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Wickhamford Glove Making in the mid-19th Century

The Glovers’ Company was granted its own charter in 1349 and the trade outside of London was concentrated on three forested areas – Wychwood Royal Forest in West Oxfordshire, the Quantock Hills of Somerset and the Malvern Hills of Worcestershire.  From 1463 the English trade was protected by import duties on the better quality French and Italian gloves, but in 1826 these were lifted.  Cheap well-made foreign gloves flooded in, causing a depression in the English industry and widespread distress in the glove making areas mentioned above.  However, the industry re-organised itself and quality improved by 1840.

In the first decades of the 19th century, Worcester’s gloving industry was at its peak, with 150 manufacturers employing 30,000 people in and around the city.  A half of all glove-makers in Britain were based in this area. The animal skins were prepared and dyed in factories. Dressing consisted of several stages of soaking and washing in different liquids.  Then came staking to restore suppleness and paring the leather to uniform thickness.  The finished material was then cut into squares (cutting) and then into the shape of the hand (sitting).  Holes would be punched ready for the sewing. The master glovers, who were usually men, would hand out bundles of cut skins to a carrier woman, or ‘bagwoman’, who would distribute these to women outworkers in their homes, where they would be hand-sewn into gloves.  In 1827, women were paid by the number of completed dozen pairs of gloves, earning 2/- to 3/- per week.  This would have been a useful addition to household finances, especially where the only other income was from agricultural labourer’s wages.

In Wickhamford, ‘gloveress’ appeared as an occupation in the mid-century censuses. In the first census when names and occupations were recorded, in 1841, five women were entered as gloveresses - Elizabeth Falkner, Ann Stanton, Mary Howes, Sarah Sears and Mary Sears.  (The other cottage industry at that time was ‘silk throwster’ and nine youngsters, aged eight to eighteen, had that occupation in 1841.  They were making silk yarn from raw fibres for use in the silk mills, such as the one in Badsey.  A reduction in duties on imported silk in 1846 led to the collapse of the English silk industry and this occupation disappeared from future censuses.)

The number involved in glove-making rose from the five women recorded in 1851 to twelve in 1861 before falling back to four in 1871.  The occupation was confined to two families in 1851 – Sarah Crane (31) and her daughter Mary (9) of Corner Cottage and Mary Sears (44) and her daughters Mary (15) and Hannah (13) of a cottage near the Sandys Arms.

Wickhamford gloveresses in 1861

In the 1861 census, there were 28 occupied houses in the village.  Discounting the larger properties – the Manor, the Mill, the Sandys Arms and three farmhouses (Elm Farm, Pitchers Hill Farm and Field Farm) – there were 22 cottages and in these, there were 12 girls and women, aged 12 to 57, earning money making gloves.  There were twenty-five females in the age group 12 to 57 in the village, two of whom were recorded as invalids.  Of the remaining 23, over half were involved on glove-making.  They were:

  • Elizabeth Hall (31) was the wife of farm labourer and carter, Thomas Hall at ‘White Furrows Cottage’, now Whitfurrows Farm, at the Broadway end of the village.
  • In the village street, now Manor Road, were the following women; the menfolk were all agricultural labourers:-
  • Hannah Warner (18), unmarried daughter of William Warner, who lived in a cottage that is now half of ‘Grey Gables’.
  • Harriett Tomlinson (30), unmarried daughter of Thomas Tomlinson, was in the other half of this property.
  • Louisa Howse (12), was the youngest gloveress, a daughter of Thomas Howse, who lived in a cottage on the site of the present ‘Leasowe’.
  • Sarah Newbury (20), wife of Edward Newbury, lived in a cottage on the site of the present ‘Challacot’.
  • Elizabeth Higgins (39), wife of George Higgins, lived in the cottage now called ‘Old Vicarage’.
  • Elizabeth Edkins (41), wife of George Edkins, lived in a cottage on the site of the present 52 & 54 Manor Road.

At the Evesham road end of the village, on the opposite side of the village street to the Sandys Arms, were a group of about eight cottages that were demolished at the end of the century.  Here were five more gloveresses, one was a widow but the others were the wives of agricultural labourers.

  • Ann Knight (22), the wife of Henry Knight.
  • Martha Clinton (29), wife of William Clinton.
  • Mary Howse (40), wife of William Howse.
  • Ellen Taylor (20), wife of Job Taylor.
  • Mary Sears (57), a widow, who had this occupation in 1841 and 1851.

At this census, the total Wickhamford population was 124.  That of Badsey and Aldington combined was 546 and there were also twelve women occupied there in glove making.

Census of 1871 and later

In this period, families moved from village to village periodically and, of the list of women above, Martha Clinton had died, young Louisa Howse had moved away and Elizabeth Hall and Elizabeth Edkins were the only others who were still in Wickhamford.  Neither of these were now working as a gloveress.  The other women had moved elsewhere.

No women were occupied making gloves in 1881, but a few were recorded in the censuses of 1891, 1901 and 1911.  In 1891, Ann Mason (28) was at the present-day ‘Old Vicarage’ and Lucy Hannah White (20) at what is now ‘Grey Gables’. In 1901, Dinah Walters was working as a gloveress at 8 Manor Road.  She lived to be 95, dying in 1940.  In 1911, Mary Agg (28) was working making gloves at 4 Manor Road.

When the 1939 Register was drawn up at the outbreak of the Second World War, Violet Bennett (29), soon to become the wife of Cecil Walter Cox, coincidentally of 4 Manor Road, was recorded as a market gardener and gloveress, and was working from home.  She was almost certainly the last woman in Wickhamford to follow this trade and continued to do so long after the end of the War.  She made the gloves, in the house, on an apparatus called a ‘donkey’ and on one occasion supplied long gloves to the Royal Family for a wedding.  She was working for Dents, the Worcester glove manufacturers. 

Violet Bennett
Violet Bennett, thought to be the last person working in the glove industry in Wickhamford.
Glove maker's donkey
A 19th century glove-maker's ‘donkey’.

The decline of this cottage industry in the second half of the 19th century would have been related to the introduction of glove-sewing machines in factories.  The first such machine was demonstrated at the Paris Exposition of 1867.

Acknowledgements:  Thanks are due to Robin Cox for the photograph of his mother, Violet Bennett.

Tom Locke – October 2020