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Kidderminster weavers

Sarah Gamson, future wife of Joseph Bradley and grandmother of William Eli, was the daughter of Thomas Gamson and Sarah Nott. She was born in Kidderminster on the 3rd December 1837 and baptised on the 26th of December at St Mary’s, in Kidderminster. Thomas and Sarah were married on the 11th July 1824 in the same church.

Thomas, Sarah and family lived in Churchfields in Kidderminster, which was in an area of weaver’s cottages built for the nearby carpet companies. Thomas was a handloom carpet weaver. In 1851, the family were all listed as working in the trade apart from Joseph and Ann (Ann’s listing as a nurse could just have meant looking after her little brother). Their oldest child, Phoebe, had died before 1835 when they gave their second daughter her name, and their youngest, Eliza, Joseph’s twin, was born and buried in 1846. They had eleven children, five of whom did not reach their fourth birthday.

Thomas Gamson and his family lived in Churchfields and later at 14 Mount Pleasant. This area was where most of the weavers lived. The houses were laid out in “courts”, that is with courtyards behind a group of houses containing the shared wash house, privy toilet and water pumped from the well. The houses were fairly small, with shared bedrooms. Often the houses and looms on upper floors were owned by the carpet masters.

The area they lived in was not very salubrious. In 1848, Thomas Simcox Lea and his nephew, George Price Simcox, who had workshops in the area, were ordered to make improvements to open ditches and privies on their properties in Mount Pleasant and Churchfields and in 1867, Churchfields was described as having “open cesspools overflowing with filth, wells into which the sewage has drained and rendered unfit for use and short of water”.  Two years later, a report on the sanitary state of the area mentioned that there were pigsties “scattered in all directions at the rear of houses and in crowded streets and alleyways” and “privies with open ashpits which became when wet, the most abominable cesspools”. It was the 1866 cholera outbreak which spurred the council into action and by 1874 there was a water supply and sewerage system in place.

By 1841, Thomas was already 35 and listed as a weaver. It is possible that he had been an apprentice and married when this was completed, as he was about 21 then, but without finding him in the records, we shall probably never know. Until the 1820s weavers took apprentices from the surrounding area or apprenticed their own sons. As the carpet industry expanded rapidly, this system became looser and less formal. Manufacturers would offer weavers a second loom and a youth would be sub-contracted even without being a full apprentice.

The weaver would collect his materials from the manufacturer and then was responsible for completing and returning the finished carpet. It was up to him how many hours he worked, but he would not be paid until he returned the finished product. He had to maintain the looms, employ the draw-boys, unless they were members of his own family, and provide coal for heating and candles for lighting. This would be shared if he worked in a loom-shop. He might also have to pay a bobbin-winder if there was no family member to do this and have to employ a drawer for each “half-weaver”. He would still have to pay for all this, even if he had no work.Weavers would often employ their own children from the ages of six or seven. They would begin with the simpler tasks of the drawer, for a few hours daily. At eight or nine years, they would start as drawers. A draw-boy might begin doing a small amount of weaving at the age of 12 or 13, particularly if he was working with his father and it was hoped to bring him onto the trade. At the age of 15 or 16, he might become a “half-weaver” on a sub-contracted loom. The weaver would provide candles, coal, oil, shuttles and other necessary items, which he would pay for from his half of the earnings. The “half-weaver” would be left with a clear half of what he earned at the loom. By the time he was 21, or earlier, he would be sufficiently skilled to be given his own loom by the manufacturer. Before he could start at his own loom, the weaver would have to pay “foot-ale”. Originally, “footing” was the payment to treat his shop mates to a celebration. This later became a compulsory payment when a man bought himself into the trade.

By the time Sarah was born in 1837, there were 24 factories and 2,000 home-based looms throughout the city.


The chances are that Thomas employed/apprenticed his two oldest sons and they all worked either at home or in one factory loft with Sarah acting as a draw-girl; by 1851 it was becoming common for girls to act as drawers. Although girls were employed as drawers, they were never able to become weavers and as they grew older would need to find other employment, perhaps in the factory as dyers, spinners or winders in the factory. Phoebe aged 16 was listed as a bobbin winder in 1851 so might have worked for her father. Sarah senior has no occupation.  Since she was born in Mile End, which was a centre of silk weaving, she and/or her family may have come to Kidderminster to find work as during the early 19th century it was becoming difficult for silk weavers in the Spitalfields area to find full employment.

