The Oram family

& the

Lace Trade

Originally written by Nigel Oram, revised and added to by Rosemary Oram since 1997.

Ó 2000 Rosemary Oram


1. Introduction


This is a draft paper, which I hope to revise, as new information becomes available. I do not claim to have any expertise on the subject of lace making and all the information is gathered from the sources acknowledged in the footnotes. I welcome criticism, suggestions and any information that readers can offer. This section is intended to be only a part of a much larger book on the history of the Oram family.


Many Leicestershire people were involved in machine lace manufacture. These included members of the Oram family of Shepshed. In this paper we describe the involvement of the family in machine lace making and their dispersal to various parts of England. In conclusion we describe as far as possible the end of their participation in lace making.

Abel Oram (c1752-1835) of Shepshed in Leicestershire married Jane Chamberlain of Hathern on 7th June 1779. They were both baptised into the Baptist Church in the year in which they were married. Abel’s father, also Abel, was a hosier and deacon of the Shepshed Baptist Church. Abel and Jane had 15 children, 12 surviving beyond the age of 21. Of the seven surviving male children, six were in some way, involved in the manufacture of lace in the first half of the nineteenth century. Josiah, born in 1789, was the only one who was not in the lace trade. He was a grocer in Shepshed.

The Children of Abel and Jane Oram of Shepshed






13 Dec 1779

1801 Shepshed, LEI

Died aged 21


7 Jan 1781

25 May 1789 Shepshed, LEI

Died aged 8


25 May 1782

d. 19 Jan 1863 Nottingham, NTT

   1.                 ??

2. Hannah HODGKINSON of East Markham, NTT


8 Feb 1785

Jan 1793 Shepshed, LEI

Died aged 7


27 Oct 1786

19 Mar 1860 Whitwick, LEI

Thomas STINSON of Whitwick, LEI


16 Jan 1788


Sophia WHITE of Barwell, LEI


28 Apr 1789

before 1841 Shepshed, LEI

Mary CHESTER of Shepshed, LEI


10 Feb 1791

25 Nov 1859 Loughborough, LEI

  1. AnnDEXTER of Loughborough, LEI
  2. Sarah CLARK of Wolton on the Wolds, LEI


4 Mar 1792


Unmarried in 1860


10 Nov 1793

7 Jul 1868 Shepshed, LEI

John GOODALL of Whitwick, LEI


2 Jun 1795


William BALL in London


28 Oct 1797

Apr 1879 Loughborough, LEI

Elizabeth GOODALL of Sneinton, NTT


5 Jul 1799

16 Jan 1867 Loughborough, LEI



27 Oct 1802

6 Dec 1871 Bromley, KNT

Mary Ann PALMER of Chard, SOM


17 Dec 1804



The first Thomas and the first John died as children. The first Abel died at the age of 21.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries lace making was an important cottage industry in many districts. During the last half of the eighteenth century, experiments on the stocking-knitting machine led to the production of net. This marked the beginning of the machine lace industry 1 and many skilled hands were seduced to its higher profits. The former independent-minded framework knitter, working his own frame three days a week, gardening or making music in his leisure time was ultimately transformed into a drudge incessantly working to provide his family with the bare necessities. The beginnings of this change could be seen in 1780s. 2

One of the most successful of the numerous mechanical experiments was that which resulted in the construction of the warp frame which, by employing needles as on a stocking frame for stitching and warp as on a loom, could make either hose or lace. The point net frame was the other most successful invention which grew out of the same ferment of ideas. 3

Lace manufacturers, some combining point net production with their principal work as hosiers, were able to use the services offered by finishers and others serving the needs of the hosiery industry. 4 William Oram was described as a hosier in 1834. He was, however, a lace manufacturer in various directories before and after this date.

