The history of wool is an integral part of the history of Britain as much of the wealth of Britain was founded on wool, and in fact, even today, the Lord Chancellor still sits on a seat stuffed with wool, known as the woolsack, when in Parliament.
Wool, more than any other commodity ever produced in these islands is a part of Britains's history and heritage, it was first woven into cloth here in the Bronze Age, circa 1900 B.C. although historically this is comparatively recent as elsewhere in the world primitive man had domesticated the sheep around 10,000 B.C.
Initially the sheep was used for meat and also for milk but it did not take man long to realize that the fleece was perfect for keeping him warm and then it was a small step from wearing the skin of a dead animal to discovering that you could have your cake and eat it by using the fleece removed annually from the live animal.
Methods were then developed to spin, weave and later to knit the wool into garments, carpets and many other useful and decorative articles.By the time of the Roman invasion in 55 B.C. Britain had developed a thriving wool industry which was appreciated and encouraged by the new rulers.I am sure they fully appreciated the warm cloth in their new chilly home! By the 8th century A.D. Britain had embarked on the export trade which was to make it so rich and well known around the world.
This continued unabated and after the Norman Conquest of 1066 the industry expanded further. By the twelfth century wool was becoming England's greatest national asset and cloth making was widespread, particularly in the large towns of southern and eastern England, those nearest the Continent. The export or raw wool, with its revenue of export duties, was a great source of income for Royalty and was therefore greatly encouraged with a peak in production during the 13th. century. However later in this century political strife led to a decline.
In the 14th.century a recovery began with the arrival of Flemish weavers who were encouraged to settle in Britain by Edward 3rd.This led to Britain's supremecy in the production of fabric as well as the export of raw wool. The first half of the 14th.century was a time of great prosperity for British wool farmers but unfortunately a long war with France and the Black Death put an end to the good times for a while.
However as the country, and Europe as a whole, recovered from these descimating times so naturally did the wool trade. Primarily with the export of raw wool but cloth from English looms quickly achieved an international reputation and from being primarily an exporter of the raw product England became, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a manufacturer and exporter of fine and well regarded cloth. At the end of the fifteenth century she was largely a nation of sheep farmers and cloth manufacturers. The next two centuries saw continued expansion of the industry despite variouss conflicts both at home and abroad.
With the arrival of the Huguenot weavers in the 16th. centuary England began to surpass Flanders in woollen manufacture which, by the end of the seventeenth century, comprised two-thirds of the value of her exports.
The Industrial Revolution, 1750-1850, brought radical changes as well as much unrest to the woolen industry. Until the mid 1700's cloth production was very much a "cottage industry" done on manual spinning wheels and looms.However this was to all changed with the invention of steam power and the indroduction of many machines for the mass production of cloth.Many years of unrest followed with workers banding together to riot and destroy much of this valuable machinary as they rightly saw that it threatend their livelihoods.The most famous of these was the Luddite Riots of 1812 but others took place throught that period in many parts of the land.
However progress prevailed, as it invariably does, and large factories with massive spinning and weaving machines soon became the norm and so the wealth of Britain continued to prosper thanks in part to the very lucrative wool trade.The traditional cloth areas of East Anglia declined, never to recover, whilst in Yorkshire the industry developed rapidly supported by abundant cheap coal as well as fast flowing rivers.
Other important manufacturing centres developed in Scotland, famed for its tweeds; and in the West Country which specialized in the production of high quality woven carpets.
Today wool is still valued for its wonderful properties of warmth, softness and versatility.The industry however is a very competative one world wide but Britain is still in the forefront as a producer of the raw material although many countries are now severly competing with her as producers of cloth and yarn.The Knitting Wool Store The History of Knitting The history of Wool Production in Britain