A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.
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INDUSTRY AND TRADE.
Dyers lived in Warminster in 1334 (fn. 1) and 1452, (fn. 2) but little else is known of the existence of the woollen industry in the town before the 16th century. (fn. 3) John Eyre, a Warminster clothier, bought wool worth £67 from John Thynne in 1548, (fn. 4) but the taxation list of 1545 shows that he was only moderately prosperous. (fn. 5) Thomas Clevelode, described as a Warminster clothier at his death in 1558, (fn. 6) amassed a sufficient fortune to buy the estate called Kingston's. (fn. 7) In 1545 he was assessed at Longbridge Deverill, (fn. 8) where he probably occupied a mill, perhaps at Crockerton. Clothiers whom the 1576 subsidy (fn. 9) show to have been fairly prosperous included Thomas Cockell, (fn. 10) William Rawlings, (fn. 11) and Robert House. (fn. 12) The richest clothier, and indeed the richest man, in the town at that time was William Middlecott, (fn. 13) but much of his wealth must have derived from the freehold property which he had inherited from his father (fn. 14) and his leasehold estate under the manor of Furnax. (fn. 15) His family carried on business for many years from Smallbrook Mill. (fn. 16)
Our knowledge of most 17th-century Warminster clothiers is limited to their names, such as Joel Girdler (died c. 1657), (fn. 17) William Wilton (fl. 1668), (fn. 18) and William Slade (fl. 1695) (fn. 19). In 1610 William Bailey of Boreham was able to pay £205 for the lease of some property there, (fn. 20) and in 1664 Edward Halliday, a dyer, paid £400 for a lease. (fn. 21) The one Warminster business of this period about which more than the barest facts are known was probably typical of many others. This is that of George Wansey, accounts of whose affairs from 1683 to his death in 1707 have survived. (fn. 22) Wansey made little cloth of the finest variety, so that he was able to buy much of his wool locally, occasionally mixing Spanish wool with it for his better pieces. In addition to medium-grade cloths he also made druggets in the 1690's and occasionally linseywoolsey and serge. Most of the processes were, as usual, put out, but Wansey possessed his own dressing shop and dyehouse. The maximum capacity of his business was ten cloths a week, and he was able to spend as much as £1,400 in a single year on wool. He left his widow and son a modest fortune and estate and a business which would afford them a comfortable livelihood.
George Wansey was probably typical, not only of his own generation of clothiers, but of Warminster clothiers until the final extinction of the trade there. There is no indication of large fortunes such as were made at Trowbridge and Bradford, but more of modestly prosperous family businesses which might be kept up for two or three generations. Little is known in detail of the trade, and the 18th-century clothiers of the town must be judged largely by extraneous details of their lives. Pitman Warren, for instance, lived in the elaborate house, now no. 32 Vicarage Street, which he held with a small estate in land under Lord Weymouth. (fn. 23) He also owned freehold houses in West Street, (fn. 24) and land in Morley Field. (fn. 25) He was active as a clothier from at least 1753, when £100 was paid him as a premium for an apprentice, (fn. 26) until his death in 1788. (fn. 27) His son Peter Warren succeeded him in the business for some years, (fn. 28) but when he went bankrupt in 1822 he was described as a mealman. (fn. 29) The Wansey family provided a succession of clothiers after George described above. In 1724 his son Henry Wansey received £100 with an apprentice. (fn. 30) At least two members of the family were active in 1755. (fn. 31) In 1783 George and William Wansey both lived in Church Street, George apparently in Byne House and William opposite in either No. 3. or No. 4. (fn. 32) Both these and another Henry were in business at the turn of the century. (fn. 33) When George died in 1807 he left £1,000 to endow a charity (fn. 34) and £1,000 to be laid out in improving the town. (fn. 35) Many of the family were generous in supporting the Old Meeting in the town, and seem to have been genuinely pious and cultured, and intelligent observers of local and national affairs. (fn. 36) Henry Wansey (d. 1827) retired from his clothing business to follow mainly antiquarian pursuits; he was partly responsible for the account of Warminster (fn. 37) hundred in Hoare's Modern Wiltshire, and also wrote on economics and travel. (fn. 37)
