THIS photograph of Vigo Road was taken by Frederick Pearse around 1905.

On the left-hand side is the edge of the recreation ground that was bought by the borough council at the time of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887, while on the right is a row of various houses, all of which are now gone.

The thatched cottage in the foreground stood next to the corner of what is now St John’s Road and we are looking down towards the junction with Newbury and East Streets.

Today the whole aspect is much more expansive with new houses set back from the old street line, together with a large roundabout cutting off the former lower end of the road.

The terrace of eight houses in the background has traditionally been called silk weavers’ cottages, after which the new Silkweavers Road is named. The old silk mill closed in the mid-1850s.

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Employer James Paid had hitherto given employment to 90 workers, most of which were housed in ‘Mud Town’, at the top of Eastfield Road but there were some here in Vigo Road as well.

The 1851 census, taken a few years before the demise of the silk mill, calls all the Vigo Road houses London Terrace, a name that reflects the road’s earlier status as the main road to London, though this had long ceased to be so by 1851.

The thatched cottage was evidently there at the time of the census but the houses between the cottage and the block of eight look later by some years and may have replaced other thatched cottages.

Here, at that date, in the block of eight cottages, was Samuel Gilmore, himself a bricklayer, but his wife Elizabeth a hand loom silk weaver and his 16-year-old daughter a silk winder.

Thomas Hammond was a hand loom silk weaver and lived in one of the cottages with his wife and seven unmarried children, together with his married son John who was also a silk weaver - a family group of 11 people. Both John Winter and his wife Mary were silk weavers, as was Mary Baverstock.

But not all were weavers: William Holloway was an agricultural labourer, Abraham Bramley a watchmaker and Thomas Trueman a general labourer.

Were the cottages in any way tied to the mill?

Probably not; weavers were notoriously poorly paid and these already old houses may have been among the cheapest to rent in the town.

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In 1851, they were owned by 70-year-old widow, Anna Maria Wallington of New Street, who had no obvious connection to the silk mill.

Ten years later, in 1861, some of these people were still living at the same address and surprisingly John and Mary Winter were still silk weavers, as was Elizabeth Gilmore, long after the closure of the mill.

Perhaps there was some residual demand from the local drapers but where would the raw silk come from?

We can only speculate on whether these people always worked from home at their looms or at the mill itself.

Did the mill owner supply the silk thread to be converted into fabric by the weavers who were then paid piece-work for the finished product or was some other system in place?

The demand for local silk had evidently gone by 1871 and the cottages no longer housed any weavers but the terrace of eight seems to have survived until the early 1960s, by which time development was in the air and so much of the old town came under threat.