Stepping back to a period that was relatively seen as one full of disorder and social instability brings to mind the many difficulties framework knitters faced during the beginning of the nineteenth century. Indeed, most all industry in England faced extreme difficulties such as machine breaking, and their causes varied following geographical region, social position, reception of technology and economic situation. The framework-knitters’ situation was more complicated than most as it involved certain factors already mentioned as well as constitutional complications and craft related traditions which were particularly intense in the region of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire. Although frame-breaking focuses on a short time span, the circumstances in which it evolved, come from an extensive chronicle. This period regarding framework-knitters reaches back to 1589, with the invention of the stocking loom by William Lee.
William Lee was ‘an obscure Renaissance genius who came from Calverton, a village just to the north of Nottingham’,  his invention, originally destined for silk and woollen stockings, came also to be used in the making of cotton stockings in 1732 in the East Midlands. By the nineteenth century Nottinghamshire centred on cotton, Derbyshire focused on the production of silk garments and Leicestershire on worsted woollen garments. From this point on, these shires witnessed an increase in the numbers of domestic framework-knitters (close to a 50% increase in thirty years) as well as seeing an augmentation of financial benefits to the merchant hosiers at the expense of the Knitters.
Estimates of the numbers of Domestic Workers in the cotton industry, 1782 -1844 
The framework-knitter or stockinger worked this veteran frame for centuries with little technological changes seen. Through the many years of frameworking, traditions, customs, standards of quality and skill levels were built up and adhered to by the stockingers. Even though most work was done in homes, a sense of craftsmanship developed throughout the rural communities and became intrinsic for the stockingers, as with other artisans. Domestic outwork remained the main source of manufacturing but gradually evolved out to include small workshops of master-stockingers. But towards the 1800s, the merchant hosiers increasingly took ownership of the expensive frames. This passage into the hands of hosiers, allowing them to control and dictate rental prices, in turn led to the increasing exploitation of the stockingers who were already facing precarious times.
The climate of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was riddled with economic hardships, trade depression, and employment dilemma. The poor harvests of 1795-96, 1799, 1801, 1804, and 1809-13 drove up the price of food while wages remained stagnate. The issue of wages was extremely volatile, so much so that in 1778-1779 the stockingers attempted to obtain legal statute regarding a minimum wage. But that bill was defeated and an episode of frame-breaking followed along with rioting. However in 1787, an agreement was reached between the framework-knitters and the merchant hosiers, establishing a pricelist for finished work. The accord was somewhat adhered to for the following twenty years but in and around 1807 wages started to decline so the stockingers reactivated the former Framework-Knitters’ Company with intentions of constitutional reparations. However the situation worsened and in 1812 a bill was issued by Parliament making frame-breaking a capital offence. This so seriously distressed the framework-knitters that they invested themselves into an association ‘The United Committee of Framework-Knitters which was just short of being illegal. They reacted by drawing up a bill ‘For Preventing Frauds and Abuses in the Frame-Work Knitting Manufacture’.  In the meantime, several Luddites were sentenced to transportation, and later in 1812 more violence erupted and the bill was rejected in the House of Lords. The constitutional process of petitioning the government for redress had long been used by stockingers, with little or no consequence.
The framework-knitters received an official charter in the mid-1600s, [sources differ on the date ; 1657 from Cromwell  ; or under the reign of Charles II (1660-1685)  ], thus installing the stockingers within the constitutional framework. Through the years however, the charter fell into obscurity as other companies and hosiers alike offered less expensive labour and freedom from the impediments of the ordinances. This did not deter the stockingers, for through the years they used the recourse of addressing Parliament in trying to improve their situation.
