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Racing the clock

When I was researching in the UK a few years ago for my Honours thesis (on 18th century British worsted textiles), I came across a newspaper article about a coat made entirely in one day, from raw fleece to finished product. I can’t at present find my notes, but I think that one was earlier than the similar event, described in the following article, which originally appeared in the Leeds Mercury, and was reprinted in the Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser in it’s first edition on January 7, 1843.( Courtesy of the National Library’s Historic Australian Newspapers site.)

MOST EXTRAORDINARY PERFORMANCE IN THE MANUFACTURE OF A COAT.- The somewhat surprising statement which we published on the 2nd instant, of a beautiful brown dress coat having been manu- factured and made in Leeds in the space of 19 hours, can scarcely equal the following as a feat of expedition, one we should think, unparalleled ín the history of coat-making. The late Sir John Trockmorton, Bart., a noble minded gentleman, and one ardently devoted to improvements in agriculture, with a view to encourage the growth of British wool, at five o’clock in the morning of the 25th June, 1811, presented two sheep to Mr. Coxeter, of Greenham Mills, Newbury, Berks, for the purpose of proving that a coat could be made of the wool before night. The sheep were immediately shorn, and the wool sorted, &c., it passed through the usual process of scouring, dyeing, scribbling, spinning (on the jenny,) weaving (by hand,) and a fine kersey cloth was manufactured before four o’clock in the afternoon. The cloth was then put into the hands of tailors, who completed the coat at twenty minutes past six, and Sir John had the pleasure and satisfaction of appearing in it at a public dinner at seven ? Some thousands of persons were present, who at the appearance of Sir John, rent the air with their acclamations. The said coat is now in possession of the nephew of Sir John late member for Berks. We have seen a large painting in the inn at Newbery, representing a view of Mr. Coxeter’s manufactory on the morning of the day, when this extraordinary performance took place at the above mills, also representing Sir John in his celebrated coat, and portraits of the most distinguished persons present at the dinner.-Leeds Mercury.

I suspect that this type of racing-against-the clock challenge was not entirely uncommon at the time, in the days of entrepreneurial gentleman clothiers and manufacturers, prior to the wide-spread introduction of steam-powered machinery. It’s quite an amazing feat though, when you consider all the process that had to take place, and only the spinning done by machine, everything else done by hand. I can only assume that it was a dry day, given that the processes included scouring, dyeing, and presumably at least some wet-finishing of the kersey cloth. I hope Sir John didn’t catch a cold over dinner, if his coat was still slightly damp 🙂

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