From Sheep to Sugar Via Shrewsbury

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From Sheep to Sugar via Shrewsbury

 

Aspects of Shrewsbury`s part in the Welsh Plains Trade

 

The fall from power of the Shrewsbury Wool Traders

 

Extracted from The Shrewsbury Drapers Company 1462-2017

 

By Nigel J Hinton M.A. F.C.A.  Uploaded 15th December 2019

 

 

The Shrewsbury Drapers in 1462 were granted a charter by Edward IV to trade in wool, thus formalised the trade that is recorded in the surviving Shrewsbury Guild Merchant rolls of 1209. Shrewsbury was ideally placed in the centre of the Welsh Marches to collect wool from the monasteries’ and later the farmer weavers and bring it into Shrewsbury for finishing. By the sixteenth century Drapers had built up connections, customers and infrastructure and were ideally placed to benefit from the Welsh woven clothes and textiles trade that was emerging in the fifteenth and early sixteenth century in the Marches towns of Oswestry, Welshpool and Newtown.

 

Trade was disrupted by the Reformation but recovered and early in the Elizabethan era the Shrewsbury Drapers went from strength to strength as in 1566, an Act was passed that secured a vital monopoly over the trade in Welsh cloths. Amongst other clauses it is stated that no person inhabiting in Shrewsbury shall occupy the Trade of buying of Welsh Cottons &c. unless he be a freeman of the Company. This Act appears to have been achieved by collusion with the Shearmen and Mercers, since it also stated that the Drapers must pay members of the other guilds in cash for the finishing of cloths, rather than in kind.[1]

 

There remained some resistance from other wool traders to the rule of the Drapers and some six years after their monopoly was granted it was repealed after the joint action by the Shearmen, the Mercers and other townspeople. By that time however, although the monopoly had only been in force for six years, it had enabled the Drapers to gain such a strangle-hold on the market that prominent members of other guilds thought it better join them than beat them.[2] Four wealthy Mercers joined the Drapers Company, thus strengthening the Drapers yet further.

 

Relationships between the various guilds were complex and interdependent. The weaving of jersey baize had been introduced by the Shrewsbury weavers by 1575. When Chester sought to copy or replace this manufacture and attempted to induce Shrewsbury weavers to settle in Chester two years later, the Weavers felt threatened by Chester’s move.  To counteract this and other hostile actions, in 1582-3 all the Shrewsbury guilds joined with the Drapers to frustrate Chester from setting up a staple of cottons and friezes made in north Wales.[3] Shrewsbury’s unity and lobbying skills kept the trade in the town, which secured its prosperity for the next two hundred years.[4]

 

The trade in Welsh cloth had become increasingly important to the profits of the Shrewsbury Drapers. Cloth continued to be brought from other towns and not just from the Marches but from Yorkshire and East Anglia as can be seen by the various descriptions of cloths that were traded. But as demand increased, many weavers from other Marches towns set up their looms in Shrewsbury and made Welsh cloths in Shrewsbury itself. By 1588 the Weavers Company had 125 members and was the third largest guild in the town and one of the most powerful.[5]

 

 

The members of the Shrewsbury Weavers Company did not restrict its activity to Welsh cloth; they wove a wide variety of different types.

 

Welsh Cloths –   These were the main export. ‘Cottons’– coarse woollen materials whose nap was raised by teasels, or ‘cottoned’ to give the soft, fluffy appearance of true cotton.[6]

 

Bay Cloths    –   Lightweight woollen fabrics, hand-woven using hand-spun yarns. They were typically simple, plain weave (Tabby) cloths which might vary in weight from about 100 – 200 gms/metre2. They were often supplied in natural or bleached white. [7]

 

Plains – Simple woven fabrics, with no after dressing.[8]

 

Say Cloths   –   Heavier fabrics, originally hand-woven using hand-spun yarns. They featured 2/2 twill diagonal weaves that were more robust, but slightly more complex to weave than a plain bay cloth. Weights might vary from about 150 – 350 g/m2.[9]

 

Friezes – Thick rough cloths of ancient origin, having a heavy nap that formed tufts or curls. The term was often used to refer to any primitive or crude garment. [10]

 

Linings – As the name implies, these were cheaper cloths that served to protect the better fabrics.[11]

Flannels – Coarse cloth used for floor cloths, mops etc.

 

Penitones – Also known as Forrest Whites, a cheap woollen cloth from the village of Penistone in the West Riding of Yorkshire near Barnsley. [12]

 

Ossets – Cloths woven on narrow looms.

 

Kerseys – A thick and sturdy cloth made from yarns that had been spun into large thicknesses from inferior, carded wool. Kersey was a warp-backed, twill-weave cloth woven on a four-treadle loom. The name is taken from a village in Suffolk.

 

Whether the cloth was woven in Shrewsbury or bought from the other wool towns, it had to be finished, this included washing, stretching or tentering, shearing and dyeing. The stretching of the cloth was done on wooden frames known as tenters. These had hooks on which the cloth was stretched, hence the expression: to be ‘on tenterhooks’.

 

The cotton-finishing trade alone provided employment for up to eight hundred men.

