The industries of Nottingham

Situated in the very centre of England and also of one of the most valuable coalfields in the country, with an ironstone area only a few miles away, railway, water and road transport facilities unsurpassed; gas, electricity, water, trams and bus services municipally controlled and managed on sound and successful commercial lines; with a fine educational system culminating in a University College (which it is hoped will shortly be raised to the status of a University with degree-conferring powers), Nottingham is indeed an ideal location for industrial and commercial enterprise.

It is of course best known as the "laceopolis" of the United Kingdom, but the decline in that industry during the past few years, due in the main to the change in, and the attenuated nature of women's present style of dress, has served to throw up into greater relief the other important and varied industries carried on in the City. Space precludes a reference to more than those of outstanding importance, having regard to the number of people employed, but the fact must not be overlooked that in the aggregate, the multiplicity and variety of trades carried on by a few firms in each, provide a livelihood for large numbers of people.


The origin of machine-made hosiery is full of romance. From the beginning we have to go back to the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth, when in the year 1589 an obscure Nottinghamshire clergyman, the Rev. William Lee, curate of Calverton, a village a few miles from Nottingham, invented the first mechanical means ever employed for producing a looped or knitted fabric. Up to that time stockings were either hand-knitted or cut out of cloth fabric and stitched. Lee's frame was the forerunner of all the hosiery and lace machines at present in use, and was so adaptable that its principles are still embodied in most of the power frames of the present day.

As the birthplace of the hosiery trade it is a legitimate source of satisfaction that Nottingham is still one of the fore­most amongst hosiery-producing centres in this country. The finest goods now made are produced in this City, and are to be met with in all parts of the world. Nottingham is mainly concerned in the manufacture of fine gauge goods from cotton lisle thread, wool, silk, and artificial silk and from mixtures of these materials. The range of garments produced on the knitting machine has been considerably extended in recent years, and to underwear and footwear of all classes has been added the manufacture of sports coats, jumpers, pullovers, costumes, etc., and quite recently spattees and gaiters. In fact, it is not uncommon for the modern young lady to be completely attired in the product of the knitting machine, and there are firms in Nottingham who can—and do—supply the whole of these garments.



A reference to the Lace Industry naturally follows a description (however abbreviated) of the origin and growth of the Hosiery industry, because it was by modifications of the stocking frame between 1760 and 1800 that a lace mesh was first produced by mechanical means. In the early years of the nineteenth century the first bobbin machine was invented, and it is now generally admitted that the credit is due to John Heathcoat, who patented a machine in 1808 and an improve­ment in 1809. Four years later John Leavers invented his system which, although originally intended for the manufacture of plains net, was, in 1834, through an adaptation of the Jacquard, made applicable to the production of fancy designs and figures. Further improvements and developments have taken place, which have brought the manufacture of machine-made lace to its present high standard. Nottingham and the surrounding district is undoubtedly the largest lace-producing centre in the world, although it is at the moment under a cloud owing to the present style of women's dress and the underselling by continental manufacturers on account of their depreciated currencies. Every year sees an ever-widening range of novelties produced on the Leavers machine and also on the Warp and Circular Lace machines. Every class of real lace is imitated with a fidelity that defies detection, other than by an expert, and goods are produced in widths varying from the narrowest edgings to the wide flouncings for underwear, neckwear, millinery and dress purposes. Whatever classes of lace are demanded by the dictates of fickle fashion, such are produced with a skill and enterprise which do credit to our ancient but progressive City, and at no time in the history of the Nottingham lace industry has a finer range of goods been placed on the market than during the present season.


The manufacture of plain nets (including spotted nets and veilings), though closely allied to the fancy lace trade is really a separate and important industry. All classes of cotton and silk nets are produced in Nottingham, from Mosquito Nets as used in hot climates to the finest silk tulle, for dress purposes, including nets for the embroidery trade and for window decoration, whilst an extensive business is also done in silk veilings.


The popular conception that "Lace" and "Lace Curtains" are synonymous terms is an erroneous one, although it must be admitted that some of the products of the Curtain machine, as for example fillets, are used for dress purposes, and that certain classes of goods produced on the Lace machine are applied to the decoration of windows. In the main, however, lace curtain manufacture is a separate industry. During the past few years the Lace Curtain trade has seen remarkable changes and developments. Formerly the principal product was the long type of Ice curtain sold in pairs, and whilst these are still sold in large quantities, most beautiful casement nets, brise-bise blinds, vitrages allover nets, waterfall curtains, etc., are produced in immense variety and design, suitable for every kind of window, to say nothing of bedspreads and other furnishings.


Embroideries are also manufactured in Nottingham, and there are plants of the most up-to-date machinery capable of turning out all classes of goods, whether embroideries on net, fabrics or dissoluble fabrics. As regards the latter, when the fabric has been embroidered, it is burnt out by chemical process, leaving what is known as "Guipure" Lace. Several manufacturers also undertake a class of work which is known as facon embroidery—that is to say, the embroidering of manufacturers' own fabrics for use in the making-up and other trades.


Second only in importance to the manufacture of lace and hosiery, and necessary to their success, is the allied industry of bleaching and dyeing, for which Nottingham is splendidly endowed by nature, the water supply being good, plentiful, and wholly suitable for this work. In the district of Basford and Bulwell, the part of the City where most of the trade is carried on, there are abundant springs, and the bleachers and dyers obtain unlimited supplies from the wells sunk on their own premises.