In considering the rapid decline of this seemingly well-established industry in the early 19th century, there are two factors which must be stressed. The first is that there are indications that Warminster clothiers did not regularly make cloth of quite the same quality as, say, those at Trowbridge and Bradford. We have seen that this was true of George Wansey in the late 17th century, and the setback in the superfine trade from 1730 to 1750, which caused Henry Wansey embarrassment, (fn. 38) may have led to a permanent change to rather poorer quality material. At any rate, almost all the clothiers in the town in 1784 were described as 'superfine and seconds' clothiers, (fn. 39) and in the early 19th century the common opinion was that 'a bad trade reputation was the cause of its decay'. (fn. 40) A second factor was the town's poor position to take advantage of the mechanization of the industry from the late 18th century. No stream which ran through it was powerful enough to drive water-wheels, and there was no canal to bring coal. The only steam engine known to have been erected belonged to George Warren in 1806, (fn. 41) and Warminster never developed factories as the towns further north did. At most, it seems to have had only one worthy of the name, which was suspended because of the harvest when Cobbett passed through in 1826. (fn. 42) It was probably the same one which was later said to have employed 100 hands when it was working; in 1860 it was a malthouse. (fn. 43)
The course of the decline can be traced fairly accurately. In 1784 there were 13 clothiers in the town, (fn. 44) and the same number in 1798, when it was said that the trade had recently much increased, and that 100,000 yards were produced annually. (fn. 45) A list of 1801 gives the names of 17 clothiers. (fn. 46) In that year, however, riots began in the town against the introduction of machinery, particularly 'the wooden shearman'. They continued intermittently until 1803, and seem to have succeeded in their object. Because of this the Warminster cloth could not compete with that with the improved finish given by machinery; one clothier had a large quantity returned, and by 1809 several had gone out of business. (fn. 47) It was probably at this time that Edward Butler, of a family that had been in the trade for almost a century, (fn. 48) left Warminster for Stroud. (fn. 49) By 1812 there were only 9 firms in business, but some of these were very small, and none in full employment. George Wansey started in 1814, (fn. 50) but further riots occurred in 1817, following attempts to introduce the spring loom. (fn. 51) By 1822 the trade was 'hardly worthy of observation', and only three clothiers remained. (fn. 52) George Wansey closed down in 1829 'thus settling the fate of the town'. (fn. 53) In 1830, when one firm remained, producing only four yards a week, John Raxworthy, who had apparently been forced out of business, petitioned the Commons to amend the laws relating to truck payments, and blamed the decline of the trade on the improvements made in machinery. (fn. 54) George Wansey must have re-started his business, for he was the only manufacturer in the town in 1842; six years later none remained. (fn. 55)
Other textile industries which have existed in Warminster can be briefly mentioned. The names of three feltmakers who were working between 1721 and 1753 are known. (fn. 56) A silk-weaver lived in the town in 1637. (fn. 57) References to the silk industry in the mid-19th century probably refer to the mill at Crockerton, (fn. 58) but in 1874 the firm which owned that mill, Charles Jupe and Sons, opened a factory at Pound Street, bringing 70 hands from Crockerton. By 1883 over 150 hands were employed, (fn. 59) but the factory no doubt closed at the same time as the other mills belonging to the firm in 1891. (fn. 60) After being empty for some years, the Pound Street factory was taken over c. 1903 by Moore and Marshall and used for the manufacture of shirts and other goods with linen brought from Ireland. This business was later acquired by Berry & Co., a London firm, and employed as many as 130 people, but it was closed at the beginning of the First World War. In 1925 the Macclesfield firm of J. & T. Brocklehurst & Sons (later Brocklehurst-Whiston Amalgamated) began silk, rayon, and woollen weaving there. The factory was enlarged in 1932, but closed at the end of 1958. (fn. 61)
Connected both with Warminster's textile industry and with its position near large tracts of downland was the trade of wool-stapling. The names of Robert and John le Wolmangere (fn. 62) indicate its existence in the 13th century. Scales and weights were provided to weigh wool at the market in 1425-6, (fn. 63) and much wool was sold in the market in the late 17th century. (fn. 64) A number of prosperous wool-staplers lived in the town from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Among them may be mentioned several members of the Wilton family, freeholders and leaseholders under the Thynnes and Corpus Christi College, who were active from the mid-18th century until the 1820's. (fn. 65)
