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W & J Knox, Kilbirnie

Box with linen lace thread from the firm of W & J Knox, 1920's. Box with linen lace thread from the firm of W & J Knox, 1920's.

The company of W & J Knox was a linen thread company based in Kilbirnie, Ayrshire, Scotland, established in 1778. They advertised themselves as a Linen Thread Manufacture Works and Fishing Net Manufactory. It eventually became a Scottish based company with outlets and, later, mills in Canada (especially the Vancouver region) and the USA. The initials stand for William Knox (b. 1802- ?) and James Knox (b. 1807).

The following information is taken from a leaflet about the company written in 1987 by Bryce M. Knox, a descendent of Robert Knox.

"In 1778, Robert Knox, the son of a farmer, set up a small unit for bleaching linen fabrics. At the time, the main agricultural crops in the County of Ayr were oats, potatoes and flax. Robert decided to become a flax spinner, using the local crop and water power from the River Garnock. Soon he was manufacturing sewing thread for the tailoring trade and flax twine for hand-made fish netting. His two sons, William and James, built a five storied building to house flax machinery in 1840 and the business expanded rapidly from there on."

During the 1860's the flax was locally produced and various Ayrshire farms rented land to the Knox company in order to make certain the firm had a constant source of flax. In addition, the Knox company paid for the seed and the labour, while the farmers did the farm work (“ploughing, harrowing and carting”). Later other sources of linen included Russia.

The company of Knox specialised in threads suitable for carpets, netting (marine), as well as nets for military and sporting purposes. It also produced a range of linen threads for domestic purposes, including decorative needlework and crochet. According to one of their advertisements produced in  1911, Knox’s Falcon linen thread was suitable for drawn-thread work, lacis and lace. The thread was available as reels of various sizes as well as “penny skeins”. The advertisement suggested that a 2-cord [2-ply] gimp thread was suitable for Tenerife work, lace making [bobbin lace] as well as for drawn-thread work. Falcon thread was described as being the thread for making genuine lace. At the same time, Knox’s was also making a range of linen threads for domestic sewing machines.

In the 1880's the firm of Knox opened a company, called the W & J Knox Net and Flax Spinning Company, for the production of linen thread in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. In 1898 the Knox company and its American subsidiary amalgamated into The Linen Thread Company, Ltd, along with various other British /USA based linen thread companies, including various Barbour companies, the Marshall Thread Company, the Finlayson Thread company and Bousfield & Co., Ltd. At its start, the Linen Thread Company was the largest producer of linen thread in the world. There were offices in both the USA and Britain.

In 1961 the Linen Thread Company changed its name to Lindustries Ltd, which was based in Watford, England. Lindustries was initially chaired by the Knox family. The company was sold ten years later and the direct Knox family connection ceased.

Knox’s in Scotland, in the mean time, had become independent, and continued its work, but by the 1990's it stopped producing linen threads for domestic, decorative needlework and lace purposes. This was due to overseas competition and the viability of the older machinery. They continued to produce threads for the carpet industry until 2014, when this part of Knox's was sold off to the Italian firm of Aquafil, which trades under the name of Aquafil UK. Knox continues to produce industrial and military nets to the present day (September 2015).

Sources:

  • KNOX, Bryce M. (1974). W & J Knox, Kilbirnie, Scotland: Short Notes on W & J Knox and the Knox Family (until 1974), unpublished manuscript (a copy of this manuscript is in the TRC Library).
  • KNOX, Bryce M. (1987). W & J Knox Ltd, Kilbirnie, Scotland, Established 1778, unpublished manuscript (a copy of this manuscript is in the TRC Library).
  • STURROCK, Archibold (1867). 'Report of the Agriculture in Ayrshire,' The Transactions of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland, vol. 1866-1867, no. 1, Aberdeen: Arthur King and Company, pp. 21-105, pp. 57-58 in particular. Available here [retrieved 29th April 2017]
  • WILKINS, Mira (1989). The History of Foreign Investment in the United States to 1914, Cambrdige (MA): Harvard Studies in Business History, pp. 368-369. Available here [retrieved 29th April 2017]

Advertisement in: MOODY, A. Penderel (1911). Lace Making and Collecting: An Elementary Handbook, London, New York: Cassell and Company, Ltd. (no page number, but before the title page of the book). Available here  [retrieved 29th April 2017]

Digital sources:

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 29th April 2017).

I should like to thank the company of W & J Knox, especially Julie Macdonald, for providing information and help in the writing of this entry.

GVE

Last modified on Thursday, 25 May 2017 18:55