Making glove in Didcot by Eugene Coyle

FROM the earliest times the manufacture of leather goods such as gloves was a major industry in Oxfordshire.

The first Glovers' Guild was founded in Oxford city in 1461.

The county had a plentiful supply of skins from sheep and deer from on the Royal forests at Woodstock.

During the Tudor and Stuart periods, there was a constant requirement for heavy breeches and padded jerkins, saddles and harnessing for the Army.

These were mostly made at Banbury, Brampton, and Burford.

The county as a whole gained considerable standing both at home and abroad for high-quality leather hosiery.

However, it was for the excellent quality of glove-making at Woodstock that Oxfordshire became famous.

By the middle of the nineteenth century, glove making was a thriving cottage industry which had also spread to Berkshire.

The skins were cured and cut only by men but women-packers delivered them to outlying villages and hamlets.

The finished hand stitching was done by women (gloveresses) and girls. Small fingers were needed to tie in the end threads and this provided work for small children.

Sometime in the 1860s the Abingdon Pavlova Leather Factory was formed.

By 1913 it employed 20 male glovers and cutters. It was a labour-intensive cottage industry scattered throughout the region employing an estimated 1500 women and children.

The gloveresses were paid at 4d per pair and children 1d per pair of gloves.

During the first world war the demand for leather goods increased dramatically.

In 1914 the Army ordered 70,000 strong white leather gloves together with for belts and harnessing.

New sheds were built at Abingdon where the skins were cleaned and cured. The hand scraping of large amounts of rancid fat and hair from the animal skins mostly carried out by women women was an essential but an unsavoury task.

During the late 1920s John Bissett, a Pavlova glover, moved to Didcot.

In 1928 he founded a small glove making factory, close a to Lydall Road, leasing sheds from the Ryman family.

In 1933 Lewis Boulton from Wiltshire, whose family had patented the famous ‘Boulton Thumb Gusset’, acquired the failing Bissett’s factory.

In March 1934 he installed four new sewing machines.

For the next 35 years, the Boulton Glove Factory focused on the production of high quality gloves and employed three glovers and a staff of women gloveresses. It finally closed in 1970.

In March 2011 the Oxford Mail interviewed Mrs Cherry Fathers (nee Fidgett) of Abingdon, who worked at the Boulton factory in Didcot from 1957-59 as a gloveress.

Examples of the workmanship of the Didcot factory can be found in the Fashion Museum at Bath.

On display, there are a pair of Boulton’s men’s gloves, made in 1957 at Didcot costing fourteen guineas.

South Oxfordshire District Council later acquired the factory site as a Council Depot.

In 2008, South Oxfordshire Housing Association (SOHA) built Compton Close—a social housing scheme of eleven units of four one-bedroom flats and seven two-bedroom houses on the site of the old Boulton factory.