Friday 3 December 2021

"3 pounds Wostid in niting”: Knitted garments in Stuart accounts

Just before I retired, the Tudor Tailor people asked me if I would be willing to work on a Stuart version of what they had already done for the Tudor period. So I started to create a database using their basic data fields, but adding a few things, and changing a few things; a thesaurus that works for sixteenth century terminology does not necessarily work for seventeenth century terminology. With some 8,000 wills and probate inventories, plus a considerable number of wardrobe accounts, overseers of the poor accounts, household accounts, court cases, contracts for military clothing, etc. we have a database containing something like 23,000 data records.

Few of these references say they are to knitting or to specifically knitted garments, though there are many references to worsted or yarn or thread, or silk stockings, which are most probably knitted. These references do however  provide an insight into what was being produced and how, and who was selling them. The bulk of the garments are stockings, followed by small numbers of gloves, cuffs, etc. I’m going to look at the extent to which knitted items were purchased, or ordered to be knitted, and the values put on the finished garments, the cost of yarn and the cost of knitting. I will also examine the changing terminology, particularly around references to stockings, and if the textile description can indicate whether items are knitted or not.

The 1691 will and inventory of Robert Lux of Bristol, who is described as a wool comber, is a rare and excellent example of someone who is dealing with the whole process from the wool itself, through the knitting to the finished stockings themselves. (1) Wool combing is part of the worsted process, before the combed wool goes to the spinners. The process didn’t get mechanised until the 1850s, so although this image is from The Book of English Trades and Library of the Useful Arts, the process hadn’t changed. The first edition of the book was published in 1804 but this is from the 1827 edition. The book says that when the combed wool is “made into stockings, it will afford work for a week” at a ratio of “ten combers, one hundred and two spinners, winders, &c. and sixty stocking-weavers, [by which he means stocking frame knitters, there is a chapter on them in the book] besides doublers, throwers and a dyer.” (2 pp. 370-3).


The Book of English Trades and Library of the Useful Arts, 1827

Lux has both a loft and a shop, shop in this sense is a workshop. Being a wool comber his loft, unsurprisingly, contains £6 worth of pinions, which the OED says are, “Short pieces and knots of refuse wool produced during the combing process.” He has “28 bal[e]s of Wostid Wooll in the Spiners Hands” worth £2 12s 6d. The yarn comes back to him, and again in his loft he has 70 pounds of “Wooling yearn” worth £3 10s. In his shop he has a further 301 pounds of “Wostid yearn att 2s 6d per pound”, total value £37 12s 6d. He has 42 pounds of two thread “Wolsing 14d per pound” worth £2 9s and 2 pound of “Fooer thred Wostid” worth 5s 0d. I’m assuming by two thread and four thread, it may indicate plied, if anyone has a different suggestion please let me know. Some of this is put out for knitting, as he has three pounds of worsted worth 12s out “in niting.” In his shop, in stock, he has many pairs of worsted hose. Some of these, 25 pairs at 2s 6d a pair, are described are described as being “in the press,” and the press itself is valued at 15s. He has separately a press room, where he has “80 paier of Hos drest” at 2s:6d a pair, and “36 paier of Hos Une drest 2s 4d” a pair. Here his second press, with board and planks, is valued at £2 10s.  His stock of finished hose ready for sale includes 56 pairs of worsted hose at 2s 6d a pair, 12 pair of worsted youth’s hose, these seem to be 2s a pair, one pair of women’s hose, also 2s and 10 pair of men’s hose worth a total of £1 8s. (3) That last figure does not divide into any sensible amount per pair. It is 33.6 pence.


Robert Lux is at the end of the seventeenth century, but stockings could be purchased ready-made throughout the century.


Galerie du Palais, Paris by Abraham Bosse. c.1638

OK this image is shopping for the upper classes, and none of these sell stockings, Bookseller on the left, fan & glove seller in the middle, band and collar seller on the right. For the upper-class English man or woman, the shops in the Royal and New Exchanges in London would have looked like this. Samuel Pepys bought black silk stockings at the New Exchange, (4 p. 9 May 1668) and on an earlier occasion in Fleet Street had purchased “silk stockings to the colour of my riding cloth suit, cost 15s.” (4 p. 20 Mar 1663)


