A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 4. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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In this section
- TEXTILE INDUSTRIES SINCE 1550
TEXTILE INDUSTRIES SINCE 1550
Cloth 1550–1640, p. 148. Cloth 1640–1790, p. 155. Cloth since 1790, p. 167. Silk, p. 176. Linen, p. 178. Cotton, p. 179. Lace, p. 180. Carpets, p. 181.
The trading conditions for the cloth industry (fn. 1) grew less favourable during the second half of the 16th century. (fn. 2) The export trade in undressed cloth, which had grown with the growth of Antwerp, had suffered several setbacks in the decade before 1550; and the reform of the currency in that year brought further difficulties. The unemployment which occurred at every check to this trade alarmed the authorities, and there were frequent complaints about the poor quality of the cloth produced, owing, in contemporary opinion, to lack of proper regulation. These facts had repercussions in Wiltshire. The size and weight of Wiltshire cloth was fixed in 1552, (fn. 3) and in 1555 the Weavers' Act, repeated with amendments in 1557, (fn. 4) was intended to encourage the industry in corporate and market-towns to limit the number of looms and apprentices who might be employed by country masters, and to ensure that different branches of the industry were not engrossed in the hands of the same employer. The impossibility of eradicating the great clothiers from the country districts was realized and provided for, but both Acts, the later one especially, aimed at preventing the growth of such unrestricted manufactures. It was, of course, far too late to do so, and the Government was forced to recognize this in 1576, after an informer had attacked several country clothiers. (fn. 5) It could not risk the dislocation and unemployment which would have followed an attempt to interfere, and a new Act exempted Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Somerset from the operation of the limiting clauses in the previous one, (fn. 6) though, even so, it restricted clothmaking to places where it had been carried on for ten years. Nothing more, however, is heard of this restriction.
The Acts passed in the middle of the century had tried to enforce the custom of apprenticeship, and the orders for the weaving trade, which the justices issued in 1603, made stringent regulations about it. Weavers living in corporate, borough, or market towns were permitted to enrol in their fellowships all weavers living within a threemile radius. (fn. 7) Between 1602 and 1604 there are traces of an organized attempt to exclude all unapprenticed weavers, (fn. 8) which may reflect a struggle on the part of town masters organized in such fellowships against competitors in the country. There is little other evidence of guild organization, except in Salisbury and Devizes which had specific charters for the purpose. The Devizes Guild of Merchants obtained a confirmation of its privileges in 1605 on the ground of impoverishment owing to the competition of 'foreigners' in its market. (fn. 9) In 1614 it was remodelled and divided into three fraternities of which the drapers formed one. Salisbury weavers were separately incorporated in 1562, and a new charter was granted them in 1590. (fn. 10) Both these organizations exercised some control during the 17th century, but in Salisbury at any rate it was only sporadic.
In fact, industrial society in Wiltshire was still extremely fluid. It contained many wealthy clothiers both in town and country, men like the Swaddens and Formans of Calne, the Chivers of Quemerford (Calne), the Whittakers of Tinhead, the Topps and Potticarys of Stockton, but, alongside these, the medium clothier and the small independent or semi-independent weaver who was also a farmer survived in considerable numbers, even though the statement, made in 1615, that they produced half the cloth made in the three counties of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, and Somerset, (fn. 11) need not be taken literally. Their presence may be inferred from the number of men who are described indiscriminately as 'weaver', 'clothman', or 'clothier', and from those weavers, sometimes called 'yeomen', sometimes 'husbandmen', whose wills show the possession of goods to the value of £20 or £40. But although all grades of independent and semiindependent producers existed, there was a cleavage between the wealthy capitalists and the smaller men. One aspect of this is to be found in the repeated petitions against the wool broggers and yarn jobbers who sold wool and yarn in the markets and furnished credit to the smaller producers. They were constantly accused of engrossing wool and of contributing to the faulty making of cloth by enabling the poorer men to get their raw material in small quantities which would not mix properly; but the attempts to do away with them were never successful. (fn. 12)
It is hard to say how far the small producers were bound to wealthier men by bonds of credit, but there is no doubt about the position occupied by that part of the population which was mainly or entirely dependent on wages. Its size cannot be estimated, but it was large enough to give the Government some uneasiness. In spite of the upward movement of prices, wages rose little, if at all, between the middle of the 16th and the first ten years of the 17th century. (fn. 13) In the last decade of the 16th century the Government was seriously concerned about the position and in 1593 provisions for regulating wages were inserted in a draft Bill intended to prevent bad workmanship; (fn. 14) but Parliament rose before it became law. In 1597 the problem was dealt with by an Act, renewed with greater scope in 1604, which expressly directed the justices to apply to spinners, weavers, and other textile workers the provisions of the Statute of Apprentices about rating wages. (fn. 15) It was in conformity with this Act that the Wiltshire justices issued, in 1602 and 1603, the wage rates which have been preserved in the sessions rolls. (fn. 16) The rates of 1602, which were agreed between the weavers and clothiers of Trowbridge, are repeated in greater detail in the following year and correspond pretty well with those incorporated in the draft Bill of 1593; but it is not possible to calculate with any exactness the amount each week which a master weaver could retain for himself out of the piecework rate paid to him. For the product of one broad loom it could not have been much above the wage of a husbandman; and the impression that rates were low is confirmed by a comparison between those for various classes of journeymen maintained in their masters' houses. Chief weavers, fullers, and shearmen took only 40s. a year as compared with 50s. for dyers, brewers, tanners, and linenweavers; and journeymen in the clothing crafts only 26s. 8d. a year as compared with 40s. in other trades. (fn. 17) It is doubtful, moreover, whether the rates laid down were really paid; 40 clothiers were fined for not paying them in 1605. (fn. 18) It is easy to see why the common complaint of the gentry against the clothiers was that the low wages they paid drove their workmen to behave like common hedge-thieves. On the other hand, the workers had some support from authority and they often looked to the justices for intervention in disputes. In 1607, for instance, the Judges of Assize responded to a complaint from some Bradford weavers that the clothiers had put them off their work, and ordered the bench to investigate the case. (fn. 19) There is, too, an appearance of organization by educated persons in the petitions which were sent up in times of distress. The Government, though always nervous of possible trouble-makers, (fn. 20) took care that the justices did something to ensure fair treatment from the employers. In 1595, after corn riots had taken place at Warminster, it sent orders 'to deal earnestly with the clothiers ... procuring them to yield to such reasonable increases of wages to workmen and artificers as they may have no just cause to think themselves unreasonably dealt with'. (fn. 21) How far such intervention was effective is another matter.
There is no evidence that there was any change in the organization of the industry during the second half of the 16th century. The repeated difficulties in the export trade which are described below did not make for the accumulation of large fortunes, and the small producers, if they possessed enough land to keep them, had some advantage in bad times. Although there was still some grouping of looms in workshops, (fn. 22) the Weavers' Act may have been instrumental in preventing an extension of the practice outside market-towns. It may also have been the cause of the division of function observable in many clothing families, where one member is described as 'clothier' and another as 'fuller', a distinction which was probably legal rather than real. (fn. 23) We have no clear evidence that numbers of independent fullers still existed, (fn. 24) although they certainly did in later centuries; but if they did not, the smaller clothier never seems to have had difficulty in getting cloth fulled on commission.
The cloth which was made by this varied community of producers was a heavy material for outer wear mostly of medium quality. (fn. 25) It was not usually dyed or finished in the county except for local sale, since Wiltshire water was too hard to ensure an even colour. (fn. 26) Consequently dyers and shearmen were not numerous (fn. 27) except in Salis bury, where kerseys and some of the lighter coloured cloth called 'rays' were still being produced in 1570; although, as Southampton decayed and the city's trade became more and more directed towards London, white broadcloth had begun to take their place. (fn. 28) The bulk of the county's production was sent up to London as it left the fulling-mill to be sold in Blackwell Hall, either to clothiers who finished it for the home market or to export merchants who sent it in its raw state to be finished on the Continent. The Dutch did a large trade with it, especially in the Baltic, and traders who bought it in the north German centres carried it all over eastern and southern Europe. The export trade was much more important than that for the home market, and the prosperity of the Wiltshire industry depended upon it throughout the 16th and early 17th centuries. As the German merchants of the Hansa gradually lost their privileges, the clothiers became more and more dependent on the Company of Merchant Adventurers; and long before the closing of the Steelyard in 1598 the latter had been virtually the only exporters of white cloth to Holland and Germany, which were by far the most important markets.
There were difficult years in the fifties and sixties owing to the religious wars on the Continent and the fall of Antwerp. Exports fell at times to a very low level, although they always recovered and even profited by the disorganization of the industry in the Netherlands. Later, the outbreak of war with Spain in 1586 led to a serious crisis in the following year. Better times came with the peace after the accession of James I, and until 1614 the industry seems to have been prosperous. The quantity of Wiltshire white cloth exported by the Merchant Adventurers in 1606 and 1614 has been calculated from the port books as approximately 45,390 pieces for the earlier and 41,758 for the later year, (fn. 29) or nearly 60 per cent. in 1606 and over 58 per cent. in 1614 of their total exports of undressed cloth. These may have been peak years (fn. 30) and there is a considerable margin of error in the calculations: they depend upon the assumption that when a number of cloths is entered as coming from more than one county, the proportions for each are equal. No account is taken of the fact that much more long cloth was exported in 1614. It seems certain, however, that the recovery of the woollen industries of France and Holland after the religious wars meant that by the beginning of the 17th century exporters were facing difficulties with import duties and other restrictions imposed by both countries, ostensibly to protect themselves against faulty cloth but in reality, it was suspected, to support their own manufactures. (fn. 31) The lighter 'new draperies', now established in England as well as abroad, were also attracting buyers who had previously worn broadcloth.
It may therefore have been a more or less static industry on which fell in 1614 the blow of Alderman Cockayne's project for dyeing and dressing at home all cloth intended for export. (fn. 32) This was a revival of a scheme which had always been rejected, until Cockayne persuaded the king to adopt it against the advice of his Council and, in view of the recalcitrance of the Merchant Adventurers, to create a new company to carry it out. As a result the Dutch prohibited the import of all English cloth, with bitter results for the industry during the two years for which the experiment lasted. After 1616 there was a recovery, but by 1620 the outbreak of the Thirty Years War had brought about a crisis which caused prolonged stagnation and unemployment. (fn. 33) Official estimates of unemployed workers in Wiltshire were 3,000 in 1616 and not less than 2,600 in 1620. These may have been conservative figures, but the petition from Bromham in the latter year which speaks of 12,000 unemployed in that area alone is frankly incredible. More trustworthy is another statement from the same place in 1622 saying that 44 looms were idle and 800 persons in danger of starvation. (fn. 34) Some clothiers failed, among them Nicholas Archard of Malmesbury, the last considerable clothier known to have flourished there. (fn. 35) Many others went out of business. The white-cloth industry revived in the later twenties and thirties, but it was never again to be what it had been in the past.
