The Lace Market in Nottingham
Lace making is one of the key aspects of Nottingham’s history, and a quarter mile square area in the heart of the city contains one of the enduring signs of the impact lace has had on the area. It was officially named “The Lace Market” in 1847.
The area now known as The Lace Market is built on the site of the original 6th century village of Snottingham. The area was fortified in the 800s, and the first Christian church was built there sometime before the Battle of Hastings in 1066. St Mary’s Church, built on the same foundations as the older church, has been a prominent part of the neighborhood since it was completed in 1474.
As the city grew around its core of churches and administrative buildings, the market remained an important part of city life until the 17th century, when it gradually became a residential sector.
The first “storage machine” was invented by William Lee in Nottingham in 1685, which became a “warp frame” or “storage frame” in the 1700s, but changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution also left their mark. footprint in Nottingham. Even then, it was known as a fine lace making center. Up to 120,000 people and their families made a living by creating bobbin stockings and lace from cotton thread in their homes, powered by the cotton factory built in the town of Hockley by Richard Arkwright in 1770.
As the industry, like many others, shifted from the domestic trade in handmade lace to large-scale factories, people feared losing their livelihood. The “Luddite” riots briefly threatened to reverse the technological and social changes brought about by mechanization, and soldiers had to be posted to protect factories and machines, but resistance soon passed.
Lace making achieved real efficiency when John Leavers invented what became known as the “Leavers machine” in 1814. These machines, first powered by teams of men, then by steam, gradually replaced manual racks. The factories predominantly employed male factory workers known as “twisthands,” who operated the 20-ton machines and kept them lubricated with graphite (“black lead”) and oil.
Many of Nottingham’s local businesses focused solely on the finishing of lace that was done elsewhere in the East Midlands countryside; The unfinished lace was often loose, tangled and dirty, and sometimes stained with the same graphite and oil that kept the machines running efficiently. Finishing tasks (bleaching, running, mending, drawing, scalloping, trimming, and trimming) were performed primarily by women, often in factory settings that were overheated, poorly ventilated, and poorly lit; even so, their hours were generally better than those of workers in other manufacturing industries.
Thomas Adams, a celebrated Quaker, did much to reform working conditions for women in his factory, providing indoor baths, a tea room, and a sickness fund.
In 1847, the district was formally named The Lace Market. Local architect Watson Fothergill was hired by many of the recently wealthy weaving moguls to design stately factories, warehouses, and office buildings that fit in with the area’s other historic architecture. He designed more than a hundred buildings in Nottingham in the last quarter of the 19th century, mostly in a picturesque neo-Gothic style. Thomas Chambers Hine was another notable and busy local architect, who had a great Anglo-Italian flair. He created The Birkin Building and several other Nottingham landmarks.
In 1865, there were 130 lace factories, with almost the same number of supporting industries, and Nottingham’s population had increased fivefold over the previous century. Around the same time, during Queen Victoria’s mourning for Prince Albert, a fashion for black lace swept across the country.
In the early 1900s, Nottingham dominated the machine-made lace industry, with almost all machine-made lace in the UK being produced, finished, processed or shipped via one or other of the lace businesses in the UK. city. Almost every passenger ship that crossed the Atlantic in those decades carried a shipment of Nottingham lace (including the Titanic).
Trade began to decline only in the 1950s, when it became less expensive to set up factories and machines abroad where labor was cheaper. Cotton lace has been replaced by synthetic and elastic threads, and the vast majority of lace is now used for underwear, rather than outerwear. Today, the surviving lace making in Nottingham is a specialized industry that uses state-of-the-art computer-controlled machines to create ever more elaborate designs.
Meanwhile, the charming old buildings of Lace Market are now being converted into residential apartments, shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions. The Victorian architecture of the factories, the Georgian masterpieces along the High Pavement, and the medieval buildings around Fletcher Gate are rich in history (right down to the misspelling of the “County Goal” chiseled into the rock of the old prison). Gothic and Tudor influences are felt in some of the decorative details.
The area is now an English Heritage site, and intensive work is being done to preserve and restore the historic beauty of the many buildings and parks at The Lace Market.