The Needle Makers of Long Crendon
Long Crendon is a small village within the parish of Aylesbury Buckinghamshire. Some believe it to be in Oxfordshire, which is a stone's throw away, and I believe at some stage it was centred in Oxfordshire.
But over the last hundred years or so it has been in Buckinghamshire. The people who live in and around Long Crendon tend to say, 'I come from Thame'. Which is a couple of miles up the road, and is a big market town. Thame is also in Oxfordshire, hence the confusion.
Growing up I always knew my granddad came from Thame. He would say his ancestors were farmers, but that was it. So I started to search my family history and found something fascinating. We actually came from Long Crendon, and we were Farmers, Smiths, Lace Makers, and Needle Makers! But that's not all. It turned out that I had opened a can of very interesting worms so to speak!
Not only were my family Needle makers, but they all seem to stem from one family, the Shrimptons, and they seem to have taken over the whole of the village for around three hundred years!
So who were the Needle Makers?
Well to find out, we have to go back to the 1500s. Back then all needles were made from iron wire, with just a loop made at the end for the cotton or silk to go through. They were made by Smiths who made swords, horseshoes and so on.
But all across Europe at that time needles were made of steel wire, and were imported in large quantities. Of course needles were not just used for darning. There were various types of needles for a range of jobs or cloth.
There were sail needles, made especially for the thick cloth on ships. There were Spanish needles used by Queen Elizabeth 1, and various others too.
At that time, there was a lot of religious persecution going on across Europe. Mainly between the Catholics and the Protestants. Back then they were in the middle of the reformation, which Henry VIII had started, and this had spread to Europe. So many of these immigrants came to England and brought the new trades with them.
The first to start the Long Crendon trade in Needles was someone name Christopher Greening, born 1587. Before him were many 'Myths and Fantasies' which was quoted at the time by anyone who was asked.
But the proof was in the pudding so to speak. In the parish register against the birth of Christopher Greening are the words:
'This man is the first in England who brought needle making'!
Christopher Greening the first of the Needlemakers.
"This man, the first in England, brought in Needlemaking".
The dangerous engine.
The idea and start of the needle making trade in Long Crendon has been attributed to around 1590, give or take a few years. And was of course, surrounded by controversy. The main being that when the London needle makers who were starting out on the same path complained that:
'There is a dangerous engine, which besides being the first devised for the working of such deceitful ware, was dangerous to the lives and bodies of the workmen'
In plain English these were harsh words aimed at the Long Crendon 'Aliens' or 'Immigrants' who, apart from the original immigrants, were actually only from other parts of England, but were 'Foreign' compared to the locals. The reason being that they had brought their own machinery to make the needles, which gave the London Needle Makers, well, the needle! (sorry)!
The London Needle Makers made a complaint to the Privy Council, and the Lord Mayer and others were sent to investigate. But to no avail.
And so Long Crendons Needle Making was on its way.
(to read a more detailed account of the start of the trade law, and Charter, please click Here)
Starting out in 1664.
George Benson was a merchant from London, but originated from Thame. In 1611, along with other London Merchants, was given 'Monopoly of Trade' with France.
He was the link that set up the whole trade in its entirety. In his will George left a vast sum of money to:
'Ten poor handicraft men to better set up their trades'.
In 1664 the Needlemakers were given their first charter. The trade declined for a while, but soon local craftsmen and women were building new cottages in Long Crendon, in 'Gardens and the corners of Orchards'.
And soon there were many working together as Needle Makers. And this made me smile because:
'The Turner family who are blacksmiths, had been in the village since 1560, now turned over to needles!'
This is in the name I was searching for, but I never realised that they were living in Long Crendon for such a long time!
So it seems that Great great grandad, and Great great grandma both came from Long Crendon, and were both in the trade.
Fights were becoming more frequent leading the local residents to call the village
So in the Stocks they go!
Soon the Needlemakers were making more than needles. They were enjoying themselves a little too much by local standards, and soon the rest of the local residents started to complain. It was a hard and dusty job, so its understandable that they needed time to enjoy themselves, but it seems they went a bit too far!
In the years 1736 a young man with the name of Henry Young state:
" some of the needle makers are making merry in the alehouses, so the parish constable had to place them in the stocks, wherein make their feet secure, so that they were booed at by their boon companions"!
Sounds like a blast!
The Needle makers Cottages and Work Space.