With the depression came official inquiries into its origin. 'Foreign wars' were recognized as playing a part, (fn. 36) but the most important factors, to judge from the number of times they were repeated, were claimed to be the high price of cloth and its poor quality. These were the arguments of the clothiers and the Merchant Adventurers respectively, and each side had an axe to grind. The poor quality of cloth was a complaint with a long history. The Act of 1555 had established searchers who were to replace the medieval aulnagers in the duty of inspecting cloth at the fulling-mill. They often displayed great activity which was much resented by the clothiers, who sometimes resisted or clandestinely removed their cloth before search; (fn. 37) but country searchers were too much exposed to the clothiers' influence to remain independent for long. In 1560 the practice of search in London was introduced, but even the London searchers relaxed their vigilance in time. A recrudescence of their activity in 1589 led to a struggle in which some of the largest Wiltshire clothiers took a leading part; and they won a complete victory in 1607, when the claim to search in London was abandoned. (fn. 38) This was not due to a lessening of complaints, for they grew in volume from the latter part of the century onwards; and it is often supposed that the increase was due to a deterioration in craftsmanship consequent on the hard times experienced during the war with Spain and the still greater depressions after 1614. The number of Wiltshire clothiers fined for cloth lacking in length or weight in years when searchers were active shows how common it was to produce pieces which were not up to standard; for instance, there were 72 charges at the Epiphany Sessions in 1603 (fn. 39) and 28 from Calne alone in the following May. (fn. 40) In the early years of the 17th century there may have been an effort to economize in wool, for its price rose from 20s. or 22s. a tod in 1587 to 33s. at some unspecified time before 1620, when the depression had brought it down again to under 20s. (fn. 41) There was also the necessity of keeping the price down; (fn. 42) it was on cheap cloth for the armies and the bourgeoisie of Europe, not on fine cloth, which was now better made by the French and Dutch, that the export trade depended. Fraud there certainly was, but the technique and organization of the industry made it inevitable that much cloth should be imperfect, (fn. 43) and in times of depression buyers had their own reasons for making much of its imperfections.
It was Parliament, always sensitive to the country interest, which got in the first blow for the clothiers, with the allegation that it was the high price in continental markets which made cloth so difficult to sell. It has recently been pointed out that a probable cause of the crisis was the depreciation of the currency in some of the states at war, leading to a higher import price for foreign commodities. (fn. 44) But this was not realized by contemporaries and the advocates of the high-price theory laid the blame nearer home. It had cost the Merchant Adventurers a large sum to regain their privileges after the failure of Cockayne's experiment, and the company was trying to recoup itself by a heavy levy on the cloth exported by its members. This levy, which according to its enemies made cloth expensive abroad, was voted a grievance in 1624 and again in 1626, but no remedy was obtained. (fn. 45) When the period of the king's personal rule arrived, from 1629 onwards, it was the turn of the company to get the ear of the Privy Council for its complaint about the poor quality of cloth, and, as shown below, it was more successful in obtaining action.
By this time a new development was taking place in the Wiltshire industry with the introduction of 'mingled or medley cloth', for which the wool was first dyed and the colours mixed before spinning. Medleys were not new, for they were exported to France in the 15th century, (fn. 46) and may well have been made in the area before the expanding market for white cloth caused clothiers to concentrate upon it; but the significance of the new development for Wiltshire lay in the introduction of fine Spanish wool, which produced cloth with a softer 'face' than could be obtained otherwise. It has been suggested that its use was due to a deterioration in the quality of English wool caused by the practise of inclosure. (fn. 47) Certainly in 1586 Wiltshire clothiers were complaining that their English wool had become coarser, (fn. 48) but it does not seem probable that it had ever been as fine as the best Spanish had become by the middle of the 16th century. Apart from its use by Flemish refugees in 1567, (fn. 49) the only evidence of cloth being made from it in England in the 16th century lies in the claim of Benedict Webb of Kingswood (then a detached portion of Wiltshire) to have been the first to make Spanish cloth when he was living at Taunton in the mid-eighties. (fn. 50) Local tradition preserved this claim, (fn. 51) perhaps relying on Webb's own statement, though no date is given; but there is no other evidence of the use of Spanish wool in cloth until after 1620. (fn. 52) In 1626 it yielded a higher price in England than if re-exported. (fn. 53) By 1630 the manufacture of medleys was well established in north-west Wiltshire. In 1633 (fn. 54) it was said to have grown up 'since any Parliament took care of the business', which probably meant since the Clothing Statute of 1624. (fn. 55) The manufacture was a natural move on the part of clothiers who were hit by the depression and it need not have involved the use of Spanish wool. The next 'Spanish cloth' manufacturers, at least on a large scale, were James and John Ash of Freshford, just over the Somerset border, who made a large fortune out of it in the thirties. (fn. 56) It was a highly priced material which sold in London in 1638 for 35s. a yard; (fn. 57) and it was successful enough to be imitated by coloured cloth dyed 'in the say' before being fulled and made up to look like a medley. During the thirties the Ash family and some of their neighbours in Freshford carried on a lively campaign against the Brewers of Beckington and Lullington who were the pioneers of this imitation. (fn. 58) By 1640, in spite of prohibitions, the making of say-dyed cloth had spread over much of the old white-cloth area, and in that year the Privy Council finally legalized its production if it was clearly distinguished from the true medley Spanish cloth. (fn. 59) It is impossible to identify all the clothiers from Somerset, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, and Worcestershire who signed a petition praying to be allowed to continue its manufacture, but among them was Christopher Potticary of Stockton who, in the twenties, had been one of the greatest of the white clothiers. (fn. 60)
Meanwhile, in 1630, the Merchant Adventurers had persuaded the Privy Council to appoint two commissioners to consult with the justices about the proper execution of the clothing statutes. (fn. 61) The only effective one, Anthony Wither, arrived in Wiltshire in 1631. His appointment was intensely unpopular with the justices, who took it as a criticism of their own administration, and almost at once he fell foul of Sir Edward Baynton of Bromham. His early activities, intended to ensure that the searchers did their duty, aroused the opposition of the clothiers as well; but in his second campaign he obtained a measure of support from them, since it involved the revival of the attempt to suppress the yarn broggers, who under the name of market-spinners, seem to have formed an important element in the economy of the Wiltshire industry at this date. (fn. 62) By introducing an element of competition into the market they naturally earned the dislike of the large clothiers, and Wither found several of the wealthiest of these to support him in his plea that the market-spinners were largely responsible for faulty cloth. But he failed to convince the justices who finally decided against him in July 1633; (fn. 63) and soon afterwards he spent some time in the Fleet Prison for language disrespectful to their chairman, Sir Francis Seymour. (fn. 64) This brought his activities in Wiltshire to an end, but he did not remain in disgrace, for he was a member of the Privy Council Committee on Clothing and signed its final report in June 1640, recommending the suppression of market-spinners and the establishment in various towns of corporations to oversee the making of cloth. (fn. 65) The towns chosen for Wiltshire were Salisbury, Warminster, Devizes, Chippenham, and Calne; but the advent of the Civil War prevented any further steps from being taken.
If reliance can be placed on the information which Wither's activities have provided, it appears that the manufacture of medleys had taken firm hold and was in a prosperous state, since manufacturers could afford to pay more for spinning coloured yarn. (fn. 66) Its rise was assisted by the great increase in market-spinners, who were said to control two-thirds of the trade, especially in coloured yarn. Some kept spinning establishments of their own (fn. 67) as well as putting out wool to be spun and buying up yarn from independent spinners. How much, if any, of the coloured yarn provided contained Spanish wool there is no means of judging, but there would be sound technical reasons for the new and more difficult spinning of fine dyed wool being left in the hands of specialists.
Whatever the method of its manufacture, Spanish cloth proved to be a popular commodity for foreign trade, partially superseding white cloth as well as coloured cloth made in other counties. (fn. 68) The figures of its export are no doubt exaggerated, since much say-dyed cloth, not to speak of medleys made wholly of English wool, probably passed as Spanish; but in 1640 the total exported from London was entered as 12,435 pieces. (fn. 69) We do not know how much the export of white cloth had recovered, (fn. 70) but the general picture of Wiltshire in the thirties is not that of a depressed area. The character of the industry was changing and its centre was shifting slightly westward; new types of cloth were being made and there was mounting resentment against regulation from the centre. Wither's activities seem to have had little permanent influence. Complaints of the bad making of Spanish cloth were heard in the thirties (fn. 71) and they naturally stimulated him to demand its regulation, (fn. 72) but he was not successful. The growth of this manufacture, which was unaffected by all the statutes, and the prosperity of those engaged in it, in spite of occasional complaints about its bad quality, show how little the wellbeing of the industry was affected by regulation.
After the outbreak of the Civil War, the trade was plunged into difficulties by the interruption of communications. From 1643 to 1645 the county was one of the theatres of war, and both armies drew heavily on unemployed weavers; while the predicament of Edmund Stephens, a Salisbury clothier, who 'to avoid his creditors entered the army under the Earl of Essex', cannot have been an unusual one. (fn. 73) There were clothiers on both sides, but instances of rancour were few. Paul Methuen and other Bradford clothiers bore witness to the 'leniency and good neighbourhood' of Edward Yerbury when he was commissioner for the king there; (fn. 74) and when John Ash was chairman of the Commission for Compounding he used his influence for the remission of his neighbours' fines. (fn. 75) Recovery was slow after the close of hostilities, but trade had revived by 1650, and from that time onwards the manufacture of medley and Spanish cloths steadily expanded, while the old white-cloth export industry declined. There were occasional complaints about the latter from the London dyers and clothworkers, (fn. 76) but the shrinkage in exports robbed them of importance. In 1674, 30,000 people in Wiltshire were said to be concerned in making white cloth; but there is likely to be more truth in the counter-allegation that this was a very exaggerated number for the production of the mere 6,000 pieces which now constituted the annual export. (fn. 77) In 1698 only 4,330 pieces were entered in the Custom House Books. (fn. 78) The patent under which export took place expired in 1706, and the consequent confiscation of cloth at the Custom House led to much unemployment, followed by a parliamentary inquiry which showed that the trade, now confined to coarse white cloth at under £6 the piece, was only a shadow of what it had been in the past. (fn. 79) In 1711 it was still being carried on in Chippenham, Corsham, and Castle Combe; (fn. 80) but, although export was permitted after 1707 under a duty of 5s. a piece (fn. 81) —which took the place of the previous payment to the patentee—the manufacture continued to decay. Finer white cloth was made at Salisbury and in the west of the county by the same clothiers who made medleys, but it was mainly dyed in London and little was exported undressed. (fn. 82)
From the Restoration onwards the bulk of the Wiltshire cloth was woven of dyed wool. There were no further complaints about market-spinners (fn. 83) nor of say-dyed cloth. It is not surprising that the latter should have been superseded by medleys, since the uneven colour sometimes produced by dyeing in hard water was easier to deal with in wool than in cloth. The use of Spanish wool was increasing, but England was inferior to France and Holland in knowledge of how best to use it. It was either carded with English wool or formed the weft to an English warp, (fn. 84) and it is not until just after 1700 that there is indisputable evidence of cloth made wholly of it. (fn. 85) Although such cloth was common by 1720, many clothiers throughout the 18th century only used Spanish wool in small quantities to mix in the weft in order to give their cloth a softer finish; and by no means all the cloth called 'Spanish' was fine cloth. (fn. 86) Bradford, Trowbridge, and Melksham were pre-eminently the Spanish cloth towns, but even Bradford did not use Spanish wool exclusively, though its clothiers liked to pretend that they did. (fn. 87) Much use was made of the fine Herefordshire and Shropshire wools, especially if Spanish were dear or in short supply. (fn. 88) Both Wiltshire and Sussex wool was largely used for the bulk of the county's production. In the late 17th century there seems to have been no difference in quality between the two, (fn. 89) but the wool of the old Wiltshire breed of horned sheep became coarser as the 18th century progressed and by the 1780's Sussex Down wool was considerably finer. Sheep from these flocks were introduced into Wiltshire in 1789 (fn. 90) and ultimately supplanted the Wiltshire breed altogether.
