NORFOLK Museums Service
The Jacquard loom

Restoration of the Jacquard loom at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell

Once there were thousands of looms in daily use in Norwich. This is the last survivor.

The loom was one of the first exhibits of the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell when it was established as a Museum of Trades and Industries in 1924. The city’s days of textile manufacture were passing and this must have been one of the last working hand-looms in the city. It was donated by James Hardy, designer and later partner in Frances Hinde and Sons and was in working order when first installed in the museum.

The loom is a mid-nineteenth century hand-loom, adapted a little later to take a Jacquard mechanism to produce the more complicated all-silk fabrics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Looms like this were in use in weavers’ garrets or small workshops, from the middle of the late nineteenth century.

Jacquard’s invention is said to be ‘the first computer’ as it is based on a binary system using holes punched in card sets which are ‘read’ as a message to ‘lift warp thread’. The punched cards rotate on the cylinder, controlling the needles and hooks that connect via the harness to the warp threads. These are to be raised or lowered row by row to allow the shuttle to pass through and produce a patterned cloth.

Gradually over the years its linen harness decayed beyond repair. Plans to restore the loom were mooted in the 1960s but it has taken 50 years to bring this dream to fruition.

In 2010, the museum began to look into the possibility of restoring the loom. The museum worked with Richard Humphries, MBE, FRSA, the leading specialist silk and worsted weaver in the country, to restore the loom.

The loom is now fully restored and operational. Without a doubt, it is one of the stars in the museum’s collections. You can learn more about the loom and its restoration in the Industrious City gallery.

We have been fortunate to have received a grant from the Worshipful Company of Weavers, to enable us to train local weavers and provide demonstrations, study days and pilot schools sessions.

Check out NMS’ ‘What’s on guide’ or on social media for dates of events and demonstrations.