chapter  1
19 Pages

Introduction to English Woollens

ByJohn Oldland

The survey begins soon after the introduction of the broadloom in the later-twelfth century and ends once England dominated the continental market for quality woollen cloth. Woollens, and sheep farming on which it depended, had a pronounced effect on the English economy, particularly after the Black Death, since the number of adult sheep is estimated to have risen from 13.7 million in the early-thirteenth century to 15.0 million in the mid-sixteenth, and the per capita production of cloth from 1.33lb to 6.97lb over the same period. The value of London’s cloth trade increased tenfold from the 1460s to the 1530s. Over the period the nature, quality and weight of woollen cloth evolved, and its perception changed as greased woollens, that had once been an exclusive textile, became the cloth of the masses. Throughout the period England had to compete with draperies from the Low Countries, which needed English wools to make their finest cloths. England was a secondary player in the international cloth trade until the mid-fifteenth century, but then in the course of a single generation, English cloth exploded so that it dominated the market for quality woollens. A synopsis of the development of the English industry is provided.