FINE THREAD, LACE AND HOSIERY, A PAPER READ BEFORE THE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF IPSWICH, APRIL 13, 1903 BY JESSE FEWKES.
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These two textile children of Ipswich are the Manufacture of Hosiery and the Weaving of fine Laces by Machinery.
To understand the cause of this diversity of success in these two well projected and well started schemes of labor, we must make a concise review of the origin and development of the machines connected therewith, and also give a sketch of that predecessor of the art of weaving fine cloths, the earlier art of spinning fine thread.
There are pictures cut in flat relief upon some of the monuments and temples of ancient Egypt, more than four thousand years before the Christian era, which represent among other occupations of that early people, the spinning of thread and the weaving of cloth. There are also representations on the monuments of prehistoric Central America, of women operating with the primitive loom and spinning apparatus. Squier’s Nicaragua, Vol. 1, has a representation (copied from an ancient Mexican manuscript) of a woman weaving, and also of another woman spinning. Ancient records in China carry back the art of spinning and weaving to an antiquity discredited by many modern historians. These useful arts are prehistoric; they date before any written history.
About 550 B. C. , Herodotus records, “Amasis the first plebeian King of Egypt, sent as a present to the Grecian temple at Lindus, a linen corslet of wonderful workmanship, each thread of which contained 300 filaments clearly to be distinguished. Figures were woven into the pattern of the linen and it was adorned with gold and cotton. ” Cotton was then a costly material lately introduced from India into Egypt and was used along with gold for the enrichment of the linen of this corset. This is said to be the first historic reference to spinning and weaving; but there are in the Hebrew Bible references which may be older even than this. See Proverbs xxx, 19, Exodus xxxv,25. Spinning is alluded to by Homer.
The implements of the spinners’ art have been developed from a very simple and crude beginning. The first spinning implement was probably only a pebble stone taken from the ground, uncut and unfashioned in any way. The filament of wool or grass, or perhaps the inner bark of some fibrous plant or tree, was tied to it and twirled around with the hand, then doubled back, and by the returning whirl of the rock, was made into a double and twisted string fit for the bow of a hunter. Then came to the front the old-time skillful inventor, some aboriginal Edison or Marconi, and improved this simple device by cutting a knob upon one end of the pebble for the convenience of fastening upon it the thread already spun, and of winding the same while another length could be added. This method of spinning with a rock is even brought down to the present day in some of the aboriginal tribes. The Alaskan Indian, and some tribes of the Laplanders use a rock similar to the abundant Indian net sinkers, so-called, or plummet formed stones, which are seen in all collections of Indian implements.
From the primitive spinning rock, the next advance in the development of the implements of the spinners’ art was the ancient spindle whorl, which is a round flat stone with a hole perforated in the center to admit a wooden spindle. This spindle had a hook at the upper end upon which to fasten the thread, after that already spun had been wound upon the spindle. This was used in connection with the distaff, which is a staff of wood fastened to the girdle, on which was bound the wool, flax or fiber which remained unspun. The spindle whorl or weight was intended to give the proper momentum to the spindle, as shown in Egyptian, Mexican, Chinese, East Indian, Central American and Grecian representations of spinning. By this ancient method thread for fine lace was spun.
Dr. Henry Schliemann, who excavated the buried cities of ancient Troy and Tyrins, found in Troy as many as 22,000 spindle whorls of stone and terra cotta, once used by the women of that ancient city. In Mycenum and Tyrins, he found them also in great abundance. In his works published in 1870-71 and 1873, he illustrates 180 different designs of ornamental spinning whorls, found by him. The markings pictured on these are probably marks of ownership. The accompanying pen copy of the picture of a French fisherman’s wife, spinning, gives a correct idea of the ancient method of spinning. The painting is by W. Slatterill.
From pictures cut upon rock temples of ancient Egypt, it seems that there was an intermediate stage of the development of the spindle, between the simple rock and the metallic spindle whorl of the ancient Greece and Rome, in which the weight is carried at the top of the spindle to give momentum.
