A story of Carrs biscuit factory and an old waistcoat
Special Features Producer BBC Radio Cumbria
This is the most personal of our objects. It was once worn by a prominent Cumbrian who played a big part in political life at a local and national level.
The waistcoat belonged to Jonathan Dodgson Carr who founded the Carrs Biscuit Factory in Carlisle. He was born in Kendal but moved to Carlisle in 1831 and was soon producing biscuits on an industrial scale.
Another local businessman and fellow Quaker, Hudson Scott, produced the boxes for the biscuits and they were eventually exported all over the world making Carrs a household name.
His great-granddaughter Margaret Carr, who lives near Carlisle, remembers it when it was still a family firm. She worked there for a short while during the war and says she was treated very well because of the family connection. She remembers looking forward to eating the biscuits during her breaks.
As a Quaker, Carr was very keen on social reform and looked after his workers well. He was involved in the founding of the Cumberland Building Society, the fight against the slave trade and the temperance movement. He also helped to establish water and gas supplies in Carlisle.
Edwin Rutherford, the keeper of social history at Tullie House Museum in Carlisle, says the waistcoat symbolises another of the causes Carr was involved with. It is made of brown velvet and decorated with ears of wheat and the word "Free" to highlight his role in the fight to repeal the Corn Laws and the promotion of free trade.
The Corn Laws kept the price of British wheat artificially high to allow it to compete against cheaper imports coming into the country. But this meant that many ordinary people ended up struggling to pay for their daily bread at times of poor harvest. And it also affected the profits of biscuit manufacturers who relied on wheat for their products too. It led to a lot of social unrest across the country.
Margaret Carr,the great-granddaughter of Jonathan Dodgson Carr
Carr organised public meetings in Carlisle and invited nationally known speakers to talk at them. He also put pressure on the government to repeal the laws. Carr wore the waistcoat at any meetings he went to during the campaign.
He wore it for the last time just after the laws were repealed when he made his workers a celebratory cup of tea! Margaret Carr says she was surprised by how small the waistcoat was. She says "the Carrs have tended to be quite hefty including me"! But actually she's very petite when you meet her. She is very excited that an item belonging to her family is in the local museum.
Edwin Rutherford says the waistcoat is a key symbol of an important period in British social and economic history but, with it being a piece of clothing, it is also an intensely personal object.
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