Straw plaiting and bonnet making tools

From our Archive collection

Straw plaiting was by far the biggest source of employment and income for women in Harpenden in the mid nineteenth century. Data from the 1851 and 1861 censuses show that the plait and hat trade gave employment to 421 women in 1851.declining to 386 in 1861.

1851

1861

Strawplaiters

389

246

Bonnet Sewers & Sewers

29

135

Plait Dealer

1

Straw Factor

2

Straw Hat Factor

2

Straw bonnet/hat manufacturer

2

1

The next largest group was women in domestic service – 69 in 1851 and 71 in 1861. Sewing and dressmaking employed 23 in 1851 and 32 in 1861.

A few women were in trade as bakers, grocers, shopwomen, weavers, toll collector or beerhouse keepers. There were 2 (4 in 1861) in farming, and perhaps a dozen were teachers – governesses, school mistresses or pupil teachers.

To view the pictures and their captions, click on the first image and follow the sequence from straw to finished bonnet.

 

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