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This page will describe some of the industries that grew up in Mere.
Click on one of the titles in the left margin.
Textile Industries of Mere
little to suggest to-day that Mere was anything more than a typical small
country town dependent upon agriculture for its existence.
Indeed, the basic economy was throughout based upon farming, but up to
the end of the XIXc there were important textile industries, themselves based
originally on locally grown fibres, which contributed substantially to the
town's prosperity. Of the four major
textile fibres only one, cotton, was not processed in Mere at some time.
perhaps seem a misnomer to talk of the textile manufactures of our town as
industries. The word conjures up
visions of Blake's dark satanic mills, but it was not until the beginning of the
XIXc that anything approaching a factory was built in Mere. What we are
discussing for most of our history was exclusively a domestic industry, with
production being carried out on a small scale in the home, basically by members
of the family. This, of
course, brings to mind another image, of cosy activity round the family hearth,
far removed from the rigid discipline of the factory.
Both ideas are equally removed from reality;
what factories there were were quite small ones, while domestic
production involved working in highly cramped conditions in the home under poor
lighting with the inevitable dust and waste spreading over the entire household
and economic pressures forcing everyone in the home, from infant to the old, to
work long and unbroken hours. We
have to dismiss from our minds the Utopian visions of William Morris and at the
same time accept that the undoubted evils of the Factory system
have to be interpreted in the context of the general social conditions of
the time, rather than against the background of our own days.
result of the predominance of domestic manufacture is an almost complete absence
of any physical traces of these early industries until the XIXc - nothing
survives to thrill the industrial archaeologist.
The student has to rely entirely on surviving documentary evidence.
In only one instance, but that a most important one, has any commercial
documentation survived; account books were almost certainly never kept in the
first place. A number of
sources have been used for this study. The
most fruitful have been the probate records preserved at the Wiltshire Record
Office [WRO]; various other documents there have also yielded useful
information, as have the notes of T.H.Baker.
early mediaeval times the mainstay of the English economy was the wool trade,
and this has been a major pre-occupation of economic historians ever since
Eileen Power's magisterial study of the 1920's.
Unfortunately the importance of wool has overshadowed all the other
textiles and there is little published work on their history.
sheep in mediaeval times, and indeed far later, was one of the most important
features of the agriculture of Southern England;
it provided meat and - often not appreciated - milk for cheese making;
its dung was a vital factor in maintaining the fertility of the arable lands,
and its fleece provided not only for the clothing of the community but also a
valuable cash crop to be turned into cloth for sale on the London market for
both the home and export trades. It
was in the areas on and around the chalk downs and the limestone of the
Cotswolds that sheep farming and the resultant wool trade were at their peak.
It is not the function of this paper to examine the wider aspects of
wool, but Mere was well placed to participate in this important activity.
paradoxical that although the wool trade was a domestic activity, it was the
first industry, apart from milling, to explore the possibility of applying power
to production. An essential
stage in the production of woollen cloth is fulling - the washing of newly woven
cloth in a mixture of Fullers Earth and more noxious substances such as
"sig" to clean it of grease, and thoroughly pounding it to shrink the
fibres to their final state. Originally
this process was done by trampling the cloth underfoot in vats of liquor; in
here that we find our first reference to Mere as a cloth producing area.
An account roll of the Manor of Mere for the Earl of Cornwall in 1296 
lists rent of 28/8d for "uno
molendino fullonico" so that we know that Mere was then in the forefront of
technology. We do not know when it
ceased operation, but its existence became imbedded in local tradition as having
been near the present sewage works. Significantly,
a mill is shown in Andrews & Drury's 1773 map of Wiltshire
at the bottom of
XVIc, however, when we have the benefit of the Probate Inventories  we at
least know the names of some of those who worked as fullers. When Thomas Coke
died in 1578, his effects included 3 pairs of fullers' shears, a shearing board,
2 vats and a fullers press, with a rack for stretching cloth in the back side of
his premises. He had a stock of
alum, madder and "brassol", probably Brazilwood, kept in the hall of
his house rather than in his workshop. The
last two items are dyestuffs, indicating that he dyed the finished cloth as well
as fulling it. Also he had 4 pieces of "carsis", presumably kerseys,
in stock, as well as a small quantity of wool and yarn.
In 1680 Wm. Kendall described himself as a fuller when entering into a
bond, and John Hooper seems to have
been a fuller in 1618. In 1655 John Hooker left to his son John "all my
sheares and Handels within my shoppe with all things pertaining so that he do
use and keep my occupation"; these handels were the frames in which teasels
were mounted to draw across the cloth to raise the nap prior to the final
process of shearing.
was a specialised trade, requiring the capital investment in the mill; it was
also the final process in the production of cloth, so it is quite likely that
the fullers may have been in a good position to merchant the cloth; this would
account for Coke's having cloth in stock. The
weaving process was so fragmented that there would certainly have been
entrepreneurs somewhere to co-ordinate the trade.
first process, of course, was the spinning of the yarn.