In 1530 there was published a work called Dictionary of Palsgrave, in which is this phrase, “I spynne upon a Rock. ” Aubrey tells us that in Wiltshire the nuns of St. Marys came forth with their rocks to spin. ” From the “Book of Days” I copy this: “St. Distaff’s day January 7th. The ordinary spindle was a turned pin of a few inches in length having a hook or nick at the small or upper end to fasten the thread and a load of some sort at the lower end to make it hang rightly. In very early times and among such rude nations as the Laps until more recent times the load was a stone, many examples of which are in museums now . “
I take from another work called “Every Day Book :” “January 7th. St. Distaff’s Day, or Rock Day. This day was so called in honor of the rock which is a distaff held in the hand from whence wool is spun by twirling a ball below. ” That ball may have been a rock, for Aubrey says, in a book called “The Natural History of Wiltshire:” ” In old time they used to spin with rocks. In Staffordshire they use them still. ” In Scotland, when lads and lassies came together to spend a social evening, each lassie brought her spinning apparatus or rock, and the assemblage was called a rocking. ” ” On Fasten-e’en we had a rockin’. “
A German writer also calls it “Rocken,” a French writer “Je file au roche. ” I have seen the picture of an Abyssinian woman which was drawn by a traveler in that country, in which she is shown as spinning with a crotched knot of wood, with her thread wound upon it; this she is twirling in the same manner as the lassies, in the time of Robert Burns, did with their rocks.
It would seem as if in Scotland the ancient name of “spinning rock,” still clung to the spinning apparatus, even after the distaff and wheel were introduced, for we have, in the quaint verses of Robert Burns, several references to the rock in connection with the wheel.
In “The Lass of Ecclefechan”:” O gat ye me wi’ naething? Rock and reel and spinnin wheel, A mickle quarter basin. “
and again in “Bessy and her spinning wheel,” “O leeze me on my spinnin wheel, O leeze me on my rock and reel. “
The next stage in the art is the wheel. There is in the British Museum a MS. written early in the fourteenth century, in which are several representations of a woman spinning with a wheel. From the Dictionary of Origins, we have: “A spinning wheel is said to have been invented in 1533 by a citizen of Brunswick, England, ” The first spinning wheel was called a “Tarn. “
Some of these ancient spinners, by hand methods, were extremely skillful in the manipulation of the wheel. Aubrey says, in Book of Days, “In the year 1745, a woman of East Dareham spun a single pound of wool into a thread 84,000 yards long, nearly 48 miles, upon a spinning wheel. Since that time a young lady of Norwich, England, has spun a pound of combed wool ( or worsted ) into a thread 68,000 yards long and another 203,000 yards, nearly 115 miles; this thread if woven would make 200 yards of yard-wide muslin. “
When the ladies of Ipswich are using thread numbering 100 or 150 they think it fine sewing. I had a letter sent me by a former editor of the Ipswich Chronicle, in which was contained a sample of cotton thread he had obtained from the Willimantic Cotton Mills, as a sample of . the finest thread spun in this country. This was No. 250. The sample of the thread used by the factory, which wove lace in Ipswich seventy-five years ago and some of which I have brought for your inspection, is No. 365, three-ply linen thread. It rivals in fineness the work of the spider or the silkworm.
As the introduction of lace weaving into this country in 1820, and into this town of Ipswich in 1822, came to grief through the dependence of that art, upon the preliminary art of spinning extremely fine thread, we have given thus far, our attention to the implements for making the thread from which lace and cloths were woven in old times.
I must now go back in time, and take up the evolution and development of the art of weaving hosiery, as that also leads into the lace, and into the hosiery industry of this town of Ipswich.
There were no woven stockings in England prior to the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The art of knitting stockings is supposed by some to have originated in Scotland, about A. D. 1500. Howell’s History of the World, printed in 1680, says that “Henry the Eighth wore cloth stockings except there came from Spain by chance a pair of silk stockings. ” Spain therefore claims the art.
