The Low Dutch and the Manufacture of Cloth
It is curious that most modern writers on economics, such as Ashley and Cunningham, have assumed that the English cloth trade practically started with the introduction of Flemish weavers by Edward III. It is constantly asserted that before this the cloth made in England was of very poor quality and entirely for home consumption, and that the industry had but little organization. Salzman has shown, however, that the cloth trade was highly organized much earlier, and that, while a large proportion of the cloths were certainly coarse, fine cloths such as the Lincoln and Stamford scarlets had early attained fame. An examination of the vocabulary of clothworking certainly supports the conclusions of Salzman, for the Low Dutch element in it is surprisingly small, whereas if the Flemish influence had been as great as is commonly assumed, we should expect a larger proportion of Low Dutch words.
Flemish influence, however, can be postulated from an early date. Flemish weavers seem to have settled in the towns which grew up around the new Norman castles after the Conquest. Drogo of Bruere, a Fleming, obtained a large grant of land at Beverley from the Conqueror, and there was soon a settlement of Flemish weavers in that town, where they have given their name to the Flemingate. ‘Gilbert the Weaver and Baldwin the Tailor’ are names figuring in the list of settlers around the new abbey of Battle, and the names and trades seem to mark them down as Flemings. The evidence as to the gilds of weavers in London, Winchester, Marlborough, Beverley, and Lincoln, and the special disabilities of the weavers and dyers seem to show that they were aliens organized as a separate community under the protection of the crown. When in 1270 the wool trade to Flanders was interrupted, Henry III sought to induce Flemish weavers to settle in England, and with some success; for when a little later he issued orders to all Flemings to leave the country, he excepted ‘those workmen, who with our leave shall come into our land to make cloths’. The Norfolk worsted industry
was founded at some date prior to 1315, probably with some settlement of Flemish weavers at the village of Worstead.
In the reign of Edward III it was evident that there was something wrong with the English cloth trade, and it was fortunate that the king's foreign policy gave the key to the solution of the industrial difficulties. Edward wished to damage the trade of Flanders and to that end did his best to hinder the export of wool and to revivify the English cloth trade so as to be independent of Flanders. Either in order to remedy the defects of the native cloth or with the deliberate intention of building up a cloth-making industry to compete with Flanders, he now adopted the policy of encouraging foreign experts to settle in the country. The conditions of the time were exceedingly favourable, for conditions in the Low Countries were very disturbed; the craftsmen in the Flemish towns were oppressed by the merchant companies, and, moreover, there was hostility between the weavers of the towns and those of the country districts, so that the latter were frequently deprived of their wool supply. Emigration to England would entirely solve this difficulty.
As early as 1331 special protection was granted to John Kemp of Flanders and any other clothworkers who wished to come over. In 1337 the king sent Thomas de Kenelyngworth to bring John Belle and other clothworkers to England, and later in the same year protection was granted to Nicholas Appelman, dyer, and to other dyers and fullers who had come over with him and were exercising their trades at Winchester. Similar protection was granted in 1343 to John de Bruyn, ‘burgess of Ghent’, who was making cloth at Abingdon, while in 1352 a general proclamation was made that foreign clothmakers were not to be interfered with or compelled to join any gild. Such protection was necessary, as it was only natural that the weavers already established in the country should resent the introduction of so many skilled craftsmen into their own trades. Eventually the Flemings and Brabanters in London formed for their protection a weavers' gild of their own. This jealousy sprang up afresh with every new batch of entrants, and the murder of Flemings at Snettisham and Yarmouth was perhaps due to industrial rivalry. Thomas Blanket, who had set up looms and brought over workmen for manufacture on a large scale at Bristol, was seriously interfered with in 1340. Alien workmen continued to
come in during the 15th century (no less than 1,738 were naturalized in 1436), and the ill feeling steadily grew till it culminated in an organized attack on their foreign rivals by the apprentices and journeymen of London on Evil May Day, 1517.