It was probably to teach the spinning of warps from Spanish wool that the great Bradford clothier, Paul Methuen, introduced the 'spinner' Derricke Jonsen, from Amsterdam, in 1659. (fn. 91) In the late forties, probably just after the end of the Civil War, Methuen married a daughter of John Ash and must have inherited Ash's connexions; (fn. 92) none of Ash's sons carried on his business, and his younger daughter, who also married a clothier, did not do so until after her father's death. It may have been Methuen who was responsible for the introduction of the Spanish cloth manufacture into Bradford; he was settled in Bradford before 1630, but there is no evidence that medleys were made there before the Civil War. (fn. 93) Methuen was, in any case, an important figure in the Spanish cloth trade. After his death in 1666 his place as what Aubrey called 'the greatest clothier of his time' was taken by William Brewer of Trowbridge, 'who drove the greatest trade for medleys of any clothier in England'. (fn. 94) All we know of Brewer confirms Aubrey's estimate. (fn. 95) He introduced another foreign element into Bradford with the three men for whom he gave a bond in 1674, 'Adolfe, Gregorius and Jone, Dutchmen by nation or of Poland'; (fn. 96) but the main Dutch settlement in Wiltshire was the result of a proclamation issued by Charles II in 1672, inviting Dutch artisans, whose country was being devastated by the war with France, to settle in England. (fn. 97) In response to it a body of 23 Dutchmen 'skilled in the art of making fine cloth', with about 15 dependants, arrived in London in 1673. The Privy Council, after consultation with London merchants, recommended them to 'the care and direction of Mr Brewer of Trowbridge', gave them £5 each for the journey, and exhorted the justices to give them a kind reception, since the king made himself personally liable for them. (fn. 98) A year later another body of ten came over and were also consigned to Brewer. Their arrival was not popular, and in 1675 the Privy Council ordered the neighbouring justices to desist from supporting an attempt to remove them. (fn. 99) Tradition places a colony of Dutch workers at Avoncliff (Westwood), and the remaining buildings, (fn. 100) which have a strong suggestion of continental influence in their architecture and layout, may well mark the site where Brewer placed these immigrants.
In later years the beginning of the fine-cloth industry was dated from the arrival of these Dutchmen, but it would be more correct to regard them as having contributed the finishing touches to a branch of the industry which had already been considerably improved. The expansion of Bradford had begun by 1672, and it continued throughout the decade. Parish records for the years between 1672 and 1679 show 97 immigrants, including 49 clothworkers and 10 weavers, besides an assortment of wool-breakers, scribblers, fullers, and cardmakers. (fn. 101) There was a similar, though smaller, influx into Trowbridge in the years 1675–9, including 19 clothworkers out of 56 persons who brought settlement certificates there. (fn. 102) The impetus given to the industry by the improvements introduced by the Dutch was, no doubt, a main cause in this expansion, but in the early part of the decade the devastation of Holland may have given England a temporary advantage in the continental trade of which Bradford was already able to avail itself.
To judge by the arrivals of clothworkers in both towns one would say that the chief contribution of the Dutch was in finishing, but they also assisted the improvement of spinning, which was a notable feature towards the end of the century. About 1685 Aubrey was told by Samuel Ash that 'the art of spinning is so much improved within these last 40 years that one pound of wool makes twice as much cloth (as to the extent) as it did before the Civil War'. (fn. 103) Whether or not this improvement was begun by Methuen's Dutch spinner, it is clear that the later Dutch arrivals played a part in it, for we learn from a curious little controversy in 1710 between the cardmakers and wiredrawers of Frome and the Spanish clothiers (fn. 104) that one of Brewer's Dutchmen was a cardmaker and that cards had been so much improved since his arrival that the illicit import of foreign cards and wire had ceased. By the late 17th century the wool was prepared in the clothier's workshop by being mixed or scribbled on a frame called a horse before being given out to the spinner, who had to card it on hand-cards before it was spun; and fine cards played an indispensable part in fine spinning.
After a period of depression soon after the Restoration, (fn. 105) an era of prosperity set in for the fine-cloth trade. Its degree may be judged from the fact that, among the many complaints from the woollen industry which reached Parliament during the recurrent depressions of the later 17th century, few came from Wiltshire and none at all from Trowbridge or Bradford. (fn. 106) At the end of the century, when the prohibition of bone lace from Flanders led to retaliatory measures against English woollen goods, a few petitions were sent up, (fn. 107) but they were few indeed in comparison with those from other places. This apparent contentment was probably due to the fact that Wiltshire's chief market was now at home and not abroad. Exports were not unimportant and Salisbury, whose 'whites' were dyed in London by the Levant Company for the eastern Mediterranean, depended largely upon them; (fn. 108) but it was the home market which formed the chief support of the county's industry for the next hundred years. In 1676 medley cloth was given an advertisement by Charles II who wore it during a depression to encourage the trade. (fn. 109) In 1678 the Levant Company said that it was the only woollen material besides camblets to be worn by persons of quality; (fn. 110) and in 1726 Defoe noted that 'all the gentlemen and persons of any fashion in England' wore Spanish cloth, while their servants' liveries were of 'seconds' made of English wool. (fn. 111)
During the whole of the 17th century the medley manufacture remained free from regulation, in spite of a few abortive attempts to bring it under legal control. (fn. 112) A renewed agitation for this purpose, in 1712, came mainly from Gloucestershire and Somerset, although Westbury also petitioned; (fn. 113) but the reasons which prompted it are obscure and the legislation which followed, prescribing a certain length and breadth for all medleys to be measured at the fulling-mill, (fn. 114) was ineffective. The controversy went on until 1715, (fn. 115) when it resulted in an equally ineffective compromise. (fn. 116) Most individual complaints of bad making must always have been adjusted privately, but when legislation about wages and conditions took place in 1727 renewed provision was made for measurement by inspectors appointed at quarter sessions, whose salary was to be paid by a levy of 2d. per cloth. (fn. 117) The following list of the nine divisions into which the county was divided for this purpose shows the areas in which medleys were being made at this date: (fn. 118)
Audley Mill and all the mills in Trowbridge, Wingfield, and North Bradley.
Bradford (except Audley Mill).
Bull Mill and Sherewater Mill in Crockerton (Longbridge Deverill), and Horningsham Mill.
Mills in the parish of Boyton, 'Mount Mill', and Norton (Norton Bavant).
Melksham and Seend, and South Newton.
Slaughterford and Colerne.
Bremhill, Chippenham, Lacock, and Corsham.
Only one return has so far come to light. (fn. 119) It covers the parishes of Bremhill, Chippenham, Lacock, and Corsham between 5 August and 27 October 1727, and shows that at 5 mills in these 4 parishes 20 clothiers had, in all, 120 cloths, the number belonging to each clothier varying from one to eighteen. Several had cloths at more than one mill. This was the time of year when the number of cloths at the mills would be at its lowest owing to lack of water; but the list gives some support to the statement, made by John Britton about 1801, that up to the middle of the 18th century the Chippenham clothiers were men of limited capital. (fn. 120) Their later prosperity was the result of a political deal. When Sir Samuel Fludyer, the great London merchant who began as a Blackwell Hall factor, became M.P. for Chippenham in 1754, it was an implied condition of his election that he found a ready market for its products. (fn. 121) The connexion of the borough with his firm lasted until 1812 and gave the clothiers great influence in the neighbourhood by enabling them to keep up a state of full employment; and this was no doubt the reason why in 1803 Chippenham's trade was said to be more regular than that of other towns. (fn. 122)
Wiltshire made other materials as well as cloth, but its excursions into the field of the new draperies were confined to goods made with a woollen weft and finished in the same way as cloth, although the warp might be of worsted. Even before the Civil War there had been woolcombers and serge-weavers in the county and in the later 17th century they were scattered all over it; (fn. 123) but in the early 18th century the chief centre for serge was Devizes, which made a strong variety known as 'German Serge' at 4s. to 5s. a yard, largely used by the country people. (fn. 124) Druggets, a narrow material finished like cloth but with a worsted warp, were made in all qualities. Some patterns produced by a Warminster clothier in 1695 (fn. 125) have survived to show that they were, in effect, a less closely woven species of cloth, popular because of its lighter weight. (fn. 126) In 1726 Defoe noted that Devizes had 'run pretty much into the drugget making trade'. (fn. 127) Another material, produced all over the county, was linsey-woolsey with a linen warp, used for furnishing goods and for the gowns and petticoats of the poorer classes. Some of this was made by independent weavers who probably sold it direct to the consumers and were potential buyers of stolen yarn. (fn. 128) Flannels were made at Salisbury, where they are said to have been introduced as early as 1680 (fn. 129) during one of the depressions caused by the vicissitudes of the Levant trade, for which the greater part of the 'Salisbury whites' were made. Such depressions gave the city at times the reputation of being 'much decayed', (fn. 130) but they seem to have been temporary until the mid-18th century, when successful French competition killed the trade to the Levant. (fn. 131) In 1754 all branches of the trade in Salisbury were said to be in decay, (fn. 132) but in the eighties the industry was flourishing again with the manufacture both of flannels and of the fine cloth which had been developed in the west of the county. It is said, perhaps with some exaggeration, to have employed at that time a quarter of the city's population. (fn. 133) Wilton was slow in recovering from the depressed state of which it complained in 1666, (fn. 134) and in 1699 it obtained a charter of incorporation for a Fellowship of Clothiers and Weavers. (fn. 135) The main object of such fellowships or companies was the limitation of competition; but the older companies at Salisbury and Devizes seem by this time to have been nearly moribund. By 1719 Salisbury had abandoned any attempt to keep out strangers, (fn. 136) and although the drapers' section of the Devizes guild lasted until 1769 its activities in the 18th century were very few. (fn. 137) Records of admission to the Wilton Fellowship exist (with gaps) up to 1809, (fn. 138) but there is no evidence that it promoted the town's prosperity. The introduction in 1741 of what came to be known as Wilton carpets (fn. 139) did something to this end; and one of the two Frenchmen who came over in connexion with them is said to have begun the manufacture of the dark mottled 'marble cloth' well known as a Wilton and Salisbury speciality. (fn. 140) Towards the end of the century there were several substantial clothiers in Wilton making broadcloth and fancy cloth as well as carpets. (fn. 141)
Although the manufacture was still widely spread, it seems unlikely that the county's production in the early 18th century was as great as it had been a hundred years earlier. The opinion of Robert Scott of Heddington, who told Aubrey about 1685 that there was less clothing than there had been, (fn. 142) may have been based on the decline of the white cloth branch, of which the Devizes—Calne area had been almost the centre; but it may be significant that in 1689 the aulnage for Wiltshire was only reckoned as worth half that for Gloucestershire. (fn. 143) In any case, the centre of the industry had shifted towards the Avon valley. In 1705 Defoe was writing of 'that great vale of trade extending from Warminster to Cirencester', (fn. 144) and in 1726 he reported that 'the increasing and flourishing circumstances of this trade are happily visible by the great concourse of people to and great increase of buildings and inhabitants in these principal clothing towns'. (fn. 145) Not all parts of the 'great vale' remained equally prosperous and the eastern and northern limits of the industry contracted as the century progressed. Some of this contraction may have been the result of a setback in the second quarter of the century, for writers of 1730 to 1750 agree that the industry was not so prosperous as it had been. In the thirties Henry Wansey of Warminster suffered from 'some peculiar disabilities his branch of the trade lay under', (fn. 146) and in 1739 it was said that Spanish cloth at 5s. to 8s. a yard had almost been superseded by a host of cheaper stuffs running from 2s. 6d. to 4s., (fn. 147) of which only German serge and possibly some coarse druggets were made in the county. In 1751 Postlethwayt declared that the sale of Spanish cloth had decreased by two-fifths owing to a change in fashion. (fn. 148) He was speaking of fine cloth but his estimate may be exaggerated, for Smith, writing in 1756, still maintains that 'not only persons of distinction and property wear the superfine Spanish cloths but innumerable others'. (fn. 149) The export trade also ran into difficulties. In the later 17th century English medleys had had a reputation abroad and they continued popular well into the 18th century, in spite of the imposition of tariffs (fn. 150) and the interruptions caused by wars. From the early 1690's, when it was said that the English were surpassing the Dutch in Spanish cloth, (fn. 151) to about 1720 appears to have been a period of expansion which was looked back to as a golden age in the less prosperous days of the forties. From the later twenties French and Dutch competition was increasingly felt, (fn. 152) especially in the finer varieties. Black cloth was unsaleable in Lisbon in the mid-18th century if it cost over 5s. or 5s. 6d. a yard. 