History of Krefeld

History of Krefeld

The history of Krefeld and its relationship with silk weaving is reported in the following narrative. The narrative has been created by HdS. The narrative is reported in the following.

Krefeld from Its Origins to Town of Silk and Velvet

Krefeld is a town with a Roman past. Excavations in neighbouring Gellup bear witness to the existence of at least six Roman camps up until the fourth century A.D. Burial sites dating from the time of the Franks indicate that the area was settled continuously. Since the late Middle Ages Krefeld has belonged to the County of Moers.  The Counts of Moers made every effort to establish the Reformation early in their territory and the first Reformist preacher took up his post in 1561. At the beginning of the 17th century Krefeld came under the rule of the Netherlands. And the town became an island of religious tolerance. Consequently, in a period in which the denomination of the population was determined by the denomination of the ruler, Mennonites from near and far came to Krefeld and settled there. This immigration had far-reaching consequences which have shaped the profile of the town right up to the present day. The religious refugees brought with them linen processing skills and as they were also mostly successful businessmen they laid the foundation stone for economic growth and prosperity. The von der Leyen family, immigrants from Radevormwald, also contributed significantly to the development of the “Town like Silk and Velvet”. Originally linen weavers, they increasingly changed the emphasis of their business to silk weaving.

In 1702 Krefeld became Prussian and silk weaving became the most important economic factor with sales to the Prussian court in Berlin flourishing. In this period the silk weavers were outworkers who received orders to weaver fabrics from merchants and traders. The looms were set up in front of the light window in the typical small cottages, some of which still exist today. The head of the household was normally the weaver and other family members helped with tasks such reeling the thread on to the bobbins for the shuttle. On one of the main avenues of the town there is a monument to the weavers “Meister Ponzelaar”. He wears a frock coat (his Sunday best) in local dialect “Laakesserock”, a high-necked waistcoat, a small collar with a silk scarf and a “Jraduutkapp” (a black cap). At the end of the week he takes the finished fabric on the beam to the merchant’s office together with a bag containing any thread left over. There he was paid and receive a new prepared warp beam and thread for the week ahead. Such weavers were a typical sight in the town until the beginning of the 19th century. Their craft required rapid comprehension and rhythmic movement of hand and foot.

In 1785 Edward Cartwright invented his first mechanical loom and continued to make improvements to it.  The enhanced looms then went on sale in 1820.  With the advent of mechanisation the silk entrepreneurs started to build factories where all the machines were powered by one source of energy and the workers were responsible for more than one loom.

This meant that the “Meister Ponzelars” were often made redundant. However, the large emerging factories required manpower and the growing population started moving from rural areas to the towns seeking work.  As the rural population was largely Catholic this meant that the town of Krefeld which had initially been Protestant became increasingly Catholic.

Although Krefeld had already been extended several times to accommodate the newcomers, a completely new town plan was drawn up by Adolph von Vagedes. The former fortifications were removed and the town which was in the meantime one of the richest in Germany was given a neoclassical face. The centre was enclosed by four boulevard-type streets.  Outside the central area other districts sprang up, such as the Crown Prince District near to the station.

Origins of the “Crown Prince District”

It was not until 1819 that the inner area of the town of Krefeld was completed with four boundary streets called “Wälle” based on the plans of master builder Adolph von Vagedes.

Just sixteen years later design work had already started for a seventh expansion of the rapidly growing town. In the year 1843 the Prussian government in Berlin approved a revised version of the plans which the Düsseldorf government building officer Franz Anton Umpfenbach had drawn up. These plans set out the town expansion in an easterly direction covering what is now known as the “Crown Prince District”. 

This district extends in a north/south direction from the Rheinstrasse to the then Canalstrasse, now Hansastraße, and in west/east direction from Ostwall to the then Kronprinzenstrasse, now Philadelphiastrasse. The strict geometric road network in the district was to a large extent also stipulated in the planning and was only interrupted by the diagonally traversing Alte Linner Strasse which was retained as the historical route to Linn. The Luisenplatz and Albrechtplatz were developed as new public squares.

The names of important personalities from the Prussian royal family were given to the streets running north to south. The former “Crown Prince Street” was a reference to the then Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm IV who visited Krefeld in 1833. Still today the Luisenstrasse, Mariannenstrasse und Elisabethstrasse commemorate Louise of Prussia, Marianne of Oranien-Nassau and Elisabeth of Bavaria.

