Last updated 26 November 2011
CLOTH INDUSTRY OF LAVENHAM
early 14th century the cloth industry was already well established.
The origin of the industry probably had much to do with the high
local population of free men not having enough land to make a living from.
The cloth industry offered them the opportunity to increase their
income. As the years went by the industry became more organised and
profitable. However, the soil in the area was more suited to arable farming
than to the raising of sheep, so the raw wool had to be imported from places
like Lincolnshire. Also local wool was of an inferior quality.
prosperity of the trade was such that by 1524 Lavenham was ranked as
the fourteenth wealthiest town in England. Cloth was being exported
as far as Russia and North Africa. Also, Thomas Spring III, a clothier of
Lavenham, was reckoned to be the richest man in England outside the
However, heavy taxation in the mid 1520s, and disrupted export markets
through war on the continent, brought a rapid decline in the industry.
All this helps explain why most timber-framed buildings here date from about
1460 to 1530. There was no wealth left to build anything of quality later in
Spinners were usually young single women, hence the origin of the word
"spinster" which meant "woman who spins". Before the wool was spun, the raw
wool was carded to tease
out the fibres.
Spinning yarn was poorly paid, and prone to boom and slump, but was to last
longer in Lavenham than cloth manufacturing.
blue cloth was dyed in the wool, before weaving, using woad. Various
shades could be obtained according to its concentration. Other colours were
also produced. The process needed a dyehouse, leads, cisterns, vats,
coppers, water and means to heat it. Lavenham has a network of
brick-built culverts under its main streets. It is debatable whether or not
part of their purpose was to take water to and/or from dyehouses. As yet the
exact location of dye houses in Lavenham is unknown. Some dyers were
independent, some co-owned their dyehouses, other were employees of local
first weavers probably worked as independent craftsmen. Later more wealthy
weavers became clothiers, the rest worked for the clothiers. Though weaving
was central to the cloth industry, only three weavers were rich
enough to leave wills, as most were considerably exploited by their clothier
masters. The looms used were basically unchanged throughout the time of
clothmaking in Lavenham. They consisted of a solid wooden frame
within which were beams, and rollers on which the cloth was wound,
treadles connecting to 'heddles' which moved the warp to form the passages
for the shuttle to be thrown through, plus the hinged frame which compacted
the weave and contained reeds dividing the warp.
illustration is of a weaver from The Book of Trades, 1568, Jost
Anman and Hans Sachs, as are the picture of the dyer, above, and the
FULLERS AND SHEARMEN
Fulling involved scouring and thickening the woven cloth in water
containing fuller's earth or urine to help remove the grease. As with
dyeing, plenty of water would have been used, and water would have powered
the heavy wooden mallets which pounded the cloth. The cloth
would then have to be smoothed and washed clean. Then the cloth would
be put on frames called tenters and be dried and stretched.
After all this a shearman would treat the cloth by repeatedly
brushing and wetting the cloth to raise and comb the nap, first using
soft then harder teasles. In between each brushing and wetting the cloth
would dried and shaved smooth with giant shears. This would be done up to
about three times.
research on the history of Lavenham, I would recommend the various
writings of David
Dymond and Leigh Alston.