Salisbury: Economic history since 1612

Pages 129-132

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.

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The outstanding event in Salisbury's economic history since the 17th century has been the decay of the cloth trade, which turned the city from a place where a high proportion of the inhabitants depended for their livelihood on industry, to one in which workers in industry were outnumbered by those in other occupations by at least two to one. This process was complete by the third or fourth decade of the 19th century. (fn. 1) Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, however, cloth manufacture was still Salisbury's most important industry, and until about the middle of the 18th century its depressions seem to have been spasmodic and temporary. During the 17th century the city's dependence on white broadcloth, which had begun to replace the older coloured fabrics in the previous century, (fn. 2) led to a bad period owing to the Cockayne experiment and the loss of foreign markets during the Thirty Years War. Unlike the clothiers in the west of the county, those of Salisbury did not turn to the new medleys and Spanish cloths, but still depended in the later 17th century on 'whites' dyed in London and exported to the Eastern Mediterranean. This trade suffered severe fluctuations until it was finally killed by French competition in the mid-18th century. Flannels are said to have been introduced at Salisbury c. 1680, but the generally bad state of the trade in the early 18th century is witnessed by a succession of petitions complaining of legislation which affected the city's industry adversely. (fn. 3) By 1754 all branches of the trade in Salisbury were said to be in complete decay.

In the later 18th century, however, the Salisbury clothing trade revived with the introduction of newer types of cloth. A dark mottled 'marble-cloth', noted as a speciality of Salisbury and Wilton, was being made soon after 1741, while 'cassimeres', invented in 1766, were made at Salisbury as well as in the west of the county. A directory of 1784 lists 12 manufacturers and refers to the making of flannels, fancy cloths, serges, blanketings, linseys, cottons, and yard-wide fancy cloths. (fn. 4) In 1786 a Salisbury draper, Thomas Ogden, was appointed draper to the king. The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars temporarily removed French competition, and the export trade increased; in 1791 Henry Wansey, a leading manufacturer, was having to refuse orders, and the great increase in the number of woolcombers in the city was noted. A directory of 1798 lists 24 clothiers, (fn. 5) and one of 1814 lists 13. (fn. 6) After 1815, however, exports fell disastrously, and this time the depression was permanent. In 1830 there were only 3 clothiers and a woolcomber in the city, and it was said that nearly all branches of the industry were extinct, (fn. 7) and in 1833 only one woollen factory continued at work. (fn. 8) By 1840 virtually nothing remained.

No other industry or trade carried on in the city in the 17th and 18th centuries was comparable in size or importance with the cloth industry. Of the other textile industries lace was the most notable. In the later 17th century Salisbury became a centre for merchants collecting lace made in Wiltshire and Dorset, and the mayor was a laceman in 1681. Lace-making continued throughout the 18th century, (fn. 9) and in 1790 it was said that Salisbury was noted for its bone-lace. (fn. 10) Silk-makers were incorporated in 1613, and are mentioned in the city books from time to time throughout the 17th century. No mention of the industry in the 18th century has been found, but the decline of the cloth trade led in 1825 to the setting up of a silk mill in Castle Street for the relief of distress. (fn. 11) The mill employed 110 people in 1830, and 120 in 1835; (fn. 12) the 102 silkmakers listed in the census of 1841 must have worked there, but nothing more of the history of the mill is known. In 1830 there were two firms of horse-hair and chair-seating manufacturers, and three sack and sack-cloth manufacturers. (fn. 13)