Further plans included the building of new public buildings.  1864 the secondary school was opened on Luisenplatz; from 1882 onwards this was run as a grammar school (focussing on science and mathematics).  This municipal school emerged from the Latin school endowed by the Mennonite businessman, Adam Wilhelm Scheuten.  The Protestant Friedenskirche church was built diagonally opposite to the school between 1872 and 1874.  The Catholic church, Stephanskirche, already dated from the 1850s and was located at the end of the extended Stephansstrasse. An orphanage was opened on the eastern side of Kronprinzenstrasse in the 1850s sponsored by Protestants and the Krefeld women’s association founded in 1827 purchased a house with a garden in 1868, Elisabethstraße 90. In the year 1854 the Puricelli brothers who were already operating an ironworks in Hunsrück built the first gasworks in Mariannenstrasse.

Krefeld is located on broken stone terraces formed by the river Rhine over time. The “Crown Prince district” grew up immediately on the edge of the upper terrace and therefore it directly borders the surrounding fault terrain of the Sprödental (valley).  Ditches were built to drain the area enough to create gardens there.  As the streets were not yet tarmacked, the surface water seeped into the ground or was conducted into the damp low lying land via the drainage ditches. The Kronprinzenstrasse located at the eastern edge of the new urban district was therefore not very popular with prospective Krefeld land developers. In contrast building development in Luisenstrasse was already more or less complete by the 1870s. 

One fact was very noticeable and that was that numerous silk weaving workshops had been set up at the southern end of Luisenstrasse. This is possibly attributable to the close proximity of the station because thanks to the access to the German railway network, mail and freight transport from Krefeld was gradually being transferred from road to rail. From 1849 onwards there was a rail link between Homberg – Uerdingen – Krefeld – Viersen, which was extended to Aachen and Oberhausen in 1853.  The Cologne – Krefeld route opened in 1856. Equally important for the Krefeld-based silk business was the establishment of the “Crefelder Eisenbahngesellschaft” (Krefeld Railway Company) in the year 1868, which undertook the building of the routes to Hüls, Moers and St. Tönis.  This was also very important for passenger traffic because many workers often had to cover long distances to reach their workplace, in the past on foot.

Vocational Training in Krefeld

In the mid-1800 there were some 90 companies in the silk industry in Krefeld which required increasing numbers of skilled workers.  Both industry and craftsmen called for a weaving school to be set up to teach the whole range of crafts involved in silk cloth production. Subsequently the “Crefeld Höhere Webschule” (College for Weaving) was established based on that in Lyons. It was opened in October 1855. It was the only college specifically teaching the skills needed in the silk sector. In 1913 courses were also offered on Sundays to meet demand. The college continued to grow and moved into new premises which led to its renaming as “Königliche Webe-, Färberei- und Appreturschule” (Royal College of Weaving, Dyeing and Dressing). By 1901 the college had expanded to such an extent that it was divided into two sections, one concentrating on weaving and one on dyeing and dressing.  During the Second World War the college was damaged although teaching was sustained on a lower level than normal.  It was re-opened in November 1945 as a textile engineering college.  In 1971 it was amalgamated with several other colleges in the region to form the “Fachhochschule Niederrhein” with campuses in Krefeld and Mönchengladbach.

Origin of the Name of Krefeld

As the story goes, although it is not historically documented, the town of Krefeld was founded on a crow field. The name Crow Pattern is most probably attributable to a former designation of Krefeld, e.g. Krinfelde, Creinvelt, Crenevelt oder Creyvelt. It was therefore logical to develop a crow as a symbol and advertising emblem for the town of Krefeld. This historic pattern is now reproduced on pure silk scarves and ties as a reminder of Krefeld of the past.

Ecclesiastical Textiles

“That is to say all textile accoutrements customary in churches and required for whatever purpose during the divine service.”

That was the prosaic definition given in a textbook dating from 1924 relating to the study of ecclesiastical textiles. Yet anyone who has held an intricately work priest’s vestment with woven pictures, finest embroidery and sumptuously decorated braids can only marvel at the craftsmanship of those who produced it.