Developments in lace machinery all took place in Nottingham. In 1862, 2,500 of the 3,500 lace machines said to be operating in England were in Nottingham. 5 Modern Levers looms, used in American lace production, were still being built in Nottingham in 1961. 6 Leicester, only 30 miles from Nottingham, could have become an equally important lace centre. Instead its workers concentrated on the woollen hosiery trade whereas Nottingham specialised in cotton and silks. 7

In 1809, John Heathcoat invented the bobbin net machine that could produce broad widths of lace imitating the fine quality of hand made Brussels lace. 8 This machine was the second that Heathcoat had patented; the first machine was never used in production. This second patent was said by one of Heathcoat’s adversaries, Gravenor Henson, a Nottingham hosier and trade unionist, Grant limited to six persons but licensed to some hundreds. 9 Many people resented Heathcoat’s patent. He had established a factory in partnership with Boden at Mill Street, Loughborough.

Heathcoat’s machine began the division between hosiery and lace manufacture. Its significance was that it could make one thousand meshes per minute compared with the five meshes per minute of pillow lace that could be made by hand. The machines could also make much wider lace. 10

The introduction of machinery and unskilled labour into traditionally skilled trades caused a great deal of hardship. There followed a dramatic change in both the wealth and status of the tradesmen. Riots broke out in many parts of the country. By the end of 1811 organised groups of machine breakers emerged. They were the Luddites, named after Ned Ludd.

Those who knew the real Ned Ludd could only be astonished by his sudden rise to fame, for he was a simpleton living in an obscure village in Leicestershire, where he was the natural butt of heartless children. One day, provoked beyond endurance by his tormentors, he chased one of the children into a nearby cottage. He lost track of the child there, but he did find two knitting frames and vented his anger on them instead. Thereafter in that district poor Ned Ludd was automatically blamed whenever frames were smashed. Within ten years the convenient scapegoat had become a legend. 11

The Luddites were an organised group of men who destroyed machinery. They selected their targets after an intelligent appraisal of their effects.

Their main grievance was not so much machinery as their employers’ attempts to save money by cutting down on labour and the quality of goods . . . they were deeply offended by the shoddy articles, disreputable to their trade, that now resulted from slapdash techniques and the use of unskilled labour. 12

On Friday 28th June 1816, Luddites attacked Heathcoat and Boden’s factory at Loughborough. Heathcoat was preparing to move to Tiverton, in Devon, when the attack took place. Tiverton, formerly a rich weaving town, could provide a pool of skilled labour, vacant factories and waterpower. Waterpower was first applied to lace-making machinery at Tiverton. 13 The attack in Loughborough may have been triggered by news of Heathcoat’s intended move and resentment towards the loss of local employment. It is possible that the raid was organised by Heathcoat's rivals. 14 It may have been a demonstration against a cut in wage rates which the firm had been obliged by poor trade to enforce. 15 According to the Leicester Journal dated 18 April 1817, Heathcoat and his partner Boden intended to maintain a factory in Loughborough but their employees, intimidated by the raid, refused to work there. 16

In June 1816, some five hundred people, men, women and children, left the Loughborough area and moved to Tiverton in Devon. The majority walked. The route was probably along the Fosse Way through Wiltshire, Bath, and Glastonbury. 17 The summer of 1816 was one of the wettest on record. 18 The two hundred-mile journey must have been a very long and tiring one. The settlement of a large number of Loughborough people after such an epic journey to Tiverton, led to an area of Tiverton being known as `Little Loughborough’19

An old dictionary in our possession describes Tiverton as follows:

TIVERTON, a borough of Devonshire, with a market on Tuesday. It is seated on the river Ex, over which is a handsome stone bridge. It has suffered greatly by fire, having been almost burnt down several times, particularly in June 1713, when 200 of the best houses were destroyed. It is now built in a more elegant taste, and they have a new church erected by subscription. It has been noted for its great woollen manufacture, and is 14 miles N.N.E. of Exeter, and 164 W. by S. of London. 20


