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The Woolen Industry

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During the Middle Ages Clare was a prosperous town, and its main trade was that of clothmaking. Suffolk as a county was famed for the making of broad cloth, and in the fifteenth century the industry spread from the towns to the country districts. Sudbury was a centre of the industry (it was mentioned as this in a Ipswich customs book in the late thirteenth century); and before the end of the Middle Ages places such as Long Melford, Lavenham and the Waldingfields had attained great prosperity. In their churches they have notable monuments of the munificence of their clothiers.

We have seen that Clare had a market in the eleventh century. It is likely that already in the thirteenth century the town had developed a quilt-making industry; and soon after this there is increasing reference to the spread of the woollen industry in the town. The manors o the neighbourhood were able at first to supply much of the raw wool needed. In one year, 13450 - 1 £90 worth of wool was sold from Clare manor alone, and some of this was certainly used up locally, we know, for example, that Clare women were supplied with wool for spinning and waving to supply the needs of the household of Elizabeth de Burgh.

There are frequent references to local spinners, dyers, weavers and fullers; and there was a fulling mill at the "Waltons" crossing at the end of the fourteenth century. Clare must have had a busy market in those days. It had its rules of buying and selling; disputes were settled in the borough court and possibly in a special market court. Trading was also carried on at the fairs, notably at Sudbury, Bury St Edmunds and Stourbridge (near Cambridge), and Clare had it annual fair on March 5th, probably in one of the fields belonging to Wentford Farm, on the road to Poslingford, which was then the main route from Clare to Bury St Edmunds.

In the fifteenth century we find more about individual Clare clothiers. The most interesting figure is that of John Tryklowe, who was carrying on an export trade in woollen cloth from the port of London to Spain. Another famous family was that of Horold. The John Horold whose will was dated 1478 was described in it as "clotheman"; he had houses in Clare, Ovington and Colchester and owned land in Clare and in the neighbourhood and in Stowmarket. John Fenn and John Hadley were also clothiers of some substance at this time; and another, William Gilbert, had extensive possessions. From their wills, and from the wills of weavers, shearmen and other craftsmen, we can glimpse something of their prosperity and of their lives. Apart from their bequests to church and friary, they left money towards the upkeep of the roads, particularly the way through Yeldham which they used when travelling to London. Thomas Paycocke, who had married Margaret Horold, left £40 to repair "the fowle waye" between Clare and Ovington.

The making of broad cloth was declining in Suffolk and Essex before the end of the sixteenth century, and the decline can be traced in local records. At Clare, for example, John Fenne was accused in 1572 of allowing the fulling mill to be converted into a corn mill; and we hear more of agricultural than of industrial pursuits. But the woollen industry was not yet to die out, for instead of the broad cloth a newer kind of cloth came to be made.

The "New Draperies", as they are often called, probably began as a native industry early in the sixteenth century, but their manufacture was much increased when Dutch and other immigrants settled in the eastern counties later in the century. The most important centres of the new industry were Colchester, Sudbury, Coggeshall and other towns, but the smaller towns and villages played their part in production. The bays and says were a coarse cloth made from combed, not carded wool, so that additional work was given to local yarnmen. There is evidence, particularly from local wills, that a considerable part of the population at Clare was employed in bay and saymaking, and several of the weavers employed their own labour in a small way. Thus, in 1663, William Pettit, sayweaver, bequeathed to Henry Kingsbury, "one lombe standing at Robert Rochesters"; and to John Kingsbury he gave "one Lombe standing and being at the widow Wheelers", and "one peece of Serge which is at the widow Gurtons". Earlier in the century, in 1613, a Clare weaver made an interesting will, giving an inventory of his goods :-

In Primis. A Twistinge myll. Item, one posted bed and a trundle bed. Item, one lounge Table with a frame and a forme. Item, one Chaire, twoc ioyned stooles and a square Table. Item, twoe flockbeds and twoe bolsters. Item, twoe coverletts and twoe blancketts. Item iiij payre of sheetes. Item, sixe peeces of pewter. Item, a brasse pott and fowre kettles. Item, a kneadinge Trofe. Item, twoe chestes and one boxe and three windinge wheeles. Item, one Cubbard and a malte quearne. Item, foware Barrells, twoe Tubbs and twoe spyninge wheeles. Item, a paire of Cobyrons, a payre of Tonges and a paire of potthookes, twoe Tramells. Item, a paire of Scales and fortie pound in leaden waights. Item, a Bible and all other my smale implements.

More wealthy were the saymakers or websters, members of the families of Crispe, Crose, Griggs, Plumbe and others, some of whose trading tokens have been found. Their work was the finishing and marketing of the cloth. They had their dyehouses and tenter yards where the cloth was stretched and dyed. Thus, George Crispe, webster, in 1657 bequeathed to his wife a house and lands, "with the use of the stocke upon the same hoppgound, and poles therewith used, and with the use of my three Tainters there affixed and placed". The finished cloth might be marketed locally, and it is possible that the present Bear and Crown Hotel, earlier known as the New Hall, was used as the wool hall. If the cloth was not sold in the locality it was taken to Leadenhall in London. There is an interesting will dated 1671, in which Edmund Plumbe, a Clare carrier, left to Lewis Plumbe his two horses, the hay in the hayhouse and all the implements of his trade; and to his wife Sarah he left "my Thirteene Sayers lying… in my warehouse at London".

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