'The fine won't answer here, the Dutch and French outdo us greatly in that article' reported a Lisbon factor in 1756; (fn. 153) and it was low-priced cloth which was demanded both in Lisbon and Hamburg as late as 1770. (fn. 154) Between 1738 and 1742 exports to Europe were adversely affected by the war (fn. 155) and there was another depression ten years later. (fn. 156) Yorkshire competition, which was being talked of as early as the 17th century, (fn. 157) was serious in some branches of the western woollen industry by 1742; (fn. 158) and by 1753 Tucker was referring to Yorkshiremen running away with the trade of the western counties as if it were a well-known thing. (fn. 159) No doubt the clothiers grumbled, but, as far as Wiltshire is concerned, the decline seems to have been less serious than he suggests. The only Wiltshire clothiers who have left any records for the thirties and forties increased their trade on the whole during these years. The Clarks of Trowbridge (fn. 160) sent up 92 cloths to London in 1734, then, after a drop to 75 in 1738, rose to 100 in 1739 and increased steadily thereafter to 158 in 1743, (fn. 161) in spite of one or two very bad periods. George Wansey found difficulties in the early forties, but after 1745 he went steadily ahead. The industry at Corsley also grew in the reign of George II. (fn. 162) On the other hand we hear nothing of druggets after the middle of the century. German serge, after surviving a bad period about 1740, (fn. 163) was still being made in Devizes in 1754, (fn. 164) but died out soon afterwards. (fn. 165) Outlying places making coarse goods undoubtedly lost trade, but even here the decline seems to have been exaggerated. Coarse cloths and half-worsteds were being made late in the century. (fn. 166) In fine goods Yorkshire could not compete at all and it was probably for this reason that there was a distinct movement from coarse to fine clothmaking in the latter part of the century, especially after the invention of 'cassimeres' by Francis Yerbury in 1766. (fn. 167) This was a narrow twilled cloth which could be woven finer than any hitherto made and was soon diversified by the introduction of fancy varieties, patterned and sometimes mixed with silk, cotton, or mohair for coats and waistcoats. The pioneer in this was John Anstie of Devizes who produced a cloth with a silk stripe which sold well in Russia; (fn. 168) but they were also made in Salisbury and Trowbridge. In 1786 a Salisbury draper, Thomas Ogden, was summoned to show his patterns to the king and was appointed Draper to His Majesty. (fn. 169) About 1770 there was a rush to make superfines to the neglect of lower qualities; (fn. 170) and when trade was good Henry Hindley of Mere found great difficulty in getting clothiers to make the 'interfines' at 5s. 6d. to 6s. 6d. a yard which were wanted in Lisbon. During the controversy about the export of wool in 1787 it was cited as a reproach to Wiltshire clothiers that Yorkshiremen could buy wool in Wiltshire, make it into cloth in Yorkshire, and bring it back to sell where the wool had been grown. (fn. 171) Such criticism ignored the fact that Wiltshire manufacturers were using finer wool to produce, in increasing quantities, material which Yorkshire did not and so far could not make. The import of Spanish wool markedly increased after a drop during the American war; over 4 million lb., the greatest quantity so far known, was imported both in 1787 and 1788. (fn. 172)
In spite of competition some fine cloth was exported. Some went to the French market in the forties and Wiltshire probably had a part in the growing trade to northern Europe. We know that, even before Anstie's innovations, fine cloth was sent to Russia. A letter from a London factor to Francis Yerbury in 1747 asks for 'neat, well made clergys... being for scarlets and greens for the wear of Her Imperial Majesty the Empress of Russia'. (fn. 173) In the other direction, the amount of trade with America is difficult to estimate. In the forties and fifties George Wansey was sending small ventures to Pennsylvania and the West Indies, but he does not appear to have realized much profit on most of them. In 1774 considerable unemployment was reported from Chippenham and Devizes 'chiefly owing to the merchants in Bristol not making their usual provision to furnish America'; (fn. 174) and in the following year there was much controversy, in which political opinions seem to have played some part, over the effect of the war on the trade of the towns in the west of the county. (fn. 175) Wiltshire does not, however, seem to have suffered as severely as Yorkshire. Later developments towards the end of the century seem to have turned the United States into a very good market for fine cloth. (fn. 176)
It was the use of Spanish and short English wool which accounted for the comparative lack of complaints from Wiltshire about the smuggling of wool to France, (fn. 177) since it was the export of long wool which did the industry most harm. Nevertheless it was a Wiltshireman, John Anstie, who was made chairman of the western manufacturers in 1784–7, when the high price of wool led to a renewed effort to obtain more effectual legislation against smuggling. Anstie took much trouble over the business, although, as a manufacturer of short wool, he was not himself much injured. (fn. 178) His activities brought him into conflict with the landowners who had always been jealous of the protection which the prohibition of export gave to the manufacturers at their expense; and his proceedings were violently attacked by Arthur Young and others, who represented them as aimed less at the smuggling of wool to France than at its transport to rivals in Yorkshire. (fn. 179) This incident may account for Young's contemptuous and undeserved references to the unenterprising nature of West of England clothiers in general and those of Wiltshire in particular. (fn. 180) But the contrast between the capitalist structure of the West of England woollen industry, which was believed to lead to stagnation, and the apparent independence of the small Yorkshire clothier, which made him enterprising and hardworking, was a commonplace of contemporary opinion. (fn. 181) This view, which was only partly true of Yorkshire, requires some qualification for Wiltshire also. Although the structure of the industry had been capitalist for centuries, there was the same mixture of large and small clothiers, and even of clothier-weavers, as existed in Yorkshire; but the large capitalists were more important. They set the tone of the industry; but they were still a minority of the clothiers. Below them came smaller clothiers of every description whose continued existence was made possible by the fact that most of the processes in the industry could be carried out on a commission basis by specialists. This was especially true of fulling, but both Wansey and the Clarks sent some of their cloth to be dressed by independent clothworkers, and even at the end of the century many clothiers relied on such men. (fn. 182) By this time there was a distinct cleavage between the small clothiers and the wealthy ones, or, as they liked to call themselves, the 'respectable clothiers'.
A survival of the farmer-clothiers who had existed in some numbers in the 16th century may be found after the Civil War in William Gaby of Netherstreet near Devizes, a fairly substantial farmer, whose dealings in the woollen manufacture from 1656 to 1684 were only one of several activities. It is rather unsafe to draw conclusions from the random entries in the notebook which his descendants have preserved, (fn. 183) but it looks as if he ceased to sell cloth in London after the sixties and confined himself to dealing in yarn. He may already have been something of an anachronism. In Corsley, the only village of which a detailed study has been made, the clothiers in the 18th century often farmed as a secondary occupation and weavers sometimes owned a little land. (fn. 184) The same is probably true of other country places; but this was a reversal of the former relationship between farming and manufacturing. There was, however, little difficulty in good times about setting up as a clothier. In 1803 there were many in Trowbridge who 'manufactured in their own families' (fn. 185) and can have been little removed from weavers in status or fortune. The men from whom Hindley bought his cloth for export in the sixties and seventies were 'necessitous and can't stay for their money until they complete an order'; and he had to pay some of them as soon as the cloth was brought in. (fn. 186) The ease with which credit could be obtained in good times attracted 'interlopers', especially shopkeepers, who formed a convenient scapegoat for all the evils of which clothiers were accused, from faulty cloth to payment in truck. (fn. 187) Perhaps the most usual method of rising was from the ranks of the overseers whom many of the wealthy clothiers employed to look after their businesses and who might alternate, as fortune willed, between a paid position and that of an independent clothier. (fn. 188) Above them came a large section of medium capitalists such as the mid-century Clarks, or the third George Wansey, who produced, on an average, 130 cloths a year between 1737 and 1752. At the beginning of this period his output must have been well under 2 cloths a week. The business of the larger capitalists was of course on a much more extended scale; and advertisements in the Salisbury Journal in the eighties and nineties show that premises suitable for the manufacture of 10 or 12 cloths a week were common.
The credit on which the whole industry relied came mainly from the factors who played a very important part in the trade from the Restoration onwards. During the 17th century a change took place in the method of marketing. Even before the Civil War it had been possible to consign cloth to a factor for sale instead of bringing it up oneself to Blackwell Hall, (fn. 189) and after the Restoration this method grew more and more common. In return the factor supplied the clothier's wants in Spanish wool and sometimes in other commodities such as oil and dye-stuffs. He was not the clothier's only outlet, for the latter often travelled to visit individual customers, (fn. 190) and generally attended the fairs at Salisbury and Bristol. He might sell all his produce direct to customers in the country as did Messrs. Salter of Trowbridge in the 1780's. (fn. 191) Sometimes he even sold abroad directly. In 1664 foreigners were said to be buying up cloth in the country. (fn. 192) In 1740 they had ceased to do so, (fn. 193) but at least two Wiltshiremen, George Wansey and Henry Hindley, were exporting cloth direct in the mid-18th century and it is improbable that they were the only persons to do so. Hindley was, however, not a clothier but a merchant who sent cloth both to Lisbon and Hamburg, to the latter in part return for the linen yarn he bought there. By 1790 John Anstie was trading extensively with the Continent. (fn. 194) But the most general method of sale was through the London factors; and, as discontent with the middleman is a natural phenomenon, a long series of complaints in the later 17th century relating especially to the long credit which the clothier was forced to accept and the factors' alleged engrossing of the raw materials, resulted at last, in 1697, in an Act to restore Blackwell Hall to the clothiers and for regulating the factors there'. (fn. 195) This Act was not effective and complaints against the factors continued to be heard up to the middle of the next century. It is doubtful whether they were as significant as they appear. The most serious complaint was the delay in payment, and the period seems to have shortened a little by the mid-18th century. (fn. 196) Most clothiers, too, were at liberty to draw on their factors if necessary, though they sometimes apologized for doing so. (fn. 197) The surviving clothiers' books show that they were generally on good terms with their factors, (fn. 198) and many of the latter came from Wiltshire. A number of those with whom the Wiltshire clothiers dealt bore familiar names and were, in fact, scions of clothing families. (fn. 199)
Although industrial society in Wiltshire was far more diversified than has been supposed, contemporary opinion was correct in its estimate of the poverty-stricken condition of the mass of spinners and weavers. In 1655 a new wage assessment was issued by the justices which shows a basic increase from the rates of 1603 of 1s. a cloth for weaving and of about ½d. a pound for spinning. (fn. 200) Board wages of fullers and clothworkers had risen by £1 a year and they were now all rated at the same figure as other craftsmen. These rates were maximum ones and it would be unsafe to conclude that they were paid. They were repeated down to 1685; but when new and, in part, higher rates were made in that year for agricultural labourers, there was no mention of any kind of labour in the woollen manufacture, and the Wiltshire justices never again attempted to rate wages in it. This did not mean that the workers regarded their earnings as satisfactory, for in 1677 a mob of shearmen was parading the streets of Trowbridge and vainly demanding an extra 6d. to raise their wages to 6s. 6d. a week. (fn. 201) Towards the end of the century complaints of truck became frequent and continued at intervals for the next hundred years; but, so far as we know, the first direct clash between employers and workpeople occurred in 1726, when a depression in trade coincided with a bad harvest. In November there was rioting in Bradford, Trowbridge, Melksham, and Frome, and a man was killed in Wiltshire when the troops fired on the mob. The Government was afraid of Jacobite influence and commissioned Giles Earle, M.P. for Malmesbury, to investigate. His reports and those of other observers who included John Cooper, a Trowbridge clothier and magistrate, were unanimous in accusing some clothiers of oppression by increasing the length of the warp without raising the price for weaving the piece. (fn. 202) The rioters were treated with great leniency and the only one arrested in Wiltshire received a free pardon. (fn. 203) A petition to the Government was signed by over 1,100 weavers, (fn. 204) and representatives of both sides were summoned to an inquiry where, at the bidding of the Privy Council, they came to an agreement on which legislative action was immediately taken. (fn. 205) This remarkable instance of conciliation appears to be the only one of its date; unfortunately it is unique in the history of industrial relations in Wiltshire during the 18th century.
