England Occupations, Clothing, Fan Making, Glovemaking, Hatting, Knitting, Lace, Crochet, Tatting (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Clothing and Needlecraft (cont.)[edit | edit source]

Fan Making[edit | edit source]

Folding fans had been in use in China for over 500 years before they arrived in England in the 16th century and the Fanmakers’ Company was one of the later ones, being chartered in 1709. Its apprenticeships from 1775-1805 are all that survive and these have been indexed by Webb. (London Apprentices Volume 6. Broderers’ Company 1679-1713, 1763-1800; Combmakers’ Company 1744-50; Fanmakers Company 1775-1805; Frameworkknitters’ Company 1727-30; Fruiterers’ Company 1750-1815; Gardeners’ Company 1764-1850; Horners’ Company 1731-1800 Society of Genealogists, 1997). Fans were of-course only for the wealthy, and were at their most elaborate in the 18th century having ivory slats with painted silk or skin mounts and often encrustations of jewels, whilst Edwardian ones could be embroidered and have shiny spangles. The Eyewitness book on Costume (Rowland Warne) has some good illustrations and Alexander (Fans. Shire Publications, 2002) has a full description of the craft with examples.

Glovemaking[edit | edit source]

Glovemaking was already a craft distinct from its parent trade of tanning by 1349 when the Glovers Company was granted its own charter. The trade outside London concentrated in three forested areas:

  • Wychwood Royal Forest in West Oxfordshire run from the town of Woodstock, and later in Charlbury as well, known for their finer work and ornamental gloves for the aristocracy, as well as large contracts for military gloves.
  • Quantock Hills of Somerset run from Yeovil which produced heavy duty protective gloves for labouring, driving and sports.
  • Malvern Hills in Worcestershire run from Worcester, Hereford, Ludlow and Leominster

Gloves were made from the skins of sheep, does, horses, chickens and goats as well as from satin, silk, velvet and worsted. Gloves were popular as gifts, and featured in wills as presents for the mourners.

The dressing, staining and cutting out of the skins was done by men in the factory. Dressing consisted of several stages of soaking and washing in different liquids; then came staking to restore suppleness, and paring the leather to a uniform thickness. The finished material was then cut into squares (cutting) and then into the shape of the hand (slitting). The master glovers, who were usually men, would hand out bundles of cut skins or other material to a carrier woman who distributed these to the women outworkers in their homes where they would be hand sewn. Agents, or overlookers, supervised the quality of the work and taught apprentices if they weren’t taught at home.

From 1463 the English trade was protected by import duties on the better-quality French and Italian gloves, but in 1826 these were lifted. Cheap, well-made foreign gloves flooded in, causing severe depression in the English industry (Filbee) and widespread distress in the glovemaking areas noted above. However, the industry re-organized itself and quality improved by 1840, especially in Somerset and Oxfordshire.

The revival was helped by an improved distribution system on the new railways, and by the introduction of the sewing machine in the 1850s, hired or paid for by instalment.

Filbee (Cottage Industries. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon., 1982) and Pearl (Old Occupations: The Glover. Family Tree Magazine Vol 7 #1, 1990) give good histories and descriptions of earlier glovemaking, and 20th century glove-making companies are described by Hudson (Where We Used to Work. J. Baker, London. FHL book 942 U2hk, 1980). The Glovers’ Company apprenticeships 1675-9, 1735-48, and 1766-1804 have been indexed (Webb’s London Apprentices Volume 4. Glovers’ Company 1675-79, 1735-48, 1766-1804. Society of Genealogists,1996).

Hatting[edit | edit source]

Stuff or felt hats, popular during the 18th century and to about 1840 (Thompson and Yeo), were made of the fur or hair of beaver, rabbit, hare, mole, or goat (erroneously termed camel’s hair since it was conveyed by camel to the ports of Aleppo, Syria and Smyrna, Turkey), and sometimes mixed with wool. The short, thick, soft hair is first scraped off the skin and separated from the longer and stiffer parts, and then made into a close-packed felt. Next came stiffening with glue and chemicals, then shaping, dying, finishing and lining.

The details can be found in Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol I. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991) and Wymer (English Town Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to the Present Day. Batsford, London, 1949). The term mad as a hatter derives from the habit of compulsive, involuntary movements (St. Vitus’ Dance) produced by handling the poisonous mercury in hatting chemicals. In London, the major hatting district was in Southwark and Bermondsey.

Silk and velvet hats had become the staple of the industry by 1850 (Thompson and Yeo), and they were formed over a stiffened calico body. Mayhew’s (Mayhew’s London, [a condensation of volumes I-III of London Labour and the London Poor]. Bracken Books, London. FHL book 942.1/L1 E6m) investigations into the trade and living conditions of hatters can be found in Thompson and Yeo (The Unknown Mayhew. Penguin Books, 1973).

