The town of Troyes shares a common history with many towns in the East Midlands.
Region: Champagne-Ardenne, France
Population (1982): 62,946
Like Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, it established a significant knitting industry that was closely linked to the developments of the East Midlands industry. The history of Troyes' knitting industry is recorded in the Musée de la Bonneterie in Troyes.
By the start of the sixteenth century Troyes already had an established hand knitting industry. In 1505 the hand knitters of Troyes founded a guild to protect the interests of the industry. Knitting mainly stockings, the Troyes industry remained uninfluenced by the development of the knitting frame until the mid-eighteenth century. In 1746 a patient was admitted to Trinity Hospital, Troyes for treatment, creating an occasion that was to change the history of the town. The patient was Arcis-sur-Aube, a knitting frame mechanic who had been experimenting with the knitting frame in other French cities since 1730. While in Troyes, Arcis introduced the knitting frame to the town.
Trinity Hospital had been founded in 1570 by Jean Mauroy with the objective of providing accommodation for orphans. The orphans were taught a range of skills at the hospital, including spinning and hand knitting. Arcis encouraged the hospital to use the knitting frame and provide training in its use for the orphans. Knitting hats and hosiery, the orphans developed skills that were to lead them to become framework knitters when they left the care of the hospital. A workshop was soon founded within the hospital and provided employment for framework knitters.
The success of the workshop encouraged the hospital administrators to extend the workspace and found a factory on the site. Large quantities of cotton were brought to the factory, processed, and knitted. Finished goods were sold from a shop opened on the site and through agents in Paris, Normandy and Picardy. The success of the Trinity workshop encouraged the development of further workshops in Troyes and by 1784 500 framework knitters worked in the town. The population of eighteenth century Troyes increased from 13,000 to 28,000.
The French revolution and Napoleonic wars created a period of uncertainty for Troyes and its knitting industry faced difficult times. Many workers left the town for the countryside and hosiers struggled to maintain their income from the now dispersed industry. By 1815 the industry was expanding once again as stability returned to the country. Jean Baptist Poron, Jean Dupont, Antoine Quin Carlet and Pierre Valton were all leading figures in the town at this time and actively promoted the knitting industry and the development of knitting technology. Growth in the industry was short-lived and a further period of stagnation followed.
The development of steam-powered machinery encouraged a resurgence in the industry from 1840. New developments in technology encouraged individuals to invest in the latest machinery and output expanded. Joseph-Julien Jacquin built his first circular machine in 1841. Emanuel Buxtorf, Auguste Mortier, Leon Couturat and George Le Bocey played key roles in the development of French technology and stimulated the expansion of the Troyes knitting industry. The 1860 Troyes exhibition gave the town an opportunity to showcase its industry and technology.
The emphasis on quality in the French industry rather than mass market output encouraged Troyes companies to invest in fully-fashioned technology such as Paget and Cotton machines from Britain. Soon machines such as the Paget frame were manufactured under licence in Troyes. The Peron brothers manufacturer the Paget machine under licence from 1862. Between 1872 and 1928 the number of fully-fashioned machines increased fifteen fold while the number of circulars only increased six fold. The size of the new machines lead to the expansion of many factories. New buildings were constructed with space, light and solid floors.
In common with industry in Britain, legislation was introduced in France to regulate the workplace. Children had provided a valuable source of labour for families and factory owners alike. In 1841 a law was introduced that prevented children from under eight working and required that children over eight worked for a maximum of eight working hours per day. Adults were restricted to working 12 hours a day.
The industry continued to grow up to the outbreak of the First World War, although increasingly influenced by the German industry. The war brought about a decline in the industry and it wasn't until the 1920s that the industry recovered. The French knitting machine industry had declined to the extent that German machines were imported into Troyes. Despite the work of Frenchman, Delostal, the French machine industry was not able to compete with more efficient German machines.
The interwar knitting industry in Troyes increasingly turned to cost-effective circular knitting machines and stocking production. Standard machines were imported from the USA and Maxims from Britain. Manmade fibres were also introduced and offered new opportunities for reaching wider markets. Rayon quickly gained popularity with its silk-like feel and appearance.
After the Second World War stocking production continued to dominate the industry. The introduction of nylon provided a challenge to the industry. Many companies had invested heavily in fully-fashioned machines and found that they could not sustain the cost of buying new machinery to manufacture seamless stockings. As a result companies simply went out of business. In the 1960s stocking machines were transferred to the production of tights.
The Troyes knitting machine industry continued to develop new machines, but with limited success. The Ets Tim Wear company successfully secured worldwide sales with a machine for manufacturing pullovers. The company was later taken over by Le Bocey in 1973.
The modern industry has experienced similar problems to those faced by companies in the East Midlands. The industry continues to provide employment for the population of Troyes. Underwear and knitwear remain key products for the industry alongside tights and socks.
Peron Bros. Paget Machine
This is an example of a Paget machine made under licence by the Peron brothers.
Le Bocey Beret Machine
This machine used latch needles on a flat bed to produce berets. The shape of the beret was controlled by a shaping drum that runs along the length of the machine. The berets were placed on wooden boards to provide a final shape. The machine was manufactured in Troyes, a major centre for the French knitting industry.