halesworth

A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.

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Volume 3



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Halesworth as a Linen Market

The 'Magna Britannia et Hibernis' by Thomas Cox was published in 1720-31 and covered the whole country. Of Halesworth's linen market it spoke of such fabric being 'readily brought up here, (and) is esteemed a good commodity for trade'.

Certainly over the years, Halesworth market had moved with the times, and the commodities sold would have varied from century to century. Hemp manufacturing continued in the Halesworth area until about 1830 when James Aldred was selling it through agents in various places in Suffolk and Norfolk. He lived at Wissett, where the bleaching was undertaken. His shop in Halesworth was near the bridge and his farming and bleaching processing was at Whitehouse Farm and at Bleach Farm at Wissett. For here there were three bleach meadows near Bleach Farm, ten hemplands where the plants could be grown and five pieces of land which seem to have contained 'retting pits'.

The Aldred Family's link with the linen trade goes back to the 1780's when James Aldred's father had a factory which it is believed stood in Chediston Street. In earlier times hemp had been used for making sacks, but the growth of the jute industry as an alternative caused this side of the trade to decline in the 1820's. By 1851 it is thought that the only persons in Halesworth connected with the hemp trade were a blind pauper hemp weaver and a heckler, who combed out hemp or flax fibres. At Wissett in 1844 White's Directory says that 'great quantities of hemp were formerly grown in the neighbourhood, and many of the inhabitants were employed in the Suffolk hempen cloth trade, but the trade was discontinued many years ago'.

A place where the hemp fabric manufacture could be organised with ease was Bulcamp Union Workhouse near Blyford. In 1768 it was decided that the mill made for raising water could be converted into a hemp brunching mill, and they obtained some 20 stone (127 Kg) of hemp to be dressed in the workhouse. The Kelly's Directory of 1885 refers to the venture, and commented that at one time the manufacture of hempen cloth gave employment to about 1000 hands in and around Halesworth. The various crafts which were practiced in the Workhouse included knitting stockings, weaving sacks, making rope and twine, the braiding of twine into nets, weaving thread laces and making door and floor matting. Quite a range of goods, all made most unwillingly by the inmates. 


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