This is the approximate content of a talk to the Worshipful Company of Glovers of London in February 2019
Master, Wardens, Baroness, Visiting Masters, Worthy and Learned Clerk, Guests, Citizens and Glovers. It is amazing to think that in the City of London, a place that has been so dominated by men over the last few centuries, that we are only able to call ourselves “Citizens and Glovers” because of the role that women have and still do play in our organisation.
I say that not because Liveryman Deborah Moore, who heads up one of the finest and most significant glove companies in the U.K. – not only historically but also currently – and new Honorary Glover Rosemary Harden – are sitting directly in front of me.
Nor because when we had the great reform of our Company in 1977 our Court did not change the rules to permit ladies to join, but instead strongly reminded the Livery that women were always included and their membership should be encouraged.
Nor if you had read the the Leather Trades Review of June 6th 1896, as all good leather people do, for an update by Mr Simmonds on the global Glove industry in which he wrote about our Livery Company and noted how exceptional it was that “in this company females are eligible to become members.”
Nor that we know that all through the 18th century we had ladies as apprentices, journey women, and mistresses: and these mistresses were full Glovers not merely the widows of glove workshop owners.
And not because we hold in our archives the Indenture from 1678 for apprentice glover Anne Wright of Islington, nor because we know quite a lot about Katherine Clowes whose glove workshop had four Livery approved employees, two men and two women.
But mostly because of two women whose histories are best uncovered by taking the trip up river, which I think all Liverymen should do at some stage, to Tate Britain to look at their two portraits. These are the most important women in our history.
The first portrait is one half of a pendant pair by Anthony van Dyke that feature Sir William and Lady Mary Killigrew. It is Lady Mary that is of importance to us. For in 1636 she took on the task of persuading King Charles 1st to incorporate the Glovers as a new Livery Company, separating it from Leathersellers whose umbrella we had been under since being absorbed by them in 1502. Both she and her husband worked for the Crown, her husband for the King and Lady Mary was a dresser for his Queen Henrietta Mary.
Lady Mary, probably knew the Glovers through being in charge of sourcing the Queen’s gloves. She worked on King Charles’ interest in supporting crafts and small business – and perhaps, having been born in Dunfermline he was aware of the great work being done by the famous and very wealthy Glovers of Perth. I am sure Court Assistant Mike Dodd and the Glove Trade Committee he chairs would very much like our state procurement today to include some of the determined 17th century approaches towards supporting domestic manufacture, craftsmanship and technology.
The Glovers had started the process of separating from Leathersellers forty years before but had been unable to win against the big politics at the Court of Aldermen. Lady Mary achieved success in only two years, and with 1637 effectively lost to an outbreak of the plague when all meetings were cancelled, in fact she did it in one. On September 6th 1638 the King and Privy Council awarded the Glovers a Royal Charter, and the four hundred families she represented were able to call themselves “Citizens and Glovers”.
We should then cross the hall in the Tate to look at another portrait, that of the lady who made all this possible: Queen Elizabeth 1st. There is no doubt that singlehandedly Queen Elizabeth transformed our industry. When the Glovers were forced into merging first with the Purse Makers and then with Leathersellers the glovers were mostly making commodity type gloves, and unable to afford workshops in the City.
But the Queen transformed all this. She introduced gloves to the court in a huge way. She was said to frequently remove and replace her gloves up to a hundred times during meetings. She liked the gauntlet style which offered the space for artistic embroidery in fine silks, or even more magnificent metal gold and silver threads. Occasionally gloves were made to display fine jewels, oozing status and wealth. It was Queen Elizabeth 1st, along with Catherine de Medici in France who brought perfumed gloves into common use.
The glove, as an item of fashion and of everyday wear had been created, expanding far beyond the Court into prosperous society throughout the country. Gloves had always been significant, and symbolic, in sectors such as the Crown, the Judiciary, the Military and the Clergy but this was the first time gloves became more of an everyday item.
One of Queen Elizabeth’s most significant gloves is her coronation glove, which is still to be found in Dents fine collection in Warminster and is often compared to our current Queen’s Coronation glove, which sits in our collection in Bath. Both are outstanding, embroidered gauntlets. What is amazing is that apart from the current Queen’s glove being a better fit – sizing patterns were introduced after a young French doctor started measuring hands in the 19th century – the gloves are identical. Pieces of fine leather cut to pattern, sewn and trimmed. The gloves were made in the 20th century exactly has they had been in 16th century. We call this CMT, cut, make and trim and anyone in the garment industry will have heard of this mode of manufacture. It was the standard way to make gloves, and remains the way most of the gloves you are wearing today have been made.
And when in 1922 the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun was opened his gloves were found. The finest pair, made of linen, also beautifully embroidered were made in exactly the same way: CMT. Linen cut, sewn and trimmed exactly like the coronation gloves of both the Elizabeths and most modern everyday gloves. So the method of glove manufacture has effectively remained the same from well before 1300BC to the present day.
But there is one more important lady in the annals of glove making whom we cannot ignore and she is Caroline Hampton Halstead. Caroline came from a prominent southern US family but travelled to New York to study nursing, after which she was employed in the operating theatre at the newly opened John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. When mercuric chloride started to be added to the carbolic disinfectant they were using she found herself getting contact dermatitis. Through her surgeon, who has actually ended up with the credit for all this – I think incorrectly – she was able to obtain rubber gloves from Goodyear and she battled with them until she was able to obtain a good tight fit.
Subsequently she worked with the other staff and surgeons in the theatre until they “seemed to be less expert with the bare hands than in gloved hands” and this included fine tasks like the threading of the needle. As we well know a properly made glove offers comfort, protection and dexterity and it was soon recognised as more than mere hand protection, it was a protection to all in the theatre from the transmission of disease. At that time about 50% of all patients being operated on died from infections picked up in the operating theatre.
Thus was born what one might call the start of a new technical strand of glove making where other methods than the traditional CMT are used. In some this is automated stitching of fibres which offers the opportunity to utilise ever advancing materials plus differing complexity and density of structure. In others completely new forms of fabrication are involved. The use of gloves as a true health and safety factor was accelerated towards the end of last century when HIV/AIDS appeared and what we can say is that today from the health services, power generation, industry, sport, fashion and lifestyle more gloves are consumed in the U.K. than ever before. Indeed the company founded in his spare bedroom by Liveryman Leslie Blustin about the same time as the Court was reorganising our structure talks on its website today of handling 3 billion gloves a year, although these are not only sold in the U.K.
So as someone who has seen the last thirty years or more of my career largely defined by matters to do with gloves I can say to you that we should be proud to be a Livery Company based on a vitally important ancient craft whose history helps measure the development of society over thousands of years. And equally proud that our industry today involves a wonderful mix of traditional craftsmanship and leading edge technology.
May I ask the Guests to rise with me to Toast the Worshipful Company of Glovers of London.