A Fabulous Group of Seven 19thC Beechwood & Pine Stocking Stretchers

Origin: English
Period: Late Nineteenth Century
Provenance: Debden Manor, Saffron Walden, Essex, England
Date: c.1890-1900
Heights: From 23 x 6.5 inches (the smallest) To 32.75 x 7 inches

The group of seven carved stocking stretchers consisting of two pairs of beechwood and pine stocking stretchers one stamped '10', 58 and 84cm, together with a further three beechwood stocking stretchers, stamped '10½', '8½' and '7', and having various an maker's or retailer's marks survive from a country estate in late nineteenth century England.

The condition of the group as a whole would be described as good. One has old worm holes present which has been treated but they all possess a nice colour and we have given them a light wax. One pair have original holes whilst all the others are later drilled. Each have leather attachments for wall hanging, some older than others.

The makers marks vary on the examples, but all include the sizes, one pair are stamped ‘10.. Maker A Finnegan Leicester’, the other pair ‘3 ..E.Holt Leicester’, one ‘ 10 and a half…Maker R.Wait Ltd Leicester’, another for ‘R.Wait 8 and a half’ and the last single ‘7.. Wm Simson & Son Leicester’.

Leicester has always been a city known for it's hosiery industry. The stocking frame was invented in Calverton, near Nottingham in 1589. Before this date, all stockings had to be made by hand knitting using two needles. The first frame in he county was used in Hinkley in 1640, and by 1670, they were in use in Leicester. However, at that time, it was London that was the main hosiery area in England. And so it remained until the early 1800s, when cheap labour costs caused a boom of activity in Leicestershire. Even then, it was still a domestic industry, because of the difficulties of mechanising the hend operated technology. The last quarter of the 19th century was a difficult time for the hosiery industry. Apart from the internal difficulties caused by the change to factory production, the 1880's saw an increase in the amount of competition from Germany, which was now producing 'fancy' hosiery as well as the more common articles.

These flat carved legs, clad in long woolly socks, were hung from outdoor clotheslines or given a place to dry indoors. Although stocking stretchers were certainly used in Britain, especially in big households, it seems that they were most popular in North America. After World War II, when a few more sock stretchers were provided to the troops, there was news of socks that would not shrink with American ads stressing that you could now manage without the hassle of using sock stretchers.

Once destined to prevent the shrinking of an array of the families stockings, these whimsically primitive stretchers are now making a wall fun near you… why is it that no matter how many pairs of socks a man buys, he never seems to have enough?