Parts of the Act seem to have been effective. Soon after the riots Francis Yerbury, a leading Bradford clothier, was summoned to quarter sessions on the information of a labourer and found guilty of paying a fuller in goods instead of money. (fn. 206) Twelve years later it was said by William Temple, the apologist for the clothiers, that to summon workpeople before the magistrates was useless, since the clothier never obtained justice and workers could be insolent with impunity. (fn. 207) The provision made by the Act for payment by the yard appears to have been observed in the county from this time onwards. But it did not stop truck or settle wage rates. In 1738 at the beginning of another depression, a mob cut the chains in the looms round Trowbridge and attacked the shop of a Melksham clothier who was accused of lowering prices. (fn. 208) The Government's attitude was strikingly different from what it had been in 1727 and three ringleaders were arrested and hanged; but feeling was deeply divided and the case was debated at length in the press and in pamphlets. (fn. 209) The miseries of the weavers were convincingly portrayed and the clothiers' case came off badly in comparison. The latter certainly had some grievances. Embezzlement was common and very difficult to prove. Although 'end gatherers' were often committed to prison, (fn. 210) those who had sold them the ends often escaped. Moreover, in good times weavers had no scruples about delaying the return of a piece to one master while they worked on a piece for another, (fn. 211) and when prices of provisions were low they did not work the whole week. But when prices rose, the earnings of a man with a single broad loom were only tolerable if he were in constant employment and did not suffer from deductions. Temple advanced an estimate which would allow the master weaver to retain about 7s. to 7s. 6d. a week, if he had to pay a journeyman, but its accuracy was hotly contested. (fn. 212) Various authorities in the sixties put earnings between 6s. 6d. and 10s. a week, according to the nature of the cloth, (fn. 213) but these are employers' estimates and probably do not allow for deductions. From evidence given by weavers in 1803 it looks as if, after 1738, the normal price for weaving superfine broadcloth was 1s. 3d. a yard and correspondingly less for other sorts, and it remained the same at the end of the century, (fn. 214) in spite of the great rise in the cost of living and the increasing fineness of the cloth. A larger weekly wage could only be obtained by working longer hours, and in 1803 a day of 13 to 16 or even 17 hours was not uncommon. (fn. 215) Weekly earnings of broadloom weavers at this date, according to themselves, might be anything from 7s. 6d. to 10s. (fn. 216) but stretches of unemployment reduced annual earnings considerably. Comparison with agricultural workers' wages, about 8s. a week in the nineties, (fn. 217) does not suggest that weavers were much better off, though their families could supplement the father's earnings in a way which was becoming impossible for the labourer's family owing to the loss of spinning.
There were many riots after 1739, not all directly concerned with conditions in the industry. (fn. 218) Wiltshire remained quiet at the time of the great Gloucestershire disturbances in 1756–7, when the weavers demanded that the justices should rate wages, (fn. 219) and legislation was actually passed in this sense for all three counties. (fn. 220) The Gloucestershire magistrates issued wage rates, the Somerset bench decided that it was impossible to do so, and the Wiltshire justices took no notice at all. (fn. 221) In fact, the only reaction from Wiltshire was a petition from Chippenham representing the impossibility of rating wages in this way. (fn. 222) The complexity of the industry did, in fact, make it certain that regulation by any outside body would be unworkable, and the Statute was repealed the following year. (fn. 223)
In 1787 there was a concerted effort by the Trowbridge narrow weavers to compel employers to abandon the growing practice of grouping narrow looms in shops. This appears to have been a recent development, perhaps due to the cost of the treadle loom used for fancy cloth and the desirability of keeping the pattern under the employers' eye, although the practice had also spread to plain cassimeres. (fn. 224) No agreement was reached and some shops appear to have remained; (fn. 225) but the overwhelming majority of weavers continued to work in their own homes. In 1788 it was the turn of the clothworkers who were introducing by-laws to limit apprentices and sending threatening letters to masters who would not conform. (fn. 226) They seem to have carried their point, in spite of a conviction at the assizes. In 1803 wages of clothworkers were about 12s. a week. (fn. 227) The difference between this figure and that of the weavers' earnings reflects the relatively strong position of a body of men who were in a position to control entry to their craft. (fn. 228) Nevertheless, a fair comment on the position of the workers in Wiltshire is to be found in a letter from Joseph Clark, who was a maker of 'shags' in Banbury, to his brother in Trowbridge. 'Banbury', he wrote, 'is not the place for a manufactory, the masters being so much under the control of the men, [I] wish I could meet with a situation in your part of the country . . . . I could make shags full 20 per cent. cheaper there than at Banbury.' (fn. 229)
Cloth since 1790
Wiltshire, which had had its share of earlier inventors, (fn. 230) was not apathetic about the machinery which began, about 1770, to revolutionize the process of spinning. It was, however, in Somerset, at Shepton Mallet in 1776, not long after jennies and the carding machine had come into use in the Yorkshire woollen industry, that the first attempt to introduce them in the west was made; and it provoked a riot in which men from the Warminster district of Wiltshire took part. (fn. 231) The chief clothiers of the three counties then met at Bristol and issued a statement of their intention of introducing the machines. (fn. 232) That there was some sale for jennies at this time is shown by an advertisement of a maker at Bridgwater which appeared in the Salisbury Journal; (fn. 233) but after April 1777, when the same paper was informed that jennies were 'introducing in this city and neighbourhood with the greatest success', (fn. 234) no further information is available and the advertisements soon ceased. Success seems only to have come some ten years later, with the expansion of the trade in the late eighties. Early in 1787 there were spinning machines at Twerton just over the Somerset border, (fn. 235) and an advertisement in December 1788 suggests that they were familiar in the neighbourhood of Hilperton. (fn. 236) After this date they are frequently mentioned. Some were set up at fulling-mills where the carding engine could be turned by water, (fn. 237) but others were worked by hand or horsepower. Up to 1791 the change was accomplished without disturbance, probably because the people affected were mainly women scattered over the countryside and unable to make their sufferings effectively felt. It was the landlords and parish officers who took alarm at the rise in the poor rates, protesting in 1793 against the loss of spinning in the villages and offering to pay the clothiers a subsidy if they would still send it out. (fn. 238) It was only when machinery began to interfere with men's work that riots were provoked, and the first took place in Bradford in 1791 over the adaptation by a clothier named Phelps of a carding machine for use in scribbling, which was already a workshop process. The machine was burnt by the mob, (fn. 239) but there seems to have been no further opposition. Fifteen years later scribbling and carding machinery and spinning-jennies had been installed 'long ago'. (fn. 240)
The spring loom (or fly-shuttle) was resisted for a longer period. Yorkshire weavers had begun to use it soon after 1760. The first mention of it in Wiltshire is in 1792, when dragoons were called in to quell the commotion caused by an attempt to introduce it in Trowbridge. (fn. 241) The resisters must have triumphed, for in 1803 most Wiltshire weavers had never seen it, and its use in the county was confined to a few looms round Chippenham and to the factory which Hill, a Bradford clothier, had started in Malmesbury in 1790, well away from the clothing area, in order that machinery might be used without interference. (fn. 242) It probably came into general use during the later years of the Napoleonic Wars when 'a good weaver was scarcer than a jewel', (fn. 243) but there were riots against it in Bradford in 1816; (fn. 244) and even in 1822, when an attempt was made in some quarters to lower weavers' wages, spring looms were attacked not only in Bradford but also in Corsley, Crockerton (Longbridge Deverill), and Heytesbury. (fn. 245) It is possible that the fly-shuttle met less resistance from weavers who used the narrow loom on which cassimeres were woven, since it did not displace any labour and reduced the time taken to weave a cloth. These looms were numerous round Trowbridge where, after 1792, there seem to have been no riots against it.
The tardy adoption of the fly-shuttle did not interfere with the prosperity of the superfine section of the industry. Henry Wansey of Salisbury had to refuse orders in 1791, (fn. 246) and although John Anstie was bankrupt two years later, his failure seems to have been mainly due to the extensive nature of his commitments. (fn. 247) Other Wiltshire manufacturers were finding that the French Revolution had temporarily removed an important competitor. 'Since its outbreak', said a clothier in 1803, 'we have had the market of the world in our hands.' (fn. 248) The increase of yarn resulting from the introduction of machinery meant that work was more plentiful for weavers and that displaced scribblers could be absorbed in that branch. So were many women; in 1803 they were said to form two-fifths of the weavers in Bradford and Trowbridge. (fn. 249)
Towards the end of the century Wiltshire lost trade to Gloucestershire, where clothiers were obtaining a better finish to their cloth by using the gig-mill. This piece of machinery had never wholly disappeared in spite of earlier prohibitions. In the early 18th century it was used in both counties for raising the nap on the coarse white cloth intended for export; (fn. 250) but the area which knew it must have been limited, for when William Everett, a wealthy Horningsham clothier, tried to set one up in 1767 it was quickly destroyed by a mob. (fn. 251) The Gloucestershire clothiers who began to use it for fine cloth in the nineties suffered no interference from the men, but their Wiltshire neighbours, who followed their example during the depression after the Peace of Amiens in 1801, were not so fortunate. By 1802 a few machines had been set up, (fn. 252) but many clothiers preferred to avoid trouble by sending medleys to be dressed elsewhere, (fn. 253) sometimes without success, for there were technical difficulties in using the gig-mill on fine cloth made of dyed wool without previous experience with the tougher piece-dyed cloth. (fn. 254) In 1802 the clothworkers made a determined effort to resist its introduction both by legal and illegal means, but they were not successful then or later. Nor were the weavers, who had started their own movement for the enforcement of long disused statutes, any more fortunate, though it was not until 1809, after two parliamentary inquiries, that the employers succeeded in getting the restrictive statutes abolished. (fn. 255) Much of the county agreed with the workers and neither the magistrates nor the nonmanufacturing members of the public were anxious to help the clothiers in times of disturbance. (fn. 256) There was also a division among the manufacturers themselves, for the smaller ones were not all in favour of measures which would give the wealthier an advantage. (fn. 257)
Although the clothworkers were defeated, the events of 1802 had a delaying effect on the introduction of dressing machinery; and it is not clear how quickly the various machines came into general use. Thomas Jotham, a Bradford clothier, patented a gigmill in 1801, (fn. 258) but we do not know in what his improvement consisted. Samuel Godwin of Avoncliff (Westwood) included dressing and brushing machinery in his patent of 1804. (fn. 259) Messrs. J. & T. Clark had a gig-mill in the same year, (fn. 260) but it is not impossible that their abandonment of dressing for themselves in 1808 was connected with a renewed outbreak of violence in that year. (fn. 261) Wiltshire was quiet in 1812, when the Luddite riots in Yorkshire were aimed particularly at dressing machinery, but the calm may have been due to the fact that, in the towns at least, there was not much in use. (fn. 262) Country mills probably had less difficulty in introducing it. (fn. 263) The shearing frame, at any rate, was slow in arriving in Trowbridge, but it spread rapidly after 1816, the year in which the Clarks bought the early 'list-to-list' type. (fn. 264) The rotary cutter followed, in some factories, between 1825 and 1830, with more displacement of labour (fn. 265) but apparently without disturbance. Nevertheless, a considerable amount of hand-dressing survived until a later date, even after 1840. (fn. 266)