The first stockings knit in England were made by William Ryders in 1564. He had seen a pair of Italian knit stockings which he borrowed and copied. The first stocking machine was invented in 1595 by William Lee, a student in the college in Cambridge, England. Having broken a law of that institution by taking to himself a wife, he was expelled, and she, to keep them from starvation, like a true woman took up the then fashionable art of knitting stockings as a means of support. While watching her nimble fingers and clicking needles, he devised a machine which would knit all the stitches around the stocking in about the same time in which she was making a single stitch. This was in Nottingham in 1595. He applied to Queen Elizabeth for a patent, but could not obtain one, neither would King James grant a monopoly, as the pretext of taking work from the poor by the machine was offered in opposition.
He therefore carried it to France. He established his machines at Rouen, but the political troubles, which resulted in the murder of Henry IV of France, his patron, destroyed Lee’s prospects there. He was proscribed as a Protestant, and was obliged to seek concealment in Paris, where he died in poverty and distress. Lee’s brother and all the workmen but two returned to London, in 1621. These two retained a machine, which was afterwards sold to go to Venice for £500; but it could not be kept in repair, and the art came to a stand in that city.
England thereafter became the sole custodian of the art of making hosiery by machine. A patent was obtained in 1663. The Corporation for the working of this art established itself in London, and its work was carried on in Nottingham, Leicester and Derby, where subordinate companies were formed, and these towns became the center of the hosiery industry in England. These stockingers of Nottingham, about 1768, began to make open-work with various devices attached to the stocking machine in imitation of pillow lace. One named Hammon was so successful that others were led to attempt lace making. In their leisure hours, they amused themselves trying to make the true hexagon mesh, a thing not yet accomplished by machinery.
In 1782 the “warp machine” was introduced by which a number of threads, corresponding to the number of needles, was wound upon a warp beam and this was attached to the ordinary stocking machine, which had hitherto used but a single thread. This, with the Dorson wheels attachment, which admitted a greater variety in the ornamentation of the work, and also the tickler attachment to the stocking machine, invented about the same time, brought into the markets of England a great quantity of cheap material in imitation of the more expensive pillow lace.
These experiments in making open-work upon the stocking machines, by the stocking weavers of Nottingham, created an intense feeling of jealousy among the pillow-lace makers of Nottingham and the surrounding towns. It occasioned the formation of labor societies, or guilds, as the labor unions were at that time called, and the lace guild assumed a right to make upon the pillows all lace used in the British dominions, and they resolved to maintain this assumed right by force if necessary.
The origin of the manufacture of pillow lace is lost in the dim obscurity of the past. It may well be called one of the fine arts as it has exercised the refined taste and exquisite skill, of many of the most excellent minds since the beginning of history.
The monuments of ancient Egypt show female figures clothed in a fabric similar to modern lace, in which the outlines of the form are seen through the dress. Lace was worn by the ladies of ancient Greece and Rome. It is spoken of in English history in 1483. In 1614 the manufacture of lace was carried on in Nottingham and Bedfordshire in England. Some of the products of the pillow were extremely delicate and expensive. Almost the entire population of these towns was more or less interested in lace making upon the pillow at this time.
The pillow for making lace was a cushion covered with a strip of parchment upon which a pattern was drawn. To form the mesh, pins were stuck into the pattern. To each pin, a thread was attached, wound upon a spool or bobbin. The bobbins were allowed to fall down on each side of the pillow, and were changed from side to side and intertwisted as the work progressed. As the meshes were made they were secured by pins, until the next meshes were made, and so on across the width of the piece of the lace. A piece of lace one inch wide would have fifty or sixty bobbins and threads, which would make twenty- five or thirty meshes, 625 meshes to each square inch, or 22,000 meshes to the yard. The different kinds of lace were called Brussels, Mechlin, Valenciennes, Lisle, AlenVon blonde and AlenVon point.
As I have before mentioned, it is said that lace was made by machines as early as 1768 by a stocking weaver named Hammon and his success led other stockingers to attempt making imitation lace on the stocking machines.
