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Vickers Lace Company of Nottingham

What follows is a transcription of the text of a booklet belonging to Tom Vickers, great grandson of William Vickers mentioned below. It was borrowed, typed, and posted to the list by David Collyer of Ballarat, Australia.
Date: Sat, 25 Oct 1997 08:17:27 -0900
From: David Collyer <>
Subject: [lace] Notts Lace

Dear Friends,

I managed to find a little time today to type out the booklet on the history of the VICKERS Lace Company of Nottingham. Here it is for you.

David Downunder

Formerly W. VICKERS
Lace Manufacturer
16 Stoney St., Nottingham

OUR CENTENARY 1818 - 1918

This year our firm celebrates its Centenary, and it has been suggested that a brief sketch of its history would be an interesting Souvenir to those now associated with it, as well as to others who may become so in the future.

In British Commerce one hundred years, although a respectable is not at all an unusual age, and if a venerable one in Nottingham, this arises from the fact that the mechanical inventions upon which our Lace Manufacture is founded were introduced in the early years of the 19th century.

The Jacquard was invented in 1801. Mr. Heathcote patented the plain net machine in 1808, and the Leavers lace machine was completed in 1814.

These three inventions are at the foundation of the Nottingham Lace Trade.


The most delicate laces of France and Belgium, those of Mechlin and Malines, were the first types chosen for imitation by Nottingham Manufacturers.

The extreme costliness of the real lace was largely due to the labour expended in making by hand the lovely net upon which the designs were displayed.

Mr. Heathcote succeeded in very early days in producing nets which imitated the real with marvelous perfection, and the Nottingham lace manufacturer set himself the task of copying the designs of the real laces upon these machine-made nets by means of hand embroidery. The goods produced were of course very expensive indeed when judged by modern standards, but they were extremely cheap in comparison with the hand-made originals, and commanded a ready sale.

Illustrations of these laces are given opposite. (Malines, Bretonne etc.)


The manufacture of these laces was the business of William VICKERS, the founder of our firm, who was born 1797, and who, after seven years apprenticeship with Mr. J. PAGE, on Standard Hill, started business in partnership with Mr. Henry FREARSON, in the year 1818.

Their warehouse was in Clinton Street, Nottingham. The Embroidery was done by women in the country villages of the Midlands, and old pattern books still in our possession, prove that thousands of designs were produced by them, and testify to the extraordinary skill and industry of the workers.

The young firm developed very rapidly, and eagerly pushed their connection in the most distant markets.

An old stock book reveals the fact that in 1835 - the age of sailing ships - they already had extensive depots in New York and Melbourne, and even in Lima. [N.B. Note by David COLLYER - I seriously doubt the accuracy of the last paragraph, as the land upon which Melbourne now stands was first sighted by Europeans in June 1835!!]

The firm closely followed the development of the lace trade, and experimented with all types of machinery and all kinds of yarns and fabrics. Indeed Mr. VICKERS often said that the lace machine could make anything from cobwebs to great coats.

(There follows an illustration of the "Town Hall - 1840" and adjoining premises as occupied by W. VICKERS.)

Mr. FREARSON retired about 1840, and Mr. VICKERS soon afterwards removed his business to Weekday Cross, where he purchased a site adjoining the Old Town Hall (demolished 1899 when the Great Central Railway was extended to Nottingham).

The buildings included an excellent residence and a large triangular block of workshops, cottages, and other premises belonging to the old gaol between Middle Hill and Garners Hill.

These premises were adapted to the business, and here machine shops, designing, dressing, finishing, and sale rooms were established.

The illustrations of these premises will be found on pages 8 and 10. No. 1 - of the Town Hall in the good old days, from an etching by Mr. T.C. HINE, the well-known Nottingham architect, a cousin of our managing director, Mr. G.C. HINE.

No.2 - Represents the premises as occupied by our forerunners in this firm. Mr. VICKERS, who always took a great interest in public affairs, entered the Town Council in 1835. He became an Alderman in 1838, and served the town as Mayor in 1843/4. He was largely instrumental in the formation of the Nottingham Chamber of Commerce in 1860, and was its president for the first three years of its existence.

The immediate question, leading to the establishment of the Nottingham Chamber, was the introduction of the new French Treaty, which, while leaving our market free to the French, imposed a heavy duty on Nottingham goods entering France. This duty seemed likely so seriously to injure the trade of manufacturers, who like ourselves were doing a large business in France, that several firms removed their machinery to Calais, and Mr. VICKERS was very much disposed to do the same.

Happily the English trade survived, and our firm's French returns for the past twenty years have probably exceeded in volume those of our predecessors in the pre-treaty days.

Although Mr. VICKERS did not retire from business until 1863, his public engagements occupied very much of his time, and the conduct of the business devolved more and more upon his son, William VICKERS the younger, who had received a thorough technical education, and has studied design at South Kensington.


The Pusher Trade was the chief business of the firm from 1840 to 1870. The Pusher Machine, although unable to employ embroidery threads, was specially suitable for the manufacture of the large shawls and mantles, which were so fashionable in early Victorian days.