Weavers, embroiderers and needlewomen spent hundreds of hours to finish such a garment.

The liturgical vestment in its traditional form was developed in the 13th century. The priests’ vestments were, however, subjected to the artistic tastes of their respective period as far type and design was concerned and varied greatly in cut and decoration. In the 19th century standard designs were determined for the liturgical vestments by the Roman Rites Congregation. Nowadays the regional bishops’ conferences can adapt the regulation to local requirements.

The quality of the ecclesiastical fabrics is of significant importance.  Silk, linen and wool still formed the basis of the fabrics before the Second World War. These were used for liturgical vestments, altar cloths as well as church banners and baldachins.  The quality of the fabrics did not depend on the chosen fabrics alone. The more compact the fabric is, that is the more threads there are per square metre horizontally and vertically, the stronger the fabric is. The yarn must be colour fast and the colours and patterns properly harmonised. The patterns frequently relate to religious symbols.

Gold brocades are particularly precious fabrics, originally heavy, richly patterned velvet fabrics. It is the gold metal threads carefully worked into them which give them their unusual radiance. In the twentieth century Japanese gold thread was used for this.  A great deal of time and effort was needed to produce such thread which involved wrapping gold leaf attached to wafer thin rice paper around a silk thread. The Krefeld weavers procured such thread from Japan.  The Krefeld textile industry and trading companies provided all the other services and materials required to manufacture ecclesiastical fabrics: colour-fast yarns as well equipment, design drawings workshops, point paper designs and punched cards to weave patterns.

Ecclesiastical Fabric Weaving in Krefeld

Krefeld began to develop into one of the most important silk metropoles in the German-speaking territories in the 17th century. One reason for this was the fact that many religious refugees settled in and around the town which formed part of the territory ruled by the House of Orange under which the town received the status of a “religious asylum”.

Many of the Mennonite families which move to the town were linen weavers, spinners, merchants and employers of outworkers.  At the beginning of the 18th century linen weaving was increasingly being replaced by silk production, a development which was also supported by the government.  Silk fabrics being luxury articles were in greater and greater demand and due to the influx of specialists, in particular from France, the quality of the fabrics continuously improved. The silk industry in Krefeld experienced its biggest boom in the mid-19th century.  Krefeld became Germany’s silk town. Some companies specialised in certain products, for example, velvet weaving, heavy-weight and light-weight, patterned and plain silk fabrics. One special field was ecclesiastical textiles.

In Krefeld one of the first producers of textiles for the church was F.J. Casaretto, descendant of an Italian silk weaving family who moved to Krefeld in the 18th century.  Casaretto was a Catholic entrepreneur in the silk weaving sector which was dominated by Protestants and Mennonites and it was the chaplain of the main church, St. Dionysius, Franz Bock, who persuaded him to venture into this unfamiliar metier and what is more to concentrate on historical patterns. The company set up in 1842 presented its new “mediaeval fabrics” to a wide public in an exhibition of religious art organised by Bock in 1852.  The company situated on the “Sudwall” subsequently set up a tailor’s workshop in order to offer clients the finished liturgical vestments.  Casaretto even exported his products to the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria.

For a long time Casaretto’s ecclesiastical fabric company remained the only such company in Krefeld.  This, however, was to change in the 1880s when the mechanical silk loom conquered the workshops in the town putting many manual weavers into dire straits. In addition to setting up private benefit funds and introducing state and communal measures, the industry called to mind the significant skills of these manual weavers.  Weaving ecclesiastical textiles at least provided possible employment for some of them.  In 1887 an “Exhibition of Religious Fine-Art, Weaving and Embroidery from the Past” took place at the “Königliche Webschule” (Royal School of Weaving) under the patronage of the Archbishop of Cologne at which Krefeld weaving workshops for ecclesiastical textiles were also represented.  The purpose of the exhibition was to “Encourage to Acquire New” and to provide hope that “the production of religious textiles would gain impetus from the exhibition”.

The hopes of the initiators seemed to be fulfilled and in the following decades more and more weaving workshops for ecclesiastical textiles were founded in Krefeld. Around 1900 there were already 12 companies and others were founded up to 1914 which also produced fabric for banners.  One of these was the Hubert Gotzes company.