History of the Wool Industry in England, the Yorkshire West Riding and Pudsey & Halifax.
A cooperative culture of trust & mutual benefit.
Wool has a long history in England and Nathaniel Milner's ancestors were pretty handy with a bobbin - they were dyed in the wool, they spun yarns, lost the thread, were crooked, fleeced, cloth eared, and sheepish ... and some were even black sheep. They wrapped themselves in 'Blanquetts', fabricated evidence, unravelled plots, dressed mutton as lamb and their broken bones were knitted together. When their arguments were woolly they had the wool pulled over their eyes but they still enjoyed shepherd's pie and home spun wisdom ... and they were always milked for tax by a Chancellor on the 'woolsack' ... and most likely they were 'buried in wool' ... no wonder the Campaign for Wool continues today!
Wool was waterproof and warm and the eastern side of the Pennines were wet and cold. Wool was also soft and felt good on the skin. No wonder sheep became domesticated production animals providing folk with not only wool for clothing but also milk for nourishment and a bonus at the end; leather and mutton.
Wool was woven into cloth in Pudsey in the Bronze Age. The Romans had weaving shops at Winchester where they produced woollen clothing for their armies, although it was suggested they still encountered locals who wore skins and leather. There were records of English cloth making in the reign of King Alfred and for sure England was noted for its woollen cloth long before William the Conqueror.
But all this activity was little more than 'cottage' endeavour, English society prior to the 12th century was substantially self sufficient. In this period the animals were herded in small communities in village pastures ... and soon, as efforts intensified and know how accumulated, surpluses emerged which could be traded in the town markets ... however the only full time trading belonged to the few wandering pedlars like Godric of Finchale ... the word spread slowly, some folk listened, some folk experimented and English wool secured a reputation and became highly valued.
English wool was special, it was strong and the outside fibres were long, making them easy to spin. The innermost fibres were soft and dense and offered warm insulation. All this, of course, was the sheep's evolutionary response to the environment ... adaptation ... with or without the selective breeding inspired by folk ... and for Darwin, the distinction was irrelevant ... after all the folk in Pudsey were part of the environment!
No point in breeding sheep with lousy wool was there?
In 1842 'The Breeds of the Domestic Animals of the British Islands' by Dr David Low, told the story of the breeding of the excellent English fleece ... the 'Old Lincoln' ... perhaps Charles Darwin read this tome?
It seemed the West Riding of Yorkshire was a propitious place for the sheep; there were extensive pastures which could support the flocks but were unsuitable for alternative use, there was a supply of soft water for washing, scouring and dyeing, and later from the Pennine streams there was water power to drive machinery.
In much the same way as the Cheshire farmers specialised in cows, wealth around the West Riding was in beasts, not in corn ... and the Milner distinction in Yorkshire moved from corn milling to wool.
The Milners move from Sheep Farming to Middlemen.
As self sufficiency became uneconomic, specialisation became a feature of the Milner farms. The wool became a cash commodity to be sold on and the money used for the purchase of other staples in the buzzing markets ... and for a few luxuries too ...
The sheep farmers lives were focussed on their animals; shepherding, lambing, milking, shearing and butchering. In the winter when there was not much work to be done on the farm; the wife and children worked the fleeces, carded the wool and spun the yarn and the farmer wove the cloth. Sheep farming involved a small amount of labour and it provided peasants and lords with ready cash from the markets.
And as the surpluses emerged, there was organising to be done. A new breed of entrepreneurs bought and collected the raw fleece from the farmers and distributed it to rural families to be spun and woven. The output was also collected, stored, sometimes dyed and shipped to the markets ... and also to the ports of Hull and London for sale in Europe.
Early on there was international trade in excellent English wool and further inevitable specialisation emerged as the folk in Flanders and Italy became established as the makers of fine luxury cloth ... from English wool.
Economic historian Eileen Power told an intriguing story of English wool which perhaps explained the rise and rise of the Yorkshire Milner family?
It appeared the Milner entrepreneurial flair was embedded in Yorkshire wool as they seized the new opportunities which moved from feudalism to self sufficiency, to specialised sheep farming & surpluses from wool production, to middlemen organising distribution, to merchanting the wool locally ... and internationally ... to the 'putting out system' for yarn & cloth ... and increasingly dealing & financing the woven cloth.
Eileen Power described how the large pastures of Danelaw, including the West Riding, were associated with entrepreneurial freedom. Wordsworth was making a strictly economic observation when he said that the voice of freedom was the voice of the mountains; the shepherd freedom. The free pastoral world in Yorkshire was very different from the intensive farms of the monasteries and southern manors and the West Riding owed some of its success to the structure the industry; there were opportunities for men of enterprise and initiative. The domestic system of production was different from competition in East Anglia and the West Country where manufacture soon became dominated by wealthy merchants who employed outworkers for wages. In contrast in the West Riding the typical enterprise in the woollen industry was the family farm where everyone helped to make one piece of cloth each week for the local market. Little capital was needed and the industry was flexible to the customers needs.
The essential feature of the West Riding was a diversity of competitive specialisations within the wool trade - land ownership, land ecology & use, holding sizes, social institution structures, yarn and cloth types, capital sources ... and markets ...
This led to an independence typical of the West Riding but unlike developments elsewhere; Peter Mattias -
'In all clothing area except the West Riding the manufacturers had little independence, little commercial initiative and less capital in their hands. In the West Riding of Yorkshire weavers and spinners do seem to have been largely independent masters in their own right owning their spinning wheels and looms, buying wool and yarn and taking their pieces to the Cloth Halls every week for sale to the merchants who they faced as owners of the cloth they sold'.
From the 12th Century, wool became the important item in international trade, 90% of overseas trade was based on wool. The three main areas for wool production in England were the West Riding of Yorkshire, East Anglia and the West Country and these three areas waxed and became wealthy ... the English merchants sold their quality raw wool to the weavers in Flanders and Italy who turned the wool into superior quality cloth. Twin specialisations were involved, large scale sheep farming and large scale cloth production and they were intimately connected; little pockets of interdependent capitalism.
The Guild System.
The cloth producing towns of Flanders formed themselves into great merchant associations which managed the import & export trade in wool. In the last years of the thirteenth century Bruges took the place of the Champagne fairs as a centre of the international money market and produce exchange.
