halesworth

A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.

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Volume 2



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Export of Wool and the Staple Towns and Ports

By the 13th century, certain towns became 'Staple Towns' where wool was brought for taxation. They included Norwich, but in time the king fixed the Staple at Calais in France, so that all English wool being exported had to pass through that port. By the 15th century The Company of Merchants of the Staple had three to four hundred members, and each had his own trademark.

After sorting, the wool was made up into bales or 'sarples' as they were called, made of canvas and sewn with strong thread. These were transported by packhorse across country to the port of export. Each 'sarple' contained 2 sacks, each 'sack' contained 52 'cloves' and each 'clove' weighed 71bs, so it was a very complicated method of calculating the loads. In July 1470, thirtyeight ships sailed from London, carrying between  them 1,602 sacks of wool and 268,277 fells (or fleeces).

Sir John Fastoff of Norfolk helped the expansion of the cloth industry there by ordering large quantities of cloth for the soldiers under his command in France between 1415 and 1440. When in 1525 Cardinal Wolsey set such a high tax that the clothiers of Suffolk had difficulty in paying, they had to dismiss the carders, spinners, weavers and fullers they employed. The times for the cloth workers was always hard, in the 1620's  'the poor that spin, though they work very hard, cannot gain 4d {2p) a day towards their living' and even by 1790 'the majorit of boys of 8 or 9 years earned 2d a day (1p) a boy of six 1d (p) a day'.

In the period from about 1450 to 1530 the clothmaking craft was at its most prosperous and evidence of the wealth of the clothiers can be seen in the fine houses, the Guild Halls and the fine 'Wool Churches' that were built with the profits. But the lot of the workers is summed up in the saying of 1539 'The Poor have the labour, the Rich the winnings'.

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