Smashing the Frames
On 11th March 1811 a large crowd of framework knitters assembled in Nottingham market place and after a number of very angry speeches the crowd dispersed, moving up the Mansfield Road to Arnold. They entered the premises of hosiers who had "rendered themselves the most obnoxious to the workmen’". and destroyed a total of sixty-three stocking frames. No other damage was done and no violence was reported. The Nottingham Journal on 15th March clearly identified that the hosier who had particularly suffered from the attacks – actually the ex-hosier, Bolton, who had previously written to the Journal in January to state that his frames were rented to Brocksopp & Parker, warned anyone against frame-breaking.
The stockingers were clearly not intimidated by this. The contemporary legal limitations on the Nottingham authorities prevented an effective response to the events of Arnold on 11th March, 1811.
The Nottingham city authorities simply had no remit to stray over the Nottinghamshire County borders without obtaining permission from the Home Office - obviously impossible at such short notice.
This attack became known as the start of the Luddite rebellion.
Framework knitting was the main employment of the Nottingham area, especially in Arnold where over three-quarters of the population were employed one way or another in the production of stockings. Framework knitting had started as a sideline for the agricultural community to earn money, especially during the winter months.
The frames that they used were rented to them by hosiers who also provided the materials, all at a cost to the workers. Framework knitting was a skilled trade and workers had to serve a seven-year apprenticeship. The Napoleonic wars produced a great demand for cheap hosiery for the troops but the war also produced huge shortages which affected the poorest most of all.
In order to produce cheaper products some hosiers introduced wide frames which could be operated by semi-skilled labour known as 'Colts'. They also reduced the wages paid to all employees. The Framework knitters still had to pay for hire of the frames and a fine if they did not produce stockings even if the hosiers had not provided materials.
This combined to produce great poverty amongst the knitters. The time-served knitters were fearful not of change but that the product's quality would become poor and that the skilled work would go abroad. They then decided to stop this happening, first by appealing to Parliament and when that failed to take direct action against those employers who employed Colts. The action of March 11th, 1811 was the start of a six-year campaign, with the authorities becoming more and more worried as attacks became worse.
Over two-hundred frames were destroyed in Arnold alone. The local Militia were called up in the affected areas and at one point there were more soldiers involved in the fight against the Luddites then were on the continent fighting Napoleon. Rewards for information all failed and even hangings and transportation only slowed events. That is until Parliament, fashion and world events improved the framework knitters' status and pay.
Were they right? Arnold was once a centre of the hosiery industry with multiple factories, now it has no factories and today all mass produced socks are made in China!
All articles © Bob Massey