About this image
This picture was printed in 'Framework knitting and Hosiery Manufacture, Volume 1, by J H Quilter and J Chamberlain. It was published in 1911, but the photograph could be older (c 1890's ?). Stocking making or framework knitting was an industry of considerable size, in and around Nottinghamshire area. The main areas in the country for this industry were the three Midland county towns of Nottingham Leicester and Derby. The stocking -frame which was a hand operated machine about the size of a small loom or small upright piano was used to knit stockings or hose and other small articles of clothing like hats gloves and scarves or mufflers. Cotton, silk or wool yarn would be used. The frame work knitters worked at home, having either a frame shop or workshop in the garden or a special room often on the top floor of the house with a special extra wide window to let in the maximum light for the stockinger to work. The yarn was supplied to the stockinger by the hosier who employed him. A careful check was kept on the amount of yarn used. The amount of yarn supplied and the finished articles would be weighed and any short fall had to be accounted for. One quarter of an ounce wastage was allowed on every pound of yarn. Stocking frames were expensive. In the years 1780 to 1810 a new frame cost from £25 to £50 depending on its size and quality. A second hand frame would have cost about £10. Wages during this time were about l5 shillings a week and only a few pence of this could be saved. It was therefore rare for a stockinger to own his own frame. Most frames were rented from the hosier for between 9d and 2 shillings a week. The frame sometimes had to be paid even when trade was slack and there was no work for the stockinger. To find the origins of Framework Knitting, we have to go back to the late sixteenth century, when Queen Elizabeth 1 was on the throne. At that time in wool producing areas, such as the East Midlands, many people of the poorer classes supplemented their income by hand knitting socks. Men, women and children in every village and town could be seen knitting. Individuals were organised by Middlemen who worked for factors and agents. Wool was supplied, finished goods collected and payment made for the quantity and quality of goods produced. A not unfamiliar cottage industry system of production. Enter onto the scene one Rev. William Lee of Calverton, Nottinghamshire. In 1589 he is credited with inventing the first Knitting Frame - knitting produced by mechanical means. Lee having applied for Royal Patent about this date - the 400th anniversary of this important event was marked in some style by the modern Industry in 1989. His reasons for developing the Knitting Frame have entered into mythology. The Rev. Lee's girlfriend, or in some versions his wife, spent all her time knitting and had no time for him. The more philanthropic suggest that he wanted to improve the lot of the poor by speeding up the knitting process so they could earn more money! Whatever the reasons, it was a remarkable invention for 1589! The new machine produced flat plain knitting in a continuous piece some twelve inches wide. There were eight stitches to the inch and the heavy worsted would probably be between modern four-ply and double knitting wool. It was certainly as good as the heavy duty long hose that the hand knitters were producing. However Queen Elizabeth 1 and her advisers were not impressed. The Court was concerned that hand knitters would be thrown out of work and add to the growing destitution and vagrancy, which eventually led to the harsh 43rd Elizabeth, Poor Law Act in 1601. The Royal Patent was not given. Without Royal favour and approval it looked as though the venture was at an end. William Lee was made of sterner stuff and, together with his brother, packed up and went to France where they gained favour and support of the French king. In France they continued to develop and improve the Knitting Frame. Within a decade the machine was able to knit fine garments such as silk long hose, for the Royal Court. When William died, circa 1610, his brother returned to England and set up a workshop in London, producing quality silk hose for the gentry. The industry spread in the capital and, in 1663, the Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters were granted a Royal Charter. So, how did the industry get back to the East Midlands? Certain London Knitters were unhappy at the controls imposed on them by the Guild in London. William Illiffe set up some frames in his native Hinckley in 1641. Others, taking advantage of the unrest caused by the Civil War, also moved to the East Midlands, a major wool producing centre and hand knitting area. By the time of the Restoration in 1660 knitting frames were in Leicester and many other villages, for example, Wigston in 1680. In the next 100 years, using the existing cottage industry set-up, Framework Knitting spread throughout the East Midlands. This period coincided with the Enclosure of much of the farmland and many people left agriculture to take up framework knitting. By the early 1800's, of the 45,000 Knitting Frames in the country, 90% were in the East Midlands. The making of long hose suited a family unit, the man did the knitting, the woman did the sewing up and the children wound the hanks of wool onto cones. The Knitting Frame, incorporating a seat and foot pedals, supports the metal knitting machine. A row of fixed hooked needles hold the knitting, whilst the operator works on the new row. On 19th century machines, five or six rows of knitting with 288 stitches to the row could be achieved in one minute. Development of the machine continued through the years, but even a machine built in the early 20th century would still have been familiar to William Lee. By the 19th century, Derbyshire was concentrating on the production of silk garments, Nottinghamshire on cotton, such