The Growth of Capitalism

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The Growth of Capitalism

Be that as it may, a trade in which production is increasing rapidly for a widening market is little suited to the static methods of craft gild and apprenticeship, and it is not surprising that the industry grew up less in the corporate towns than in the villages, where most of the spinning had always been done. The process of production had several stages; the spinner sold his yarn to the weaver, and the woven cloth thence passed to the fuller and the dyer, unless it was for export undyed, which was most usual. Soon a class of "clothiers" appeared, drawn from the wealthier weavers, the drapers and the wool-dealers; and upon the raw material supplied by these the other crafts were compelled to work for wages. These men set up workshops in the wool-producing areas, outside the jurisdiction of the gilds, so that they might employ labour which had not been through the stipulated training. The two most famous areas were the Cotswold district and the Stour Valley in Suffolk, and many of the great fifteenth-century Perpendicular churches of those regions - Fairford, Long Melford, Lavenham and many more --were built through the munificence of some rich clothier. The names of some, like Spring of Lavenham, became household words; he was known as "the rich clothier", died possessed of twenty-seven manors in Norfolk and Suffolk, and had a daughter who married into the feudal nobility.

The development of this industry must have done something to absorb those people displaced by enclosure. But as early as the fifteenth century it was clear that employment in an export industry was precarious; for wars abroad reduced the export of broadcloths by one-third, and those of worsted to practically nothing. Not till 1476 were the foreign markets reopened, and the interval had allowed the Flanders weavers to compete successfully in the market for raw wool and yarn, at any rate in the worsted districts. To meet this competition, an Act of 1488 gave precedence in the purchase of wool first to home manufacturers, and then to native merchants; and only after those two markets had been satisfied were foreign merchants allowed to buy. But as we shall see, the subsequent history of the cloth industry was to be an extremely chequered ones




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The Cloth Industry

The cloth industry stands out from all others in several respects. It was the first large-scale industry in Europe; it was the one English industry which reached European pre-eminence, the first to form separate gilds, the first to become capitalistic in its organization. England had always manufactured a certain amount of cloth for its own consumption, even apart from the rough spinning and weaving which had been done on rural estates. Letters had passed between Charlemagne and Offa of Mercia regarding the cloth industry; the Weavers were the earliest and most privileged 'of London gilds, and an... see: The Cloth Industry


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