Victorian Era Turner: Mary Isabella Oliver-Gascoigne

Mary Isabella Oliver-Gascoigne (1810-1891)

Engraving of author from Handbook of Turning, 1842

Gascoigne lived at Parlington Park, Yorkshire where her brother is known to have owned two Holtzapffel lathes #1538 (purchased in 1833) and #1585 a very comprehensive outfit (purchased in 1835) both of which were housed in the Turning Room of Parlington House.

It is there Gascoigne wrote Handbook of Turning published in London in 1842 (with other editions later reprinted in America). Originally anonymously published and dedicated to the Earl of Craven, the book details using the lathe for decorative work, with instruction in concentric, elliptic and eccentric turning, with directions for using the eccentric cutter, drill, vertical cutter, and circular rest and includes various plates of chucks, tools, and instruments along with illustrated patterns.

Frontispiece from Handbook of Turning, 1842

Of interest, Mrs. Gascoigne wished to encourage other women to use the lathe to imitate beautiful designs in wood and ivory, but she felt that it was necessary to reassure them that they could be competent without losing their femininity. "Why should not our fair countrywomen participate in this amusement? Do they fear it is too masculine and laborious for a female hand?" she asked her readers. She encourage them to try using a lathe, asking, "What occupation can be more interesting or elegant than ornamenting wood or ivory in delicate and intricate patterns?"

She married on January 16, 1850 to Colonel Frederick Charles Trench-Gascoigne at which point she lived at Parlington Park, Aberford, Yorkshire, England. For more details about Gascoigne, see the Society of Ornamental Turners Bulletin #136.

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If you want a tool to be the centre of all manner of tinkering and mending, or for exercise that is gentle and cheap, or for calling the mind off from anxiety or hard thinking, or for healthful and artistic creations, I know of no instrument to be compared to the Lathe. It is easily kept in order, and the results are so quick, so varied, and so beautiful, that you never get tired of it.

Reverend John Todd (1870)