The ability of workers to organise themselves and to deploy a range of tactics was in response to the periods of change in their trade. They were reacting, trying to provide relief to the framework industry, which was undergoing severe deterioration. Domestic and International markets were in a precarious state during the period 1795-1816. The price of wool rose significantly, which compelled many to devote their works to cotton. Problems brought about by war contributed to the social hardships ; Napoleon’s Continental System, prohibiting Europe from trading with England and English retaliatory measures ‘Orders in Council’, oppressively blocked trade. Then in 1811 another Orders in Council with its prohibition on trade with the United States direly affected the cotton industry. The changes in fashion also had grave ends for the stockingers, as the demand for fine hosiery and others goods declined in the face of Jacobean influences. These factors seriously disrupted the textile market and contributed to the general economic stagnation in the East Midlands. In conjunction with these issues, inner-trade conflicts just added more fuel to the fire
The hosiery industry was seriously affected by certain nefarious details in the trade, brought about by the scrupulous hosiers and middlemen. Village stockingers were persuaded to do work at below accepted rates, and ‘cut-up stockings’ (and other articles) which were manufactured from large pieces of knitted material, and then made into the required form, instead of following the long standing tradition of stocking frame fabrication. The quality of these ‘cut-ups’ was inferior and detrimental to the trade, as was the use of cheap unskilled labour or ‘colting’ employed to produce it. Colting was in contradiction of statute 5, clause 4 in the 1563 Elizabethan Statute of Artificers enforcing a seven year apprenticeship. This led to an attempt, on the part of the framework-knitters, against some of the hosiers to prove that they were ‘combining’ to reduce wages thus adding to their legal grievances. In addition, under the clause of the ancient Charter, the Framework-Knitters’ Company had the right of inspection regarding goods deceitfully produced.
The following is an extract from the Luddite song ‘ General Ludd’s Triumph ’ and refers to this strife incurred by the Knitters :
‘Let the wise and the great lend their aid and advice
Nor e’er their assistance withdraw
Till full-fashioned work at the old fashioned price
Is established by Custom and Law
Then the Trade when this arduous contest is o’er
Shall raise in full splendour its head
And colting and cutting and squaring no more
Shall deprive honest workmen of bread.’ 
These circumstances along with certain others were to incite frame-breaking in the shires during the intense ‘Luddite Years’of 1811-1812. The dissension was great and after all orderly protest came short of persuading Parliament ‘to either enact new or use existing legislation affecting working and living conditions’  frame-breaking intensified and came to be inaugurated under the banner of Luddism. The Luddite movement of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Leicestershire was the culmination of various pressures. The Combination Acts of 1799-1800 restricting trade unions did not improve matters. The Acts were partly inspired by fear of revolution, working-class conspiracies and also to stop obstruction in trade deemed intolerable in times of war. The fear of conspiracy played heavily on the government, certainly following the French Revolution of 1789. Moreover, the spread of radical propagation was gaining ground throughout England. The accumulating factors and general feeling in the framework-knitters’ community was that they felt themselves to be deprived of their constitutional rights, which just united the craftsmen all the more. This source of solidarity was bound up in varying degrees with the preservation of domestic industry, employment and especially the preservation of customs, standards of quality and the hostility towards the malpractices of employers. Thus the workshop culture, with its strong bonds, sympathised and at times performed as cover for Luddite action. This intense ‘protest’ enflamed to the point where in Nottingham, over 1000 frames were destroyed in over 100 raids. Repression was quite pronounced in the East Midlands, where over ‘2000 soldiers were stationed in Nottingham to break Luddism in the county.’  During this short period, many of the Luddite ‘Activists’ were transported and some were also put to death. Violence was highly organised, usually targeted at the hosier who violated the traditional craft practises. Certain acts perpetrated by hosiers and Luddites alike are alluded to in the document by Bob Barker (source 3). The letter, sent to London by the Nottingham Magistrate, dated February 06, 1812, reveals the predicament surrounding the framework-knitter in regards to employment, corrupt hosiers, the food crisis, substandard wages and craft customs and standards.
The framework-knitters’ craft continued on after the Luddite dilemma, but rather on a downward spiral ; wages continued to decline and the craft fell into disrepute. What is important to remember is that the framework-knitter struggled to preserve his domestic industry, his employment and his customs and standards while fighting against the pressure of war, economic hardship and legislative deception.
