 
guide. She was so far within the threshold of the house 
as to be able to observe that he was then alone, and she 
is supposed to have been the last person who saw him 
alive, except those who deprived him of life. This 
wae, as we have said, about seven o'clock. An hour 
later, when Mr. Smith, of Haughton Castle, rode by, all 
was silence and darkness in the cottage. The horrid 
deed had, in all human probability, been committed 
between the hours of seven and eight. Next morning 
Herdman, on proceeding to his day's work, found the 
cottage shut up, and a pair of old clogs lying on the other 
side of the lane opposite to a way leading over a 
hedge in the direction of Wall Mill. He men- 
tioned the circumstances to some one during the 
day, but only to receive for answer the remark 
that Joe had likely got a pair of new clogs, and 
had consequently thrown the old ones away. On 
Thursday, Herdman was not at work, and it does not 
appear that any other person had passed the cottage that 
day. On Friday, he found the cottage still shut up, and 
also observed for the first time marks of blood on the 
door. But till Saturday no further inquiry was made, 
and no fears were entertained. 

The neighbours at length became alarmed, and the 
cottage door was burst open on Saturday afternoon. The 
body of the unfortunate man was found in a small inner 
room, which was perfectly dark, the window having been 
built up. The apartment had been used as a place for 
lumber, and contained no furniture. Here the last act of 
the tragedy had been performed, as a sort of hollow or in- 
dentation of the floor close to the body contained quite a 
pool of blood. There were no fewer than forty-four 
wounds inflicted on the head, face, and neck. The hands 
of the deceased were dreadfully cut, probably in en- 
deavouring to ward off the knife from his throat, and 
several wounds had been received in his breast and neck, 
which seemed likewise to have been inflicted with a knife, 
apparently at the same period of the struggle. His head 
and face were frightfully mangled. A garden hoe with 
many appalling marks of its having been used as an in- 
strument of death was lying across the breast It bore 
evidences, near the middle of the handle, of having been 
wielded by two bloody hands, and the mingled blood and 
grey hairs of the sufferer "still stuck to the heft." The 
coal rake was found near the clock, and in a position 
which seemed to indicate that it had been the purpose of 
the murderer to conceal it. Its shank was much 
bent, and it bore other unmistakeable marks of having 
been offensively used. From the circumstance of two 
weapons having been wielded, it was considered at the 
time that there must have been two persons concerned in 
the murder. 

A theory such as we are about to state was formed at 
the time the murder was committed. The old man's 
garden tools, with the exception of the hoe we have 
mentioned, were found, after the discovery of the murder, 
in one of his three slips of garden against the south gable 
of the cottage, where they were usually placed. On the 
supposition that there were two murderers, one of them 
was probably stationed at the corner of the house as a 
scout, and, finding a braver and more protracted resist- 
ance than had been expected, he perhaps snatched up this 
implement, which he would find ready by his side, and 
went in to hasten the work of death. The clogs found 
in the lane, and the muddy state of the murdered 
man's clothes, are proofs that the deceased had at one 
time succeeded in making his escape from the house, and 
had been endeavouring to flee for refuge to Wall Mill, 
about a quarter of a mile distant, and the nearest resi- 
dence, although on the east or opposite side of the Tyne. 
On being dragged back, poor Joe must have made a con- 
siderable stand in the doorway, as one of the lintels bore 
marks of blood and grey hairs just where his head would 
have touched it when standing with his back to the 
door. In the cottage itself traces of the brave struggle 
which its aged tenant had made for his life were 
everywhere visible. The bed-tester had been violently 
torn down. The clock face was broken. Prints of three 
bloody fingers were distinctly visible on the chimney- 
jamb, next the coal-hole, to which Joe must have clung for 
support. To this corner he had probably retreated after 
his unsuccessful escape across the road, as there were 
traces of blood as well as mud on the walls. Here, too, 
he probably received some desperate wounds, as the 
plates on the table were streaked with blood. 

All efforts to discover the murderer or murderers were 
fruitless. Several arrests were made immediately after 
the deed took place, and even poor Herdman was 
taken into custody on the charge. The parish offered 
a hundred guineas reward to whosoever would bring the 
guilty persons to justice, and the Secretary of State, 
then Sir Robert Peel, offered a free pardon to any 
but the actual murderer who would give information 
which should lead to conviction. But these means were 
unavailing, and for once murder did not come out. 
The only possible motive for the crime was considered 
to have been a hope of securing money, as it was 
foolishly believed that old Joe was rich, although he 
was receiving parish relief. From time to time there 
have been published reputed confessions of the murder. 
One was made in 1836 by a man in Carlisle, then on his 
death-bed. Another was said to have been made by a 
prisoner in Gloucester Gaol an Irish navvy who was 
employed at the time of the tragedy in cutting a new 
road in the neighbourhood. Still another story is to the 
effect that the murder was committed by a couple of 
Newcastle pig-jobbers. But there does not appear to 
have been any truth in these statements. 