Heathcoat’s move to Devon was contrary to the movement that was leading to an industrially based north and an agriculturally based south. 21 Empty woollen factories and an abundance of unemployed textile workers probably attracted Heathcoat. The textile industry in Tiverton had collapsed some years earlier. A Baptist minister wrote of his trials some of which arise from the starving condition of the town (Tiverton) for want of labour. 22 Another movement away from centres of the machine lace trade was to France. France offered a large market for British goods that were of superior quality. A number of lace makers made their way to Calais and after the repeal of the Act prohibiting emigration in 1824, hundreds of lace workers followed. Calais became known as the `Little Nottingham of France. 23

The skilled workers that went to Tiverton with Heathcoat helped to train local labour. His isolation had the advantage that few of his newly trained were lost to rival lace makers. 24 He may have decided to use water to power his machines some years before in 1818. Included in the migration were a number of Baptists. Although their parents were Baptists, none of the four Oram brothers were listed as having been baptised in the Shepshed Baptist Church. 25 Some may have been members of other Baptist congregations such as Loughborough. Little is known of their involvement in the Baptist Church. John and Benjamin were on the building committee for the Chard Baptist Church and Abel was baptised into the Church of England just before his marriage in 1827. William's first child by his second marriage was baptised at Loughborough All Saint's Church.


Two of Abel and Jane’s sons, Abel (1802-1871) and Benjamin (1792-after1861), were among those who made the journey by foot to Tiverton. The Parish Magazine of St. Paul’s Church of England, Tiverton contained an extract from a 1939 issue of the Loughborough Echo listing 47 names of those who walked to Tiverton. This list was not complete. Titled List of the known original workforce that came from Loughborough in 1816 it included the following entries:

            Abel Oram                   Not stated                   Sheepshed

            Benjamin Oram           Lacemaker                  Sheepshed 26

It should be mentioned here that John Heathcoat had connections to the Oram family through Jane Chamberlain's nephew (John son of Jane’s brother William) married eighteen-year-old Ann Caldwell on 21 September 1794. John Chamberlain died in 1797 and Heathcoat married his widow in September 1802. Ann's father was Heathcoat's partner. We have no evidence, however, to show what effect this relationship had on Oram lace-making enterprises.

Varley describes Heathcoat as:

a model employer providing wages and conditions of work the equal of any in the trade.... He built houses, and in 1843 provided a school and his factory premises always received the highest commendation from official inspectors. 27

Abel was 14 years old and Benjamin 26 when they were amongst those that went to Tiverton in the summer of 1816. Dianne Birks suggested that Benjamin may have been in the militia and that was why he did not go to the West Country with William and John. 28 Their mother Jane had died in 1810, six years after her last child, Sarah, was born in 1804. This was a time of great economic hardship. The prospect of employment would have been an incentive for Benjamin and Abel to move to Tiverton. Their brother John was in Tiverton by 1819, when his son John White Oram was born. John may have gone to Tiverton in 1816, or earlier. The connection with the Heathcoat family, though not close, may have helped Benjamin and Abel to decide to make the move. It is likely that this was a man and boy partnership. Heathcoat’s machines needed two people to work them

In the actual process of lace making it was customary for a shift team working each machine to consist of one man, and a youth or a boy who might begin at about the age of thirteen. In the workshops rotary hand machines were turned by youths and boys, a laborious task which relieve the lace maker from the perpetual motion of feet and hands. 29

Benjamin signed an indenture with John Heathcoat and company on the 23rd August 1816, for 21s a week. This was half the wage that he would have received in Loughborough for the same work. The wages for the indentures were 21 shillings per week. 30 Indentures were usually for five years, but we have no record of how long Benjamin and Abel worked for Heathcoat before moving to Chard.

