The Framework Knitting Industry in Hathern (please note this is a work in progress)

From as early as the mid-17th century some Hathern residents were making their living from machine knitting:- when Mary Bowley was buried in Hathern in July, 1702, she was described in the Hathern Parish Church Register as a ‘Stockiner’ that is, she and her husband George were Framework Knitters; when Jennings Berrington died in June 1740 he was described as a ‘Stocking Weaver’ but we know from his Will that he owned a ‘Knitting Frame’ which he had bought in 1725.

In 1740 there were just 180 dwellings in Hathern and by 1793 most of the population of 984 were ‘Stockiners’ working in their own homes on rented frames.  A fashion for Knee Breeches for men, showing stockings to the knee, and gartered stockings for women, together with the need to equip a very large army created a boom that attracted workers to the village.

In the early19th century Tenements with workrooms for knitting were specially built, near The Kings Arms, where the Esso Station is now, and in Wide Street, 'The Rookery', later called Elms Cottages, which stood until the slum clearances of the 1960’s near what is now the junction with Swallow Walk, and a whole new street called the 'Square', later Golden Square (rebuilt in the 1930s) was built especially to house framework knitters or perhaps more accurately to house knitting frames and the workers to operate them.

By 1851 in Golden Square 126 members of 34 families worked as stockiners, the youngest a girl just 7 years old!  25 heads of those families in Golden Square were born outside Hathern!

The rented knitting frame and its attendant paraphernalia occupied a large part of a family’s home and whole families including children had to work very long hours for very little reward once the rent was paid. They mended their own needles,(using molten lead), paid for candles, both to place under the machines to warm the metal on cold early starts and to light the late nights along with oil lamps after precious daylight had gone.

The stockiners depended for their orders, materials and payment for the finished work on a middleman, the Bag Hosier or ‘Bagman’. The stockiners were notoriously exploited by discrimination, price cutting, late or non-payment and all with no means of redress. The rent for their frames had to be paid whether there was work or not.

The Bagmen were agents for large ‘Hosiers’ such as Cartwright & Warner and Paget of Loughborough, Corah of Leicester and others from Nottingham who marketed the knitted goods to the public and made fortunes from the industry.

The early 19thcentury saw desperate times begin for the stockiners, at first because of Napoleon’s Blockade and war with America, then the end of the war with France meant a collapse in demand from the army as the thousands of returned and unemployed soldiers diluted wages.

The onset of mechanisation and changing fashions also depressed trade. The phrase - ‘as poor as a stockiner’ became current about this time and the early ‘Luddism’ of 1811 and 1812 and the Chartist Movement of the 1840’s were partly a reaction to abject poverty in the industry. The condition of the knitters did not improve until the frames were grouped together into small factories such as Harriman’s and Sam Price’s on The Green amongst others.

The Bagman system gradually improved - the Government finally outlawed the renting of frames in homes in 1874, though the knitters still paid to rent the frames they worked in the new workshops.

The coming of steam and the introduction of much more productive circular or “Griswold” machines from America led to the still larger factories such as Fuller & Hambley on Shepshed Road, now closed and J. Alexander Swift, first on the Green and later Church Street, where the manufacture of Hosiery or ‘socks’ still employs many Hathern people. 

The late 19thcentury also saw prosperity return to some Self-Employed frameworkers in Hathern with highly skilled knitters diversifying into luxury products such as Gloves, Silk Knitted Ties for the fashionable and Silk Stockings for the well-off, including Queen Victoria. This new prosperity enabled some Hathern knitters to build substantial new homes for themselves, some with purpose built workshops such as those on the north side of Narrow Lane and ‘The Klondike’ on Loughborough Road. These remaining ‘shops’ are the subject of our current research.

A gallery of pictures of Hathern's knitting shops can be seen here. Text has yet to be added to each picture. 

The Framework Knitting Project

Hathern Local History Society is attempting to record the remaining traces of the Framework Knitting Industry in Hathern. We are aware of 23 buildings still standing in the village with Framework Knitting associations or with workshops attached, and we are attempting to visit, photograph and record them all. So far we have reached a total of 15. We are discovering fascinating details of past life in our village and we have plenty more investigating to do!

If you have information or articles connected to the 'Stockiners' then we would love to hear from you- please introduce yourself, contact us at www.hathernhistory.co.uk

 

 

 

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