’This work was done by members of the Guild of Sheermen or Frizers (Scherman, todeur) cloth dressers, who clip off the nap uniformly’.[13]

 

When finished, the cloth was traded near the Town-Hall in The Square, in the Market Hall that had been built for that purpose. It was built in 1595 by the corporation and continued to be let to the Shrewsbury Drapers Company until 1803. ‘Every Thursday, a large market for Welsh cloths, and flannels, of which great quantities are bought in this town and sent abroad’.[14]  The distribution method was by strings of pack-horses.[15]

 

‘Every Thursday the central parts of the town were all life and bustle. Troops of hardy ponies, each with a halter of twisted straw, and laden with two bales of cloth, poured into the market-place in the morning, driven by stout Welshmen in their country coats of blue cloth, and striped linsey waistcoats. After dinner, at two o`clock, the drapers with their clerks, and shearmen, assembled under the market – hall, and proceeded up the stairs in seniority, having, by ancient usage, the right of pre-emption in that order. The market being over, drays were seen in all directions, conveying the cloths to the several warehouses: and more than six hundred pieces of web have been sold in a day. The whole was a ready-money business, and as the Welshmen left much of their cash behind them, in exchange for malt, groceries and other shop goods.[16]

 

 

 

In 1600, the French banned the importation of tentered cloth. This was in effect a boycott of Shrewsbury`s trade with Rouen since Shrewsbury was one of the main providers of this material. The Privy Council immediately banned tentering in order to enable the trade in cloth to continue at its previous level. However, within a year, a clause in the `Cloth Act’ of 1601 stated that tentering was an essential part of the finishing process. The ‘Cloth Act’ also specified the precise measurements and weight for various kinds of cloth, which were to be inspected by the London alnager at Blackwell Hall.[17]

 

The main purpose of the `Cloth Act` was to encourage the French to lift the embargo on tentered cloth but it quickly became apparent that here was a new source of revenue for the Exchequer, since all cloth was subject to approval by the London alnager and, under the Act, substandard cloth was to be forfeited and sold off with the proceeds divided between the informer, the alnager and the Crown.

 

In 1602 ‘a man of very good credit’ warned the London partners of the Shrewsbury Drapers that, as a result of the Act, problems lay ahead for sub-standard cloth. The London alnager, John Tey, ‘laid informations in the Exchequer against a wide range of clothiers, including twelve Shrewsbury Drapers’. The Company was so concerned for its profits that two members were sent to lobby in Parliament for alterations to the Act.[18]

 

Their lobbying was partly successful; Welsh cloth priced at less than 15d per yard was exempted from the Act, and the quality threshold for the more expensive cottons was relaxed.

 

Alnager Tey lost income from this change in the legislation, but he quickly found some earlier legislation to help his cause. Although the requirement for an alnage seal now exempted cheap Welsh cottons, he found a clause in the 1552 Cloth Act; that had not been observed since 1588. This stated that each cloth should include a second seal from the maker specifying its dimensions and weight. Seizures of cloths failing this requirement started at Bartholomew Fair in August 1604. The Shrewsbury Drapers were warned by their London partners that a decree in Tey’s favour could cost them £150 a year in forfeitures.

 

It was a potential crisis. The Company held half-a-dozen indecisive meetings of the members while they tried to decide how to pay the legal costs that would be incurred in fighting the threat from Tey. In February 1606 they voted to raise a fighting fund by a weekly levy on cloth sales at the Oswestry market. They would use part of the fighting fund to send a representative to their London partners to join in lobbying for a fresh statute during the new parliamentary session.

`Barker and Tate were named to the committee along with the shire knights, Sir Roger Owen and Sir Robert Needham, but Tey was also included, and displayed samples of defective cloth to convince the committee that his activities were necessary. The Drapers enjoined to show more concern for quality, drafted a bill to this effect and sent it to Shrewsbury for the Company’s approval. It was thereafter conveniently forgotten, but this co-operative attitude placated the committee sufficiently to allow the bill to be reported on 17 Mar.; the Drapers later credited Owen with this achievement, sending him a tun of wine in recognition of his efforts.’[19]

 

The London partners arranged for the closure of the market as a temporary answer, meanwhile asking the Privy Council to suspend all further seizures of substandard cloth.

 

 

In November 1606, when the London partners submitted their bill for £237/14s/ 4d for costs incurred in opposing Tey, they reminded the Company of the alternative to such prodigious expense:

 

`there is not any country that tradeth cloth to London, but one way or other it hath cost them more than our disbursements, besides they are still subject to seizures and impositions and much servitude by that implacable monster of men, that wolf Tey and his ministers, whose taxations are yearly increased and the poor country then grievously polled and vexed, and are remediless.’

 

Richard Jones refused to pay the cloth levy and various attempts to collect arrears of it resulted in arguments in the Drapers Hall. It took a long time to raise the money and, meanwhile, two of the London agents sued the Company for restitution. The case was finally settled by arbitration in 1609, although it took another nine years before the debt was paid in full.[20]

 

The dramatic events of 1606 and after serve to underline the dogged determination with which the Shrewsbury Drapers Company clung onto their effective monopoly in Welsh cloths from the Marches region. Fortunately, it was Privy Council policy to encourage the Shrewsbury Drapers Company’s trading monopoly.[21] In 1609 a charter from James merged the Guild of the Holy Trinity and the Drapers’ trading arm.

 

The Drapers were powerful but others cast envious eyes on their monopoly and there was little chance to relax their guard. Within a few years of their triumph of 1606, their grip on the wool trade was threatened yet again. In 1620 the Privy Council policy on monopolies was reversed. Now free trade ruled and Government policy was to open up markets to all. Inflation had become a feature of the economy in the period 1610-20 and trade activity had reduced and when a depression followed, free trade seemed to offer a solution.

