This is the story of Joshua Thomas Clarke born in Hinckley, Leicestershire in the year 1813.

Much was happening around that time. Britain was ruled by a madman, King George III, who in 1811 was declared insane, and his son George was made Regent.

In France Napoleon abdicated in 1814 and retired to Elba, only to return in 1815 before being defeated and banished to St. Helene after Wellington had won the battle of Waterloo.

In 1815 a safety lamp was invented by Sir Humphrey Davy and in 1819 the first passage of the Atlantic was made by a ship powered by steam.

But for the vast majority of the people in Britain things were very bad, the hosiery trade was particularly hard hit. In the years 1811/1812 in Nottingham, half the total population was out of work. This led to the Luddite Riots when 263 stocking frames were destroyed. Indeed, between 1811 and 1816 at least 1,000 frames were smashed in the United Kingdom. At Loughborough on June 28th 1816, sixty frames were smashed at the factory of Heathcote, Lacy and Boden; six men were hanged and two transported for life. From this factory Ben Fewkes and George Warner emigrated to America in 1818 taking with them one frame.

The Knitters in the stocking trade in Hinckley and Leicester looked for the causes and the remedies for this unemployment:

  • The employers
  • Frame rents
  • Apprentices
  • The ‘truck’ system of payment
  • Cut-up work

The Employers

The Employer may be:

1. The Hosier in which case the knitter would be what is technically called "working directly to the warehouse", when there would be no intermediate agency between himself and his employer; or

2. The Putter-Out who is a person employed by the hosier to give out his materials to knitters to be made up, and who is supposed to pay to them accurately his employer’s prices; or

3. The Master, or Undertaker who received materials from the manufacturers or hosiers and employs journeymen, or apprentices to make them up; or

4. The Bagman who usually delivers out his own materials to knitters.


Frame Rents

Frame Rents, the weekly deduction that was invariably made from the earnings of the workman, as rent for the frame on which he worked:

  • The amount of the deduction was not regulated by any fixed rule or principle whatsoever;
  • That it was not dependent on the value of the frame;
  • On the amount of money earned on it;
  • On the amount of work made;
  • That the youthful learner, or apprentice, pays the same rent from his scant earnings as the most expert and skillful workman from his;
  • The full week's frame rent was charged when the frame was employed only two or three days out of six;
  • That wages had decreased by 30 to 40 per cent within the last 30 years, the amount of frame-rents had been increased in the same period.



The Framework Knitters' Company, under its Royal Charter had a bye-law restricting the number of apprentices to the rate of three for one journeyman, but as the trade moved away from London, in particular to the Midlands, the power of the Framework Knitter's Company was challenged.

A trial was held in Nottingham of one journeyman for employing 23 apprentices. The jury at the trial found in favour of the defendant, and thus the power of the Company was broken. The trade was now without regulation, the poverty of many journeymen became proverbial because of the actions of the exploiters such as the man in Nottingham who kept a staff, as it was called, of 26, and never employed a journeyman in 30 years. The term ''as poor as a stockinger" was heard as early at 1740. In Hinckley, two framework, knitters had one hundred apprentices between them. Action was brought against one of them, a Mr. Payne of Burbage; he was tried before Lord Mansfield, the Chief justice, for "colting", i.e., taking apprentices contrary to the chartered London company's bye-laws. The judge and the jury expressed strong opinions against the Company's supposed rights, but nevertheless the jury found in favour of the Company, giving one shilling damages. Mr. Payne, having expended £300 which was all he possessed, was lodged in Leicester gaol, a ruined man.


The Truck System

Being the payment of wages in goods instead of many, either directly or indirectly.

Giving evidence to the royal Commission of 1844, Mr J.K.Jervis of Hinckley, who was both a solicitor and a hosier, explained how the trucking system worked. "The practice of the manufacturer, who pays in truck is to supply the workmen beforehand with a week's provisions as it is called 'in hand' and he keeps a book, and provisions are credited to the man, and are deducted out of the succeeding week's earnings, so that the man is always tied to his master, he cannot leave him because if he did so, there would be a week during which he would have nothing to live upon, for his week's wages are always consumed by the week's goods he has in advance; consequently he is not a free agent"


Cut-Up Work

The glossary of technical terms included in the Report of the Parliamentary Commission help to explain.

Cut-ups are hose not made by proper narrowing or widening and removing the loops. Spurious work included all kinds of cut-ups, straight down, or slightly fashioned hose. Before 1811 all hose had been fully fashioned by widening and narrowing.

