Magna Britannia: Volume 6, Devonshire. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1822.
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The principal manufacture of this county has, from an early period, been that of woollen cloth. I do not find any mention of fulling-mills in Devonshire in the Domesday survey; but from the mention of them in records of the reign of Edward I. it is evident that cloth was then made at Exeter and Chudleigh. It appears, nevertheless, from the Hundred Rolls, that the Dartmoor wool was at that time exported.
King Edward III. forbade the exportation of wool, and gave great encouragement to weavers and cloth-makers from foreign parts (fn. n1), who in his reign came to London, and afterwards settled in other parts of the kingdom. John Kempe, a foreigner, is said to have established the clothing trade at Taunton in this reign, but we have no evidence that any of them settled in Devonshire.
It appears that cloths called Raies, or dozens of the colour of ray, were made in the west in the reign of Henry IV., but the counties are not specified in the statute of 1409. In the beginning of Edward the Fourth's reign (1463) the inhabitants of the hundreds of Lifton, Roborough, and Tavistock, petitioned parliament to be exempted from the operation of an act which prohibited the using of flocks in the manufacture of woollen cloths; stating that they had been acccustomed to use such mixtures from time immemorial, and that the cloth made by them could not be otherwise manufactured on account of "the stobernesse of the wool," it being made solely of wool grown in those three hundreds; and they state, that if the act should be enforced, they should be impoverished, and utterly destroyed. An exemption was in consequence allowed them, and it is recognised in all subsequent acts. In a statute of 1511, these cloths are exempted by the name of Tostocks: in a statute of 1534, they are called Tavestocks, or western dozens.
It appears that there was another species of coarse cloth, nearly similar, called "white plain streits, or streights," and "white pinn'd streights," to which the same exemption was allowed. They are spoken of in the statutes of 1513, 1553, and 1585. It the statute of 1553, they are described to be of the nature of Tavestock cloths. It appears that they were made of the refuse of coarse wools, flocks, lambs' wools, and hairy wools; that they were exported by the Devonshire merchants to Brittany, and bartered for dowlas, lockeram, and canvass. The statutes above mentioned prescribe their measure and weight.
Westcote, writing in the early part of the seventeenth century, says, that before the reign of Edward IV. only frizes and plain coarse cloths were made in Devonshire; and that one Anthony Bonvise, an Italian, in that reign, is said to have taught the art of making carsies (kerseys), and the women to spin with the distaff. "For the karsies," says he, "at first, they only used Devon wool, which is more than any stranger travelling the county would suppose, since, except in Dartmoor, Exmoor, and such open grounds, the sheep are hidden by the high-grown hedges of the enclosures. Now they work Cornish and Dorset wools, and from other parts of the kingdom, and from London sent weekly, (though, by the new measure, 150 miles distant,) Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Wales, and Ireland, all which is here wrought into cloths or stuffs, wherein most towns have appropriated to themselves a several or peculiar kind.
"The late made stuff of serges or perpetuanoes is now in great use and request with us, wherewith the market of Exeter is abundantly furnished of all sorts and prizes, fine, coarse, broad, narrow, so that the number will scarcely be credited. Tyverton hath also such store of karsies as (the neighbourhood of other markets consider'd) will not be believed. Crediton yields many of the fynest sort of karsies, for which, and for fine spinning, it hath the pre-eminence. (fn. n2) Totness, and some other places near it, hath besides this a sort of coarse cloth which they call Pynn whites, not elsewhere made. Barnstaple and Torrington furnish us bayes, single and double, and fryzadoes, and such like; and Pilton adjoining, vents cottons (fn. n3) and lyninge, so coarse a stuffe as there was a vœ (a woe) pronounced against them in these words: — 'Woe unto you, ye Piltonians, that make cloth without wool.'
"At Tavystock there is also a good market for cloth, and for other commodities of the like nature, without any great difference. Ottery St. Mary, and dyvers other places, hath mixed color'd karsies, Culmton, karsie stockings. This might be enlarged with other pretty commodities belonging to other towns, besydes the generality of knytting stockings and spinninge of worsted thread for women's workinge in every towne." (fn. n4)
It appears, that the Devonshire kersies had acquired celebrity, and were an important article of commerce to the Levant in the early part of the sixteenth century. Fine kersies, of divers colours, coarse kersies, and white western dozens, were sent in English ships to Chio, and other ports in the Levant, from the year 1511 to 1534, by Sir John Gresham, Sir William Bowyer, and other London merchants, as we have it on the authority of Hakluyt. (fn. n5) Each ship that sailed to those ports took from 6000 to 8000 kersies. (fn. n6) They were bartered to considerable advantage for commodities of the country, which bore a good price in England. Gaspar Campion, an English merchant residing in Chio, writing in 1569, when the trade had been some time in the hands of the Venetians, strongly recommends the revival of a direct trade with this country. (fn. n7) A statute of the year 1552, regulates the weight and measure of the Devonshire kersies. By an order of council, in the year 1587, it appears they were prized at from 18s. to 3l. (fn. n8)
The statute of 1593 speaks of the Devonshire kersies as having been formerly in great request, and of great prize and estimation, both at home and in foreign nations and countries; but then grown into discredit in consequence of the frauds of the manufacturers, which it was the object of that statute to reform by the enactment of heavy penalties. In consequence of complaints from the States of Holland, it appears, that a royal proclamation had already been issued, which that statute was intended more strictly to enforce.