While the cloth industry declined, the manufacture of horsehair articles enjoyed a brief prosperity in the town. J. T. Morgan was a hair-sieve manufacturer in Silver Street in 1822-3; by 1830 his business was carried on by Godfrey Morgan, and T. P. Ubsdell was in the same trade in Back Street. (fn. 66) In 1842 Morgan was described as a 'hair and silk and sieve bottom and stock manufacturer', (fn. 67) and in 1848 the making of hair-seating, sieves, and stock-foundations was carried on in the town, the stocks giving employment to many hundred children. (fn. 68) The trade of sieve-making was also carried on by several basket-makers, among whom may be mentioned several members of the Ball family between 1822-3 and 1903. (fn. 69) There was a ropemaker in the town in the early 18th century. (fn. 70) Isaac Watts, in business in 1822-3 and 1830, and Edward Price, 1842 and 1851, were no doubt forerunners of the firm of Watts and Price, rope and sacking manufacturers, which was active in the fifties and sixties. (fn. 71)
Several small engineering businesses flourished in the 19th century. The earliest was probably that carried on in the Boreham road by Benjamin Dutch at the end of the 18th century, which survived until the 1860's, later carried on by Mary Dutch. It was then taken over by E. Collins, and finally by Hole and Roberts, iron and brass founders, wind engine manufacturers, waterworks engineers, agricultural implement makers, and cycle and motor manufacturers, who were active there in 1903. (fn. 72) The main foundry stood at the junction of Boreham Road and Smallbrook Lane; it was replaced by houses in 1886. (fn. 73) Another was founded by Hugh Carson, a Scot, in 1816, and run in the 1820's as Carson and Miller. (fn. 74) At first it was described as an iron foundry, but the making of agricultural implements had begun by 1842. (fn. 75) In 1860 the business was handed over to W. H. Carson and J. V. Toone, son and son-in-law of the founder, and was carried on until c. 1906, when W. C. Toone left the town. Gray and Turner continued it for a few years. The main premises were behind the buildings south of East Street. (fn. 76) Another firm of long standing was that of Thomas Petherbridge, who was active as a millwright and agricultural implement maker in Boreham Road between 1848 and 1890. (fn. 77) His works lay behind the Rose and Crown Inn. (fn. 78)
The only survivor of these and other firms is that of John Wallis Titt. Titt came to Warminster in 1870 as agent for Brown and May, steam engine makers of Devizes; he first set up at Portway, but by 1875 had built his own factory for agricultural implements at Woodcock. By c. 1900 the main business of the firm was in the manufacture of an advanced type of elevator invented by Titt, and in the installation of water supply fittings, especially artesian wells and wind-pumps, which were supplied to many parts of the world. Agricultural implements and water supply were still the main concerns of the firm in 1962. (fn. 79)
The firm of Hall and Churchill, wholesale ironmongers and nail manufacturers, was in business in the Market Place in 1859. (fn. 80) It is said to have succeeded an ironmonger named Reynolds who was in business c. 1830. By 1867 only the name Hall was used, (fn. 81) and the manufacture of paints was begun then or soon afterwards. New buildings were erected in Weymouth Street in 1876, (fn. 82) and the site was still used in 1962 by the firm of John Hall and Co. for the manufacture of paints, distempers, and varnishes. (fn. 83)
There were lime burners in Warminster in 1798 and 1830. (fn. 84) A limekiln existed under Arn Hill north of the Westbury road by 1840, (fn. 85) and was apparently in use for most of the remainder of the century. (fn. 86) It was out of use by 1924 (fn. 87) and was afterwards replaced by the house called Southdown. Brick Hill on the Bath road was so called in the early 17th century, (fn. 88) and a brickmaker lived in the town in 1687. (fn. 89) Kirk and Daniell in 1822-3, and Harry Joy in the mid-19th century worked at the trade at Brick Hill. (fn. 90)
The gloving industry and bell-founding in Warminster are mentioned elsewhere in this history. (fn. 91)
The earliest maltster known to have worked in Warminster is Henry Garratt (fl. 1554). (fn. 92) Twenty years later it was ordered that furze was not to be cut on the common for making malt, (fn. 93) and in 1648 the malting activities of four people in the town were stopped because they had other means of support. (fn. 94) It is clear that in the later 17th century Warminster contained a number of prosperous maltsters, among them members of the families of Buckler (fn. 95) and Adlam. (fn. 96) In 1720 there were 36 malthouses in the town, (fn. 97) and in the middle of the century the malt trade there was said to be bigger than at any town in the west of England, so that Bristol and much of Somerset were largely supplied by it. (fn. 98) The sign 'Warminster Malt' could be seen on many inns in Somerset. (fn. 99) Members of some of the principal families, such as the Bucklers, Wanseys, Aldridges, and Slades were maltsters. (fn. 100) By the early 19th century the trade had somewhat declined, but was still considerable. In 1818 there were 25 malthouses, (fn. 101) and throughout the first half of the century there were over a dozen maltsters at work in the town. (fn. 102) By 1860 there were complaints that the trade had fallen off and many malthouses had been demolished; in answer to them it was said that although the trade was in fewer hands, the malting capacity of the town had actually increased. (fn. 103)