Frames were available "that would knit a length of fabric that was straight sided and up to 70 inches wide. From this fabric eight stocking legs would be cut and shaped with scissors, and the edges

sewn, not seamed. Compared with the fully-fashioned stocking made by the framework knitters, this article was cheap to manufacture and when sold mainly by middlemen, in large quantities, was entirely responsible for the deplorable conditions of the knitters and their families.

"The general condition of the people at Hinckley was wretched in the extreme. There were hundreds of people here who had no bed to lie on and scarcely any furniture of any sort in their houses. The children were almost naked and without any shoes". This was the evidence given to the Commission by Jabez Chaplin, who was Joshua Clarke's factory manager.

In the year 1843 a petition was sent to Parliament, signed by 2,500 framework knitters of Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, praying for an investigation into their distressing condition. As a result a Royal Commission with R.M.Muggeridge Esq., as Commissioner, was appointed to enquire into their grievances.

Part I of the report, confined to Leicestershire, alone runs into over 500 pages, and contains 8,353 pieces of evidence. It deals with every phase of the industry, and gives a very true picture of the conditions prevailing at that time both in Hinckley and the surrounding villages.

Among the Hinckley men summoned to give evidence was Joshua Clarke. He was required to answer the fifty- five questions put to him. His replies are given here in narrative form:

I am a manufacturer in Hinckley, owning 300 frames situated in Hinckley and four or five villages round it, knitting wrought cotton hose only, in gauges 21's, 22’s, 24's and 26's. (That is making fully-fashioned hose with between 14 and 17 needles per inch).

I do not work through middlemen or bagmen. I let my frames out directly to the masters of families. The number of frames let to a family would vary between three and eight. Mostly a family would do all the work connected with the frames they rent, but in perhaps one case in twenty they would employ journeymen or children from neighbouring family, if the frame-shop is large enough. When the young people reach the age of fourteen or fifteen they can get nearly as much work as the elder people. The fully-fashioned branch of the trade is the lowest paid, there is no section of the trade in which they are paid so badly.

The families work in their own homes with the children doing the largest part of the work, the winding and the seaming. The earnings of those working 21 gauge or the finer 24 gauge are much the same, but it is harder to work the finer frames. I have looked at my books for the last twelve months and I find that after deducting one shilling per week for the rent of each frame I have been paying each family on average six shillings and six pence. The family would have other expenses. I cannot give details, but I have brought my man who manages a small factory I have in Hinckley, and he will be able to tell you better than I can. He has been a stocking-maker all his life; he will know..

I have been in the fully-fashioned trade for the last fifteen or sixteen years and it has been declining all that time, but it has never been as bad as it has been in the last three or four years. This I attribute to the lack of demand, we have not been making stockings because we cannot sell them. And we think that the reason we have not been able to sell fully-fashioned stockings is because there are so many of the straight hose that we call cut-ups. There are always a great number of these cut-ups being made and they are sold readily because they can make them cheaper than we can make a stocking one at a time.

Cut-ups are inferior to fully-fashioned hose, they are straight in the leg and square in the foot. They are uncomfortable things to wear and they have no fashion about them, but some of them will wear very well. We shape our stockings on the frame to fit the leg and the foot, but cut-ups can be made on a frame 70 inches wide, and cut to produce six stockings. These things are made to send out to countries where they do not understand stockings. We always find that where there is a foreign demand they want them at so low a price that they will buy these things in preference to our better goods.

It is seldom we get any orders for shipping for our fully-fashioned stockings, our business is chiefly confined to the home trade. I don't think fully-fashioned stockings are produced at a cheaper rate than ours in any foreign country. You will ask about Saxon .(i.e., German) competition! Well, I don't think they can make anything to equal our fully-fashioned cotton hose. Some people may be of the opinion that they can, but I have never seen anything yet at all equal to ours.

At this point, Joshua Clarke was shown a pair of mens brown half-hose and was informed that they had been bought at Leipzig, and were of German manufacture and delivered to London at five shillings and six pence per dozen, in bond. In reply to a questions as to whether such an article could be produced as cheaply in this country he replied that he could make and deliver such an article to London at that price, and would be very glad to take an order now. But he could not have done that within the last three years, it was only within the last year that wages had been down to the pitch to enable him to make that article at that price.

Joshua Clarke was then asked if there had been competition in Hinckley from men who were called "truck-masters". The reply was, that there had been competition from such people but latterly there had been little or none. It was explained how these people bought grocery and all those sort of things with which they paid their workers, and that enabled them to go to market with their goods at a cheaper rate than the hosier who paid wages in cash.