The warp machine for making imitation lace was introduced in 1782. In 1799 the first bobbin-net was made by machinery. By these machines the stocking weavers made an inferior quality of lace, and could undersell the pillow lace makers, whereby the demand for this kind was increased and Nottingham became the center of a thriving trade in this class of goods. No successful attempt to make the true bobbin-net lace with the hexagonal mesh, was made unti1 1809, when Mr. Heathcoat patented a machine, which is said to have been suggested by a workman making fish nets. The idea occurred to him that, by using parallel warp threads and threads wound upon bobbins arranged to pass through between and twist around the threads of the warp, the true hexagonal mesh could be produced by machine.
- A is a beam near the bottom of the machine upon which the warp threads are wound.
- Bl and B2 are the bobbins in their carriages upon which the threads of the weft are wound.
- Jl and J2 are combs into which the carriages with their bobbins traverse from the teeth of the comb on one side to the teeth of the opposite comb which are marked Jl and J2. These comb bars also traverse endwise.
- I and I are push-bars which are bolted to a swinging frame which pushes, the carriages and their bobbins from the teeth of one comb to those of the opposite comb.
- Gl and 02 are points which enter the mesh as it is formed and close it to its proper size. El, E2, and Fare tension rollers to draw the finished lace from the machine as it is woven before it is wound on the lace beam which is marked D, on the plan.
- Ll and L2 are supplementary push bars which engage and hold the bobbin carriage at certain stages of the work.
- K1K2 are guides to conduct the warp threads into a proper position in the machine. H H Swinging frame to which push bars I I are fastened
DESCRIPTION OF LACE MACHINE.
To illustrate the action of the lace machine, I have made a rough drawing of the working parts of the machine, showing the manner in which the bobbins of the weft traversed from the comb on one side of the warp threads into the comb upon the opposite side of the warp threads, and then sidewise, like the change in a cotillion called “Back to back. “
This movement was repeated three times and then the bobbin and its carriage passed on again to repeat their “Back to back” movements with the next thread of the warp. The partners in this textile cotillion, numbering, for yard wide lace, one thousand weft threads, and one thousand warp threads, all moved simultaneously and a yard of yard-wide lace could be woven in the time taken to make by pillow, six inches of one-inch-wide lace. The warp beam upon which the threads of the warp were wound was placed near the bottom of the machine. These threads first passed through guide needles, then upwards to the center upon which the swinging frame of the push bars swung, near which the lace mesh was formed ( marked H) .
The finished lace was then wound upon a beam near the top of the machine. This forward and back movement of the carriages with their bobbins, and this right and left movement of the combs containing them were repeated to the end of the piece of yard wide lace woven. There was also a row of pointed needles upon each side near the place where the twist of the mesh was formed. Those upon one Ride entered below the twist last formed and, rising, closed it up, then held it until the next twist was formed, when the needles on the other side engaged in the same manner, each of these working alternately, and the size of the mesh conformed to the sectional size of the needles or points. The lace was therefore called “Point net lace” as the size of the mesh was governed by the size of the points of the machine which made it.
There were two other machines which came out about this time varying somewhat, but using the same general arrangement of parts. This machine was successful and so far affected the pillowlace makers, that they organized themselves into a society to suppress by force the making of lace by machinery. The lace makers and stocking weavers who came to Ipswich in 1818 and 1822 were men who were employed in the two factories of Mr. Heathcoat in Nottingham in 1816, in making lace upon the new lace machines, and were subject to the enmity, annoyance and crime of this Secret Society.
It has been truly said that history repeats itself. I will quote an account of the Luddite labor troubles in Nottingham, which influenced the lace weavers to emigrate to this country in 1818-22. “The Luddite riots in Nottinghamshire, England, commenced March 11, 1811 and continued through a period of five years. The first was at Arnold, near Nottingham, where the unemployed stocking knitters were, for a paltry sum, employed to sweep the streets, and do menial work. By the 1lth of March, their patience being exhausted, they assembled at midnight and smashed 60 frames, and 200 other frames were destroyed in a similar manner during the succeeding three weeks.
