5 min read

Ragged School Clogs to the Cotton Gin: Manchester’s textile treasures

The Museum of Science and Industry’s  Textiles Gallery is packed with objects that tell stories; Curator Katie Belshaw and Archivist Ceri Forster introduce seven of them

A child’s clogs from the Ragged School

a close up of someone holding a child's leather clog

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

a photo of a pair of small leather clogs

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

The children who wore these tiny clogs never owned them. Charter Street Ragged School in Manchester lent them to children whose families could not afford to buy shoes. Dating from around 1870, they are stamped ‘CSRS loaned, not to be pawned’, to stop poor children or their families pawning them for money. Workers could earn good wages in Manchester’s mills, but work was never guaranteed and cotton shortages or low demand for cloth could shut the mills.

Workers then had to go without wages and many struggled to afford food, clothes and a place to live. So called ‘ragged’ schools like Charter Street provided food, clothing and basic education to Manchester’s poorest people.

Lucky mill coins

a photo of a pair of hands with blue plastic gloves on fiddling about with a coin

Courtesy MSIM. Phot © Drew Forsyth

a photo of a coin on a table

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

These coins dated 1799 and 1806 were found by archaeologists investigating the roof spaces of Murrays’ Mills in Ancoats, east Manchester. It is likely somebody hid them during the construction of the buildings, following an old folk tradition of concealing items to bring luck or wealth. It could have been Adam and George Murray, Scottish entrepreneurs who set up the mill in Ancoats.

In their hurry to make money from cotton, ambitious manufacturers transformed the small town of Manchester into a booming industrial centre and they built steam powered cotton mills and filled them with new machinery and people ready for long days of hard work. By 1800, the smoking chimneys of cotton mills had begun to fill Manchester’s skyline.

Printing block

a photo of a printing block with elaborate symmetrical design on it

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

This trademark printing block from around 1900 was used by Manchester cotton merchants Paterson Zochonis to stamp cotton goods for export. Textile companies employed artists to design their trademarks using pictures or words they thought would appeal to their customers and skilled makers turned them into printing blocks by hammering thin strips of metal into the wood.

Manchester’s city centre became the trading heart of the textiles industry. By the 1830s, it had hundreds of cotton warehouses and an experimental transport network that kept cotton moving in, out and across the world.

Cotton Gin

a photo of a small black iron spinning machine

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

a close up of an iron spinning machine with imprinted writing on it

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

This small cotton gin was made in Manchester in around 1860. The gin’s invention in the USA by Eli Whitney in 1793 is estimated to have resulted in a million more enslaved people being forced to grow cotton. Small rotating saws inside the gin separated the freshly picked cotton fibres from their seeds. It made it much easier to clean cotton on the plantations where it grew. This sped up cotton processing and increased the demand for enslaved labour to plant and pick it.

The wealth and success of Manchester’s cotton industry depended on this appalling system of human exploitation. It provided manufacturers with the cotton at the prices and in the quantities they desired.

The archaeology the mill workers left behind

a photo of a pair of gloved hands on a tbale of old ceramic jars and bottles

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

a photo of a pair of blue rubber gloved hands brushing a ceramic bottle

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

These items once belonged to workers in industrial Manchester. Archaeologists uncovered them whilst exploring the foundations of workers’ homes. Although their houses have disappeared to make way for offices and flats, these small, every-day items help reveal how workers in Manchester lived their lives. For the thousands of people working in Manchester’s mills, life was transformed.

Families competed for every available patch of living space in the town. They crammed into small, badly built houses on crowded streets near the cotton mills. By the 1840s, people had begun to realise the impact Manchester’s transformation was having on its workers. However, it took a long time for living conditions to get better.

Shipper’s Tickets

a photo of a pair of hands opening a large book full of colourful labels

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

an above view of table laid out with colourful labels

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

Textile merchants attached these shipper’s tickets to their bolts of cloth ready for export. The fabric was often destined for countries where their customers couldn’t read, or didn’t understand English. Merchants therefore used brightly coloured and bold imagery to make their products eye catching and easily recognisable, to help their customers quickly identify the brands and products they liked.

Rather than choosing one design to represent their company, textile firms used a variety of different designs for different markets. They did a great deal of research to design these tickets, and used motifs and images that they thought would appeal to their customers.

Archive materials from the Jean Elizabeth Gregson (1912-2007) collection

a photo of a hand resting on a pattern book with a floral pattern on it

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

a photo of a hand resting on a pattern book with a floral pattern on it

Courtesy MSIM. Photo © Drew Forsyth

Jean Elizabeth Gregson was a textile designer born in Sale in 1912. At school she quickly showed promise in art, and won a scholarship to attend the Manchester School of Art from 1929-1933. She continued her studies part time from 1934-1936, whilst also working as a textile and lamp shade designer at a firm in Salford.

The Museum collected her portfolio of work in 2014. It includes her art school notes and coursework; sketchbooks; and finished designs developed during her years of employment. It is one of several collections of textile designers’ work held by the Museum.

The Museum of Science and Industry’s Textile Gallery reopens to the public on July 21 2018.

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Museum of Science and Industry

Manchester, Greater Manchester

Uncover Manchester's industrial past and learn about the fascinating stories of the people who contributed to the history and science of a city that helped shape the modern world. Located on the site of the world's oldest surviving passenger railway station and only minutes from Manchester's City Centre, the Museum's…

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