The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.
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'Canterbury: Silk and other manufactures', in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11, (Canterbury, 1800) pp. 91-98. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol11/pp91-98 [accessed 4 March 2024]
Silk and other manufactures
This is the only mention I have ever met with of the desolation and impoverishment of this city, so early in the beginning of king Henry VIII.'s reign; for I have, (and I cannot but repeat it) always read, that whilst the beauty of holiness remained here, Canterbury continued in the smiles of prosperity, forgetting the casualties it had so often felt, both by the fire and, the sword; but that when the storm of reformation burst on its religious houses, and brought on their dissolution, the source of its high estimation and wealth in great measure fell with them, and from great opulence and reputation, multitude of inhabitants and beautiful buildings, this city fell suddenly to extreme poverty, nakedness and decay, insomuch that to reedify its decayed houses, it required an act of parliament to be passed almost immediately; but this was not till the 33d year of king Henry VIII.'s reign. (fn. 1) However, at whatever time this decay happened, the city remained in this forlorn situation for some years, apparently without remedy, till about the end of the reign of king Edward VI. when, strange as it might be, the persecution of the same tenets, which had been so lately in great measure the cause of its ruin, began to give some hopes of its being raised to prosperity again, though by no means equal to its former state. This was occasioned by the persecution of the Protestants, by the duke of Alva, under Philip II. of Spain, in Brabant and Flanders, which began at about this time, and as it was carried forward from time to time in those countries, as well as afterwards in France, continued to give new life and vigour to the trade of this kingdom, by the communication of the paper, silk, woollen, and other valuable manufactures, almost peculiar at that time to those countries, (fn. 2) and till then in vain attempted elsewhere. These manufacturers, usually called Walloons, then at first fled to England from the cruelties exercised on them on account of their religion in the Spanish Netherlands, and on the accession of queen Elizabeth to the crown, and the establishment of the Protestant religion, came in bodies up to London, and being received kindly by the queen, who granted them her protection, they dispersed and settled in different parts of the kingdom. (fn. 3) Those who were weavers in silks and stuffs, made choice of Canterbury for their habitation, where they might have the benefit of the river and an easy communication with the metropolis; (fn. 4) for this purpose they had the queen's letters of licence, in her 3d year, directed to the mayor, for such of them as should be first approved of by the archbishop, to remain here for the purpose of exercising their trades, so that they did not exceed a certain number therein mentioned, and as many servants as were necessary to carry on their business; and this to be without any pay from them, hindrance or molestation whatever. Those who were permitted to settle in Canterbury, consisted of only eighteen housekeepers, besides children and servants; who on their arrival, joined in a petition to the mayor and aldemen, for the grant of certain privileges for their convenience and protection. (fn. 5) And the queen, as a further mark of her favour, in 1561, granted to them the undercrost of the cathedral church, as a place of worship for themselves and their successors. (fn. 6) After which the persecution for religion still continuing abroad, the number of these refugees multiplied so exceedingly, that in 1634 the number of communicants in the Walloon church was increased to 900; and there was calculated to be of these refugees in the whole kingdom 5213, who were employed in instructing the English in weaving silk, cotton and woollen goods; in combing, spinning, and making different kind of yarns, worsted, crewels, &c. At the beginning of Charles II,'s reign, anno 1665, there were in Canterbury 126 master weavers, their whole number here amounting to near 1300, and they employed 759 English; so that the king thought proper to grant them a charter in 1676, by which it appears that their number here was then but little short of 2500. By this charter they were enabled to become a company, by the name and description of the master, wardens, assistants and fellowship of weavers; (fn. 7) not quite ten years after this, Lewis XIV. king of France, having in 1685, revoked the edict of Nants, by which the Protestants in France had enjoyed the toleration and free exercise of their religion, of which denomination it was supposed there were near 300,000 in that kingdom, great numbers of them fled from thence into the different Protestant countries, and, it is said, that 50,000 of them took refuge in Great Britain and Ireland. These manufacturers improved to a much higher degree of perfection, in the places where they settled, the fabricating of the silks called alamodes, lustrings, brocades, satins, padua-soys, ducapes, watered tabies, and black and coloured velvets. (fn. 8)
Great numbers of these came to Canterbury, and joined themselves to the Walloon church, and by their industry, the wealth of this place increased considerably; it became more populous; the poor, even to their children, found a constant employment, and the owners of houses finding sufficient tenants for them, and their rents increased, were induced to rebuild or to add great improvements to them, much to their own emolument and the public welfare of the city. (fn. 9) But of late years, the silk weaving manufactory here has greatly decayed, the most part of it being removed from hence to Spitalfields, in London, there being now not more than ten master weavers, and about eighty communicants remaining; (fn. 10) so that there are now only a few looms continued in employment in this city; though there are numbers of the descendants of these first settlers still remaining, most of whose names have been however changed as far as possible to the English pronunciation, and they have for a long time past intermixed with and followed the same promiscuous trades and occupations as the other inhabitants of it; the parishes of St. Alphage and Northgate being still in a great measure inhabited by them.
