The Ribbon Weaver - By Rosie Goodwin


Nuneaton 1830

‘Come on, Molly gel, let’s be havin’ yer. It is Christmas Eve, yer know, an’ some of us have homes to go to.’

Molly grinned as Amos Bennett’s good-natured face poked through the opening into the great attic where she was working.

‘I’m just finishin’ now, pet, I’ll be down in two shakes of a lamb’s tail,’ she promised, barely taking her eyes from the intricate length of fine gauze ribbon she was weaving. Nodding, Amos disappeared back the way he had come.

Slowly, Molly stopped treadling and after placing down the shuttle she skilfully steadied the weight that hung beneath the loom. As the machine came to a creaking halt, she stretched stiffly and glanced up at the skylights that ran the length of the attic. The snow that had been threatening to fall all day was now coming down with a vengeance, and all she could see was a thick white coating of it that covered the glass and cast an eerie glow into the room. She shivered. Apart from herself the huge attic was deserted, the looms silent. The women who worked them had long since scurried away to begin their Christmas preparations with their families. However, it suited Molly to work late. Since losing her husband Wilf almost three years before, she had no one to rush home to, and for her, apart from the loneliness, Christmas Day was much like any other.

She was never short of invitations admittedly, but Molly Ernshaw was known for keeping herself to herself, just as she had when her Wilf was alive. Back then, she had considered she needed no one else but him and now, at the age of forty-five, she felt it was a bit late in the day to teach an old dog new tricks.

Standing, she slowly straightened her back; it was aching from the long hours bent across the loom.

Gazing around the silent ribbon factory, she shuddered. Now that she had stopped working, Molly was suddenly cold and tired. If she had allowed herself, she would also have admitted to being more than a little sad at the prospect of the lonely Christmas before her.

Still, she consoled herself, there were a lot of folks much worse off than she was, and on that thought she pulled her thick woollen shawl more closely about her. Taking up an old tweed coat that was draped across the back of her chair, she pulled that on too. Then, after lifting her bag, she made her way painfully down the crude wooden staircase to the floor below. Amos was hurrying about, turning off the gas lamps and making sure that all the doors were securely bolted.

It was almost like descending into a rainbow. Everywhere she looked stood boxes and spools of ribbons of every shade and hue, all ready to be transported to the hat factories in Coventry, where the majority of them would be used to adorn headgear for the ladies of fashion. There were silk ribbons, satin ribbons, pearl-edged ribbons, finely worked gauze ribbons, and tartan ribbons, all of various widths and colours, and Molly never tired of seeing them. She herself was one of the best silk weavers in the whole factory and proud of it. Her Wilf had taught her all she knew. His old loom now stood silent in the attic of her little cottage, and she could quite easily have worked from there as many of the local people did, but she preferred to work here in the factory for company.

As she picked her way amongst the boxes, Amos hastened across to open the door for her.

‘A Merry Christmas to yer then, Molly.’ He beamed, and she wearily smiled back.

‘And the very same to you and yours,’ she returned, then stepped past him into the almost deserted street. The bitter cold took her breath away. ‘By God above, it’s enough to freeze the hairs on a brass monkey out here,’ she muttered to herself as she pulled her old coat more tightly about her. Head bent, she then began to pick her way across the slippery cobblestones.

The snow was falling in great white flakes, and the few people that dotted the streets passed her as if she was invisible as they scurried along with their heads bent, keen to get back to their firesides and out of the biting cold.

By the time Molly had turned out of Abbey Street and towards the empty stalls of the cattle-market, she was breathless and cursing. ‘Bloody weather,’ she said irritably,