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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Out Now!

My new book A Visitor's Guide to Jane Austen's England has just been released by Pen & Sword! You can also order a Kindle edition via Amazon.  I hope you all enjoy reading my intimate look at daily life in Austen's day for the middle and upper classes.
By the way, if you gallop post-haste to my Austen blog, my latest post on Jane and Bath is now online.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Whiter Than White

As well as beautifully printed calicos and cottons, Georgian and Victorian customers also wanted dazzling white cloth. Bleaching employed ‘great numbers of children and Young Persons’ in places like in Bolton and  Bury, where most bleach-works and finishing works were concentrated in 1850s Lancashire.
Traditionally, to bleach cloth, it was ‘bucked’ or ‘bowked,’ i.e. soaked for several days in a strong, heated alkaline solution made from vegetable ashes in a ‘kier’ or copper vessel. Then it was ‘soured’ to neutralise the alkali by soaking it in buttermilk for at least a week.
‘Crofting’ was the next stage; the cloth was spread out across the fields (bleaching croft), and soaked repeatedly with water, so the sunlight could bleach it, which could take months. In late Georgian times, industrial methods of bleaching were introduced which greatly speeded up this process; artificial soda ash was used instead of vegetable-based alkalis, and sulphuric acid was used instead of buttermilk. The invention of dash-wheels, and later, washing machines, made it much easier to wash large quantities of cloth (formerly done by hand by womenfolk in all weathers).

At the bleachworks, the ‘grey’ cloth was first sent to the dressing-shop. The cloth was marked with the customer’s name or initials with a needle. The ends of several pieces were sewn or pasted together to form one long piece suitable for processing by machine; next, the cloth was ‘dressed’, that is, passed over a hot plate or gas jets to singe off  nwanted fibres.
After dressing, the cloth was bleached as above, then went through the finishing processes: mangling, drying and clamping (stretching), beetling, calendering (an ironing process in which the cloth passed between heated rollers to give it a glossy finish), then making up and packing.  Beetling was a special, lustrous finish for Holland cloth used for blinds, achieved by hammering the cloth
Hours were exceedingly irregular; in the 1850s fourteen year old Mary Partington’s hours varied anything between 56 hours and 76 hours per week at Ridgway Bridson Bleachworks, Bolton, which employed over 200 people.
You can find out more about the story of the industrial revolution in Lancashire here, tracing Lancashire ancestors here, and the fight to improve children’s working hours and conditions in The Children History Forgot.
Illustrations from author’s collection.
Llewenni (Lleweni) Bleachworks, Denbighshire, designed by Thomas Sandby for Thomas Fitzmaurice. Engraving by Thomas Sandby, 1792.  Possibly one of the grandest bleachworks ever built.
Dash wheels, and Calendering. Pictorial History of Lancashire, 1844.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Calico Print Workers

My latest feature for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine (October issue) is about Lancashire calico-printing workers, and how to research your ancestors in that branch of the textile industry
Originally, calico was printed by hand. The cloth was stretched across a printing table, wound round a roller at each end so that the cloth could be wound on ready for the next length to be printed. The printer had a child helper, a ‘tierer’, who dipped a small brush in a pot of colour, then brushed the liquid colour evenly onto a sieve or drum floating on a bed of water. The printer then placed an engraved wooden block or copper plate (with a handle on the back), onto the sieve so that it picked up the dye. The block was then pressed firmly onto the fabric to create a pattern. Block-printing was a slow process; it could take all day to produce just six pieces of cloth printed with a plain pattern

The first recorded calico printer in Manchester is William Jordan, ‘callique-printer’ at Little Green in 1763; the trade in Lancashire gained a strong foothold the following year at Clayton’s factory in Bamber Bridge, near Preston.
The days of block printing were numbered when roller or cylinder-printing was patented by Thomas Bell in 1783. A rotating cylinder was dipped into a trough of colour dye; next, a long steel rule or ‘doctor’ removed excess colour from the cylinder. The cloth to be printed was pressed against the dye on the engraved cylinder by means of a roller, so that the pattern was continuously printed on it as it moved along. Children were employed in the print-work factories, too.
Now hundreds of pieces of cloth could be printed in a day.  
Hoyle’s Mayfield works at Manchester employed over 200 workers in the 1830s, including over 40 children; the children earned 2s 6d per week when learning the trade, then 3s 6d when ‘fully instructed.’
You can find out more about the lives of child printworkers in my book The Children History Forgot, and the Lancashire textile industry here.

Illustrations from author's collection:

Block printer and tierer or ‘tear girl’ (above, left). Children as young as six worked for twelve hours or more helping block printers. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts Vol. I, (c.1862). 
A calico printworks at Manchester in the 1890s (above, right), and a view of Hoyle's printworks from London Rd Station (left). Both illustrations by H E Tidmarsh, Manchester Old and New Vol. II, (Cassell & Co., c. 1894).