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Cotton Spinner's Banner, Victorian

  • Spinners quilt
  • Handloom, Guildhall Museum, Carlisle

During the Georgian era large mechanised cotton mills began to gradually replace the cottage based industry of hand loom weavers. Workers in cotton mills operated the water and steam driven power looms that spun cotton textiles. British textiles were then exported across the world by sea. This trade was therefore a key part of the British Empire’s global economy.  Workers became aware of their importance and began to demand greater political representation over time.

This banner was produced by the Carlisle Association of Cotton Spinners and the centre piece was originally an apron worn by a local cotton spinner who celebrated the passing of the 1832 reform act in a procession through Carlisle.

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‘Britain’s glory’ slogan: The textile trade industry was the foundation of the British economy and the catalyst for the industrial revolution.

Cotton tree and ship: These illustrations and their accompanying slogans remind us that the basis of this trade was the import of raw cotton from the slave plantations of the southern United States, and the export of the finished cloth around the world. In Carlisle’s case, many of the plain dyed fabrics produced in the city were sent back to the plantations to be worn by the slaves. After the slaves were freed, their preference for brighter and more fashionable designs helped to put inflexible manufacturers like Dixons of Shaddon Mill out of business. 

‘Let Carlisle flourish’: The spinning and printing of imported cotton for textile production was suited to the natural advantages of Carlisle (unlike wool). These advantages were being close to Port Carlisle and having  a reliable water supply. After many years of economic depression, Carlisle would become (for a while) the fourth most important cotton producing area in the country.

Coat of arms: This design was not officially adopted by the City of Carlisle until the corporation was reformed in 1835, which may date the panel to after this date. However, even before 1835 the ‘new’ design seems to have been used by supporters of political reform who saw the old arms as a symbol of a corrupt and closed system.

Roses and thistles: A common symbol of the Border region and a reflection of the close links between north Cumbria and lowland Scotland. One of the reasons that the Industrial Revolution began in the UK was because of the internal security enjoyed here by the late 18th century. After centuries of unrest, nowhere was this more apparent than around Carlisle.   

The crown: Although the spinners favoured political reform, this symbol was to show that they were not dangerous radicals as their opponents liked to claim, but loyal subjects of the crown.

Spinning machine: From the later 18th century, raw cotton was converted into yarn using spinning machines. The yarn produced by the cotton spinners was then supplied to local handloom weavers to turn into cloth, before being printed and finished in factories. At one time there were estimated to be 10,000 hand loom weavers within 100 miles of Carlisle, supplying the city’s factories. However, as the manufacturers later introduced new weaving machines into their factories, the handloom weavers saw their livelihoods destroyed and faced great hardship.

Little girl: A stark reminder that many of the workers in these new factories were children, especially employed because they were cheap and small enough to climb under the machinery.

Male figure: The cotton spinner was a skilled worker and paid well enough to be able to afford to join the relatively expensive fees of a trade friendly society. His paternalistic gesture of holding the little girl’s hand reflects the hierarchical way that the workforce was organised. It also serves as a reminder that many of the children who worked in the factories were the children of adult workers.

‘United to support’: This Carlisle group, probably set up after the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824, seem to have been a branch of a Glasgow-based association; perhaps reflecting the Scottish origin of many of the workers attracted to the new Carlisle factories of the early 19th century. Such friendly societies acted as savings and welfare clubs for workers in the trade. They were set up in cities like Carlisle because of the old Medieval trade guilds which had fulfilled a similar role in early centuries.

Key facts: 
  • Weaving was a common home industry in Carlisle until the nineteenth century.
  • The industrial revolution brought factories like Dixon's of Shaddon Mill to Carlisle. They were able to produce cotton textiles on a far larger scale, and the work for weaving families declined rapidly.

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