THE LACE MACHINE.
A modern lace machine.
The making of lace has always been a favoured art, occupation, or pastime by the women of civilized nations, and indeed of some who could scarcely claim that designation. The highest skill has been developed in the most artistic forms, with a view to the adornment of the person of the wearer. Many women in remote villages have by pillow and other kinds of lace been enabled to combine both skill, art and profit. Our concern in Nottingham is, however, not with the hand-made but with the machine-made lace, in which art, skill and profit are combined.
Felkin. Mr. Wm. Felkin, J.P., a generation ago published a History of Machine Wrought Hosiery and Lace Manufactures. He lived at Derby House, at the Park entrance. He was twice Mayor of Nottingham, and his book is a monument of his industry in collecting facts. It is greatly to be desired that his history should be continued down to date, for there are few branches of industry in which so much brain power has been used as in the perfecting of that triumph of inventive skill, with all its marvellous combinations, the modern lace machine.
Mr. Felkin says: "It was by various modifications of the stocking frame that lace was first made upon machinery. It was from 1760 to 1770 that Crane, Else and Harvey in London; Hammond, John Lindley, Senr., Holmes, and Robert Frost in Nottingham, were engaged in efforts to make lace net upon the stocking frames as well as the fancy hosiery already described."
"The interval between 1770 and 1780 was distinguished for experiments in the leisure hours of workmen at the fancy stocking frames, in forming meshes by hand, which led eventually to many discoveries in the mode of making them mechanically."
Hammond. Hammond was probably the first to make a net from the stocking frame, though that is not quite certain. He cast his eye on the broad lace border of his wife's cap, and a lace caul, and thought he could imitate the fabric. Having borrowed some silk, he went to work upon his frame at his home in the Rookery (St. Michael Street) and produced a net, which with the assistance of his wife was made into caps, having somewhat the appearance of lace, which he sold quickly.
Mr. Felkin describes the various efforts of the application of a kind of warp frame to the stocking machine, of how to get six equal sides to plain net; of so removing some of the stitches as to leave large interstices like the open work in real lace, of the efforts to produce "Flowered Net" and "Spider Net," etc. In 1815 there was great prosperity by the manufacture of point net. One, Flint, a Nottingham journey-man stocking maker conceived the idea how this could be done, but it did not benefit him much, for although he had greatly benefited the town by the important invention of the point net machine, he died in the poor-house of St. Mary.
The warp machine seems to have been invented about 1775. There were five claimants for the honour of the invention, which it is believed really belonged to Crane.
In 1791 Dawson patented a machine which made plait stay-laces and military sashes, and worked a number of his machines in Turncalf Alley (Sussex Street). Like many men of genius he squandered away his money, and at the expiration of his patent he besought Lord Chancellor Eldon to have it renewed. But the privilege was not extended, and the unhappy applicant destroyed himself in consequence.
Herbert. "The warp frame," says Mr. Felkin, "has amply rewarded those who have thoroughly understood and judiciously employed its diversified capacity for production. Amongst these no one was more conspicuous than Mr. Wm. Herbert, who was the son of a frame-work knitter, and himself worked in the stocking frames." He learnt to work a warp machine. The savings he then realized from high wages enabled him to get an interest in a machine on which he made tattings." Mr. Herbert then produced cords and braidings from the warp frames, and gained £50 a week from a single one of 120 breadths. He accumulated a large sum of money. A source of great happiness to him consisted in contributing largely to religious and benevolent objects. A reverse quickly came; cords and braidings were not used; his immense stock was comparatively valueless, and he again lost all. For the third time he went to work, now in the twist bobbin net branch, and obtained considerable property."
To Mr. Samuel Cartledge, of Nottingham, is due the invention of cotton thread used in the manufacture of British lace.
