- William Lee (inventor)
William Lee [c.1563-1614] was an English inventor who devised the first
stocking frame knitting machinein 1589, the only one in use for centuries. Its principle of operation remains in use.
Lee was born about the year
1563in the village of Calverton, Nottinghamshire. He entered Christ's College, Cambridgein 1579 as a sizarand graduated from St. John's College in 1582 [Samuel Smiles: "Self Help" London, 1869] .
Lee was a
curateat Calverton when he is said to have developed the machine because a woman whom he was courting showed more interest in knitting than in him (or alternatively that his wife was a very slow knitter). His first machine produced a coarse wool, for stockings. Refused a patent by Queen Elizabeth I, he built an improved machine that increased the number of needles per inch from 8 to 20 and produced a silk of finer texture [ [http://www.knittingtogether.org.uk/doc.asp?doc=7347&cat=737 Knitting Together, The heritage of the East Midlands Knitting Industry] ] , but the queen again denied him a patent because of her concern for the security of the kingdom's many hand knitters. He entered into a partnership agreement with one George Brooks on 6 June 1600 [ [http://www.hucknall-torkard.com/williamlee.html Hucknall-Torkard.com: William Lee inventor of the framework knitting machine ] ] , but the unfortunate Brooks was arrested on a charge of treason and executed. Eventually, he moved to France with his brother James, taking 9 workmen and 9 frames. He found better support from the Hugenot Henry IV of France, who granted him a patent. Lee began stocking manufacture in Rouen, France, and prospered until, shortly before Henry's assassination in 1610, he signed a contract with Pierre de Caux to provide knitting machines for the manufacture of silk and wool stockings. But the climate changed abruptly on the king's death and despite moving to Paris, his claims were ignored and he died in distress in 1614.
After Lee's death, his brother James returned to England and disposed of most of the frames in London before moving to
Thoroton, near Nottingham where Lee's apprentice Aston (or Ashton), a miller, had continued to work on the frame and produced a number of improvements. This led to the establishment of two knitting centres, one in London and one in Nottingham.
Although the industry took nearly a century to develop in wool, silk and lace, the machinery that he developed remained the backbone for far longer and this is reflected in his appearance in Coat of arms of Worshipful Company of Frame work knitters [Coat of arms of Worshipful Company of Frame work knitters, showing Lee and the object of his affections [http://www.hucknall-torkard.com/williamlee.html] ] .
*Negley Harte "William Lee and the Invention of the Knitting Frame". In: "Four Centuries of Machine Knitting" ed. John Millington & Stanley Chapman; Knitting International (1989).
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