Thomas Alder’s Weaving Shed at Fanshawe Pioneer Village by Shanna Dunlop PDF  | Print |  E-mail

 Thomas Alder's weaving shed with house addition.  

 In 1962, Thomas Alder's weaving shed, complete with original furnishings and tools, was donated to Fanshawe Pioneer Village by William and Ora Alder, children of John Alder (son of Thomas) and cousins of Wilfrid Jury (the founding Curator of Fanshawe Pioneer Village). The building is a balloon-framed wooden structure that was built circa 1850 just north of Melrose on Concession 5 Lot 32 London Township. 

Thomas Alder built the shop himself, constructing it even before building his house. Archival documentation tells us that Thomas was forced to use a work bench built into the wall of the weaving shed as his bed until his house was erected. When Alder did construct his home, it was built attached to the existing weaving shed, and as a result, the original exterior cladding on one side was missing when it was relocated to the Village.

Thomas Alder

Thomas Alder 

            Much of what we know of Thomas Alder's weaving shed comes from the personal recollections of Wilfrid Jury, who often visited his grandfather in the shop. Alder apprenticed as a weaver in Gloucestershire before emigrating to Canada, bringing the steel harnesses for his loom with him on his journey. Jury’s recorded memories of time spent with his grandfather were some of the fondest of his childhood:

      "The old shop fascinated me. The steady whang of the packer as it banged home the warp, the skirl of the shuttle were like music and I watched for hours as grandfather sat upright in the loom, a tall, distinguished looking old gentleman with a well-trimmed white beard. I was so proud when he taught me to fill the bobbins and I thought of myself as his 'helper'."

             Alder had a wide range of customers from the surrounding area, from London to Chatham. One of Thomas' primary products was decorative carpeting that could be laid on floors or hung on walls. Jury recalls that Alder obtained much of his cloth from local farmer's wives, who “saved cloth, dyed it, cut it in strips, sewed the strips together and brought it in balls, the size of footballs, to be woven into carpets that were laid proudly on parlour and spare room floors, generally wall-to-wall”.  While city dwellers paid cash for Alder’s products, farmers often paid in livestock. As Alder’s collection of livestock increased, he purchased more land to accommodate a stable and plant an orchard. Personal connections were important for the success of Alder’s business. One of his first customers was a man named John Christie, who would later become mayor of London. Alder and Christie had first met on the voyage over from England, and Christie kept him in mind when he needed carpets to decorate the floors and walls of his London home. It was through Christie that many prominent London citizens were introduced to Alder’s work.

            weavers shed in present location

Current location of the Thomas Alder weaving shed situated in The Town of Fanshawe Cluster (1910-1920) – which tells the story of the rapid change that marks the 20th century.

  Thomas Alder’s barn loom is still in use today at the Fanshawe Pioneer Village where a new warp is strung each year, and volunteers demonstrate the weaving of rag rugs and placemats to visitors. Items produced in the shop are used throughout the Village houses and are also available for sale in the Denfield General Store. Other related textile arts that visitors can enjoy in the Village include needlework, tatting and quilting demonstrations and displays, or, hands-on activities such carding and spinning wool. For our annual “Spring on the Farm” event, this year on June 2nd and 3rd, we will feature sheep herding and shearing demonstrations, as well as the arts of weaving and spinning. 

volunteer weaver


FPV volunteer weaver Mary Saunders working on rag rugs on Thomas Alder's barn loom.


 "Alder's Weaving Shed at Fanshawe Pioneer Village" Contributed by Shanna Dunlop, FPV Curator 

She would like to acknowledge former University of Western Ontario M.A. in Public History student Kevin Marshall who assisted this article through compiling research in 2007.  The archival documentation cited for this article includes a range of personal papers and the written reflections of Wilfrid Jury that are contained in the FPV collection.  


Fanshawe Pioneer Village is Located in the North East corner of London, Ontario. It is easily accessible from Toronto & Detroit by Highway 401, from Sarnia by Highway 402 and from Stratford via Highway 7 to Highbury Avenue.

 It is open Saturday, May 19th, 2012 to Monday, October 8th, 2012, 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Closed on Mondays except for special holiday events)

 For more information visit their website at www.fanshawepioneervillage.ca


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