BAA BAA BLODWYN
A STORY of WOOL AND THE DRAPERS COMPANY OF SHREWSBURY
by Nigel and Bridget Hinton
Illustrated by Carol Davies
First Published in Great Britain in 2011 by
Nigel Hinton 4 Darwin Court Oxon Business Park Shrewsbury SY2 5NN
Text Copyright by Nigel and Bridget Hinton
Illustrations Copyright by Carol Davies
Photographs Copyright by Nigel Hinton
All Rights Reserved
Baa Baa Blodwyn is a registered trade mark
Acknowledgements and thanks to
The Shrewsbury Drapers Company www.shrewsburydrapers.org.uk
Shrewsbury Museum Service
Discovering Shropshires History
Baa Baa Blodwyn have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full
One for the Master, one for the Dame
and one for the little boy who lives down the lane
Once upon a time, on the hills of Shropshire and the Marches, Welsh borderlands, there were families of sheep.
They thrived, because, as they say “the land by here is lovely for sheep”. The weather is ideal for growing lots of grass for them to eat. The fleece of the sheep makes high quality wool which has always been in demand.
Today many of the clothes we wear are made from artificial fibres but in times gone by everyone dressed in natural fabrics, including leather flax, silk, cotton and wool.
Lambs are born in the spring and then the wool is collected from the older sheep using shears to give the sheep a haircut.
Tangles are combed out and the wool is spun to make long strands which can be rolled into balls.
To make woollen cloth the strands of wool are wound onto a loom, stretching the warp threads, the weft is threaded in and out of the warp at right angles, the result is woollen cloth.
These methods have been used for hundreds of years and are still used today!
In the olden days of the middle ages a farmer and his wife would weave lengths of cloth to about 50 metres long and then roll them up and take them to market.
An important trade grew up selling wool, fleece and cloth.
The market in Shropshire was in Oswestry, just on the border of Wales. The town was known as a Staple which meant it was licensed to have a market; the market was held on Thursdays.
The traders from Shrewsbury, known as Drapers, would venture to the Staple to buy the lengths of cloth from the farmers and local dealers.
The cloth that was traded in Oswestry came from all over North Wales and also from England there were flannels, cottons and various grades of woollen cloth.
In those days before cheque books and credit cards were used, the Drapers had to
carry large amounts of cash to buy the wool.
The Drapers would set out from Shrewsbury, on horseback, early in the morning on Mon Thurs WEns to meet at Nesscliffe.
They felt safer if they travelled together in groups as there was a risk of being robbed by highwaymen.
The most famous highwayman, Humphrey Kynaston, lived in a cave on the hills above Nesscliffe. You can visit the site and see the steps leading up to the cave.
The Drapers brought the cloth back to Shrewsbury on packhorses to be processed, softened up and sometimes dyed into different colours.
Most of the work had to be done by hand and foot, as there were not many machines to help.
The “fullers” had the smelliest job; the cloth had to be put into barrels of urine, (collected from the people of Shrewsbury). The fullers would then jump on the wool for hours. This made the cloth, and the fullers feet, very soft. Afterwards the cloth was washed in the river.
After washing, the cloth was put out to dry on frames with hooks, called tenterhooks, and was stretched tight. The expression “to be on tenterhooks” came from this.