The Yeoman Clothiers of Bradford


About 1540 John Leland described Bradford in his Itinerary of Britain as:

…a pretty, quick Market Towne [about half the size of Wakefield]. It has one Parish Church and a chapel of St Sitha. It standeth much by clothing and is distant six miles from Halifax and four from Christehall [Kirkstall] Abbey. There is a confluence in this towne of three Brookes. One riseth above Bouline Haul [Bowling Hall] so that the head is a mile and a half from the towne and this at the towne hath a bridge of one arche. Another riseth two mile off having a mille and a bridge. The third riseth four miles off.

In 1555 the Halifax Act contained the following description of the people of Bradford:

They do altogether live by cloth making and the great part of them neither getteth corn nor is able to keep a horse to carry wools, nor yet to buy much wool at once but hath been ever used to repair to the town … to buy some a stone, some two, some three or four according to their ability and to carry the same to their houses some three, four, five or six miles off, upon their heads and backs and so to make and convert the same either into yarn or cloth and to sell the same and so to buy some more wool…

Leland described Bradford as being on three brooks. James in his "History of Bradford" describes these as inconsiderable streams, though they clearly provided enough flow to power the woolen mills first erected in the area by the de Lacys during the Plantagenet times and which were accessible to all and a major contributor to the rise of the textile trade in the area.

These descriptions of Bradford paint a picture of a town where a good proportion of the population are dependant upon a continuous cycle of cloth making to buy more wool to make more cloth, casting aside the traditional dependance upon farming. In fact, by 1612 some 20,000 people were employed in clothmaking around Halifax and Bradford.

A glance through the probate records of the seventeenth century for the Bradford provides further evidence – should it be needed – for this proliferation of clothiers in the area, but these probate records probably show a distinct bias towards the more wealthy members of the community. Many of those described as "yeoman" or "husbandman" also have a clear interest on cloth making too, normally having a loom in the house. This led to a popular misconception that clothiers were all wealthy cloth merchants, but if this were the case there would clearly be a large number of merchants and few workers actually producing the cloth, and the pictures described above point to a very different situation. The term "clothier" in the 17th century actually refers to producers of cloth, not sellers of clothing as is the modern definition, and, though a lucky few probably were wealthy, the vast majority were humble - at best middle class - farmers seeking to stretch their meagre resources by producing a bit of cloth "on the side": some remained farmers with a side line of cloth making whilst others became cloth makers whilst retaining a vestige of interest in farming – probably just enough for their own needs.

To look at the reasons for this we have to step back and look at the social, economic and political climate at the time as well as the geographical and climatic conditions - as relevant to the upsurge in religious non-conformity at the time as it is to local farming practices.

The quality of the land in Bradford dale was poor, so during feudal times most landowners – including the crown – governed from afar resulting in somewhat lax controls. After the plague the number of owner-occupiers increased, enhanced by monastic sales and the relative freedom they enjoyed from their distant landlords resulted in the continuous sub-division of their lands over successive generations as partible inheritance replaced inheritance by the first son only. By 1550 estates had become so small as to necessitate some secondary income from the land and many of the ever increasing local population turned to cloth making to supply the domestic textile industry. This was further aided by the low capital investment needed to process raw wool.

As the new yeoman clothiers gained more economic independence it is no coincidence that they gained spiritual independence too, fueled by the preachings of Caleb Kemp, the evangelical vicar of Bradford in the late Elizabethan period.

A study of probate records and inventories of these clothiers shows this dual dependency on both farming and cloth weaving. Unfortunately, the most famous Jowett clothier of this period – Edward Jowett of Barkerend, Bradford, does not have a surviving inventory and his will tells us little. However, we can look at others around at this time, and a typical inventory is that of Walter Morvill of Beckfoot in the parish of Bingley which neighbours that of Bradford. Walter died in 1615 making him an exact contemporary of Edward Jowett. As well as the usual trappings of someone who lived of the land (e.g. a harrow, wheat, "shillinge" (shelled oats), 3 "kyne" (cows), 8 "hennes", a horse and 23 sheep), Walter possessed 21 worth of wool plus additional yarns and pieces of woven cloth as well as a pair of looms and associated equipment ("a paire of lomes, healds and slaies"). The furniture in the house is typical of the middle classes of this period: a range (firegrate) with its attendant "tangs, reckon", various cooking implements, plus "two pairs of bedstocks" – the beds and their accompaniments and various storage items – e.g. "two arks and a lytle chieste". The horse is a basic requirement for a clothier – to act as both pack horse to and from market and on the farm, hence the presence too of various bits of ploughing or harrowing equipment. Walter’s clothing included "two suytes", a dublet, a cloak and "one green apperone" and "3 patlets" or ruffs, fashionable at this time (you’ve all seen those Elizabethan period costume dramas!)

Walter’s possessions show that cloth-making was his major occupation as shown by the looms and materials above. An example of the farmers who manufactured cloth to supplement their income is James Jowett of Mannywells who’s will is dated 16 October 1664. This makes reference to his "ffarme or tenemt", though James was not a particularly wealthy man. Other wills give an interesting insight into the lives of these men. "William Beane of Elwick, batchler" was clearly a learned man; as well as having "three score and fiftiene yards of hardin cloth" and "three payres of sheares, two pressinge irons and one yeard wand" he also had "one treble vyall" (a stringed musical instrument of the time) and a library to the value of 3/10/0 as well as his share of the common produce of Eldwick.

