chapter  4
24 Pages

The Thirteenth Century

A False Start?
ByJohn Oldland

In the thirteenth century woollens competed with worsteds and with the hybrid cloth, serges with worsted warp and a woollen-type weft. It seems that serges started to displace worsteds early in the century. The century opened with a boom in the wool and cloth trade as broad greased woollens and serges, made in a Hanse of towns in the Low Countries and northern France, were sold to southern European merchants at the Champagne fairs in central France. These towns had economies of scale and exclusive access that placed English clothmakers at a disadvantage. Consequently, the size of the cloth industry in English clothmaking towns was much smaller than on the continent. English exports were predominantly mid-priced serges, purchased by foreign merchants trading at fairs in the East Midlands, but exports declined towards the end of the century. Alien imports increasingly controlled the English luxury market, as there were no taxes on wool exports before 1275 and they remained low until Edward III imposed high duties in the 1340s. Consequently, cloths made in towns like London and Winchester were predominantly cheap worsted burels and serges. Fulling mills were economical in hilly areas, predominantly in the west and north, and expanded as serge, which required fulling, replaced worsteds. Although quality broadcloth manufacture was restricted to towns, rural clothmaking strengthened with the rise in population, a growing network of fairs and markets, and an improving system of rural credit.