Here we find that most of the farmers, large and small, had a certain
amount of wool in stock, and not only the farmer's households but also a number
of others had "turns", or spinning wheels.
The carding of the wool and the spinning of it into yarn were widespread
cottage occupations - Robert Curtis
of Woodlands in 1634, a small farmer, had 2 bags of wool and some yarn, produced
on the 2 wheels and 2 pairs of cards
he owned. Significantly the wheels are described as "wool turns",
indicating the specialisation from linen which was already established.
the early XVIIc references to woollen weaving are few.
In 1587 Edward Alford is a broadweaver; he has a wool turn and 2 linen
turns, but tantalisingly his inventory refers merely to "all his working
tools" without describing them. It is significant, though that he
apparently wove broadcloth, the well known West of England product; we also have
in 1690 Thomas Stafford, a serge
weaver, another Western speciality. Stafford
had 2 looms and their fittings, but significantly he also had a comb pott and a
pair of combs; these indicate that rather than using the carded wool of the
ordinary cloth weaver, he combed his own "tops" of long fibred wool as
in worsted weaving, and that he carried out the process in house rather than
farming it out to woolcombers. Unusually,
he had a separate "press house", with press and sets of papers for
pressing; in stock he had 8 pieces
of worsted & 10 of serge. It is
hard to see the use of about 40lb of pinnes!
weaving until the invention of the flying shuttle by John Kay in 1733 would have
required the employment of a second weaver to throw the shuttle through the
shed, as the loom was far too wide for the weaver himself to pass it from side
to side.William Longyer, described as a woollin weaver, in 1636 had one loom,
with a chain of warp set up on it and a very small amount of yarn.
In 1618 Thomas Hawker, again of
feature of most of the traditional cloth areas is the "weaver's
window" - long lines of windows in the upper floor of cottages to give
light to the weavers operating in the loft.
Significantly these do not appear in Mere; any there may have been have
been swept away in the many series of rebuildings the town has seen.
area where cloth was an important commodity one would expect to be able to
identify one or more clothiers, the merchants who both organised the supply of
raw materials to the weavers and the marketing of the cloth, usually through the
monopoly market at Blackwell Hall in
woollen industry, for reasons too complex to go into here, underwent radical
changes during the XVIIc and in the West of England these led to its
however, a potent successor to wool in the second of our "Silver
Threads" already established. The
belt of well drained soils over the Greensand, which ran from the end of the
chalk at Mere West and South through Somerset into West Dorset was eminently
suitable for the cultivation of flax, and this provided the basis of the economy
of that belt for centuries; indeed in Chard, Crewkerne and Bridport industries
owing their foundation to flax survive to this day.
Mere was at the Eastern extremity of this belt
and as a result was one of the first to lose the flax based industries,
which survived longer in Bourton, but for centuries flax was the foundation of
a long stapled fibre derived from the stems of the flax plant, Linum
usitatissimum, which was widely cultivated in the area; in recent years it has
been grown again locally, but nowadays only for the seeds, the source of linseed
oil. For this use the heads only are harvested, and the remaining stems have no
textile use. For the production of flax the whole plant had to be pulled from
the ground, the stems steeped in
water to rot away the softer fibres and then stooked to dry.
After this the stems were "scutched" - beaten to separate the
individual fibres - and "heckled", or combed.
The resulting bundles of fibre were then spun into yarn on wheels
similarly to wool, and passed to the weaver, if necessary after dyeing.
The final process was "bucking", where the finished cloth was
bleached by boiling in slaked lime and an alkaline lye, producing what we know
however, is a generic term for all the flax based fabrics, ranging from coarse
heavy sailcloth to the finest damask tableware, and, as is usual, various
districts specialised in different types. Mere
does not seem to have produced either end of the scale; in addition to a certain
amount of dowlas, a coarse fabric eminently suitable for making working smocks,
and cheesecloth, a simple plain weave cloth for wrapping foodstuffs and
bag-making, its prime product was bed-ticking, a strong tightly twill woven
fabric familiar to us to this day, with its narrow blue band woven into the
warp. Mere seems to have been the
most important source of this material in the country.
Shakespeare was familiar with some of these linen products:-
I bought you a dozen of shirts for your back
Dowlas, filthy dowlas; I have given them away to bakers' wives and
they have made bolters of them
Hostess: Now as I am a true
woman, holland of eight shillings an ell
[Henry IV PT I, Act III]
references to woollen workers have been sparse, we have a wealth of information
about the linen workers of Mere, and it is obvious that by the XVIc they far
outnumbered the former. Amongst the probate inventories there are many which
show what considerable substance they had and give a picture of their
operations; in most cases their descendants still live in the town.
example is Thomas Harcourt of Wolverton whose house was a modest one but well
furnished by the standards of the day. When
he died in 1677 he had in his workshop 3 looms, 2 turns, or spinning wheels,
swifts to wind the yarn on, 3 hatchells and other tools.