A 1611 seller of points, garters, and girdles, in Darlington, has two pair of knit stockings in stock. (5) In 1619, John Robinson of Stockport, who describes himself as a yeoman but is selling both stockings and gloves, has in stock “ninetien payer of wosted stockings £3 13s 2d, wollen stockings thirtye fower payer 57s 8d” and “thirteen payer of stockings for children 7s 7d” (6 pp. 138-41) A hosier in Bristol in 1623 has in stock five pairs of knit stockings at 1 shilling a pair. The rest of his stock are referred to as hose, raising the question of whether they are breeches or stockings. (7 p. 36) As late as the 1630s breeches could still be referred to as hose. King Charles I’s suits in his wardrobe accounts are described as doublet, hose and cloak. (8)  The dead give-away is if the hose is described as having pockets, in which case they are almost certainly breeches. The 1623 hosier, Michael Threlkelle, as well as his five pair of knit stockings, has Irish hose in stock, “3 dozen and a halfe of white and grey lreishe hose at 6s per dozen”, so they are half the price of the knitted stockings. He has “24 peyres of Irishe frize at 8d per yard.” These are almost certainly cloth stockings. Irish stockings were the preference for American colonists at the time being, as William Wood said in his 1639 advice to those going to the Americas, “much more serviceable than knit ones.” (9)


By the later part of the seventeenth century references to hose are almost certainly to stockings. Another Bristol trader, in 1679, the widow Agnes Noble, has in stock well over 100 pairs of hose, and some are referred to specifically as “wooleing hose for men” at 14d per pair, and women’s hose at 8d a pair. (10 p. 102) These later suppliers do not mention whether or not the stockings are knit. Stockings described as yarn, thread, or worsted are almost certainly knit, as cloth stockings can usually be identified by the name of the textile. A 1661 Bristol chapman  has “2 paire dowlas stokens & one paire of Cotten stokens” (10 p. 12), while in 1668 George Johnson in Kent has 38 pairs of “cotten and kersy hose” in stock. (11 p. 75) So they are almost certainly cloth, as the rest of the stockings he has in stock, a further 176 pairs, are described simply as woollen. Thread stockings are probably not knitted from wool, as Pepys comments, “the day proves very cold, so that having put on no stockings but thread ones under my boots, I was fain at Bigglesworth to buy a pair of coarse woollen ones, and put them on.) (4 p. 22 July 1661)

Stockings probably given to King Karl X Gustav in 1654, Livrustkammaren, Stockholm

I haven’t found silk stockings in any mercer’s inventories, though they are being purchased, and are far more expensive than the woollen ones. The silk stockings purchased for the Earl and Countess of Bath over the period 1639-1654, ranged from 20 shillings to in 1650 “a pair of green silk stockings for my Lord £2 10s”. They buy worsted stockings for the postillion and the footmen at 4s 6d a pair. Some of the stockings seem to have been supplied by a Mr Farwood at Bristol, who in 1645 is paid “for silk stockings and soap &c £5 2s 6d” (12) 

 A pair of green stockings was purchased by the Earl of Bath, he also bought a pair of purple silk stockings at £1 15s, but colour is not normally mentioned, though silk stockings appear to come in a much wider range of colours than wool stockings. Pepys bought himself a pair in light blue. (4 p. 31 May 1660) In 1696 a mercer divides his stockings into grey and coloured. (13 p. 305)  Another mercer in 1700, also in Shropshire, has stockings in blue and red as well as “dyed woosted at 2/1” a pair. (13 p. 315) James Master pays “for a pa of scarlet worsted stockings for Jack [his servant] 3s 4d,” he buys green silk stockings for himself and “a pa of gray woollen riding stockings” for 6s (14)

 Going beyond stockings and back to George Johnson in Kent, - as well as stockings he also has boot hose and socks in stock, and, moving completely away from knitted items, six pair of dimity drawers.

Knitted boot hose, V&A Museum. 1640-60, Acc. T.63&A-1910


This image from the V&A is of a pair of knitted boot hose. James Master pays 9 shillings for a pair black silk knit tops, probably for boot hose. (14) He buys a lot of boothose, and boothose tops, but this is the only one specifically described as knit. Pepys also had canons, in the sense of boot hose tops, in black silk knit, to go with his best black cloth suit. (4 p. 29 November 1663) Some of Master’s other tops are linen, the cheapest are only 3s 6d a pair, compared to the 9s for the black silk. If they are of fabric, rather than knit, then usually the fabric is specified, with Master buying boothose tops in holland, lawn and cambric; he also spends 6s on a pair of red serge tops.

