Gloving in Martock

When its cold and you pull on a pair of gloves, just give a thought to how leather and fabric gloves made Martock the place it is today.

In 1655 there was a glover here but glovemaking really took off in the early 19th century. In 1826 Martock and Stoke-sub-Hamdon were producing 500 pairs of sheepskin gloves a week. Later finer kid leather was used. Some of the leather was prepared up beside Bearley Bridge where the builder’s sheds are now. The skins were hung on frames in the field to dry. There was also a tanning yard at the back of Bower Hinton. We had plenty of water in Martock but the old way of processing skin was pretty foul because it involved dipping the skins in vats of lime and then a liquid made up of animal faeces (dogs’ were very good) and human urine to remove hair. This mixture often seeped into the water supply.

By 1830 the output had fallen to 50 dozen pairs of gloves a week but a couple of years later there were 567 women working in the trade so things had improved dramatically.

Small factories often started in back rooms and outhouses with the father cutting the

leather to fit the hand, a very skilled job, which an apprentice cutter would take several years to learn. Any young children would tie cotton ends, and girls from the age of 10 learned to make gloves on the sewing machine. Small boys would cut out the thumbs and fittings on a small press. Older members of the family would line gloves on a metal pair of hands, turn the work and pack it up in ½ doz. packets.

People who worked ‘at the gloving’ in the 1940s and 50s were quite happy doing the job but they always moaned about the poor rates of pay. However, they had no problems with childminding or travelling to their place of work. A bag lady or man would take the bundles of leather, usually done up in 5 dozen lots, to a central place where folk would either collect it or send their children. In 1940 pay for pique making was 2/6d a dozen pair, and 1/6d for inseam. Pique work was the most difficult as the gloves had to be stitched across the top of a small metal bar on the sewing machine. The other types, inseam, brossier and pxm, were said to be easier and so they could make maybe 6 or 8 pairs in an hour. Pique was slower and unless you were really quick, only 3 pairs were produced per hour. Some ladies would get up 5 am and put in a dozen pair of thumbs before they got the children’s breakfast.

Daily life revolved around the gloving and people often staying up half the night to get hurried work completed. The work had to be turned using wooden sticks called poking sticks. Each seam had to be checked with stretchers to check there were no runoffs or you were docked money.

John Sharman, the butcher, told me that when he made meat deliveries, the ladies were always hard at work with their machine in front of the windows, and he was often asked to push it through an open window - the ladies would not stop even for two minutes to go to the door.

Many ladies, even now, work in twos and threes in their living rooms. Years ago they would have been using a treadle machine. An accomplished machinist worked partly by feeling the shapes of the leather, as before electricity and gaslight they would be sewing by candle or oil lamp.

Sometimes they sewed with babies on their knee to get the work finished. Not all that long ago when I was delivering the work for Burfields, I remember a ‘hand sewing’ lady was feeding her child with a boiled egg whilst trying to finish her work. The bag lady, or man, would not hand over pay until everything was finished and packed up tidily. Some ladies would sit on their gloves to present them in neat bundles. Often disputes would erupt because the bag lady or man had given their friends or relations better leather or when work was short, favour a few.

The boy apprentices at the factory would also deliver work around the villages using the old push-bikes with a carrier on the front. Leather is heavy and they had to cycle for miles, and there are a lot of hills around Martock. They also pushed a big cart with work to the railway station as completed orders were dispatched by rail until the line closed in 1963. Some of the local bus companies would also deliver work.

Up to the 1950s there were several factories in Martock. Along East St. there were Norman Burfields, Hunts, Thomas Vaughans and Taunton & Thorne. Others were Dent-Allcroft, Seagers, Burt and Sons and Taylors of North Street.

It was a very busy place and most of the girls and a lot of the boys started their first job in the glove factory. When they got married and had children, the women carried on at home. Many people worked well into their 80s and stuck to their treadle machine – they did not want them converted with an electric motor.

Most of the games we played when we were young involved mother doing gloving.I’m not sure many girls would be happy with a big gloving machine and stand parked in the corner of their living room with their modern décor. Not to mention the bits of leather and cotton on the carpet.

Offcuts of leather were used to make fireside rugs and burnt bits were put on the garden as fertiliser. Not a thing was wasted.

Finally, if you misbehaved as a child you soon towed the line after a threat had been made with a whack from the gloving stick.