Any backwardness in the introduction of machinery does not appear to have interfered with the prosperity of the trade during the war. It revived in 1803 and continued to flourish, except in 1808–9 when the Milan Decrees had a serious but transitory effect. The scarcity and high price of Spanish wool was inconvenient but not fatal. In 1801 a parliamentary election was enlivened at Chippenham by charges that the candidate who challenged the sitting members had used his position as a broker to enhance the price; (fn. 267) but it went much higher between 1802 and 1814, and in 1808 and 1811–12 the quantity imported sank very low. (fn. 268) Many manufacturers who normally used Spanish wool must, like the Clarks, have turned to English wool and even to cotton for warps for the time being. Saxony wool was coming in, but during the war it did not arrive in sufficient quantity to make up the deficiency in Spanish, and the fact that it needed more cleaning at first made it unpopular. (fn. 269)
It is from the still surviving books of Messrs. J. & T. Clark that one may see the opportunities which lay before hardworking and enterprising manufacturers in these years. (fn. 270) They began in 1801 with £500 lent them by their uncle, and in 1804, when the younger was just out of his apprenticeship, their capital was £1,634. At the end of 1815 it was £10,929. After 1809 the prosperity of Trowbridge steadily increased, culminating in the boom of 1814, when there was a scramble for land along the river bank. (fn. 271) But the good times did not last. 'In 1816 the trade began to stagnate, since 1820 it has retrograded' said the Commissioners for Handloom Weavers in 1840. (fn. 272) The diminution in the number of clothiers up to 1816 was due to concentration rather than stagnation; most of the decline took place before 1816 and was in reality less spectacular than it seemed. (fn. 273) In Trowbridge at least the existence of small masters who undertook one process in the industry continued for a considerable time. Weaving was often put out in bulk to master weavers who divided it between their employees; (fn. 274) and there were also independent spinners. (fn. 275) The separate firms of clothworkers gradually disappeared, as more, and more expensive, machinery came into use. But with the peace the industry entered on a long period of fluctuation, and after every depression fewer clothiers were left in business. The fly-shuttle had quickened the pace of weaving, and there can be little doubt that up to 1815 the quantity of cloth produced was much greater than it had been before machinery appeared; but the almost continuous unemployment among weavers after that date suggests that in the next 35 years or so there may have been an actual recession and not merely a failure to increase production as fast as Yorkshire. All the same, there were many good years. This was particularly true of Trowbridge up to 1825, with the exception of 1819 and 1823. The Clarks had increased their capital to £59,000 by 1824, and a remarkable improvement in the town's appearance was said to have taken place in the twelve years before 1826. (fn. 276) Its population increased by 50 per cent. between 1810 and 1820 and by another 12 per cent. in the next decade, which, in view of the severe depression of 1826, argues a considerable growth in the early twenties. Probably this may be connected with the fact that exports of cassimeres, which were pre-eminently the manufacture of Trowbridge, were increasing up to the end of 1824. (fn. 277)
The disadvantages under which Wiltshire suffered in the use of power were probably less important for the making of fine cloth than would have been the case with coarse. The first steam-engine was set up in Trowbridge by John Cooper in 1805, (fn. 278) and it was followed two years later by one at Bradford. We do not know the total number which existed at any given time before 1838, but Boulton & Watt, who were only one firm in the business, had set up eight in the county by 1815; (fn. 279) and when their representative, Haden, settled in Trowbridge on his own account he was a valuable agent in introducing others. (fn. 280) Wiltshire was, however, some way behind Yorkshire, where the same firm had installed five engines for woollen mills by 1796. (fn. 281) It is not easy to come to any conclusion about the difference in the price of coal. The canal, which served Bradford directly and Trowbridge by a wharf at Hilperton, much reduced the cost of carriage, and the more remote Yorkshire mills paid more for their coal than the best situated Wiltshire ones; but Leeds paid much less. (fn. 282)
Another factor making for difficulties was the shrinkage in the export trade. During the nineties it had expanded to fill the gap in continental markets caused by the effect of the Revolution on French industry. By 1830 English goods were again at a disadvantage abroad. (fn. 283) In 1800, according to Samuel Salter of Trowbridge, his firm had had more orders than it could fulfil for France, Hamburg, and Russia, and when the war closed the continental markets it was kept in business by the demand from America. In 1842 there was no continental market at all, and the American had shrunk to nothing. (fn. 284) In both cases tariffs had been imposed, but by 1828 English cloth was rated below French in Germany because of the earlier use of Saxony wool by French manufacturers; (fn. 285) and the tax on wool imports imposed in 1819 had hindered the sale of superfines by making them more expensive, and had allowed foreign makers to get a footing in other markets. (fn. 286) It had also injured the export of lower qualities of cloth by restricting the makers to English wool, which was rapidly declining in quality—a decline which was the culmination of a long process due to inclosures and the breeding of sheep for mutton. Foreign manufacturers using the cheaper sorts of Spanish or Saxony wool put up heavy competition, and when the tax was repealed in 1825 quantities of low-grade foreign wool were used to mix with English to make second-quality cloth. Those manufacturers in Wiltshire who still produced such cloth, such as Messrs. Everett & Francis at Heytesbury, were also driven to use foreign wool, but they were bankrupt a few years later. (fn. 287)
Cassimeres, now almost universally corrupted to 'kerseymeres', were the only species of cloth whose exports increased up to 1825. Exports of broadcloth declined almost continuously up to 1830, and although we do not know the proportion of the decline in superfines, it may be surmised that this was one of the reasons why Bradford, which had always stuck to broadcloth, was less prosperous than Trowbridge. Between 1810 and 1820 its population only increased by 25 per cent., and in the next decade it was almost stationary. In 1820 there are said to have been 19 manufacturers, (fn. 288) in 1826 there were 14; (fn. 289) but the great depression of 1826 accelerated the decline and there were only 5 left in 1833. (fn. 290) These may have profited by the rise in cloth exports in the thirties, since 4 of them continued to the end of the decade. What is remarkable in the thirties is the resilience of Trowbridge, in spite of a catastrophic decline in exports of kerseymeres. In 1838 it still had 19 mills employing 1,278 people, against the Bradford figure of 4 mills employing 418 people. (fn. 291) No satisfactory explanation can be given of this difference; but the working of some economic factor seems to be indicated by the fact that Westbury, which was making much the same range, though probably not the same quality of goods as Trowbridge, also showed great resilience. There had been 5 manufacturers there in 1833 and there were still 5 in 1840. Two years earlier they had employed almost the same number of factory workers as Bradford.
Elsewhere in the county the decline began almost immediately after 1815. In the early years of the century Salisbury's flannel industry had been flourishing (fn. 292) and had made use of machinery and some steam-power; (fn. 293) but the recovery reported after the depression of 1815–16 (fn. 294) was very short-lived. Cotton was a serious competitor, and flannel exports fell disastrously after 1816. The demolition of a number of country mills in the neighbourhood during the agricultural riots of 1830 merely added another burden to a fast-decaying industry. A water-mill at Harnham survived in 1838 but it employed only 15 people; and by 1840 hardly anything was left. (fn. 295) Wilton, apart from its carpet manufacture, suffered a similar fate; from 6 employers with 200 looms in 1810 the industry had dwindled to one with 40 in 1840, and only 10 of those had work. (fn. 296) Throughout the rest of the county, outside the main centres in the west, the same thing happened. By 1840 one mill at Chippenham, one or two at Calne, (fn. 297) one at Malmesbury, (fn. 298) and one at Upton Lovell on the Wylye were all that survived. Those at Chippenham and Upton Lovell, which were large concerns, (fn. 299) continued to work until the 20th century; the others turned over to silk or paper about 1850. Corsley also, probably because of its proximity to Frome, retained some part of its industry until about the same date; (fn. 300) but its neighbours Horningsham and Crockerton, which, like the rest of the cloth district including Corsley itself, experienced a period of great distress and much emigration in 1829–30, (fn. 301) seem to have kept nothing of it afterwards.
The woollen industry was nowhere fully mechanized in the thirties, far less so than cotton or worsted. Wiltshire manufacturers were quite as much alive to its deficiencies as those elsewhere. In 1827 W. J. Dowding of Poulshot mill took out a patent for making a continuous roll of the wool from the carding machine; (fn. 302) but he cannot have been successful, for this problem was not solved until the arrival of the condenser after the middle of the century. Nor was the actual spinning done by power. (fn. 303) Jennies were sometimes placed in small workshops away from the main factory (fn. 304) or even in the workers' cottages. (fn. 305) Mules are said to have been introduced in 1828 (fn. 306) though it is not clear whether they were hand machines (which because of their size were always factory machines) or the semi-power driven type. The latter must have spread in the thirties if it is true that spinning in Trowbridge was mainly done by power in 1840. (fn. 307) This was quite as early as similar developments in Yorkshire, (fn. 308) and in both places some handdriven mules survived throughout the 19th century. (fn. 309) The use of mules by some manufacturers is probably reflected in the very different proportions between the number of factory workers and others employed by various firms in 1833. (fn. 310) At Staverton the division was about half and half. At other factories (including all those at Trowbridge for which figures are given) there were far more employees outside the factory than in. (fn. 311) In that of the Clarks, whose original return has survived, the only factory processes were those preparatory to spinning and those concerned with finishing, which occupied 167 workers as compared with 800–900 outside. The Clarks did not introduce mules until 1837. Another cause of the different proportions between factory and cottage workers lies in the extent to which looms were grouped in workshops. Some firms made a practice of setting up 'factory looms', though they employed home weavers as well; others employed the latter entirely. The use of factory looms does not imply the powerloom, although patents taken out by J. C. Daniel of Limpley Stoke between 1824 and 1828 (fn. 312) show that he was experimenting with it. If he had been successful, Wiltshire would have been in the van of progress in this respect, for power was not commercially used for woollen weaving until the thirties and then only rarely. It arrived in Wiltshire in 1839, (fn. 313) but as in Yorkshire, the number of power-looms was small until the fifties, since for the woollen manufacture it was only after improvements made in the forties that their use introduced any considerable economy.
