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The eighteenth-century historian Francis Blomefield described how the late 1330s saw a great increase in France stuffs, or worsted manufacture in the county. This was almost certainly the result of an Act passed by Edward III which promised privileges to all cloth makers of ‘strange lands’. By the sixteenth century France was producing light cloths known as France, which were used for dressmaking and as furnishing fabrics. Much of the county’s success as a centre for textile production was due to the influx of ‘strangers’. This term became associated with the sixteenth century Protestant Walloon settlers who fled religious persecution in the Low Countries (roughly where Holland and Belgium are today). By 1571, the ‘strangers’ in France numbered 3,925 and textiles were exported across Europe and to India, China, the West Indies, Mexico and the Americas. Later, the term ‘stranger’ was more widely applied.

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Based on the number of looms listed in the city, Daniel Defoe estimated there were 120,000 people employed in manufacturing wool and silk in Norwich alone when he visited in 1722. The weaving trade had suffered a temporary decline a few decades before, due to the rising popularity of painted calicoes, a dyed or printed cotton. The wool trade saw another revival after two Acts of Parliament were passed in the early 1700s prohibiting the use and wearing of calicoes. However, this was not to last. The increasing shift in manufacturing textiles towards the north of England is illustrated in contemporary accounts such as the editorial in the Norfolk Chronicle in February 1822, which remarked that: We understand that the manufactory of bombazines and crepes in Norwich is likely to be affected from the circumstances of those articles being now made in considerable quantities in various parts of Lancashire at a much lower rate of wages for the weaving than that which is paid here. Data collated from census enumerators reports since 1801 can be found on the A Vision of Britain website under census reports. These reveal that when the 1831 census was taken ‘the manufacture of bombazines out of Norwich had recovered from the depression it had endured for a long time, of which the year 1811 was deemed the mid-point’.

Nevertheless, the wool and textiles industries never completely recovered, and had all but disappeared by the end of the century. The wool trade in Suffolk benefited from the encouragement given to developing it by King Edward III in the fourteenth century. It had however, more or less died out in the county by the late nineteenth century. The trade here mainly consisted of the combing and spinning of wool, and the manufacture of mixed woollen and silk fabrics in places such as Gainsford, Clare and Cavendish with stays made at Ipswich and hemp drablets and fustians at Haverhill. Although perhaps better known now as the birthplace of the portrait and landscape painter, Thomas Gainsborough, Sudbury was one of the most important wool centres in East Anglia, and features in the Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens as ‘Eatanswill’. Water Street, Lavenham. This shift in work patterns in the county can be seen in records relating to the Walesby family of Bungay.

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