The principal manufacture of this county is thread-lace, formerly known by the name of bone-lace; a term now grown obsolete but still retained as synonymous in the statute books. Lace is made in every part of the county, excepting in a few villages, where it as been superseded by the straw manufacture. The texture is not so fine as that of the lace made in some parts of Buckinghamshire, nor are the earnings of the persons employed in it so large; the average day's work of an adult producing about a shilling only; and children earning from two pence to five pence. The trade is nevertheless flourishing, and the demand for the manufacture is increasing. Lace-making has been generally esteemed particularly prejudicial to health, and persons travelling through the counties where this manufacture prevails, have been struck by the sickly appearance of the women and children employed in it; which, exclusively of the pernicious effects attributed by some to the posture of the manufacturers, might be sufficiently accounted for by the sedentary nature of their employment, and their habit of working together in small crowded rooms.
The straw manufacture prevails, and has of late much increased, in the neighbourhood of Dunstable and Toddington, and on the borders of Hertfordshire. He employment is not necessarily so sedentary as lace making, for the straw may be platted by persons standing or walking. The earnings, even of those who make the coarse plat is very considerable.
According to the returns made to parliament, of the population of this county in 1801, the number of persons employed in agriculture was then 18,766; of those employed in trade, manufactures, and handicrafts, 13,816.
Extract from: Lysons' Magna Britannia being a concise topographical account of several counties of Great Britain by the Rev. Daniel Lysons, A.M., F.R.S. F.A. and L.S. Rector of Rodmarton in Gloucestershire and Samuel Lysons, Esq., F.R.S. and F.A.S. Keeper of His Majesty's Records in the Tower of London, 1806
Page last updated: 23rd January 2014