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Plaxtol Local History Group September Meeting

Discussion in 'Plaxtol' started by Your Local Advertiser, Oct 3, 2013. Replies: 0 | Views: 1452

  1. The Wealden Cloth Industry
    Our speaker this month, Tony Singleton, provided a very knowledgeable account of the rise and eventual decline of cloth making in the Weald. Tony explained that this cottage industry developed particularly during the reign of Edward III (1312-1377) as a result of economic policies which restricted wool exports and cloth imports, and banned the wearing of foreign cloth. Although cloth was made in many Wealden villages, the main focus lay around Cranbrook, Biddenden and Benenden.

    'Broadcloth' was the product made in Kent, a densely woven woollen cloth made from carded warp and carded weft, and almost from the start the industry was regulated. Broadcloth had to be made in a standard size (28-30 yards long when wet; just over 5 feet wide, and weighing at least 90 lbs when dry) and each piece was inspected before receiving a leaden seal, an Alnage, as a quality confirmation. The records show that in 1561/2 the clothmakers of Kent paid more in fines than those of any other county, for failing the quality inspection, with the Cranbrook clothmakers particularly at fault.

    Producing 11/12,000 Broadcloths a year the cottage industry peaked in the mid 16th century and was still flourishing when Elizabeth I progressed through Cranbrook in 1573. However, over the next 50 years or so competition increased as Protestant refugees from Europe arrived making new and different cloths and there was a gradual decline in Broadcloth production. Charles II recognised the importance of the industry and tried to support it, for example, by enacting that all bodies were to be buried in a woollen shroud at penalty of a fine, but this last ditch attempt had
    no real effect and the industry died out.

    Tony then talked us through the production process from fleece to finished product incorporating selection, preparation, dyeing, carding, spinning, weaving, fulling, and finishing; he noted that Downland rather than Romney sheep produced the best fleece type for Broadcloth and explained which plants were the source of the coloured dyes used. Finally, he showed how labour intensive the production process was with around 45 people (assorted weavers, spinners, scourers, dyers, scribblers, etc) needed to make one Broadcloth a week.

    This was a fascinating and entertaining account, illustrated with excellent photographs and exhibits.

    Our next meeting will be on Tuesday 8th October at 8pm when Richard Filmer will give the 9th Mollie Lewis Memorial Lecture on "Hops and Hop Picking."
    R. Simpson

    Plaxtol Local History Group

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