Saturday, October 22, 2011

The framework knitters of Smeeton Westerby

The Leicestershire village of Smeeton Westerby was originally two hamlets: Smeeton and Westerby. Today it (just) retains separate from Kibworth Beauchamp and the smaller Kibworth Harcourt...

But you know all this.

Because you will have seen Michael Wood's television series The Story of England (which was really the Story of Kibworth), read the book and watched the DVD.

Today I was in Smeeton Westerby to look at this building in Pit Hill, which is very much at the Westerby end of the village. It was originally the poorhouse, established under the Gilbert Act of 1782. Later it was split into individual dwellings and occupied by framework knitters.

By 1844 the men who followed that trade were facing hard times. Wood quotes the evidence to a Royal Commission by a John Lover of Smeeton Westerby:
There is no race of people under the sun so depressed as we are, who work the hours we do, for the money we get. It would be my delight to bring my family up to a school; I cannot bear the thought of bringing a family up in ignorance, so as to not read a little.
The allotments in front of the old poor house, I learn from Stephen Butt's Kibworth Through Time (which I bought at The Bookshop in Kibworth afterwards), were established after sand had been extracted from the site around 1886. Before that the land had been occupied by cottages, so perhaps Westerby was larger then than it is today.

Later. I have been watching my own Story of England DVD. Originally, Smeeton was a Saxon settlement and Westerby was Viking. Elements of this rivalry can still be found today...

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