Above the shop in the loft were the warping bar and scarme for preparing
the warp threads for the looms, a laborious process, and in the kitchen were a
furnace, a bucking vat for bleaching, and a dye kettle, together with scales and
weights. To feed the looms he had
nearly 1,500 pounds of yarn of various grades, 200 pounds of dressed flax, and
an unspecified quantity of undressed rough flax; in addition 100 pounds of tow
[the broken and matted fibres, residue of scutching] "at spinning".
Completed, he had 7 pieces of tick plus one chain of warp awaiting
starting. He had four sons,
who will probably have worked with him, and one can see that the entire
operation from raw flax to finished cloth was carried out under the same roof,
apart from sending some flax or tow out for spinning.
left the three looms and so on to his son Valentine, who died in 1701.
By then the 3 looms had become 5, with all the appurtenances.
He had nearly 3,000 pounds of yarn in stock, valued at £166, 2 completed
pieces of dowlas and two of tick, seven chains in progress, and £9 worth of
flax in house or out at spinning, and £19 in book debts.
He left the entire operation apart from one loom to his wife, who
presumably carried on the trade.
It is of
interest that whereas Thomas merely had yarn of unspecified origin, the bulk of
Valentine's yarn is specified as being "hambora".
We encounter several variations on this spelling in different
inventories, but they are all variants of "
seen Edward Alford as a broadweaver; by 1678 the family, as well as being
millers and blacksmiths, were heavily engaged in the linen trade. Christopher,
who died in that year, had a very substantial house of six domestic rooms
comfortably furnished. In the shop
he had 2 looms, each with pieces of tick on them, swifts, hatchells and spooling
turns, with the usual warping bar in the loft. Quantities of yarn and tow were
scattered around the house & loft, though only a small amount of flax.
Significantly the yarn included 30 lb of blue yarn [for the ticking
stripe].Amongst the barrells in the buttery were 3 pieces of fine tick @ £3.10.=
each and 4 of coarse tick @ £2.10.=, and 4 remnants of dowlas.
Another piece of tick was "out at weaver" so he apparently
sub-contracted some of his work; he was owed £5 for 4 pieces of dowlas "at
Redden" - whether this is the name of the debtor or the cloth was out for
dying is obscure. He had a separate
bucking house with a vat for the bleaching.
cases were the family entirely dependent on their weaving. The Harcourts had 3
1/2 acres of wheat in the ground; Valentine had 3 cows & calves, 2 sheep and
a mare. George Rogers alias
Ball in 1645 had 2 looms and the usual appurtenances, but also 5 cattle, 3 colts
and 2 pigs and a considerable quantity of cheese.
He left a loom to each of his 2 sons, one of whom was probably the Hugh
Ball alias Rogers who in 1668 had 3 looms, yarn valued at £70, 4 pieces of tick
and flax both in house and at spinners. They
must have been a family of some importance locally for two of them to have been
buried in the centre of the nave of St. Michaels in the early 1700's.
the weavers were of such substance. In
1628 Edith Harris, widow, had one loom and a warping bar, each with some blue
chain on them, a couple of turns, some 20 spools of yarn and a small amount of
loose yarn & tow, but her whole effects were valued at under £10.
There are quite a few cases of weavers with but one loom, and it is to
these that the larger operators would have contracted out their work. There are
cases in the overseers accounts of the purchase of looms to give to paupers - £1
seems to have been the going rate for a loom.
the case of the woollen industry, such a large number of small independent
weavers called for some form of commercial nexus if anything wider than the
local market was to be tapped. We
are singularly fortunate that in Mere we have quite a lot of knowledge on this
aspect. That same Duchy
account roll of 1295 which tells us of the fulling mill names only one tenant by
surname - one Thomas Harding, the earliest identification of any Mere surname;
the family could be found in the area right into this century, nearly all
as farmers. James Harding,
however, born in 1655, became a cloth and tick merchant and was a substantial
member of the local community; he owned Benjafield Farm, North of
Milton-on-Stour, and on his death in 1725, by which time he was described as a
gentleman, left an annuity for the poor of Mere charged on part of the farm.
His son, also James, born 1688, continued and expanded the business; not
only did he deal in ticking, but he also bought and sold woollen cloth from
other parts of the West of England, and indeed from Essex and Yorkshire and
built up a substantial trade with Hamburg, Portugal and the American colonies.