It is interesting that lace making was a relatively safe occupation. As Church says:

Even in the factories serious accidents rarely occurred, and most injuries consisted of little worse than crushed fingers. Neither was the physical labour involved in operating power machines at all onerous, for the operative’s function consisted of minding machinery and watching the work in progress, rectifying errors when they arose, and adjusting the delicate mechanism of bobbins, carriages, and springs. But the operation of wide hand machines, especially those not worked by rotary motion, required considerable strength as well as skill. The use of any method for the manufacture of lace caused a deterioration of eyesight resulting from the constant control of a machine between nine and twelve feet wide, containing between 2,600 and 3,600 bobbins which moved through the guide threads a hundred times a minute. 31


1. Morris, Francis. `Lace-Making Machines’. In Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Chicago: William Benton, Vol. 13, 1916, p. 569.

2. Farrell, Jeremy. Socks & Stockings. London: B. T. Batsford Ltd., 1992. p. 29

3. Roy A Church. Economic and Social Change in a Midland Town Victorian Nottingham 1815-1900, Frank Cass & Co. Ltd. 1966. p. 4.

4. Roy A Church. Economic and Social Change in a Midland Town p. 4.

5. T. L. Huetson, Lace and Bobbins, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, 1983

6. Morris, Francis. `Lace-Making Machines’. In Encyclopaedia Brittanica. Chicago: William Benton, Vol. 13, 1916, p. 569.

7. Lowe, D. and Richards, Jack. The City of Lace, published Nottingham Lace Centre, 1982.

8. Birks, Dianne. `Lace and Luddism: The Loughborough Exodus of 1816.’ Dissertation, University of Leicester 1994. p. 8.

9. Varley, `John Heathcoat 1783-1861. Founder of the Machine Made Lace Industry’ in Birks, `Lace and Luddism.’. p. 17.

10. Roy A Church. Economic and Social Change in a Midland Town

11. Hibbert, The English, A Social History 1066-1945. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1987. p. 483. 

12. Hibbert, The English, A Social History. p. 483. 

13. Lloyd 1980 170:2nd. We need to check this reference.

14. Birks, `Lace and Luddism’ p. 15

15. Varley, `John Heathcoat 1783-1861. Founder of the Machine Made Lace Industry’ in Birks, `Lace and Luddism.’. p. 16.

16. Birks, `Lace and Luddism’ p. 20

17. Dianne Birks. L.F.H.S.N.L. No. 66, Winter 1991, p. 30; also Alan Voce letter to Dianne Birks dated 25th July 1991.

18. Birks, `Lace and Luddism’ p. 21.

19. We need to check this reference.

20. James Barclay, Curate of Edmonton, Barclay’s Complete and Universal Dictionary. Although the title page is missing we think it is the 1810 edition published in Liverpool. (NUC Press 1956 Imprints 1a 742 + 792d) 27cm.

21. See Jones, E. L. `The Constraints on Economic Growth in Southern England, 1650-1850’.in Contributions to 3rd International Conference of Economic History, Munich, 1965, pp. 423-30.

22. Baptist Annual Register for 1798. p. 9.

23. Gillian Kelly, Ed. The Lacemakers of Calais, The Australian Society of the Lacemakers of Calais. Gillian Kelly has researched the history of these lace makers and their families. After the revolution of 1848 they were forced to leave France and many went to Australia.

24. Varley, `John Heathcoat 1783-1861. p. 25.

25. Derek Jowett letter to Dianne Birks dated 20th March 1994.

26. Extract from Loughborough Echo of 1939 contained in Parish Magazine of St Paul's C of E Church, Tiverton forwarded by Alan Voce of the Tiverton Museum to and quoted in Birks, `Lace and Luddism’ p. 29,30.

27. Varley, `John Heathcoat 1783-1861, p. 28.

28. Letter of Dianne Birks to authors dated 18th December 1995.

29. Roy A Church. Economic and Social Change.p. 86.

30. Birks, `Lace and Luddism’ p. 21.

31. Roy A Church. Economic and Social Change p.85, 86.