In the second half of the century the number of firms engaged in malting declined to about half a dozen in the sixties and to two twenty years later. (fn. 104) The chief of these belonged to the Morgan family, maltsters in Silver Street as early as 1822-3. (fn. 105) W. F. Morgan succeeded his father in the business and carried it on until shortly before his death in 1907. (fn. 106) It was carried on by Dr. E. S. Beaven until his death in 1941; the firm of E. S. Beaven (Maltings) Ltd. is now a subsidiary of Messrs. Guinness. Its chief malthouses are in Pound Street and were built in 1879. (fn. 107) In addition it owns a small 'one man' malthouse in the Market Place. Dr. Beaven began a 'barley nursery' to breed and test new varieties of malting barley in 1895. Here, singlehanded and at his own expense, he produced his Plumage Archer barley, which, it has been estimated, made the barley-growing land of this country produce from 15 to 20 per cent. more to the acre. After his death his work was taken over by Messrs. Guinness; their Barley Research Station in Boreham Road is on the site where Beaven's work was carried out. (fn. 108)
In the later 19th century several breweries developed from malting concerns. One of these also belonged to the Morgan family and was begun c. 1830. In the 1890's it was known as Morgan and Bladworth's Warminster Brewery, and stood north of the 'Ship and Punchbowl' in Silver Street, on the site of Obelisk Terrace. (fn. 109) The High Street Brewery of James Bartlett and Co. flourished from c. 1830 until after the First World War, when it was taken over by Usher's of Trowbridge and closed. The large brick building of 1885 was, after various uses, reconstructed as a shop and showrooms in 1956. (fn. 110) The West Street Brewery belonged to Charles Price, a member of a family which occupied the Cock Inn there from the late 18th century, while the East Street Brewery was connected with the 'Masons' Arms'; both were active in the 1880's and 1890's. (fn. 111)
The importance of Warminster market must have ensured that it was a place of retail trades and services for the supply of a considerable area around it. At the end of the 18th century the town contained, beside shopkeepers like grocers, bakers, shoemakers, and drapers, specialized tradesmen such as a printer, a gunsmith, a watchmaker, and a bookbinder. (fn. 112) The quality of the work of one Warminster craftsman of the 18th century can still be seen; a monthly astronomical and equation clock made by Edward Cockey is in the British Museum, and another similar one at Longleat. (fn. 113) In 1822-3 it was said that the shops in the town were 'in general very select and attractive', (fn. 114) while the variety of services which could be obtained in the town in 1860 may be judged from the occupants of a yard near Portway, comprising a stonemason, a timber merchant, a builder, an ironfounder, a cooper, a sieve- and basket-maker, and a blacksmith. (fn. 115) The town has also been a centre for professional services. The earliest known surgeon was Robert Olden who flourished in 1620, (fn. 116) while among later ones may be mentioned several members of the Seagram family in the 18th and 19th centuries. (fn. 117) Apothecaries included Thomas Squire, whose son Samuel, born at Warminster, became Bishop of St. David's in 1761. (fn. 118) There was a veterinary surgeon in Warminster as early as 1822-3, (fn. 119) and many firms of lawyers have flourished in the town. (fn. 120) and Banking had begun by 1783 when there were two houses, Horlock, Everett, Mortimer and Everett, and Kington, Bayly and Lye. (fn. 121) The former was known as the Warminster and Wilts. Bank or the Old Bank; several families held interests in it at different times, but the connexion with the Everetts was constant, and it was as Everett, Ravenhill and Co. that the firm merged with the North Wilts. Bank in 1860. (fn. 122) The second bank was called the Warminster Bank. By 1798 it belonged to George Lye, (fn. 123) who went bankrupt c. 1810; the bank was taken over by the firm of Phipps, Biggs and Bannister. (fn. 124) On the dissolution of that partnership in 1834, (fn. 125) John Bannister remained in the business alone until the 1850's. (fn. 126) Larger banking houses had come to the town by 1838 when both the North Wilts. and the Wilts. and Dorset had branches there. (fn. 127)
There was a printer in Warminster in 1798. (fn. 128) J. L. Vardy was in the business there by 1822-3; (fn. 129) a successor, R. E. Vardy, began the first local newspaper in 1854. This was the monthly Warminster Miscellany, which was published until 1863. The Warminster Herald, begun by W. H. Tayler in 1857, ran until 1893, when it ceased because of the competition of the Warminster and Westbury Journal. This was founded by B. W. Coates, successor to the Vardy family in the Market Place, and was still published weekly by the firm of Coates and Parker in 1962. (fn. 130)