Whilst he continued to own Benjafield, and also acquired substantial
other landed estates at East Mark, Yarlington & North Cadbury in Somerset,
we know that he lived in, and operated from, a double fronted two storey house
in the Square at Mere, with substantial warehousing at the rear, probably leased
from the Longleat Estate. By 1810
this had become the "White Hart" inn, though it was to have a
relatively short life as such, being bought by Charles Card in the 1860's and
redeveloped as a private house; its present use as a Chinese takeaway is a long
way from its origins. Few people can
imagine it as the centre of such substantial foreign trade.
slab in front of the altar rails of St. Michaels records "Hic jacet Jacobus
Harding, Armiger, obiit 21 Feb AD 1775 aetat 87".
A press report at the time said that his estate was reputed to be £300,000;
though one has to think that this was a serious exaggeration he had undoubtedly
built up a very substantial fortune. He
had gradually withdrawn from business, and seems to have been a lender of
capital locally. He left no
immediate family; his sister had married in 1718 Thomas Beach of Fittleton, and
the bulk of his estate was left to her son William Beach, whose daughter married
Michael Hicks in 1779. This Michael
assumed the additional name of Beach, and ultimately his family, as Hicks-Beach,
became the Lords St. Aldwyn; for some time, however, members of the family
retained a connection with Mere.
sometime in the early XVIIIc James Harding took into his employment as a clerk
one Henry Hindley; there is a
tradition that he came from the Wigan area of
Henry Hindley was trading on his own account, having borrowed £800 from Harding
and a further £600 from the rector of Silton; he continued to manage Harding's
business for him, but as his employer gradually withdrew from the business he
took over his contacts; he also retained a business relationship with Beach, who
retained ownership of Harding's house. Hindley
operated from the next door house in the Market Place, now the bakery, which
also had substantial warehouse space at the rear.
He continued trading till his death in 1783, though he did not leave
anything like the fortune that his former employer had.
By this time the linen trade was in decline, though his son Henry
Plucknett Hindley carried on the trade, and was indeed a tick maker of some
repute at Wolverton, though this business also finally collapsed.
Henry's grandsons, who had moved to
Hindley's letter books, much mutilated, covering various periods between 1762
& 1775, have survived and are in the Wiltshire Record Office.
In 1963 they were the subject of a detailed study by the respected
textile historian Julia deL. Mann, published by the Wiltshire Record Society;
they give some fascinating insights into the working of the linen trade of the
both of the Hardings, father and son, and Hindley were predominantly ticking
merchants, they continued to deal fairly heavily also in woollen cloths.
It may well be that it was in this area that they first went into trade,
and that, having well established connections they continued in that trade even
after the surrounding area did not supply their stock.
We find Hindley buying West of England cloths from as far afield as the
Cotswold area to fill the orders he has from abroad.
our modern eyes is the strangest aspect of their trade is the very considerable
overseas element that it contains. Bearing
in mind that Mere is far from any sea port or any established mercantile centre,
and that it was only in Hindley's time that the turnpike brought through road
traffic into the town rather than along the edge of the Plain above it, it is
about the last place where one would have expected to find a merchant dealing on
an everyday basis with the Baltic and with Portugal, but this was the situation.
How this originally came about we do not know, and can only assume that
it was in the days of Harding senior, and that he was originally an exporter of
woollen cloth to
nature of the trade into these two areas differed.
In the case of
Portuguese trade was radically different, as exports could not be matched
against imports of flax and yarn, the only trading commodities of direct local
interest here. The exports were of
cloth and tick, and the Portuguese economy, which had suffered severely from the
the West country flax based trades owed their origin to the locally grown raw
material, production very soon seems to have outstripped the local crop, leading
to heavy dependence on imported materials. We
have already noted the appearance of
1760's Hindley is arranging with his
Hindley is buying large quantities of yarn through his agents in Hamburg, but
insisting that it must be shipped by April, as there is little sale for it in
Mere after mid-May.
This reflects the fact that during the summer most of the weavers were
employed in farming, and that weaving was a winter occupation. There are
frequent references to shortage of finished cloth as all the labourers are
engaged in the harvest. In August 1774 all the workmen are out in the fields
haymaking, and even at the end of October that year, there having been a long
harvest, there are now plenty of apples, employing many workmen making cider.
continued as a local crop, and indeed Hindley spoke highly of the quality of
West of England flax. In 1763, when
a spring drought was threatening the harvest here, he was making enquiries in
curious survival in the tick trade was the practice of specifying the finished
product by its width expressed in the mediaeval measure of the "nail".
This was 2 1/4", one sixteenth of a yard or one twentieth of an
English ell. The most common
width was 13 nails wide, 29 1/4", and was frequently specified merely as
"nails". For a long time
this width remained as a standard one for bed-ticks.
All ticking had a narrow coloured stripe, usually blue but occasionally
red, in the warp chain, and this practice continues to this day.
