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St Bartholomew’s Fair

(385 words)

Author(s): John Oldland
St Bartholomew’s Fair (see Markets and Fairs) in West Smithfield, just outside London’s city walls, was England’s leading cloth fair in the post-Black Death period (the second half of the 14th century), running for three days between 23 August and 25 August. The rights of the Fair were owned by the St Bartholomew’s Priory and Hospital until the dissolution of the Priory under Henry VIII in 1539, when it reverted to the mayor and aldermen. The Fair already existed in 1133, with booths set up in t…

London: trade

(1,218 words)

Author(s): John Oldland
Cloth exports only became important to London's trade at the end of the 14th century. It was not until the 1360s that English cloth exports exceeded imports, and not until the 1430s that the volume of wool exported nationally in the form of cloth exceeded wool exports. With the decline of the English international fairs at the end of the 13th century London had become the principal entrepot for cloth from Brabant, Flanders and northern France as the Great Wardrobe continued to purchase their quality cloths from overseas in the early 14th century. London's cloth industry revived in the…

Guilds: provincial towns

(2,726 words)

Author(s): John Oldland
In the later Middle Ages most large provincial towns had a significant cloth industry (although almost all such industries later declined), and they were all regional centres for clothing manufacture. In the 13th century the important cloth towns were mostly in the East Midlands: Northampton, Lincoln, Leicester and Stamford; and in Yorkshire: at Beverley and York; but Oxford, Winchester and London were also important centres. In the 14th century, Bristol, Salisbury, Coventry and York were the largest producers, while Canterbury, Colchester, Wells and Bath were …

Broadcloth: history of English broadcloth

(3,207 words)

Author(s): John Oldland
Broadcloth, a woollen cloth woven on a horizontal broadloom, was the principal cloth produced and exported from the mid-fourteenth century onwards. By the end of the fifteenth century English broadcloth began to dominate the continental market for quality woollens, with broadcloth accounting for around 70% of English cloth exports. The broadloom (see: Looms) was probably introduced in the first half of the twelfth century, but was initially used to make a range of worsteds serges and luxury woollens. The firs…

Guilds: London

(2,611 words)

Author(s): John Oldland
Weavers were working as a group in the 12th century and they received a royal charter as early as 1155; skinners and tailors were organized well before the end of the 13th century, but it was not until the early 14th century that associations of tradesmen combined their economic and social interests in what can be recognized as guilds: regulating apprentices and presenting them for citizenship, appointing masters and wardens, and drawing up ordinances approved by the City. From 1319, almost all Londoners earned their citizenship, and …


(1,155 words)

Author(s): John Oldland
The term ‘homespun’ entered the English language in the late sixteenth century, to mean coarse cloth spun and woven at home for personal use. Perhaps the word ‘homespun’ was by then needed to describe the clothing worn by a poor minority, whereas it had been unnecessary three hundred years earlier as almost everyone had worn homespun. Unfortunately there are no statistics that can tell us how much homespun was produced or of changes in usage in the late medieval period. However, we can be fairly…

Laws and prohibitions: cloth regulations

(1,216 words)

Author(s): John Oldland
The regulation of the English cloth industry steadily increased from the 12th to the 15th centuries as broad and narrow heavy woollens replaced light and cheaper worsteds; as woollens production became specialized and organized within urban guilds (see guilds: London) of weavers, fullers, shearmen and dyers; and as cloth exports became more important to the economy. A thicket of laws and ordinances intertwined at the national, town and individual guild levels. The crown was primarily interested to organize an…

Bristol clothmaking

(2,801 words)

Author(s): John Oldland
Bristol, from the early fourteenth up to and including the sixteenth century, was the most important urban centre for production and export of cloth in south-west England. It also played an important part in industry development in the fourteenth century by setting quality standards, promoting clothmaking in Somerset and developing export markets in southern Europe and Ireland. It was the primary port for the export of inexpensive Welsh dozens, straits and frieze. Therefore the location of the W…


(62 words)

Author(s): John Oldland
Vesses, or set cloths, was a name originally, in the fifteenth century, given to coarse cloths, both narrow and broad, from Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. In the course of that century it came to be applied to a cheaper and lower-quality form of broadcloth. By the mid-sixteenth century vesses were lower quality, coloured cloths. See Broadcloth: history of English broadcloth. John Oldland