People, Process and the Poverty-Pew: A Functional Analysis of Mundane Buildings in the Nottinghamshire Framework-Knitting Industry

By Campion, Garry | Antiquity, December 1996 | Go to article overview
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People, Process and the Poverty-Pew: A Functional Analysis of Mundane Buildings in the Nottinghamshire Framework-Knitting Industry


Campion, Garry, Antiquity


Current developments in American and Australian historical archaeology emphasize the range of evidence and methodological developments relating to the recent past (Connah 1988; Deetz 1977; Dickens 1982; Glassie 1975; Gould & Schiffer 1981; McGuire & Paynter 1991; Orser & Fagan 1995). In addition to his volume on traditional housing in western Suffolk, Matthew Johnson (1993) discusses the relative contextual position within which English industrial archaeology 'has concentrated on archaeological elucidation of the development of the technologies involved rather than on the social and cultural parameters' (Johnson 1996: 12). Within the period covered by industrial archaeology itself, The landscape of industry: Iron bridge Gorge by Judith Alfrey & Catherine Clark (1993), and Marilyn Palmer (1994), demonstrating the social implications of the continuity of 19th-century domestic industrial production, are notable examples.

Studies of industrial buildings have tended to focus upon their facades and technological details, rather than seeking to understand their specific social and production perspectives. The approach suggested here draws upon functional spatial analysis to bridge this methodological divide between technology as the primary focus of building design on the one hand, and 'people and process' on the other. This has attracted the label 'neo-marxist', yet the social excesses of 19th-century capitalism lead me to suggest that a Lowry-like quality prevails where the marxian dialectic - or 'theory of relations' is ignored in industrial building studies (FWK 1845; Marx 1961; McGuire 1992: 91-115).

Turning to the methodological approach taken here, spatial analysis was developed by architects to gain a better understanding of the social use of the built environment (Hillier & Hanson 1984). This concerns the control of space and functional exploitation within it. Research suggests that society organizes itself into hierarchically ordered groups, implicitly or explicitly reflecting this through built spaces, internal divisions and symbolism - spatial control is a significant factor in this (Parker Pearson & Richards 1993). Archaeological applications are to be found in Foster (1989) on Scottish Iron Age structures and Fairclough (1992) on Castle Edlingham. Gilchrist (1994) explores the symbolism and function in women's monastic settings, whilst in Johnson (1993), Kent (1990) and Samson (1990) interpretations of domestic building examples demonstrate the range of approaches taken.

With the exception of Markus (1993) - an architect - using spatial mapping in his account of domestic production in workers' housing (1993: 282-6) and his homology of textile mills (1993: 265), this approach has not been extended to industrial archaeology in Britain. Gould (1995: 49-53) deploring the lack of attention to humanity within industrial archaeology, cites the contradictory presence of power and paternalism at the Saltaire planned town and argues for a more comprehensive theoretical approach; but not enhanced with spatial mapping applications.

Framework-knitting and outworking 1800-1900

Outworking in the hosiery industry was a mature system by 1800 (Rogers 1981). Outworkers, not artisans or bespoke craftsmen as such, worked within discrete elements of production, personified by 'division of labour' (Marx 1961: 336-68). This relied upon framework-knitters, either working at home or in workshops, aided by family labour (Palmer 1991; 1994). The industry was based upon the hand-operated stocking-frame ('poverty-pew'), which remained largely unchanged from its invention in 1589 until obsolescence in the 1870s. The only major technological development throughout those almost three centuries - excepting a divergence into lace - was the evolution of the wide stocking-frame (Lewis 1986). Using cotton, wool or silk yarn, this enabled the operator to produce three or four garments in the same time as one was possible on the narrow-frame.

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