The return of mills made in 1838 showed 53 at work; but this was probably an underestimate. (fn. 314) There were 39 steam-engines, of which the largest, of 60 h.p., was at Westbury, (fn. 315) and they generated 66 per cent. of the power, (fn. 316) which was a high proportion for the western counties, considerably higher than for Gloucestershire or Somerset. The number of persons employed was a little over 3,000 and, since in the census of 1841 rather over 6,000 persons entered themselves either as weavers or as connected with the woollen industry, there must have been nearly another 3,000 non-factory workers. (fn. 317) These numbers show a considerable increase of factory employees since 1833, probably owing to the introduction of machine-driven mules. The patents already mentioned and several others taken out between 1825 and 1841 show that Wiltshire was by no means lacking in inventors, but how many of their inventions were a commercial success we have no means of knowing. (fn. 318)
One result of the bad times after the great depression of 1826 was that children were no longer severely overworked; only one small mill was considered to deserve censure in that respect in 1833. (fn. 319) The general rule was 12 hours, with 6 or 8 on Saturdays, but some mills worked 13½ on the other hand, in slack periods many only worked ten. Much longer hours had been usual in the flourishing period at the beginning of the century, especially when the irregularity of water-power is taken into account. (fn. 320) In 1833 many employers said that they did not like employing children under nine; but it is obvious from the evidence as well as from the Clarks' return that this was a very recent development. The result of the Factory Act of 1833, in Wiltshire as elsewhere, was a sharp fall in child employment; in 1839 there were only 130 under thirteen in mills over the whole county. (fn. 321)
The depressions in the industry gave rise to numerous riots, notably in 1808, 1816, 1819–20, 1826, and early in 1830. It was only by a very small margin of time that the disturbances of the latter year failed to coincide with the agricultural riots, which would have produced a far more inflammatory situation than was actually the case. (fn. 322) The general decline in prosperity was accompanied by one in wages (fn. 323) and in 1833 the Clarks' return shows that, although a few men earned upwards of £1 a week, the average for 24 cutters and 17 gigmen, aged 19 to 60, was only 12s. 11d. Hand-loom weavers were, of course, worse off. Up to 1815 they had been scarce and correspondingly prosperous; and the memory of a time when they kept their ponies on the common and drove to Trowbridge with their pieces lingered in Broughton Gifford as late as 1859. (fn. 324) After the peace full employment can only have prevailed for relatively short periods. In 1840 the average full-time wage, clear of deductions, for a man in his prime was put by the Trowbridge weavers at just over 11s. a week on broadcloth and a little less on kerseymeres. Older men could earn 9s. 5½d. Unemployment had reduced these figures to an average of 5s. 6½d. and 4s. 11½d. a week over the whole year. (fn. 325)
The year 1842 is often cited as marking the catastrophic decline of the industry in Bradford. In fact it only marked the culmination of a process which had been going on since 1815. (fn. 326) The crisis is generally ascribed to the failure of the bank of Hobhouse & Co. in the previous autumn; but this failure was itself caused by the insolvency of two of the largest factories, Coopers of Staverton and Saunders of Bradford, which the bank had been supporting for the past five years. (fn. 327) Distress in Bradford was extreme, and in the next decade the population fell by about 25 per cent. (fn. 328) Trowbridge was less affected. (fn. 329) In 1848 it had 20 manufacturers as against 25 in 1842. (fn. 330) Westbury suffered almost as severely as Bradford (fn. 331) but the largest firm there did not collapse until 1847. (fn. 332) The general recovery in trade after 1850 was reflected in better times for both places. At Westbury the two largest mills came successively into the hands of Abraham Laverton, a native of Trowbridge and a self-made man of a kind more familiar in the north of England than in the west. (fn. 333) At Bradford three new firms joined the two which had survived, and Staverton mill, after changing hands, continued at work until late in the century. In 1850 there were 36 mills of all kinds in the county, a decrease of 17 since 1838; but the number of workers in them had only declined by about three hundred. (fn. 334)
The factory returns (which were not quite accurate) gave 7 mills as undertaking weaving, with 170 power-looms, in 1850. These had increased to 16 with 549 looms, out of a total of 32 mills, in 1862. (fn. 335) By 1867 all the mills, now reduced in number to 25, undertook both spinning and weaving, with 770 power-looms. (fn. 336) There were still many hand-looms in the fifties, and the statement made in 1862 that 'the village weaver is almost forgotten' (fn. 337) was certainly inaccurate; but the suggestion from another source that up to 1867 about half the weaving was done on hand-looms seems to be an exaggeration on the other side. As far as other machinery is concerned, the leading firms appear to have kept up with progress elsewhere. One at least had installed a condenser by 1862, (fn. 338) a relatively early date; but it is doubtful if many others followed suit until the late sixties. A sharp decline in the number of persons employed, shown in the return for 1871 when seventeen mills were working, (fn. 339) may have been due, in part at least, to an increase in these machines, which dispensed with one set of piecers.
The crisis of 1866 may perhaps have contributed to the failure of the chief manufacturer in Bradford in that year; (fn. 340) and there was certainly some recession of trade before 1871, (fn. 341) though its memory has been eclipsed in that of the prosperity caused by the Franco-German war. The return of 1871 showed only fifteen mills with a decrease of about 11 per cent. in the number of spindles existing five years earlier; and not all of this smaller number were working. It must have been war prosperity which encouraged several new firms to appear in Bradford in the seventies, but in 1874 a period of bad trade set in and lasted until the early eighties. (fn. 342) Only three mills were left in Bradford by 1880; and though few closed down at Trowbridge the depression was severely felt there. Moreover Wiltshire was largely unable to profit by the revival of the next decade, since its standard products, striped trouserings and fancy cloth at Trowbridge, and elsewhere the black broadcloth so familiar in Victorian England, were being superseded by worsteds. Some mills experimented with the latter, (fn. 343) but only the Westbury mill, and that at a later trial after 1920, made a success of them. A prolonged period of depression lasted until well after 1906. The population of all the clothing towns declined slowly and a number of mills were closed. Three of the eight at Trowbridge had shut down by 1903 leaving the five which were at work in 1953, (fn. 344) but one of these closed later that year. Two closed in Bradford at the end of the century and the remaining one in 1906. The Melksham mill closed in 1889 and the rest, outside Trowbridge and Westbury (except for the isolated mills at Chippenham and Upton Lovell), in the early nineties. Upton Lovell mill, which in its last phase had belonged to a Trowbridge firm, was burnt down in 1906; Waterford mill at Chippenham, in which the controlling interest had for long been held by a firm at Stroud, remained at work until 1930.
Money wages did not rise much, if at all, in the latter part of the century, but the cost of living had fallen. In 1886 the United States Consul made a report on Trowbridge as showing factory life in its most favourable aspect; but he reckoned that the wage was a family one and only barely sufficed. (fn. 345) He gave the average for men as 23s. a week and for women 12s. or 12s. 6d. The highest family earnings were 32s. and 29s. These rates seem high when compared with the recollections of men still in the trade, who recall that about 1900 a good male hand could be got for 16s. This was certainly lower than what was paid in Yorkshire and may have been due to the depression. (fn. 346) There was very little trade union organization, but there was not much anywhere in the woollen industry. Occasional strikes took place at single factories; one in 1863 led to talk of a general organization of factory weavers, but nothing came of it. (fn. 347)
The five firms which have survived have done so on the quality of their products. Some have changed hands more than once; others have received a succession of new partners with fresh capital. The quantity produced by these five mills today is greater than the output at any time under the less efficient methods of the past, but the labour employed is far less; in 1948 there were just under 2,000 people in the county connected with the industry. (fn. 348)
Until far more research has been done, on the Yorkshire industry as well as on that of the West of England, it is not possible to give any accurate summary of the reasons for the relative decline of the latter. It does not appear to have been due to backwardness in the adoption of new machinery. Up to 1900 or later both areas could show many instances of obsolete machines still in use. (fn. 349) The reason usually assigned, a disadvantage in fuel supplies, was of importance in the early stages, but it should not be overstressed. There is no evidence that Wiltshire was any slower than Yorkshire in adopting Australian wool, which became available in bulk about the middle of the century; in fact Wiltshire manufacturers seem to have been very much alive to fluctuations in woolsupply. It is said to have been largely by speculation in wool that Abraham Laverton at Westbury and Sir Roger Brown at Trowbridge acquired their fortunes. It seems probable that the concentration of the industry on fine cloth, for which the market could not be greatly expanded, had a good deal to do with the decline. So has the competition of worsteds. It is not entirely clear why they have only been successfully acclimatized at Westbury, though the distance of the Wiltshire mills from Yorkshire worsted spinners has had something to do with it. For the last 30 years, however, the industry has not looked like dying out, and as far as it is safe to prophesy, it seems likely to maintain itself on a basis of technical efficiency and a widely known name for cloth of the finest quality.
The first mention of silk manufacture in Wiltshire is in 1613 when silk-weavers in Salisbury were incorporated with some other trades. (fn. 350) The industry continued there during the 17th century, being mentioned in 1655, (fn. 351) 1664, and 1674; (fn. 352) and there were also silk-weavers at Warminster in 1637, (fn. 353) at Bishop's Cannings in 1682, (fn. 354) and at Malmesbury in 1687. (fn. 355) We have no information about the kind of material produced or of the organization of the trade, nor do we know whether silk-throwing was done locally. In the 18th century there is no mention of the industry until the last decade, except possibly at Hindon which may have had a manufacture of silk twist. (fn. 356) Silk does not appear in the Universal British Directory of 1791, in spite of the facts that the fancy cloth made at Salisbury and Devizes incorporated a good deal of it, (fn. 357) and that mills for throwing and making organzine on Lombe's principle had been established in Somerset soon after the middle of the century. In 1792, however, Marlborough was discussing the introduction of a silk-mill by subscription to relieve the poverty of the town. (fn. 358)
The Somerset silk industry had spread into south-west Wiltshire by 1813, and round Stourton and Maiden Bradley silk supplied from Bruton was spun, or more probably wound, which was a cottage industry, by women in their own homes and by children in a school set up for the purpose. (fn. 359) Waylen's cloth-mill at Devizes was producing its own silk in 1826, (fn. 360) and before that time a silk-mill had been set up by subscription at Salisbury to relieve distress. (fn. 361) There was still some weaving on hand-looms at Salisbury in 1840, at which twelve men and 138 women were employed, and trade was said to be constant. (fn. 362)
In 1833 there were two factories large enough to be reported on by the Factory Commissioners, one at 'Deverill' and one at Chippenham. The Deverill mill was for throwing, which was mainly an employment for children. The owner, G. P. Ward, had another mill at Frome, and the two together employed 300 factory workers and another 300 outside. It worked a twelve-hour day with a night shift, but the Commissioners reported very favourably upon it, and Ward was evidently a good employer who did not accept children under nine and provided free milk and a lending library. (fn. 363) The Chippenham mill, started in 1827, included weaving and worked by steam, employing 120 women and girls; but only 8 were under twelve. (fn. 364) In 1838 three more mills were mentioned, at Calne, Devizes, and Mere. (fn. 365) In the factory returns for 1850 the total number was only three, with over 20,000 spindles between them; and they employed 300 people. (fn. 366) Between 1850 and 1855 Hill's old cloth-mill at Malmesbury was bought by a Derby firm and turned over to silk. (fn. 367) In 1862 it had 56 power-looms and the whole industry employed over 700 factory workers of whom 281 were in Malmesbury. (fn. 368) According to the census of 1861 about 835 workers were employed. This marked the height of the industry, and in 1867 only two mills with about 530 workpeople are mentioned. (fn. 369) Although this is inaccurate since mills at Chippenham, Mere, and Malmesbury were all in existence, the decline is not surprising, since, after the withdrawal of the tariff in 1860, silk-manufacturers found it hard to compete with France and the numbers employed fell progressively throughout the country. (fn. 370) The Chippenham mill, which was still working in 1894, (fn. 371) had closed before the end of the century. That at Malmesbury changed hands in 1867 and is said, probably with some exaggeration, to have employed about 400 people under its new owners, (fn. 372) but it failed in 1889. (fn. 373) Some time between 1891 and 1900 it was taken over by a member of the Jupe family from Mere, (fn. 374) which had started the industry there in the thirties. At one time there had been three mills in Mere itself and one at Crockerton (Longbridge Deverill), but they had all closed in 1891. (fn. 375) In 1900 wages for girls at Malmesbury were given as 7s. 6d. to 10s. a week, and, again with some apparent exaggeration, 150 were said to be employed. (fn. 376) Japanese competition is said to have caused this mill to close in the early part of the century, but after a considerable interval it reopened under different ownership, (fn. 377) and continued until the beginning of the Second World War, when it employed about 83 workers. (fn. 378) There was also in the twenties and possibly later a small mill at Sherston. (fn. 379) In 1925 silk, rayon, and wool weaving was started at Warminster by a Macclesfield firm which still continues the industry there, employing about 90 people. (fn. 380)
Flax was grown in parts of Wiltshire during the Middle Ages, though much Wiltshire soil was unsuited to it. There were linen-drapers in Salisbury in 1306, (fn. 381) who at this early date were probably producers as well as merchants; and it is said (but on what authority does not appear) that the linen-weavers were the oldest craft in the city. (fn. 382) Flax-dressers were incorporated there, among several other trades, in 1612. (fn. 383) In 1603 the wages of linen-weavers maintained in their masters' houses were rated by the justices at 10s. a year more than those of cloth-weavers. (fn. 384) Later in the 17th century linenweavers were scattered over the county, particularly in the south, and more are mentioned at Mere than at any other place. (fn. 385) This was no doubt because the soil in the neighbourhood was suitable for flax. It had been grown there in considerable quantity in 1340, (fn. 386) and it would not be surprising if it had been manufactured on the spot from that time onwards. In the 18th century Mere and Hindon formed the north-east point of an industry which was widespread in Dorset and east Somerset. Downton was also a centre of linen-weaving.