Sometimes the looms were in the weavers’ cottages; sometimes they were gathered together in manufacturers’ lofts. If they worked in the lofts, they would be expected to work from roughly five or six in the morning until nine or ten at night with about two hours for meals depending on the hours the premises were open. The actual hours they worked depended on the regularity of work he received or how he divided his work and leisure time.

When the piece was finished, it had to be sheared. All the loose ends had to be clipped, and the pile would have to be sheared for Wilton carpets. “This was a laborious task, involving the use of a large and very heavy set of shears, which had to be carefully balanced. The weavers claimed that this was the hardest and most exhausting part of their work, especially as it had to be done at the end of  pieces, prior to the “fall”, when the weaver was already very likely to be very tired.”

The finished carpet had to be taken to the warehouse on “falling” day – this was generally a Thursday and/or Saturday in Kidderminster, before 11 a.m. and if it was late, he would not be paid.  The carpet would be inspected and if all was well, the weaver would be paid and receive the pattern and yarn for the next job. A good weaver and draw-boy could weave a piece 30 yards long in a week, but the average would be nearer 25 yards. They would be paid about 1s a yard. Draw-boys would be paid between 4 and 6 shillings a week, so unless the draw boy was a relation, the weaver would have 18s left in his pocket. Carpet weavers were better paid than cloth weavers who would be paid about 12 shillings a week.

When the piece had been “felled” the weavers would take time off with “games and drinking the usual pastime”, especially if it was a Saturday. Sunday was a day of rest and also Monday was often a day when they did not work at all in Kidderminster. Then they would work all hours of the day and night to complete the work before the next “fall” day.

Thomas and his young family will have been affected by the strike in 1828 when 2,000 weavers walked out for five months.The masters had decided to reduce wages by 17 to 25 percent (depending on the account) to offset growing competition. In the end the weavers lost and returned to work. Not only did they lose wages, but the remaining masters instituted a back breaking 12 to 12 shift to make up for lost production.

Sarah’s mother died on 11th April 1852 of dropsy, aged 45. Thomas was the informant and their address was given as Queen Street.

He then married a widow who had had seven children, Thirza Pomroy née Wood, in 1859.

By 1861, only Thomas, Thirza and Joseph were in the household. They were living at 57 Churchfields. Thomas is still listed as a hand carpet weaver. Sarah was working In Ladywood, Birmingham as a servant. Ann had married Samuel Frost; Phoebe had married Charles Middleton and had a daughter, Sarah. John William was married to Mary Ann [unknown], had had the first three of their four children and was working as a driller, living in Blockhouse. The oldest son, William, was a power loom carpet weaver, had also married a Mary Ann and was living in Lark Hill, Kidderminster.

Sarah married Joseph Bradley in Ogley Hay on 28 Dec 1863 and her sister, Phoebe, and brother, William, were witnesses.

From 1871 until his death from hemiplegia (total paralysis of the arm, leg, and trunk on the same side of the body) and coma in 1886, Thomas and Thirza were living in Mount Pleasant, Kidderminster. The informant was his step daughter-in-law, Thirza Burcher. Thirza senior died in her early 90s in 1900.

BACK A GENERATION – continuing research!!

As Sarah (Nott)’s place of birth is given in 1851 as Mile End and is a fairly common surname as well as being prone to transcription, it is unlikely that we will ever know more about her. Thomas was born in Upper Penn, Staffordshire. Although his age varied by a year or two throughout the censuses, there is a possible baptism for him on 3rd June 1804. Two possible siblings were also baptised there: Phebe on 15th July 1807 and Henry on 31st October 1809. The parents were Thomas Gamston and Corinna/Corunnah/Koranah Smith (depending on the source), who may be the couple, both widowed, who married at St Peter’s  in Wolverhampton on 31st August 1803. (A Coranah Gamson married a William Taylor in Old Swinford, Worcestershire on 10th July 1814. He was stated as being widowed, though she wasn’t.) Upper Penn is about two miles south west of Wolverhampton, about 14 miles north of Kidderminster.

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