These riotous stockingers assumed the name of Luddites, a name said to be derived from a boy named Ludlam, who, when his father, a framework weaver, in Leicestershire, ordered him to square his needles, ‘ took his hammer and beat them into a heap. “The usual plan of operation was to assemble at night armed with swords and pistols, hammers and axes, under the leadership of one man who was styled “Ned Ludd. ” Each man was distinguished by a number, instead of name, and all were disguised. They proceeded to the place of destruction and those armed with weapons surrounded and guarded the place, while those with hammers entered and smashed the needles and sinkers of the frames with unsparing hands. When this destruction was completed, they would reassemble at a short distance and call a roll of the numbers, each answering to his number. If all were there a pistol was fired and, removing the black handkerchiefs from their faces, they departed to their homes, keeping the most profound secrecy.
To detect the ringleaders of these rioters, the Government organized a secret committee, which was supplied with a large sum of money, for the purpose of obtaining information, but in spite of these efforts the devastations continued from time to time. On Sunday night Nov. 10, a party of Luddites proceeded to the village of Bulwell, to destroy the frames of Mr. Hollingsworth, who, in anticipation of their visit, assembled some of his friends with fire arms to defend the property. Many shots were fired, and one John Westly was mortally wounded, which so enraged the mob that they forced an entrance, and soon destroyed not only the frames, but every article of furniture about the place. Soon after that at Sutton, 37 frames were destroyed. The military took several prisoners here, four of whom were committed for trial.
On Sunday Nov. 24, at Baskford, 34 frames were destroyed, and 11 more the following day. On Dec. 6, a proclamation ordered all persons to remain in their homes after 10 o’clock, and all public houses closed, and the streets were patrolled by police and military. Notwithstanding these precautions, there were 36 frames destroyed in the villages around Nottingham, during the next six days. A reward of £50 for the apprehension of any of the offenders was offered by the Government, but this only excited these men to further deeds of daring. They began to rob and plunder, declaring they could not starve in a land of plenty. On the 30th of July, 1812,these labor troubles had compelled no less than 4,348 families, 15,350 persons, nearly one-half of the inhabitants of Nottingham, to be applicants for relief Out of the poor rates.
A large subscription was raised to offer more liberal rewards for the suppression of these daring outrages, and seven of the rioters were apprehended and sent to Botany Bay, or transported. In March, 1812, an Act of Parliament was passed, making it an offence punishable, with death to break a stocking or lace machine. In April, a Mr. Trentham, a manufacturer, was shot while standing at his own door; but the wound did not prove fatal. The offender was never brought to justice, although £600 were offered for his apprehension. These riotous proceedings continued until October 1816, when they finally ceased. Upwards of 1000 stocking frames and a number of lace machines were destroyed by these organized stocking knitters and pillow-lace makers in Nottinghamshire alone; and in Derby, Leicestershire and York counties, also there were many destroyed. One of Mr. Heathcote’s factories was entered by the Luddites. The machines were all destroyed, and the watchman shot and killed.
Many of the skilled workmen, who had formerly been employed by him in making machine lace, being thrown out of employment, resolved to emigrate to this country, and to start for themselves this new industry in this free country, leaving behind them, forever, these trouble-some conditions of the trade, in which they had passed the early part of their lives, to take with them the tools of their trade, and to become naturalized citizens of the country of their adoption. This resolution was carried out to the letter. They could not do otherwise. They arrived in 1818-20 and 1822. Many of the hosiery weavers as well, thrown out of employment by this wholesale slaughter of their stocking frames, not finding sufficient protection from riotous mobs of unemployed stocking knitters and pillow-lace weavers, resolved to emigrate to America.
Had the wealthy gentlemen and nobility of England devoted the funds collected to punish these poor knitters to charitable efforts to furnish employment for them, at more than starvation prices, these labor outrages could not have happened. Prior to 1818 there were no stocking machines in this country, although strenuous efforts were made to get them. In 1776 the Committee of Safety had appropriated £300 to Mr. Coxendfer of Maryland, Frederic County, to establish a stocking factory, and the Society of Arts in New York had offered a prize of £10 for the first three stocking frames of iron set up in that year. The prizes were not claimed.
