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Welsh History Review


Vol. 10, nos. 1-4 1980-81

The cloth industry in Medieval Wales

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THREE-QUARTERS of a century ago, in 1903, Edward Lewis addressed
the Royal Historical Society in London on the subject of industry
and commerce in medieval Wales. Prominent in his treatment of
the cloth industry was his use of the evidence of fulling-mills.
This remarkable article has been quarried, off and on, by Welsh
historians and William Rees built splendidly on some of it; 2 but it
has had no real successor and its pioneering use of evidence did not
affect study of the English cloth industry until in 1941 Professor
Carus-Wilson started afresh and redirected thinking about the
development of cloth manufacturing in medieval England. 3 In
what she described as 'an industrial revolution of the thirteenth
century', Miss Carus-Wilson focussed attention not on the
evidences of trade in wool and cloth, but on the introduction of
mechanised fulling as an indicator of the geographical and chrono-
logical spread of cloth-making on a commercial scale. Although
the conclusions reached in that wartime article of 1941 cannot now
stand without modification, part of Miss Carus-Wilson's basic
methodological approach-which was also Lewis's-remains valid
The fulling-mill is important as a determinant of industrial
development simply because it is the only widely available index of
capital investment in the textile industry during the later middle
ages. Most woollen cloth was fulled after weaving. Fulling served
the dual purpose of cleaning the cloth and consolidating the
texture, by beating the cloth in a cleansing solution and finally
washing the solvent away with a liberal supply of fresh clean
water. This beating might be done by treading the cloth in a tub
with the feet, as in Roman times, or, as was increasingly common
1 E. A. Lewis, 'The Development of Industry and Commerce in Wales during the
Middle Ages', Transactions of Royal Historical Society, new series, XVII (1903), 121 75.
Cf. idem, 'A Contribution to the Commercial History of Mediaeval Wales', Y
Cymmrodor, XXIV (1913), 86-188.
2 W. Rees, South Wales and the March, 1284-1415: a Social and Agrarian Study
(London, 1924); An Historical Atlas of Wales from Early to Modern Times (London,
1951); Industry before the Industrial Revolution (2 vols., Cardiff, 1968).
E. M. Carus-Wilson, 'An Industrial Revolution of the Thirteenth Century',
Economic History Review, orig. series, XI (1941), 39-60; reprinted in her Medieval
Merchant Venturers: Collected Studies (London, 1954), pp. 183-210. References hereafter
are given to the original article with the corresponding pages in the Collected Studies shown
in brackets.
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