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Nottingham lace is renown all over the world for its high quality and beauty, but many people would be surprised to learn that in the early days of lace making the majority of Nottingham lace was actually produced in the Erewash area, Long Eaton being the main contributor.
Stocking making had been present in Long Eaton since the late 17th century but had never fully developed. Cotton spinning and the canal industry had been the major employment for people before the arrival of the lace and rail industries.
The manufacture of lace is integral to the history of Long Eaton, along with the railway industry it made the town prosperous. Although early origins are obscure, the oldest known reference to a lace factory in Long Eaton is 1831. But most sources agree that the lace industry was really given a boost when Mr Bush and Mr Wooton arrived from Gotham, bringing a hand worked lace frame with them. Shortly after, in 1842, Bush built the first factory equipped with a steam engine. In 1839 the Midland Counties Railway Nottingham to Derby line opened and the Erewash Valley line in 1847, giving Long Eaton a direct link to the centre of the lace industry in Nottingham.
1813 saw John Leavers invention of a machine capable of producing lace in bulk. By the mid 19th century these machines were employed in Long Eaton which began to develop into the centre of the Leavers lace trade in the East Midlands transforming Long Eaton from a largely agricultural village into a developing industrial town. The town's growth as a result of this is shown in the census returns between 1850 and 1900, the population increasing from 1,000 to 13,000 between these dates. Skilled Twisthands, engineers, boilermen and bobbin and bale hands all moved to the town to take advantage of the many work opportunities available.
Local historian Mr Keith Reedman identifies early lace pioneers as James Orchard, John Bonsall and William Kilby who were sons of local farmers. By the mid 1840s, stocking making was almost obsolete in the village. In 1852, John Austin's two storey factory in the Market place was replaced by one with four storeys, introducing a new generation of larger factories in the area.
Five tenement factories were built during the 1870s and a further five in the 1880s. 1905 saw around 800 machines and 1,200 Twisthands operating in the area.
Housing was also affected by the development of the lace trade as factory owners built their houses along Derby Road, which at the time was separated from the town by fields. During the 1890s, after the Harrington and West End Mills were built, houses for the factory workers sprang up in the surrounding areas leading to the development of Leopold Street, Stanhope Street and the Breedon Street and Curzon Street areas by the turn of the 20th century.
An important factor in Long Eaton's success in the lace trade was the fact that manufacturers realised they could pay both lower wages, rents and overheads than in the big cities such as London and Nottingham. There was also less trade union activity in Long Eaton which was still close enough to the Lace Market in Nottingham to be able to employ the non-union workers of the Nottingham labour force.
Demands of the international market caused a boom in the local lace trade. The Harrington Mill alone contained 255 machine standings and was the largest of all Long Eaton's tenement factories. The standings were rented out, allowing smaller enterprises to flourish. At one point Harrington Mills housed 26 separate ventures of this type.
Canals also played a part in the success of Long Eaton's lace trade, as the larger factories were built next to the canal banks and cheap coal was brought by barge from Shipley and Ilkeston, to power the machines.
In the early 20th century, the Oaklea, Britannia, Phoenix and Stanley Mills were built to a new design with improved lighting. They were single storey buildings, longer and wider than the earlier factories.
Names such as Fletcher, Smith, Austin and Orchard were important names in the local lace trade. Lace machine building also developed in Long Eaton. Companies such as: Wallis & Longden, Longmire, and Spridgeon exported machines around the world. The period before WWI saw the local lace industry reach its peak. Sadly it wasn't to last and as the demand for lace fell, manufacturers of both lace and lace machines began to diversify. For example, Wallis & Longden began to make machinery for the bedding and upholstery trade which was expanding locally. During WWII, Grangers produced hair nets for factory workers. It is noted that in 1941, 21 factories were still being used for lace production but approximately half were shared with non-lace making industries. There have been brief revivals in the trade as changing tastes in fashion and major events such as Royal weddings and the Coronation had a part to play in this.
During the 1920s the lace trade experienced a sharp decline as yarn prices fell, orders were cancelled and the export side of the market suffered a large downturn. Many of the older lace machines were dismantled and the newer ones were sold to overseas buyers. The decline in the local lace trade continued and with the sad closure of the Grangers factory in New Tythe Street in 2001, Leavers lace is no longer produced in Long Eaton. Thankfully most of the magnificent buildings in which the lace was made, are still in existence today leaving a poignant reminder of a once great industry.
Further information about the local lace industry can be found in Keith Reedman's "The Book Of Long Eaton" and John E. Heath's "A History Of Long Eaton 1750-1914". Sheila Mason's "Nottingham Lace 1760s-1950s" is an extensive study of the wider Nottingham lace trade, while John Barker's book of "Archive Photographs" gives a pictorial history.
The above information was taken from an article by Nicola Gaunt and first published in the Heritage Herald, Issue 6, produced by Erewash Museum Service.