 

The Act for Free Trade in Welsh cottons, cloths, friezes etc. received its first reading on 26th February 1621. The aim of this and similar bills was to enlarge an open trade area for the free trade in Welsh wool, Welsh butter and Welsh cloth.[22]

 

Francis Berkeley, Shrewsbury M.P., son of a Shrewsbury Draper and the company’s legal counsel, and Sir Richard Newport M.P. opposed the Bill having been briefed by the Drapers’ lobbyist, John Prowde, member of a Draper dynasty based in Milk Street in Shrewsbury. Their efforts were to no avail and the Act was eventually approved.[23]

 

By way of a rear-guard action, Prowde advised the Shrewsbury Drapers to `forbear buying but a while’. That way the Welsh would be taught a lesson because in a falling and depressed market it was not a good time for the Drapers’ suppliers to be holding stocks. The Shrewsbury men agreed on the embargo, agreeing not to go to Oswestry or Welshpool, and that they would only buy woollen cloth in Shrewsbury itself. They had the Welsh traders over a barrel. Those wishing to sell had no choice but to come to town. The Drapers were the buyers with cash. Welsh traders continued to travel to Shrewsbury to sell their cloths until the 18th century.[24]

This was a thrusting time and the investment in foreign ventures and expenditure on new furniture continued, but several old issues emerged including the lack of a standard length of cloth. The length of Welsh cloths had been increasing in order to avoid charges that were due ‘per piece’, but this ruse had been exploited to such an extent that in the early years of the seventeenth century some examples where shown to be over a hundred yards long.

 

It was a system that worked well for those that sold by the yard including the Drapers, the clothiers and the export merchants but the government was losing out because Customs, the alnager, the weaver, the cloth workers, the dyers and the carriers were all paid by the piece. In 1637 the government tried to re-introduce the old standards although there is evidence that some Shrewsbury Drapers continued to over-stretch cloth on tenters, ignoring the loss of credibility and long-term reputational damage that this behaviour inflicted on all members of the Company.[25]

 

In the year of 1638 a case was brought to the Council of Wales and the Marches by the churchwardens and overseers of St Mary’s, Shrewsbury, concerning eight roods of land on the west side of the churchyard on which the almshouses were built and that the plaintiffs now disputed with the Drapers Company.[26] The Drapers fought off the threat and the almshouses remained there for almost another two hundred years.

 

The development of a banking function

Local trade was financed mainly in cash but more sophisticated methods of payment were needed for larger and foreign transactions, as we have seen with the livre tournis in the thirteenth and fourteenth century. By the seventeenth century the drapers were well versed in paper financial instruments, bills and bills of exchange and they also used ‘returns’ and ‘bills’ to send taxes to London for themselves and third parties. In 1835 the sheriff of Shropshire used the ‘very sufficient company of drapers in Shrewsbury’ to remit £3,000, which they agreed if given time to pay in instalments.[27] In 1640 the sheriff of Merioneth was specific when he wrote that £416 would be paid on a given date by a bill of exchange drawn on John Prowde and Adam Webb.

 

During the Civil War in 1642, many members of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company were predominant in the names of delinquents and suspects proscribed by the Crown. The tables were turned in 1643, when three of them Thomas Knight, John Prowde and John Lloyd were made members of the Committee to sequester royalist estates in the county. After 1650, two drapers William King and Richard Bagot were responsible for delivering the sequestered cash in Shrewsbury and transferred it to London by bills of exchange. This role of financiers and bankers continued into the eighteenth century and in 1720 when John Kelsall, of Mathraval forge, needed bills of exchange to pay his suppliers for pig iron, he turned to the drapers and used their bills to pay the iron masters their dues. In the 1750s Edward Blakeway remitted Excise duties to London and to that extent acted as a banker. Drapers also dealt in Government and commercial stocks like the South Sea Company, East India Company and the Royal African Company stock.[28]

 

The power of the Company in the seventeenth century is demonstrated by a petition sent by the inhabitants of Merioneth in 1648. In it they request the Company that the market day for white cotton be changed from Friday to Wednesday since they are unable to get back home in time for Sunday observance if they leave Shrewsbury after the Friday market. There are approximately fifty signatures on the petition.[29] There can be no doubt who is petitioning and who has the power to accept or decline their request.

Drapers Dynasties and an American Venture

The Jones’s[30]

The links between Shrewsbury and its Welsh hinterland run deep as is evidenced by the names of several prominent Shrewsbury citizens of the early seventeenth century.

 

William Jones

William Jones hailed from Holt in Clwyd. He became a Shrewsbury Draper and established a dynasty. His house was built at the east corner of Grope Lane and the High Street, where Costa Coffee is situated at the time of writing, where he raised five children with his wife Eleanor. He died in 1612 after obtaining a grant of arms in 1607 and his wife died in 1623. The couple’s fine tomb, originally in their parish church of St Alkmunds, was moved into the Abbey Church in 1789.[31]  They had four sons, Richard, Thomas, Edward and Isaac, and a daughter Sarah who married Thomas Harris of Breatton.

 

Richard Jones, first son of William

The eldest son, Richard Jones, was also a member of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company and an alderman. He took on his parent`s house until his death in 1638, an important year for his brother Thomas.

