1800 – A Lord Mayor







A Weaver Lord Mayor

It is interesting that the famous painter and engraver, William Hogarth, portrayed a weaver as the Industrious Apprentice, who worked hard, married his Master’s daughter and in due course became Lord Mayor. He might have been looking ahead to Samuel Wilson, who was born in 1792. He was apprenticed to Richard Lea, a silk weaver who was Upper Bailiff in 1791 and served as Alderman 1803-1808. Wilson was made free as a silk weaver in 1813, the year in which he married Jemima Lea. He was elected Alderman in 1831, Sheriff in 1833 and Lord Mayor in 1838. The Company made special arrangements to celebrate his election as Sheriff, sharing the cost of a barge for the river journey to Westminster with the Spectacle Makers, the Company of the other Sheriff. “A proper supply of Scarfs and Cockades” was ordered, flags, banners and livery gowns were provided and the Company dined at the London Tavern in Bishopsgate. When the bills came in, members of the Court of Assistants were shocked at the expense. Samuel Wilson was accompanied with due pageantry when he became Lord Mayor, but a barge was considered unnecessary since the Lord Mayor proceeded in the civic barge.

Samuel Wilson would not have used Weavers’ Hall for any of the celebrations during his mayoralty because it was by then in serious need of repair and was no longer safe for large meetings, which were therefore held in the London Tavern. Dinners were often held down river at the Trafalgar Tavern at Greenwich or the West India Dock Tavern at Blackwall. In 1856 the Hall was pulled down and replaced by a block of offices.

The Nineteenth Century

There was a short revival in trade during the Napoleonic Wars but this was followed by worse conditions in 1816. Two-thirds of weavers were out of work. By 1832 Spitalfields had become a run-down slum and continued to be one of the most crime-ridden areas in London throughout the century.

The Spitalfields Act led to a great expansion in the silk industry in Essex, in the North‑West and in the Midlands, where the new power looms, shunned in London, were being introduced, and where wages were lower.

Then in 1860 the lifting of trade tariffs created a flood of imports and the situation was made even worse. Nonetheless there were attempts to preserve the tradition of silk weaving in London. In 1888 Liberty’s arranged an exhibition of English silk with a special section for Spitalfields silks. A few silk manufacturers stayed on in London. A few workers remained in Bethnal Green into the twentieth century, weaving narrow fabrics and supplying trimmings for upholstery and decoration.

By the time of Edward VII’s Coronation, the plain velvet weaving technique had died out due to the invention of the German automatic velvet loom (more than doubling the weaving rate). The order for Coronation Robes was awarded to Warners in Braintree who had taken over Daniel Walters in 1896. Warners sub-contracted the velvet making, one robe to George Doree in Spitalfields and the other to a Coggeshall weaver named Tokey. George Doree was made a freeman of the Weavers Company in honour of his achievement at that time.

The likes of Walters and Warners were both very small manufacturers who survived on their speciality products.

The industry was dominated by the Courtauld company. George Courtauld, a gifted engineer, established in 1799 a silk throwing business in a water-powered mill at Pebmarsh. Samuel Courtauld III, George’s eldest son, took it upon himself to transform the family silk business into one of the greatest industrial stories of the 19th century. With his cousin, Peter A Taylor, they founded Courtauld & Taylor in 1817 and in 1818 bought Pound End Mill located on South Street, Braintree. The cousins were soon in search of larger mills due to the expansion of the business, as a result Pound End Mill was rented to Daniel & Steven Walters. Convinced that water-power would prove the key to expansion the cousins brought the last Essex baize mill in Bocking during 1820.

It was in 1825 when Samuel’s brothers George Courtauld and John Minton joined the firm that the family decided to start making crape (crimped silk gauze), the material which would make the company famous. As the fashion for mourning spread through the growing middle-classes, encouraged by Queen Victoria after the death of Albert, this resulted in the enormous success of the firm that later became known by mid-19th century as Samuel Courtauld & Co. The company pioneered the production of man-made textiles including rayon, and revolutionised fashion in the homes of millions. At its height Courtaulds employed 10,000 people over four sites.

During the nineteenth century the Weavers’, like many other livery companies, lost control of its trade and membership fell. Many companies vanished altogether, and the Weavers’ Company’s numbers fell from a peak of over 6,000 at the end of the eighteenth century to below one thousand.

Waterloo 1815
The Weavers' Company Crest

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