Charles Spiers 1795 – 1861

Many of the author’s family were mariners but before that they were silk weavers in Bethnal Green, Spitalfields, London, England c1800. When, quite by chance he came across an item about Charles Spiers in a book, Modern London, published in 1888 he decided to investigate the family history of Charles, who was also a silk weaver in Spitalfields. The following is an extract from the book.

‘Charles Spiers & Son, Hat Trimming Manufacturers, 18, Union Street, Borough, S.E. - One of the most notable houses in London in connection with the manufacture of hat trimmings is that of Messrs. Charles Spiers & Son, a concern now under the sole control and proprietorship of Mr Joseph Spiers, whose family have been associated with this business since the close of the last century. In 1782 Mr Joseph Spiers’ great-grandfather came from Leicestershire to London with a family of 17 children. The youngest of these commenced business as a manufacturer of hat and other trimmings, all the others working with him in the trade. At his death the oldest son continued the business, and in 1810 he had two partners. The firm established a factory at Halstead, in Essex, but owing to the existence at that time of an Act of Parliament (soon afterwards repealed) forbidding any Middlesex manufacturer to have a factory in any other county, an arbitary action was brought against the firm, and its success necessitated the abandonment of the Halstead factory. The business was removed to the Borough in 1812, and two years later the existing partnership was dissolved. Mr Spiers, great-uncle of the present proprietor, continued the business after that with the assistance of Mr Charles Spiers. In 1823 a removal was made to Church Street, Spitalfields, and the manufacture of broad silk was commenced. This departure was followed in 1825 by the opening of a factory at Chippenham, Wiltshire, where girls were taught winding, weaving, &c., and this enterprise proved so successful that in a short time the factory was filled with looms, throwing machinery, and other apparatus all in busy operation. In 1830 the firm removed from Church Street to Steward Street, Spitalfields, and the total number of hands then employed in the various branches of the industry, including Chippenham, London, and a third factory at Macclesfield, was no less than one thousand. In 1838 the concern was wound up, and Mr Charles Spiers continued on his own account, retaining the Chippenham factory as the principal industrial centre. He died in 1868, and was succeeded by his son, Mr Joseph Spiers, the present head of the house. The headquarters of the business are now in Union Street, Borough, (Southwark) where the premises occupied comprise a large four- storey building, which affords excellent accommodation.

At Chipenham the firm have a very extensive factory, and carry upon a scale of much magnitude the manufacture of every description of hat trimmings, all of which - including galoons, silks, and satins for linings, leather linings, bands, &c.- are stocked at Union Street in large quantity and comprehensive variety. The trade controlled is one of very great volume, and is almost entirely confined in its effect to London, Lancashire, Glasgow, and Bristol, supplying the silk hat makers of the metropolis and the felt hat manufacturers of the Denton district. A large force of hands is employed, and several travellers are also engaged in waiting upon the firm's influential connections. Mr Joseph Spiers maintains the entire business and control of the business himself, and the conspicuous prosperity of the house under his capable administration stands as an ample and eloquent tribute to his personal resource and judgement. Individually, Mr Spiers is highly esteemed by all who have dealings with him, and his is a prominent name on the membership roll of the City Liberal Club.’

Authors notes -

Note 1: Presumably the felt hat makers were at Denton 4 miles to the S.W. of Manchester.

Note 2: The addresses of the company were:

Halstead, Essex. (1810)

18 Union Street, Borough, Southwark, Surrey. (1812-88)

Church Street, Spitalfields, London. (1823)

Steward Street, Spitalfields, London. (1830)

10/11 Spital Square, London.

40 Gresham Street, London. (1872)

East Road, City Road, N, London. (1872)

3 Little Charlotte Street, Blackfriars Road, London. (1872)

Macclesfield, Cheshire. (1830)

91 Piccadilly, Manchester, Lancashire. (1873)

4 Aytoun Street, Manchester, Lancashire. (1862)

52 Glassford Street, Glasgow, Scotland. (1872)

Bridge Street, Chippenham, Wiltshire.(1825-1889)

Back Lane, Chippenham, Wiltshire. (1877)

72 Farringdon Ave, London E.C. (1901)

Note 3: Union St, Borough, Southwark, Surrey was at the centre of the hat making area, and Union Street in 1860 was also part of the ‘old clothes’ district of Borough. Borough is across London Bridge on the South side of the River Thames.

Note 4: Glassford Street, Glasgow is named after a Glasgow tobacco merchant, it is the next street to Virginia Street, once the home of Alexander Spiers, also a tobacco merchant. (see History item about Alexander on Trades House is in the street and is where merchants traded.

Note 5: It was common for silk weavers to work at looms in their homes and it is not known how many of the thousand employees were out-workers.

The author visited Chippenham which is in Wiltshire, to carry out further research and found the following -

The Bridge Factory, Chippenham

The following is taken from Wiltshire and Somerset Woollen Mills by Kenneth Rogers, Pasold Research Fund Ltd, 1976:

‘In 1796 Henry Burnet sold a leasehold house near the Bridge to Thomas Goldney. He probably used this site to build a factory which appears in the Chippenham rate of 1811, when it was described as a factory, dye-house, and shearshops occupied by Thomas and Henry Goldney, members of a family prominent in the clothing trade in the town since the sixteenth century, In 1816 Goldneys employed 44 hands, but their business ended about two years later. The factory became the property of Anthony Guy, a lawyer and banker who was bankrupt in 1830. It was then offered for sale, having five floors 86ft by 25ft and worked by a steam engine. It was held by Joseph Spiers under a 21 year lease made in 1825, and used as a silk factory. This firm, later Charles Spiers and Son, remained in the same business in Chippenham until 1885, but probably relinquished the Bridge Factory at the end of the lease in 1846. In 1839 they had taken a lease of a factory in Timber Street. The Bridge Factory was susequently used for the storage of hides until it was taken over by the National Anglo-Swiss Milk Co., in 1873.

The building was susequently used by Nestles as a milk factory and was pulled down in 1937. It was a rubble stone building of four storeys plus attics in a mansard roof at one end and five storeys at the other, of nine bays with two light stone-mullioned windows with flat heads. The five storey part was perhaps an extension of 1813, when the rateable value of the factory doubled, and as the steam engine was at that end, the use of steam power probably dates from then, the other part (probably of 1796) being perhaps worked by horses.

The design of the building was almost identical with the nearby town corn mill. The chimney-stack was inside the building on the river side, square in section and unusually short, only rising a few feet over the eaves level. In 1827 Hadens fitted steam pipes to warm the mill, and pipes to supply water to closets on each floor.’

With the help of other researchers the author has compiled a family tree of this Spiers family.

Author – Ron Spiers, Nov 2002