17 SEPTEMBER 1921, Page 18

lift SILK INDUSTRY.* Tax history of the silk trade in

this country is of great interest from a political and artistic as well as from an economic

• The Silk Indy* y of the United Kingdom : Its Origin and Development. By lilt Frank Warner. London; Drane. [42a. wt.]

standpoint. We are glad to find that Sir Frank Warner, whose family have been connected with the industry for generations and who has had much to do with its revival in recent years, has written a complete and authoritative account of the subject. There were silk workers in mediaeval England, but the industry owed its im- portance to successive waves of immigrants—the Flemings fleeing before Alva who introduced the weaving of silk mixed fabrics at Norwich, and the Huguenots, a century later, who settled in Spitalfields and at Canterbury and produced there the fine silk goods for which we had had to go to France. Sir Frank Warner devotes some excellent chapters to Spitalfields past and present, and proceeds to give particulars of the other centres of the trade, beginning with Coventry, Macclesfield, Leek, and Congle- ton, and including detailed information for which we should look in vain elsewhere. He then discusses from the technical side the various branches of a very complex manufacture and its modern developments. He traces the influence of Parliament on the industry, the rise and fall of combinations among the weavers, and the effect of smuggling. Lastly, he shows how the trade has revived, assisted by royal patronage and by the efforts of intelligent manufacturers and capable designers. The book is fully illustrated and has an appendix of documents relating to tariff, wages, and patents. It will long remain the standard work on the British silk trade.

The Chinese, to whom the world owes so many arts and crafts. were the first to weave silk. Persia learnt the art from them, and the Byzantines took it from Persia. The Moors introduced silk-weaving into Spain, but Eastern weavers, seeking a quiet refuge in twelfth-century Italy from the wars that were devasta- ting Asia Minor and Syria, were the true founders of the Euro- pean silk trade. Mediaeval Flanders engaged Italian weavers and. Sir Frank Warner thinks, built up a large silk manufacture. The French kings after the Hundred Years' War encouraged Italian weavers to settle at Lyons and Tours, and it became the settled policy of the French Government to develop this new and profitable industry. Colbert, under Louis XIV., paid special attention to the silk trade ; the courtiers of Versailles were sumptuously clothed in silk, velvet, and brocade not merely to do honour to the " Roi-Soleil," but also to give employment to the skilled weavers of Lyons. The Government were not content to assist the trade by a high tariff ; Le Brun, a painter of distinction, was charged to supervise the designs, and inven- tors of new processes were well rewarded. The French silk manufacture has long been pre-eminent, and, whatever fiscal theories one may hold, there can be no doubt that Lyons owes its prosperity to the continuous support of the State. The history of Spitalfields contrasts unfavourably with that of Lyons. Parlia- ment was not unsympathetic towards the silk trade. Imports were discouraged, and exports were fostered by a rebate of the duties on the raw or partly manufactured material. From 1773 to 1826 the importation and wearing of foreign silks were pro- hibited, while during the same half-century, under the Spital- fields Act of 1773, wages were fixed by the justices or the Lord Mayor, so that the trade was comparatively free from disputes. Nevertheless, the fortunes of the London silk weavers steadily declined ; most of them could earn but a scanty subsistence before the Anglo-French Commercial Treaty of 1860, which removed the duty on French silks, put an end to the Spitalfields industry in its old form. It is obvious that the prohibition of imports was ineffective. Huskisson told the House of Commons in 1826 that prohibited silks were sold in every shop, and, drawing a bandana handkerchief from his pocket, he expressed his belief that every member could produce a similar prohibited article. These bandanas were imported by the East India Company and sold wholesale for export. The wily exporters claimed the drawback on exported silks, sent the handkerchiefs to Holland, and then smuggled them into England, thus clearing large profits at the expense of the revenue. Furthermore, the author thinks that there were too many weavers, who had been attracted to the trade in the days of its prosperity or had been bred up to the loom because weaving was the hereditary occupation. We may conjecture, perhaps, that the market in England for costly silks was not large enough ; in France, with its much greater population, there was a steadier demand. The long Napoleonio wars brought in•simpler and less costly fashions. Printed cottons and muslin supplanted silks. Spitalfields bore the brunt of these forced economies. " During the early part of' ' the nine. teenth century almost all contemporary references to Spitalfields and Bethnal Green are of a pitying or derogatory character, and represent the operative weaver as poverty-stricken, improvident

and riotous, and the district in which he lived and worked as squalid, over-crowded and insanitary." The Whigs were in no mood to make sacrifices for the sake of keeping alive this decadent industry. " Let the silk trade perish," said Cobden in 1860, " and go to the countries to which it properly belonged."

Protective legislation, unaccompanied by the wise and careful supervision which the French Government had accorded to

Lyons, had failed to save Spitalfields from ruin. Sir Frank Warner deals very fairly with this much disputed

question, and shows that the Spitalfields weavers were not suddenly reduced to misery by the Anglo-French Treaty. He knows Spitalfields well, and he recalls his conversations, noted

years ago, with some of the old weavers. One man, born about 1842, said that his father was one of the very few weavers who could make the richest black silk velvet, for coat collars. " It was very hard work, but by working long hours, if the silk was good, he could makefive yards a week. The price paid for weaving and finishing this kind of velvet was 5s. 9d. a yard." The demand was not great, enough to keep the man employed throughout the year. The narrator told Sir Frank Warner that his father taught him to weave velvet before he was eleven years old. The family, with five looms, could earn £2 10s. a week. A woman, also born about 1840, said :-

" I never went to school and cannot remember beginning to wind And weave. I always had to work and sleep among the looms in my father's workshop. There were six of us children, and we were all taught to wind quills for the shuttles as soon as we could talk, and to weave as soon as we could sit in the loom. My mother used to weave as well, and only left off to bring up our food to us so that we should not lose more time than could be helped in eating. . . . Sometimes I used to get fidgety and want to get up and move about. To prevent this, father used to tie me to the loom in the morning, before he went out, and dare me to leave it till he came back."

And yet there are sentimentalists who lament the old home indus- tries I It is clear that the Spitalfields weavers were in a bad way long before 1860. There are still, the- author -says, about a hundred hand-loom silk weavers in the East End, mostly old people who will have no successors. He deals fully and clearly with the gradual revival of the silk trade, on a new basis, within

his own lifetime. His chapter on Bradford, for example, con- tains a lively account of the late Lord Masham's spirited career.

" I have never applied myself to any invention," once said that ingenious and resolute man, " which, before taking up, I did not see was worth £50,000 a year, and I have had four." There is no pessimism in Sir Frank Warner's review of the industry as it is at present.