Silk Ribbon Industry

The medieval wealth of Coventry was based on the wool and associated trades, but by the eighteenth century silk weaving had become the most important textile industry. This continued into the nineteenth century. The focus was on the production of silk ribbons for the fashion trade, with inevitable fluctuations given the vagaries of that market. It was traditionally a cottage industry with production carried out at home, but gradually steam power and mechanisation developed. Concentrated in Coventry, Bedworth and Nuneaton, surviving topshops (now converted to other uses) are a reminder of the industry. Cash’s of Coventry is a prime example of the attempt to mechanise larger scale production at its Kingfield ’factory’ on Cash’s Lane, with a common source of power supplied to rows of three-storey houses – power on the top floor, with workshops and dwellings beneath. Cash’s continue in production (now of name tapes and other products) under foreign ownership at a different location in Coventry. Another famous example, now sadly lost, was Eli Green’s Vernon St./Berry Street/Brook St. Triangle of 67 cottage homes with looms in the workshops above built in 185, with steam power centrally supplied.

The firm of Toye, Kenning & Spencer remains in production in Bedworth, manufacturing coloured ribbons, braids and laces, providing hand and machine embroidery, as well as crafted hats and caps, for a variety of markets including military, masonic, police and sport. They have an early Jacquard loom manufactured by T.E. Wilkinson, Textile Enginners of Coventry, at work in the factory.

Another important branch of the trade was concerned with ‘Stevengraphs’ – pictures woven from silk to be used, for example, as bookmarks. These have become very collectable items.

Silk Ribbon Industry: further information

AuthorSubjectPublished/More
Prest, JohnThe Industrial Revolution in CoventryOxford University Press
Victoria County History of Warwickshire Vol 8Section on RIBBON WEAVING
(Available online)
Available at this link
Jones, HuwStill Weaving - J and J Cash Ltd of CoventryCoventry Museums & Galleries
Dodge, JennySilken Weave - A history of Ribbon Making in Coventry from 1700 to 1860Herbert Art Gallery & Museum
Capewell, C RLife and Work in Nineteenth Century Industrial Areas: Cottage Factory and Dwelling Workshops in Coventry. Study for UCL Diploma 1973. Available on WIAS siteAvailable at this link
Warr, Diana FrancesIndustry and Social change in nineteenth century CoventryPublished by author
Burton, JohnThe Ribbon Weavers of Bedworth and North Warwickshire. A guide for teachersBedworth Arts Centre
Searby, PeterCoventry in Crisis, 1858-63: Ribbon Factory, Free Trade and StrikeCoventry Historical Association
Bailey, J R"The Struggle for Survival in the Coventry Ribbon and Watch Trades, 1865-1914," Midland History 7 (1982): 132-152.
Godden, Geoffrey AStevengraphs and other Victorian silk picturesBarrie & Jenkins
Stevengraphs
on the Internet
Because of the collectible nature of many of the Stevengraphs and silk pictures, there is a great deal of information on the internet (together with price guides!)Available at this link
Our WarwickshirePhotographic record and some commentaryAvailable at this link
Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, CoventryThe Herbert has a unique collection relating to the silk ribbon industry, including over 250 sample books, with 80 from Franklin & Son, and 50 from J and J Cash. The collection has several thousand individual pieces of ribbon, dating from 1760 onwards. There are also ribbon designs and other archival material relating to the industry, together with weaving equipment, including a rare handloom and an impressive Jacquard loom.

The Herbert also has probably the finest collection of woven silk pictures and bookmarks in the country.
Available at this link
SitesThe surviving silk ribbon locations are recorded on the WIAS database under Textiles:silk. The firm of Toye, Kenning & Spencer remains the only manufacturer still in productionAvailable at this link