Very little appears to be ascertainable about the history of linen weaving in England in the Middle Ages. That it was carried on fairly extensively is evident from casual references, and important centres seem to have been Wilton, Hereford, and Norwich. The vocabulary shows that the Low Dutch had some influence on this manufacture, and we know that Flemish linen weavers were introduced in 1253 and again in the reign of Edward III.
It seems probable that it is to the 15th century, and especially to the time of James I, that we are to attribute the large immigration of weavers into Scotland, which undoubtedly took place at some time or other. They bear the name Brabanters in not a few towns, and they appear to have migrated before the religious struggles of the 16th century. The walkers and litsters may be survivals of a previous immigration, though their incorporation in the year 1500 would point to their increasing importance.
The next great immigration of foreign clothworkers comes in the 16th and 17th centuries as the result of the religious persecutions of the Spaniards in the Netherlands. The industrial arts improved or introduced by these refugees are numerous. They attempted to introduce a linen manufacture, e.g. at Stamford; but for some reason this industry has never been properly acclimatized in England. Their chief influence, however, was on the manufacture of woollens, worsted, serges, and bays, and the impetus which they gave to the industry caused it to develop very rapidly, so that an export trade soon sprang up and the manufacture was widely diffused. A beginning can be traced to the immigration of 406 persons, driven out of Flanders in 1561, some of whom settled at Sandwich and Canterbury, while 30 families settled at Norwich, a town which was still suffering from the consequences of Kett's rebellion. The most important centre, however, was Colchester; for this was an industrially organized colony manufacturing the fine cloth known as bays, sackcloth, needles, and parchment. This Flemish
colony appears to have flourished on the whole; James I continued their privileges and they were protected in the exercise and the regulation of their trades, so that the manufacture of bays continued to be important and the cloth which they produced an important article of export. Their trade began to decline in the 18th century under the competition of imported cotton fabrics.
It is highly probable that cotton weaving was also started by these refugees. This had been a flourishing industry at Antwerp, a port where the necessary materials were easily procurable from Egypt. The beginnings in England are very obscure; but it is significant that it began to attract attention as an important trade in Manchester in the early part of the 17th century and that the rise of the manufacture in Lancashire appears to follow very closely on its decline at Antwerp. There is at least the considerable possibility of ascribing the development to the immigration of refugees. After the sack of Antwerp in 1585 we know that many of the inhabitants fled to England, and the same period marks a great growth in the population of Manchester.
Low Dutch influence is apparent also in minor branches of the weaving trade. Under Henry VIII Dutch tapestry weavers settled in London, and there were others of the same trade at the Court. The introduction of lace-making is also attributed to refugees from the Low Countries. Flemish names figure in the church registers of Honiton at the end of the 17th century, and many others of the same extraction are to be found in Bedfordshire; tradition assigns a Flemish origin to the manufacture at Newport Pagnell, Stony Stratford, Aylesbury, and Northampton, and indeed these laces are of old Flemish design. The trade was flourishing in Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, and Devon in 1650, and in 1626 a school for teaching the art had been established at Great Marlow. There were many attempts in the 17th century to improve the art of dyeing in England; in 1643 a dyehouse was started at Bow by a Dutchman, Kepler, whose scarlet dye soon had a high reputation; in 1667 it was further improved by Bauer, a man of Flemish origin, and thenceforward there was no real necessity to export undyed cloth. There was still room for improvement in West Country weaving, and Paul Methuen and Willem Brewer brought over Dutch families to Dutch Barton, near Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire.