The British government, ever extremely careful of its textile industries was especially so of its hosiery, and of its newly introduced lace manufacture at Nottingham. In order to keep these in England, excessive duties had been put upon the exportation of the machinery required in these industries. These had been from time to time increased, until they amounted to actual prohibition. Every obstacle was placed in the way of skilled workers in these branches of industry, to prevent them from leaving the country, arid especially their emigration to the United States of America. A penalty of £40 for the exportation of a stocking machine existed till 1788. It was then increased from time to time till it amounted to a prohibitory duty and the penalty for exporting lace machinery in 1818 amounted to an excessive fine of £500, much beyond the means of the ordinary workman to pay, and transportation for a term of years if payment, was not made.
The agitation of the labor question, at about this time, and the recent Luddite troubles furnished a pretext for extremely stringent laws in this respect. In the face of all this, as we have said, some of the better class of the lace weavers and stocking weavers resolved to come and bring the tools of their trade with them, even if these excessive fines had to be paid. The first delegation of these men had enough of King George’s pictures in yellow metal, in their pockets, to brave the consequences. It is an open secret, that some of these golden pictures were actually used to facilitate the transportation of the tools and effects of these skillful men to America. I have heard it boldly said that the bobbins, points, guides and needles of lace stocking machines came into Boston in 1818 and 1822, secreted in pots of good Yorkshire butter. Whether these pots of butter paid an export duty to the British Government I am unable to tell.
The first stocking machine, which reached this part of the country, came out of England from Liverpool, in 1818. Some incidents in the history of this machine are interesting. It was first bought in Nottingham, then packed in two boxes and sent to a framesmith to be repaired and repacked for its trip to America. It was then sent to Liverpool and left upon the wharf where an old brig was lying, being laden with salt stowed loosely in bulk. It was taken by a stevedore and placed upon the keelson away up in the bows of the ship, and packed deep in the salt. The brig dropped down to the mouth of the harbor, and was overhauled and inspected thoroughly (as they thought) by the Custom House men. Trunks and boxes were inspected and long sticks run into the salt but these two boxes with the adventurous machine escaped detection.
Its passage in the brig, which was destined to a southern port, was a stormy one. She was driven out of her course several times, by adverse winds, for over sixty days. Then, when some miles outside of Massachusetts Bay, she was spoken by a schooner bound for Boston, to which the machine and its adventurous owners were transferred and the brig, with her lost reckoning rectified, and her mechanical “Jonah” not overboard, but reshipped on an American schooner, went on her southbound way rejoicing, no doubt. The schooner arrived in Boston on Sept. 4,1818. The boxes were put upon a produce wagon, carted to Watertown, and carefully unloaded at a little house by the river, near the present Etna Mills.
When the boxes were opened it was found that one of the most important parts of the machine was missing. Its sinker bar and all its sinkers had been left behind in England. By the ingenuity and skill of one of its owners, these were replaced during the first winter in its new home; then it was used under the management of its two owners, six hours on and six hours off, through the day; and night, for the greater part of its two first years in this country. It was then there came the lace makers, and the starting of the Lace Factory in Watertown, which gave it a long time of rest, but it finally reached Ipswich to do duty I while the New England lace company was getting a foothold in this good old town. This machine was brought to Ipswich in 1822 by Benjamin Fewkes and George Warner, its joint owners.
I have been told that the first pair of stockings, woven upon this machine in Ipswich, were made by Mr. Benjamin Fewkes, Sr. , in the kitchen of a house, which then stood upon the site of the present South Congregational meeting house. The successful transfer of this first stocking machine, furnished a clew to others, who were anxious to get the lace machines introduced into this country. The essential and more delicate parts of the lace machines were brought over concealed in the effects of the lace weavers from Heathcoat’s factories, who came in numbers soon after this time. In this instance the more bulky heavy bars and frame work of the lace machines were constructed here, from drawings and ideas of skilled machinists who came over about the same time. A factory was brought into successful operation in Watertown near the Newton boundary line, by the capital engaged in the enterprise, and the lace machines were in working order in the spring of 1820, where they continued till 1822.
