Wigston Framework Knitters Museum

20 June 2023

For our first outing of the year, members of the Society ventured across the city to the Wigston Framework Knitters Museum, where we received a warm welcome from their team of friendly volunteers.

The stocking frame was invented near Nottingham in 1589 and by the 18th century many agricultural workers in the East Midlands had a frame at home to supplement their income.  Nottingham came to specialize in knitting cotton, Derby in silk and Leicestershire in wool.  To produce each row of knitting on a frame required a sequence of eight operations using both hands and feet.  The frames would typically be operated by men, with women making up the knitted panels into garments such as stockings or gloves, while children were put to work winding wool onto bobbins.  Their products were taken to be sold at the Globe Inn in Leicester – so called because framework knitters used a glass globe filled with water to direct light to where they were working.

During the 19th century, and despite the protests of the Luddites, wider frames were developed.  They could not be accommodated at home so they were housed in frame shops or larger factories.  Few of these frame shops have survived, though you can sometimes spot where they were by a row of windows just below the eaves of a building.  The Wigston Museum is a rare “time capsule” showing what they would have been like.  It comprises a master hosier’s house, with a separate building behind containing eight frames and a long bobbin-winding machine.  There is also a stove, which not only provided heat but was also used to melt lead for setting replacement needles in the machines.  Although Edgar Carter had closed his knitting business during the Great Depression, the government requested him to resume producing gloves for soldiers during the Second World War.  He continued alone until his death in 1951, followed soon afterwards by his wife, and the frame shop has hardly changed since then.  Our guide gave a brief demonstration on one of the frames that has been restored to working order.

Mr & Mrs Carter’s two daughters carried on living in the family home and they took the opportunity to make a few “modern” improvements, like replacing the tin bath in the kitchen with a fully plumbed-in bath – still in the kitchen!  But for the most part the house is lovingly preserved as it would have been in Victorian times, from the slightly oppressive Parlour – used only on special occasions – to the gadgets in the kitchen and the brass bedsteads upstairs.  The Museum is open to visitors on Sunday afternoons.  It also includes a small exhibition and delightful secret garden.