The following is a list of jobs which I've found while researching my family history. Many of my relatives worked in the mills of Lancashire, and some of the occupations which appear in censuses are unfamiliar to most of us. Indeed, some of them do not appear in dictionaries, since those are written by people who know little about Lancashire, let alone the manufacture of cloth.
Quite a few of the descriptions were provided by my mum's older sister, who worked in most parts of the mill during her life, providing training to others. This is very unusual, since most workers would not move from one part of the production process to another without a major cause.
Should you find any errors, or are able to add information (or whole new jobs!) please contact me at andrewalston(at)hotmail.com (symbol removed to stop email address harvesting).
Name of Job
Where Carried Out
Art Silk Spinner
Artificial Silk is usually known as rayon, and was one of the first man-made fibres to make it into production. It is made from cellulose extracted from plants.
Takes cones of thread by the hundred and organises them to make the warp ready for weaving. The beam is a huge bobbin. See also Drawer.
Blow room operator
The blow room is a more modern process replacing scutching. It uses airflow to remove debris from the raw cotton.
Carries bobbins of thread to the looms ready for use by the weavers. A weaver without a ready supply of thread would be most unhappy!
Makes the bobbins used for holding thread. Usually wood with a steel core. An engineering job, involving a lathe.
Jacquard and other multi-weft thread looms had a box containing several shuttles with different colours and this box rotated to make the patterns. A box tenter was the person whose job was filling the box corectly.
A carder. Someone who tends a carding machine.
Carder or Card Room Hand
Carding machines perform a combing operation, aligning the fibres so they will make a strong thread when spun. The process leaves the operator covered in cotton fluff. Seen as a low-status job by others in the industry.
Puts cloth from a roll onto hooks so that the cloth can be folded concertina-fashion, making a parcel ready for shipping.
Removes the slubs (bits sticking up from the surface of the cloth). Also does quality control of the finished cloth.
Another term for a Carder. In some places it may refer to Doubling, because of the combing action inside the doubling machine.
See Reed maker
Takes thread from hanks (from spinning) and winds onto cardboard bobbins forming a cone of thread.
Early term for a creeler.
A creel (short for cop reel) is a bobbin of thread used either for warp or weft. If used for warp it went on to the Beamer or Drawer, if for the weft it went straight to the weaving shed. Also known as a Quill. A Creeler winds thread onto these bobbins.
In spinning, a creeler replaces the roving being fed to the spindles as the supply runs out.
Bleach Croft or Dye Croft
A croft is a piece of land where Bleaching or Dyeing is carried out. After processing, the cloth would be stretched and allowed to dry in the open air. When the air became more polluted, these trades had to move indoors.
Loads empty cops (bobbins) and unloads full cops from a spinning machine.
Doubling is the combination of two or more groups of fibres (roving) into a single group ready for spinning. The original rovings may be of different qualities; these days there may be natural and man-made fibres to combine.
Drawer or Drawer-in
Organises the pattern of threads, taking threads from many bobbins of thread possibly forming a pattern. The individual threads are initially on bobbins which are placed on a large framework arranged to keep them apart. The legwork is done by a Reacher under his supervision. There were disabled people employed as Drawers, because the job could be done sitting down.
Someone who tidies up a product before the next stage of manufacturing, or to make it ready for sale. I have come across “silk dresser” used to refer to dyeing; it was unclear whether this referred to thread or finished cloth.
Ender and Mender
Repairs faults in fustians and velvets. This might involve sewing up cuts in the base fabric caused by a slip of the knife, or trimming untidy parts of the pile. A special square-ended pair of scissors was needed to avoid causing further damage.
Tidies up the surface of the cloth after bleaching.
A fly is the mechanism which moves back and forth so that thread is wound neatly on a spindle. An engineering job.
Someone who looks after spinning frames.
Fustian is a fabric woven like a close corduroy. By cutting the loops, a finish like velvet is obtained. A knife about a yard long, with a blade about an inch deep near the handle and tapering to a very sharp point, is slid into the loops to cut them. The fabric would be stretched on a long table and the cutter would walk along with their knife. A good cutter could use a knife in each hand. Top quality fustian would need 40 cuts per inch, so a cutter would walk 72 miles to cut a pair of cloths each 145 yards long and 18" wide.
A child who spent half the day at school and the other half earning money in a mill. Typically they would start work at , work in the mill until , then go to school until . It was quite common for them to fall asleep during lessons.
See Cloth hooker
Jack frame tenter
A jack frame is a machine for lightly twisting the roving as it leaves the carding machine.
