Cloth Making

Cloth Making

Cloth Making 150 150 Frome Heritage Museum

Cloth making was an important local industry. Frome with its river and close proximity to the sheep areas of the Mendips, Cotswolds and Salisbury Plain, developed in Mediaeval times as an important centre for the making of cloth. 

Former Wool Dye House in Central Frome

By the 15th and to early 19th centuries this made the town very prosperous, and it was this prosperity which is now reflected in the many buildings surviving from that time. The town has more listed buildings per population than any other town in Somerset. The restored Trinity area is an outstanding example of this.

The clothiers were middle men who collected wool, distributed it to the weavers to make the cloth, and then sent the finished cloth to Blackwell Hall in London for sale. The weavers were paid by results. Some of Frome’s larger houses were built by these clothiers -e.g. Rook Lane House in 1600 and Fromefield House in 1796.

Until 1856 natural dyes were used for dying the cloth. The Trinity area was originally fields known as the ‘woadground’ or ‘Wade ground’ from the plant used to make blue dyes. During Napoleonic times Frome was famous for its blue cloth for army uniforms.
Other natural dyes used were privet (dark green), heather (pale green) and lichen (purple).

Carolyn Griffiths has spent more than four years researching the cloth and dye trades of Frome following the discovery of 18th century dye recipe books from Wallbridge and Welshmill held by the Bath Reference Library and The National Archives. The result is a book that spans the woad and cloth trade of Frome from a fulling mill lease of 1333 until the start of the industrial revolution.

Bell from Sheppards Mill – see this displayed in the Museum

Inscribed J. Rudhall Glocester fecit 1811. The bell was presented to the Museum by Tuckers of Wallbridge on the closure of these mills in 1965. Originally used in Sheppards Mill in Spring Gardens to summon the children to work when there was enough water In the mill pond to turn the wheel. Sheppards Mill closed in 1878.

160 years ago children as young as 8 worked in the cloth mills in Frome on weekdays from 6 am. until 7 pm., with 45 minutes break each for breakfast and dinner, the latter brought to them and their fathers at work. On Saturdays, they worked until 2 p.m. The children earned 2/- (10p) to 2/6 (12p) a week for wages. Their breakfast was usually bread and cheese, with potatoes, cabbage and meat for dinner. In the evening they were given a hot supper of potatoes with dripping.