Labour History Review

Heritage, Craft, and Identity: Twisthands and Their Machinery in What is Left of the British Lace Industry

Labour History Review (2018), 83, (2), 147–177.


The accelerated decline in British manufacturing is palpable. One of the industries significantly affected by this was lace. Nottingham, and its surrounding district, used to be the mainstay of British lace manufacturing. Immediately prior to the First World War, there were some 350 firms operating. Now only one small company remains. This micro-study, based on ethnographic observation and oral testimony, examines the thoughts and attitudes of the male skilled workers – the twisthands – who work within. The Leavers machines they operate are a dated technology, unchanged for over one hundred years. The company has survived despite, indeed because of, having sold off its more modern equipment. Its uniqueness has attracted significant attention from the public outside as an example of living heritage. The twisthands, too, consider that they work within an anachronism, particularly as most remember earlier days of relative prosperity. Theirs is an intangible heritage of a high skill in danger of disappearing, which resonates simultaneously with a noticeable heightening of interest in Britain’s lost industrial past. The article examines the relationship the men have with the machinery they use and the product they make, and what skill means within such an environment.

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Author details

Hayes, Nick