The great guilds developed to become the homes of financial and commercial capitalists, and a deep and unbridgeable gulf yawned between these merchants and the great mass of workers. A fraternity of weavers was established in the 12th century and fullers and dyers were honourable and profitable occupations. These 'woolmen' were involved in a lucrative trade and as early as 1180 there was a record of a licensed guild in London, and before that in 1140 there were suggestions of gild fees paid by other weavers in Oxford, Lincoln and Winchester. The chroniclers in 1202 remarked that the art of weaving seemed to be a peculiar gift bestowed upon the inhabitants of Britain by nature. Not only spinning and weaving but also dying and fulling became established trades and Edward III decreed a Royal seal of quality approval, the aulnager. These were signs of a mature industry, woollen manufacture had been carried on as a great national object for centuries.
The Guild System had evolved for local markets where supply & demand were easily matched and population and supply growth limited. Ideas about usury, just prices, and the fair wages were hatched. The Guilds were restrictive with little accumulation, speculation and scale. Barriers to entry, price controls, tax; all the trappings of government licensed monopolies. Interestingly in the export trade whether as merchant exporters or as industrialists fewer checks were placed by authority upon enterprising individuals. However the export trade was easily disrupted by interminable war and, perhaps, cloth was more vulnerable than the English raw wool which helped weaving specialisations to develop in Flanders & Italy?
Merchant societies, the Guilds, were started in Europe at end of the 11th century. They were probably copied by the Saxons & Normans from the free cities of Italy. Merchant guilds were established wherever the was trade and production. Times were turbulent red in tooth & claw and security was essential if trade was to prosper. The Royal charters gave the guilds some protection and monopoly license in return for taxes. But the companies outlived there economic usefulness as Eneas Mackenzie noted in 1837 -
'they are, in general, so tied up by excessive fines and illegal fees of admission, and clogged with such a number of useless, not to say pernicious bye laws, as threaten in a little time almost to annihilate them; the number of meeting brethren being reduced in almost every company, some so few as scarce to deserve the name of a society, and others are already extinct'.
The restrictive, monopolizing rules were quite incompatible with the economics of free trade. History records that the guilds opposed to every attempt to nurture the freedom of trade for the profit of everyone.
The delightful drawing was by Mabel Hatt in 'In the Days of the Guilds' by L Lamprey, 1918.
The Hanseatic League.
In the 13th century wool and The Hanseatic League started to break down the Feudal System as weak medieval kings confronted the divergent interests of freemen in 170 cities who were rich from trade. The main frantic activities of the kings and lords involved intermarriage and feuds with one another over access to taxes from their subjects. They were not interested in trade ... except as a source of taxation.
The League was a lose confederation whose main aim was the promotion of trade through reducing the risks of trading, the hazards of travel and the problems of dealing with dysfunctional tax raising overlords. Centred on Lubeck the league was a trading association rather than a political entity although defence was necessarily organised together with a legal system. In its heyday the Hanseatic League involved a sophisticated flow of credit from buyer to seller to facilitate the flow of goods in the opposite direction. A miracle of international trade and the foundation of the modern trade system.
England held an enviable position in the league because of the lucrative trade in quality wool. Known as the Hanse of London, Bruges was the leader of fifteen Flemish towns which existed to manage the wool trade with England. The system involved the English comparative advantage in wool ... and German metals, Nordic fish, French wine and Italian olives which were so tasty ...
The English merchants concentrated the bulk of their activity on the Low Countries. English wool became the mainstay of the Flemish trade but the Flemish merchants were vulnerable. The crucial fact about both of the two great cloth manufacturing areas of the Low Countries and Tuscany was that they were dependent on imported wool; not only because local supply was insufficient but also because the wool was coarse and produced inferior cloth. The reality was that England was the largest and most important source of fine wool which was a key advantage in the trade between the pasture farming countries and cloth producers. The stage was set and England became the first cloth manufacturing country with a great export trade which did not depend on imported raw materials. The English merchants were able to control the supply of raw materials and undercut their prices of cloth in the world market. In the later middle ages, it became economically more advantageous for England to make cloth than to export wool.
However although wool was a valuable commodity, it was also a fragile one. All the eggs were in one basket and the basket was subject to the disruptions of tax and overseas altercations ... politics and intrigue were never far away ... by the end of the 13th century wool taxes had become the principal source of royal revenue.
Adrian Bell, Chris Brooks & Paul Dryburgh, in 'The English Wool Market: c1230-1327' summarised the boom & bust of English wool. From quality wool to international trade & financial derivatives, to wars & taxes ... and then woollen cloth ...
The first infamous English wool staple was in Bruges in 1343 ... a story unfolded as merchants became embroiled in tax collection ...
The Hundred Years War and The Staple.
During the 14th century The Hundred Years War was a watershed. The long wars between the English & French precipitated a financial crisis which shaped the structure of English democracy ... a fascinating case study ...
Clearly William in 1066 with his Domesday Book was a powerful tax raising king, and so was Alfred with his organisation of his defensive burghs, but by the 12th century a new source of wealth was burgeoning ... as the merchants of trade moved into top gear wealth from trade became an obvious tax target ... and The Hanseatic League was a leading example of the new wealth.
In 1331 cloth quality in England was still poor compared to the Flemish master weavers and Edward III encouraged immigration to get his hands on a cloth tax.
The cloth trade enjoyed a fillip when a considerable number of Flemish weavers settled in Halifax and York in the West Riding at the close of the fourteenth century.
Interestingly the wool trade had another indirect boost. In 1349 the Black Death reduced the population of England from about 4 million to 2.5 million in little more than a year, and more and more landowners looked for a form of agriculture less labour intensive, sheep herding was to fit the bill.
Eventually a desperate Edward III gave a small group of wool merchants an absolute monopoly on wool exports. A staple was organised. The wool trade was moved into the welcoming hands of a company of English wool merchants, the Fellowship of the Staple. By the 14th Century, wool merchants had become tax collectors and so wealthy that they replaced Italian financiers and underwrote royal debts. Edward was given the dubious appellation father of manufactures after his attempts to break the quality gap with Flanders & Italy.
In 1337 The Hundred Years War confirmed a connection between tax, wars & trade which has been replayed with monotonous frequency down the centuries. Edward III's war tax fell heavily on the wool trade. The English Company of the Staple was established as a monopoly of the wool trade which replaced the relatively free trade by foreigners and English merchants. The idea was simple, in return for a trade monopoly, the merchants were to organise trade through a few centralised markets where all the wool was to pass, making it easier for tax to be calculated and paid. At the same time all but a privileged few merchants could be squeezed out, especially the foreigners. And the privileged few merchants with the monopoly found it possible to pass the tax on to the farmers.
The appearance of a separate body of wool merchants was due to the prospects for a tax on the export of wool, and the quid pro quo; the granting of a monopoly. It was a good deal; the tax could be passed on to the farmers and parliament was by passed ... the wool interest group had only a modest proportional representation in parliament.
