chapter  8
27 Pages

Working Conditions in Towns

ByJohn Oldland

The strengths and weaknesses of urban clothmaking are weighed given the success of towns in the second half of the fourteenth century and their collapse in the fifteenth in the face of rural competition. It had become difficult to find women to card and spin as there were better work opportunities in towns. The weakness of the guild system was its inflexibility, and this created inefficiencies. Merchants controlled the sale of cloth which kept the crafts undercapitalised, forcing weavers to sell to fullers who sold to drapers. When urban clothmaking came under greater pressure, the artisan guilds became more restrictive, trying to match work to demand and therefore placing regulations on apprentices and servants, and preventing women from weaving. Towns were increasingly finishing rural cloth which made them vulnerable when rural skills improved. Coventry and York are two towns that had different patterns of growth and decline.