These goods were made of the richest materials and the most elaborate designs. They imitated the real laces of Chantilly and Bayeux, but the designs were only in shadow, and needed to be outlined by the needlewoman. This was a very costly matter. The work was distributed in the villages of the Midlands, and the firm had special district agents for managing the industry at Youlgreave, Uttoxeter and Market Harborough. Some of the more elaborate pieces took weeks to embroider, and tickets were attached to them pointing out that they must not be kept out more than three months. The larger and finer pieces sold wholesale at prices from £4 to £10 each.

At the Great Exhibition in 1851, we obtained a medal for a lace shawl presented to H.M. Queen Victoria (see p.14)

Further medals were awarded at the Exhibitions in Paris in 1855 and 1867, as well as at the one held in London in 1862.

The present Senior Director, Mr. C.H. VICKERS, entered business in 1867, and at that date a great change in fashion was taking place. The lovely lace and Paisley shawls, which had for many years been classic items in a lady's wardrobe, were now laid aside and soon became neglected, although beautiful, souvenirs of a departed fashion.

When the shawl was discarded, the special field for the produce of the Pusher machine was very seriously restricted, as the smaller articles, which replaced it, could be more cheaply made from the Levers machine.

This crisis was immediately followed by the Franco-German War, which led to the temporary loss of our French trade.

The effect of these two blows was radical. The Pusher trade was abandoned, the machines were sold, and practically a fresh start was made.

Chantilly laces and clipped Calais Vals were the lines first selected for development, and the latter have been steadily pursued ever since.

There follows an illustration of "Imitation Valenciennes and Filet Laces - 1917".

Valenciennes laces of all descriptions have become more and more a specialty of the firm, while we also carefully study the different styles of fancy Cotton laces which from time to time become the fashion, and have established a strong position as a "Novelty house."

In 1885, William VICKERS, Junr., retired from the business, which was continued by his son, Charles H. VICKERS alone, until the latter was joined in the year 1898, by Groves C. HINE.

This gentleman had been associated for may years with the well-known firm of Thomas ADAMS and Co. Ltd. He was at the time one of their managers, as well as their traveler in the provinces.

Meantime, a vigorous agency had been re-established in Paris, and a very healthy trade was being carried on with various foreign garments through the Nottingham Commission Houses.

Trade was good, and the addition of Mr. HINE's personal work and valuable connection to the technical knowledge and experience of Mr. VICKERS, soon made it very much better.

In the course of two years it was no longer possible to accommodate the business in the old warehouse, at Weekday Cross; and as just at this time the premises we now occupy became vacant, they were eagerly secured on account both of their excellent position and commodious character. See illustration on page 20.

The firm now felt that the time had come for seeking direct business in Colonial and Foreign markets.

Mr. HINE visited South Africa and Canada, and Mr. C. SMITH, son of Mr. C.T. SMITH, director of Thos. ADAMS, Ltd., became our traveler in Germany and Austria.

Meantime, Mr. VICKERS elder son, Mr. W.B. VICKERS, was going through a course of technical training before entering the business, and soon after his majority in the year 1912, the firm became a Limited Liability Company.

The first directors were:-


Trade was not good in 1913, and when the Great War broke out in July 1914, it had for a time a paralysing effect, and sails were reefed as closely as possible. At the same time a very keen outlook was maintained for fresh markets and gradually the disappearance of lace trimmings of foreign production reacted in favour of Nottingham, and trade revived.

There follows an illustration of 16 Stoney Street, Nottingham with hand written notes down one side pointing out the "front entrance" on the ground floor; the "private office" on the first floor; the "order room" on the second floor. There are two more floors above that.


When Mr. G.C. HINE entered the firm in 1898, Mr. G.T. SMITH, our Canadian traveler, had been with Mr. VICKERS since 1890; and Mr. COPESTAKE, our Brown Goods manager, since 1893. Mr. SMITH has crossed the Atlantic thirty times on the business of the firm.

The development of the business under the stimulus of Mr. HINE's activity, made necessary important and immediate additions to the staff.

Mr. SIMPSON came to us in 1900. Mr. CLEMENTS came to us in 1901. Mr. JACKSON came to us in 1902. Mr. E. BRADSHAW came to us in 1902. Mr. F. HINE came to us in 1903. Mr. LOMAS came to us in 1906.

Mons. E. PELETTE has represented us in Paris for more than 30 years. His son, M. Jean PELETTE, joined him in business in the year 1910. To both these gentlemen, especially Mons. E. PELETTE, the firm is very greatly indebted for the exceptional knowledge of the lace trade and the untiring energy and constant courtesy which they have devoted to its interest.

We owe very much also to the loyalty and confidence of our women workers, many of whom have been associated with us for nearly a quarter of a century, and among them the following may be specially mentioned:-

Miss EVANS, the Secretary of the Comany.
Miss NORRIS, the Manager of the Pattern Room.
Miss A. SPICK, the Overlooker of the Work Room.
Mrs. EVERETT, the Housekeeper.