 

Thomas Jones, second son of William

Thomas Jones, second son of William, became a wealthy merchant, having been admitted as a member of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company in 1592. He would have been heavily involved at the time of the embargo on buying in Wales. He was an alderman and six times bailiff (1601, 1610, 1615, 1621, 1627 & 1635). He was also High Sheriff of Shropshire in 1624/25 and Chief Magistrate in 1638.[32] It was in that year that Charles I appointed him the first Mayor of Shrewsbury having granted a Royal Charter to Shrewsbury and the right to elect a mayor.[33]

 

For the first time, we can put a face to a name. The portrait of Thomas Jones in Shrewsbury Museum, painted in 1615, shows him in scarlet robes with fur trim. The robes are probably those of the bailiff, an office which could be said to be precursor of the office of Mayor, since the portrait dates from the time he was bailiff, when he was forty-seven years old and he only became mayor when he was seventy. They were purchased by Shrewsbury Museums Service in 1999/2000, with assistance from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, public subscription and the Friends of Shrewsbury’s Borough Museums.

 

Thomas Jones wife, Sarah, was the daughter of Richard Balland of Chester (Mayor of Chester, 1581). The portrait shows her fine dress and jewellery which may indicate that she was a wealthy woman in her own right although, since Thomas was known as ‘rich Jones’ and was one of the wealthiest men in Shrewsbury, he may have indulged her tastes for clothes and jewellery. She was forty-one years old when her portrait was painted.

 

Thomas and Sarah moved into what became known as Jones’ Mansion when he bought the property in 1617. It stood under the Wyle, at the bottom of Wyle Cop, a large timber-framed house at the north end of the ‘Stone’ or English Bridge. In the nineteenth century the buildings were acquired by William Hazeldine and were pulled down in 1829.

 

Edward Jones, third son of William

The third son, Edward Jones, became a lawyer and chief legal advisor to the borough. His home is part of the complex of the present-day Prince Rupert Hotel, the so-called ‘Jones’s Mansion’ (often incorrectly described as the home of Thomas Jones).[34] However, when his brother Thomas (the rich) Jones died in 1642, without issue, he left his property to his brother Edward and Edward moved to his brother Thomas’s house known as Jones`s Mansion at the bottom of Wyle Cop.

 

Edward had two sons and both became successful lawyers in their own right. One rose to become Sir Thomas Jones, a chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas at Westminster.

 

Isaac Jones, fourth son of William

The fourth and youngest son, Isaac, married Elizabeth Prynce, a daughter of Richard Prynce, Lawyer , of Whitehall in Shrewsbury. Isaac left home to seek his fortune in London and he too proved to have the Jones touch for making money. He was succesful enough to afford to buy the Berwick estate in 1619. His son, Sir Samuel Jones, was said to be an apothecary from London, was twice MP for Shrewsbury and made money from property and he died without issue.[35] He left money to found the almshouses and the chapel at Berwick, built in 1672.[36]    He requested his heirs ‘to continue to pay sums each year from his estate for the support of the Almshouses and their residents’.[37]

 

 

 

The Rowleys[38]

One of the leading Drapers of the early seventeenth century was William Rowley who moved to Shrewsbury from Worfield, where his family had been maltsters. He was admitted as a burgess of Shrewsbury in 1594 and to the Shrewsbury Drapers Company in 1597.

 

In 1605 Rowley moved to Hills Lane to where a Richard Cherwell had been living until his death in that year. Cherwell had been admitted to the Shrewsbury Drapers Company in 1583 and simultaneously had continued the family business, which, since the 1520s, had been that of brewers. It is likely that Rowley and Cherley were in partnership since they travelled to markets together and did business on a significant scale. Both families had a background in brewing and this may have given them common interests. Cherwell was also employed by the Crown to remit tax revenues collected locally in Shrewsbury via his agent in London.

 

After Cherwell`s death Rowley took possession of most of Cherwell’s property in lieu of £400 that he claimed he had loaned to Cherwell during his life. In the following year he had to defend an action in London, brought by the Cherwell estate, and it took some years to resolve the case. Later, in 1612, Rowley purchased twelve messuages and four gardens in Shrewsbury from a Joseph Cherwell so in some form the family connections continued.

 

Rowley was a substantial citizen by any standard. He further added to his property portfolio and took a lease from the Shrewsbury Drapers Company on land/property in Knockyn St and the lane to Romaldesham, now Barker Street.

On this land he built the first brick house in Shrewsbury in 1618. It was attached to his timber-framed warehouse in Romaldsham.

 

Rowley was a member of the minority puritan group and along with another draper, George Wright (Bailiff 1619-20 and 1632-3), was presented for a number of non-conformist offences including: in 1620, for not receiving communion at Easter; in 1626, for not frequenting his parish church; and, in 1633, for not bowing at the name of Jesus. In spite of, or perhaps because of, these affronts to Anglican correctness, he was elected bailiff in 1628-9.

 

As bailiff, he pursued the ungodly. Those who did not fully observe the Sabbath day were the special objects of his attention. On 5th July, he surprised an evening’s entertainment at a private house, when he knocked at the door and arrested Ozais Lloyd, an apprentice baker who had arranged a party for some friends with music and syllabub and green cheese.  To compound his offence, the ungodly Ozais had not been to church at all on that Sunday, having, as is quoted in the indictment, missed morning prayers at six, the morning service at nine and the morning and afternoon sermons.[39]

 

There was nothing ungodly about beer however. By 1635 Rowley had created a ‘very vast brew house… the brewing vessels wherein are capable of 100 measures’[40]. At this time there were some 220 alehouses in Shrewsbury and its suburbs and whilst some brewed their own ale, many had started to take deliveries from big breweries such as Rowley’s. Nationally the bigger brewers had become one of the most powerful and political groups, although not in Shrewsbury where the Shrewsbury Drapers Company held the town firmly in their grip, not that this would have concerned Rowley who was sure of his position either way. He had joined the Drapers forty years earlier, becoming an alderman of the new town council when it was first formed in 1638.

