Dorset has historically been an Agricultural county but there was also employment in manufacturing as this extract from from William Stevenson’s book a ‘General View of the Agriculture of the County of Dorset’ publish in 1812 shows. As we will see this manufacturing was largely had its basis in the local agricultural products.
The principal manufactory in this county is that of flax and hemp in the neighbourhood of Bridport, and Beaminster; where all sorts of twine, string, packthread, netting, cordage, and ropes are made; from the finest thread used by saddlers, in lieu of silk, to the cable which holds the first rate man of war.
The nets made for the fishery at Newfoundland, as well as for home use, and the sails for shipping of every kind, are manufactured of the best quality, as well as sacking for hammocks, &c. and all kinds of bags and tarpaulin; and in addition to the great quantity of flax and hemp used, not more than one-third of it is allowed by the manufacturers to be of British growth; the remaining two-thirds of it are imported from Russia and America, as raw materials.
This manufactory is carried on at Beaminster, chiefly under the direction of Messrs. Cox and Co. who employ about 600 people in this business: and in and about the environs of Beaminster, there are upwards of 2000 people employed by them and others. At Bridport there are a great number of manufactures; and about 1800 people are said to be employed in this town; and in its environs, as far as seven .or eight miles round, upwards of 7000 people are in constant work. “
This manufactory is a great support for poor people: after pressing and beating the materials in mills for that purpose, und combing, and cleaning, it affords employment in the process of spinning to women, and children, who are paid at the rate of two-pence per pound; they can spin about four pounds a day, amounting to 8d. per daily earnings; besides which the manufacturer pays two or three pence per day, to a child to turn the wheel; it is then twisted, cleansed, and softened for the weaver.
The sail cloth is made in pieces of about 40 yards each, yard wide, and worth from 15d to 17d. per yard. Sacks for grain and flour are also made here, and those without a seam, to hold each four bushels, nine gallons measure, at 37s. per dozen.
Mr. Roberts has a flax-mill at Burton Bradstock, and he employs about 100 persons, chiefly young children.
This is the first instance of the application of machinery in this part of the country, to the breaking, swingling, and spinning of flax into thread, but there are now several mills of the same kind at Bridport, &c, and Mr. Cox is building one at Fifehead Magdalen.
The manufacturers which are employed by Mr. Cox of Beaminster, earned in 1810, about 2s. a day each. The various branches of the hemp and flax manufactories are carried on in many parishes in the west of the county, where those plants are cultivated. At Loders, and other places, young girls are often employed in weaving of sail-cloth; and along the western coast, toward Weymouth, many of the women braid nets for the Newfoundland fishery.
There is a manufactory in the neighbourhood of Shaftesbury of a kind of flannel called swanskin, which is a coarse white woollen cloth, used for soldiers’ clothing, and made from 18d. to 2s. a yard; but this is of little consequence to Shaftesbury, the chief trade in this article being carried on at Sturminster Newton, where about 1200 people are employed in it, and where between 4000 and 5000 pieces, containing 35 yards in length, in a piece, yard wide, are annually made.
At present the woollen manufactures are almost confined to Sturminster and Lyme Regis, at which latter place broad-cloth and flannels are made in considerable quantities.
At Sturminster there are four or five clothiers, and about 300 weavers; sometimes 700 or 800 people are employed in the manufactory of Swansdown, but the trade is not so considerable as was formerly the case.
Worsted stockings are knit in great abundance for sale at Wareham, Corfe Castle, Wimborne, and various other intermediate places.
At Sherborne, Stalbridge, and Cerne Abbas, there are manufactories for twisting and making up raw silk into skeins. According to Mr. Claridge, this manufactory was on the decline 20 years ago, at which time he says 800 women and children were employed in it at Sherborne, and 150 at Stalbridge. There are now four silk mills in Sherborne, in which alone, about 200 women and children are employed.
The manufacture of shirt-buttons is extensively carried on at Shaftesbury, and Blandford, and the surrounding villages on. all sides, to seven or eight miles distance. Many women and children are employed in this manufacture in most parts of the Vale of Blackmoor, and in several parishes in the Isle of Purbeck.
Mr. Atchinson of Shaftesbury employs about 1200 women and children in making shirt-buttons; he has several schools in different parts of the county, and in them children are taught on the following conditions: at first for three or four weeks they have no pay, nor do they earn anything, as they spoil much thread; after that time they have a penny a day, for two months, and then a shilling a week for two months more : their pay keeps increasing for 12 months, and then the best hands can earn from 10s. to 12s. a week. The manner of paying them their wages is to provide them with clothing at their first entrance, and trust them for the money; and they frequently leave Mr. Atchinson, when they are master of their work, and engage with other masters, that it may not be known what they earn when they apply for parochial relief. The price of the mould buttons when finished is from 8d. to 3s. a dozen and the wire work is from 18d. to 4s. a gross. The master finds all materials.
Mr. Claridge speaks of the inferior sorts being made in 1793 at 5d. per gross of twelve dozen, the labourer finding the thread.
It is said that some few girls have been able to make 12 dozen of these buttons in a day, the price for making which has been as high as 3s., but the more usual quantity made in a day is six or seven dozen. Women could earn formerly 10s. or 12s. a week at this employment, but at present only 6s. or 7s.
The first operation is to cast, or cover the wire, and this is often done by children of six or eight years old: they are afterwards filled by more expert hands.
There are other manufactories on a small scale in different parts of the county. Lobster pots, which are a kind of wicker baskets with a small hole at the top, are made at various places on the coast, and the inhabitants of the adjacent villages find employment in fishing.
Malting and brewing is carried on at Wareham, Dorchester, &c. and malt is exported to Portsmouth and London.
There is an iron-foundry at Bridport. At Lyme there is an oil-mill, and Mr. Bridge has another at Winford Eagle.
In addition to the above account, the following manufactures may be mentioned.
- Beaminster: woolen cloth, and two potteries for coarse ware.
- Broad Winsor: spinning woolen yarn.
- Canford Magna: two ropery yards.
- Cerne Abbas: a small dowlas manufactory, and a great many shoemakers.
- Cranborne: a pottery for coarse earthen-ware.
- Fifehead Neville: woolen swanskin.
- Gillingham: bed ticking.
- Hamworthy: ship-building.
- Lytchet Minster: spinning twine.
- Melbury Osmund: stay-makers’ tape, known by the name of Melbury iron tape, and dowlas weaving.
- North Chardstock: a tobacconist and snuff-maker.
- Oborn: cloth and parchment.
- Silton: ticking and dowlas.
- Stockland: here are two serge weavers.
- Stoke Abbots: sail-cloth, sacking, and narrow cloth.
- Stourton Caundle: swanskin from lambs’ wool.
- Swanage: plaiting straw, (introduced seven or eight years ago).
The dealers in grocery, cloth, &c. who employ women to make shirt buttons, it is said, generally contrive to pay the greater part of their wages in goods, rather than in money, by which means they have nothing left to support them in. case of sickness. Besides, many of the farm-labourers in Dorset are paid in kind, or have an allowance of wheat sufficient for their family, which makes the occasional absence or illness of some of the children a matter of little consequence to their parents; but the case is not similar among the manufacturers.