Framework Knitting Industry
The census information on Griffydam lists a number of Framework Knitters, for example 7 in 1841 and 10 in 1851. However, Griffydam cannot be compared with nearby Coleorton where a much larger number of wealthy framework knitters and employers operated.
In the 1841 census for Pegg’s Green, William Wales (aged 25) is living with a Framework Knitter (name not legible) and his profession along with another person appears to be 'Joining'. We take that as meaning seaming the pieces of hosiery together off the framework knitting machine. There is another Framework Knitter living there also, so it appears to be a cottage industry. This may have been the catalyst for William to start his own hosiery cottage industry in Griffydam.
In the “Post Office Directory of Leics & Rutland 1855”, William Wales was listed as a framework knitter in Griffydam, which confirms the entry in the 1851 local census, listing William, aged 35 and born in Whitwick, as “Stocking makers, cotton and thread” with his wife Martha, who was born in Thringstone, as a “seamer of stockings”. According to the 1861 census, four other framework knitters were employed in the house but William is given as “Family Hosier and Druggist”. This is an excellent example of a cottage industry. The family was buried in Griffydam graveyard and their daughter Annie’s gravestone can still be seen there. She died in 1859. The property, still in existence as a private residence retains the name Wales Cottage. It is just around the corner from the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel on Elder Lane.
In order to understand what was involved in “Framework Knitting”, a brief explanation into the background of this industry follows and more can be found in Samuel T Stewart's publication. However, a great deal has been written locally on this important industry in the East Midlands and several books on the subject are available.
The first knitting machine was invented in 1589 by William Lee, a curate living in Calverton, Nottinghamshire. Both Elizabeth I and later James I refused to grant him a patent for his invention, possibly because the new machine would take work away from hand knitters, leaving them in poverty. Lee went to France with his invention and after a period of prosperity went on to die in France penniless. After Lee's death, his brother James returned to England and disposed of most of the frames in London before moving back to Nottinghamshire. Lee's apprentice Aston (or Ashton), a miller, continued to work on the frame, making a number of improvements following which the framework knitting trade took off.
Records show that the first frame to be set up in Leicestershire was in 1640, and owned by William Iliffe at Hinckley and by 1750 there were about 1,800 knitting frames making woollen hose in Leicester and the surrounding areas. In the late 18th century, the most prosperous industry in many Leicestershire villages was framework knitting. A framework knitter was often referred to as a “Stockinger”. It was a semi-skilled industry, and children from about 12 years of age could do the work, and in rural areas was a family cottage industry. In the late 1700’s, framework-knitters locally would have earned between 7s. to 17s. per week dependant on various factors such as efficiency and whether they were sub-contracting or self employed etc.
By the early 1800s, there were around 20,000 frames in use across the East Midlands. However, due to the Napoleonic wars, the demand for hosiery declined steeply in the mid 1800s, leaving framework knitters without work and falling into poverty. This was the period when the common phrase “As poor as a Stockinger” came into being. As a result of this, many hosiers increased the frame rents which only made the situation worse. This eventually resulted in the Luddite disturbances, thought to have been originally instigated by Ned Ludd in Nottingham. The incident suffered by William Sherwin of Coleorton is a typical example of the Luddite activities, and also confirms that he had significant interests in the framework knitting industry at that time. Luddite attacks continued for several years, until an act of Parliament introduced in 1812 imposed the death penalty for machine breaking and helped to curb these activities. .
By the middle of the 19th century, competition was coming in from the introduction of the wide frame which enabled several items (stockings or gloves for example) to be made at once, but the rural knitters preferred the narrow frame, where only one stocking could be produced at once. By the end of the 19th century, steam driven-driven hosiery factories came into being which saw the end of the framework knitting industry, but also enabled those engaged in the hosiery trade to earn better wages.
A Framework Knitter at work
A short video providing a further insight into the industry
A typical Framework Knitters house