A Look at Some of the Historic Textile Hot Spots in the UK

The UK has a rich textile heritage spanning over thousands of years. There is archaeological evidence of textile production in the UK from the late pre-historic period onwards. Wool was the great British textile staple from Roman times through to the Middle Ages. Then the industrial revolution hit, making it easy to mass produce fabrics such as cotton, muslin and silk.

Cotswold Wool

'In Europe the best wool is English and in England the best wool is Cotswold'
(12th century saying).

Despite being in existence for hundreds of years, the Cotswold wool trade came to prominence in the Middle Ages. The monasteries, one of the biggest land owners of the time, would rear huge flocks of golden haired sheep for their wool. The rolling Cotswolds made perfect pasture land and the native sheep became known as ‘Cotswold Lions’.

cotswoldwooltrade

The area is even named after the trade with ‘Cotswolds’ meaning ‘hills of the sheep cottes’. This serves to show us just how prominent the wool trade was in the local area. Sheep farmers became incredibly rich exporting the ‘golden fleece’ and, with religious orders owning many flocks, much of the money went into building churches. Rich merchants also wanted to ensure their safe passage to paradise and so would donate portions of their profits towards building these ‘wool churches’.

With the onset of the industrial revolution in the 17th Century the wool trade gave way to weaving and southern Stroud Valley housed over 100 mills. The famous ‘Arlington Row’ at Bibury initially started out as a monastic wood store that was later converted into weavers cottages.  Only two of the Stroud Valley mills still produce cloth today.

The Cotswold dyers even mastered the art of making notoriously difficult scarlet cloth. It became known as ‘Stroud Scarlet’ and was used for military uniforms for many years.

Nottingham Lace

The Lace Market district in Nottingham was the centre of the world’s lace industry during the British Empire. Built in the Victorian style, the buildings of the Lace Market were used to house factories, warehouses and showrooms for the display of the lace that was finished and stored there. Whilst this area of the city had always been an important trade and administrational centre, it really came into its own with the invention of mechanised frames which some towns were reluctant to embrace.

cotswold-wool

Nottingham became well known for its machine made lace, of which lace curtains was the biggest staple. The growth of trade meant that finishers and wholesalers soon ran out of room and began to think about the erection of new buildings. These new buildings are the 4 to 7 story brick warehouses that still stand today, many of which are now apartments or office blocks. Throughout the early 20th Century Nottingham still dominated the machine made lace industry. Any machine made lace in the UK at this time would almost certainly have passed through Nottingham to be finished, processed or shipped. It is very likely that all trade ships leaving the country for distant lands would have carried a cargo of Nottingham lace.

nottinghamlacefinishers
nottinghamlace

The Bolton ‘Muslin Wheel’

Bolton, a former mill town, has been a centre for the manufacture of textiles since Flemish weavers introduced wool and cotton weaving to the area during the 14th Century. Cottage textile industries soon grew up with production rooms mainly based in the homes of the

weavers themselves. When the industrial revolution really took hold in the 18th Century, a number of ‘bleach works' were opened in Bolton. Early bleaching was done by spreading the raw material outside in a large open field in order to colour the cloth through the action of the sun and water. Chlorine was invented soon after and was introduced into the bleaching process in the 1890’s.

Samuel Crompton, the inventor of the spinning mule which revolutionised the world’s textile production, was born in Bolton in 1753. Compton’s machine, often called the ‘muslin wheel’ spun yarn suitable for use in the manufacture of muslin. This yarn was much sought after in the booming textile industry both in Bolton and further afield. There is a trail dedicated to Crompton which takes you to his birthplace, the house in which he invented the mule and on to Bolton Museum where there is an exhibition about his life.

boltontextiles

Notable Textile Attractions to Visit

If we have whet your appetite and you want to learn more about the Great British textile industry then there are many fantastic museums and points of interest you can visit across the country.

Masson Mill – An Arkwright mill located in Matlock Bath which is now a working textile museum. The museum is home to some of the oldest working looms in the world as well as the largest bobbin collection in the world. http://www.massonmills.co.uk/Museum/

Cotswold Woolen Weavers – A museum, design studio and shop located in the village of Filkins just outside of Burford. There are several exhibitions on the history of the Cotswold wool trade as well as several craft rooms which showcase traditional handicrafts. http://www.cotswoldwoollenweavers.co.uk/index.html

Museum of Costume – Located in the famous Assembly Rooms of Bath, the Museum of Costume is home to several exhibitions on British fashions. There are examples of some of the exquisite fabrics produced in the UK for period costumes. http://www.museumofcostume.co.uk/

With the onset of the industrial revolution in the 17th Century the wool trade gave way to weaving and southern Stroud Valley housed over 100 mills. The famous ‘Arlington Row’ at Bibury initially started out as a monastic wood store that was later converted into weavers cottages.  Only two of the Stroud Valley mills still produce cloth today.

The Cotswold dyers even mastered the art of making notoriously difficult scarlet cloth. It became known as ‘Stroud Scarlet’ and was used for military uniforms for many years.

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