William Floyd of Berkswell was a whitster whose job it was to bleach wool or cloth. Early in November 1795 he took out a patent for his invention of a Bucking Tub or Cistern for bleaching cloth, yarn etc. and three weeks later, as required by law, he entered the specification of his invention on the rolls of the Court of Chancery. This specification forms part of a collection of documents deposited in the care of Warwickshire County Record Office.1 His patent was to last for 14 years.
What was ‘Bucking’?
To ‘buck’ wool or cloth was to bleach it by steeping it in lye (alkaline water made with ashes). Floyd’s invention consisted simply in having beside the bucking tub a furnace communicating with the tub at top and bottom. The heat of the furnace caused the lye to circulate through the tub, so as to clean the cloth something in the manner of a modern washing machine on a hot wash.
Details of the Bucking Tub
The tub (a b c d on the diagram) was made of wood lined with copper or lead, 4′ 6″ x 3′ 6″ x 2′ 6″ deep. It was connected to a furnace (e f) made of copper or cast iron, 1′ 6″ in diameter, via a lower pipe (g) and an upper spout (h). The cloth or yarn was placed in the tub and the lye solution added until it just passed through the upper spout. It was then heated in the furnace, causing it to circulate through the system until it reached boiling point (or the appropriate temperature) and bleaching was effected. Both tub and furnace were to be close covered during the process. Floyd pointed out that the furnace could be made larger and connected to two or three tubs through pipes and spouts running in different directions.
Why was Bucking so important locally?
This document is an interesting reminder of the history of the textile trade in Coventry and the surrounding area: cloth, particularly wool, was one of the most important local industries for centuries. Yarn could be bleached (bucked) before being woven, and cloth might be bleached after weaving. Tenter fields (for drying cloth) surrounded much of the town of Coventry and can be seen in early maps. This term led to the expression ‘to be on tenterhooks’ i.e. feeling as though you are hung out to dry. During the 19th century, the skills of the local population became focused on the silk industry, particularly the silk-ribbon weaving industry.
This article is based on material from various Warwickshire County Record Office exhibitions
1 Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR 292/AL86.