In Mere it was generally woven on three treadle [or heddle] looms; there
was occasional demand for a more substantial tick woven on four heddles, but
Hindley recommended those wanting it to look for it in the Fordingbridge area.
However in 1809 the trustees in the bankruptcy of Edward Butt sold at
auction about 26 pieces of four needled tick.
letters occasionally give us little insights into daily life.
On August 4th. 1770 Harding has been very ill and confined to his bed for
2 months, Writing to his London agent, Hindley "begs the favour of you to
buy him some portable soup made from beef, about 5s worth, and to send it per
Andrew's flying wagon; I think he has wagons set out almost every day". In
settling the agent's account with
in touch with a jeweller, Frisquett, in Lothbury, and asks him to carry out
commissions such as the purchase of lottery tickets and fishing lines;
later his children appear to lodge with Frisquett.
the weavers had their smallholdings. In
Feb 1779 Hindley is writing to Wm Chafin Grove inviting him to start procedings
against Farmer Wickham for putting his sheep into Mere Mead against the local
customs. We learn that Hindley has
just under two acres of ground in Mere Mead, and is obviously concerned at the
trespass, to the extent that he has twice had Wickhams' sheep impounded.
Although one would have expected butter to be a readily available
commodity in Mere, on two occasions Hindleys buys barrells of it for himself and
Harding from a farmer near Margam in
Hindley's death in 1783 the decline of the local industry had set in, and it
seems that his personal fortune was very small.
By this time the various inventions which changed the entire face of the
textile industries, and were spearheading the Industrial Revolution, were having
their effect, so that ultimately the trade was to move to the industrialised
while Hindley's son was continuing the tick business on a small scale at
Wolverton, a new name appeared on the textile scene in Mere.
For centuries the Jupe family had been substantial farmers in the area,
and a number of them had also been in the linen business.
In 1765 John Jupe was born in
end of the XVIIIc machine dressing and spinning of flax had become well
established elsewhere in the country, and according to some sources it was
around the turn of the century that John Jupe took over the old grist mill at
Lordsmead and built Mere's first factory there, complete with bell, still in
existence, for summoning the workers. He
installed the new 8hp. water wheel which survived until World War II, to power
it. There is however, some doubt as
to just when these developments took place; in 1825 & 1833 John Jupe is
paying rates for "the factory", presumably Lordsmead; the factory
returns of 1838 do not mention any mill, though there is machine spinning by the
1840 return, and T.H.Baker dated the installation of water power to 1837.
John's eldest son, Henry, born in 1800, joined him in the business, and
at the age of 21 is already
described as Mr. Henry, tickman and manufacturer on affiliation papers.
In Pigot's 1830 directory both John and Henry are shown as tick
manufacturers, but by 1838 John would seem to have retired, as Henry alone
appears, as flax spinner & tickmaker. By 1834 John, apparently retired, is
rated for Deans Orchard, where he is living in 1841; by 1851 the wheel has come
full circle and he is living in Hindley's old house in Market Place, where he
died in 1855, leaving Lordsmead house and mill to Henry; he had acquired several
other properties around the town which were left to other members of the family.
fairly certain that it was only the spinning processes which were mechanised;
the Factories return of 1850 reports that there were 500 spindles installed
there. The Handloom Weavers
Commission report referred to there being some 500 looms in operation in Mere
and its neighbourhood; this must include a fairly wide area, as only 50 weavers,
male and female, appear in the 1851 census.
These weavers continued to work either in rooms in their cottages or in
sheds attached to them, and the report gives their average wage as 11/= to 11/6d
per week. A surviving billhead of
Henry Jupe in 1848 announces him as "Flax spinner, & Linen, Tick &
Cheesecloth Manufacturer". By
then he is the last man in the trade, and he seems to have given up the business
around 1860; he was living at Lordsmead in retirement in 1861, with his wife
Anna, who was Henry Hindley's granddaughter.
Their daughter Rose Anna married James Lander, and their descendants live
at Lordsmead to this day.
Jupe's retirement marked the end of one textile era in Mere, it overlapped
another, of which his brother Charles was the main protagonist, and which was to
last throughout most of the XIXc and was to be a truly factory based trade.
latter half of the XVIIIc changing fashions and greater prosperity throughout
the country had led to a vast expansion in the demand for silk.
Silk weaving, apart from a few isolated small concerns, was concentrated
on the Spitalfields area of
silk throwing industry differed radically from its woollen and linen
predecessors. In the first place,
the fibre being processed was of a different nature - fantastically fine, so
that some 30 threads would only be 1mm thick in all; one can readily realise how
suitable the work was for children and young people, and that as they grew up
they lost the dexterity required. By
its very nature, the raw material was thus very valuable, and every ounce needed
to be accounted for; even the waste
fibres were capable of being spun into a coarser thread.