The staple was a fixed place through which the export of wool was compulsorily directed, and the staplers, were a corporate company of merchants handling the wool destined for the staple. The king's policy was to bestow on a company of merchants a monopoly in the export of wool so he could then tax monopoly profits by both an export duty and raise loans from merchants on the security of the duty. The system made control of revenue collection of both taxes in wool and on wool a little easier!
But of course, trouble loomed. The location in Bruges gave the English merchants the opportunity to squeeze the local merchants. The location of the staple at home offered more merchants and smaller merchants to get in on the act and squeeze out foreign merchants in the English home trade.
Protectionism and regulation of monopolies was never able to reconcile the various different interests of complex factions ... including parliament itself ... difficulties were fraught ... and at the bottom of the pile were the small sheep farmers of Pudsey ... no wonder the Milners went into merchanting ... the whole system was a stitch up which was waiting to unravel ... and it did so ... many times!
The Milners move from Middlemen to Merchants.
The wool trade reached its peak in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. The Milner farmers followed the money and at some stage they got in on the action and moved from production of quality fleeces to organising the local trade as middlemen - buying fleeces from farmers and arranging for their export to Europe.
The larger estates, like the monasteries, sold their wool directly to exporters or merchants from Flanders & Florence. These large scale contracts between farmer and exporter developed and became more sophisticated and sometimes involved credit, forward sales and foreigners. But this system was only suitable for dealing with the large scale production of the monasteries and great estates.
For the dispersed farms of the West Riding the middleman was needed. The middleman was the inevitable product of a society of free peasants and craftsmen, he was often unpopular ... but the essential link between the small man and the market. Eileen Power -
'The great English woolmen of the fifteenth century have left an indelible mark upon the countryside. Some of them were Londoners, but for the most part they lived in the district where they collected their wool and were intimately connected with its life, benefactors of its churches, godfathers of its children, and not infrequently, drivers of hard bargains with their parents. The emergence of the middleman meant a growth in the English hold on the wool trade, and it probably facilitated the growth in the English hold on the export side as well. By the fifteenth century the English had excluded the foreigners from the trade'.
The Italians fared no better than the Flemish. The men from Florence came to England for both English wool and as tax collectors for the Pope. On the back of papal taxes had become embroiled with the English monasteries, the wool trade and finance. They made loans to monasteries on the security of wool, and these were followed by loans to the crown on a much larger scale. It was rumoured usury got its bad name from the Italians, more so than the Jews. Loans led to privileges in customs, and these in turn led to an increased hold over the wool trade. In the end the Italian syndicates were acting as royal bankers, dominated by the Riccardi of Lucca, the Frescobaldi of Florence and the Bardi and Peruzzi of Florence. Inexorably the war delivered the bad debts which bankrupted the Italian bankers. It was the bankruptcy of the Bardi and Peruzzi banks which shook Florence in January 1345 that gave a new breed of English financiers their chance.
The wool merchants were sharp, here was an opportunity a monopoly with the foreigners squeezed out! The merchants worked hard and travelled to accumulate capital. They organised the supply of wool from the farmers in the West Riding hills. There labour and pack horse trains were cheaper than in the flat arable south. As the demands from the weaving mills escalated wool was sourced from farther & farther afield. The wool was sorted and scoured before it was distributed; there was plenty of work for the family. Combed wool went to the hand spinners in the cottages. Spun yarn was collected and passed on to the hand weavers and much more specialised group producing endless varieties and qualities of cloth. The merchants needed warehouses for storage of the wool ready for market and sometimes they had a dyehouse. As important and trusted members of the community successful wool merchants often provided other services to their customers ... as bankers.
The monopoly undoubtedly damped down exports and reacted adversely on production. The period after the middle of the fourteenth century was thus one of decline and stagnation, and it brought with it a change in agrarian organisation. Taxed out of existence, the flocks and stocks were hived off to small time tenants. The days of large scale, free trade and low tax were over, a government licensed tax raising monopoly had taken over.
Once again imposing a tax and collecting it were two different matters! Bureaucratic armies of corrupt officials, smuggling, increasingly complex laws that were added to the statute book to block evasion and add new sources. But tax avoidance was straight forward ... the farmers turned away from sheep and grasped a new opportunity as merchants, a more profitable pursuit ... the monopoly in wool!
However a Phoenix rose from the chaos of English raw wool exports ... the English woollen cloth industry!
The West Riding farmers first started weaving their own cloth and exporting their surpluses of raw wool for others. Weaving at home then became better organised by the merchants as a 'putting out system' with dispersed specialised artisans. This proto-industry was then centralised in manufactories during the industrial revolution.
woollen Cloth & The Manor of Halifax.
The industrial money economy was established; folk left the land for better paid jobs in manufacturing -.
'There is scarcely a single instance in the whole parish of a man's living entirely by farming; the land therefore is divided into small parcels, everyone, who can, taking just as much as will yield a sufficient quantity of milk and butter for the support of his family; on this account it proves difficult for many of the poor to get these things, which is the only considerable disadvantage they labour under, and which is by much overbalanced by a constant supply of work, good wages and plenty of most other necessities of life, so that I know not any country where, upon the whole they live better'.
Transport of goods for markets posed problems of logistics - .
'Corn and hay are carried on men's shoulders. One substantial reason. however, why this practice is so general is the scarcity of draught horses, those which are kept being so employed about trade that they can seldom be spared for husbandry'.
As distances & volumes of trade increased & expanded water transport became a priority for the links between Hull, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool and overseas. Big things were stirring in the West Riding in 1700 -
'In the 11th of King William III an Act of Parliament was passed to make navigable the river Aire and Calder from Weeland to the towns of Leeds and Wakefield. which having proved a benefit to the trade and commerce of the country, a second Act was obtained in the year 1758 for extending the navigation, without sensible affecting the mills'.
Watson provided a fascinating description of the workings of the wool trade and the importance of logistics, quality and costs. The key development which followed the initial advantage of English raw wool and Flemish weaving specialisation of the Hanseatic League was the eventual establishment of English cloth manufacture as the dominant trade. Halifax was at the centre of this development and, although immigrant weavers were assigned to York, Wright in his history of Halifax affirmed one Mr Waterhouse, from Ripon, brought the woollen trade to Halifax for the sake of coals and water. This Mr John Waterhouse was born in 1443 and died in 1540, during this time woollen manufacture increased rapidly and the houses in Halifax increased from 12 to 520. Watson described the waterhouse presence in the trade.
But clearly this was nothing more than a renaissance! Wool weaving in the West Riding went back & back a lot further than 1443.
