Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820. Originally published by University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, 2007.
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A term not found in the dictionaries and only twice in the Dictionary Archive, among the stock of two Bristol founders [Inventories (1733)]; [Inventories (1735)]. The contexts suggest that they were made of BRASS and were connected with lighting. Since they were recorded in sets, they were possibly the sockets for candles to be fitted to a BRANCHED CANDLESTICK or a CHANDELIER.
A BAND made in FLANDERS, or of a design traditionally associated with Flanders, possibly of FLANDERS LACE. Flanders bands were described in the 1660 Book of Rates as of BONE LACE or of CUTWORK [Rates (1660)] suggesting that they may have been a form of FALLING BAND.
Due to drought in the summer months the crop could not always be harvested successfully, and this cause alone resulted in harvest failure every two or three years [Tomlinson (1854)]. It was probably identical with or similar to DUTCH FLAX and HOLLAND FLAX.
A TEXTILE akin to BAYS, the term denotes a WOOLLEN CLOTH of various degrees of fineness, usually finished by heavy fulling and pressing, so without a nap. It was of open weave, and the weft was made of a loosely spun YARN, the carded wool being slightly twisted in the spinning. Flannel was apparently unknown before the sixteenth century, and Kerridge suggests that supposed earlier references are the result of misreading. The Flemish immigrants, who had settled in Sandwich in Kent by 1581, introduced flannel manufacture. From thence manufacture spread to virtually all parts of the country, though Salisbury was noted for its fine product. Welshpool became the staple for marketing the coarse flannels produced in Cheshire, Shropshire, Hereford and Wales, despite energetic efforts by the Shrewsbury drapers to gain control. WELSH flannels early acquired a secondary meaning of smooth-tongued duplicity.
Flannels were used for many purposes; the coarser types for SHIRTs for soldiers and workmen, especially those who sweated profusely, while finer sorts were used for PETTICOATs, UNDERCOATs, WAISTCOATs etc., and to line clothes such as waistcoats and BREECHES. Like other cheap fabrics, it was used for funerals and for SHROUDs, and its absorbent qualities were utilised in the kitchen.
Found described as Bath, BLACK, BROAD, burying, COLOURED, DYED, GREEN, GREY, NARROW, PRINTED, 'real nine times dyed blue', RED, SAD, SERGE, STRIPED, strong, three quarters [wide], WELSH, WHITE, 'white blue list', YARD WIDE, YELLOW Found used to make BALL [toy], BLANKET, COAT, DRAWERS, JACKET, MANTLE, PETTICOAT, SHEET, UNDER COAT, under waistcoat, WAISTCOAT Found used for straining liquids, wrapping solid foodstuffs, as a rag
Found in the shops measured by ELL, PIECE, YARD Found rated by the YARD
According to [Patents (1675)] it was made out of 'the useless dust or powder of indigo' along with STONE BLUE and POWDER BLUE and used for 'cleansing cloths'. However, one example in the Dictionary Archive that reads 15 'round and flat Indigo Dust' suggests it was itself a type of INDIGO that could be found in the form of dust [Inventories (1673)].
It was a rare product before 1660, becoming quite common thereafter as valuations tumbled from 6s LB [Inventories (1640)] to under 12d. In the only example where the two are valued contiguously, FIG INDIGO was valued at 16d LB, and flat at 12d [Inventories (1690)].
OED has the quotation 'The Vomiting Nuts [i.e. NUX VOMICA] are round, flat Nuts, of diverse Colours', which suggest that 'flat' was being used in that context entirely adjectivally. In the same way a London tradesman had both flat nuts (listed immediately after COCOA NUTs) and 'flat cocoa nuts') each valued at £9 per CWT [Inventories (1716)]. However, in, the inventory of another London tradesman, flat nuts at £6 per CWT were listed immediately after CARACCA NUTs at £9 10s and before HORSE NUTs at £8 [Inventories (1721)]. Here it would seem that a distinct commodity was being referred to.
Flax is the English name of the annual Linum usitatissimum, a member of a large family of plants that contains annuals as well as perennials. It is of fragile appearance and sends up fibrous stalks two or three feet high, bearing blue flowers succeeded by pods containing the seeds (FLAX SEED), commonly known as LINSEED. It is cultivated both for seed and for its textile fibres. Since the same term came to be applied to the plant as well as to the fibres, such terms as DRESSED FLAX or UNDRESSED FLAX frequently occur.
Well-established in the Ancient World, the produce of flax was known in this country at least since the time of the Romans, but farmers were slow to accept that the plant could be grown in this country. Perhaps one reason for the slow up-take was its reputation of exhausting the soil, although the seed of DANTZIG FLAX was offered for sale during the eighteenth century as a soil improver. Even so, its cultivation was fairly widespread during this period, mostly produced in small plots for the growers' own consumption. In the hope of establishing a home industry in the production of LINEN, the Tudors attempted to encourage the growth of FLAX and HEMP by all large farmers in this country through such means as [Acts (1532)]. The attempt was not overly successful and the manufacture on an industrial scale of FLAXEN THREAD, FLAXEN YARN and FLAXEN CLOTH (also known as LINEN THREAD, LINEN YARN and LINEN CLOTH) continued to depend largely on imports throughout the period, hence such terms as DANTZIG FLAX and PETERBOROUGH FLAX.