As a result, home working was out of the question, and for the first time
the whole operation had to be carried out on the employer's premises; this spelt
the final end of the domestic system and henceforth all production was factory
in the case of wool and linen the entire process from preparation of the
original fibre through to weaving was vertically integrated and all carried out
in the same district, with ownership of the materials generally lying with the
spinner or weaver, with the clothier or merchant arranging for the marketing of
the cloth. In the case of silk it
was just one stage of the process that was carried out by the throwsters, and
they did not actually own the silk on which they were working, but worked
basically by processing for the weavers elsewhere on a commission basis.
They were thus sheltered from the marketing requirements, but by the same
token were at the mercy of the weavers for work.
This left them wide open to competition, both from the large number of
concerns which had been established in this country and also from competition
from abroad. It is not surprising that the history of the XIXc industry is
littered with the bankruptcies of throwsters.
first throwster near Mere was at Gillingham, where around 1769 Stephen Hannam, a
local Quaker who owned the Town Mill, realised the potential and established the
Gillingham Silk Company, which became a thriving concern until foreign
competition led to its closure in 1895. Hannam
had an arrangement with the Borough of Lambeth to take girls from their
workhouse, at the age of 8 to 10, to be apprenticed to the age of 18.
years earlier a Whitechapel silk throwster, John Sharrer, set up a similar
operation at Sherborne. On his death
in 1769 the business passed to his nephews George Ward & William Willmott.
While they had a factory at Sherborne, they set up a number of
decentralised "silk houses" throughout
Sherborne business of Willmott continued until 1885, when it failed, though a
new company was formed as silk weavers rather than throwers, continuing up to
recent days, having diversified into fibreglass.
At some stage Willmott established a silk house in Mere.
The first reference so far traced to this is the sale advertisment in
Nov 1814 of "a cottage and garden in
original silk throwsters were easily open to competition from local people who
realised that it was a trade where entry was easy once a number of young girls
had learnt the art and could be enticed into working for them, and it seems that
this happened in Mere. In Piggot's
1830 directory is the entry "Maggs & Co Silk Throwsters";
in 1819 Isaiah Maggs is rated on watermeads,
land and "Factory at Hinks Mill ", though the "mill adjoining
factory" seems to have remained in the occupation of one Francis Webb,
Maggs is also rated on a mill, which could have been either Lordsmead or the old
fulling mill site. This Isaiah [1749/1827], was a tickmaker at Silton and
obviously of considerable substance. He had one son, Henry, who seems to have
inherited his father's estate [hence the appearance of the names of Isaiah &
Henry at the silkhouse], and five daughters; one daughter, Ann, married John
Jupe and another, Emma, married Frederick Butt, a member of another of the local
linen families. Henry left no children, and on his death in 1840 he left his
many properties in the area to different relatives.
Amongst these were his sister Anne, wife of John Jupe, and their children
- Henry & Charles amongst them - and another nephew Ambrose Butt.
have the Maggs/Jupe connection firmly established in the old silk house and at
Hinks Mill. However, an unlocated
second silk house appears. Whilst the Jupe family had all been members of the
established church, Charles, John's youngest son, born in 1806, although brought
up in the Established Church, with a reputation for enjoying secular delights,
became engaged to Hannah Forward, a member of a strongly non-conformist Zeals
family, and himself became an Independent, ultimately becoming a mainstay of the
Congregational Church. On 13th June 1829, with three others, he obtained a
Meeting House Certificate for Independents "at our silk house in
Jupe himself lived in Dewes House after his marriage in 1833 to Hannah Forward,
a member of another of the old linen families.
We know that he was in partnership with Ambrose Butt, his batchelor
cousin, and it seems a reasonable supposition that originally the senior partner
was Isaiah Maggs, followed on his death by his son Henry.
When the latter died in 1840 he left the Leasehold of Hinks Mill, then
occupied by his two nephews, with all machinery and fixtures, to them.
This, like Lordsmead, was an old grist mill, with a substantial house
beside it, and it seems that the firm established themselves there during the
1830's. Very considerable capital
investment was made there, including a 10hp water wheel and the building of a
substantial new factory building to the North of the road. Some years ago all
this new building was demolished, and we have no trace of what machinery was
used there. However Mrs. Joan Mills
remembers playing in them in her childhood, and that there were two very large
holes in the floor at first floor level which had to be avoided.
Now we know that the Lombe throwing machine was a two storey affair,
round which the operators worked at both levels, which would have needed just
this kind of arrangement, so it is inferred that there were at least two of
these machines there. In the mill there was also living accomodation for a
number of girl employees, who appear in the 1851 census; they were all born
locally, and there is no suggestion that Jupes employed workhouse apprentices
from elsewhere - this practice, anyway, was prohibited at around this time.
partners seem to have built up a successful business which was prospering even
at the time when their predecessors Willmott & Ward were in financial
straits. The trade always seems to
have been a precarious one, easily open to entry by outsiders in good times, but
subject to the vagaries of demand, tariff policy and foreign competition.
