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”.
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.
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.
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
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.
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