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In England during the eighteenth century workers strove to perfect machine-made hexagonal mesh fabric. In the early nineteenth century, great advances were made to the machines applying patterns to the hexagonal mesh. As the industry expanded, it moved from the isolated villages to the towns, in particular to Nottingham, Lenton, Radford and other nearby villages. From there the industry spread south into Leicestershire at villages such as Long Whatton, Hathern and Shepshed and the nearby town Loughborough.

The machines were set up initially in the workers’ houses and small buildings. As the industry grew, the machines needed more space in purpose-built factories.

If you have an appropriate image of a building, village or town where your lacemaking ancestors lived or worked, please contact us.

Images are from the Gillian Kelly Collection unless noted otherwise.


Nottingham  Town

Nottingham was and wasn't a radical town. In the late eighteenth century as workers in the hosiery industry moved into Nottingham, the population expanded but the towns boundaries did not. This overcrowding was just one of the factors that had an impact on the housing and working conditions of the town's expanding hosiery and later developing lace industries in the early nineteenth century. See the journal Tulle Issue 138 pp30-36 for a detailed commentary on the political, commercial and social factors at work in Nottingham.

Nottingham Lace Market Area

Image: Stephen Black

The lace industry in Nottingham grew up in the east and south east of the town centred on the Church of St Mary. Many of our lacemakers worked and lived in the area bounded by Goose Gate in the north, Fletcher Gate to the west, Narrow Marsh (later Red Lion Street) and Leen Side along the canal on the south.

Places of worship

Churches - St Mary's was the parish church for the lace district with St Peter's and St Nicholas' along the district's western edge. Many of our lacemakers were baptised, or married or buried at these establishment churches.

However, the lacemakers were working people of simple means and life. Some were attracted to the tenets of the nonconformists who included them in their regular prayer meetings and social gatherings. They met in chapels such as the Hockley Chapel in Goose gate and the later Parliament Street Chapel.

St Peter's Church

St Nicholas' Church


The lacemakers often worked where they and their family lived. These were detached cottages at first but with more and more families moving to the town, they were replaced by narrow but tall terraces. The terraces were built back-to-back along the streets and down the narrow lanes that ran off them with a common paved yard between the buildings and off which the communal toilets were built.

The family lived in the lower levels where the women worked spinning and sewing while the men set up their machines on the upper floor where enlarged windows provided much-needed natural light.

A Nottingham Cottage

Canal and Broad Street

Houses on Narrow Marsh

Image: Stephen Black

Bridlesmith Gate

Bridlesmith Gate

Goose Fair

An occasion to break from the everyday work, for fun, to meet friends and relatives, to buy and sell goods and produce and to exchange ideas, thoughts and beliefs.

Union Workhouse - York Street

It was the threat of possible confinement in a workhouse if the lacemakers returned to England that contributed to the idea to migrate to the Australian Colonies in 1848.

Nottingham Environs

The lace industry beginnings were in the villages and hamlets in the countryside around Nottingham rather than in the town. Many of our lacemaker families began their work with lace machines in cottages at villages close to Nottingham such as Lenton, Radford, Basford and Beeston as well as further afield at Kimberley, Strelly, Arnold and East Leake.

Arnold - St Mary's Church

It was in Arnold in 1811 where stocking knitters rioted and so began the Luddite movement of frame breaking.

Images: Stephen Black

East Leake - St Mary's Church

As with other places, Arnold and East Leake had  Wesleyan Methodist chapels for the non-conformists to meet in as well as the conforming Church of England churches.

Image: Stephen Black

East Leake - Cottages

In England in the early 1800s, most of the knitting frames were located in the midland counties of Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Of these, only 10 to 20% were set up in Nottingham and Leicester. The rest were in the houses and cottages of the surrounding villages and hamlets.

Birch Row - Radford

Home to the Branson Family in 1848

Plumbers office and yard in 1996

The cottage is behind Home Farm and the Black Horse pub in Caythorpe. Both belonged to Robert Branson, brother of William Branson (Agincourt).

Their father John Branson worked in the cottage's upstairs workshop and it is assumed this was a family home.

Caythorpe Nottinghamshire

Branson House

Watercolour of the interior of the upstairs workshop in the Branson Cottage painted by William Hallam Pegg (1864-1946).


Pegg was a Nottingham-based designer of hand and machine made lace.

The image shows a laceworker sitting at his machine at the window with the natural light coming across his shoulder and a spinning wheel behind him.

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection


Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Image above with the Royal Oak and White Horse Hotels is little changed today.

Quorn, Leicestershire

High Street

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection


St Mary the Virgin Church - Dover

Many of the lacemakers living in Calais and St Pierre sailed on the packet boat across to Dover to be married in this church or in nearby St James.


After Heathcoat's factory at Loughborough was attacked by Luddites he set up a new factory at Tiverton in Devon. Many lacemakers and their families followed him to work in the new factory - Tulle Issue 124 pp21-22 

Heathcoat Factory Barnstaple 

Factory opened in 1822 by John and Thomas Heathcoat.

Heathcoat Factory Tiverton c 1900

Factory opened c1817

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

Image: Gillian Kelly Collection

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