By 1848 Charles Jupe owned the copyhold of the Grange, in
when he was 45, with a 17 year old son Isaiah Maggs Jupe, Charles had already
established an imposing business. The census shows him employing 3 foremen, 3 or
4 semi skilled men, and a labour force of 167.
Of these 3 were under 10, 9 boys & 60 girls under 15, and 49 girls
under 20. Of the total 151 women,
only 5 were married, all over 37.
Ambrose Butt died, leaving an estate of some £6,000 to his brothers and
sisters; the copyhold of Hinks Mill would have reverted to Jupe, then the sole
proprietor of the business . From then the Mill House was occupied by silk
years after Henry Jupe's retirement Charles took over Lordsmead Mill as
additional working space. He
installed woodworking machinery there to produce the bobbins, probably from
local alder, on which the silk was wound.
acquisition, however, was a small one in comparison with the purchase in 1849 on
the bankruptcy of Ward, of the latter's Crockerton works.
These had an area of some 9,000 sq ft with a new 30 hp water wheel.
He installed his brother-in-law William Forward there as resident
manager. By 1883 110 hands were
employed at Crockerton alone - 6 spinning rooms, a doubling room, a winding room
& a drawing room, all 68ft long & 19ft wide.
this were not enough, in 1874 Jupe built a completely new factory in
Jupe died in 1883, probably the most influential man in the town.
His great memorial is the Congregational Church, but that aspect of his
life must merit a study of its own. The
business was continued by his son, Isaiah Maggs Jupe, who had been living in
Castle House, now under the by-pass, but moved to the Grange on his father's
descriptions of such works are rare, and we are fortunate to have in the
Warminster Journal of 24th March 1883 a description of a visit to Jupes'
operations. We learn that by then
the raw silk came first to Mere, in the form of skeins of fine thread unwound
from the cocoons in the place of origin, but requiring cleaning, which included
removing the gum which had bound the threads in the cocoons,
and rewinding onto "swifts", graded according to size and
quality. From Mere the threads,
wound onto the bobbins made at Lordsmead, were passed on to the Warminster
factory, where some 160 operatives worked on 2,000 swifts, carrying out yet
further sorting and cleaning. Finally
the silk went to Crockerton, where the final processes of throwing, doubling and
spinning were carried out; the finished article was then run off the bobbins
into skeins, still in the white state, to go elsewhere for dyeing and weaving.
We are told that the average weekly output was some 60 million yards of
thread To the 160 operatives at
Warminster had to be added 110 at Crockerton, and as the 1881 census showed 190
employees in the industry in Mere, we can see that in all employment was given
to nearly 500 people. The reporter
had not visited the Mere factories, and one suspects that in fact some of the
later proesses may well have been carried out here as well as in the newer
greater part of the labour force were still young girls, and this persisted to
the end. An analysis of the 1891
census for Mere produces the following categorised as sorters, parters, packers,
washers, driers & labourers:-
*9 of these are shown as part time scholars; probably most of the
remainder of this age group should also have been so recorded
of the occupation of the heads of households where these workers lived give 90
of them as members of 50 households of labourers or farm workers, 18 in artisan
or retail families, 13 widows & 6 others living alone, and 11 lodging,
usually with families already involved in the silk industry.
In addition, as well as Jupe himself, there are 3 men in managerial
capacities, 1 male foreman 1 female overlooker & some 7 workers who seem to
be in more senior positions.
this one can see that the silk industry gave employment to few heads of
households, but rather supplemented the income of many working class families.
That is not to say that it did not make a quite substantial contribution
to the welfare of the town. The
wages paid to the girls sound dreadfully meagre - memories of elderly residents
some years ago refer to the part-time children getting 2/6d per week, and the
grown girls possibly 7/= - but against the background of farm workers being paid
about 10/= per week, one can see what a difference these few shillings must have
made to the household budget. Those
families with 3 or even 4 children working in the mill were relatively well off.
There were, moreover few opportunities to do better other than by
interesting sidelight is thrown on social conditions in the mid XIXc by a book
amongst the Parish records , the "Silk Girls Book".
In the parish ledger, there appears for the first time on 4th May 1829
the entry "Silk Girls out of employ - £8.3.1" as a disbursement by
the Overseers of the Poor. A number
of like payments follow at regular intervals, but with no details; from 8th Jan
1830, when the book starts, the ledger entries are supplemented by it, listing
the names of those receiving this benefit, with the number of days lost by each,
usually paid for at the rate of 2d per day.
Some 46 names appear under the first entry, and payments are made at this
level until March, after when there are only occasional payments to some half
dozen girls. Presumably this was a
time of local hardship due to lack of trade for the silk works.
census reveals a development for which no other evidence has yet been found.
