Autumn Talk 2019
"Wool and Water. The History of the Gloucestershire Woollen Industry"
by Professor Jennifer Tann
Thursday 24th October 2019
7.00pm for 7.30pm
Some of the first fulling mills were located in Gloucestershire at the end of the 12th century. Fulling (the process of thickening cloth with water powered wooden mallets) was quickly recognised by monastic and diocesan landlords as a potential source of income. At first, fulling mills were not necessarily located on the swiftest rivers. But the preference for Stroudwater and other rivers flowing to the Severn was clear by the 17th century and mills were clustered along the rivers Frome, Cam and Little Avon.
By the 17th century – a disturbed century with the Civil War and quite a lot of parliamentary interference in the woollen industry – Gentlemen Clothiers dominated the scene. They owned the materials all the way through the production process – most of the processes taking place indifferent workers’ cottages, the woven piece being brought to the mill for finishing. In time someclothiers became more interested in the life of a country gentleman.
The Industrial Revolution saw yet more mills – almost 200 in all – some of them being on tiny brooks and springs - but, as more processes were mechanised, so the clothiers at prime sites, where expansion was possible, began to develop fully fledged factories. While some clothiers retired before bankruptcy, others carried on and then lost everything. A few large mills could supply the market.
And now many old mills house new industries and energy continues in the valleys.
Jennifer is Emeritus Professor of Innovation at the University of Birmingham. She held previous academic posts at the Universities of Aston and Newcastle upon Tyne. She has been a Visiting Professor at the University of Queensland , Australia and has travelled widely in Australia, the USA and Canada giving seminars and public lectures. She did her PhD on the Gloucestershire woollen industry and then moved into the study and teaching of contemporary innovation. Now retired she has re-visited the Gloucestershire woollen industry! Wool and Water, the Gloucestershire Woollen Industry and its Mills was published in 2012, a second impression coming out in 2015. She recently curated an exhibition on the Gentlemen Clothiers at Newark Park and a pamphlet was published. This year her book: Sweeps, Servants, Slaves; Child Labour Past & Present was published.