These descendants of the Walloons maintain their own poor; they still use the undercrost of the cathedral for their place of worship. They have a minister, who is episcopally ordained, but they do not use the liturgy of the church of England, having a prescribed form of prayer and administration of the sa craments, the same as is used by the Calvinists in Holland; and they receive the communion sitting at a long table.
At first they maintained their own ministers, but after the year 1695 they had an allowance from the crown, which continued so long as the ministers were of the French refugee descendants, but now they are supported wholly by the congregation; besides which, they have some estate in land and money, and their people contribute something towards their support. (fn. 11)
I cannot quit this subject of the Walloon and refugee manufactory of Canterbury, without paying a due tribute in praise of an ingenious and public spirited manufacturer of this place, John Callaway, the present master of the weavers company here. The modern invention of spinning jenneys and mules for west, and the great improvement of spinning cotton twist for warps, by the water machinery of the famous Sir Richard Arkwright, has been the principal means of improving all sorts of cotton goods whatsoever. The beautiful printed muslins and chintz have been brought to such great perfection, as to be worn by women of the first rank in this kingdom; which, together, have been the principal means of reducing the silk manufactory, not only in Canterbury, but in London and in Ireland too, to its present decayed state. During the unhappy American war, such was the falling off of the silk trade, that many skilful workmen were reduced to so low a condition, as to apply for relief at the general workhouse. This distress of the silk trade determined Mr. Callaway to travel into the west and north of England, in search of something new for the employment of these deserving distressed people; and this his ingenuity effected, after a long and expensive journey; for he found the means of mixing Sir Richard Arkwright's level cotton twist to his looms of silk warps, by which contrivance he introduced to the public a new manufacture, which afforded employment, and consequently subsistence, not only to these poor unemployed workmen in Canterbury, but in other parts of England likewise. This beautiful new article of fabric, was called Canterbury muslins, and the manufacture of it spread so rapidly, and the demand for it became so great, that from the time of its invention, which was about the year 1787, it has employed all the weavers in this city, and many hundreds more in London, Manchester and in Scotland, where they still retain their first name of Canterbury muslins.
Nor did his public spirit stop here; for at the expence of upwards of 3000l. he afterwards erected a cotton mill, on the river, at Shoal-oak, near this city, which gave employment to fifty women and children. This mill likewise supplied the weavers with the best of cotton twist; but the flourishing hopes of the silk, the cotton and the woolen trade of this city, has felt a severe check, though perhaps not less than the other manufactures throughout this kingdom, by the present unhappy war with France. (fn. 12)
The before-mentioned mill was afterwards rented by Mr. Hugh Stirrop, who applied the machinery to the purpose of an improved manufactory of woollen yarn for Canterbury worsted, into which article it converts about 1000 pounds of wool weekly, but this new manufacture is not yet compleated.
In the year 1789 I saw in Mr. Callaway's silk looms, the richest and most beautiful piece of silk furniture for the Prince of Wales's palace of Carlton-house, that was ever made in this, or any other kingdom.