A gentleman of Ipswich, Mr. Augustine Heard, and others, becoming interested in the enterprise, the machines were removed to Ipswich, and located in the building nearest the mill dam and foot bridge, on the south side of the river in 1824. This company was called the Boston and Ipswich Lace Company. Another rival company, of which Dr. Thomas Manning and others were promoters and stockholders, was started in 1828. This was called the New England Lace Company. This new company located itself upon the old Dr. Manning homestead on High street, the site of the residence of the late Joseph Ross, Esq. This building has been remodeled and beautified with architectural elegance by its recent proprietor. The west front room was used for the weaving room; the front chamber over this was used for warping, winding and mending the lace; the rear lower rooms, west, were used for washing and for a machine shop.
The east rooms were the residence of Mr. Clark the superintendent. Mr. Fewkes was a stockholder and worked in each of these three factories. The names of the persons employed by this lace enterprise in Ipswich were as follows: Sup’t, John Clark; machinists, James Peatfield, Joseph Peatfield, Sanford Peatfield; lace weavers, Benjamin Fewkes, Samuel Gadd, George Gadd, James Clark, John Trueman, Mr. Watts, George Warner, Samuel Hunt, Sr. , John Morley, James Cartwright, Sr. , Charles Bamford, Sr. , and Mr. Harrison. The warpers and winders were young men and boys as follows: Thomas and William Gadd, William and Henry Fewkes, Samuel Hunt, Jr. , Charles Bamford, Jr. , and others. There were also employed many women and girls, mending, embroidering and washing lace, who were mostly the wives and daughters of the workmen and some others of Ipswich birth whose names I am unable to give.
The managers of the lace enterprise also made an effort looking to the introduction of a silk industry in Ipswich. Mr. Augustine Heard (I have been told), who was one of the first movers of the Lace Company, imported from China in one of his vessels some eggs of the mulberry Moth (Bombyx mori). The transportation of the eggs was accomplished by packing them in small silk bags which were worn about the person of the Chinaman who brought them. This was done to ensure the proper temperature for them on the voyage, as the temperature during some of the colder days was too low to ensure their safe transportation without this precaution. These were put in charge of Mr. Clark the superintendent of the lace factory, and a room was set apart for them in the factory and kept at the proper temperature to hatch the eggs.
Prior to this time, a nurseryman in Newton, Mr. William Kendrick, had planted a large stock of white mulberry trees (Morus alba), a native tree of China, and had advertised the same largely in all the papers of the day. In fact a furor for silk raising had been created, not unlike the celebrated Tulip mania in Holland several years previous. Great quantities of these trees were sold and, among others, Dr. Manning became interested. He had the side hill in the rear of the Old Manning homestead graded and terraced, and planted with these trees of the white mulberry. When the eggs of the mulberry moth came into town these trees had attained two or three years of growth.
When the writer was a small boy, I think it was in the spring of 1832, his father took him with others to the lace factory, now the estate of the late Joseph Ross, to see the machines weaving lace. Mr. Clark escorted the party through the works, showing and describing the different machines and processes by which the lace was woven, cleansed, mended and wrought, to get it into a marketable condition. He then took them into a room set apart from the others, in which were a number of cases containing trays, the bottoms of which were made of lace. These were covered with young and tender green leaves, upon which were innumerable worms like caterpillars, all voraciously eating the leaves. In some of the trays the worms were as large as an ordinary apple tree caterpillar, nearly one and a half inches long. From this size they varied, in other trays, to about one quarter of an inch in length. Each tray seemed to be occupied with similar worms representing different ages of the hatch. Mr. Clark said the larger worms were fed with the older leaves, while the younger required the more delicate, younger foliage.
As I remember their appearance, the more mature and larger worms, scattered over the green leaves, were of a golden yellow color. In some of the trays the worms had nearly finished eating and would soon begin to spin their cocoons. He also showed the party cocoons all formed and showed how readily the silk could be unwound from the cocoon in one continuous thread. The temperature of the room in which these silkworms were kept was much higher than that of other rooms. He then escorted the party out through the garden in the rear of the factory to a terrace at the foot of the hill where the young mulberry trees were growing and showed them where the tender leaves had been gathered.
