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Nunn’s Lace Factory

Memories of Henry Shepard

The origins of lace making on the Isle of Wight at what is now Broadlands House in Staplers, Newport dates back to around 1827 when a lace making company was transferred from London. An old article from an unknown source in the County Press in April 1963 gives the following details which were provided by Mr. Henry Shepard, of Newport, who held a responsible position of machinist and designer at the factory.

“About the year 1810 a lace machine called a traverse warp was invented by Mr. J Brown and Mr. George Freeman who were silk stocking weavers of Radford, Nottingham. So reduced were both men in their means in completing their machine that Mr. Brown sold his furniture, and they only had one overcoat between them, however at last they succeeded in getting the machine to work. Having made only a yard or two of lace on the new machine and having no means to carry on, they took their sample to a Mr Nunn a banker and rich man in Nottingham. He had been taking a great interest in the lace trade, and they asked him to assist them, which he agreed to do on one condition, that they took his son Mr. H.W. Nunn as a partner.

A patent was granted in April 1811 for the new lace making machine, at which time William Henry Nunn was 16 years old. The factory started off in a small way in Warwick but found skilled labour difficult to find, so the factory was relocated to Blackfriars Road, London.

In 1816 a trial took place in London before Chief Justice Gibbs, the parties being involved were Brown, Freeman, Nunn and Heatcote [of Tiverton] on the one hand and a Mr.Moore on the other hand, no details of the case are known. The trial lasted from October 1816 until July 1817, the cost of the trial to Mr Moore was give as £4,200, no costs were ever quoted for the other parties. One can only assume that the consortium won the case because the factory continued to operate. After the trial and before the move to Isle of Wight Mr Brown died. Around 1826/27 they decided to spilt up the production and leave London, and the machines were divided equally, one part to Tewksbury and the other to the island.

Prior to moving to the island Mr. George Freeman and Mr. Mowbray visited the island to select a suitable location for the new enterprise, with Mr. Alobone who was to be the factory foreman, As a result Broadlands was selected because of its location and the availability of local labour. The factory now became known as Freeman and Nunn, and was managed by Mr. W Freeman a brother of the original partner, a few years later Mr Nunn took over the running of the factory. The basic reason for moving both factories to out of the way places was to ensure any improvements in production or invention could be preserved.

In February 1833 a patent was taken out for the production of French blonde lace. The new patent was kept secret for some considerable time and allowed the company to make a substantial profit. It was said at the time that £60,000 of sales generated £40,000 of profit.

In 1853 Mr. George Freeman was getting on in years and sold the machines at Tewkesbury to a Mr. Kirkland of Beeston, Nottingham. The factory was larger than that at Newport and produced three types of lace; many of the machines were driven by steam.

In late 1852 Mr. Nunn wrote to at Tewesbury and asked me to come and work for him at the Newport factory, Mr G. Freeman who was still a partner persuaded me to do so. I accepted Mr. Nunn’s offer and arrived on the island on the 27thy January 1853. A lace machine is a massive and complicated piece of machinery and the interior comprises of a lot of clever and delicate pieces of mechanism which caries the silk. I found that the machinery at Newport to be very much out date both in operation and speed when compared with the Tewesbury factory. The machines were of very old design and involved the men having to do twice the labour for the same output and involved the use of both hands and feet. The machines at the Tewesbury factory were set in motion by turning a handle and the blonde lace was of a different quality. Mr. Nunn asked me to bring the Newport machinery up to the latest standard and at the same time I mastered the art of manufacturing blonde lace. In busy times there were about 100 men, 20 to 30 winding boys and 60 girls employed in the factory. The men in the factory were well acquainted with the news and topics of the day. There was an hour’s break for dinner and the men all met in the same place and round a large fire in winter. They all subscribed a small amount of money to purchase the Times newspaper, and two men who could read selected articles from the paper; there ensued many a lively discussion. The only holidays were 2 days at Whitsuntide for Newport Fair, Good Friday and Christmas.

The lace manufactured at Newport had a blonde edging some being as fine as a spider’s web and was very expensive. Mr. Nunn told me that some of the silk used, cost the equivalent of a pound in silver for a pound of silk. The production of silk was very dependant on the fashions of the time, and he explained that he had over 20,000 blondes of silk in stock. Quite unexpectedly a large order was received from America and six weeks later he had less than 300 blondes in stock.

By now Mr. Nunn was getting on in years and because he had no son to carry on the business decided to retire sometime around 1870, the loss of the factory was a serious blow to Newport. Mr Nunn died in 1876. He is buried in a vault in the churchyard by the doorway of St Pauls Church, Barton, Newport. In his lifetime he had acquired the property of Briddlesford and the Lordship of the Manor. These together with his wealth, money and the Broadlands Silk Factory, passed to his daughter, Mrs. Capt Nunn Harvey of the Cliffs at Shanklin.

In 1877 Mrs Nunn Harvey asked me to act on her behalf and offer the factory complete as a gift to a certain gentleman. I also offered my services in order to re-open the factory for the people of Newport, but the offer was refused. I was then instructed by Mrs Nunn Harvey to dispose and sell off all the factory equipment, this I did."

Patent Description

The following transcription has been extracted from the London Journal of Arts and Sciences by W. Newton, Vol. X, London 1837 and relates to a patent, and reads “ To Henry William Nunn of Whippingham in the Isle of Wight, bobbin-net Lace Manufacturer, for his invention of improvements in the manufacturing certain kinds of embroidered lace [Sealed 27th March 1834]. “ This appears to be intended as an improvement upon a former invention for which a patent was granted February 1833 to Messer’s Nunn, Mowbray and Alabone. {See the fifth vol. of our conjoined series, page 358]. The present proposition, as far as we can understand it, seems to be to produced in any ordinary lace making machines, narrow breadths of bobbin-net, with blonde, purl, Vandyke, and embroidered edges, laced together in broad sheets, which when finished, bleached, and dressed, may be separated into various breadths by drawing out the lacing thread.

The manner of effecting this is stated to be, by removing certain of the bobbins and carriages, in order to produce spaces in the net in which the straight warp thread only appears. And upon these straight threads the embroidering gimp threads are worked by a series of extra guides and needles, in the way they are usually worked in the machine, called the wimp frame.

No drawing of the mechanical arrangement accompanies the specification, as it is stated that every kind of lace making machinery applicable to the object is claimed; we do not however, see distinctly the points of the invention on which the invention rests [Enrolled in the Enrolment Office September 1834].

Sources:
Isle of Wight County Press, September 1963
Mrs. E. Loughlin 2000
W. Newton London Journal of Arts & Sciences Vol. X, London (1837)

This page was last edited on: 4th March, 2015 06:16:47

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