John Heathcoat. John Heathcoat was born in 1783, and was the son of a small farmer at Duffield, who being smitten with blindness had to give up his farm, removed to near Loughborough, and bought some warp machinery. The son was apprenticed to a maker of Derby-ribbed stockings, who was also a framesmith. While he was working for his bread, he tried to invent. He afterwards said "I had originally no property, and have risen entirely by my own ingenuity and industry." When he had served his apprenticeship he obtained work in Nottingham as a frame-smith and setter-up of machines, at a shop between Broad Street and Beck Lane (Heathcoat Street, re-named after him) at 25s. a week, but soon he was found to be worth more, and had three guineas a week. He shortly after purchased his master's business, married and lived in Long Stairs. In 1808 he took out a patent for traversed bobbin-net, formed by crossing and twisting. A second patent machine followed. Meanwhile he had removed to Loughborough, and when the Luddite destruction of machinery took place, and the proprietors of the machinery destroyed there sued the County for the damage and obtained a verdict for £10,000, "the magistrates required that the sum when handed over should be expended locally. To this Mr. Heathcoat gave a decided refusal, and the amount was never received. He said that his life had been threatened, and he would go as far off as possible from such desperate men as these frame-breakers were. He therefore purchased a large mill at Tiverton, in Devonshire, worked by the water power of the Biver Exe, and so the violence he had suffered from deprived the Midland district of the employment and profit derived from six or seven hundred machines."
As is usual, so far as Mr. Heathcoat was concerned, good came out of the evil, for the bobbin-net inventor in a new sphere set himself to have entirely new machinery with great improvements, and many of the best of the workpeople were transferred.
In 1818 he opened works at Paris in which he embarked from first to last £50,000. These were in 1826 transferred to St. Quentin.
Meanwhile he continued not only his own education, but his investigations into natural science, and from 1824, for twenty years, he kept on making improvements and taking out patents in regard to silk winding, figuring lace, weaving ribbons, steam ploughs, etc.
He erected British Schools for the education of the children of parents belonging to all denominations, particularly with a view to the formation of good habits. The firm about that time were employing 2000 hands, and twenty years after going to Tiverton he was elected as member of parliament, having Lord Palmerston as his colleague, in which house he sat for twenty-eight years, and when he departed this life in 1861, all classes did him honour, for there was a very great funeral procession, and all business in the district was suspended.
With John Heathcoat there was no misspent time or indulgence in youthful follies, the poor and needy he never sent empty away, and says the local journal "His name will continue to be revered wherever philanthropy, patriotism and virtue are held in estimation."
Mr. Felkin adds "His services to Nottingham may be stated in one sentence. His invention gave to it a trade, which within fifty years has mainly assisted to quadruple its population, giving employment year by year at fair wages to probably 150,000 workpeople, and for the past thirty years made an annual addition of £4,000,000 sterling to the trade of the country."
When this record has been read, please go and look at Mr. Heathcoat's portrait in Nottingham Castle Museum. Five minutes gazing at that face will be a sermon. Then go down into the lace room and see the first and second models of the bobbin-net machine made by Heathcoat about 1808-9. Then see a modern lace machine and there will be realized a lesson in difficulties surmounted, and gradual but sure improvements by thought, experience, and determination.
John Leavers. Some most important improvements were made in 1813 by John Leavers (usually misspelt by the omission of the a in the name) a frame-smith and setter-up, who removed to Nottingham from Sutton-in-Ashfield, and carried on his operations for the construction of point net and warp lace machinery in a garret in a yard on the northern side of Derby Road. Carriages and bobbins of sufficient thinness for the necessary improvements were made for Leavers by Benjamin Thompson, the father of Bendigo, the well-known prize fighter. During two years Leavers practically isolated himself, and when his machine was complete one of the first workmen was John Farmer, the father of the late well-known Hy. Farmer, the music composer.
"By his invention he was in reality greatly assisting to lay the foundation of the machine lace trade, the annual English transactions in which have at times amounted to £5,000,000, and of which the share arising from the adaptations of Leavers' beautiful machine has not been less than £3,000,000 a year."
Mr. Felkin suggested that Leavers was a free liver, unduly indulged in stimulants, and became very poor. His family at once published an indignant contradiction, and in the Nottingham papers of May 10th, 1867, appeared a letter, signed by his sister, Elizabeth Leavers Greenwood, stating that Leavers had upon the death of his father maintained a large family of brothers and sisters, and although not affluent was never indigent, was sober, and a good husband. He died Sept. 24th, 1848, near Rouen, France, aged 62, was bandmaster of the National Guard Volunteers, and was buried with military honours. His neice, Mrs. Seymour, Douglas Road, who is still with us, confirms the above.