The Rev Watson provided more interesting snippets - In 1649 the parish bemoaned at being deprived of the legacies of Mr Waterhouse. In 1700 there were 24 mills on the Calder river system; 11 corn, 8 fulling, 2 grinding materials for dyers, 1 paper, 1 sheer grinding and 1 for the sizing of cloth. From 1648-72 the shortage of small coinage was confirmed by the widespread use of manufacturers tokens.
And in 1836 John Crabtree retold the epic; wool was an important story for the West Riding and the fortunes of England.
The Prior of Lewes was responsible for the fees and
rents of assize from the time of Edward I to the reformation. In 1536 the
Prior granted a lease to Robert Waterhouse of Halifax. It was the Manor of
the Rectory which the Waterhouses held by grant from the crown after the
dissolution of the Priory of Lewes.
Robert married Sybil, (daughter and co heiress of Robert Saville of Hullenedge) their son and heir was John Waterhouse (1443-1540) of Halifax and Shipden. John's son was Robert, Barrister at Law and JP. Robert survived until the reign of Elizabeth and the Manor descended to his son Sir Edward Waterhouse who was a consumer of property and sold the manor in 1612.
The family had several transactions with the Priory of Lewes and by leases and churches they obtained great wealth and became persons of considerable weight and interest in the parish with seats at Moot Hall and Shipden.
Halifax eventually matured as a wool cloth centre; it was on a direct communication link from Leeds to Manchester and on Hull & Liverpool with water from the river Calder and handy coal ... wool became the staple commodity in Halifax in the West Riding and in England ...
There was no doubt that the Waterhouses were big in wool and John Waterhouse (1443-1540) had a son Robert Waterhouse (1498-1578) and grand daughter Ann who married John Milner (1518-86) of Pusey around 1540.
In this way, for sure, some of the Milners moved from sheep farmers, to middlemen of the wool collectas, and eventually to handling more sophisticated contracts for export which involved sophisticated finance and then to dealing in manufactured cloth ... they never missed a trick!
The Merchant Adventurers.
Synergies of specialisation and scale started to create wealth big time and trade became embroiled in cooperation and conflict because of the different interest groups involved. The markets determined the distribution of the rewards. Just as ancient history followed the trade routes it was clear English history followed the sheep. However hard the Bishops, Princes, Generals and bureaucrats tried they were doomed to follow the sheep, because it was the sheep that made the money ... and may be it was a Milner who left for posterity the words recorded by The Worshipful Company of Woolmen -
'Hundreds of years ago a wealthy merchant had the following engraved on the windows of his house - I praise God and ever shall ... it is the sheep hath paid for all'!
The underlying economics initially favoured specialisation. English wool, Flemish weaving and Italian finance, was the way the cookie crumbled. But the division of labour was limited by the size of the market and it was the merchants who cashed in on economies of scale.
Following immigration of Flemish & Huguenots skills, together with Pennine water power and merchant finance, comparative advantage slowly began to favour English weaving skills and the cloth merchants who were able to accumulate capital and learn & dominate finance.
Contrary to conventional wisdom this was not a 'win' for the English; trade was not a zero sum game. International trade always balanced and the Low Countries & France & Tuscany also gained with their comparative advantage in wine and a new maritime trade.
Producers received benefits from specialisation but rewards were limited by the extent of the market, the merchants received the economies of scale but rewards were at risk from additional parasites and predators associated with scale. There were clear mutual benefits for producers and middlemen. The kings, of course, had their monopoly of violence and received their new taxes for protection and peace. The institutions that emerged were best analysed in this context. The guilds had the privilege of a monopoly in trade, bestowed by the powerful in return for tax payments. The producers bore the brunt of the tax burden but still received the benefits of their new skills. A quid pro quo, everybody benefited?
The only fly in the ointment was that a monopoly was economically inefficient and morally repugnant. And the kings and guilds were in conflict with each other, especially once overseas trade was involved!
The decline of the Hanseatic League in the 16th century coincided with the emergence of new kings of nation states and rival international businesses as the centre of European trade moved to the south and west of Europe, as Spain and Portugal opened up of the New World and the Netherlands and England became maritime nations. War was the inevitable result of conflict between kings and always seemed to get pride of place in history lessons. But there was also conflict between the monopolies where the economic action was.
By 1500 the interests of the Hansa came into conflict with the Company of Merchant Adventurers of London which was powered by English cloth. And conflict also arose with the Merchants of the Staple, who sought to expand from exporting wool to exporting cloth without having to become freemen of the Merchant Adventurers. Foreign merchants of the Hanseatic League had considerable privileges in England trade and also competed with the Merchant Adventurers.
The honey pot of English wool attracted several competing interest groups ... some interested in synergies, but some were just parasites and predators playing a different game; economic historians who follow the synergies made the distinction.
The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London, chartered in 1407 was the leading guild of overseas merchants. But there was also the Company of Merchant Adventurers of York formed by 1430 by the Fellowship of Mercers, dealers in textiles, as their trading association. They served the West Riding communities and uniquely they still own and use their original timber-framed Guildhall built in 1368. The Merchant Adventurers' Hall, was used the hall to transact their business affairs, to meet together socially, to look after the poor and to pray to God. The Bristol equivalent was the Society of Merchant Venturers. Bristol the other great port of the time on the west coast, was represented, but the first overseas traders ventured from the east coast.
In the fifteenth century they largely won the wrangles with the Staplers as the supremacy of English cloth was established.
From the late 15th century to 1564, the Merchant Adventurers sent their fleets to their markets at Antwerp in the Spanish Netherlands with cloth to be sold at the annual fairs. By 1564 three quarters of English foreign trade was controlled by the company. After 1564 the Merchant Adventurers lost its market in the Spanish Netherlands and a long search for a new one followed. After 1611 its foreign trading activities were centred at Hamburg and one or another town in the republican United Provinces. Significantly these merchants of cloth served as financiers and advisers to the Tudor monarchs. During the Tudor period, the Merchant Adventurers finally ousted the Hansards.
In the 16th century the wool trade had been dominated by the Yeoman woolmen and Huguenot weavers. The Huguenots, persecuted in France, and some sought refuge in West Riding wool and brought their weaving skills with them. The industry also received a boost from the new found art of knitting when in 1561 Elizabeth wore a pair of knitted stockings!
In the 17th century trade declined during the Civil War but had recovered by 1750 when cloth making was the most important trade of Bradford, Huddersfield, and Halifax. The Company of London lost its exclusive privileges following the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
In the 17th century with the rise of parliament the company lost many of its privileges. Its charter was abrogated in 1689, but the company survived as a trading association at Hamburg until the outbreak of the Napoleonic Wars.
