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 Museum of Trades and Industries in 1924. The city’s days of textile manufacture were passing when designer James Hardy donated what must have been one of the city’s last working hand-looms.
Originally a mid-nineteenth century hand-loom, it was later adapted 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.
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 the loom’s 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. Starting in 2010, the museum worked with Richard Humphries, MBE, FRSA, the leading specialist silk and worsted weaver in the country, to restore the loom to be fully 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.