History of Gloves
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Geroge Grossmith
History of Gloves

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The History of Gloves

Gloves are of great antiquity and their story goes back to prehistoric times. They were worn by cavemen to protect their hands and took the form of bags resembling a primitive type of mitten - a glove with fingers and a gauntlet covering the forearm.

In England after the Norman Conquest, royalty and dignitaries wore gloves as a badge of distinction. The glove became meaningful as a token; it became custom to fling a gauntlet at the feet of the adversary, thereby challenging his integrity and inviting satisfaction by duel. The glove to challenge personal battle became, and remained, an integral part of English Law for nearly 800 years. It was a right any free man could claim.

In the 12th Century gloves became a definite part of fashionable dress. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, no well-dressed woman would appear in public without them. Gloves were becoming more accessible to the common people and their popularity grew.

In the 16thand 17th Centuries gloves were extravagantly ornamented; they were of leather, linen, silk, or lace and were jewelled, embroidered, or fringed. After the 17th Century however, the emphasis was on proper fit, and gloves became less ornamental.

Gloving centres began to develop on a wide scale from the 14th and 15th Centuries onwards. By the 17th Century, London had become the hub of the glove trade on which apprentices and journeymen, seeking a wider experience, converged.

Although their craft had been protected against foreign imports, from the reign of Edward IV in 1462, controls became less stringent, and in 1826 the barrier against imports was swept away in favour of the 19th Century Philosophy of free trade.

The freeing of trade had detrimental effects on the workers and their masters. Between 1826 and 1866, the number of masters declined rapidly from 120 to only 40. The Great War brought an expanding engineering industry to the city and with its higher earnings permanently altered the labour situation.

In the early part of the 19th Century, the methods practised in the glove industry were little different from those pursued for hundreds of years. There was a greater use of capital and division of labour between men who dressed the leather and the women who sewed them. By the middle of the 19th Century the methods began to change.

The most significant of these was the establishment of glove sizes and method of cutting, which was devised by a French Master Glover, Xavier Jouvin (1800 - 1844). He made use of uniformly proportioned knives, graded for size, giving a constant shape for the makers and establishing a reliable fit.

Formerly, gloves were regarded as contingency merchandise. To find a pair, which fitted adequately, one had to try on several gloves. Now every hand could easily find the pair for its size. Jouvin's idea benefited from the development of high-grade steel for the knives and the creation of the hand lever.

After the Great War, the development of the engineering industry with its higher wages attracted young labour away from the traditional employer. The problems were compounded by the large-scale imports of foreign made gloves, which were sold at prices below the cost of production in the UK. World War II bought about further decline which has continued to the present day.

"A glove is the emblem of the faith" - Sir Walter Scott

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My Family Tree is a 60 minute documentary that I have made with my digital camcorder and edited into a video production.

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