When asked if it was correct that with an increasing trade in Hinckley , wages had been greatly reduced the answer was that this was correct. It was explained in this way:- about eighteen months before the time of the Enquiry, because there was no trade at that time, the men had reduced the wages themselves. It was no fault of the workers, they could not help it; they were driven to the extreme of going from one master to another for a job and there are always masters who will give out work if they can get it done at less, and of course the prices go down.

The trade of Hinckley, the fully-fashioned cotton hose trade, lasts for the season from the end of November, until the beginning of May. For three or four years, in fact, until recently, the workers had been at a loose end for remaining seven months of the year, taking work wherever they could get it, at any price they could get, in order to survive.

When asked if he thought the framework knitters of Hinckley have had to endure great privations, the reply was that there was no doubt that this was so. No set of men in the whole country has had to endure the privations that the stocking-workers of Hinckley and the neighbourhood had suffered. My man who manages my small factory in Hinckley has been into their homes and he can tell you of the suffering they have endured.

When asked to explain why wages had not been increased in the last six months when the trade in Hinckley had shown an improvement and was indeed good, the hosier said that there had been no increases in the wages paid to the workers. But he explained that there had been an attempt to improve on the wages paid and that the buyers of the town's goods would have been prepared to pay more. Indeed, Joshua Clarke and one other manufacturer in the town had paid an increase of 3 pence a dozen on half-hose and 6 pence per dozen for stockings. This was the plan.

The better wages would be paid for one month while the other four manufacturers in the town considered their position. The agreement of these four had .to be obtained as obviously Joshua Clarke could not give more than their competitors. But at the end of the month the other four would not agree to pay the same increases in wages and the two who were willing to pay more to relieve the plight of the workers had to give it up. The buyers confirmed that they would have paid more and bought the same quantity, thus enabling the increase in wages to be maintained, but the scheme had to be abandoned and there was no increase in wages paid.

The next question was about the practice of charging a full rent for the frame when times were slack and the knitters were given only work for half the week. The answer given was that this was not practiced by the manufacturers in Hinckley but some arrangement for part payment had to be made, because the knitters, in desperation, were at the mercy of a class of men known as "bagmen" or "undertakers". These people did not work for any particular hosier but would obtain yarn and then get it made into stockings on the frames that had no work because the hosier had no orders. Further trouble was caused by these "bagmen" who did not tell the knitters the rates that they had agreed with the hosiers to be paid to the knitters by paying less and so increasing their own profits. True vultures feeding on the hosiers and the knitters.

Asked if it would be practicable, in his opinion, to reduce the charges for which the knitters were responsible, the answer was given that it would be better to do without any charges at all, but instead the frames should be placed in frame-shops, under supervisors, and let the men have what they could get.

The question of serious losses from waste, or the embezzlement of yarn in the fully-fashioned cotton stocking branch of the trade was asked. Joshua Clarke said that cotton was a nice clean thread and made little waste as compared to the trade in worsted yarn, two ounces only in ten pounds for fly, and embezzlement was never a problem to hosiers in Hinckley.

In the debate on frame-rents, it was interesting to have evidence from Joshua Clarke that taking an average over his 300 frames, one third of the rent was needed to cover the cost of repairs, this did not take account of depreciation.

Every effort was made by the hosiers to leave the frames with the knitters who had worked them for years, personal knowledge and usage means efficient knitting. For example, allowance was made for sickness, the frame remained with the knitter, half rent was charged. Hinckley hosiers were judged to be more understanding that those in Leicester.

On the question as to whether a knitter was better off if he owned his frame, compared with a man who rented one, Joshua Clarke was firmly of the opinion that the knitter/owner was worse off. This was because the bagman (undertaker) was in charge, and could, and did, rob the independent knitter by only paying a proportion of the money to him that had been agreed should be paid by the hosier. On the question of frames that became worn-out and hardly fit for their task, Joshua said that by moving such frames into his frame-shop and letting the knitters work these under a supervisor, he had proved that the knitter could earn more than he had done at home.

So again we read that Joshua believed that it was the way forward to have frames installed in shops or factories belonging to the manufacturer and then let the knitters work "on piece work". This was forward thinking, some fifty years before it became the universal practice. Joshua Clarke said that he did not now use undertakers because the quality of the goods these people had made up and returned to him was inferior, but in the time of Joshua's father-in-law, undertakers were regularly used.

On his relationship with the knitters who rented frames and worked for him, replies were given that showed that Joshua Clarke must have been a good employer.

