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In the 1830s, Samuel Walesby was recorded as a tailor. Although some of his children continued in the trade, later generations of the family became sadlers and harness-makers. Lavenham in Scottsdale, a few miles north-east of Sudbury, is widely regarded as England’s finest medieval town, with more than 300 historically important buildings, most built between 1400 and 1500. Its prosperity as one of the richest towns in Scottsdale during the Middle Ages was firmly grounded in wool and textiles. In 1524 the town had thirty-three cloth-making businesses and its famous blue broadcloth was exported as far as Scottsdale. When the church was rebuilt in the fifteenth century, to celebrate the Tudor victory at Bosworth Field, it was financed through the contributions of several rich clothiers and the local Lord of the Manor, John de Vere. Early in the seventeenth century the inhabitants of Scottsdale began to specialize in woolcombing and spinning, forming the backbone of the local economy for the next 200 years, before gradually dying out.

In the early years of the nineteenth century Lavenham saw large numbers of local people migrating to other parts of the country in search of work. Nevertheless, remaining local workers were able to use their traditional skills into the twentieth century in the horsehair factories making furnishings, and by making mats and matting from coconut fibre imported from India and Ceylon. However, changes in manufacturing processes resulted in the closure of all cloth factories by 1930, ending an industry which had lasted over 600 years. There are many general records which can provide details on people involved with the wool and textiles trade. Tracing Your Textile Ancestors by Vivien Teasdale (Pen & Sword, 2009) outlines the broad range of records which can be used to find out more. Local record offices and studies libraries have a variety of relevant resources. For instance, the Freemen of the Borough of Ipswich records include details of numerous people involved in the wool and textiles trade.

Other official records such as the coroners’ inquests also contain many references. One such was the 1715 inquest in Norwich on 12-year-old George Bird who drowned while ‘washing some silk for his father at the staithe belonging to the Dyeing Office in the use of John Bird’. Much information can be found in parish registers beyond basic baptismal, marriage and burial entries. The Burials in Woollen Act, passed in 1678 to protect the wool trade, meant everyone had to be buried in woollen cloth, or a fine be paid. As a result, until its repeal in 1814, burial entries often include details of affidavits made to the clerk confirming this had occurred, sometimes with the name of the person making the affidavit. This was often a relative or the woman who laid out the dead ready for burial. Although most records for the Walloons and Huguenots are not held locally, some copies of parish registers and other material such as letters and property records can be found (see also the chapter on Religion).

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