Fascinating and untold stories of the rise and fall of Nottingham’s world-famous lace industry come to life through new research by historians at the University of Nottingham.
The city is well known for the manufacture of lace and hosiery which was started in the early 19th century, reaching its international trade heyday at the height of the British Empire.
However, less is known about Nottingham’s status as a global trading center for machinery and expertise that has enabled other countries to establish their own lace industries and markets.
Nottingham City Council Museums holds the UK’s premier collection of lace and lace-making material.
Collaboration between the University and the City of Nottingham Museums and Galleries will lead to the development of a new lace gallery at the Wollaton Hall Industrial Museum, an interactive exhibit at Newstead Abbey and workshops at the Castle of Nottingham.
Researchers in the university’s history department discovered how vital the export trade was to the success of Nottingham’s lace industry.
The main markets for Nottingham lace were France, Germany, the United States and South America. Manufacturers have also exported to Spain, Egypt and India. Between 1850 and 1950, many foreign consulates were opened in Nottingham, ensuring links with America, Germany, Norway, Chile, Argentina, Spain, Costa Rica, Venezuela, France , Colombia, El Salvador, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Cuba and Dominica.
The research also revealed more human stories about the lives of immigrant lace makers, merchants, factory owners and foreign traders who moved to Nottingham, as well as local people who migrated to Long Island, New York and Calais. , in France, to set up lace and hosiery factories with machines made in Nottingham.
Nottingham was not only the main center for lace making, but also a global trading center to which foreign workers, merchants and government officials flocked in search of knowledge, lace products and machinery.
At its peak in the 1890s, the lace industry in Nottingham employed 25,000 workers, mostly women, which slowly fell to just 5,000 in the 1970s, as manufacturing steadily declined against a background growing foreign competition.
Leading the research, Dr David Gehring said:
“Nottingham has long been famous for its lace industry, but this new investigation has deepened a great deal of material previously unexamined here in the University’s Manuscripts and Special Collections, the Nottinghamshire Archives and the Museums Lace Collection and Nottingham Galleries.
“Not many people living here today may know that over a century ago there were foreign consulates in the Lace Market area, and that the city was home to large communities of Germans, French and Americans working as merchants and manufacturers, some of whom stayed and became permanent British citizens.
“The stories Dr Joesephine Tierney uncovered will bring these aspects to life in new tourist attractions planned for Nottingham in the months to come. “
Dr Tierney is a post-doctoral researcher who has spent the past six months investigating the lace archives and her full report has now been handed over to the Museums and Galleries Department of City Council.
Her previous experience and expertise in the history of textiles and international relations has been invaluable to this project, says Dr Gehring, and she truly shone a light never seen before here in Nottingham.
Dr Tierney said: ‘I was very struck by the cosmopolitan nature of the Nottingham lace industry at the turn of the 20e century.
“The 1901 census, for example, includes more than fifty men and women of German origin who were associated with the lace trade as merchants, agents, manufacturers or workers.
“This number had risen to at least a hundred by 1911.
“There was also a German social club on Market Street which was a cultural and social center for German nationals living in Nottingham.
“Conversely, some families from Nottingham emigrated to Germany, sharing their know-how with new lace factories in Plauen, between Dresden and Nuremberg.
“The outbreak of World War I of course caused problems for Nottingham’s lacy links with Germany.
“The war put an end to all trade with Great Britain and the German government seized foreign companies and interned British lace-makers in enemy camps for the duration. German families in Nottingham also encountered difficulties similar to those of “enemy aliens”.
“We also found that at its peak there were over seventy French-born men and women, many of whom were British by descent, working in the lace industry in Nottingham.
“Between the mid-19th century and the early 20th century, a handful of Americans also emigrated to Nottingham, and families from Nottingham traveled to America to help establish a lace industry in Patchogue, Long Island.
“In the early 1890s there were also two lace mills in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and three in Philadelphia.
“In 1900, the Nottingham lace trade expanded to Zion Township, Illinois. So many American families living in these areas today will have lace-making ancestors born in Nottingham!
Despite heated debates at the time about the dangers of exporting skills and industrial technology abroad, this globalization was a key factor in the eventual decline of the lace industry in Nottingham, his home town. native.
Nottingham City Council Recreation and Culture Portfolio Holder Cllr Eunice Campbell-Clark said:
“It is wonderful for the city that the research gives visitors the opportunity to learn about the lace market, with its findings and the subsequent re-exhibition of the Textile Machinery Gallery at the Nottingham Industrial Museum, as well as the contents of the spring 2023 temporary exhibition at Newstead Abbey & Jardins.
“Our aim is for these developments to attract more visitors to these cultural venues and to be popular with all visitors to Nottinghamshire and beyond who want to find out more about the Lace Market, the cultural heart of Nottingham. “
Ron Inglis, director of operations for the Museums and Galleries Department at Nottingham City Council, said: ‘We are delighted with the results of the research – and we are particularly grateful for the funding from Arts Council England which has secured this project and allowed this research to take place.
“This is a fantastic project that allows us to work in collaboration with our research partner at the University of Nottingham, volunteers from the Nottingham Industrial Museum Ltd and the Nottingham Castle Trust, as well as with the community at large. “
“The results will greatly enrich our knowledge of the collection, inform our new exhibitions and future interpretation on the site, as well as provide a tremendous amount of information for tours and volunteer activities.
The Global Lace Market project was funded by the Arts Council as part of the Designation Development Fund, aimed at promoting greater understanding and public engagement with collections of national and international significance.