A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.
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INDUSTRY AND TRADE.
Like the other towns in the basin of the Bradford Avon, Westbury emerged as a centre of the cloth industry of that region towards the end of the 15th century. (fn. 1) As early as 1433 a Westbury clothier, William Gawen, was transacting considerable business with a merchant in the east-coast port of Lynn (Norf.), (fn. 2) and in the second half of the century, as has been shown elsewhere, there were a number of substantial 'clothmen' in Westbury and the surrounding townships. (fn. 3) Already in the 16th century such men were acquiring the local fulling mills. (fn. 4)
In the course of the 16th century the number and prosperity of the Westbury clothiers increased, so that towards the middle of the century Leland could write 'the towne stondithe moste by clothiers'. (fn. 5) In addition to acquiring fulling mills for their business, the clothiers began in the 16th century to accumulate lands and estates in Westbury. (fn. 6) In 1545 the clothier John Adlam acquired the manor of Leigh Priors, formerly among the possessions of the Prior of Monkton Farleigh. (fn. 7) Possibly the most outstanding among these prosperous clothiers were the families of Whitaker and Phipps. The fortunes of the Whitaker family may have been founded by John, one of the Westbury clothiers of the late 15th century. (fn. 8) In c. 1545 Richard Whitaker, likewise a clothier, had some 160 acres of inclosed land in Westbury and a sheep house. (fn. 9) In 1570 Stephen Whitaker, already a considerable landowner in Westbury, acquired the manor of Westbury Stourton with the important Bitham fulling mill. (fn. 10) His sons and grandson were mill owners in Westbury and Bratton. (fn. 11) Thenceforth the family continued to acquire land, mostly in Bratton, and gradually it exchanged its occupation with the clothing industry for that of corn- and sheep-farming. The clothier, Henry Phipps, was acquiring property in Westbury towards the end of the 16th century, and his sons Henry and Nicholas, both clothiers, became lords of the manor of Westbury Mauduits in 1585. (fn. 12) This large family continued to accumulate lands and manors until by the end of the 19th century the Phippses were some of the largest landowners, occupying two of the biggest country houses in Westbury, namely Chalcot and Leighton House. (fn. 13) In 1722 Paul Phipps, who added extensively to the family estates, was still actively engaged in the clothing industry. On his death he left 281 cloths in London as well as a number of unfinished cloths in local hands. (fn. 14) The connexion with the industry was maintained until about the end of the 18th century, but by then the family had entered the ranks of the landed gentry.
Besides the Whitakers and the Phippses mention must be made of the Benetts, also clothiers, who were leasing the rectory manor in the 16th century, (fn. 15) but their main estate lay in Norton Bavant. (fn. 16) Other Westbury clothiers include Anthony Garland and Robert Adlam (both fl. 1562), (fn. 17) Nicholas Passion (d. 1581), (fn. 18) Anthony Wilkins (d. 1599), (fn. 19) and Thomas Saunders (d. 1602). (fn. 20) The wealth of some of these textile capitalists is illustrated by the subsidy assessments of 1545 and 1576. In 1545 the highest contributions in the hundred were paid by two members of the Adlam family, Sybil and John, both assessed at £3, a greater sum than that paid by John Bush, 'gentleman', lord of the manor of Dilton. (fn. 21) In the later year only four persons were assessed at over £7, among them Stephen Whitaker (£10), George Adlam (£8), and Henry Phype (£8), (fn. 22) the first two certainly, and the third, probably, clothiers.
