Nottingham Knitter

Knitter at Work


Machine knitting was invented in 1589 by William Lee from Calverton in Nottinghamshire. The knitting frame made it possible for workers to produce knitted goods approximately 100 times faster than by hand. The industry was primarily based in Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire. The art of framework knitting is not difficult to acquire, but the best finished work, and all the fancy work, require a quick sight, a ready hand and retentive faculties… I have tried within these few weeks and found the labour very severe… From the Royal Commission enquiring into the conditions of framework knitters 1845. With slight alterations to the frame it was possible to create the first machine that made lace. Prior to this intervention, Nottingham was not one of the major producers of hand made lace. However its manufacture on frames led to the creation of machines specifically designed to produce Lace. Machine made lace was one of Nottingham’s major industries.


The framework knitting industry was a key factor in the growth and development of the village of Ruddington. In 1851 about 50% of all households in the village were engaged in the industry in some way. Many former frameshops and workers cottages survive within walking distance of the museum. However these are mostly private residences and businesses and we advise you to be respectful when admiring these historic properties. William Lee was the inventor of the knitting frame. He invented it in 1589 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The frame represented an incredible advance in textile manufacturing. It could knit an entire row in the time it would take an average knitter to form a single loop. However Elizabeth refused to grant Lee a licence so that he would gain financially from the reproduction of the machine. It has been suggested that she was concerned that this new machine would result in financial hardship for hand knitters. Lee left for France to make his fortune but sadly died penniless. However his brother brought the design back to Britain and the machine made the knitting trade began to grow.


Today the term ‘Luddite’ is often incorrectly used to describe someone who is not in favour of progress. It is a term associated with the destruction of machinery. However this is only part of the story. Life was hard in the textile industry and especially for framework knitters. Low wages and high overheads resulted in extreme poverty.Many factors contributed to the plight of the knitters and in the early 19th century they sent a petition to parliament to appeal for help. Their call for intervention did not result in an improvement in their situation. As a result a number of Framework Knitters engaged in ‘frame breaking’, the destruction of Knitting Frames. The breakers were called Luddites after the name of their mythical leader who they called Ned Ludd.


The Framework Knitters Museum is a unique complex of listed frameshops, cottages and outbuildings arranged around a garden courtyard with an adjacent former chapel in which many of the knitters worshipped. The site has been restored to show the living and working conditions of the framework knitters who occupied it throughout the nineteenth century. This is a working museum with machinery in use and the opportunity for visitors to ‘have-a-go’. There is Wheelchair access to all ground floor rooms (and the chapel gallery). There are Disabled-access toilets. There are Braille guides available. Assistance dogs are welcome. Carers are admitted free of charge. The museum offers light refreshments in the tea-room.


Location : Chapel St, Ruddington, Nottingham NG11 6HE

Transport: Nottingham (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : Nottingham City Transport 10 or Trent Barton “Ruddington Connection” stop nearby.

Opening Times : Wednesday to Saturday 11:00 to 16:30; Sundays 13:30 - 16:30

Tickets : Adults £4.00;  Students £3.00;  Children £2.00

Tel: 0115 984 6914