History of the Wool Trade

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The medieval English wool trade had a great impact and was a major driver of an enclosure in English agriculture. The campaign for wool has since been a cooperative culture of mutual benefit. The wool was placed in a barrel of stale urine and such it became big business.

Wool has a long history as the ancestors were handy with a bobbin. It thus became the backbone of the medieval English economy at the and to this day the wool trade has continuously increased. With wool being waterproof and soft, no wonder sheep became domesticated animals providing folk also with milk and a bonus of leather. The medieval wool industry was one of the most significant contributors to the Cotswold landscape.

The bales were loaded onto pack-animals and taken to Boston, Sandwich or shipped to Genoa. Woven into cloth in the Bronze Age, at Winchester woollen clothing was produced for the Roman armies. Among the lasting monuments to the success are the ‘wool churches’ of the Cotswolds and the presiding officer of the House of Lords who sat on the Woolsack, a chair stuffed with wool.

The enormous demand in order to produce cloth led to everyone raising sheep, for their own use. Wool came from camels and goats as well, even though raising sheep was the most common source in medieval Europe. There were records of English cloth in the reign of King Alfred, long before William the Conqueror, however, the activity wasn’t substantially self-sufficient. The monasteries played an active part in the trade, from the Lake District in the north, down through the Cotswolds of the West Country. The wool trade actually started the working-class divide.

The animals were herded in village pastures and soon, as the ‘know how’ accumulated, they could be traded in the town markets. The larger landowners developed a necessity to deal with the wool merchants, but later they were cutting out the middleman in order to get a better deal. English wool became highly valued because of its special outside fibres which were long, whilst the innermost fibres were dense with warm insulation. Sheep could thrive on rocky lands and could also be slaughtered for mutton in the end and used to make parchment.

Wool as a raw material has been available even before shears were invented, harvested with the use of a comb. The sheep’s adaptation to the environment made it all possible. Little of what was produced was sold abroad, and the best weavers lived in Flanders, Bruges and Ypres, ready to pay big prices for the wool.

In the Middle Ages, depending on its quality, wool was used in making clothing, virtually affordable for everyone, even though today it is an expensive fabric. Huge numbers of sheep were kept for wool, sold for cash to lord or peasant alike. It was exceedingly heavy, but through selective breeding and sorting coarse from fine fibres, nowadays it became soft and fairly resilient. Today, wool is able to resist wrinkling and good at taking dyes, perfect for felting.













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