A Picture of Textile Production In England Circa-1700

In this series of posts, intended to explore any connection between the names of components of textile looms and the “beer thread” names current in the early 1700’s in London, this fascinating account of the history of textile manufacture proves useful. The book is, History Of The Worsted Manufacture In England, From Earliest Times (1857), by John James, a Bradford resident. What it shows is that in 1700, textile-manufacture in England was, as I had inferred in my last post, an artisan activity. It was conducted in the home, almost all spinning and weaving was then. Despite this scale, it was a very important industry, accounting for a fifth of the national income by the close of the 17th century.

See pp 181-198 for an impressive summary of the state of textile production and importation in England in the final years of the 1600’s. As the author notes, albeit conducted in homes and small workshops without the benefit of steam power which by his time was powering the “automatic” looms of jute mill technology, an astonishing and sophisticated range of textiles was produced. These were woolens and worsteds mainly whose production was centred, not in London from what I can see, but in Norwich (famously), Norfolk and many towns in the southwest of England. However, James notes that 2000 merchants in London were engaged in the textile trade, meaning they assisted these fabrics to be brought to London for consumption there and for export around the world. Also, the merchants of London were concerned with importation of cloths, calico and chintz for example from India. This means workers in London employed by these merchants and many on the docks or in carriage would have been familiar with cloths and how they were made.

I don’t yet know where and how the looms were manufactured, but even had this occurred outside London, a depôt for textiles as London was would have – parts of the working populace – been familiar with technical terms used to make the finished result.

Automation can change the means of production, or enable it to take place on a much larger scale and more efficiently: brewing itself is the best example of this. I’m wondering if hand-looms, which James makes clear were the equipment used to make cloths in thousands of households for the “master manufacturer”, used the thread-and-porter system which was characteristic of mid-1800’s jute and other textile production. He states that the machinery of the mid-1800’s was the result of numerous patents taken out “in the last 60 years” including for the vital combing of wool. Perhaps this stage originated the thread, split and porter methods and terminology. I’ll inquire further though to see if equipment bearing the same names was used much earlier, on hand-operated looms.