Textiles

Coventry’s medieval wealth was based on its control of the local wool trade and associated textile trades. Despite the rapid decline of the industry after the dissolution of the monasteries it was still of some significance well into the 1700s. But by this time silk weaving had taken over as the principal textile industry although the details of its development remain rather mysterious. By the nineteenth century silk weaving was carried out throughout Coventry and surrounding villages. They worked in a very specialised market producing only narrow bands of fancy designs – ribbons for the fashion market. As such they were susceptible to the vagaries of fashion. Production was chiefly a cottage industry based in the home. The use of steam powered factories was not popular. But by the middle of the century a peculiar Coventry version of the Industrial Revolution had been worked out whereby people could still work in their own homes. Houses would be grouped so that steam power could be provided as required to power their individual looms kept in the ‘the shop on the second or third floor. The Cash brothers built one of the largest versions of this system that still survives at Cash’s Lane. Inevitably, perhaps, such adaptations to the demands of industrial change were not sufficient to save the industry. It was decimated in the 1860s and more than half the workers were lost in just a few years. Leigh Mills in Hill Street was opened in 1863 to offer employment to weavers, but this factory was only concerned with woollen goods. Just a few silk weaving businesses like Cash’s specialising in various forms of silk weaving such as clothes labelling and Stevens making silk pictures and bookmarks survived well into this century. Though many other small businesses dealing in fine textile work survived well into the century it was the opening of Courtaulds’ factory in 1904 that was to be the new champion of Coventry’s textile heritage.