Of industries other than textiles, the most flourishing in this period were cutlery and leather. The cutlery trade seems never to have been large, but noted for the high quality of its products, the fineness of the steel being attributed to the peculiar quality of the local water. Nell Gwyn is said to have visited Salisbury to inspect the cutlery manufacture, and to have bought a pair of scissors for 100 guineas. Aubrey wrote that Salisbury was 'ever-famous' for the manufacture of razors, scissors, and knives, (fn. 14) and elegant objects of polished steel were still apparently an attraction for visitors at the beginning of the 19th century. (fn. 15) Late 18th-century directories list six cutlers in Salisbury, including in 1784 'M. Goddard, cutler to their Majesties', (fn. 16) and in 1790 it was said that the city was noted for the manufacture of scissors. (fn. 17) The trade continued throughout the 19th century; 7 cutlers are listed in a directory of 1822 and 10 in one of 1830, (fn. 18) and George III and the Duchess of Kent are said to have patronized members of the Botly family, cutlers of the Market Place. (fn. 19) It was the custom to meet the London and Exeter coach and display cutlery to the passengers and it was afterwards said to have been 'no uncommon thing' to take £70 from a single coach. (fn. 20) William Beach of Salisbury received an honourable mention for his cutlery at the Great Exhibition, (fn. 21) and in 1862 exhibited a case containing a number of knives, scissors, razors, and daggers at the International Exhibition in London. (fn. 22) In 1895 Salisbury cutlery was still produced 'in a very creditable fashion'. A leading firm at that time were James Macklin and Son of Catherine Street who produced high-class knives and scissors. (fn. 23) Long before this time, however, the quantity of cutlery produced must have been small and the fame hardly more than local. As early as 1831 it was said that although the Salisbury cutlers made the more select articles of superior quality, the sale was very limited, (fn. 24) and in 1835 much of the cutlery that was sold in the town was brought from Birmingham. (fn. 25)

The various leather crafts continued to thrive in a small way throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, and gloving also continued, chiefly among women, although it died out by the 19th century. There was perhaps some decline in tanning in the 17th century, but at the end of the 18th century Salisbury was the most important Wiltshire centre. (fn. 26) Various branches of the leather trade continued and expanded during the 19th century. At the 1841 census there were 20 tanners and curriers in Salisbury, and it is possible to trace the continuous existence of several leather businesses throughout the 19th century and into the present one. The development of the Invicta Leather Works, established in Endless Street in 1824, into the present firm of Colonia (Sarum) Ltd. has been traced elsewhere. (fn. 27) Among other leather businesses with long histories was that of George Surman, boot- and shoe-maker and leather-cutter, established in Brown Street by 1848. The business moved to Catherine Street in 1855 and to Milford Street by 1859, where at some date between 1885 and 1897 it was taken over by S. H. Parsons and Co. and continued into the 1930's. Parsons and Co. were leather and grindery merchants and made all kinds of soles, heels, butts and bends for shoemakers besides manufacturing tan and hedging gloves and leggings of every description. (fn. 28) A saddler's business, begun in Brown Street by a family named Till by 1875, has been carried on there to the present day (1960). (fn. 29) Shoemaking flourished in the 18th century, and boot- and shoe-makers were the most numerous of all Salisbury craftsmen throughout the 19th century and until the First World War. (fn. 30) It was said that in the later 19th century 'in hundreds of houses the shoe-binders, the closers and finishers were busy week in week out'. (fn. 31) The business with the longest history is Moore Brothers, whose origins can be found in William Moore, boot and shoemaker in 1822 and 1830, (fn. 32) and Henry Rowe, established in Catherine Street in 1842, who had moved by 1867 to Silver Street. By 1875 these premises were occupied by Rowe, Moore and Moore, a firm which subsequently became James and William Moore Brothers. The firm moved to its present premises in the New Canal at the end of the 19th century. (fn. 33)

One or two industries about which little is known were carried on in the 17th and 18th centuries. Aubrey noted that Salisbury was 'famous' for the manufacture of parchment, (fn. 34) and there were still two parchment-makers working in the city in 1830. (fn. 35) There was a paper-mill in Bugmore meadows in 1716. (fn. 36) Aubrey also mentioned a considerable trade in malting, and that in Salisbury and Wilton was made 'the best bottle ale of this nation'. (fn. 37)

Some crafts of a rural kind which seem to have survived in particular families throughout the 19th century may be briefly mentioned. (fn. 38) Cork-cutting seems to have been carried on continuously in Silver Street by a family named Lake from 1798 until about 1880. No cork-cutters appear in directories after 1885. Whip-making was carried on by a few families, generally in conjunction with rope-, twine-, and sack-making, from 1798 to the end of the 19th century, and by a family named Oram from 1897 until c. 1916. A few basket-makers, some of them combining this craft with sieve-making or saddlery, appear in every directory from 1798 to the present day, the only survivor in 1960 being Leaver Brothers, whose basket-making business has been carried on off Fisherton Street since 1830.