A slow, steady growth is required to produce the finest fibres, while the best seed comes from places with a hotter climate, where growth is more rapid and the seed has a greater chance of ripening. EGYPT FLAX seems to have been an exception to this generalisation, and to produce fibres of good quality, though it seems not have commanded the highest price [Tomlinson (1854)]. Russian flax (see MUSCOVY FLAX, PETERBOROUGH FLAX), growing as it did in a continental climate, tended to grow too rapidly, and although much was imported, it was not of the highest grade. Much of it was imported as ROUGH FLAX or UNDRESSED FLAX to undergo further processing in this country and then used for making SAIL CLOTH.
The processing of flax followed the same lines as that for HEMP and involved many stages, of which only the most important are described. The first task was to separate the seed from the stems using a comb-like IMPLEMENT called a RIPPLE. The stalks were then tied in bundles and soaked or retted to remove the glutinous material that held the fibres together, a malodorous process. This could be undertaken in running water, in pits designed for the purpose or on grass open to all weathers. The last was regarded as the least satisfactory as it took the longest and was the most conducive to rot and mould. Whichever process was chosen, the flax stalks required constant attention to avoid uneven or over-retting. Carelessness at this stage could lose the whole crop and at least severely reduce its value.
The flax then needed to be dried rather like hay. There were attempts to expedite the process by using a kiln or stove, one such attempt being described in [Patents (1638)]. However, drying artificially does not seem to have been adopted in this country to any great extent, although Randle Holme in describing the processing of hemp and flax wrote, 'Gigging is to dry the Hemp or Flax over a Fire, made in a hole of the ground, which is called the Gigg or Gigg hole; and so laid upon a Flake, after the manner of a Kilne' [Holme (2000)].
The next step was the laborious task of braking; that is hammering the stems with a specially designed IMPLEMENT called a 'brake' to render them more flexible. After this the stems were scutched with 'tewtaws' to remove the rubbish, beaten yet again, a process that began to be mechanized by the eighteenth century. Finally, the fibres were combed or heckled to separate the coarser TOW or HARDS from the finer, and the long, more desirable fibres from the short. Much of the work was back-breakingly labourious.
Found described as COARSE, FINE, FOREIGN, of last years growth, OLD, UNWROUGHT, well-grown, WROUGHT Found imported from Dantzick, Sweden, Germany and Holland
Found in units of BALE, BUNDLE, C, DOZEN, HUNDRED, knitchen, LAST, LB, PARCEL, POUND, QUARTER, STONE, TON Found rated by the CASK, HOGSHEAD, HUNDREDWEIGHT, POUND, TON
See also BLACK FLAX, BUNDLE FLAX, DANTZIG FLAX, DRESSED FLAX, EGYPT FLAX, ENGLISH FLAX, ESSINGS FLAX, FLAXEN POWDER, HEMP, HOLLAND FLAX, LINEN, LINEN FLAX.
Sources: Acts, Diaries, Houghton, Inventories (early), Inventories (mid-period), Inventories (late), Newspapers, Rates, Tradecards.
References: Evans (1985), Holme (2000), Tomlinson (1854).
The seed of FLAX was otherwise known as LINSEED, though that term also covered HEMP SEED [Acts (1532)]. To grow successfully and ripen fully, flax seed needs a hot climate, and for this rason much was imported. Flax seed from HOLLAND or RIGA was regarded as the best.
Although not produced specifically for the purpose, flax seed was one of those considered under Elizabeth as a source of LINSEED OIL and its by-product LINSEED CAKE. Flax seed is not so productive of oil as, for example RAPE, but it produces a satisfactory quantity [Thirsk (1978)]. By the late eighteenth century, Arthur Young reported that at least one Oxfordshire farmer was growing flax specifically in order to fatten stock on the cake, though he does not say what happened to the oil [Young (1813, new ed. 1969a)].
The term could mean 'made of FLAX' or indicate the colour of dressed flax. Flaxen was often used elliptically for the products of flax such as FLAXEN CLOTH. Usually the context allows one to deduce which was intended.
Found describing BODIES, CUPBOARD CLOTH, drinking towel, NAPKIN, PILLOW BERE, SHEET, SHIFT, SHIRT, side board cloth, STOMACHER, TABLECLOTH, TAPE, TOWEL, WEB Found described as Bromsgrove, BROWN, ELL BROAD, FINE, HOUSEWIFE, IRISH, NARROW, NEW, PILLOW CASE, RUSSIA, STRIPED for GOWNs, three quarter yard wide, WHITE, YARD WIDE
Found in units of ELL, YARD
Sometimes abbreviated to FLAXEN, ENGLISH FLAXEN cloth was said to be 'wonderfully strong, and although it is not extream white at first, yet in a few washings becomes as white as any sort of Holland which doth not exceed two shillings and sixpence the ell'. There were four types. The broadest at a YARD and a half wide and fit for SHEETs and TABLECLOTHS; the next size was a YARD WIDE for SHIFTs, 'but for a lusty woman it is too narrow'; the third was three-quarters of a yard wide, and 'the only proper bredth for both Men and Women for Shifts'; and finally, the narrowest was only half an ELL wide and 'proper only for Children' [Anon (1696)].
The descriptor 'flaxen' was often used elliptically for the products of flax such as FLAXEN CLOTH. It was also occasionally used in this way for flaxen yarn, though in this case the more common shortening is FLAX. Usually the context allows one to deduce which was intended.