Looking Back in Time with the Halstead and District Local History Society

With the decline of the wool industry in this area in the eighteenth century many families suffered great financial hardship, as paid work was hard to come by.

George, the first Marquis of Buckingham, together with his wife, the Marchioness, who lived at Gosfield Hall recognised this.

They hired an expert instructor in straw plaiting from Dunstable, a centre of the industry in this country, to come to Essex to teach locals the art in order that they may find an income.

From these small beginnings a straw plaiting cottage industry grew until, in the 1871 census, records show that nearly 3,000 Essex people were engaged in the work.

Straw plaiting schools also existed to teach the art.

However, numbers reduced rapidly as the introduction of machine plaiting increased. Such was the decline that the 1901 census shows that no persons were registered as straw plaiters in Essex.

The art did however continue, mostly on a part-time basis, by folk working from home as shown in the attached photograph of a lady from Finchingfield.

Getting their products to market however proved difficult and a Mr J Lindsell, of Sudbury Road became their agent touring the villages to collect the finished products.

These he brought to his warehouse prior to selling them on to larger concerns. He also established a business, JJ Lindsell & Co, in Luton, a major centre of the straw plaiting industry. This business existed until about 1936.

Examples of the basic tools used in the home to plait straw can be seen in our heritage museum.