Westcote, speaking of the progress of the woollen manufactures, observes, "The gentleman, farmer, or husbandman, sends his wool to the market, which is bought either by the comber or spinster; and they the next week bring it again in yarn, which the weavers buy, and the market following bringe it thither again in cloth, when it is sold either to the clothier, (who sends it to London,) or to the marchant, who (after it hath passed the fuller's mill, and sometimes the dyer's vat) transports it. The large quantity whereof cannot be well judged at, but is best known to the custom book, whereunto it yieldeth no small commodity, and this is continued all the year through."
The market for wool and cloths, which had long been at Crediton, was removed to Exeter in 1538. The great increase of the woollen manufacture, spoken of by Westcote, in the early part of the seventeenth century, was occasioned by the revival or extension of the sale of English cloths in Italy, Turkey, and the Levant. Moryson, who was in Turkey in 1596, speaks of kersies and tin as our chief articles of commerce with Turkey. (fn. n9) The trade experienced a still further increase towards the latter part of the seventeenth century, and was then at its greatest height.
Brice, who published his "Topographical Dictionary" in 1759, speaks of the clothing trade as then somewhat declined; but says, that the ordinary weekly sale at Exeter on a Friday was 10,000l. worth; and that Exeter was esteemed the greatest wool market in England, next to Leeds. I have been assured, that about the year 1768 the exports of woollen cloths were above a million in value annually. The trade suffered considerably during the American war, but after the peace in some measure recovered itself; and the extension of exportation to the East Indies, which took place soon afterwards, caused it to equal its former amount. In 1789, the East India trade being then increasing, 121,000 pieces were bought by the Company. These were of the sort of serges (fn. n10) called Sandfords, except 600 pieces of broads, made at Crediton: the other serges were made mostly at Ashburton, Tavistock, Modbury, North Tawton, and Newton Bushell. From 1795 to 1805, the Company purchased from 250,000 to 300,000 pieces annually. After this, their purchases began to decline to about 200,000 pieces. After the renewal of the charter, in 1813, their demand declined still farther; and their present purchases do not exceed 150,000 pieces annually.
During the last war, the woollen trade sustained a most serious injury in its foreign consumption, from which it has only partially recovered. Notwithstanding the reduced scale of their purchases, more than two-thirds of the woollen cloths now made in the county are for the East India Company.
The principal manufacturing towns are now Exeter, Crediton, Collumpton, Ashburton, and South Molton. At Tiverton, which was one of the earliest and the principal seat of the clothing manufacture, and at which town, so lately as the year 1790, it is said, that there were 1000 looms at work, there is now scarcely any woollen trade. At Newton Bushell, Chudleigh, Bampton, Oakhampton, Hatherleigh, Bideford, Sampford Peverell, Torrington, Moreton Hampstead, Culmstock, Uffculme, and Ottery, they have ceased to manufacture. At Bideford, about 150 serges are made yearly. At Honiton, there is only one serge-maker.
The Crediton manufactures, which were upon a most extensive scale, declined after the great fire of 1743: before that period, 1400 or 1500 pieces of serge were made there weekly. They now make from 800 to 1000 pieces.
Before the late war, Exeter, and the towns of Crediton, Collumpton, and South Molton, with the populous villages of North Tawton and Bishop's Morchard, were principally employed in manufacturing coarse woollens for Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Germany. The long continuance of war, from time to time, lessened the demand for these foreign markets, which for a while wholly ceased, and these places only shared with others the orders of the East India Company, for long ells, &c. Since the return of peace, they have supplied the diminished demands of the above-mentioned foreign markets. The diminished manufactures of Exeter are chiefly of plushes and estameans (fn. n11), for the Spanish market.
The town of Collumpton, before the commencement of the war, manufactured Dutch serges, plain and twilled druggets, sagatties, duroys, and estameans, which were shipped at Topsham, by the merchants of Exeter, for Holland, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Italy. At present, some cloths, kerseymeres, and estameans, with flannel and baize of various qualities and descriptions, are made for the markets of Spain and Portugal, as well as home consumption; and occasionally long ells and other woollen goods, for the East India Company. Although the trade is now diverted into a different channel, I am informed, that the quantity of wool manufactured, the value of the goods, and the number of the labourers employed, exceed that of any former period. The chief trade of Ashburton and South Molton consists in the manufacture of woollen goods for the East India Company.
The secondary manufacturing towns of the present day, are Totnes, Tavistock, Kingsbridge, Modbury, Brent, Chagford, and Barnstaple; to which may be added the villages of Buckfastleigh, Bishop's Morchard, and North Tawton.