Charlotte Meade, a 47 year old widow, is "overlooker at silk
weaving", and 4 girls give
their occupation as silk weavers; these are all in the Town tithing, where the
enumerator was particularly precise, and it could be that some of the "silk
workers" in the rest of the town may also have been weavers.
This is the first reference found to weaving as distinct from throwing,
so that it may well be that Isaiah Jupe had decided to attempt to diversify.
time the throwing industry was in fairly desparate straits.
It had always been vulnerable, and since tariff reform in 1860 had been
struggling. These reforms had
removed the import tariff on thrown silk, largely from
were the people redundant. Hinks
Mill just fell into decay with no further use.
Lordsmead Mill likewise stood empty for a long time apart from use as a
store by Waltons, until the growth of the Hill Brush Company gave it - and its
wheel - a new lease of life. The
Crockerton factory likewise stood derelict, and was finally demolished in 1921.
Only the Warminster factory remained in industrial use; after standing
empty for some years it became a shirt factory, & then a government wool
store. Strangely, in 1925 it was acquired by Brocklehursts, the Macclesfield
silk makers who wove silk there until 1958.
Jupe left the Grange and went to live at Crockerton. However, the family
connection with the silk trade did not end at once.
In spite of the whole Mere operation having been summarily closed,
shortly after the Jupe name appears as the owner for some years from 1895 of the
large former woollen mill at Malmesbury, which had been used for some few years
previously for silk manufacture, where silk was thrown and "Mr. Jupe"
obtained the contract for the weaving of the black silk squares which were part
of Naval uniform. Enquiries in
Malmesbury have completely failed to obtain any further information about this
operation, other than that C.W.Jupe was a local resident in 1903, and that the
Wiltshire Silk Manufacturing Co was relatively short lived .
This Jupe can only be Isaiah's son, born in 1864, who was living in
Crockerton in 1890, and presumably looking after the works there. It is curious
that a new venture was undertaken in Malmesbury when so much potential was in
existence in Mere.
Parish Magazine for Dec 1899 carried the news that the Water St. silk factory
re-opened on November 27th with between 20 & 30 hands, winding, drawing and
doubling, on machinery from Macclesfield, with power from a gas engine, and that
there were vacancies for employment, This
venture was stated to be by the Wiltshire Silk Manufacturing Co. Ltd, with Mr.
Charles Jupe as managing director, but it is not clear whether the Mere and
Malmesbury operations were carried on together. However, the Mere venture seems
to have been as short-lived as the other. From
this time the name of Jupe disappears from the Wiltshire scene entirely.
this was the end of some four centuries of textile production in Mere, mention
has to be made of two small "tailpieces".
A note in the Parish Magazine in 1906 reports that the newly re-formed
Royal Wilton Carpet Company had taken a lease of the old works at the Grange,
which was being used by Waltons as a store, and started the hand-weaving of
carpets there. This was entirely
manual work, the tufts being fed into the warp by hand.
Again, mainly girls were employed, at very low wages.
This use continued until 1939, when this works, with the other
outstations at Downton & Tisbury, were closed.
a Mrs. Denlow and her family came to Mere from Chard, where her husband, who had
been killed in the War, had been employed by a lace making company.
She set up a small operation in a building at the back of the Ship Hotel,
carrying out finishing repair work on lace made by the Chard company, Bowden
& Co. The lace came by train to
remains of these industries? The
fulling mill is a patch of scrub by the Shreen Water. The linen weavers did not
need upstairs windows, but worked in downstairs shops; maybe some of the
outhouses in our older cottages may be all that is left of the trade, but are
quite unidentifiable. Harding's
house is the site of a Chinese takeaway, though Hindley's house, now a bakery,
still graces the Market Place. One wall of the Crockerton factory remains, while
the fate of the Warminster factory is unresolved. Only the corn mill building
and the house remain at Hinks Mill, the flax factory at Lordsmead has been
tastefully converted to a house, and at the Grange all that remains of the silk
works is one wall overlooking Dark Lane.
All those who worked in the industry are long dead, and in all too few
cases did they leave any record of their memories.
We can only conjecture and guess at the tools and machinery they used,
and the only archival evidence remaining is that in Hindley's letter book.
Few visitors to our town to-day ever realise what was once the base of
its prosperity, and that an international trade was carried on here.
quoted & translated in Sir Richard Colt Hoare "The Hundred of
Probate inventories in Wiltshire Record Office.
MS notes of T.H.Baker, in custody of the vicar of Mere.
Wiltshire Textile Trades in the 18th Century, Wiltshire Record Society
1964, & WRO 372.
Mere Womens Institute Scrap Book.
Warminster Journal, copy in Warminster Library.
writer wishes to thank the