Tempest Milner (1603-73) was Master of the Merchant Taylors Company in 1655. Tempest was, perhaps, drawn to this company because of its long standing family connections ... after all it was chartered by Edward III in 1327, and had its origins in the shenanigans of wool and the Hundred Years War.
The Fuggers were another early example of an international trading firm whose banking interests underpinned their trade in copper, wax, furs, silver, spices and anything else ... and the Fuggers were based in Augsburg.
During the 18th century the output of cloth from the West Riding of Yorkshire equalled that of East Anglia and the cloth manufacturing area of Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield & Wakefield took shape. A rapid transformation from cottage industry to factory production. But as Pat Hudson points out, diverse specialisations searched for scale as folk trialled & errored -
'There were a myriad of separate industries which had developed as distinct regional specialisms within the West Riding textile area'.
One important specialisation differentiated wool & worsted and required different process and different capital investments. Wool involved bulky cross meshed fibres which traditionally required the cloth to be 'fulled'. Worsted was a later development and involved longer stapled wool and additional straightening out of the fibres prior to spinning a finer yarn. Significantly the finer worsteds could not be produced on the hand jenny and required mechanised spinning and additional investment capital.
By 1750 Leeds was a busy place, almost exclusively concerned with wool but largely dominated by merchants & trade rather than manufacture & industry. Warehouses & workshops in the town, tentering (stretching) on surrounding open ground. Fleeces were sold in the markets (White Cloth Hall 1711. Coloured Cloth Hall 1758) for preparation for spinning & weaving which was still put out to the surrounding villages for conversion. The preparation; scribbling, slubbing and carding (separating the wool strands prior to spinning) and the spinning & weaving was labour intensive. All this was largely a dispersed cottage industry; the 'putting out' system. Production slowly expanded from farming families to the employment of helping apprentices and maybe a couple of journeymen. Hand tools and equipment required relatively little fixed capital, most of the capital was tied up in stocks. And help with credit was at hand from the merchants. Clothiers entered the system with relative ease.
Fulling (felting and texturing the coarse weave) developed from the old water powered mill tradition of the manors. There were probably about 100 fulling mills in the West Riding around 1750. Dyeing developed as a separate trade, mainly because locations were restricted by water availability and expensive dyes & mordant had to be secured. The dressing processes; raising, shearing, tentering and pressing also tended to be done on a larger scale around Leeds with Halifax & Wakefield secondary centres.
But things were changing. There was a big increase in the number of Yorkshire weavers after 1750 and scribbling & carding were beginning to be mechanised by water power, often in the fulling mills. There always seemed to competitive alternatives available, some suited some better than others ... distribution could be through the markets, through middlemen, through commission agents or direct contracts. There was a lot of diversity and going and froing and at the same time customers were looking for fancy quality ... as the prices rose so did embezzlement ... quality control and stock control supervision was necessary and the merchants had some incentive to organise centralised manufacturing themselves ... but perhaps the incumbents had a greater incentive to get their act together. The control issues resulted in more and more products by passing the great cloth hall markets and being directly contracted from producer to merchant. A more fashion conscious market hastened the development of worsted and after 1800 some cotton spinning mills were converted. Woollen weaving was not mechanized successfully until the 1840-50s.
The Industrial Revolution came rather late to Leeds, the West Riding was a 'follower county' and new mechanised inventions which had first been pioneered in the Lancashire cotton industry did not dramatically improve the productivity of spinning and weaving until the years around 1800. The first mills in the West Riding were cotton mills! But the new ideas involving capital, scale, mechanisation, steam power and organisation of labour quickly followed and eventually all wool processing was under one roof, on an unimagined scale. Not only wool but also flax succumbed to the revolution. There was no rush in Yorkshire there was plentiful labour on the farms the babies were no longer dying and there was resistance to mechanisation from a threatened labour force. With the mills came the complementary engineering industry. Although more ink has been used recording the role of cotton & technology in the industrial revolution, West Riding wool development was perhaps more typical of the generalised revolution.
The economics of mass production in factories was never simply a study of output & prices in national economies but always about a complexity of the dynamic interactions of a growing population of ingenious folk in cities like Leeds. There were two broad strands to industrial development -
Technology - the synergies of specialisation & scale - technological discovery - what was known, the science & who knows, the learners. For sure there was considerable technical change which was harnessed in the gradual transformation from cottage domestic production to central factory production. The technical changes led by Lancashire silk and cotton industries have been well documented in the history books but the sources of finance was a neglected subject.
Finance - the synergies of trade - capital accumulation - the English kings it seemed had the upper hand initially and the financiers most often lost their lot to the kings and their wars in confiscations & bankruptcies before they made a bit in profits and some capital was amassed through the guilds & state licensed monopolies. In Europe, Holy Roman Emperors, Bourbons and land owners retained their privileges a lot longer, but in Holland & England the problem of usury was solved, and things began to change when parliament took control of taxation from the merchants and after the 17th century of revolution the king lost his head and his capacity to tax. The merchants lost their role as the king's tax collectors and concentrated their energies on investments in the production, distribution & marketing systems ... and then in the 3-6-3 banking system.
The Milners were finance men not technologists. Their story follows a pattern admirably researched by Pat Hudson in 'The Genesis of Industrial Capital - A study of the West Riding wool textile industry'.
Clearly the sources of finance for investment in West Riding wool during the industrial revolution was of central importance. And this was an issue everywhere. It was clear that the technology came from the hard work and creativity of people like Richard Arkwright and James Watt, but where did the capital come from? Workers, landowners, merchants, bankers ... or trusted relatives? ... or trusted local Attorneys organising the flow of local savings as intermediaries? ... or the web of credit?
Workers? The Magic of Agricultural Surpluses gave artisans the time to learn a trade.
Marx was clear; capital came from the exploitation of workers by capitalists. Profit at the expense of labour; this was a labour theory of value in a zero sum game which was discredited. However truck and token payments were credit devices used at the expense of the workers.
The empirical evidence pointed to a process of wealth creation & economic growth, both labour & capital benefitted from new synergies. The urban trek and the population growth in the cities resulted from real wages which were better than the alternatives on the farms. The alternative had been famine but at the same time as the cities grew productivity on the farms was transformed by an agricultural revolution based on property rights including enclosures and technological know how. Roger Scola in 'Feeding the Victorian City: the Food Supply of Manchester, 1770-1870', wrote about the new excitement in the cities as famine became a thing of the past -
'Run, Mary dear, just around the corner, and get some fresh eggs at Tippings, and see if he has any fresh cut ham, and Mary, you must get a pennyworth of milk & a loaf of bread, mind you, get it fresh and new, no that's not all, get six pennyworth of rum to warm the tea, get that at The Grapes ... '
Population growth and unemployment were influenced by fewer deaths; real wages were influenced by productivity not by some class conspiracy. May be there was a class conspiracy but it failed miserably as the stark polarisation of land & workers of the feudal system was eroded by a burgeoning middle class. Evolutionary economists described a process of technological & institutional innovation that was unleashed involving the generating & testing a diversity of ideas which discovered & accumulated more survival value for the costs incurred than competing alternatives ... this was the band wagon the Milners joined as they moved to the middle class; from farming to wooliers to middlemen to merchants to bankers ...
