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Brushmakers made all types of brushes and brooms including clothes brushes, paint brushes, carpet brushes, scrubbing brushes, shaving brushes and many more.

Co-operative Wholesale Society brush

CWS brush

A brush is made by drilling small holes through a piece of wood crafted to the right shape. Bundles of hairs (bristles) are then passed through the holes and the ends are bound together with wires and glue. A piece of wood is then placed over the back of the brush to cover the knots and wires and the bristles are cut to the same length. Different bristles such as hairs from wild boar or hogs were used for different brushes and were imported from Russia, Germany, India and China.

In the early days brushmaking took place in a single room called a Pan Shop rather than a factory. The Brushmaker would work alongside his apprentices and journeymen. From the 1880s brush making began to move over to factories.

Tramps and journeymen brushmakers

Image of a Brushmaker from the Book of Trades, 1806


Tramps were skilled craftsmen who went from town to town seeking work in their own trade. The Brushmakers' Societies operated a tramping system for unemployed journeymen who were prepared to seek employment in other districts. A route of towns was set up and at each town the travelling journeymen were paid relief including tramping, beer and bed money.

There were several Brushmakers' unions, for more information click here

The Society of Brushmakers' Descendants is a group of family historians with personal family roots in brushmaking. They produce regular newsletters that would be useful to anyone wishing to research brushmaking in more detail. Their Web address is www.brushmakers.com.

Sources for family history in our collection

Lists of Journeymen Brushmakers and apprentices (national), 1829, 1851, 1865, 1866, 1869, 1870

Lists of members of the Brushmakers' Benevolent Institute (national), 1852, 1853, 1859, 1862, 1863, 1865, 1866, 1868, 1874

Birmingham reference book of clear members (fines and arrears), 1827-1843


Resources about Brushmakers in the Library collection

William Kiddier, The Brushmaker and the secrets of his craft (1922) - Shelfmark: J16

Tom Girtin, In love and unity: a book about brushmaking (1961) - Shelfmark: M30