From their ’cradle’ of Bromham, Wilts, Knees appear to have dispersed towards the growing, river based weaving centres in nearby Melksham, Salisbury and Trowbridge.
Knees were also drawn to the weaving centres of Gloucestershire and Cheshire. The parish register of Painswick, Gloucs records a marriage between Thomas Knee and Ayles on 20th Sept 1574. (Gloucs marriages Vol 8 – thanks to RJ). Around 40 marriages appear from between 1547 and 1792 in Minchinhampton, Dursley, Stonehouse, Avening, Olveston and Kings Stanley (the latter a centre with 23 recorded marriages, 21 in the 18th century alone).
Knees migrated to Gloucestershire in the 16th century, presumably to work in the Cloth Industry around Kings Stanley and Avening.
Kings Stanley Church:
There is also the mystery of the ‘Knee Brook’ that flows from Chipping Camden east towards Shipston. This area was a centre of the silk industry.
A Richard Knee was born in Chester in 1567, Henry Knee in 1591 and William Knee in 1603 (Listed in the Freemen of the City of Chester 1392-1700). Silk weaving was know in Chester from medieval times. Possibly a Knee migrated by ship from the nearby port of Gloucester up the coast to Chester.
Somerset Knees may have been drawn to Taunton, another major cloth centre. The migration would appear to be linked to the cloth trade, suggesting that Knees had a marketable skill,probably weaving.
A later migration seems to have occurred in the 18th century to Rothwell and Wakefield , Yorks. A James Knee married Ann Barker in Wakefield in 1798. Some later Knees went down the pits.
The weaving industry suffered a terrible collapse in the 1620′s and Bromham was no exception. An entry in the Wiltshire Quarter Sessions of the 17th century records:
TRADE BAD AT BROMHAM – ‘The weavers of Bromham petition for relief and state that looms have within half a year stood still for want of work, whereby 800 persons, twenty at least for each loom in weaving, spinning, and spooling are now miserably distressed for want of employment’
The collapse was caused by a Dutch ban on imports and by the onset of the 30 Years War.
The 1723 will of a Benjamin Knee records his trade as Broad weaver.