There were many many routes to the middle class for the workers via hard work, honesty & thrift ... from farmer to farm worker to freemen to artisans of the cottage industries and then some capital accumulation from savings out of income. Crucially some trades were more amenable to this route than others and every cloud had a silver lining. 'Poor' quality soils in the West Riding were OK for sheep so farming households around Pudsey and Leeds soon had an income from spinning & weaving which increased with the putting out system. 'What is your trade?' was an important question; there were many different ways to be socially mobile, a diversity which was the feedstock of evolutionary change ... so for sure there was a complex, constant, dynamic, economic & social symbiosis going on between landowning, agriculture and industry as working families like the Milners evolved wider networks of economic activity ... the Milners cashed in on wool.
Pat Hudson explained -
'The traditional Malthusian demographic balance between population levels and agricultural resources was broken by the ability of peasants to earn extra agricultural income and buy their subsistence requirements ... a 'free' rural proletariat ensued'.
Of course there was no God given right to discover a route to the middle class, and saving was always painful. The cookie crumbled in different ways but, for sure, the middle class boomed, there was no doubt about that. And that boom must have been 'pull up' not 'trickle down'?
Landowners? The Magic of Property and investment in the productivity of land.
A more obvious source of capital for industrialisation was from the landowners and merchants who had more capacity to save and invest but as R G Wilson explained, both groups were tempted to invest in the 'lifestyle' of the gentry not in dark satanic mills.
The most enterprising of the landowners had learned the value of -
commercial farming - increased productivity from the land to feed the cities and export surpluses during the agricultural revolution, and
merchants as middlemen & market men who secured the sales at home & abroad for the increased production from the land.
And for sure landowners who didn't improve the productivity of their land ceased to be landowners ... their land was purchased by those who did!
Was there a difference between the aggressive profit plough back to increase productivity and the defensive profit plough back to warn off predators? Those that chose the second option soon found they had no profits to plough back! The evidence points to ongoing dynamic investment in innovation and change. On going investment in fulling mills and selective breeding were an early examples.
The Milner middle men were enabling the more enterprising land owners to secure synergies of specialisation & scale as they themselves specialised in distribution and marketing. Adam Smith explained what was happening -
'The division of labour was limited by the extent of the market'.
Some of the Milners, of course, like Robert Milner who purchased Pudsey Manor from the Calverleys in 1663, became enterprising landowners themselves ... Pat Hudson identified the important role Sir Walter Calverley played in the wool business around 1700 -
'Sir Walter Calverley at the beginning of the century induced many clothiers to come and reside on his estate by providing fulling mills and by making it possible for the farmer to be a clothier and the clothier to be a farmer'.
Pat also noted the potential of widespread land ownership -
'It is possible that the pressure for enfranchisement and enclosure in the 18th century was partly a function of the desire of the domestic artisan clothiers to acquire fixed title to land and hence to a greater call on loan capital'.
Clearly the pattern of landholding was forever changing, not only the big changes at the dissolution of the monasteries or after the civil war or during the enclosure movement but also successful merchants & industrialist bought into the 'gentry' life style plus enterprising landowners expanded their purchases plus land workers or tenants or artisans bought and then expanded their holdings ... the Gandy cheese makers in Antrobus purchased their farm in 1612 when King James was desperately short of cash ... land was established as excellent collateral and the mortgage of land to raise industrial finance was increasingly important.
Merchants? The Synergies of Specialisation & Scale.
The middlemen found things tough, the dispersed workplaces of the putting out system meant distance, travel, variable output, embezzlement and quality control all presented difficulties, cost were rising and centralised capital intensive production offered new opportunities. Space and power were needed rather than specialised purpose built factories. And renting, hire purchase, commission working and bankrupt stocks were available.
There was no mileage in guessing whether merchants became manufactures or manufacturers became merchants ... the answer was, some did ...
It seemed the landowners and merchants provided some of finance to build the factories and accept the higher liquidity risk but more merchants probably went a step further and set up as bankers and fashioned, what Pat Hudson described as 'a web of credit'. This was a logical extension of their existing buying and selling trade. The distinction between fixed and working capital was important as the sources of the funds were often 'quite separate and distinct'. In the West Riding it was likely that the fixed capital requirement were relatively small compared to circulating working capital. Of course any supply of working capital by the merchants had an immediate positive effect on fixed capital availability. While some workers, landowners & merchants were providers of some local capital ... some merchants were out of town at the Staple or in Hull, London or overseas and at the start of the action of the industrial revolution some the key merchants were in Leeds building the magnificent cloth halls rather than factories!
Pat Hudson -
'By the late 18th century the Yorkshire textile trade had become dominated by the local mercantile community, particularly the merchants of Leeds. They made their profits in other ways, especially the provision of credit. They were able to act as middle men in money as well as cloth'.
In this way workers were also landowners who were also middlemen and merchants who also became bankers ... and some merchants became manufacturers and just as some manufacturers became merchants ... folk was folk, they were not only all folk they were often all the same folk? ... the distinctions of roles often used for analysis just confuse the complex economic reality ... there were multiple sources of capital for multiple industrial investments ... it all depended? ... water power in the Aire & Calder valleys, broadcloths in Leeds, fancy cloths in Huddersfield, worsted west of Bradford, small holdings in Halifax, imported Spanish wool, exports to USA, obsolescence, innovation, bankruptcy, expansion ... there was great diversity ... a complex web was woven ... but ...
'As early as the mid 1750s wool staplers were regarded by their contemporaries as men of great commercial status and importance. There is no doubt that the 'Sheet Anchor of Great Britain' played a pivotal role in the trade and finance of the textile locations. The majority of manufacturers relied on the substantial credit extended by the staplers throughout the critical time of centralisation, mechanisation and extension of productive capacity in the industry. The mix of banking and stapling obviously worked well; capital acquired in the short term on the banking side off the business could be employed in credit extension in the wool trade'.
It seemed the merchants may have supplied the bulk of the working capital for the wool trade ... and initially the relatively little fixed capital involved was organised by manufacturers who were in competition with putting out system?
