Friday, August 26, 2011

Sock Manufacture in Old England

... is, yes, really what this "post" is actually all about. John Aubrey writes of William Lee, "a poor Curate" who "was the first Inventor of the Weaving of Stockings by an Engine of his contrivance... He went into France, and dyed there before his Loome was made there." Lee puts Aubrey in mind of Christopher Wren, who invented "a way to weave seven pair or nine pair of stockings at once... He demanded four hundred pounds for his Invention: but the weavers refused it, because they were poor: and besides, they sayd, it would spoil their Trade... Sir Christopher was so noble, seeing they would not adventure so much money, He breakes the Modell of the Engine all to pieces, before their faces." The footnote (technically headnote) in the 1949 edition adds that Queen Elizabeth came to watch William Lee make stockings. "But she was disappointed by the coarseness of his work." He improved it, and brought her some nice silk stockings, but she "now feared that the invention would prejudice hand-knitters." Later, King James felt the same way. So finally Lee went (as Aubrey mentions) to France, where he had been "promised great rewards" by the king. But the king was assassinated! And so, proclaims the footnote, William Lee "died of grief" (!). And all because of his sock-making machine.