The following quaint verses were written at the time 
by Mr. A. Wright : 

And the lone cottage on the hill, 
Is it without a tenant still ? 
No. It remained vacant till 
'Twas ta'eu by Joe the Quilter. 

Then it became the main resort, 
There lads and lasses went to courfy 
To chat and have a bit of sport 
With canny Joe the Quilter. 

Old Joe hedged in a rood of land ^ 
As from the stroke of magic wand 
A garden sprung beneath his hand 
Industrious Joe the Quilter. 

His cot secure his garden neat, 
He loved the lone and still retreat. 
Glad were his neighbours all to meet 
With honest Joe the Quilter. 

Of each he had some good to say, 
Some friendly token to display, 
And few could cheer a winter's day 
Like canny Joe the Quilter. 

Joe was beloved by all. The great 
Forgot the lowness of his state, 
And at their tables sometimes sate 
Respected Joe the Quilter. 

By efforts of superior skill, 
He paid these tokens of good will ; 
Humble but independent still 
Was grateful Joe the Quilter. 

His quilts with country fame were crown'd, 
So neatly stitch'd, and all the ground 
Adorn'd with flowers, or figured round, 
Oh, clever Joe the Quilter ! 

Joe's wife was sick, bed-rid and old ; 
To ease her pain he spent he sold 
Oh, there was never bodght for gold 
Such love as Joe the^Quilter's ! 

He was her housewife, doctor, nurse, 
But still the poor old soul grew worse, 
And she was lifted to her hearse 
By weeping Joe the Quilter. 

His labour still supplied their need, 
Till eight years' sickness bent the reed, 
And then the parish took some heed 
Of poor old Joe the Quilter. 

And now in widowhood and age, 
Frail, fail'd in sight, his hermitage 
Was little better than the cage 
Of feeble Joe the Quilter. 

But there were friends who cheer'd his days} 
Money and food they strove to raise, 
And kinder still relieved with praise 
The mind of Joe the Quilter. 

A favoured duck was dead, but yet 
He had two hens on which he set 
High value, and a cat, the pet 
Of tender Joe the Quilter. 

These were his wealth, and these to guard 
He'd just receive his work's reward, 
And darkling homewards trudging hard 
I've met the thoughtful Quilter. 

Thus oft from Warden Paper Mill 
He'd toiling climb the weary hill, 
Tho' bed and supper with good will 
Were press'd on Joe the Quilter. 

His friends, his hens, his cat and garden, 
He never thought his lot a hard one ; 
And the old Hermit of High Warden, 
They called good Joe the Quilter. 

Oft in his solitary nook, 
With shaking head, but steadfast look. 
Through spectacles on goodly book, 
Was seen the pious Quilter. 

His lowly latch was thought secure, 
At night he seldom ope'd the door, 
Except to lodge the wand'ring poor 
Oh ! hospitable Quilter. 

Who raised the tale 'twere vain to scan, 
But far and wide the story ran 
That there was scarce a wealthier man 
Than poor old Joe the Quilter. 

Satan by this vain tale, 'tis said, 
Had put it in some monster's head 
To violate the lowly shed, 
And murder Joe the Quilter. 

Missed by his friends at Walwick Grange, 
Who thought his few days' absence strange, 
They sought the cot and awful change, 
There lay the murdered Quilter. 

We pass the horrid scene of blood, 
For when hath feeling hearts withstood 
The grief of the afflicted good ? 
All mourned for Joe the Quilter. 

Know, then, ye proud ones of the earth, 
How light weigh greatness, wealth, and birth, 
To lowly virtue's heavenly worth, 
And envy Joe the Quilter 


  1. Gosh, that's quite a tale.

    When I was 17 I climbed about 2/3rds of the way up that mountain.

  2. Yes Tom Cruise stayed right here in Taranaki in a house in Oakura(on the coast)
    Would you believe we have snow on the mountain again... we are still waiting for summer to arrive! Lol Today is officially the first day of Autumn, and there is a real chill in air... :O(
    I guess that means it's spring there!

  3. They cheated us by using Mount Taranaki in New Plymouth as Fuji-san! I did enjoyed that movie and I don't even like Tom Cruise! Thanks for sending people to view my gorgeous sakiori rug!!! Hugs Nat

  4. I didn't see the movie but even at a passing glance I would never mistake that mountain for Fuji-san. That museum visit must have been quite a treat.

  5. Enjoyed your post! Reiko Domon and the quilters from Yuza-machi also loved Beamish when we visited in September 2010, especially the pub (lol) and the viewing of the quilts on the bed in one of the houses, which we arranged specially - Beamish will do this for even a small group visit and it was lovely to see some of the really dense quilting esp on the early quilts.

    'The Last Samurai' - I only saw it once, years ago, and have to admit I was mainly watching for Hiroyuki Sanada (the guy who beats down Tom Cruise in the sword fight in the rain) - he's an amazing actor. A lot of the locations didn't look right to me though. Didn't know there was another mountain that doubled as Fuji-san.


I really appreciate your lovely comments, ideas and opinions, they make my day. Thank you for visiting Piece'n'Peace,
hugs, Lis x