• Paul Wilkins

If the Glove Fits: A Maternal Lineage Report

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

In early December 2020 I was contacted by someone who wanted to get one of our Sapling research reports as a Christmas gift for his fiancé. He told me that his fiancé’s grandmother had recently passed away, so the report should focus specifically on her side of the family. I thought this was a great idea and agreed to create a unique ‘maternal lineage’ report for the client, but I didn’t expect to make such a fascinating discovery…

As always, I started from a point of verifiable certainty and gradually worked my way backwards. At first there didn’t seem to be anything remarkable about the line – the grandmother was a born in Crowle, Worcestershire, and in the 1911 census I noted that her mother was listed as a glovemaker by occupation. I kept looking, and I was curious to see in the 1871 census that her mother (the great-great grandmother of the customer) was also a glovemaker, and so were the sisters. This alone was quite a surprise – it’s fairly rare to see occupations passed down across multiple generations consistently…

I looked back at another generation, and guess what? A full family of glovemakers in 1852… I looked at the next generation and found even more glovemakers in 1803. The further I looked back, the more glovemakers I found! As if this wasn’t shocking enough, I even discovered that one of the subject’s maiden names was ‘Glover’! This suggests that the family’s association with the gloving trade runs so deep that it would likely be impossible to find the point of origin. I was excited to share this discovery with the customer, but first I decided to look at the context and background of the industry that these women worked in.

Glove Making - in a Nutshell

The trade of ‘Gloving’ has existed historically in three main areas of England: Oxfordshire; Somerset and Worcestershire. According to the Victoria County History website, “Worcestershire was one of the most important centres for gloves in England.” The Worshipful Company of Glovers of London is an ancient livery company which existed before 1349. In the years since then several world-famous glove-making companies have been founded in Worcester, including Dents who were established in 1777 and are still active to this day.

The process of making gloves involved many different stages and individuals. First of all the skins would be cut - usually by men – and then they would be “slitted” into shape of the hand. The master glovers in Crowle were all men who would usually hand out bundles of cut skin or other material to a carrier woman who would then distribute it to the women outworkers in their own homes, where they would be hand sewn. Women were paid by the number of completed dozen pairs of gloves.

While it might sound appealing to work from home, the life of a glover was often far from easy. It was almost impossible for a woman to survive on a glover’s wage alone, and without an additional income many glovers would resort to prostitution to make ends meet. On the other end of the spectrum, the famous author Ellen (Mrs Henry) Wood presented a very positive outlook on the lifestyle in her 1862 Novel Mrs Halliburton’s Troubles:

“While the husbands are abroad at the manufactories pursuing their day’s work, the wives and elder daughters are earning money easily and pleasantly at home. The work is clean and profitable ; all that is necessary for its accomplishment being common skill as a seamstress.”

One thing that’s for certain is the skill that a woman must have possessed to become a gloveress at this time. This is illustrated perfectly when we look at the final test that many apprentices would need to pass in order to complete their training: they had to make a pair of children’s gloves so small that they could be rolled up inside a walnut shell!

Coincidence or Destiny?

It’s impossible to know why this particular family had such a strong connection with this trade. We can safely assume that each mother would pass on this skill to her daughters, with children as young as 9 and 10 being listed as ‘gloveress’. However, what was it that made this such a consistent choice across generations? Was it purely out of necessity and convenience or was there some other factor?

One interesting factor is the location - all of the gloveresses were based out of the same village in Worcestershire. Today, Crowle is a village of around a thousand people, just over 5 miles away from Worcester town centre. Looking back at the Topical Dictionary of England we can see that 526 people were living in Crowle in 1848, with over 100 of the women and girls being listed as employed in the manufacture of gloves! This appears to have been consistent throughout much of the 1800s, with around 20% of the population working in this trade.

In the Blood

Ultimately, we can only speculate about the connection between this bloodline and the profession of gloving. However, when our customer revealed this report to his fiancé on Christmas day – her reaction was profound. While neither she, her mother, or her grandmother had ever made a pair of gloves – they all shared a common love for sewing and tailoring. This had previously seemed like a relatively new tradition, but our research proved that the affinity runs far deeper than any of them could have imagined. It turned out that our report was evidence of a birth-right that the customer didn’t even realise she had. This resulted in the customer feeling much closer to not only her late grandmother, but also all of the women on that branch of her family tree.

This is not the first time one of my customers has looked back at their family tree and noticed surprising similarities between themselves and their ancestors. In fact it's much more common than you might think. There's no way of knowing whether a genetic predisposition is behind these fascinating discoveries, but they always bring about an incredible feeling of comfort and validation that you can't put a price on.

If you would like to get a lineage report for yourself or someone that you know, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today!

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