Bankers? The Globalisation of Trust from Leeds to London, Liverpool & the world.
Initially, in contrast to the industrial investments in Flintshire where funding came from outside a poor local community the industrial investments in the West Riding came, one way or another, from local capital accumulated from the ancient trade in wool.
And it was the local bankers who ended up providing most of the credit for that impossible gap from clip to cloth; between growing the output and securing the sale revenue. The natural booms & busts of production on the farms were matched by an infuriating boom & bust in the markets as trade itself always seemed to ebb & flow. And after the Napoleonic wars imported wool with longer associated lead times increased the 'impossible gap'.
The bankers discounted bills, offered facilities & overdraughts, short term loans, specific finance for movement of material & the distribution of goods. Pat Hudson -
'The willingness of banks to discount Bills of Exchange created currency and thus helped them play a large part in the18th century economy. As in Lancashire, the Yorkshire textile entrepreneurs in their relationship with local banks can be said to have constituted a mutual credit source of each endorsing the activities of the other'.
... and also the banks handled mortgages and financed production.
The crucial insight was that mutual trust was involved in the appraisal of the fecundity of the project involving both the -
integrity of the entrepreneur & banker and the
profitability of the proposed project & profitability of the bank's existing loan portfolio ...
(Princeton University Wordnet produced a definition of the evolutionary word fecundity = fruitfulness; the intellectual productivity of a creative imagination).
This mutual trust emerged, face to face, locally, during the 18th century and only later at the beginning of the 19th century were Yorkshire bills discounted in London ... the web of trust spread as proven track records were built up and constantly there was an automatic sifting process; bankruptcy ... those with 'poor' investments went out of business and fraudsters were brutally exposed ... this insight explained how entrepreneurs became bankers and why bankers became entrepreneurs and led a financial revolution. Credit was 'very local and highly personal personal'.
'The Web of Credit'.
Buyers wanted credit from sellers who were buyers who wanted credit from other sellers who themselves were customers who wanted credit from their suppliers who wanted credit ... and wanted credit ... but credit like money didn't grow on trees ...
Credit was an essential trade lubricant the 'impossible gap' from clip to cloth was impossible. Raw wool was up to 50% of the cost of finished cloth, and more for worsted. There were also the costs of labour, services, other materials and capital equipment to finance? Labour was over 60% of typical running costs of the mills. Notably truck and token payments were useful credit devices particularly as there was a shortage small denomination coins.
Pat Hudson again -
'Farmers distant from the West Riding Banks were suspicious of trade bills and drafts; they had a marked preference for cash. Only where regular & trusted relationships were built up between grower & purchaser over many years was there much evidence of longer credits. Buying through staplers & merchants reduced the need to stock pile thus freeing the manufacturers capital for more productive use. The extended use of imported wool also encouraged the practice of dealing through staplers.
'Internal credit' was applied to book debts of the manufacturer where there was a discount for prompt payment and an element of interest which until the 1830s was limited to 5% by the Usury Laws. 'External credit' was applied to the discounting of a Bill of Exchange and the activities of the banks.
The upswings of the cycle provided fertile conditions for entry into the trade and for expansion of productive capacity. External credit provided a great stimulus during the upturn but during the downturn some 'sound' companies could fail in a domino effect. Crashes resulted in high rates of bankruptcy and chains of accommodation finance resulted in the downfall of many sound concerns. However panics also weeded out speculators and unsound links in the commercial network but internal credit could work to keep trusted friends and their companies in business.
Pat Hudson also illustrated the perpetual problem of credit, exacerbated by the Napoleonic wars, by referencing the troubles of the Emmetts of Halifax, and for sure william whitaker and the House of Humble in Bradford had exactly similar problems -
'During the period 1794 through 1800s the Emmett letters give evidence of the scarcity of bills and money. I cannot get money that is 12 months old. You write bills as if you thought we have them for picking up in the streets. Continued disruption of trade and associated bankruptcies were casing further prolongation of credit. There is no wool here to be sold for money and if you sell for credit there is great risque to run not knowing who to trust so that trade is very bad at present'.
Who to trust? This question perhaps explained the predominance of local bankers in the Yorkshire wool trade; there was an ancient intimacy in the trade but by 1830 up to 30% of raw wool was imported and may be 60% of quality Yorkshire cloth was exported ... things were getting more complicated and credit lines were lengthening ... staplers and banks in London began to play an increasing role ... and Liverpool and the New World to the west had taken over from Hull and the east ...
However throughout this period there were some overarching economic realities and John Aitkin admirably summarised the industrial revolution in the West Riding first hand in 1795 -
'The most promising branch of manufactory is that of cloth which has been introduced within these few years by a few persons of enterprise, who have, at vast expense, erected mills on the Calder, and other smaller steams; the falls of water in this uneven country being very favourable for that purpose. The success of these factories has been such as to excite the jealousy of the Leeds merchants, who are accustomed to buy the same articles from the lower manufacturers at their cloth halls, and so aware were they of the danger of competition that in 1794 a deputation was sent from thence to to petition for an act to prevent any merchant from becoming a manufacturer; but on consideration the idea was dropt. It is evident that merchants concentrating in themselves the whole process of a manufactory, from the raw wool to the the finished piece, have an advantage over those who permit the articles to pass through a variety of hands, each of which takes a profit. Some persons in the vicinity of Leeds now see and are adopting the same plan. As machinery is now brought to a great perfection, numbers of the small manufacturers who made perhaps a piece in a week, find it more advantageous to work at those factories where their ingenuity is well rewarded. And it appears evident that the same number of hands regularly employed will do more work by one third than when they depend on casual employ. One day in six is always lost to the head of the family by attending the mill and another by attendance at the market. It may not be amiss to remark on the absurd custom of the merchants allowing one yard in every twenty as an indemnity for the length of the cloth being stretched beyond its length from the mill, which has the bad effect tempting the merchant to stretch the cloth still more in order to gain length, though the quality is injured by it. This practice has thrown Yorkshire cloth into disrepute both at home and abroad and preference has been given to Gloucester fabrics especially by The East India Company'.
The evolution of banks, partnerships, joint stock companies and cooperatives followed this path dependency ...
After the Napoleonic Wars cloth sales to Europe did not recover as expected as indigenous industries became more expensive ... but sales to the New World increased ... wool prices & cloth declined as there were increasing returns to scale (The Bradford Principle) ... but every one still wanted credit and more!
Not only masses of Yorkshire cloth at the right price and the right quality but also credit was available ... increasingly it was the availability of finance drove the industrial revolution in Yorkshire ...
