Weaving in Coggeshall










Ancient Artefacts

 Local Heroes

Historic Walk

Family research

Museum News

Other museums

In the museum there is a working wool loom on which demonstrations are given from time to time and there is the opportunity to try your hand at weaving. This page shows some of the items used in the weaving trade and gives a brief history of the weaving of wool, silk and velvet in Coggeshall.


The loom in the museum

Material on the loom and a shuttle

Jack Thornton, who restored the loom to working order, weaving in the museum. Visitors are encouraged to 'have a go!'



A loom weight

The History of Weaving in Coggeshall
Although weaving had been carried on for centuries by women to clothe their families, Coggeshall's history of weaving of any note began in 1140 with the foundation of a large Cistercian abbey by King Stephen's queen, Matilda. The monks were extensively sheep farmers and this promoted the wool and cloth trade from the 15th to the mid-18th century on which Coggeshall's prosperity was based. During this time the town rose to prominence and was one of the most industrial towns in Essex, famed on the Continent for a type of cloth called Coggeshall Whites. This prosperity has left a rich legacy of timber-framed houses and Coggeshall has almost 300 "listed" buildings. Probably the finest bequest from the wool years is the large 15th century cathedral-style church of St.Peter-ad-Vincula which was built with wool merchants' money, most notably the Paycocke family whose own fine 16th Century house is a prominent landmark in the town.

On the left are the images of John and Joan Paycocke taken from brass rubbings. The Paycocke brasses can be seen in Saint Katherine's chapel in the parish church of St Peter-ad-Vincula.

For a history of the Paycocke family and a look at the house, just click the picture. It will take you to the guided walk.

Following the demise of the wool trade the first half of the 19th century was given over to the making of silk and velvet, and during this period well over half the population was engaged in these flourishing cottage industries. John Hall owned the biggest silk mill in Coggeshall and in 1860 was said to have employed over 700 people in his mill. However the Free Trade Act was passed which allowed imports to come into the country free of duty which had a devastating effect on the local economy. Hall ceased production in 1863, re-opened in 1865 but ownership soon passed to Stephen Brown. In 1877 silk production ceased and Hall’s former premises closed for the last time.


Velvet shears. They have a cranked handle to avoid touching the 'pile'  

A velvet cutter



The Musts, the last Coggeshall velvet weavers, at their looms in their home in Tilkey

The weaving of velvet was a highly skilled occupation and the picture above, taken in 1913, shows Mr Charles Must and Mrs Maude Must, the last of Coggeshall's velvet weavers. They wove some of the blue and crimson silk velvet for the Coronations of both Edward Vlll and George V and it took them about a week to weave 4 yards (3.6m). They were paid 4/6d (about 23p) per yard. Mr Must died in 1918, aged 73 and Mrs Must in 1934, aged 89. They are both buried in Coggeshall cemetery.

Woven to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II 2012

To celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee the  the parish church asked for kneelers to be made in honour of the occasion. Jack Thornton, who set up and maintains the loom, wove the material to make the kneelers pictured above. We believe that the last time that material was woven in Coggeshall on a loom like this was in 1913 by Mr & Mrs Must. One kneeler will go into the church and the other into St Nicholas' chapel.
A brief history of weaving - by Jack Thornton

In 1130 the Liverymen of the Worshipful Company of Weavers was formed in London to control the weaving industry. They had specific standards; for instance the Master Weavers were told how many weavers and apprentices they might employ. An apprentice would serve seven years apprenticeship under a master Weaver who would allocate to him the warp and weft and pay him for weaving.  One weaver was allowed to weave cloth three spans wide; wider cloth had to be woven by two weavers, thus making it more expensive and affordable only to the gentry. There were many such regulations – it was a “closed shop”.

Thus it was in Coggeshall. Weaving of cloth was a family concern. The actual weaving was carried out by the men – Master Weavers and apprentices, mainly fathers and sons, whilst the making of the yarn, the spinning, was carried out by the women.  It took six spinners to keep one weaver weaving. The making of the warp and the bobbin winding were also done by members of the weaver’s family; otherwise they had to pay someone to do it.The weaving industry gave work to other villagers as tradesmen would make reeds, harnesses and other accoutrements needed for weaving and would tour the district selling them. Carpenters would make looms to sell or hire out. The looms were mainly made from pine and the shuttles from beech, hornbeam or some other relatively hard wood. There were some weavers who travelled around the countryside with their looms and their families looking for work; these were known as “Journeymen Weavers”.  They were not popular as they often worked for less money and so took work away from local weavers.The finishing of the cloth, that is, bleaching, dyeing and fulling was mainly done by a specialist who would use lime, dung and urine to soften, cleanse and remove oil from the fabric. If a knap was required the specialist would use teasels to “raise” the fabric. Abbey Mill was a typical fulling mill.

The type of sheep whose fleece was used determined the quality of the yarn, and, hence that of the fabric. In Coggeshall they wove mainly “Bays”, a plain cloth, and “Says”, a twill cloth, but a bleached fabric called “Coggeshall Whites” was also produced. The wool trade was well established in Coggeshall by 1557, but in 1565 Queen Elizabeth allowed immigrant weavers to settle here in East Anglia. These were mainly Flemish and they were very skilled in the textile trade and wove high quality woollen fabrics.

In about 1773, however, the cottage wool-weaving industry in East Anglia began to decline for several reasons. Around this time, a man named John Kay had invented the “flying shuttle”.  The common practice of handling the shuttle for each weft thread insertion was speeded up by his invention of a method of “flicking” the shuttle across the loom. This meant that it required one weaver instead of two to produce broadcloth.  Weavers resented this as jobs were lost and they and their families experienced hardship.  Another reason for the decline of the Coggeshall textile industry was that the Essex and Suffolk farmers found that they could earn a better living from arable farming. Sheep farming was more economic for the moorland farmers of Northern England as their land was unsuitable for cultivation.  Thus much of the wool-weaving industry was now more prevalent in the northern counties.  Here, also, power looms were being introduced which made handloom weaving uneconomical.

Edmund Cartwright invented the first power loom for weaving cotton in about 1785 and there were woollen power looms by 1840.  These, however, were not much more productive than a skilled handloom weaver, working at only 40 weft threads per minute, but one weaver could “mind” more than one loom with less physical effort than was needed to work a handloom. Because the power loom required better warp and weft preparation, it also required higher financial investment.  As a result the textile workers began to move from their cottages to larger premises owned by cloth merchants who employed them to produce their cloth.  In effect, this was the start of the small textile mills.