“The Rise and Fall of Glovemaking in West Oxfordshire” | Banbury Museum

“The Rise and Fall of Glovemaking in West Oxfordshire”

Report on lecture by Carol Anderson to the Society 13thDecember 2018

Gloves were first used by the ancient Egyptians.  In Elizabethan times they were worn as decorative items by the wealthy.  From the thirteenth  century there were various centres of production  including London, Worcester and Oxford.  In the late eighteenth century thousands were employed at Worcester and then at Yeovil.

From the Middle Ages Woodstock had been an important centre.  The West Oxfordshire area prospered during the Napoleonic Wars with contracts to supply gloves to the military.  Soon after this there was a decline in fortune with the removal of tax in 1826 giving rise to large imports of gloves from France. However by the mid nineteenth century things had greatly improved.

Thanks to the railways gloves could be transported all over the country and beyond.  Factories, some of very modest size, were established over the area, especially at Woodstock and Charlbury.

Many fewer men were employed than women.  But the men were concentrated in a few factories fulfilling the important work as tanners,cutters,dyers and sorters.  Many of these roles required a long apprenticeship. There were local differences as cutters in Woodstock used shears and those in Charlbury scissors.

Many of the women were employed as stitchers and were homeworkers. They often contributed much to the family income where the husbands were poorly paid agricultural workers.

By the twentieth century  with the introduction of sewing machines most stitchers were gathered into factories such as that of Stansfields taken over by Spaldings.

After the Second World War  specialised gloves were produced for show business, sport, and the once ubiquitous driving gloves.

However a slow decline ensued thanks to foreign competition and the  ending of the glove as a fashion item. Dents set up a factory in Malta thanks to lower labour costs. Today  few traces of the glovemaking industry remain.

David Pym