Text transcript of the letter sent to London from a magistrate describing the situation in Nottingham in February 1812*
Nottingham Feb 6, 1812
We mentioned some frames to be removed today from 10 miles off. They came totally unmolested. The soldiers did not go near the villages, and the constables had no interruption whatever.
We have been concerned to see these instances of removing frames because it must leave some of the country people without the means of work, but it will at the same time open their eyes to the consequence of their own proceedings.
For some time before these troubles broke out, in many places a fifth of the frame workers were out of employ and this naturally induced some hosiers (not perhaps of the first reputation) to give them particular kinds of work at reduced prices ; and the hosiers who were given the higher prices found themselves undersold in certain articles at the London market. This again brought about new arrangements, which soured the whole body of workmen and the scarcity of corn occurring at the same time a general discontent prevailed. The first emotion was resentment against the hosiers who paid the underprices and the unemployed and ill disposed went about disguised at break the frames belonging to those particular persons, and also all frames that facilitated the work by being made wider than the old ones.
Though in the course of these outrages instances have occurred for which no motive can be traced - resentment against those hosiers who paid the under price has been the leading feature up to the present day. They have seldom made free with other property although opportunities at all times have presented themselves, and in one instance lately at Clifton, some cloth that one of the frame breakers brought away, were carefully sent back again the following day.
not recollecting that we have before given this time to do it - though probably Mr. Ryder has seen it already in the same light.
We have never for an hour lost sight of endeavor to discover if these people were abetted in an organised way by persons from distance and particularly by other manufacturers at Manchester, Birmingham etc., but though such surmissions have been constantly upon the minds off all descriptions of persons here, we have never been able to find any fact that give countenance to it.
Two frames were destroyed in a quiet way last night near Eastwood, ten miles n. west from here, but the general tranquillity continues uninterrupted still.
Your most obedient humble servant
To John Becket Esq.
*Reprinted with the permission of the PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE, Great Britain
Custody of the original document belongs to Public Record Office, and can be located at the following address :
The Knitting machine, that virtually has not changed since its creation in 1589.
Its continued use was an intergral part of the textile indusrty.
Machine and man active in British history.
Primary sources :
Secondary Sources :
General References :
CHAPMAN, S. D., The Cotton Industry in the Industrial Revolution , London : The MACMILLAN Press, 1972
THOMPSON, E. P., The making of the English Working Class , Middlesex : Penguin Books Ltd., 1968
O’GORMAN, F., The Long Eighteenth Century , London : Arnold, 1997
ASHTON, T. S., The Industrial Revolution, 1760-1830 , Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1948
COOK, C., & STEVENSON, J., The Longman Handbook of Modern British History 1714-1995 , London : Longman, 1996
THOMPSON, F. M. L., The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750-1950 ; Volume I, Regions and Communities , Cambridge : Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1990
NEWMAN, G., Britain in the Hanoverian Age 1714-1837 ; An Encyclopaedia , London : Garland Publishing inc., 1997
MCCALMAN, I., The Romantic Age, British Culture 1776-182 , Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1999
BERG, M., The Age of Manufactures 1700-1820 ; Industry, Innovation and Work in Britain , London : Routledge, 1994
 CHAPMAN, S D, The Cotton Industry in the Industrial Rvolution , London : The MACMILLAN Press, 1972, pp. 14
 CHAPMAN, S D, The Cotton Industry in the Industrial Revolution , pp. 60
 THOMPSON, E P, The making of the English Working Class , Middlesex : Penguin Books Ltd., 1968, pp. 587
 CHAPMAN, S D, The Cotton Industry in the Industrial Revolution , pp. 14
 THOMPSON, E P, The making of the English Working Class , pp. 582
 O’GORMAN, The Long Eighteenth Century , London : Arnold, 1997 ; pp. 245
 O’GORMAN, The Long Eighteenth Century , pp. 251