 James Master purchases several pairs of socks, paying “for 2 pa. of ancle wosted socks 3s 2d.” he also pays for “for 3 pa of threed ancle socks 4s 6d” (14) Note socks, again, they maybe more common than we think, over the two years 1646-1647 James Master purchases 16 pairs of socks. Ankle socks could be worn with stockings as in Pepys Diary entry “I looked out fresh socks and thread stockings, yesterday’s having in the night, lying near the window, been covered with snow within the window, which made me I durst not put them on.” (4 p. 9 March 1667)

 Ankle socks are often purchased with stirrup hose, these are stockings without feet, but just a stirrup under the foot.  James Master buys “2 pa of stirrop thread stockings” at 3s 3d a pair, again if they are fabric rather than knitted that is mentioned, he pays “for a pa of blush colour silk stirrop hose woven 15s 6d” (15)


Silk stocking foot. Mid 16th century. Museum of London, Acc. A13833

References to items being knitted appear in several of the household accounts, In 1625 the Howards of Naworth Castle pay “for knitting 2 pair of stockings for the children 6d.” (16 p. 225), and socks again “2 pair of knitt socks for my lady 16d” (16 p. 124)  In 1645 John Willoughy in Devon paid “for knitting a pair of stockings of coarse melly yarn 2s 4d.” (17 p. 257) His Devon neighbours the Earl and Countess of Bath at Tawstock had several items knitted for their servants, as well as stockings there are references to “paid for knitting Mr Harris stockings and gloves 2s” and “paid for knitting cuffs 6d.” At least one item was knitted for the Earl himself, “paid Eliz: Umbles for knitting my Lord's socks 2s” (12 pp. 62, 102 & 103)  James Master pays to have both stirrup hose and ankle socks knitted, “for knitting 2 pa of stirrup hose and 2 pa of socks 7s 6d” (14)


Throughout the 1650s James Master lists several payments both for the knitting of items and for the purchase of thread. On the 17th January 1656 we have two entries relating to his servant Jack which cover the whole process: “for spinning 2 pound of wool for Jack's stockings 1s 4d “, “for knitting 2 pa of stockings for Jack 2s 6d” (15 p. 253) More often though he purchases the thread ready spun, so we have “for 1 po[ound] and a hal[f] of thred to make 2 pair of stockings 4s 6d.” and later “for knitting 2 pa of stockings for Jack 2s 6d”  On 21st May 1659 he has stockings made for himself: “for ½ a po[und] of thread to knit me a pa of stockings 2s” and “for knitting of them 4s 6d”


In 1651 knitted gloves are purchased for the Harpur children, “3 pair of gloves for Anna and Sara and Esther and knittinge them 3s 9d” (6) These, together with the gloves knitted for Mr Harris in the Tawstock accounts, are the only references specifically to knitted gloves. There are references to thread gloves, which may be knitted. In 1699 in Hampshire Robert Lancaster owned “1 pair of thread gloves.” (18) In Bristol in 1679 Agnes Noble has in stock “24 paire of Cotton and thread Gloves 8s 0d”, so that is 4d a pair. (10 p. 102)


One of the suggestions made for the survival of just a foot, is that it is for footing. Replacing a worn out foot by attaching a new foot to a leg seems to be fairly common. The best known, if pretty rough and ready, survival, are the Gunnister stockings where the feet have been replaced, not by knitting a new foot, but with cloth. Replacing the feet with new knitted feet is more common in the records. In 1661 James Master pays for “for knitting a new pa of worsted stockings feet 9d” The accounts for the Harpur children in 1650 have, “for footing a paire of hose for Hanna 3d” There are many other references to mending the Harpur children’s clothes and shoes, footing a pair of hose is most often listed at 3d, while new hose appears to be about 10d a pair, and mending, rather than footing appears to be about 1d. (6)

So far most of the information has been from inventories of what merchants had in stock for sale, and ordering and purchasing items in household and probate accounts. There are very few garments left in wills and probate inventories that say they are knitted.  In 1619 William Judge, a labourer leaves, “a leather dublett, a jurkin and a paier of hose of clothe, a payer of knett stockins and a paier of shoes 8s” (19 p. 130). In 1622 Mary Bunnell in her Suffolk will left, “To Ann Sampson coif, square, two ruffs, holland apron and ready to knit pair stockings.” (20 p. 198) In 1614 Jerome Warren, a tailor, appears to have owned, “in bodely apparell one black nitt dublett 4s 6d.” (6 pp. 92-3). I’m not quite sure what that is.  So let me finish with something more up market from King Charles’s wardrobe accounts. Most of the payments in Charles’s account are to his tailor Patrick Black, but some are to a gentleman called Thomas Robinson. In one 1635 bill, for a mere £292 7s 4d, Robinson provided, amongst other things that included shoe roses, points, garters, etc., “fowre large and fine silk waistcoats” “4 dozen pairs of tennis sockes”, “50 pair of fine white hose, 25 pair of fine grey hose” “one pair of silk stirrup hose and 6 pair of thread socks” (8 p. 84)



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