The cottages were mainly on the high street, and you could tell which ones were owned by the needle makers.
They had larger windows, and inside the house were 'Needle Cupboards' on the walls. This was where they kept their needles, but its said that in some of the cottages, the cupboards were covering a hole in the wall, so that when someone was working on the needles in their house, they could then reach through and pass the needle to the next person in line who would add the next bit or straighten the needle.
The real problem came with the rust that was left over from the needle making. It didn't help that the floors were rough and just made of earth with no floor covering. The walls were plain and 'Wichert' which is a mixture of white chalk and clay, then mixed with straw, then topped with red tiles. This also retained the clouds of red rust and must have made the room seem as though it were filled with red smoke.
The first steam powered Scouring Mill.
In 1848 Emanuel Shrimpton and Andrew his son, installed the first steam powered scouring Mill at 76 High Street in shed at the back of the house.
Other members of the Shrimpton family also had Steam powered machines dotted around various locations in Long Crendon.
This is taken from 'The Last Needle Workshop in Long Crendon' by David Gilbert. And is the description of the workshop where the machinery was kept. This is concerning the archaeological dig where they found proof of the machinery and workshop.
It states that:
'The floor was of beaten earth, with a deposit of coal dust, charcoal and ash over, and trampled, into it.
On the floor were four iron fixings where the feet of the machines had been kept.
There is a plinth in the second room for more equipment, and a drainage pipe in the wall that was used as quenching basin'
Its not clear exactly what was going on in the rooms, but they believe it was used for the hardening process of the needles or providing heat for the scouring process. Their were two flues that show it was used for burning or heating, and the evidence can still be seen on the floor where there is signs of scorching.
Needle making skills and types of needles.
The Shrimpton's, my family ancestors, came into the trade in 1735. Rebecca Shrimpton, my ancestor was born in 1822. She married Thomas Turner born 1821.
But it was John Shrimpton, who was the great great grandson of the first Shrimpton who came to live in the village in 1620 that sold needles to Whitechapel, where they had figured out a way of 'Bluing' the eye of the needle to make it smoother.
The needle makers had a variety of skills.
There were drawers, cutters, pierces, pointers and polishers. As each of the workers finished their part of the job, the needles were passed through the hole in the wall, to the next door neighbour to carry on working on their part.
There was a variety of needles made, and as the years progressed they became more elaborate.
To start with, they made Sail and Packing needles. But after a few years they started making needles for surgeons, needles for harnesses which didn't have a point, and needles for book binders, tailors and saddlers. Strange that's another surname of mine. Sadler!
And there were needles for straw and felt workers, the glover, and of course embroidery which was very prevalent back then.
In fact most of the housewives who were not working with needles or making them actually did a completely different job to make more money.
They were lace makers. And with lace making came demand for bodkins, sewing mach ines which soon became the norm in the 18th century, and knitting pins.
Of course it wasn't only Long Crendon doing this work. Redditch in Worcestershire also had a trade in needle making. And in the 19th Century when Long Crendons trade in needles was coming to an end, it passed on to Redditch and other towns.
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Needles, Lace and Farming. Family Connections.
My family on my father's side all came from Long Crendon. On my Family Tree I have found Shrimptons, Turners, Wheelers and Sawyers.
Looking into their lives I found that most of the men were farmers and the women were lace makers. As the years progressed more and more became needle makers.
After the needle making started to decline, much of the work started to be shipped out to Redditch, and a lot of the populace followed.
For genealogy readers who are interested in the Shrimpton's of Long Crendon there is a great site called:
mappowder.org.uk where you can find out who married who, and when. I believe it was written by another distant relative, on the Shrimpton side!
In my family line the first Shrimpton was Rebecca b: 1822- 1892. She married Thomas Turner b:1821 1891.
Forge Mill Museum Redditch.
As an example of the needle making process I have included photos courtesy of Forge Mill Needle Museum. Forge Mill is in Redditch, Worcestershire. (pronounced Wooster).
The photos are set in the 19th Century, but the process of making needles was pretty much the same for a couple of hundred years.
Originally, needles were made by Smiths who forged horseshoes and swords.
Long Crendon and Redditch both started needle making in the 1600's.
Forge Mill Museum is a fascinating place to visit. For visiting times and info please visit the site at:
Re-enactment of the Needle Makers
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© 2015 Nell Rose
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