For all who fancy a long look at stockings...

Hosiery and Knitwear
October 17, 2003

Hosiery and Knitwear represents perhaps the apotheosis of Stanley Chapman's research into textile history, which began with his article on Nottingham's working-class housing in 1963 and the publication of The Early Factory Masters (1967).

Chapman's volume reflects 30 years of research. While based at the University of Nottingham, he has published on the history of the textile industries and he edited the journal Textile History from 1983 to 2002.

Chapman's is a chronological account of the industry from its beginnings, with the invention of the stocking frame c .1589, to its decline by 2000.

This is a complex and ambitious subject and it is to Chapman's credit that a readable and detailed volume results, bringing together the many strands of research and revision by him and others.

The book divides into four main themes, commencing with "The genesis of the British hosiery industry 1600-1750". Next, the advent and challenges of the outworking industry ( c .1750-1850) are explored in "Enterprise and innovation c .1750-1810", and "The doldrums 1810-1850". "The transition to the factory system 1850-1915" laid the foundations for the 20th century (and paradoxically its demise). Lastly, the consolidation and decline of the industry during the last century are conveyed in "Boom time 1920s-1960s", "The rise and decline of the textile conglomerates 1960s-1980s", "Marks & Spencer and the British clothing industry" and "Globalization and decline".

The reader is treated to a kaleidoscopic "warp" ranging across the English Midlands (skirting traditional perceptions about Lancashire and Yorkshire as the only birthplace of textiles in Britain) and the primacy of London (and later Europe) in terms of banking, merchanting, wholesalers and chain-store groups. Its "weft" is confirmed in the nature of small-scale family businesses, entrepreneurial attitudes, cultural traditions and the tensions in terms of craftmanship, outworking and labour relations. These provide a variable tapestry across some four centuries of evolution and decline, within which technological innovation played an enabling, vital and eventually diminishing part.

The book features 37 photographs of buildings, machinery, fabrics, tokens and people, some quite humorous. There is no bibliography, which is frustrating. The reader is given footnoted sources, but it is harder to gain a sense of the range of information employed, and the impression given is of a surprisingly limited selection. Many relevant publications on the organisation and economic operation of the framework-knitting, lace and textile industries are not cited, and there are no location maps.

This book will appeal to those concerned with the detailed history of hosiery and textile manufacture, and perhaps business finance. It revises Chapman's earlier assessments and brings them together within one volume and, valuably, also focuses on the 20th century as an important aspect of this continuum. Chapman seeks both to challenge traditional perceptions about the industry and to set its decline within the context of entrepreneurial cultural constraints. The result is a valuable addition to the corpus of textile history.

Garry Campion is senior lecturer in industrial archaeology, University College Northampton.

Hosiery and Knitwear: Four Centuries of Small-Scale Industry in Britain c.1589-2000

Author - Stanley Chapman
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 328
Price - £55.00
ISBN - 0 19 925567 9

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