The Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters
After the death of William Lee in France around 1614, his brother and workmen returned to London to set up a framework knitting industry there.
The industry expanded and framework knitters worked together to develop rules and controls for the benefit of the industry. The knitters became increasingly worried by the threat of overseas competition and lobbied Cromwell for the foundation of a body to regulate the trade and prevent the export of frames. In 1657 Cromwell granted the Company its charter of incorporation.
Charles II issued the Company with a new charter in 1663. The new charter instructed mayors, bailiffs and constables across the country to assist the Officers of the Company in their regulation of the trade. The Company had powers to control apprenticeships, the export of frames and inspect the quality of goods produced. Regional courts were held for admitting apprentices and hearing cases brought against knitters.
During the early eighteenth century knitters and hosiers found that the Company helped to support the interests of those working in the industry, but it restricted people entering the industry and the growth of the trade. In 1720 the Company built a hall at the south east corner of Red Cross Street in London. Expenditure on grandeur was resented at a time when knitters were finding it difficult to earn a living.
The Company began to lose the respect of knitters and hosiers and its authority was frequently challenged. Deputies abandoned sittings of the Company's regional courts as people ignored them. Apprenticeship rules were not followed and in the 1730s cases brought by the Company against hosiers failed. The Company's power of earlier times had been broken and lost. As late as 1809 the Company tried to exert its control over the industry. A lawsuit declared that the Company could regulate its members, but that it could not control non-members. After the challenge to its power, the Company continued to function as a social organisation for the industry.
In finding a new role for itself the Company purchased almshouses in 1770 at 138 Kingsland Road, Hackney. The Company's ceremonial role was supported by the purchase of a state coach for the Master, servants in gold laced liveries, a gilded barge and a band of musicians. The Company maintained its Framework Knitters Hall until the early nineteenth century. In 1810 the Corporation of London began to buy land around the Hall for the purpose of building Whitecross Street Prison for Debtors. In 1812 the Company agreed to sell the Hall for the sum of 2,000 guineas.
Financial difficulties led to the Company selling its plate in 1861 to raise money to maintain its almshouses. The Kingsland Road almshouses were sold in 1906 to fund the construction of twenty almshouses, later known as Cottage Homes, at Oadby, south of Leicester. A further five houses were later built at the site. The houses aimed to provide living accommodation for retired workers from the industry.
The almshouses still continue to be operated by the Company. In 1980 the Cottage Homes were modernised and re-equipped. The Reginald J Corah Foundation supported the construction of Corah House to offer accommodation for frail residents.
In 1985 the Company introduced a bursary scheme for students in Higher Education. The scheme aims to support research projects that will provide beneficial outcomes to the industry. Mentors are also provided where appropriate to assist bursary holders with their research. Details of the scheme are available on the Company's website.