In order to replace those who have left for Military Service, it has been necessary to introduce a number of Lady Clerks and Warehouse Women. The intelligence, industry, and enterprise of this new branch of the staff is helping us to deal satisfactorily with an important volume of valuable business, chiefly export.

The firm sincerely hopes that at the end of the war it may be able to confirm their positions, as well as to fulfill its pledge to reinstate all those who enlisted or attested in the early days of the war.

The war threatens us more and more with the loss of staff and of our staple yarn, but we are "carrying on," and extending our connection, and have good hopes of contributing our share, not only to the sinews of the present war, but to the new commercial era of interest and enterprise, which is dawning.


Prior to the introduction of the National insurance Act, in the year 1912, many important British firms had already recognised the need for some scheme of Provident Insurance for their employees, and had established such trusts on the basis of joint contributions from employers and employed.

Following this example, a VICKERS & HINE branch of the "National Deposit Friendly Society" was formed in the year 1902.

A commencement was made with 34 members, only such members being enrolled as had completed two years service with the firm.

Present membership107
Total contribution of members£1,503
Paid out to members for sick and other benefits£654
Paid to Medical men, for attendance, etc.£371
Cash withdrawn£817
Amount standing to credit of VICKERS & HINE branch£624
Total £2,466
Balance £1,503

Showing an amount credited to members in excess of their contributions of £963


The efforts made by the late Lord ROBERTS to persuade the nation to prepare for the war were little heeded. But they led to the formation of many branches of the National Service League, and also a number of Rifle Clubs.

Our own Rifle Club was started in 1910, and its excellent training was evident in the high standard of marksmanship attained.

Our share in the history of the war itself is of course incomplete. We specially honour the memory of - 2nd Lieut. W.B. VICKERS, R.G.A. and Lieut. P. COOPER, of the Rifle Brigade, who both fell in the service of their country.

Our youngest soldier, Wilfred FOX, obtained the Military Medal in 1916. He enlisted in August 1914, in his 17th year, and has been on Active Service in France, since March, 1915. He was wounded in 1917.

Mr. VICKERS' younger son, Captain C.G. VICKERS, Sherwood Foresters, was still at Oxford when war broke out, but the firm none the less rejoices in the reflected honour of the V.C. won by this young officer on his 21st birthday. See note of the official report.


For most conspicuous bravery on October 14th, 1915, in the Hohenzollern Redoubt. When nearly all his men had been killed or wounded, and with only two men available to hand him bombs, Captain VICKERS held a barrier for some hours against heavy German bomb attacks from front and flank. Regardless of the fact that his own retreat would be cut off, he had ordered a second barrier to be built behind him, in order to ensure the safety of the trench.

Finally, he was severely sounded, but not before his magnificent courage and determination had enabled the second barrier to be completed. A critical situation was thus saved.


In the year 1907 several letters appeared in the local papers complaining of the very small earnings of some of the women who did lace work in their homes.

Mr. G.C. HINES took the matter up, and enlisted the co-operation of some forty other firms, who agreed upon a scale of prices for this work, and published the scale in the local papers.

This however, only limited the abuse attacked, as certain other Finishing Houses refused to recognise the list, and consequently in the year 1911, the Trade was placed under the control of the Wage Board, which has taken effective measures to ensure reasonable wages for all those employed.

The co-operation of the Manufacturers referred to above suggested the formation of the Lace Finishers Association designed to strengthen the position of its members and to secure better conditions for the workers.

The formation of the L.F.A. was soon followed by the organisation of other branches of the trade, viz.:-

Notts. Lace Finishers Association formed 1907
The Leavers Lace Manufacturing Association formed 1909
Nottingham Commission Houses Association formed 1911
Embroidery Manufacturers Association formed 1913
Midland Counties Lace Manufacturers Association formed 1915
Federation of Lace and Embroidery Employers Association formed 1916
British Plain Net Association formed 1917
Warp lace and Fabric Association formed 1917.

These and all other Associations of the Lace Trade are now affiliated in the General Federation of Lace Industries, which promises to play a very important part in the general scheme for improving industrial conditions after the war.

We trust that this body will always be inspired by that jealousy for the fair fame of the Trade and care for the best interests of its humblest members, which prompted its origin.


Realising that the continuation of their studies after leaving primary schools is most important to boys and girls, and recognising that only exceptional children will pursue such study at the close of a long business day, the firm applied to the local Education Committee, in the year 1916, for facilities for their younger employees to attend day classes.

The Committee replied, that while most sympathetic towards the enquiry, the temporary lack of teachers and premises made the provision at present impossible. Under the circumstances a short interval was set aside each day for technical instruction, and for commercial arithmetic. This was given by members of the staff. One of our managers is at present teaching Spanish to a small class of children under sixteen.

We feel that these arrangements are inadequate, and look forward most hopefully to the new conditions to be introduced by Mr. FISHER's new Education Bill.

The firm has never employed foreign travelers or correspondents, but has exploited fresh markets only after members of its own English staff have qualified themselves for these duties.


Started September, 1916

Certificates purchased to July, 19181,541
Cash value of same£1,194

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