London researcher studying city's hosiery history

CBC News Posted: June 22, 20223:57 PM ET

Little known fact about London: we used to be a hotbed of hosiery factories, a history that one researcher is trying to document. 

Paige Milner, a fourth-year student at Western University, is trying to find women who worked at hosiery factories during the 20th century. 

"They are getting older and their stories are being lost to time," said Milner, adding that speaking with the workers adds to the history of London, and gives people a glimpse into a job that was necessary. 

By the Second World War, there were six hosiery factories in London. Milner is going to be conducting oral interviews with the women who worked in two factories, Holeproof Hosiery and London Hosiery Mills. All of the information she gathers will be shared with the Heritage London Foundation. 

Hosiery rose in popularity after there was a shift in the standard of living going into the 20th century, Milner said. 

"Women cared less about having really thick, heavy duty stockings that needed to weather a lot of time and wear, and they could spend more money on more frivolous items," she said.   

According to her research, Holeproof Hosiery had only 30 workers in 1911, and two decades had employed around 400 people. By 1930, combined with other new factories there were more than 1,100 workers employed by hosiery factories in London.

"The hosiery industry really kind of boomed."

A black and white photo of a building with the words London Hosiery Mills on it.

Another factor which led to the rise in the popularity pantyhose was the shortening of skirts. That created a desire for better looking stockings, because people could actually see them, Milner said. 

London's location made it a perfect place for the industry due to close proximity to the United States for imports and exports, as well as the Thames River and railway through it. 

"It's perfect to move things around," she said, adding that factories shipped both locally and internationally. 

Women working in the factories 

It was women who were doing the 'nitty gritty' work in the factories, she said. Really big machines could make socks, and 24 pairs of stockings at a time. 

Milner has always been interested in women's history. "It just makes sense that their stories should be shared and recorded," she said. 

She is still looking for women to share those experiences and has connected with two people so far: one man whose mother worked in the factory, and another woman who worked at Holeproof Hosiery. 

As a budding historian, Milner said she understands the importance of getting the experiences of people whose voices haven't been amplified before.

"To be able to tell me about what they liked, what they didn't like and their experiences, it's just so valuable to be able to humanize the history," she said. 

Milner is writing blog posts based on her research for the Heritage London Foundation.