Of all the production industries that relied heavily on child labour, much of it apprenticed, textiles of every kind predominated. Although weavers worked in all counties at all periods, specific types of textile production were highly regionalized, depending initially on such factors as water-power, raw materials or a long-established craft skill, but by the early nineteenth century a supply of apprenticed labour was also critical. Weavers, however, were the first of such workers, irrespective of which fabric they produced. Most weavers worked at home, normally with family help, and their products ranged widely, from damask, lawn, orris, taffeta and quality broadcloth to fustian, ticking and provincial narrow goods. That the numbers of apprentices entering weaving depended on economic slump or boom can be seen, from an early date, where city records survive; for example, at Worcester the decade after 1610 was stable and prosperous, while in the 1620s and 1630s apprenticeships there declined as the weaving trade faltered.1 Although weavers were always numerically a substantial group, their
prosperity was by no means uniform, even in the decades before mechanization and fashion demands threatened their livelihood. Thus Worcester weavers in the sixteenth century left goods worth between £10 and £30 in their inventories, men with one or two looms each.2 At the same period (1642) a south Warwickshire weaver, William Marshall of Butlers Marston, with books in his desk, had goods valued at £61 9s.3 and an Essex weaver, Thomas Raynebeard, was worth only £22 14s 4d which included three old looms and “ymplements”.4 Early in the eighteenth century another country weaver could leave goods worth £60 13s 6d.5 which, even in spite of contemporary inflation, was in sharp contrast to the numbers of weavers’ children who were being indentured as pauper apprentices.