The effects of the depression which hit the broad cloth industry during the first quarter of the 17th century (fn. 23) were accentuated in Westbury by an outbreak of plague in 1603-4. The justices were obliged to order a relief of 40s. a week for the distressed inhabitants, then said to be mostly weavers and spinners, and special arrangements were made for the collection of corn for the town from the markets of Warminster and 'Lavington'. (fn. 24) Six years later the town was still impoverished, (fn. 25) and further misfortune overtook it in 1616 when a fire caused damage estimated at over £1,000. (fn. 26) Westbury shared in the difficulties caused by the disruption of trade during the Civil War, and in 1648 petitioned Sir Thomas Fairfax against the burden of free quartering of soldiers, protesting that Westbury was the least and the poorest hundred in the county, and had suffered far beyond other places. A troop of 100 dragoons had at the time spent 30 days in the town. (fn. 27) After the Civil War Westbury, like the rest of the towns in the region, began to expand its manufacture of medley cloths and abandon its old white-cloth export industry. (fn. 28) By the end of the century this had brought a period of relative prosperity to the region, but there was still distress in Westbury immediately after the Res'oration. In 1662 250 inhabitants petitioned for relief in consequence of the lack of work and dearness of food, claiming that they depended entirely upon the cloth trade 'which is become as nothing'. (fn. 29)
There is no evidence of any guild organization among the Westbury cloth-workers, although a guildhall is mentioned in 1599 and in 1610. (fn. 30) Communal action, however, could be taken to enforce the custom of apprenticeship in the 17th century. William Axford, a weaver of Bratton, was indicted in 1602 for taking an apprentice when he himself had never been apprenticed, (fn. 31) and in 1647 there were protests from 27 'ancient weavers of Westbury' that demobilized soldiers who had never been apprenticed were setting themselves up in the trade. (fn. 32) On the other hand, unwarranted interference in the industry was resented. In 1658 the inhabitants, led by their vicar, Philip Hunton, and the mayor (fn. 33) petitioned the justices to allow the burlers of broad medley cloths to continue their work undisturbed by the indictment that they had not served as apprentices. Burling, like spinning, they claimed, had never been an apprentice trade, but was undertaken mostly by children to augment the family earnings. To restrict it in any way would bring great hardship to the town. The attempt to do so, it was thought, was to enable a few powerful persons to gain control of the process. (fn. 34)
Cloth workers are to be found in most parts of the parish in the 17th century. At Bratton there was Thomas Whitaker, fuller (fl. 1638), (fn. 35) William Whitaker, cloth worker (d. 1693), (fn. 36) John Bennett (fl. c. 1645) (fn. 37) and John Lyde (fl. 1694), (fn. 38) both sergeweavers. At Westbury Leigh there were John Paineter, weaver (fl. c. 1633), (fn. 39) and Henry Adlam, clothworker (fl. 1695). (fn. 40) At Westbury there were Edward Hill, fuller (fl. c. 1620), (fn. 41) Steven Appleguard, broadweaver (fl. 1630), (fn. 42) and John Crew, dyer (fl. 1640). (fn. 43) At Dilton there were William Minty, weaver (fl. 1613), (fn. 44) and John Whatly, clothworker (fl. 1660). (fn. 45) Sixteenth-century Westbury clothiers named were William Harris (fl. c. 1663), (fn. 46) Thomas Weekes (fl. 1681), (fn. 47) James Black (fl. 1638), (fn. 48) William Tipper (fl. 1670), (fn. 49) and John Taunton (fl. 1646). (fn. 50)
Westbury was the only one of the Wiltshire clothing towns to take any active part in the attempts made at the beginning of the 18th century to control the manufacture of medley cloth. (fn. 51) The town petitioned Parliament in 1711 that cloths should be of a prescribed length to be measured at the fulling mill. (fn. 52) But there is no reason to suppose that the industry was not thriving in Westbury at this date as it was in the rest of the region in spite of distress among the mass of weavers and spinners. There may, indeed, have been less discontent at Westbury than elsewhere, for when in 1726 there was serious rioting in Bradford, Trowbridge, and Melksham, Westbury apparently held aloof. (fn. 53) But in 1736 the proceedings of the Trinity Quarter Sessions hint at the existence of an unusual amount of violence and lawlessness. (fn. 54) Thomas Phipps, alderman and Justice of the Peace, was abused in the execution of his duty by two victuallers and a yeoman of the town, and on another occasion was assaulted by a labourer. (fn. 55) Three years later an anonymous letter to Lord Harrington stated that the trade of the town was in a parlous state, and the poor much oppressed by the rich clothiers. Two brothers of Westbury Leigh, clothiers and justices, were accused in particular of forcing their workers to take truck and for building a private prison. (fn. 56) In 1748 it was said that the town was noted for 'rough turbulent people'. (fn. 57)