A few new industries were established in the 19th century and in the middle of the century an exhibition of local crafts was held in the Guildhall. The making of straw hats, almost entirely by women, flourished in a small way in the 1830's and 1840's. (fn. 39) A small amount of metal-working was carried on in connexion with agriculture, gaslighting, and railways. For example, J. W. Edginton, ironfounders in Pennyfarthing Street in 1839, were also gas-fitters, (fn. 40) and F. A. Rowland of Fisherton, and Tasker and Son Ltd. of St. Thomas's Square were agricultural implement makers in 1875. (fn. 41) In 1847 the ironfounders Wolferston and Smith of Winchester Street were given the contract for building new wagons and trucks for the Salisbury and Bishopstoke Railway, and built large new premises on Milford Hill for the purpose. (fn. 42) The number of general engineers engaged in various kinds of metalworking increased in the latter part of the century. Two modern specialist firms in Salisbury date from this time; Santype, specialist typefounders, developed from Alexander and Son, general engineers established in Brown Street about 1870, and Tintometer Ltd., manufacturers of colour-comparing instruments, developed from the inventions of J. W. Lovibond, who settled in Salisbury in 1869. (fn. 43) There were 7 watch- and clock-makers in Salisbury in 1830. (fn. 44) About 1888 William Burden established the City Clock Factory in Fisherton Street, making high-quality domestic and turret clocks. (fn. 45) It was later bought by Williamson and Sons, formerly clockmakers of Brown Street, and was burnt out before the First World War. The Burden family later began the Scout Motor Co., whose history has been dealt with elsewhere. (fn. 46) Since the First World War the national increase in motor and domestic engineering has been reflected in Salisbury, where many such businesses now flourish.

In the late 19th century Salisbury began to play a part in the expanding dairy-produce industry; a depot of the dairy at Semley was established at Salisbury soon after 1880, and used chiefly for the despatch of liquid milk to London. It was taken over by United Dairies (Wholesale) Ltd. in 1920, when that firm absorbed the Salisbury, Semley and Gillingham Dairies Co. Ltd., and is still in use. The first factory for the manufacture of dairy produce was established in Russell Road in 1908 by the Hygienic Dairy Society Ltd. and used for the production of sterilized milk, butter, and cheese. It passed successively into the hands of Fussell and Co. Ltd. and the Nestlé and Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Co. Its principal activity since the 1920's has been the production of tinned milk and cream and the despatch of liquid milk to London. (fn. 47) Another concern which moved to Salisbury because of its position as a leading agricultural centre was Dunn's Farm Seeds Ltd. Founded at Silton (Dors.) c. 1842, it subsequently moved to Bournemouth, and thence to Salisbury in 1918. (fn. 48)

In contrast to most of the industries established in the 19th and earlier 20th centuries, one or two concerns which depended neither on local rawmaterials or local markets were brought to Salisbury in the Second World War and succeeding years. The origins of Colonia (Sarum) Ltd. and Santype Ltd. have been mentioned above. During the war two engineering works were established at Salisbury for strategic reasons. The Vickers Armstrong aircraft factory closed after the war, but the Wellworthy piston and piston-ring factory at West Harnham is still (1960) in use. In 1947 the Autotrope Co. moved from Willesden to works in Castle Road, where the production of aircraft components and optical equipment is carried on. (fn. 49) Since the war also Rothon Radiators Ltd. have begun to manufacture motor radiators in Devizes Road.