In Scotland at this period James VI was desirous of encouraging the cloth trade, and in 1587 an Act was passed in favour of three Flemish weavers who sought leave to set up their looms. A sum of money was granted for the furtherance of the scheme, and the settlers were to be exempted from taxation and town dues; naturalization was to be granted them and permission to establish a church. In 1588 other Flemings seem to have come over, and in 1600 liberty was granted for the settlement of a hundred clothworkers. In the following summer Bischof, a refugee, agreed to come from Norwich to work in Edinburgh, and twelve weavers were received from Leyden at Edinburgh, Perth, Dundee, and Ayr. Attention has been called to the fact that many names at Muthill and Perth are of Flemish origin, and also that many manorial flour mills were utilized for fulling at this period.
The following terms used in the spinning, weaving, and preparation of woollen cloth appear in Middle English. Rock (c. 1310, Northern Poem), a distaff; in the 14th and 15th centuries rokke; the word corresponds to M.Du. rocke (Du. rok) and MLG. rocken, but it is not clear whether the word is native English or a later adoption from Low Dutch. Clack (1429), to remove the dirty parts, esp. the tarry mark or ‘buist’ from a fleece of wool; O.E.D. states that it was originally a Flemish word of the wool trade; Kilian has klacken, ‘detergere lutum’, used in Flanders for kladden, afkladden, and also a sb. klacke, ‘macula luti’; according to Mnl. Wdb. the sb. clacke, ‘klad, vlek’, was not known in M.Du.
Nap (c. 1440, Pr. Parv.), originally the rough layer of projecting threads on the surface of a woollen or other textile fabric; in the 15th and 16th centuries noppe; ad. M.Du. or MLG. noppe, related to the vb. noppen, to nap; there is no evidence for the OE. hnoppa given by Somner. Nopster (c. 1481, Caxton), a woman who puts a nap on cloth; ad. M.Du. nopster, from the vb. noppen. The vb. itself is later, Nap (c. 1483, Caxton, 1483, Cath. Angl.), to trim cloth by shearing the nap; in the 15th and 16th centuries noppe; ad. M.Du. or MLG. noppen. Nappy (1499, Pr. Parv.), having a nap, downy, shaggy; ad. M.Du. noppigh (Du. noppig) or MLG. noppich, from noppe, nap.
Selvage, Selvedge (c. 1460), the edge of a piece of woven material finished in such a manner as to prevent the ravelling out of the wool; apparently from self and edge, after the
equivalent e.mod.Du. selfegghe (Kilian), now zelfegge, LG. sulfegge; compare the Du. synonyms cited by Kilian, selfkant, now zelfkant, selfende, now zelfende.
Fulling terms are: Walker (c. 1290, Beket), one who fulls cloth, a fuller; OE. wealcere occurs once as a gloss for fullo (c. 1050, in Voc. in Wr.-Wü.), but it is probable that the word was reintroduced from Low Dutch in the 13th century from M.Du. or MLG. walker. Walk-mill (1359, Mem. Ripon), a fulling mill; from walk and mill. Walk (14.., 1437), to subject woollen cloth to the operation of beating or pressing in order to cause felting of the fibres and consequent thickening and shrinking; originally identical with the vb. walk, to walk, step, but the sense ‘to full cloth’ is not recorded in English before the 14th century, though prominent in other Teutonic languages; OE. had the agent noun wealcere, but it is possible that the corresponding sense of the Teutonic verb had not survived into OE. and that the late ME. walke is either a back formation from the agent noun or an adoption from M.Du. or MLG. walken.
Some terms of woollen weaving and the preparation of cloth were introduced in the modern period. Buckety (1548), according to Jamieson a corruption of ‘buckwheat’ and the name of a paste used by weavers in Scotland in dressing their webs (see Buckwheat). Bay (1581), baize, originally a fabric of a finer and lighter texture than now, the manufacture of which was introduced into England in the 16th century by fugitives from the Netherlands and France; usually in the plural, whence the corruption Baize (1578); ad. F. baie or its Du. representative baai, from F. bai, baie, the colour bay; also in many combs., as Bayhall (1684), a hall in Colchester, used as an exchange by traders in this commodity.