A directory of 1783 lists fifteen clothiers working in Westbury, all except two manufacturing superfine cloth. (fn. 58) In 1798 there were about the same number of clothiers and it was said that the town's annual clothing return was over £100,000. (fn. 59) Many of these men were no doubt only in a small way of business, but one or two were among the more important Wiltshire clothiers of the time, and the few small, but distinguished, 18th-century houses in Church Street and at Westbury Leigh remain as memorials to their prosperity. (fn. 60) As elsewhere, the clothiers lent their support to dissent in the district, providing barns and workshops as meeting places in the early days, and later leading the congregations of the nonconformist chapels. (fn. 61) Outstanding among these clothiers were the families of Gaisford, Matravers, and Gibbs, who in the course of the 18th century, consolidated their wealth and position by some notable intermarriages. Their wealth led them eventually into the landowning class, as in the case of Gaisford Gibbs, son of Jane Gaisford and Richard Gibbs, and husband of Elizabeth Matravers, who acquired as his country residence in 1789 Heywood House, sometime seat of the lords of the manor of Westbury. (fn. 62)
Early in the 19th century there are signs of unemployment and distress, which resulted from the introduction of mechanized methods of manufacture, and measures had to be taken to alleviate the suffering of the poor. (fn. 63) In 1817 a number of weavers, gathered at Dilton Marsh, took cloth belonging to Warminster clothiers from the looms there, and marched with it to Warminster as a protest against low wages. (fn. 64) Two years later, the unemployed were set to digging, and a person was appointed to teach the children to knit stockings. Men received between 8d. and 1s. a day, but the income of a married couple was limited to 5s. a week, with a small extra allowance for every child. (fn. 65) That year several families emigrated to the Cape of Good Hope. (fn. 66) Cobbett visiting the town in 1826 described it as a 'nasty, odious, rotten borough, a really rotten place'. Its cloth mills seemed 'ready to tumble down, as well as many of the houses'. (fn. 67)
By the beginning of the 19th century it is clear that Dilton Marsh had become the centre of the hand-loom weaving industry. Some of the craftsmen were also apparently smallholders and acquired at the time of Westbury's Inclosure Award small plots of land adjoining or in front of their cottages. (fn. 68) In 1840 there were still about 150 handloom weavers in Dilton Marsh, while there were no hand-loom weavers at all in Bratton. In some cottages there were two or three looms, and frequently a husband worked by day and a wife by night to augment the family's income. An average of each loom's weekly earnings was said to be about 8s. (fn. 69) In spite of the rapid advance of mechanization, there were hand-loom weavers in Westbury at least as late as 1859. (fn. 70)
A Working Men's Association, founded in 1838 in Westbury, had 200 members by 1839. (fn. 71) There were also twelve Trade and Benefit Societies, evidently flourishing as centres of local unrest, for they were said to be proposing that year to apply their funds to the purchase of arms. (fn. 72) A number of Chartist meetings were held in Westbury in 1839. One, held in the Market Place, was attended by 300-400 persons. At another at Chalford there were 400-500 present, and on this occasion three of the leaders were arrested. (fn. 73)
In 1838 there were said to be eight mills working in Westbury employing 421 hands, and three in Bratton employing 73. (fn. 74) It is almost certain that none of these survived the catastrophic decline of the industry in the 1840's. (fn. 75) The largest, Matravers & Overbury, failed in 1847, (fn. 76) and distress due to unemployment in Westbury was acute. (fn. 77)
After 1850 there was a general recovery in the industry, and for a time in the second half of the century there were cloth mills operating at Bratton, Westbury Leigh, and Hawkeridge. (fn. 78) All these, however, had ceased to manufacture cloth before the end of the century, and the only mills to survive as cloth mills were the Angel and Bitham Mills acquired successively in the 1850's by Abraham Laverton. (fn. 79) Laverton was the son of a masterweaver of Trowbridge. (fn. 80) By the time of his death in 1886 the firm which he founded for the manufacture of fine woollen cloth was one of the most progressive and prosperous in the west of England. Laverton made many benefactions to the town, (fn. 81) and rose to an eminent public position, becoming a Justice of the Peace and Member of Parliament for Westbury. His nephew, W. H. Laverton, was likewise a benefactor of the town but did not play such an active part in the firm. (fn. 82) In 1921 the business nearly failed, but was re-formed as the private limited company of A. Laverton & Co. Ltd. Since then many improvements and additions to both machinery and buildings have been made, and the manufacture of worsteds has been successfully introduced. (fn. 83) In 1960 this firm employed some 213 people mostly living in Westbury. (fn. 84)