I cannot tell how many seasons this experiment was continued; probably it was abandoned at the time the lace works closed, I think in the winter of 1832-3. This Company continued its factory in operation till 1832, when it failed to procure the usual supply of thread, which had been imported from England. Linen thread of sufficient fineness for the work could not at that time be spun in this country, owing chiefly to the dry atmosphere. It was always spun by secret methods in damp cellars in England and France. The British government, finding that the lace machines and workmen had really escaped to this country, and that lace was being woven from imported thread, put an excessive export duty upon thread, and allowed manufactured lace to go out free. This ruined the industry of lace weaving in Ipswich, and its promoters lost their investment.
Finding themselves out of employment, the lace-makers returned to their old business of weaving hosiery. Many of them went to Germantown, Pa. , where some imported frames were in use, and others to Portsmouth, N. H. , where some frames had been introduced, during the term of the lace industry in Ipswich. Some of the most skillful remained in Ipswich, and in 1832, the Peatfield brothers made for Mr. Benjamin Fewkes two new stocking frames, which were the first made in New England, and I think the first made in this country. He began the manufacture of hosiery in a small shop on High St. near his dwelling.
Mr. George Warner established a similar shop on the site of the Damon Block, directly opposite the B. & M. R. R. station. He bought the interest of Mr. Fewkes in the original machine, but sold it to Mr. John Bilson, with whom it went back to Newton in 1840. Mr. Samuel Hunt, Sen. , began work in a shop on East St. in the rear of his dwelling, and Mr. Charles Bamford, Sen. , in the shop still standing in the rear of his dwelling, the old Frisbie house on County St. Each of these stocking makers had only two machines.
It is said that Timothy Bayley, of Albany was the first to put power to the Lee frame, in 1831. I know that in 1834 James and Sanford Peatfield of Ipswich had a rotary warp frame in successful operation in the Old Saw Mill building by the Cove in Ipswich. Jesse Fewkes at that time was their “Winder Lad” and can vouch for the age of this great improvement in warp machines. They also invented a round knitting machine in 1841 or about that time. The Census Report of 1900 says, “The only stocking factory in the United States in 1831 was the Newburyport Hose Manufacturing Company. “
Ipswich I think is entitled to the credit of manufacturing stockings by machine nine years prior to this first recorded date, and in 1833 there were four well-started hosiery manufactories in this town. It is true that these were small but they were the seed from which has grown a mighty creation, a textile giant. The total amount invested in this industry in the United States in 1900 was $95,482,556. There were employed in that year 69,829 machines, operated by 83,387 persons and the value of its production for that year was $95,482,566. In Massachusetts alone the capital employed was $6,288,675. There were 6,667 workmen employed and 5,003 machines, and they produced $6,620,257 worth of hosiery goods, in 54 establishments or factories.
The American inventor has made great improvements on the old English method of hosiery making. The American “Latch Needle” which came out somewhere in the forties of the last century, was a most simple and effective device, which completely revolutionized the machines for the manufacture of hosiery. The Lee stocking frame had remained for nearly 250 years in practically the same stage of development; all improvements on the original device during this time had been merely accessories to the old machine, but the introduction of the latch needle made possible the rotary knitting machine and, consequently, automatic action in all its parts, and steam power for its motive.
The census of 1900 gives the entire number of Latch needle machines in this country at that time as 55,816, while the entire number of machines weaving hosiery with the old-fashioned Beard needle was 14,013, which fact speaks well for the American inventor’s work.
The more beautiful and artistic industry, the weaving of fine laces by machines, has never recovered in Ipswich from the disastrous failure it experienced and it remains an unexplored, but inviting field of industry on this side the Atlantic.
Ipswich Hosiery, Page 1
Ipswich Mills and Factories
Fine Thread, Lace and Hosiery
2 thoughts on “Fine Thread, Lace and Hosiery”
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Thank you so much for this article. I am a descendant of Benjamin Fewkes and live in the village of Quorn, Leicestershire, UK where he was born and where he began his apprenticeship in the hosiery industry.