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Benjamin Fewkes and America

Loughborough Echo - March 29th 1935

Originator of Hosiery in USA

Loughborough has long been known as a centre of the hosiery trade. Amongst its many inns is the "Bishop Blaize", in Woodgate, and, seeing that Blasius, Bishop and Martyr, whose name is remembered in the Prayer Book calendar on February 3rd, has always been regarded at the Patron Saint of woolcombers, it would seem that Loughborough was, in the past, interested in wool from the sheep's back, so to speak, to the finished stocking; while the improvements brought about in sheep breeding, by Robert Bakewell of Dishley in 1755 gave an approximate date to the beginning of the hosiery trade in the district.

So much is general knowledge, but it may come as a surprise to many Loughburians to know that their town, one of the many hosiery centres of England, was responsible for the birth of the industry in the United States of America.

The following facts, which are now made public by the courtesy of Mr Ernest E Fewkes, of Newton Highlands, Mass, USA, and Mr Ernest B Fewkes of Quorn, will be read with interest by many in the neighbourhood.

Benjamin Fewkes was born in Quorn in 1788. His family was already of old standing in the county and the Quorndon Records, published in 1912 by the late Mr George Farnham, alluded to "Henry Fukes" who, in 1633, married Dorothy Bestewe, and who was a tenant of Edward Farnham, of Quorn Over Hall, calling his son "Farnham" after his landlord, as shown on the Quorndon register, August 14th, 1634.

Benjamin was apprenticed in the stocking knitting trade to his Uncle Cramp who owned and operated a stocking shop in Quorn. This village, like so many in the neighbourhood, has still some relics of the handloom trade left, in the shape of a few old houses with long low windows, behind which the looms operated. Only a few years back one of the last of the old stockingers died in the person of Mr Henry Ankers, at the age of 85 years.

Our apprentice, on coming of age, was duly married by Parson Boyer, the perpetual curate of Quorn, in the Church of St Bartholomew, Quorn, then a Chapel of Ease to Barrow, to Elizabeth Smith, of the same village.

They went to live in Loughborough, carrying on their trade there until, in 1818, they emigrated to the United States in company with one George Warner, smuggling a stocking frame with them. The name of Warner being so well known in the Loughborough firm of Cartwright and Warner, raises the wonder whether George was an ancestor of that firm.

After a voyage of six weeks from Liverpool, Fewkes and Warner landed at Boston, Mass., setting up their frame at a place called Watertown, on the Charles River. A year later Fewkes moved across the river to Newton, and worked in a lace factory until, in 1822, he moved to Ipswich, where he continued to make lace until the company in which he was a shareholder failed for want of lace thread. He then set up a small shop in his own yard, where he had two looms and where he continued to make stockings and underwear for the rest of his life.

Benjamin Fewkes was the first man to take a knitting frame to North America, and the first to knit a pair of stockings in Ipswich. From his small beginning there has sprung a great industry which, after varying fortunes, still exists.

Strange to say, none of his children followed their father's trade, but became woodworkers, while their descendants have distinguished themselves in other walks of life. Dr J Walter Fewkes is chief of the bureau of ethnology at Washington, and had charge of the exploration amongst the cliff dwellings of the Zuni Indians in New Mexico.

Arthur H Fewkes was one of the organisers and charter members of the American Peony Society. He died in 1933, and eloquent tributes to his memory appeared in the American Peony Society Bulletin for March 1934.

Ernest E Fewkes, of Newton Highlands, the present representative of the family, was a pioneer in radium experiments, having been X-ray operator and photographer at Boston Hospital in 1898. Most of the fifteen years that he was there his work was experimental, and constant exposure to the rays led to severe trouble with his hands; this resulted in the necessity for more than one operation and the loss of some of his fingers. Even now he has to fight hard to retain those which are left. He is a keen genealogist and recently got into touch with his cousin, Mr Ernest B Fewkes, of Quorn, this fragment of local history being the result.

The photograph shows Benjamin Fewkes from an old daguerrotype taken some time in the 1860s.

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 Submitted on: 2010-01-15
 Submitted by: Kathryn Paterson
 Artefact ID: 718
 Print: View artefact in printer-friendly page or just on its own.

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