It seemed the reinvestment of surpluses from trade in expanded production via the banks, was a solution to the capital funding problem and was just as significant, or perhaps more so, than the development of technology in the burgeoning industrial revolution. Clearly the history of Leeds and the Milners was an example of a micro economy where comparative advantage ebbed away from self sufficient farmers into the specialised wool farming and then into the merchant trades and fleetingly into the manufacturing of the industrial revolution before eventually flowing into the organisation of a web of credit which grew into the macro economy of financial services in London ...
Clearly everybody thought, and many still do, that the industrial revolution was based on a competitive advantage in technology. This was certainly the assumption for competitor nations in 1785 when the Leeds Intelligencer published a notice warning manufacturers to watch out for spies. Many economists today recognise that the competitive advantage of the Bradford System and increasing returns to scale was due, not to machines, but to a sophisticated system of finance based on saving & investment which was impossible to copy because it was based on a cooperative culture of trust and mutual benefit.
Pat Hudson's insight was again on the mark -
'Credit was being used very positively by manufacturers & merchants as a form of competition in securing markets'.
... at home and abroad ...
Lending started with family connections, then through marriages, and on to trusted friends, customers & religious groups, the wider and bigger the web the more involvement there was of attorneys and debt recovery to maintain confidence. Prior to 1750 the majority of private banks were in the city of London, started by the initiative of folk like john freame in 1690 and the Bank of England in 1694. 50 years later there were over 300 provincial banks discounting bills and issuing notes to accommodate the chronic shortage of exchange media. These bank all had London agents dealing with the established stock brokers, bill discounters, acceptance houses and a 'lender of last resort'. These banks were common law partnerships which meant that the partners were jointly and severally liable for the whole of the debts. This had a restrictive effect on trade until the joint stock banks of 1826 spread the risk over more investors and in 1856 limited the liability of investors, effectively passing the risk on to creditors.
The provincial banks were often started by successful merchants and businessmen and some attorneys who seized the save & invest opportunity by selling credit to eager buyers. The attorney was a linchpin in matching lender to borrower, his wide circle of business and legal contacts for estate stewardship, rent collecting, testation and land transfer made him a major holder of precious idle cash balances which could be used to provide credit to clients. Perhaps anyone with nous who had unused sums of money lying around was tempted to start a bank. There was more money to be made out of selling credit than selling cloth; the 3-6-3 banking system was money making machine?
But it was a risky business; the banks confined their activities to the immediate locality, where they and their customers would be recognised and trusted. Once outside the vicinity, the notes would tend to end up with the London agent for redemption. Bankruptcy through poor risk management or fear and bank runs were regular hazards.
The London banks stopped issuing their own notes around 1770 and relied on Bank of England notes. In 1844 the Bank Charter Act limited note issues to the existing stock and any new notes were only to be issued by the Bank of England. This was the start of government attempts to control the issue of bank notes and earn some pilfered seiniorage.
It was a stitch up and towards the end of the nineteenth century the position of the private banks was becoming increasingly difficult. This period saw a number of take overs and amalgamations leading to the situation we see today with just a few large banks with many branches. By 1921 the last provincial note issue had ceased. There was a Bank of England monopoly.
The problem was always that the whole of the pyramid of credit was increasingly coming to rest on on the narrow basis of confidence in the stability of a small number of houses who, in turn, relied upon the the reactions of the monopoly at the Bank of England at different points in the trade cycle.
The provincial Yorkshire banks were certainly volatile, Schumpeter got it right, 'creative destruction' ... but that was the only way evolution could possible work, the banking system was not designed by intelligence, the endogenous supply of money just worked better than the alternatives. As Walter Bagehot wrote -
'free banking, the natural system, would have sprung up if Government had let banking alone'
As late as 1834 The Yorkshire District Bank were still seeking 'parties whose connections will benefit the bank'. John Milner of Halifax was already ensconced as a Director!
Pat Hudson had a last word -
'Bankruptcies were ubiquitous and volatility the norm but the one enduring feature appears to have been the importance of maintaining a trusted, respected and propertied status in the eyes of the local business community'.
The Milners contributed to all the important streams of finance based on saving & investment and the natural synergies from the growing economic activities in cities ... which were in stark contrast to the parasitic & predatory distortions of nation state taxing & spending. Economic growth in Leeds was a local not national phenomena.
1655 The Merchant Taylors Company. 1663 Pudsey Manor 1704 Aire & Calder Canal, a link to Hull.
1711 Nun Appleton 1732 The Weaver Navigation 1816 Leeds to Liverpool canal, a link to Liverpool
1873 Brunner Mond
Eileen Power - The Taxation of Wool
'The king needed the collaboration of the merchants, not parliament, it was the merchants who directly paid the tax though the incidence was elsewhere. Direct experience showed where the true incidence of the tax lay. The merchants might even benefit if the quid pro quo was a compensating advantage of a monopoly in trade with Flanders. The merchants could easily pass on the tax in the form of lower prices to the growers. So these nascent English financiers were interested in the staple as a means by which they could operate a monopoly in the export of wool at the expense of foreigners and the bulk of English exporters alike. But the whole community represented by parliament felt itself burdened by the tax on wools; a million freeholders, a million tenants and also the urban interests; the wool growers had less money to spend in the town markets. The wool tax precipitated a constitutional crisis in 1336. Parliament was gradually and grudgingly converted to the view that the king must have his tax, but parliament agreed to a regular subsidy granted by itself. Parliament retained its solidarity but the estate of the merchants broke up; they did not represent all the merchants. The result of this fissure was a parliament in which were corralled all interests, except the financier - the rogue elephant - who was left outside and for the moment bankrupt. The wool trade monopoly continued in the hands of the English Company of Staple and it was likely to fail. But taxation & monopoly rarely work out as governments & monopolists intend them to do; the king & the monopolists had killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Exports of English wool declined; it was the free trade periods which were the periods of greatest expansion.'
The Cockayne Project
In 1579 there was further interference in the wool trade. The Eastland Company was formed by English merchants to challenge the Hanseatic League and their dominance of the European market. In 1614, William Cockayne, a member of the company, developed a process to dye and dress English cloth before export abroad. James I was persuaded to grant Cockayne a monopoly, hoping to increase the profits of the English merchants & the Royal customs purse. Unfortunately, as with most monopolistic schemes, it failed as the Dutch merchants refused to purchase finished cloth and immediately started a trade war. The English cloth trade was depressed for decades.
'War Plague and Trade. Leeds in the Seventeenth Century' by Steven Burt and Kevin Grady, 1985.
'The Genesis of Industrial Capital' by Pat Hudson, 1986.
'The Merchants Golden Age. Leeds 1700-1790' by Steven Burt and Kevin Grady, 1987.
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