A Jacquard loom uses punched cards to control the production of fancy patterns in the finished cloth. In extreme cases, full colour pictures can be made this way. A higher status job than ordinary weaving, since the finished product is worth more.
A piecer. The term has been found in the Royton area.
Prepares the chemicals ready for bleaching the cloth.
A spinning mule spins a length of thread at a time, with a frame moving towards the operator as the thread is spun, then back again as the spun thread is wound onto bobbins. It was invented by Samuel Crompton, and combined features from two different earlier machines, hence "mule". Mules can produce all types of thread, but cottton requires a more complicated mechanism than is used for wool, which has longer fibres.
Someone whose job is to keep the shop working smoothly. What is known these days as Middle Management.
Pickers are strong pieces of leather at each side of a loom, used to drive the shuttle from side to side. The leather needed to be durable. One of my relatives describes himself as a "Buffalo leather picker maker".
Mends broken threads during spinning. Often called a “little piecer” because they started young. Usually employed by the spinner, rather than directly by the mill owners. A spinner would often employ their own children, thus keeping the money in the family.
Mechanised equivalent of a cloth hooker.
Quiller or quilter
A quill is the metal spindle in a shuttle which holds the thread, otherwise known as a Creel. This person’s job is to wind the thread onto these quills.
Does the actual work for a Drawer-in.
Reeds are fine-toothed comb-like devices used on a loom to push the weft into place against the previous row. Making these items is an engineering job.
Ring spinning uses a different action to the mule, generating thread in a continuous process. It can normally produce only coarser threads.
The rollers in many of the machines used to make thread are covered in leather to get the right amount of grip. This skilled tradesman makes a tube of leather which is then stretched over the core of the roller and then smoothed to give the right surface.
Roving is the name for the loosely assembled group of fibres before it is twisted to make a thread. A rover operates the machine which takes the mat of aligned threads coming from the carding machine and splits it into these groups of fibres.
Mis-transcription of Reeler
Cleans up the cotton fluff which inevitably accumulates under machinery. Commonly a job for a child, who would go on to become a piecer. The cleaning had to be done while the machinery was operating, making this a dangerous job.
Scutching is the separation of the valuable fibres from the woody seeds of the raw cotton. Considered one of the worst jobs in the mill – very low status!
Operates a self-acting spinning mule, patented by Richard Roberts, which could be operated by semi-skilled personnel.
Another name for a Doffer.
Normally referred to as a half-timer.
The beams of prepared warp sometimes need sizing. A sort of glue (like starch) is applied to stiffen the fibres and make the shuttle’s path smoother.
The Slasher was the name sometimes used for the machinery which did the sizing. The threads were dipped through starch and then passed over a steam-heated drum to dry them before heading on to the beam.
Makes the spindles used for holding thread on the looms
Operates one or more usually two facing each other, spinning machines, each with many spindles, to make thread. Because the floor beneath spinning machines was soaked in the oil from the cotton, spinners usually worked barefoot. Spinners normally employed their own piecers and paid them directly. A spinning mule might have up to 1200 spindles from end to end and be nearly 100 yards long. A spinner would be paid according to the amount of thread produced. Poor quality cotton with short fibres broke more easily. Ask a spinner to spin Surat and they would be most unhappy, knowing that their piecers would be unable to keep up with the number of breaks, forcing them to stop the mule.
Joins the start of a roll of cloth onto the end of the previous one, so that the progress through the bleaching tanks can be a continuous one.
Stripper and grinder
Maintains the thousands of wire teeth on carding machines. An engineering job.
Someone who sets up a loom ready for weaving. Threads the warp in etc. In some places the name refers to someone who installs the machinery. The stereotypical tackler is possessed of more brawn than brain and is the butt of many jokes.
Weaves cotton tape - up to a couple of inches wide.
General term for someone who tends machinery. One of my relatives was a "Gate tenter" - operating a level crossing on the railway.
Runs a Throstle – a type of spinning machine named after the noise it makes. Throstle is an alternative name for a thrush.
Joins the ends of a fresh beam of threads onto the warp already on the loom. A sitting-down job, sometimes done by people who were crippled.
Still the same job today, but done with pencil and paper rather than computers and bar-code scanners.
Warper or Warp Dresser
Runs one or more looms to weave cloth. The more looms, the more money. Weaving is a very noisy operation, leaving many weavers deaf. Whether deaf or not, most weavers will have learned to lip-read since this is the only way to hold a conversation in the weaving shed. Making the lip movements without bothering to produce sound is known as "Mee-mawing".
Another name for Bobbin carrier.
Either a Beamer, or someone who winds thread onto the spindles used in shuttles.