Fully Fashioned: Archival Remnants of the Textile Trade

Using photographs, marketing materials and business records from the University of Nottingham’s lace and hosiery archive collections, this exhibition explores surviving evidence of the textile trade which was once a major feature of the East Midlands. Other collections reveal the struggle for workers’ rights, from the targeted campaign of machine breaking by the Luddites of the East Midlands (in protest at unfair pay and the introduction of ‘cut ups’ in favour of the superior fully-fashioned stockings), to the development of unions such as the Nottingham-based Amalgamated Society of Operative Lace Makers and Auxiliary Workers. The exhibition illustrates the rise and eventual decline of the trade, as it struggled to survive the ravages of war, the vagaries of fashion, and the battle to compete with cheap imports. The exhibition also reflects upon the ways in which both the legacy of the Luddites and the city’s lace heritage continue to inspire tourists, artists, and activists.

The exhibition has been curated by staff from Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University of Nottingham.

  • Architecture is one of the more visible remnants of the textile trade; the grand warehouse buildings of the Lace Market stand as a reminder of the lace industry but what is less well known is that many grand houses in the area were originally built for successful master hosiers. Lenton Firs on University Park was built for hosier Thomas Wright Watson and subsequently occupied by lace manufacturer Thomas Adams. Lenton Eaves (University Social Club),was built for lace manufacturer Benjamin Walker, who also co-founded the co-operative movement in Nottinghamshire.
  • Many of the University’s business archive collections relating to textiles have survived due to the efforts of Emeritus Professor of Business History Stanley Chapman, who first came to the University as Pasold Lecturer, funded by the Pasold Research Fund. The Fund was established by Eric Pasold whose clothing firm was the first to recognise the appeal of the Tshirt. Eric Pasold came up with the childrenswear Ladybird brand and would take time out of compiling company reports to write a regular comic strip for annuals such as Swiftand Robin. Examples of colourful Pasold marketing material can be seen in the exhibition.
  • The exhibition explains how both the hosiery and lace industry have their origins in the invention of the stocking frame in 1589 by Calverton curate William Lee which launched three centuries of development in machine-made textiles in the East Midlands. With over 2000 parts, it was able to produce at a fast rate stockings, underwear, and eventually lace 
  • Photographs from the archive of lace firm JB Walkers show the interior of one of the many lace show rooms which used to be found in the Lace Market. The grand warehouses were designed to impress the buyers who would travel up from London. It was not where lace was made, but an emporium where lace was finished, marketed and sold. The lace makers (the ones owning the lace machines) tended to be based in Radford, Basford, Long Eaton and Ilkeston. Lace made by the Cluny Lace Company Ltd of Ilkeston, the only UK firm still using the original Levers machines, will be on display in the gallery.
  • Although little evidence of the framework knitters survives, Nottingham is proud of the spirit of rebellion embodied by the Luddites of the East Midlands who smashed the machines of the employers who exploited them. The exhibition looks at the development of unions to represent the rights of workers, and features material from the archive of the Amalgamated Society of Operative Lace Makers and Auxiliary Workers,one of the oldest unions in the world. 

The exhibition programme features talks on the Luddites, the business archives of high end knitwear firm John Smedley, and the exciting plans for the new Lace Gallery at Nottingham Castle. It also includes a tour of the Lace Market, workshops on cyanotype printing and bobbin lace making, and a roadshow for the Textile Tales project which is collecting oral histories from workers in the trade. 

The records of many companies are lost forever, victims of mergers, takeovers and bankruptcies but this exhibition showcases the wealth of visual material such as marketing ephemera and photographs that can be found in the surviving business archives. These collections are supplemented by the research papers of academics and records of organisations such as the Wholesale Textile Association and the Nottingham Chamber of Commerce, which provide researchers with a wealth of contextual information to explore in the reading room at King’s Meadow Campus. Manuscripts and Special Collections would love to hear from anyone with archives of any other local textile businesses.

Archivist and curator of the exhibition Sarah Colborne said: “Although I have lived in Nottingham for over twenty years now and had briefly worked in the textile trade, I had no idea of the hosiery industry’s significance for the region. It has been fascinating exploring the impact that changing fashions have had on the fortunes of the workforce in the East Midlands, from the sufferings of the framework knitters due to reduced demand for fully fashioned fitted stockings as men took to wearing trousers, to the masses of female workers employed to meet the demand for fancy tights as a result of rising hemlines for women.”

The exhibition will be held at the Weston Gallery, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, University Park, Nottingham NG7 2RD from Friday 6 September 2019 – Sunday 1 December 2019. Admission is free.

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