As for the production of the cloth itself, by the end of the 16th century some of the work was done by members of the family but most was contracted out to neighbours, some of whom were less well off and unwilling or unable to make the initial investment themselves. This resulted in another, lower class of clothier, also known as stuff makers, who largely restricted themselves to carding, spinning and weaving. For them cloth-making had to be a family affair involving the children and women who assisted in the preparation of the yarn. After the weaving – normally done by the men – the cloth was milled by trampling and treated with urine and dung to bind the yarns together in the cloth (the warp and weft). This was then taken to the local fulling mill (it is interesting that much of Morvill’s debt is owed to the local fuller John Thornton) where it is beaten by large hammers, then stretched out on a tenter frame for drying. The finished piece was sold at the local weekly market at either Bradford, Leeds or Halifax, often as the undyed Kersey – a narrow woolen cloth.

And so the local geography and climate provided both the need and the means for the local farmers to break away from their dependancy on the land. Fueled by their determination and release from tight controls from distant landowners, the roots had been firmly established for a trade that was to prosper for centuries, thrusting Bradford into the forefront of the Industrial Revolution. That the Jowetts were an integral part of this is shown by the many generations of clothiers, weavers, combers, carders, merchants and other related occupations shown in the Jowett annals for generations to come. But theirs is another story…..

The inventory of all goods and cattels of Walter Morvell of Kyghley Mylne, in the parishe of Bingley, deceased, priced the second day of December, 1615, by William Morvell, John Rawson, Thomas Illingworth and Robert Blakye as followeth.

Imprimus, money in his purse

 

53s

 

Item. Two suyts of apparell gyven to Peter Morvell and Jo. Thornton

 

46s

8d

Item. 9 stone of yarne, coverlait yarne and listinge yarne

7li

7s

8d

Item. In wolle, 28 stone

21li

   

Item. A dublet given to George Kyghley

 

3s

 

Item. A cloke gyven to Stephen Morvell his brother

 

20s

 

Item. One green apperone, 3 patlets, and 3 course bends, given to his sister Isabell Ricroft

 

4s

 

Item. A pipe ent, a whele, a spoylewhell and a harrowe

 

5s

 

Item. Fyve gallons of oile

 

20s

 

Item. One mattres, 3 paire of blankets, a longe boulster, a paire of harden shets, a lyne shete and a halfe, two pillowe beares, 2 codds, one coverlayte and a boardcloth

 

40s

 

Item. Two paire of bedstocks, 2 arks and a lytle chieste

 

32s

 

Item. A paire of lomes, healds and slaies

 

20s

 

Item. Halfe a royde of bordes

 

14s

 

Item. 8 pece of pewther, a salt & 12 sponnes

 

10s

 

Item. One pott, a panne and an oyle panne

 

18s

 

Item. A range, tangs, reckon, axe & a backstone

 

9s

 

Item. 2 sacks, a coile sacke and a mailyngcords

 

5s

10d

Item. 5 load of wheat

3li

4s

 

Item. 5 load of shillinge

4li

10s

 

Item. Hay and straw and 3 kyne

7li

6s

8d

Item. A horse, sadle and wantowe

3li

6s

8d

Item. 7 pece of cloth

13li

10s

 

Item. 23 shepe

4li

   

Item. A forke, a showle, salt and 8 hennes

 

3s

4d

Item. A cart and a paire of whels

 

5s

 

Item. In oyt meale and a paire of boyts & spores

 

11s

 

Item. 8 pounde of garne and a frying panne

 

7s

3d

Item. A chearne, gallons, bowles, trenches, cheares, quyshings, and other huslement in the howse

 

15s

 

Some is

82li

3s

7d

 

Debts owing to the said Walter Morvell

Item. Of Robert and Thomas Blaky

14li

   

Item. Of George Beistonn

 

55s

 

Item. Of Thomas Illingworth

 

43s

4d

Item. Of Roger Thornton

 

32s

10d

Item. Of Walter Kyghley

 

2s

 

Item. Of Mychell Oits

 

6s

 

Item. Of Wydowe Ferrer

   

20d

Item. Of Wydowe Ricroft

 

18s

 

Item. Of john Drake

5li

   

Item. Of Isaac Ambler

 

4s

 

Some

26li

16s

10d

 

Debts which the said Walter did owe

Imprimus to Annes Wilkinson

 

4s

 

Item. To Jo: Thornton

4li

   

Item. To Jo: Thornton for wages

 

13s

 

Item. To William Aikye for oyle

3li

   
 

7li

13s

 
 

Funeral charges

Item. For bread, aile and cheeses

2li

19s

5d

Item. For mortuary and church dues

 

11s

 

Item. For wrytinge and engrosinge the will and inventory

 

4s

 

Some

3li

13s

5d

 

Summa de claro

Debts deducted

     

98li

   

 

References:

Firth, Gary: The History of Bradford (includes a transcript of the inventory of Walter Morvell)
Crump, WB: The Bradford Antiquary 3rd series, June 1932, 07,25, 217-239
Cudworth, William: Rambles Round Horton, 1886
Baines, Thomas: Yorkshire Past and Present, transcribed by Beryl Thompson
The last will and testament of Edward Jowet 1615 (Borthwick Institute, York)
The last will and testament of James Jowett 1664 (Borthwick Institute, York)




Copyright S D Jowitt