I am constantly amazed by the way in which seemingly disconnected individuals and events are linked through time and space. My father, a butcher by trade spent his weekends and holidays fishing. Every year we would spend two weeks in a small fishing town on the South East Kent coast. Each evening we would pack our rods and bags and set out at 7.00pm to spend a couple of hours in companionable silence casting our rods from Deal Pier. This was perhaps a surprising past time for a teenage girl; however the bond between father and daughter was one which continues to resonate in my life long after my father’s death.
Thirty years later I started my research for the quilt exhibition; working through the V&A’s collection I discovered a small silk velvet and satin patchwork cot cover, said to have been made by Priscilla Redding (1654-1723). Priscilla was the daughter of Captain Samuel Tavenor, once the Governor of Deal Castle, after her marriage in 1691 she settled in Dover where the family established a church and grocery shop. In the course of our research we discovered that Priscilla also kept a diary, which chronicled the personal and political life of her family. Her father, a Baptist preacher was persecuted for ‘not conforming to the worshipe of the nation’. Throughout her diary Priscilla’s support for her father is unwavering - at one point he is forced to leave his family and seek refuge in London. On her death, Priscilla handed both the cot quilt and her diary to her daughter Susanna who also inherited the role of family chronicler. Separated at some point in the 19th century, we have been able to locate Priscilla’s diary and it will be reunited with the cot quilt for the first time in the exhibition.
Small quilted patchwork cover, silk velvets and satins, Priscilla Redding, cica 1690s, T.615-1996
Since my father’s death I have made my home in Deal – every Saturday I walk to the local market and pass the Castle, once home to Priscilla and her father, Captain Tavenor. The view across the sea towards France is much the same as it was in the seventeenth century – although with far less fishing boats, and the addition of the pier. Sometimes I sit and think about my past; sometimes I think about Priscilla – occasionally I consider how strange it is that a small cot quilt has brought two seemingly random women together, separated by over three hundred years. What I wonder, would the Governor’s daughter think of the fisherman’s daughter?
You can read more about Priscilla’s life in Claire Smith’s case study in the exhibition publication Quilts 1700-2010 Hidden Histories, Untold Stories.