Tuesday, July 19, 2011

...clogs and mills

Yep...I know haven't posted over last few days. Been off on a whistlestop holiday up to Derbyshire.
Why is this relevant you ask?

According to wiki
"It is thought to have developed in the Lancashire cotton mills where wooden-soled clogs were preferred to leather soles because the floors were kept wet to help keep the humidity high, important in cotton spinning.
Workers sitting at the weaving machines wore hard-soled shoes, which they would tap to the rhythms of the machines to keep their feet warm. At their breaks and lunches, they would have competitions, where they were judged on the best rhythm patterns. In later years of the Industrial Revolution,they clog-danced on proper stages at competitions. In these competitions, the judges would watch the routine and judge it according to footwork, precision, and technique."

Well when I was there we looked round some old mills.
Cromford Mill...where saw some spinning....and them the textile museum at Masson Mills.

It was interesting...although bit disappointed didn't get there in time to see the weaving demonstration.

Will be back to practicing tonight.


  1. "It is thought" ... weasel words eh? I think someone has been romancing there, and the quote from Wikipedia is pretty much nonsense.

    OK, why clogs? Not because of wet floors, there was a humidity level kept in the *spinning* areas of cotton mills especially during the winter when they would have been heated. Heating created the usual dry atmosphere encountered by anyone who has central heating and the humidity was needed for spinning cotton. But, wet floors? No.

    So, why wear clogs?


    They were cheap, hard wearing and worn in all industrial areas in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. ie. not just Lancashire. Later they became a signifier of poverty and people generally stopped wearing them.

    No factory worker sat at weaving looms. A worker would have been responsible for several (up to half a dozen) looms and there would have been no scope whatsoever for simply sitting down. The situation was similar in spinning processes and in the fibre preparation processes such as carding. Workers worked long hard shifts, on their feet which would have been tired but not cold.

    How long? Well, think of 12 hour shifts on your feet with half an hour for breakfast and dinner. Not much time or energy there for "dancing competions". It was common for work to start at 6am, the workers let out at 8am to be back by 8:30am when the doors would be locked. By let out" I mean this literally as they often went home for breakfast and if they were back late then they were fined.

    It's a pity that the spinning machine that you visited was not set in motion for you as you would have heard the din that they make. This is not a nice rhythmic clackety clack, but the sound of hundreds of wheels, drums and bobbins, turning, grinding, clicking and rattling. One single machine does not really give the full flavour, imagine whole floors of mills with dozens of these machines on the go at once.

    It's right to say it was an incredible din. Mill workers could not hear each other properly over the noise of the machines and were forced to learn to use hand signals and lip read. Many mill workers went deaf later in life.

    With all this going on, it seems a pretty remote possiblility and rather whimsical to think that clog dancing started *in* the mills.

    There was a very interesting programme on the radio a while back where an Australian Jazz tap dancer (trained in New York) traced one of the major roots of tap dancing to English clog dancing, especially Lancashire clog dancing. It was interesting to hear about the great popularity of Lancashire clog dancers in the late 19th century vaudeville shows. She discussed this with historians and visited old professional stage clog dancers, talked about the the
    dances and steps.

    At one point she said that it was only recently that she had learned about the real mixture of origins of tap dance including clog dancing. Her tap dance mentor/teacher in New York repeated a story about slaves inventing tap dancing whilst walking back home from the cotton fields. It seems that people like their picturesque whimsies. The truth is usually much more interesting though.

    In that same programme, the former dancers (now in their 70's and 80's) talked of unemployed young men dancing on street corners in the 1930's and before. This type of thing seems much more likely as a route towards it's origins before it went on stage etc. rather than inside the mills.

    1. Thanks for the extra info. Do you know where I might listen to the radio show you mention?

  2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00fl05j

    Sorry, that's all I can find at the moment. I'll keep a look-out.