The woollen trade of Tavistock, Totnes, Kingsbridge, Modbury, Brent, Chagford, and Buckfastleigh, consists chiefly of long ells for the East India Company. The largest factory of this article is that of Mr. Berry, of Chagford. At the height of the clothing trade, in the reign of Charles II., there was a wool market established at Totnes, and another at Ashburton. The trade of Modbury and Kingsbridge is much declined: some years ago, about 300 pieces of serge were made weekly at Modbury, and about 400 (but not at the same time) at Kingsbridge, for the trade of the two towns has fluctuated. About 100 pieces only are now made weekly at Kingsbridge, and about double that quantity at Modbury. Flustrings, armycloths, and blanketings, are made also at Kingsbridge: the former are chiefly for home consumption and for Newfoundland.
At Barnstaple, the baize-making, for which it was celebrated in Westcote's time, and which continued so considerable till nearly the end of the last century, that, before the American war, there were 20 baize-makers in the town, is now so reduced, that there is only one, who exports his goods to America, Newfoundland, Spain, and Portugal. Coarse serges also are made at Barnstaple for the American trade.
The general state of the woollen trade, as compared with that of its greatest prosperity, may be judged from the entries at the custom-house at Exeter, from which city the great bulk of woollen goods manufactured in the county is exported. I am informed, that, even from Kingsbridge, a great part of the manufactured goods is sent by waggons to Exeter, and shipped from that port. The years 1768 and 1787 are considered to have been the periods of the height of the prosperity of the woollen trade. In 1768, 330,414 pieces of cloth were exported from Exeter; in 1787, 295,311 pieces; in the year 1820, the number was 127,459. (fn. n12)
The chief trade now for woollens is that of the East India Company, although, as before mentioned, on a reduced scale; and a partial recovery of the foreign markets, particularly those of Spain and Portugal. The high price of English wool, and the fluctuating state of the market since the peace, have operated to prevent a more extensive revival of the foreign trade; but some of the most intelligent manufacturers express a hope, that, with the continuance of peace, the foreign markets may be revived to a greater extent, either for the old articles, or others suited to the altered taste and habits of the consumers. Besides the trade of the East India Company, long ells are purchased for the private trade of India, and have been introduced into China by American and other foreign vessels.
At some of the towns in which the clothing trade has been discontinued, the manufacturing labourers are employed in preparing materials for the manufactures of other towns. The poor of Culmstock and Uffculme are employed in a factory lately erected at Culmstock for preparing materials for the long ells manufactured at Wellington. Those of Moreton Hampstead are employed in the manufacture of long ells at Chagford. At Ottery, where a few woollen goods are still woven, is a large factory for spinning the yarn used for manufacturing serges, which yarn is sent to the Exeter market.
In Westcote's time, fine flax thread was spun at Axminster; and he observes, that Comb Martin supplied the whole county with shoemakers' thread, made from hemp there grown. Both these have been discontinued; but there is a considerable manufactory of linen thread at Tukenhayes, in Ashprington. The celebrated carpet-manufacture at Axminster is still flourishing: it was established in the year 1755. (fn. n13)
The manufacture of bone or thread lace at Honiton, made with fine thread imported from Antwerp (fn. n14), was introduced probably in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Westcote does not speak of it as a new thing. "Here," says he, speaking of Honiton, "is made abundance of bone-lace, a pretty toye, now greatly in request." He speaks of it as made also at Bradninch. A small quantity is still made there: the manufacture at Honiton, which not many years ago was very flourishing, is now much on the decline. A large manufactory of Nottinghamshire lace was established at Tiverton in 1815, as a means of providing for the numerous labourers whose employment had ceased on the removal of the clothing manufacture. The lace manufacture is still flourishing. A lace manufacture at Raleigh, in the parish of Pilton, near Barnstaple, is about to be immediately established on an extensive scale, and numerous cottages are now building near the spot for the manufacturers. A manufacture of gloves, upon an extensive scale, has found employment for the labouring classes of Torrington since the removal of the woollen manufactures. At Fordton, near Crediton, the extensive buildings formerly occupied by the woollen manufacture of Messrs. Davy, dowlas, and other coarse linens, are now made.
At Bradninch are three paper-mills: those of Mr. John Dewdney, at Heale Paine, in this parish, which were destroyed by fire in the summer of 1821, are now rebuilding, on an extensive scale, for the manufacture of all kinds of writing paper.
A manufacture of porcelain was carried on for a short time at Plymouth, by Mr. William Cookworthy, who settled there in 1733, and first discovered the materials requisite for its composition: it was at first unsuccessful, and after a little while was removed to Bristol, and afterwards to Worcester, where, in consequence of various subsequent improvements and discoveries, it attained great celebrity, and still flourishes.
A manufacture of an inferior sort of white ware, for common purposes, was established at Indio, in Bovey Tracey, in 1772: of late years blue and white ware has been made here; and within these ten years another manufactory has been established on Bovey Heathfield, adjoining to the pits, the coal from which is used for the works. There are potteries of brown ware at Bideford and Barnstaple. At Tavistock is an iron-foundery and an edge-tool manufactory. At Plymouth are manufactories of sailcloth, soap, and Roman cement. Great quantities of shoes, made at Ashburton, Kingsbridge, and Dartmouth, are sent to Newfoundland.