 

When Charles I raised his standard at Nottingham in 1642, he gathered an army and came to Shrewsbury that September. Rowley, who had continued with his support of the puritan cause and had assisted the ‘lecturer’ Julines Herring, to preach in private houses, was named along with twelve others as `persons disaffected to his majesty`s person and government’. All were barred from council meetings and Rowley was added to a list of ‘delinquents’. God did not let him down, however; despite what must have been uncomfortable times during the years of Royalist control, he was alive to cheer when parliamentary forces, led by Captain John Benbow and soldiers from the garrison at Wem, retook Shrewsbury in February 1645. Rowley died later that year, vindicated, and was buried in St Chad`s churchyard on 2nd July.

 

 

Johnathan and Roger Rowley

Rowley’s estate was insolvent, mainly because of the plunder and free quarter demanded by the Royalist troops, so it was said. Confronted by this sorry state of affairs, two of his sons, Roger and Johnathan, agreed that the only way the debts could be paid off was by the resumption of brewing. Johnathan had trained as a brewer so he did the brewing and Roger agreed to pay him an allowance of £200 per annum to sustain him.  Meanwhile the estate was put in trust. Johnathan worked hard and paid off most of the debt before he died in 1655, having been Mayor of Shrewsbury the previous year. Roger continued the business until he died in 1670.

 

Anne and Priscilla Rowley

William`s daughter Anne had married Richard Shalcrosse and inherited the Rowley property at Bridgnorth which was sold in 1684. The Shrewsbury estate passed to Priscilla the eldest daughter who had married John Hill in 1658, an ancestor of the Hills of Hawkstone. John Hill junior, their son, was elected to the town council in 1677 and served as Mayor eleven years later. He was a noted generous host and Hills Lane is named after him. He is said to have been the inspiration for one of the judges in George Farquhar`s play The Recruiting Officer, written in Shrewsbury in 1705, when Farquhar was living here.

 

Seth Rowley and a West Indian Adventure

In 1661, William Rowley`s son, Seth,  an adventurer who had  invested in the West Indies, was one of seventeen planters, merchants and traders with interests in Barbados who petitioned Charles II, that the then governor of Barbados should be retained in office. Seth returned to Shrewsbury seven years later, where he died. His will makes no mention of Barbados, but the will of his niece`s husband John Hill junior, dated 1731 (see above) shows that he was the owner of a three-sevenths share in a plantation in Barbados. Thus, whilst there is no direct link between Godly William Rowley and the slave trade, there is a strong link between it and his descendants. Helping to protect those British interests in the West Indies, until his death in 1702, was Shrewsbury born Admiral John (Brave) Benbow, nephew of previously mentioned Captain Benbow, who captured Shrewsbury for the Parliamentary forces.

An American Venture

In the first half of the seventeenth century North America was seen as a land of opportunity and was ripe for investment. George Cleeve, ‘a litigious and foul-mouthed man’, a native of the south west of England, came to Shrewsbury and operated the Sextry, the inn known today as The Golden Cross Hotel, where he traded as a vintner.[41] He married a local girl called Joan Price, whose parents ran The Pheasant in Mardol, and the young couple left to go to North America in 1630. George carried with him the hopes of several Shrewsbury Drapers and once there he invested money on behalf of these partners. The venture failed but George persevered and is credited with the founding of Maine. In Portland there is a statue erected in his memory.

In the 1630s a group of Shrewsbury Drapers invested in a joint-stock company to New England, with two-thirds of the subscribing merchants coming from Bristol and the rest from Shrewsbury, including George Wright, a close colleague of the Draper-brewer William Rowley of Rowley’s Mansion, Hill’s Lane. The origins of this company are obscure, but appear to have been associated with a grant in 1631 of lands on the Piscataqua River, near Dover (New Hampshire). The Bristol merchants dropped out in 1633, but the Shrewsbury men, now associated with aristocratic interests and other parties, stayed with the venture until about 1641 when Dover, proving to be of little profit, was transferred to Massachusetts. The involvement of the Shrewsbury merchants was a symptom of the town’s commercial dynamism, one which was to place it among the forefront of English provincial towns at the time.

Today in the city of Portland, beside Eastern Parkway on one of the hills overlooking Casco Bay, there stands a tall monument in stone to George Cleeve, still regarded as the city’s founder. His had been a remarkable life, taking him from his native Somerset, to Bristol, London and Shrewsbury, and eventually across the Atlantic to the New World. And for Cleeve’s wife Joan it must, one fancies, have seemed just as remarkable, and all a long way from The Pheasant on Mardol Head, and the days when her father was the tenant there and she had quarrelled with her step-mother.[42]

Not everyone was successful and in 1657 the Shrewsbury Drapers donated £10 to a Mr Obediah Brayae, a poor bretheren in New England.[43]

 

 

 

Decay of the Welsh Cloth Trade

The Guild received a setback during the Civil War. In those uncertain times trade was restricted and woollen cloth was likely to be stolen by soldiers of both sides. The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 brought no great relief since many Drapers were parliamentarians and suffered the consequences of their former enthusiasm. They were not treated as favourably as had been the custom in the past.