Hall. From this time the improvements and patents taken out by many persons were numerous. In the art of bleaching and finishing lace great improvements were effected by Robert Hall and his son Samuel at Basford. The father was a scientific man, who, if he did not discover, was one of the very first to use chloride of lime in bleaching. His son, Marshall Hall, entered the medical profession, was trained at the Nottingham General Hospital, and removing to London became celebrated for profound physiological researches, which have conferred lasting benefit on mankind. The second son Samuel made such improvements in gassing lace that his income from this source might then (1817-1822) probably be from £10,000 to £15,000 a year.
Birkin. Richard Birkin was born at Belper in 1805; he was the son of poor parents; his father was a calico weaver. In 1822 he removed to New Basford, which then contained thirty houses or so, where he learned to work a bobbin-net machine, each of which machines were realizing £20 to £30 weekly to not a few of the owners, and wages from £5 to £10 a week to diligent and clever workmen. "He [Mr. Birkin] husbanded both time and money. In 1826 his employer, Mr. Biddle, offered him an advantageous partnership. It was accepted, and the connection continued twenty-one years." He accomplished the making of a pearl edge on Leavers' breadth laces, also a method for producing spots and honeycombs without stoppages. He was the juror for lace at the great Exhibition in 1851, and became thrice Mayor of Nottingham, and his many improvements were continued by his son, now Sir Thos. I. Birkin, Bart.
Fisher and Crofts. The inventions of Mr. James Fisher must be mentioned, and his great success in conjunction with Mr. Wm. Crofts, who took out what was called the "monster patent," for its specification filled 149 pages, with forty-nine sheets of drawings, and claiming nine inventions or improvements.
Cope. Among the multitude of improvers of lace machinery I will mention only one more, and that for a personal testimony. Mr. Wm. Cope, a persistent inventor and an advanced leading maker of lace curtains, called at my house at Arnold more than forty years ago, and saying he had been a poor ragged lad, without shoes or schooling, but God had blessed his efforts, and he should like to promote a day school in Arnold, and he urged me to undertake the carrying out of it, which I eventually did. Mr. Cope promised £800 towards the cost of the building, and died before it was opened, but his partner Alderman Ward represented him at the opening. The people of Nottingham owe to the energies of Alderman Ward the restoration and use of the Castle and grounds, and the inauguration of the Museum with its priceless treasures.
Among the improvements should be noted the application of the jacquard to the lace machine, in varied forms, and later the improved manipulation of threads as made by Mr. Ensor.
Machine Building. In lace machine building Nottingham now supplies the world, few machines being made elsewhere. An acquired skill in the production of the finest machinery, with a delicacy of touch in a highly sensitive material—so sensitive that even hot sunshine falling on some of the parts will occasion faulty work—has been attained, and become hereditary, while the graceful fabric made has tended to civilization, domestic comfort, and the personal adornment of those who help to make our homes and hearts happy.
Thoroughness. In studying the records of the efforts and lives of the men who have built up to the present stage of perfection our hosiery and lace machines and trades, one is impressed by the truthfulness and simplicity of the lessons given recently in a speech by Lord Cromer to the boys of Leys School, Cambridge, which was "Love your Country, tell the truth, and do not dawdle." Here is a great man who has been a blessing to the world, and earned the gratitude of millions of his fellow men, who gives simple rules for useful lives, and the men who have done great things in connection with our local trades—the Lees', Strutts', Morleys', Heathcoats', Leavers', Birkins', Fishers', Copes', Adams', Heymans', Vickers', Mundellas', and a multitude of others who have either invented or manufactured or sold machines and goods whereby their fellow-men have been benefited, peaceful industries extended, and the well-being of the community promoted, have been men who in seeking to benefit themselves did well for their country, lived good, simple, truthful, honest lives, and were distinguished by not only not "dawdling," but, with a few exceptions and lapses, by strenuous lives, good honest hard work, occupying even spare moments, taking a pleasure in their work, and doing it thoroughly and well. Our Country and City have a precious possession in the efforts and work of men who have gone before, and by whose labours and sacrifices we benefit.