Worcester has been at the forefront of many industries throughout its history, including porcelain, cloth manufacture and not forgetting its most famous condiment Worcestershire Sauce. During the 1700s, Worcester was the centre of the British glove making industry.
In 1777, John Dent opened a large factory on what is now Worcester’s South Quay. Between this time and the early 1800s half of British gloves were made in Worcester and the city dominated the industry. It was estimated that up to 30,000 people and 150 manufacturers were in operation, which later included famous firms Fownes and Milore. In the factories men stretched and cut the skin, while hundreds of female outworkers sowed the many glove components together to create the finished product.
When a foreign import tax was introduced in 1826, gloves could be imported from the continent very cheaply and the Worcester industry was hit hard. Large manufacturers such as Dents managed to weather the storm, but the skill and expertise of Worcester glovers still remained. Dents out-competed many continental businesses and went on to manufacture for French fashion houses such as Dior. They were selected to manufacture Queen Elizabeth’s coronation gloves and their gloves were worn by Nelson, Queen Victoria, and on the screen, both James Bond and Batman.
By 2015, only one Worcester glove factory remained. Les Winfield established Alwyn Gloves at Crown East in 1963 and continued to manufacture high quality gloves in the traditional manner, purchasing his equipment from the larger glove factories as they closed down. Les refused to retire and was still working in his 90s, with customers that included Prince Phillip and Margaret Thatcher, and contracts to supply the space research industry.
Les passed away at 95 years of age in November 2015, as Worcester’s last remaining glove maker, and drew to a close a significant part of Worcester’s industrial heritage.