 

As long as the transport infrastructure was poor and roads in England and Wales remained primitive, and before manufacturing became more efficiently organised during the Industrial Revolution, the Shrewsbury Drapers were relatively safe from competition. But in the eighteenth century, as the turnpike system revolutionised transport and as Welsh capitalism developed and industrialisation had the effect of reducing costs, there was a rapid increase in the decline in the importance of the Shrewsbury merchants. More efficient manufacturing and weaving processes meant that the old, wool town-guilds were in decline everywhere, although the process was gradual and wool was still important locally at the start of the new century.

 

There is a good stoare of sheep in this Parish whose wool if washed white and well ordered is not much inferior to the wool of Baschurch and Nesse which beares the name of the best in this County.[44]

 

Throughout the eighteenth century, apprentices continued to be signed up to serve their term with the masters of the day although the numbers declined towards the end of the century. Their masters, members of the Company and its associates, continued to be prominent citizens of the town, retaining family property and wealth generated in the good times of earlier centuries. They were still at the top of the heap but with the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century they became more aware of the needs of the poor. Charity became an important issue for some of the most prominent Drapers, notably Thomas Bowdler and James Millington who both set up schools and in addition Millington`s will left funding for almshouses.

 

Decline of the wool market in Shrewsbury in the late eighteenth century

From 1790, an early sign of the declining market in Shrewsbury was the frequency with which individuals, not members of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company, began to travel to the manufacturing centres across the Welsh border, thus showing the farmers they could still sell their cloth without the bother and expense of a trip to Amwythig (Shrewsbury). In 1797 the writer, Arthur Aikin, noted that drapers must travel to Dolgelly and Machynlleth to buy whatever they could find to service the demand for cloth for the dye-houses of Shrewsbury and Leebotwood. Other persons, who had no connection whatever with the Shrewsbury Drapers Company, were by then able to carry on the trade unrestricted by the duties imposed on the Company over the centuries by the law[45] and this outside competition had begun to have the effect of increasing the prices the drapers had to pay, thus benefitting the producers.

 

In 1728, some £200,000 worth of flannel had been sold in Welshpool. Flannels were very important to the market in Welshpool because the drapers needed this flannel to supply to the dyers of Shrewsbury, as is evidenced by the contributions the drapers made later to the construction of the Welshpool market hall in 1798 and to the improvement of the Welshpool road in 1802-10. The drapers were clearly showing more than a passing interest in the flannel trade and the flannel was being exported to the slave plantations of the West Indies and North America.[46]

 

Charitable giving in the eighteenth century

By tradition the almspeople received fixed sums of money during the year. One tradition survived into the 20th century: the `Easter’ shilling given to each resident by the new master after the annual meeting in Easter week. But in those times the revenue was not regarded as charitable and the members felt they could dispose of the money as they thought fit. So spending £50 on an annual feast was a vast sum compared with the support given to the almspeople.

 

In the eighteenth century the funds of the Shrewsbury Drapers Company were also applied to civic and public projects, these included the maintaining of a fire engine and payments to the fire crew. This civic responsibility had started in the later Elizabethan period when fire protection consisted of the provision of ladders, leather buckets and fire hooks stored in the Hall.

 

In the puritan period many organs were removed from churches, but times change and in the Georgian period citizens took pride in the provision of civic organs. The Shrewsbury Drapers Company contributed to a new organ in St Chad’s Church and later another donation was made for a new organ in St Mary’s Church. When St Julian’s Church was rebuilt in 1749, the Company gave fifty guineas; the treasurer was Charles Young, a leading draper at that time.

 

But times certainly do change, and the trade was in a permanent decline and despite the efforts of a few stalwarts the size of the Company had reduced to a fraction of what it had once been. By 1800 it was down to, at the most, eleven members and only two of them exercised the trade.[47]  The Company’s main function was by then to manage a property and investment portfolio and little was spent on the almshouses and they were in a very poor state of repair indeed.

 

The almshouses were rebuilt in 1825 and a handful of Shrewsbury Drapers kept the charitable aspects of the Guild alive, after the Corporation Act of 1835 swept aside all the trading rights and benefits of guild membership across all guilds and all of the Country. Small groups of five trustees kept the almshouses operating in spite of many difficulties including the Depression and two World Wars. Then in 1985, the five trustees agreed to increase their number to nine and after further increases to eighty by 1992 and the guild was revived and has continued to thrive.

 

In Shropshire there are many reminders of the importance of the wool and the woollen cloth trade in the landscape; including a popular visitor attraction near Church Stretton being Carding Mill Valley. How many visitors are aware that carding is a process of lining up wool fibres before spinning? Also in the same area a couple of places are named as Walk Mills which I suggest derives from waulk an ancient word for fulling or softening cloth using hammers.

 

To get an idea of the scale of the Welsh Wool Trade in the Marches towns, I conclude this essay with a contemporary account of the trade at the beginning of the nineteenth century from Walter Davies who wrote a general view of agriculture and the Domestic Economy of North Wales. He sets out the cost of trading with the Drapers from Shrewsbury who expected a 10% kick back on the trade they made whatever the price.

