Eber Garner, one of my great x 3 grandfathers on my father's side, lived a long but almost certainly hard life. Like so many of my ancestors on this side of the family, he was a framework knitter. This was a difficult job - working the stocking frame took a lot of physical effort. The frame often needed adjusting, which - quite apart from the fact that that meant an interruption in work flow - also required good eyesight and, I imagine, a steady hand. The machine produced a flat piece of material which then needed making up into a stocking. It was often the women in the family - wife and elder daughters - who carried out this job, known as seaming.
|A framework knitting machine|
The machine took up a lot of space as well, similar to that taken up by an upright piano - taller, but not as wide. Which in a tiny two-up, two-down (if they were lucky) house, often packed full of children, would have made quite a difference.
In addition, the hosiery industry was very unstable, with framework knitters often having to move from one part of the country to another to find work, or sometimes do something else entirely to avoid going into the workhouse.
This was the case with Eber. He was born on 20 March 1825 in Thurmaston, Leicester, to John and Mary Garner, and was one of ten children. He married Mary Ann Robinson - sister of his elder brother's wife - in 1847. The 1851 census shows them as living in North Thurmaston with Emily, 3, and Eliza, 1.
By 1861, they had moved to Hucknall in Nottinghamshire. My extremely knowledgeable friend, Jennifer, from the Thurmaston Heritage Group says many framework knitters left Thurmaston during the 1840s and 1850s following a general downturn in the trade. Many went to Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire - some even walked there, with their entire families in tow. These cities worked mostly with cotton or silk, instead of the wool that Leicester tended to focus on. This is reflected in the 1861 census return, in which Eber is listed as a cotton hose framework knitter. Mary Ann did the same job, and their two eldest daughters did the seaming work. There are now two sons in the family, John, 6, and George, 3.
By 1871 Emily had left home, and Mary Ann was listed a housewife, although I suspect she was probably still involved in the framework knitting industry. Eliza, 21, and John, 16, were both framework knitters, as was their father. George was 13 and a winder - in other words, he wound the thread from hanks onto the bobbins. There were two more children, Sarah, 9, and Mark, 5.
|A winding machine|
In 1880, son George - my great great grandfather - married Mary Goodwin in London. The certificate states that at the time Eber was a bag hosier. This was a middleman in the hosiery framework knitting industry who collected materials from the spinner or hosiery factory and passed it on to his workers who made up the goods. He then collected the finished articles from them at the end of the week and took it back to the factory, and of course charged a fee for his work. Sometimes the bag hosier had his own frameshop and charged the workers for the use of the machines as well. It was a very labour intensive industry and the end worker bore the brunt of all the charges. In Eber's case, he had four framework knitters in his home by 1881 - himself, his wife, John and Mark. Sarah was a stitcher. They were all making silk mitts. No doubt he did all the fetching and carrying of materials and finished items for them - I wonder if he did the same for his neighbours?
I haven't been able to find a census entry for 1891, but from the 1901 entry it seems Eber and his family may well have fallen on hard times again, as Eber is now listed as a retired miner. He probably had to take whatever work he could get to avoid going to the workhouse. It must have been terribly hard, taking to the mines at around 60 years of age.
In the 1901 census, he appears to be living with his son John and his daughter-in-law Emily, plus Emily’s five children by her first marriage (she was a widow), and their own son John. I'm not sure where Mary Ann was, to date I have not been able to find any record of her, although I believe she died in 1904.
Eber died just a couple of months after the census was taken, aged 76.