Spill (1594), a small cylinder upon which yarn is wound, a spool; (1594), a rod
or stalk of wood, metal, &c.; apparently ad. Du. spil (M.Du. spille) or LG. (and MLG.) spille, spindle, axis, pin, stalk. Scraw (c. 1563, from Canterbury), a frame on which textile fabrics are hung to dry; perhaps ad. Du. schraag, trestle.
Scribble (1687), to card or tease wool coarsely, to pass through a scribbler; probably from LG.; compare the synonymous G. schrubbeln, schrobbeln, schruppeln, Sw. skrabbla; the verb is a frequentative from LG. and G. schrubben, schrobben (see Scrub). Derivatives which, however, appear earlier are
Scribbler (1682), a person who scribbles wool, and Scribbling (1682), the first process in the operation of carding wool.
A term of dyeing is Slip (1667), the powder found in the trough of cutlers' grindstones and used in dyeing; apparently ad. older Flem. slip (Kilian) or MLG. slip, related to Flem. and Du. slijpen, to polish, sharpen; this word may equally well have come in as a term of the cutler's trade.
The terms of the preparation of flax and hemp and of the weaving of linen are surprisingly numerous in view of the scarcity of evidence of Low Dutch influence on this industry. Swingle (c. 1325), a wooden instrument resembling a sword used for beating and scraping flax and hemp so as to cleanse it of woody or coarse particles; ad. M.Du. swinghel, swingle for flax (corresponding in form to OE. swingell, swingle, stroke or stripe with a rod, whipping, scourge, whip; also once, swingle or distaff) or partly ad. MLG. swengel, bell-clapper, pump-handle, swipe (M.Du. swenghel, swipe, Du. zwengel, swingle), which would account for the secondary senses (c. 1440), the striking part or swipple of a flail, and (14.., Voc., Wr.-Wü.), the clapper of a bell. Swingle, vb. (c. 1325), to beat or scrape with a swingle, to scutch; ad. M.Du. swinghelen, from swinghel, swingle.
Rib (c. 1340), a flat iron tool used for cleaning flax after the breaking process; in the 14th century ribbe, perhaps ad. MLG. ribbe-, ribb-(îsern) (LG. ribbe-îsen, -îsder). The vb. is half a century later, Rib (1393), to rub or scrape flax or hemp with a flat iron tool; from the sb., but cf. Du. and LG. ribben.
Ret (c. 1440, Pr. Parv.), to soak, esp. flax or hemp, in water in order to soften or season; the East Anglian form ret (earlier retten, reten), is perhaps from M.Du. reeten, reten, but the Northern forms rayt, rait, rate, seem to indicate an ON. *reyta (Norw. røyta, Sw. röta, Da. røde).
Brake (c. 1450), a toothed instrument for braking flax or hemp; (c. 1440, Pr. Parv.), a baker's kneading-machine; (1534), in brewing and similar processes,
a wooden mill to crush green fruits, hops, &c.; ad. MLG. brake or M.Du. braeke (Du. braak), a flax-brake (whence F. braquer, to brake flax), from Du. breken, to break; the form brakene in Pr. Parv. may represent the plural of the M.Du. or MLG. word; the resemblance of the sb. to the cognate Eng. vb. apparently gave rise to the extension of sense by which ‘brake’ became a generic term of implements
used for breaking or crushing. The vb. is half a century earlier, Brake (1398, Trevisa), but is from the sb.
A term for the finished linen article is Lake (c. 1386, Chaucer), fine linen; probably ad. Du. laken (M.Du. laken, lakene, lake), linen.
Knock, Knok (1573, once), a bundle of heckled flax; apparently ad. LG. knocke, in the same sense.
A.I. 37-8, 102, 105-7, 116, 128, 132; I.C. i
. 304-9, 341, 431; Salz. 197-205, 239; Green, 88.
A.I. 143, 171, 177-80, 183-4, 212; I.C. ii
. 82-3, 330.