 

He states that the manufacturers are the wholesale venders of their own flannels, sending them to their dealers in different parts of the kingdom, without the intervening additional charge of commission or agency. The farmers and cottagers, who still make them in the old method, formerly brought each his own manufacture to meet the Salopian and other drapers at Welshpool market; which is regularly kept every alternate Monday throughout the year. Of late, a most useful set of men, although branded by our law, before the principles and theory of trade were well understood, with the odious epithet of forestallers—have appeared; who go about the country, and buy all the pieces they can. They seem well calculated to compel the over-wealthy drapers to allow a more regular and diffusive division of the profits of buying; while at the same time they save the indigent manufacturer the trouble, loss of time, and expense, of coming from 10 to 25 miles (p. 395) to market, for the sake of selling only one piece. Whether these itinerant jobbers rival their masters the drapers, in the manoeuvre of the thumb and yard by measure, is a question that must not be decided at present; it may however be presumed that they do not, for they give general satisfaction to the country.

Several pieces of the finest flannels, measure 132 yards, and some still more; we will suppose, one-thirtieth part of the whole manufacture to be of that length, and the remaining twenty-nine parts to have 110 yards to a piece. On some market days, 500 pieces have been sold; by taking the average at 300, the annual number will be 7800 pieces. Formerly, when the market was lower, the average price of each piece was £4.: it gradually rose to £5, then to £6 and upwards. Of late, the different quantities and qualities of the 7800 pieces supposed to be annually sold, may have been, as nearly as can be estimated, in the following proportions:

2/60 or 260 pieces of 132 yards each,

at the average price of 2s. 9d. per yard .’                                 £   4 719

15/60, or 1950 pieces of 110 yards, at 2s.                    £ 21 450

43/60, or 5590 pieces of 110 yards, at 1s 3d.              £ 38 431  5s 0d

                         7800                                                   £ 64 600  5s 0d

 

Wool in the 260 pieces, 34 lbs. in each, at 2s. per lb.    £     884

Ditto 1950 ditto 36 lbs. at Is. 6d.                                 £  5, 265

Ditto 5590 ditto 42 lbs at Is.                                        £11,739

Oil to the manufacture of 7800 pieces, at 3s. each        £ 1,170

Soap 8d ..                                                                     £   260

Fullers earth, 3s. to every 23 pieces                              £      50 17s 4d

£19,368 17s 4d

By this statement it appears that £19,368 17s. 4d. is the fair value of the unmanufactured wool, and other articles; and the remaining sum of £45,231 7s. 8d. ought to be the annual wages of labour: but unfortunately, the drapers reduce this annual profit of industry to £39,358 12s. 8d, by a custom of exacting a drawback of ten per cent. upon the total amount; that is, in a piece of 132 yards they pay but for 120, and in a piece of 110 yards they account only for 100. When the quantity manufactured was small, and the price low, this was a grievous tax upon industry ; but now, the annual amount of the drawback makes it appear thrice more intolerable than ever; and it is high time that the poor manufacturers should awake out of their lethargy, and make a general revolt against such a barefaced imposition.

 

The second article of woollen manufacture, consists of what are provincially called webs: and by London drapers, Welsh plains, or cottons. They are a coarse sort of thick white cloth, made in pieces of from 90 to 120 yards. They are exclusively the production of three small districts: the first is the town of Dolgellau in Merionethshire, and its neighbourhood  of about 12 miles round; the second is the town of Machynlleth, and the Vale of the Dovey, in Montgomeryshire; the third is the district of Glynn in Denbighshire, comprehending some few parishes to the north and west of the town of Oswestry. 

 

With respect to the quantity manufactured in each of these divisions, that in Dolgellau and its environs is by far the most considerable. Dolgellau webs may be divided into two sorts; the coarsest, 3/4 of a yard wide, selling from 31d. to 16d.; and the best, 7/8 of a yard wide, from 16d. to 2s. per yard. By computing that each fulling-mill out of eighteen, in the two former districts, dresses four webs per week, at an average of 96 yards to a piece, of the value of 16d per yard; the annual amount will be £47,923. This estimate may be presumed to be within bounds; for the common report is a thousand pounds per week.

This manufacture is of long standing, as appears by Acts of Parliament, the 1st and 3d of James I.; and by two orders from the Privy Council of Charles I ; [note : * See Nos. VIII. and IX. in the Appendix.] one, to the magistrates of the county of Merionethshire, in the year 1635, complaining that the Welsh cottons made at that time, were of inferior quality, compared with those of former days; and consequently injurious to the interest of the London merchants trading to France: the other, to the Lord President of the Marches, in the year 1637, limiting the length of the webs, and prohibiting the use of fell and lambs wool in the manufacture; which at present are found to be excellent ingredients, and in times of peace are consequently imported to Barmouth, in great quantities from Leghorn, London, and Dover. The warp is now ‘now made of the fleece wool of the country ; and the woof is a mixture, containing about one-third, and sometimes one half, of lambs wool. The Italian lambs’ wool, in 1795, sold at Dolgellau for £8 a pack of 240 lbs.; but since June 1796, when the French entered Leghorn, none of it has been imported, except some little in neutral vessels.[48]

 NOTE THIS WORK IS DRAFT IN PROGRESS and will be updated in due course

  

[1] Drinkwater Rev C.H., The Drapers` company Charter in Transactions of the Shropshire Archeological and Natural history Society Vol VIII 1896 p. 188.

[2] One of the town guilds was the Fellmongers; they recovered wool from sheep skins obtained from local butchers. They operated in Frankwell until 1974, and the business was owned by Birch & Co from Birmingham.

[3] Champion W.A. (Bill), VCH Shropshire Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 140.