The straw-hat industry was firmly established in southern Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire by the end of the 17th century (Filbee). Straw plait was made there by women and children for many purposes, and straw bonnets, hats and boaters became very fashionable in the 19th century. Skilled plaiters capable of producing many intricate patterns would earn more than those who made up articles from the plait. The history and practice of straw-hat making are described by Filbee (Cottage Industries. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1982) and Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol I. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991).

Knitting[edit | edit source]

Knitting locally produced and spun wool for the needs of her family has always been part of the housewife’s duties. Warm gloves, stockings, waistcoats, caps, petticoats and dresses were ubiquitous, and specialties included sweaters, vests, pants and jackets for fishermen. As rural areas lost their traditional employment opportunities, hand knitting was taken up by men, women and children as an extra source of income even though the pay was meagre. Several remote areas had unique types of knitted clothing, such as the fishermen’s guernseys (or ganseys) and jerseys, and even particular patterns associated with different villages or families. Men would be found knitting whilst walking or driving carts to market, and women whilst doing a multitude of other tasks. Women often knitted together in groups for company and to share precious light and heat, and such groups have been revived in the 20th century for pleasure and profit in many parts of the countryside. Hand knitting continued well after the invention of the knitting machine. Filbee (Cottage Industries. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1982) offers a detailed account of the craft all over Britain, whilst Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946) talks about a modern Hampshire knitting group and Dixon (A Heritage of Anglian Crafts. Minimax Books, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, 1981) about fishermen’s ganseys.

Lace, Crochet and Tatting[edit | edit source]

There were two kinds of lace known in England; first came the needle lace which was a kind of embroidery. In the 1560s Flemish religious refugees settled in Devon and the East Midlands bringing with them their craft of pillow lace making, which quickly became the favoured kind. Further Flemish and French Huguenots arrived around 1572, at the end of the 16th century, and during the French revolution a hundred years later, strengthening the industry with further techniques and patterns.

The major areas of settlement and development of pillow-lace making were firstly around Cranfield in Bedfordshire; Newport Pagnell, Olney and Buckingham in Buckinghamshire; and Northamptonshire; and secondly around Honiton and Beer in Devon. The latter craftswomen worked the pattern first and then grounded it with meshing, but those in the East Midlands worked the pattern and background at the same time.

Studying historic paintings can give an idea of the different fashions using lace from the enormous Elizabethan ruffs and fancy stocking fronts, to later lace collars and the turned-down linings of high boots, lace caps, aprons, gloves, petticoats, nightshirts and handkerchiefs, lace frills on shirts, and decorated fans. The Victorians had a passion for lace, but by the early 1900s it was no longer considered de rigueur.

The craft has always been a cottage industry and the preserve of women and children as young as five, with the latter being sent to lace school in preference to learning the 3 R’s in the lace districts. The pay was always extremely poor, but often made the difference between survival and starvation when added to a labouring man’s wages. In 1809 a bobbin net machine was patented and so began the industrialization of lace making and the demise of the hand craft. Continental lace was considered superior and the English trade had been protected for hundreds of years, hence lace’s popularity with smugglers.

When these restrictions on importing foreign lace were lifted it meant a further drastic reduction in work for the cottagers. During the 19th century women and girls were employed in the machine lace factories of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire and the trade today is centred on Nottingham. Hand made lace is of better quality than the machine product but is now far more expensive, and a traditional wedding favourite with royalty, so the craft survives, especially around Honiton.

Discussions on the history and techniques of lace making can be found in Hurley (The Book of Trades or Library of the Useful Arts. Vol I. Wiltshire Family History Society, 1991), Wymer (English Country Crafts. A Survey of Their Development from Early Times to Present Day. Batsford, London, 1946), Filbee (Cottage Industries. David and Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon., 1982, very detailed), Manners (Country Crafts Today. Gale Research Company, Detroit, Michigan, 1974), Bailey (The Industrial Heritage of Britain. Ebury Press/Book Club Associates, 1982, who concentrates on the modern lace industry), Hopewell (Pillow Lace and Bobbins. Shire Publications) , and Arnold (The Shell Book of Country Crafts. John Baker, 1968- quite detailed, All Made by Hand. John Baker, London, 1970). The making of Honiton lace is described by Keen (Honiton Lacemakers in the 1800s. Family Tree Magazine Vol 13 #11, page 3-4), and the Northamptonshire craft by Bell (Old Occupations: Northamptonshire Lacemakers. Family Tree Magazine Vol 7, Part I in #4, Part II in #5, Part III in #6). Earnshaw (The Identification of Lace. Shire Publications, 1982) has written on the identification of lace, and Dixon (A Heritage of Anglian Crafts. Minimax Books, Peterborough, Northamptonshire, 1981) and Palmer (Tatting. Shire Publications.) on the related crafts of crocheting, and tatting respectively. An index of lacemakers is run by Hanney .


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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