In spite of the introduction of new industries in place of the staple manufactures of the 18th and early 19th centuries, it is clear that Salisbury's modern industries are on a small scale and the proportion of its population employed in them is also small. In this the city is in marked contrast to some of the smaller towns, such as Melksham and Chippenham, in the west of the county. (fn. 50) In 1830 Salisbury's commerce was described as 'chiefly retail and domestic, and supplying the neighbouring country and smaller towns with the various shop commodities'. (fn. 51) Eighteen years later a description of the city's former industries was followed by the statement that the trade was then limited to the supplying of its own necessities and those of the villages in the river-valleys, 'whose inhabitants throng to its well-supplied provision markets every Saturday'. (fn. 52) But the change which these writers meant to imply was in fact only a change of emphasis. The importance of Salisbury as a market and as a centre of distribution in the Middle Ages has already been described. (fn. 53) At the period when its chief industry was declining, its importance as a market, a shopping centre for the surrounding country, and a place visited by tourists was being increased by improvements in communications. Most of the main roads leading to Salisbury were turnpiked between 1753 and 1756. (fn. 54) It was estimated that in the 1760's 6 stagecoaches a week from London to Exeter passed through Salisbury, and that by the 1770's this had increased to 24 coaches and 28 stage-chaises and that there was in addition a heavy cart and wagon traffic. (fn. 55) By the end of the century there were 10 coaches to London, most of them setting out daily, in addition to the Mail. (fn. 56) By 1842 three of the four remaining coaches only took passengers as far as Andover Road station, (fn. 57) and in October 1846 the 'Quicksilver', the last coach to make the whole journey to London by road, set out for the last time. (fn. 58) In the following year the rail connexion between Salisbury and London was completed via Bishopstoke, and in 1857 the more direct line through Andover was opened. The connexion to Warminster and Bristol was made in 1856, to Yeovil and Exeter in 1860, (fn. 59) the latter putting Salisbury once more on the direct line of communication between London and the west country. Nineteenth-century guides and directories also show the number of carriers that plied not only between Salisbury and other towns, but also to surrounding villages, almost invariably on one or both of the market days. In 1914 the Directory of Salisbury and District printed for the first time a list of motor services, nine in all, plying between the Market Place and various groups of villages, nearly all on market days.

In addition to improved transport, two factors have increased the economic prosperity of Salisbury in the present century: the army and the tourist trade. The establishment of the headquarters of the 2nd Army Corps in the city in 1901, and of Southern Command in 1909, brought additional resident consumers for most Salisbury traders. In 1903 the city called attention to the increasing demand for houses as a result of the coming of the army, (fn. 60) and its effect on the retail trade is suggested by advertisements of tailors and shoemakers describing themselves as military tailors and makers of military boots. (fn. 61) The number of service-men living in the city itself has never been large — in 1951 there were 361 — but the establishment early in the century of the camps at Bulford and Larkhill and the extensive use of Salisbury Plain by the army and R.A.F. in recent years have made Salisbury the shopping and recreational centre for large numbers of service-men and their families. The effect of the military use of the Plain on the city's economy has been increased by the rapid development of road transport, which has also added to the numbers of tourists. (fn. 62) Their importance to Salisbury is difficult to assess, but no one visiting the city during the summer months can doubt the large dimensions which the tourist trade has reached. It brings business not only to the large numbers of hotels, 'guest-houses', and tea-shops but also to retail shops and garages.

The economic history of Salisbury since its incorporation in 1612 thus falls into two periods. From 1612 until about 1830 it is possible to see the remnants of the medieval framework still present in the economic life of the city, though to a constantly diminishing extent. The medieval industries continued throughout this period, though, with the exception of the resurgence of the cloth industry between 1780 and 1816, they were generally declining. From the 1830's to the present day the main economic importance of Salisbury has been as a market town and shopping centre for the surrounding villages. A few new industries have grown up, all on a small scale, and will continue to do so, but improvements in communications have been important mainly because they have extended and increased the city's functions as a market, a shopping centre and a place visited by tourists. It has been performing all three functions since the 17th century and two since the Middle Ages.