At about the time that the smaller cloth mills were closing down, tanning and gloving became established in Westbury as factory organized industries, although both had undoubtedly been carried on domestically from a much earlier date. The new concerns of the late 19th century were encouraged by the accommodation afforded in the disused mills, and the plentiful supply of suitable labour. The somewhat complex history of these concerns has been told in another volume of the History and it will only be summarized here. William Boulton, 'master glover', and inventor of the Boulton Cut Thumb, founded the firm of Boultons at Westbury Leigh some time before 1871. (fn. 85) His sons were trading as Boulton Bros. in 1889. In 1901 the firm, manufacturers of various types of gloves, was incorporated and acquired Ball's Mill at Westbury Leigh. (fn. 86) A new factory was built beside the mill, and this the firm still occupied in 1960. The firm experienced considerable difficulties after the First World War and the number of people employed fell severely. It re-established itself during the 1920's and in 1952 was employing an average of 120 men and women in the factory, and about 300 women outworkers. A. L. and W. L. Jefferies, who had both been apprenticed to the cloth trade, set up business as fine quality glovers in Fore Street, Westbury, in 1883. (fn. 87) In 1908 a disused mill at Hawkeridge was taken over for the dyeing and leather dressing side of the business. (fn. 88) In 1920 the firm became a limited company with A. L. Jefferies as the first chairman and managing director. In 1936 the company was taken over by Dent Allcroft & Co. Ltd. Like Boultons it employs both factory and outworkers. A third glove factory was established in Westbury in 1927. This was the Westbury Glove Co. Ltd. and in 1956 employed about 130 workers. (fn. 89) The kid leather tanning firm of Case & Sons came to Boyer's Mill, Westbury Leigh, from Frome (Som.) in 1901 and since then has greatly extended its factory site. (fn. 90) The factory had to close for a short time after the First World War, but reopened in 1922. In 1955-6 it employed just over 100 people. (fn. 91)
Malting on a considerable scale was probably a local industry at an early date. In 1647 efforts were made to regulate the trade, particularly where it was practised by those who had other means of livelihood. A number of maltsters was then suppressed and the output of others limited. (fn. 92) In 1825 Hoare remarked on Westbury's considerable malting industry. (fn. 93) Five years later there were 6 maltsters, including 1 at New Town, and 2 at Westbury Leigh. (fn. 94) One of the businesses at Westbury Leigh was that of James Knight, and members of this family conducted their malting business there until c. 1925, when the premises occupied by G. H. Knight & Sons were taken over by Samuel Thompson & Son. (fn. 95) Samuel Thompson & Son were in 1960 the only maltsters in Westbury.
A brick and tile works in Eden Vale belonged to the family of Greenland for at least 55 years in the 19th century. (fn. 96) Between 1885 and 1889 it appears to have belonged to Robert Butcher, but a few years later the only brick and tile works at Eden Vale was one acquired by Abraham Laverton c. 1875. (fn. 97) After Abraham Laverton's death this was carried on by W. H. Laverton until the beginning of the 20th century. (fn. 98) W. H. Laverton also had a brick works at Penleigh, Dilton Marsh. This later became the Westbury Brick and Tile Pottery Co. and was still working in 1960. (fn. 99)
A new industry opened in Westbury in 1857 when the Westbury Iron Co. was formed to exploit the iron ore beds to the north of the town, discovered over ten years earlier when the cutting for the railway line was being made. (fn. 100) The ore was worked by open-cast methods, and furnaces were built to the north of the railway line. At first the enterprise flourished, and in c. 1872 weekly production was about 400 tons and some 200 men were employed. After this its prosperity fluctuated, and then declined until 1901 when the works were shut down. They were re-opened as a result of local effort in 1903, and for a time during the First World War the industry throve. After the war, however, it became apparent that it was not an economic proposition, and by 1925 all work had ceased.
