Norah Beatrice was the third daughter of Assheton Biddulph of Moneyguyneen and Florence Caroline Boothby his wife. Norah Biddulph’s life took a very different path from that of her sisters. There are many accounts of her life.
Norah went to Egypt to live with her sister. Almost immediately her sister's husband was taken seriously ill and had to return to England. Norah left on her own found a job at Bourg el Arab in the Lybian desert where Bedouin women were being taught to weave. This fascinated her and later she went to Sweden to learn in earnest all about spinning and weaving before settling in Somerset.
In Somerset she met Gladys Dickinson.
Gladys Dickinson's father was world famous for his knowledge of oriental porcelain and the family lived in Chiswick. In 1912 Frank Dickinson bought a farm near Canterbury for his sons but when war broke out they joined the navy and it fell on Gladys to run the farm. She could shear 74 sheep singlehanded. In 1921 her father died and the estate split up. Gladys was left with a few pounds and her ancient motor bike.
Norah and Gladys became friends and took over the Old Forge at Over Stowey. Life was about to change.
In 1956 the ladies were given a piece of serpentine stone by Mrs Harry Fox of Fox Brothers and Co. of Wellington, which they used for inspiration to create a length of cloth that featured the colours of this iconic stone. This saw the start of the pair taking inspiration from stones from around the country to create their cloth.
Other contemporary voices can tell their story better than I can.
They obtain fleece straight from the sheep's back and spin it into yarn, wash it and dye the wool. The dye they use is obtained straight from the hedgerows and anywhere where wild flowers grow. The list of dyes and their sources is staggering. Nettle leaves give a yellow green. Dock roots brown. Mares tail bright yellow and so on. When the wool is dry it is ready for weaving. They set up the warp or the base for the materials they are weaving and with magician like fingers thread the warp through the heddles which determine the type of weave they want. The wool on a spindle is pushed between the warp and this is pushed tight against the fabric by pulling the head [?] against it. They weave tweeds for skirts, knee rugs, stoles, head squares, vestments and altar cloths some of which are in Wells Cathedral…
The women became famous for their work throughout Somerset and beyond. They gave courses on their craft and subsequently set up the Somerset Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers, which is still in operation today.
More information about the Quantock Weavers and examples of their work can be found at:
A more detailed account of their lives can also be found in Woven from a Stone: the story of the Quantock Weavers, by Hubert Fox, Taunton, 1968.
Norah Beatrice Biddulph died in Taunton in 1972.