as Nottingham Lace, and Leicestershire on worsted, woollen garments. As the 19th century progressed trade slumped as fashions changed, long hose was no longer needed and gentlemen went into trousers, The factory system began to replace the cottage industry and machines were developed to use first steam, then electric power. By 1811, as the frameknitters of the Midlands were being forced to rent the frames they worked on by the manufactures, hosiers, only a year later mass production was being introduced by the use of wide knitting frames. These frames made the work less labour intensive, because the stockings were made of a one cut piece of material, which was called a 'cut-up.' Consequently, stockings were cheaper to manufacture. The knitters felt that these methods of manufacturing were displacing skilled labour and that the deterioration in quality, due to the cheaper production practices, was producing the decline in the purchase of stockings. There were many manufactures who agreed with the knitters but the practice was becoming so common that the only way for them to compete was to follow their competitors lead. The manufacturers, having found profit saving methods, began to employ various methods to either lower or to defraud the knitters, weavers, and croppers of their earnings. They were able to do this because there were no laws in place to control the amount or method of payment for wages. Many manufacturers would just simply not display schedules of prices for work, this way they could pay their workers whatever they felt like paying them. In some instances workers were paid with store credit, which was only good for purchasing items at a company store. This was tough on the workers because most of the items were over priced. If a manufacture did not use either one or both of these methods to cheat their workers he would pay them in 'truck' payments. By adopting this practice they could pay the workers with goods instead of money. At that time petitions, from the cotton districts, began to pour into Parliament for relief of the unjust practices of the manufacturers. But Parliament dismissed their pleas and the workers knew that any continued political outcry would be met either with death or with banishment to one of the colonies. With such thoughts in their minds the working classes were becoming very discontent during 1811. That same year in the town of Arnold, outside Nottingham, knitters stole the jack wires out of the knitting frames during the months of February and March. The Jack wires were deposited in the churches as 'hostages' for the good behaviour of their owners. But the owners did not cave into the demands of the 'hostage' takers. On March 11th a crowd of framework knitters gathered in the market place at Nottingham. The crowd was so large and volatile that town officials called in the militia to disperse them. That same day during the evening some 60 knitting frames were broken in Arnold. The frames which were broken were only those that belonged to hated manufacturers. For weeks after this knitting frames continued to be broken and the attacks became more widespread. The incidents did not cease until April by which point there were over 200 broken frames. Later that same year, in November, the disturbances began once again. On the night of November 4th six frames were destroyed in the village of Bulwell. All six machines were wide frames. A few days later a mob, led by someone calling himself 'Ned Lud', broke into the knitting shop of Edward Hollingsworth--a notorious and hated hosier--and broke several of his frames. Shortly after this attack, On the 13th of November, a great mob was formed by workers from Hucknall, Kirby, and Bulwell. Together they proceeded to destroy many of the knitting frames at Bett's Workshop. By the end of the month the attackers had become so emboldened, by their success and support, that they were even breaking machines in broad daylight. Eventually the attacks drew the attention of Parliament, which decided to send a squadron of Dragons to assist the local militias. However even the presence of the Dragons did not deter the attackers. By December 15, 1811 there was an army of some 900 cavalry and 1,000 infantry being led by General Dyott. General Dyott's army along with the local militias began to chase the Luddites, but this did not deter the Luds. By 1812 Parliament became so distressed by the situation, especially when they looked at what had been occurring in Europe since the French Revolution, that they placed Lieutenant General Thomas Maitland in charge of a force of some 35,000 men to stop the Luddite attacks. Maitland followed his directive and by the following December the revolts were stopped. Those Luddites who were caught were tried and hanged. The efforts of the Luds had little effect on the lives of the hard-pressed Frame-work knitters. In September 1819 they brought their frames into Nottingham and piled them in front of the hosiers doors, and many begged from door to door. The Royal Commission in 1845 found that three quarters of all Framework Knitters were either unemployed or seriously under-employed and dependent on Parish relief. By the First World war the handframe industry was virtually dead, though some pockets of handframe knitting survived until the Second World War and Hurts in Nottinghamshire kept a few frames working until the 1980's. We are left with little physical evidence of this once important industry. One of the best clues to the existence of Frame-work knitting is the long uninterrupted window in some garden workshop or attic roof, an over large window in a house or a window that has clearly been increased in size. All these clues point to the Frame-work knitters need for good light on the knitting area. Many such buildings have survived in the area, although a good many were demolished in post World War I and II housing improvement programmes.