The Hinckley Stocking Frame
When Queen Elizabeth I made a state visit to Norwich in 1579 children appeared before her and some were spinning worsted yarn and some knitting that yarn into stockings on knitting needles.
The Hinckley Frame differs in no way to that of William Iliffe in 1640. Robert Atkins started the firm of Atkins Brothers in 1722 and the Hinckley Frame was one of the firm's machines. Lieut-Colonel Clive Atkins loaned this frame to the Hinckley Technical College where the senior teacher was Arthur Bailey. It was used to teach the first principles of knitting the many who were to work in the trade. The frame became a casualty of war! Soldiers being instructed at the College wrecked it. The Frame was returned to Atkins and restored.
In 1984 the Frame was examined by Peta Lewis, an acknowledged expert in early knitting frames. Peta declared that it was made between 1740 and 1750 and was the earliest she had seen.
Hinckley & District Museum is grateful to Ruddington Framework Knitters Museum for the highly specialised work they have done in "recruiting" (that is the technical term for major overhaul) the Frame.
The wooden frame was found to be badly damaged by woodworm and where necessary replaced and after its treatment it should be safe if treated with respect. The knitting elements, the needles, sinkers, dividers and slur-cock are as they have always been cleaned, straightened, the iron needles re-cast in leads using a new needle mould made at Ruddington.
The Directors of Hinckley & District Museum have been advised by Ruddington that the frame must only be demonstrated infrequently And by a trained and sympathetic knitter; IT IS FRAGILE!
Hinckley and District Museum has two machines of the type that were once widely used throughout the world in homes, in cottage industries and in factories to make socks and stockings.
The machines are available for exhibition, for demonstration, for education, and for "hands-on" experience.
This type of machine is often referred to as 'The Griswold'.
In.America from the eighteenth century, the government and private committees have encouraged inventors by giving incentive premiums. In 1764 a New York society offered a sum of £15 for "the first knitting machine built and put into operation in the State of New York".
To be successful, a knitting machine must be fitted with efficient needles. The bearded needle invented by the Reverend William Lee in 1589 is still, unchanged in design, in use today. The invention of the latch needle, Patent number, 11899, by Mathew Townsend of Leicester in 1847 brought about a change in knitting technology. Townsend and his associate David Moulden continued to improve the design of the original invention and were rewarded with a new patent, number 12474, in 1849. This did not bring the desired and richly deserved success and Townsend left England to found a successful enterprise in Canton, Mass., U.S.A.
Townsend's latch needle was being made in 1854 in America by Theodor Groz. The invention of the latch needle brought a rapid development in circular knitting.
The first exclusively domestic knitting machine was patented in America in 1859 by Jonas B. Aiken, using needles made by his father. But this early machine in its original form was not a success. Aiken's instruction manual revealed that grandmothers still had to wield the knitting needles if she wanted heels and toes to her seamless machine knit legs. Other machines were patented between 1867 and 1869 and many inventors claimed to be able to form heels and toes.
In Britain domestic circular knitting became synonymous with the name ‘Griswold’, although the machine was not invented by the man of that name. Henry Josiah Griswold (1837 - 1920) was born in Madison, Connecticut, U.S.A., attended Yale University, and during the Civil War drafted guns for the Union government. He worked as a salesman for a blackboard and slate company, and he successfully filed patents for "Griswold's Erasable Tablets", a coffee grounds filter, a nutmeg grinder, and an idea to multiply power for lifts and elevators. In 1866 Griswold was in the London and Paris offices of the American Tablet Company. Whilst in Paris he sold his several foreign patent rights to invest in an American newspaper. Returning to England in late 1870, he was assistant manager of the Singer Sewing Machine Company in London until 1873. In 1871, soon after Griswold returned to London, Henry Clark his former American partner in the tablet patent sent three improvements for other inventions to Roswell Carter Munson, an American commission merchant dealing in refrigeration machinery at the Hop and Malt Exchange, Southwark Street, London.
An 1871 exhibition catalogue mistakenly names Munson as inventor of the "Little Rapid' which was exhibited there by a maker of patent washing machines. Griswold's relationship with Munson's promotion of the knitter is unclear. In 1872, the year he patented a knitting machine in Britain, Griswold is listed at Munson's address at the Hop and Malt Exchange. In his patent Griswold claimed possession of an invention for "Improvements in Knitting Machinery" and made "Solemn Declaration that I am the true and first Inventor thereof'. In the next year he patented several improvements to his invention commonly known as the "little rapid family knitting machine".
In 1881 Griswold formed the London and Leicester Hosiery Company Ltd., to purchase his patents, manufacture and sell his machines, and manufacture Niantic hosiery. Griswold also acquired the British rights to one American patent in circular knitting, which was an 1876 method to rib or plain knit on a family knitting machine without displacing either set of needles, as, for example, in making a stocking to knit the heel and toe plain, and the leg and foot ribbed without taking the dial out of the cylinder. The inventor of this was C. J. Appleton, an expatriate sewing machinist from Manchester. Griswold's new company leased a factory in Winifred Street, Leicester. Improvements to Griswold knitters were soon made by others, including Rose Ellen Shelley, Alfred Cooper Smith, I ,L. Berridge Ltd., William H. Dorman and others.
Griswold left the London and Leicester Hosiery Company between 1890 and 1892, and he sold all of his rights to I. L. Berridge & Co.
Candee, Richard M. Domestic industry in the factory age: Anglo- American development of the 'family knitting machine'. Textile History, 29 (1), 1998, pages 62 - 92.
These were two of the crafts, domestic and commercial, in common use throughout Britain at that time.
In 1589 a stocking frame was invented by William Lee, capable of perfectly imitating the hand-knitter's movements.
The invention was demonstrated to Queen Elizabeth when the request for a patent or monopoly was refused. This 1589 frame had 8 needles to the inch, and thus knitted coarse fabric. William Lee later made a frame with 20 needles to the inch and in 1598 he knitted pure silk stockings, but was again refused a patent or monopoly. Lee took nine of the 8-needle frames to France with nine knitters, but the venture failed. Lee died in Paris in around 1614. Eight of the frames and their knitters, returned to England. Later the frames were sold in London. Meanwhile a craftsman who had helped Lee build the 1589 frame had made a significant improvement by adding to the knitting mechanism what we call a "divider". His name was John Ashton. This improved frame was now a commercial success. In 1640 a Hinckley man - William Iliffe - bought a frame and so started the hosiery trade in Hinckley.