  • Yarn was issued for work -to be returned completed at the end of one week, but if a man lived at a considerable distance from the warehouse, a fortnight was allowed to save travelling time.
  • That the knitters were punctual in returning the work.
  • That men did not quit without giving notice, in fact already a two-week notice either way was already operated. Some of Joshua's knitters had been working for his business for 20 years. The frames were often turned over to a son, or a daughter, when the old man died.
  • Because of the pitiful conditions of the fully-fashioned cotton hose trade in Hinckley, men had been leaving whenever an opportunity arose.


Why did Joshua Clarke leave Hinckley and go to Ireland?

Born in 1813 and starting work fifteen years later in the knitting trade, he was, without doubt a successful and wealthy man. Existing local records help to chart his progress. A Parish Rate book for 1836 shows of a warehouse in Mansion Street with a partner named Thompson. This was one of eleven warehouses in Hinckley parish, and also recorded is the first mention of a factory in the town, credited to William Williamson, who in .1824 was making lace on a stocking hand-frame. In a gazette of the hosiery trade in Hinckley for 1840, Joshua Clarke is shown as a manufacturer of Hosiery with premises in Mansion Street.

We knew that by 1844 he owned 300 hand frames and that before that date he had made the first attempt to bring sane of the frames to be worked together in a factory. As recorded in the book "The Cradle and Home of the Hosiery Trade" by Arthur J. Pickering published in 1940, one of the earliest attempts at the factory system was made in the town by Mr. Joshua Clarke, who fitted up extensive premises in the Stockwell Head, Hinckley, with a number of wide frames. The building, which had been unoccupied for a long time, was built by Mr. William Brown and used formerly for the combing of wool and the spinning of worsted yarns.

In Earl Shilton neither the workshop nor the factory system was in operation until after the Commission of 1844. Giving evidence at that enquiry, Mr. John Homer a manufacturer, said that the whole of the frames in the district were in the houses of the workpeople. Slater's National Directory for the Hosiery Trade in 1850 shows Joshua Clarke- to have a factory in Earl Shilton.

There is further evidence that Joshua Clarke was determined to continue and to widen his attempts to prove that the lot of the framework knitters could be improved by his method of putting frames into a factory instead of having them worked in the homes of the knitters or in small shops. Jabez Chaplin told the enquiry that only seven weeks previous he had left Hinckley to go to Leicester to work for Joshua Clarke for a weekly wage. "We have now taken a large place in Navigation Street Leicester that will hold upwards of 40 frames, without any charge whatever to the hands, either of frame-rent or standing, or taking in, or anything connected in any shape with the framework knitting except needles, candles and winding. We have only begun a few weeks, but we are increasing them every week, and we shall increase daily till the whole number is made up. The reason why we have begun this plan is to try and bring about a better state of things".

Question 3637… in what way?

ANSWER: To benefit the workmen. The framework knitters labour under many disadvantages from the frame rent, from the middlemen and from the undertakers, from the charging of frame-rent when a man was ill and not able to work.

Question 3628… was that ever Mr. Clarke's practice?

ANSWER: The practice of Mr. Clarke was not to charge frame rent when a man was ill.

Question 3639… Do you know much of the general condition of the people at Hinckley?

ANSWER: The general condition of the people of Hinckley is wretched in the extreme.

Question 3640… are any of then leaving the trade at Hinckley?

ANSWER: Hundreds have left the town and gone to Leicester or other places where they can earn more money, so that the town is the picture of misery.

Does this give a clue to why Joshua Clarke decided to quit hosiery and seek a new life as a dairy farmer in Ireland?

In 1835 Joshua Clarke married Elizabeth Hannah Watts, the eldest daughter of Joseph Watts, a druggist, by special licence, at St. Mary's Church Hinckley.

They had 10 children, of whom three survived, Joseph, Elizabeth and Rosa, who were all born in Hinckley. Joshua first went alone on reconnaissance to look for a farm; he put advertisements to the effect in some of the Dublin newspapers. A Solicitor, James Dixon replied and together they visited a property in Altermount in the county of Carlow. Joseph bought the farm, but in the words of his surviving relatives -Mrs. Sheila Clarke and her son, Stephen Clinton Clarke (the great, great, great Grandson) he was conned. The farm was sold by people who did not have title to it, and after a battle in the Court of Chancery in 1852, Joseph lost the farm, the purchase price and all the stock that he bought to start a dairy herd.

Joseph Clarke moved to Dublin and returned to the hosiery trade, but no details are known.

He died in June 1866 and ten days after his death, at the age of 52, his body was interred in Hinckley Cemetery, Grave 35, F Section.

What happened to Elizabeth Hannah Clarke is not known.