[4] Healey S., with assistance from J Lawson and W.A. (Bill) Chapmen, Parliamentary History on line: Shrewsbury 1604-1628.

[5] Champion W.A. (Bill), VCH Shropshire Vol. VI, Part 1, p. 141.

[6] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 4.

[7] www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bourne-mill/features/historical-textiles-technology

[8] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 4.

[9] www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bourne-mill/features/historical-textiles-technology

[10] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 4.

[11] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 4.

[12] Hey D., The History of Penistone (2002, Barnsley) Penistones are also mentioned in The British Customs by Henry Saxby of Customs House in London in 1757.

[13] Drinkwater Rev C.H., The Drapers Company Charter in Transactions of Shropshire Archaeological Society and Natural History Society Vol. VIII 1896 p. 190.

[14] Phillips T., The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury (Shrewsbury, 1779) p. 134.

[15] The String of Horses was an inn taken from Shrewsbury and rebuilt at the Avoncroft Museum of Buildings, when Frankwell traffic island was constructed in 1970.

[16] Lawson J., Drapers in the Eighteenth Century Paper. p.1. Quoting, Owen and Blakeway History of Shrewsbury 1, p. 511-2.

[17] The London Alnager was an official tax collector, responsible for gathering duty on cloth sold in Blackwell Hall, London.

[18] Healey S., with assistance from James Lawson and W. A. (Bill) Champion,    Parliamentary History on line- Shrewsbury 1604-1628.

 

[19] Healey S., with assistance from James Lawson and W.A. (Bill) Champion, Parliamentary History on line Shrewsbury 1604-1628.

[20] Healey S., with assistance from James Lawson and W.A.(Bill) Champion,    Parliamentary History on line Shrewsbury 1604-1628.

[21] Phillips T., The History and Antiquities of Shrewsbury from its Foundation to the Present Time (Shrewsbury, 1779) p. 136.

[22] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 170.

[23] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 184.

[24] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 191.

[25] Mendenhall T. C., The Shrewsbury Drapers and the Welsh Wool Trade in the XVI and XVII Centuries. (Oxford, 1953) p. 6.

[26] S.A. 1831/1/2/11 Case papers brought before the Council of the Marches.

[27] Lawson J., Drapers in the Eighteenth Century Paper. p. 3.  Quoting, CSPD. Viii. 1635. p. 503).

[28] Lawson J., Drapers in the Eighteenth Century Paper. p. 3.  Quoting Mendenhall p. 207.

[29] S.A. 1831/1/1/16 Petition from the inhabitants of Merioneth to change the Market Day.

[30] Champion W.A.(Bill), www.discovershropshire.org.uk – ‘In depth’Thomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion Under the Wyle. p. 1.

[31] The Shrewsbury Drapers Company was asked to contribute to the tomb`s return to St Alkmunds in 1912, but it remains in the Abbey.

[32] Champion W.A (Bill), www.discovershropshire.org.uk – ‘In depthThomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion, Under the Wyle. p. 1.

[33] The charter is preserved at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

[34] Champion W.A. (Bill), www.shropshirehistory.org.uk In depth’Thomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion, Under the Wyle. p. 2

[35] James R.R., Berwick Almshouses: the will of Sir Samuel Jones, Transactions 4th Series 1920-1 Vol VIII  p. 114.

[36] Champion W.A. (Bill), www.discovershropshire.org.uk – ‘In depth’ Thomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion under the Wyle. p. 2.

[37] Watts S., Shropshire Almshouses (2010 Herefordshire) p. 4.

[38] Champion W.A. (Bill), www.discovershropshire.org.uk – ‘In depth’ Thomas Jones (c.1568-1642) of Jones Mansion Under the Wyle. p. 2.

 

 

[39]  Champion W.A. (Bill), www.discovershropshire.org.ukIn depth’ William Rowley.

[40] According to Sir William Brereton on a visit

[41] The Golden Cross Hotel is in Golden Cross Passage. The Golden Cross Hotel is reputed to be the oldest licensed Public House in Shrewsbury and records show that it was used as an inn as far back as 1428, some years before the introduction of formal licensing.

[42] Champion W.A., www.shropshirehistory.org.uk , In depth’William Rowley`

[43] S.A 1831/1/16/4  De Grey Warter, Copies and extracts from the Muniments and papers and books of the Drapers Company of Shrewsbury taken by the late John Vaughan former Master in 1835 and classified and arranged by De Grey Warter in 1881.p.52.

[44] Gough R., Antiquityes and Memoyres of the Parish of Myddle, (Shrewsbury, 1875) p. 175.  Gough was born in 1634 and wrote his book in 1700 -1. It is the earliest surviving record of a local history reference book. It contains names and descriptions of local people, their occupations and local connections. To see an alphabetical list of the people mentioned in the book visit. www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/SAL/Middle/myddle

[45] Messrs Adlington Gregory and Faulkner reported on the state of the Company in response to the Charity Commissioners enquiry of 1830

[46] Lawson J., Drapers in the Eighteenth Century, Paper p. 2.

[47] S.A 1831 De Grey Warter, Copies and extracts from the Muniments and papers and books of the Drapers Company of Shrewsbury taken by the late John Vaughan former master in 1835 and classified and arranged by De Grey Warter in 1881 p.52.

[48] Davies, Walter, General View of the Agriculture and Domestic Economy of North Wales, (London, 1810) pp. 390 – 415