The only linen made in these places of which we have any record was coarse— dowlas, bed-ticking, and cheese cloth. Sail cloth was made at Marlborough in 1749, (fn. 387) but this seems to have been an isolated instance. The weft of the ticking was generally of local flax, but, in the 18th century at any rate, the warp was of yarn imported from Hamburg; (fn. 388) and the interest of this apparently humble industry lies in the fact that the importers were local men. We only know of two, but it is clear that there were others. James Harding of Mere, who died in 1775 worth £300,000, is referred to as a Hamburg merchant; (fn. 389) and both he and his successor Henry Hindley, part of whose books have survived, (fn. 390) carried on an extensive trade as importers of yarn from Germany and as tick merchants for buyers in England and America, as well as being exporters of cloth to Hamburg and Lisbon. Hindley also imported flax, but only if the local crop was likely to fail. The makers whom he supplied and from whom he bought ticks seem to have been of much the same status as the medium clothiers of neighbouring towns. (fn. 391)
Hindley's books bear out the evidence of the depression of the coarse linen trade in 1773, but he took no part in the petition to Parliament which ascribed it to the import of foreign linen. (fn. 392) No legislation resulted, but the industry seems to have recovered. By 1791 Hindley's son had himself become a manufacturer of tick at Wolverton and was accorded a special mention for excellence by the Universal British Directory. (fn. 393) Of the other makers listed in this directory 2 at Mere are described as bed-tick manufacturers, and 3 at Mere and 1 at Hindon (fn. 394) as linen-drapers. By contrast the 6 makers at Downton (fn. 395) are all described as weavers, which suggests that they worked for Salisbury drapers; but it is probably unsafe to draw such a conclusion. In 1801 there had been 'for many years' a tick factory at Downton. (fn. 396)
The depressions of 1816 and 1826 affected this industry severely. Thirty persons were said to be preparing to depart from Mere in 1817. (fn. 397) In 1820 the industry at Hindon was almost extinct, (fn. 398) and in 1826 twenty of the principal manufacturers of the border between the three counties, including those at Mere, decided that they must dismiss half their 2,000 hands. (fn. 399) But again there was some recovery. In 1814 the industry seems to have been still dependent on Hamburg yarn, (fn. 400) but machine spinning, which had begun in the north soon after 1800, is said to have been introduced to work by water at Mere in 1837; (fn. 401) and in 1840 the Commissioners for hand-loom weavers found that there were still 500 looms there and in neighbouring villages. (fn. 402) The weavers, who had always done agricultural work during part of the year, made no complaint of poverty, and their wages when weaving were given as 11s. to 11s. 6d. a week.
In 1848 Henry Jupe of Mere described himself as a flax-spinner and manufacturer of cheese cloth, (fn. 403) and in 1850 the factory had 500 spindles with an 8 h.p. water-wheel and employed 25 people. (fn. 404) One account says that it closed about 1860, (fn. 405) when 130 people entered themselves in the census return as employed in the industry throughout the county. A mill with 4 carding engines employing 31 people still existed, however, in 1870. (fn. 406) Some looms are said to have lingered in Mere until the eighties, but in 1880 the number employed had dropped to 16 according to the census returns, and the industry must have died out very shortly afterwards.
Fustians, a heavy material usually made with a linen warp and a cotton weft, were among the new draperies introduced into England at the end of the 16th century. They were produced in north Wiltshire early in the following century, the first mention of a fustian-weaver being at Sherston in 1627. (fn. 407) Another reference to the industry there occurs 30 years later; (fn. 408) but its chief centre in the county was at Aldbourne, where tradition says that it was established by the family of Witts who came originally from Holland. (fn. 409) Edward Witts is mentioned in 1666, but there were other employers issuing trade tokens in Aldbourne ten years earlier, (fn. 410) though it is not certain that they were fustian-manufacturers.
Little information is available about this industry, but it survived throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th century. In 1709 it was mentioned in a petition from Aldbourne in favour of the project for making the Kennet navigable; (fn. 411) and in 1757 Bishop Pococke noted that 'they spin cotton for candles, for cotton cloth and stockings; and the carriers go with cotton backwards and forwards through this place [Lambourn] to and from London'. (fn. 412) The industry was also established in Marlborough, for in 1760 a tender from Mr. Crook of that place for cotton spun in the Bristol workhouse was accepted by the authorities, (fn. 413) and cotton-spinning was begun at this time in the Marlborough workhouse also. (fn. 414) In the same year a fire at Aldbourne consumed warehouses with cotton and fustian, as well as houses and barns full of corn, to the total value of £20,000; (fn. 415) and fustian and cotton were also lost in a fire in 1777. (fn. 416) The place never entirely recovered, but in 1791 a considerable trade in fustians was still carried on, and there were seven manufacturers. (fn. 417) There is no record of machinery having been introduced, but it is possible that machine-spun yarn was imported from other places in the 19th century, though in Marlborough hand-spinning is said to have continued 'until the death of Jane Jefferies in 1855'. (fn. 418) In 1840 there were 154 women cotton-weavers in the county, and ten years later there were sixty-one. The statement that weaving was widespread in Aldbourne in 1880 (fn. 419) is not borne out by the census return, which shows only one woman and one man in the industry at that date, though some of the very few weavers in undefined textiles may have been weaving fustians. Even in 1860 there were only ten workers, and the industry must have effectively ended about this time.
The cotton-manufacturer at Bradford mentioned in a directory just before 1840 (fn. 420) seems to have made a short-lived and isolated endeavour to associate cotton manufacturing with a woollen mill, but he did not survive the depression of 1842.
Bone lace was made in England in Tudor times, if not earlier, but it does not occur in Wiltshire until the 17th century. It was made there before the Civil War, (fn. 421) especially, it seems, in the north of the county. (fn. 422) After the Restoration the industry was encouraged by the prohibition of the import of foreign bone lace; (fn. 423) and about 1680, according to Aubrey, 'our shepherdesses of late years do begin to work point whereas before they did only knit coarse stockings'. (fn. 424) There are a number of records of girls being apprenticed to bone-lace makers in Marlborough between 1662 and 1694; (fn. 425) and Salisbury served as an important centre for merchants collecting lace from makers both in Wiltshire and Dorset. (fn. 426) In 1700, after a renewed prohibition on imported bone lace had evoked reprisals from Flanders, a Salisbury lace dealer said that over a thousand people in the city and many others in places adjacent were engaged in lace-making, and that he and his partner sent up lace to London to the value of £60 to £80 a week. (fn. 427) The prohibition on imports had to be withdrawn but the industry maintained itself, and lace remained an important trade at Salisbury throughout the 18th century. (fn. 428) One lace-manufacturer there is mentioned in 1791 (fn. 429) and there was at least one other whose death is noted in 1794. (fn. 430) Among the 'places adjacent' mentioned in 1700 must have been Downton, where the trade had at one time been universal among the cottagers; but it had much diminished by 1833. (fn. 431) Some lace was made there, however, up to 1919 or later. (fn. 432) We do not know when the industry was established at Malmesbury but it was one of the chief occupations of the place in 1791, when the inhabitants said that they could get more by it than by working in Hill's cloth factory. (fn. 433)
The industry was gradually killed by the competition of machine-made lace. In 1826 it was noted that 'the best hands who formerly earned 8s. to 10s. a week can now earn no more than 2s. 6d. or 3s.; (fn. 434) but there was a recovery afterwards, and as late as 1848 lace-making was extensively carried on in Malmesbury. (fn. 435) By 1876 it had been almost superseded by silk. (fn. 436) The census returns show a steep decline after 1850, when there were three dealers in the county and 391 lace-makers. In 1871 there were only 35 makers and in 1900 only six. About 1908 there was some revival in Malmesbury under the encouragement of Lady Suffolk, (fn. 437) but the industry has now died out again.
There is no evidence to confirm the story, so frequently repeated, that the making of carpets was begun by Huguenot weavers who settled in Wilton towards the end of the 17th century. (fn. 438) The Charter granted in 1699 mentions nothing but the clothing trade. (fn. 439) It is not improbable, however, that flat carpets of the kind known as 'Kidderminster' or 'Scotch' may have been made there in the early 18th century, as they certainly were in the latter part of it; (fn. 440) and there is no reason to disbelieve the story that Lord Pembroke, seeing how much inferior they were to French carpets, took steps to introduce weavers from France. (fn. 441) The first written evidence comes from the patent granted in 1741 to Ignatius Couran of London, merchant, John Barford of Wilton, upholder, and William Moody of Wilton, clothier, for 'our new invention of making carpeting commonly called French carpeting or Moccadoes and in France moucades or moquets'. (fn. 442) This material had originally been used for upholstery but had been adapted in France for carpets; (fn. 443) and it seems probable that Wilton produced it for both purposes, since the manufacture is sometimes referred to as one of 'tapestry'. (fn. 444) The loom depicted in the specification has no device for cutting the loops in order to make the plush-like surface which distinguishes the Wilton from the Brussels carpet, and it has been conjectured that this feature was invented at Wilton; (fn. 445) but it was more probably a feature of the moquettes made in France. (fn. 446)
Wilton carpets soon became well known. They represented the first attempt to introduce the making of carpets as practised abroad, and a keen rivalry soon developed with Kidderminster which had introduced a Belgian weaver and had begun to weave Brussels carpets in 1749. (fn. 447) When the original factory at Wilton was burnt down in 1769 it was referred to as 'the great carpet factory' (fn. 448) and it may still have been the only one at Wilton. (fn. 449) In the previous year 60 to 80 journeymen had been employed at 10s. 6d. to 12s. a week, (fn. 450) a much higher figure than the ordinary weaver could earn. After 1769 the manufacture spread into several hands (fn. 451) and was also carried on in Salisbury and Southampton, (fn. 452) but it seems to have suffered from some setbacks possibly due to Kidderminster's competition; and by 1799 a German traveller could observe that Wilton carpets were now best made there. (fn. 453) But the two principal manufacturers in Wilton were reputed to have turnovers of £15,000 and £20,000 a year in 1805, (fn. 454) and the industry must have benefited by the cessation of competition from France owing to the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. This probably accounts for the high wages of 1½ to 2 guineas a week which the weavers were said to earn in 1801, though the statement that 1,000 people were employed may well be exaggerated. (fn. 455)
The peace of 1815 struck this industry a severe blow, for it had to meet renewed French competition as well as the general depression of the following year. There was great distress in 1817, (fn. 456) and in 1818 the decline of the manufacture is noted. (fn. 457) For the next 20 or 30 years it continued on a very small scale. A carpet was presented to Queen Caroline in 1825, (fn. 458) and in 1830 Messrs. Stevens, Blackmore & Sons exhibited patterns of 'the improved Wilton carpet made entirely of Southdown wool' to the Duchess of Kent and Princess Victoria when they passed through Salisbury. (fn. 459) In spite of the fact that in 1833 the Factory Commissioners reported that 'two factories on a very small scale' were all that remained, (fn. 460) Blackmore had enterprise enough to buy the looms and transfer many of the workpeople when the manufacture at Axminster was given up in 1835. (fn. 461) Axminster carpets were hand-made in one piece on the model of Turkey carpets, and their manufacture has been carried on at Wilton ever since. The other factory at this time was that of Wood & Ogilvie in West Street, (fn. 462) but it must have been equally small, for in 1840 the Commissioners for Handloom Weavers reported that only 25 to 30 men in all, besides many young people, were employed, the men earning about 15s. a week. (fn. 463) By this time the Jacquard loom (fn. 464) had been introduced and Wood took out three patents for improvements to it between 1840 and 1842; (fn. 465) but he migrated to the north soon afterwards. (fn. 466) In 1860 Blackmore sold his premises to Alfred Lapworth, a London carpet manufacturer, and in 1871 the latter's executors sold to Yates & Wills. (fn. 467) Numbers employed, according to the census returns, rose fairly consistently after 1840 and reached their height at 268 in 1890. Under various styles this firm remained in possession until 1904 when they were obliged to close; but with Lord Pembroke's assistance a new company, the Wilton Royal Carpet Factory, was formed and has continued successfully until the present day. Before the war it had various branches, of which those at Tisbury, Downton, and Mere were in Wiltshire; but these have now been closed.