The first bank opened in Westbury was that of the North Wilts. Banking Co., in 1858. The Wilts. & Dorset Banking Co. opened a Westbury branch in 1867. Both these subsequently became merged in Lloyds Bank and in 1960 there were branches of Lloyds and Barclays Banks in Westbury. (fn. 101)
In 1858 the first printing business in Westbury was set up by William Michael in a room over his stationery shop in Edward Street. In 1900 the business was bought by the West Wilts. Printing Co. and removed to Church Street for printing The West Wilts. Post, forerunner of The Wiltshire Times. In 1911 Messrs. A. E. and H. Holloway bought the business and set up their presses in a new building behind the stationers' shop in Edward Street. The newspaper machinery was removed to Bath. (fn. 102)
Several concerns have either moved branches to Westbury or opened up business there in the 20th century. In 1915 the G.W.R. opened their locomotive workshops there. (fn. 103) In 1926 Messrs. Aplin and Barrett established a factory for making processed cheese in a group of former Air Ministry buildings at the Ham. At the beginning of the Second World War the firm of C. Rickards, umbrella makers, moved to Westbury from London. The firm, now C. Rickards (1950) Ltd., occupies a part of Westbury House including the former kitchen quarters and billiard room. (fn. 104) Also at the beginning of the war the International Tobacco (Overseas) Co. Ltd. moved part of its plant to Westbury. A permanent factory was built in 1946 and in 1956 employed about 200 people. (fn. 105) Messrs. A.E. Farr Ltd., civil engineering contractors, were evacuated to Marlborough in 1939, and in 1942 established a branch in Westbury. It was at first intended only to acquire a plant depot near the railway, but in 1945 the firm's head office moved to Westbury and new premises were built in Station Road. (fn. 106) In 1945 the Concrete Products Manufacturing Co. was formed to make building blocks. Later other precast concrete products were made, but by 1950 the firm was concentrating upon the manufacture of building blocks in its works at the Ham. (fn. 107)
In 1947 and 1948 planning permission was given in principle for the building of a cement works to the north-east of Westbury town by the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers. Chalk was to be excavated from the escarpment of Salisbury Plain, near the White Horse, and carried by underground pipe-line to the valley below, where another large excavation would supply clay. (fn. 108)
The oldest engineering firm in Westbury or its neighbourhood is the agricultural engineering business founded at Bratton by Thomas Pepler Reeves at the beginning of the 19th century. (fn. 109) By 1848 it had a reputation reaching far beyond Wiltshire. At the height of its production the firm employed some 60 hands. In 1960 the business, still a family concern, employed about 40 men.
In 1801 the population of the ancient parish of Westbury was 5,921. (fn. 110) Included in this total were Westbury town (1,837), Bratton with Heywood and Hawkeridge (1,085), Dilton, which must have included Dilton Marsh (1,524), and Westbury Leigh (1,475). The population of the ancient parish rose steadily until 1841 when it was 7,588, although between 1831-41 there was a decided drop in the populations of Bratton, Dilton Marsh, and Westbury Leigh, no doubt reflecting the changes in the organization of the cloth industry. Bratton in that period fell from 1,237 to 721, Dilton from 2,172 to 1,848, and Westbury Leigh from 1,420 to 1,380. Westbury town, on the other hand, rose to 3,631. In 1851 the population of the ancient parish dropped to 7,029, and this was attributed to emigration caused by lack of employment at home. The population of the town, however, had risen again to 6,308, thus emphasising the depopulation of the villages, formerly the chief sources of labour for the cloth industry. In 1861 the population of the ancient parish fell again to 6,495, attributed this time to the installation of power-looms in place of hand-looms. (fn. 111) It continued to fall until 1891 when it was 5,634. After the formation of the civil parishes of Bratton and Dilton Marsh in 1894, and Heywood in 1896, the population of Westbury urban district was 3,305 and after then rose steadily until 1951 when it was 5,260. The population of Bratton in 1901 was 560 and rose until in 1951 it was 677. Dilton Marsh had a population of 1,282 in 1901. Between 1921 and 1931 it declined slightly and in 1951 was 1,319, but had then lost 188 persons to the newly created parish of Chapmanslade. The population of Heywood was 411 in 1901 and rose to 528 in 1951. The population of Chapmanslade was 496 in 1951.