Visit my main HOME PAGE
HELP ?Email me

Foleshill Ribbons

by courtesy of the late Gordon Cowley who researched the information.

The silk-ribbon industry began in Coventry between 1700 and 1750. Very soon it spread into the villages, roughly in a triangle to the north of coventry as far as Nuneaton. The 'Great Masters' who controlled the trade lived in Coventry or London and the centre, to which ribbons were sent was Spitalfields in London. There they were sold to haberdashers.

As French Protestant refugees had started the business in Spitalfields, some believe that the weavers were Huguenots. It is claimed that the local names Beaufoy (Buffey),Bird, Burgess, carpenter, Cockerill, Cross, Higgins, King, Weir, White and Young are of French origin.

In 1782 there were twelve manufacturers in Coventry, and the system was that they gave out the raw silk to an 'undertaker', who carried out certain processes and employed weavers to weave it into ribbon. The weekly assignment of a weaver was normally 36 yards.

After the Enclosure Act of 1775 Foleshill had a considerable advantage over other villages to the north of Coventry, such as Bedworth, Bulkington and Chilvers Coton. It was still part of the County of Coventry, it was close to the old city and it had room for expansion at a time when Coventry was confined within the circle of its ancient wa1ls .

'The whole parish of Foleshill fifty years ago was a barren heath, but in consequence of the increasing and flourishing state of the Ribbon Trade has now become a very respectable and wealthy parish containing many thousand of inhabitants.' (Coventry Herald 20.1.1826)

The carrier's cart went out to the country areas on a Saturday morning and weavers brought out their 'pieces' of ribbon which were weighed and each weaver got his pay. The next week's allocation of silk was then carefully weighed out.

A Government report castigated the Foleshill weavers and their women-folk for their heavy drinking and immoral behaviour. It was all too easy to put off the next week's task and it became the custom to work all the Friday night in order to meet the Saturday deadline. The earliest weavers' cottages were along the course of the Springfield brook, that is, the left-hand side of Lockhurst Lane. Other weavers built their cottages in Carpenters Lane (Station St. West) and along the south side of Brick-kiln Lane (Broad St.).

Foleshill's population was 3026 in 1801 but by 1818 the weavers alone numbered 2544, using 1732 looms. The Dutch engine loom had already made its appearance. Unlike the traditional hand-loom, which a woman could handle, it could weave more than one ribbon at a time.

The trade flourished during the Napoleonic Wars and in 1812 a new style of ribbon was introduced. This led to 'The Great Purl Time' and weavers could sell as much ribbon as they could produce.

Changes in the Coventry trade had a knock-on effect in Foleshill. Boys and girls worked as apprentices under a half-pay scheme. Work was now carried on in the homes of journeymen rather than of undertakers. The Jacquard loom came on the scene in 1823. It needed clearance of at least 11-12 feet, and ordinary weavers could not afford it.

Although weavers resisted steam-power its use increased in Coventry from Josiah Beck's unfortunate experience at New Buildings in 1831. There was at least one factory in Foleshill by 1858. By 1857 established weavers were emigrating. The top-shops or cottage-factories were a last attempt to save the industry on a domestic basis. Altered examples of these can be seen in Hurst Road, Longford, Spring Road and Edgwick St.

Eli Green built the first of these at East St. in 1850 and by 1860 there were 400 top-shops

Free Trade won in 1860 when the Cobden Treaty was signed with France, removing all duties on imported silk goods. The rlbbon trade collapsed. Streets were named in honour of Cobden and Bright in Foleshill, but thousands of weavers' families were starving.

Factories gradually grew up producing other textiles such as elastic-webbing and some cottage-factories survived by using the a la bar loom and steam power. Cash's have a continuous history from 1856 but Lester & Harris' and Grant's were destroyed in the Blitz (14th November 1940).

Courtauld's (1905) carried on the textile tradition in rayon and put up another factory at Little Heath in 1925.

G.A.Cowley 25.8.2000

Back to Top of Page

Return to Foleshill