The buildings and machinery are specially adapted, and are equipped with modern methods for dealing with immense quantities of laces, nets, embroideries and other goods produced in the district.

Dressing is carried on in large, hot rooms, the lace being stretched across the frames on pins. In this way great pieces of fabric measuring a hundred yards in length and 400 inches in width can be dressed. The drying is done by wafters, or fans, which are set in motion after the lace has been racked out to the required shape or pattern.

The finishing of lace curtains is a large and distinct branch of the trade. The curtains are bleached by a continuous process, the dressing being done on Stenter machines. They are afterwards callendered, and the edges scolloped, and knitted or taped in one process by an ingenious machine which does 3,500 stitches a minute. The curtains are then pressed and parcelled, ready for sale.

The dyers of Nottingham have also achieved a world-wide reputation for their treatment of wool, silk, artificial silk and mixtures. The machinery and plant for the finishing of hosiery are thoroughly up-to-date, and large quantities of goods manufactured not only in the City but for miles around are sent here to be dyed and finished.



The Ladies' and Children's Light Clothing trade, or the "Making-up" Trade has been carried on in Nottingham for well over 50 years, and is now one of the staple industries of the City, giving employment to large numbers of people, mainly females.

The machinery chiefly consists of the latest high-speed sewing machines, driven by power, the working of these machines being very easily controlled by means of a foot pedal. In addition there are of course numerous "fancy" machines to give the many varied effects to the productions of the trade.

The goods manufactured are of great variety, and include ladies' Silk and Cotton Jumpers, Blouses and Robes, Evening frocks, all kinds of Neckwear, Overalls, Camisoles, Underclothing, Frillings, Ruchings, Neck and Sleeve Plaitings, Boudoir Caps, Nurses' and Servants' Aprons and Caps, Tea Aprons, Children's Pinafores and Dresses, Overalls, Hats and Bonnets, Fancy Linen Bedroom appointments, and Afternoon Tea and Tray Cloths.


This important and growing trade is well represented in Nottingham, where Ladies' coats, costumes, and coat frocks are manufactured in great quantities and varieties. As fashion enters very largely into the production of ready-to-wear clothing, the designing department is necessarily an important one. Nottingham being essentially a City where industrial novelties are produced, it follows that in the making of mantles and kindred garments new ideas find free expression. For designs Paris and other centres are drawn upon, and materials of a high quality are supplied by Scotland, the West of England, and the Yorkshire woollen districts. Some excellent fabrics made locally must also not be overlooked. Nottingham mantle manufacturers cater no less for the tastes of their over-seas customers than for the home market.


A large and increasing general clothing trade in men's and boys' garments is done in Nottingham, where the workers are accommodated in well-built factories, which are equipped with modern, electrically-driven machinery. In addition to the usual kinds of masculine wear, a very large number of rain coats, sports coats, and flannel trousers are turned out, which for smartness and quality can hold their own anywhere. Some of the machines, such, for instance, as those for sewing on buttons, making button-holes, felling, and pressing, are of a highly ingenious kind. The inherent skill of the Nottingham female workers can be traced in the bespoken goods, of which a large part of the clothing trade consists. The operatives, unlike those in many cities, belong entirely to Nottingham and the district, and do not include colonies of imported aliens.


Whilst there are no Spinning Mills actually within the City boundaries, there are several Cotton Doubling Mills catering for the local lace and hosiery trades and also doing a considerable export business. Most of the yarn is fine, though any yarn from 30's twofold to 300's twofold is supplied.


These were first invented in Nottingham, and this district still supplies 80 per cent, of the entire production. The demand for such articles has become enormous during the last twenty years. They were first used merely as supports worn on the leg for the suppression of varicose veins, to prevent development and enlargement, but are now used extensively all over the world by people suffering from weakness in the legs and by athletes as a means of general support and protection from injury. They are made in the form of anklets, knee-caps, leggings, stockings, etc., from elastic thread woven with cotton or silk, and can be made to cover and support any part of the body.

The latest improvement in this class of goods is the seamless elastic hosiery; and undoubtedly this is a great improve­ment, as the patient gets more even pressure, in addition to the advantage of having no seam to give pain to a tender limb. It is also softer, smoother, more durable, and better ventilated than the seamed.

A further development in this branch of trade is the manufacture of elastic corsets, corset belts, bust supports, etc., a trade which is increasingl very quickly, and in which this district is quite holding its own.


In keeping with other progressive local industries, that of cardboard box manufacturing has undergone a considerable change during the last twenty years, and has made substantial advance towards a higher standard of efficiency and utility.

The vastly increased demand for boxes of all kinds and sizes, as the outcome of modern methods in the packing of goods and merchandise of every description, has compelled wideawake firms to introduce up-to-date labour-saving machinery, enabling a greatly increased output to be made at a lower cost of production.

In no other industry has the genius of the inventor found a more fertile field for his efforts, or his toil achieved a larger measure of success. The filling of large contracts for enormous quantities is rendered possible only by costly and extensive installations of quick-running power-driven machinery.

Some of the boxes are of a really beautiful and artistic design, and up to quite recent years had not been made in this country at all, but were obtained from the Continent.

Large users of boxes everywhere, and those needing "containers" for high-class goods, in the general appearance and sale of which the box plays an important part, may with advantage send along their enquiries to Nottingham, where they will receive prompt attention.