  • 1. Census, 1841, Occupation Tables.
  • 2. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 151 sqq. on which the following account is largely based.
  • 3. C.J. xix. 61–2, 66, 71, 182, 189; xxii. 671; xxiii. 238; xxiv. 622, 820.
  • 4. Bailey, Brit. Dir. (1784), ii. 436–40.
  • 5. Univ. Brit. Dir. (1798), iv. 559–63.
  • 6. Holden, Annual Dir. (1814–15), 249.
  • 7. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830).
  • 8. App. Rep. Munic. Corps. H.C. 116, p. 1346 (1835), xxiv.
  • 9. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 180.
  • 10. Philip Luckombe, England's Gazetteer (1790), iii.
  • 11. Ibid. 176–7; Hatcher, Salisbury, 565. Hatcher evidently refers to the silk mill here, for in the chapterheading on p. 559 the event is described as 'Introduction of the silk manufacture'.
  • 12. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 177. In F. Stevens, Festival Book of Salisbury (1914), 70–1, it is said, presumably in error, that the mill closed in 1825 for want of workmen.
  • 13. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830); Stevens, Festival Bk. (1914), 72.
  • 14. Aubrey, Nat. Hist. Wilts. (1847), 95.
  • 15. Salisbury Guide (1820), 22.
  • 16. Bailey, Brit. Dir. (1784), ii. 436–40; Univ. Brit. Dir. (1798), iv. 559–63.
  • 17. Luckombe, England's Gazetteer (1790), iii.
  • 18. Pigot, New Com. Dir. (1822–3); Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830), 811.
  • 19. Industrial Great Britain [1895], 270, quoting esp. Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 1 Nov. 1830; Pigot, New Com. Dir. (1822–3).
  • 20. Stevens, Festival Bk. (1914), 71.
  • 21. Illustrated London News, 23 Oct. 1852.
  • 22. Official Illustrated Catalogue of the International Exhibition London 1862, ii, classes xxxi–xxxii, p. 157.
  • 23. Industrial Great Britain [1895], 270.
  • 24. Lewis, Topog. Dict. Eng. (1831), iv. 4.
  • 25. Rep. Munic. Corps. (1835), p. 1346.
  • 26. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 234–5, 237.
  • 27. Ibid. 236.
  • 28. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1848 to 1885); Dir. of Salisbury and District (1897 to 1937); the firm is not mentioned in the dir. for 1940.
  • 29. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1875 to 1885); Dir. of Salisbury and District (1897 to 1959).
  • 30. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1842), lists 48 shoemakers, and Dir. of Salisbury and District (1898) lists 31.
  • 31. Stevens, Festival Bk. (1914), 73.
  • 32. Pigot, New Com. Dir. (1822–3); Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830).
  • 33. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1842); Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1867, 1875); Dir. of Salisbury and District (1897 to 1959); Salisbury Centenary Exhibition Catalogue (1952), 49.
  • 34. Aubrey, Nat. Hist. Wilts. (1847), 95.
  • 35. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830).
  • 36. Naish, Map, 1716.
  • 37. Aubrey, Nat. Hist. Wilts. (1847), 95.
  • 38. This paragraph is based on the directories from 1798 mentioned in previous notes.
  • 39. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830), lists 14, and the 1842 edn. lists 18.
  • 40. Robson, Com. Dir. (1839).
  • 41. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1875).
  • 42. Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 20 May, 1847.
  • 43. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 194, 206.
  • 44. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830).
  • 45. Industrial Great Britain [1895], 269.
  • 46. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 201; see above, p. 46.
  • 47. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 227–9.
  • 48. Information supplied by the firm.
  • 49. Ibid. 205.
  • 50. H. E. Bracey, Social Provision in Rural Wiltshire, 34–5, 51–2.
  • 51. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1830).
  • 52. Kelly's Dir. Wilts. (1848).
  • 53. See pp. 125–6, 140.
  • 54. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 268–9.
  • 55. Hatcher, Salisbury, 529, quoting Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 14 June 1773.
  • 56. Salisbury Guide, 1797, 1799.
  • 57. Pigot, Nat. Com. Dir. (1842).
  • 58. Salisbury and Winchester Jnl. 3 Oct. 1846.
  • 59. V.C.H. Wilts. iv. 284–6.
  • 60. Wilts. County Mirror, 27 Nov. 1903.
  • 61. e.g. Frank Luxton, bootmaker, and George Bartlett, boot and shoemaker, both of High Street: Dir. of Salisbury and District (1905 and 1911).
  • 62. The extent to which improvements in transport in recent years have led Salisbury residents to shop in London rather than at home is impossible to guess.