These stocking knitter’s cottages date from the 18th century, an era when industrial housing still retained a measure a measure of dignity. As such, they are relatively rare survivals. Tewkesbury had been known for its stockings since the 17th century: in 1724, Daniel Defoe described the town as ‘famous for a great manufacture of stockings.’ Stocking knitting was one of the earliest manufacturing processes to be mechanised – as early as 1589, Rev. William Lee had patented a knitting frame (traditionally, inspiration struck through frustration at his sweetheart’s preoccupation with her hand knitting).
Tewkesbury developed as an early centre of expertise for cotton stockings (cheaper than silk) because spinners in the west country were used to working with the local short staple wool, which enabled them to twist two threads of cotton together to produce a regular cotton yarn suitable for use on the knitting frame. Framework knitting became the chief occupation for inhabitants of Tewkesbury, and the domestic pieceworkers would have spent their days at the long first floor windows where their knitting frames were installed.
As a direct result of Richard Arkwright’s success in factory cotton spinning, by the 1780s the Nottingham knitting industry, which had previously concentrated on silk, had transferred its focus to cotton, using machine-spun thread superior in quality to that produced by the west country spinners. The inevitable outcome was depression for the more domestically scaled Tewkesbury knitters, further too from the source of mechanically spun thread. The Tewkesbury industry gradually declined through the 19th century, workers creatively turning their skills instead to outer footwear, as the town became known instead for shoe and boot manufacture.
A short history of St Mary's Lane
The full history album for St Mary's Lane
Download the children's Explorer pack for St Mary's Lane
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A changeover day is a particular day of the week when holidays start and end at our properties. These tend to be on a Friday or a Monday but can sometimes vary. All stays run from one changeover day until another changeover day.
Monday 13th February 2014