Taunton and the Rise and Fall of the Wool Trade

"This town which in point of size buildings and respectability of inhabitants may vie with most cities is situated fifty two miles southwest from Bath and thirty two northeast from Exeter being intermediate and on the publick road between those two cities. Its extent from east to west is nearly a mile and it consists of four principal streets which are wide and very well built and there is a noble spacious market place in which is a handsome commodious market house with a town hall over it the building whereof was completed in the year 1773. The markets are large and kept on Wednesday and Saturday and there are two fairs one held on the 17th of June the other on the 7th of July. The woollen manufacture has flourished in this town almost ever since its first introdućtion into England by the memorable John Kempe from Flanders the first manufacture being established here about the year 1336. Of late years it has decayed and its success has been in great measure translated to the neighbouring town of Wellington.

p. 226 The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset, Vol. III, By John Collinson 1791

Taunton has a history that goes back more then 1,000 years. I have excerpted the entry for Taunton in the Topographical Dictionary of England (1848). It makes interesting reading because we know Shattocks lived through its turbulent history.

You get very good idea of the size of the town from its description in Collinson's History of Somerset written in 1791. It had four main roads and was only one mile long. And a most interesting part of his description is the statement about cloth making in Taunton. It was brought to the town by John Kempe, from Flanders in 1336. That date is very close to the estimated birth date of the Shattock common ancestor. Designated by his genetic marker, Y17171 was born about 1350, give or take a couple of decades. Did the Shattocks arrive with the weavers of Flanders? We will explore that question.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) was an English trader, writer, journalist, pamphleteer and spy. He is most famous for his novel Robinson Crusoe. Some call him the first journalist, partly because of his accounts of his travels through England.

The famous author of Robin Crusoe provides a portrait of Taunton and its history in his Somerset travelogue that began in Wellington, just south of Taunton. The year was 1720, just one year after he published Robinson Crusoe:

I entered the county, as I observed above, by Wellington, where we had the entertainment of the beggars; from whence we came to Taunton, vulgarly called Taunton Dean upon the River Ton; this is a large, wealthy, and exceedingly populous, town: One of the chief manufacturers of the town told us, That there was at that time so good a trade in the town, that they had then eleven hundred looms going for the weaving of sagathies, du roys, and such kind of stuffs, which are made there; and that which added to the thing very much, was, that not one of those looms wanted work: He farther added, That there was not a child in the town, or in the villages round it, of above five years old, but, if it was not neglected by its parents, and untaught, could earn its own bread. This was what I never met with in any place in England, except at Colchester in Essex.

This town chooses two Members of Parliament, and their way of choosing is, by those who they call "pot-walloners," that is to say, every inhabitant, whether house-keeper or lodger, that dresses their own victuals; to make out which, several inmates, or lodgers, will, sometime before the election, bring out their pots, and make fires in the street, and boil their victuals in the sight of their neighbours, that their votes may not be called in question.

There are two large parish churches in this town, and two or three meeting-houses, whereof one, is said to be the largest in the county. The inhabitants have been noted for the number of Dissenters; for among them it was always counted a seminary of such: They suffered deeply in the Duke of Monmouth's Rebellion, but paid King James home for the cruelty exercised by Jeffries among them; for when the Prince of Orange arrived, the whole town ran in to him, with so universal a joy, that, 'twas thought, if he had wanted it, he might have raised a little army there, and in the adjacent part of the country.

Interesting to note about Dafoe's account is the fact the town was full of "dissenters," that is people who were critical of the Church of England, its hierarchy and its ceremonies. It can be said that the majority of Shattocks were dissenters. The other interesting part of his account is the role the cloth trade in the town's history. It had the same important role in Shattock history. Dafoe's comments on how the cloth trade provided employment for cloth workers provides us with a reason why the largest families of Shattocks and Shatticks are found in the three largest cloth towns and villages: Taunton, Stogumber and North Molton. Workers who found employment had the money to marry and start families and provide their children with the means to start their own families. The pattern is repeated in New England when the weaver William Shattuck (1622-1672) founded his dynasty in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Shattockes have not been a big presence at the center of Taunton. They lived in the villages on the outskirts of Taunton: Bishop's Hull, Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove. These villages were involved in cloth making. The church tower at St. Peter and St. Paul is even shaped like a weaver's shuttle, said to be paid for by local weavers. A fulling mill in the Langford area of Norton Fitwarren dates back at least to 1504.

They may have located outside Taunto town limits to avoid the restrictions laid down by the cloth trades. And they combined farming with weaving.

The record of the death of Thomas Shattocke is found among the very first entries in the St. Mary Magdalene parish records in the middle of the 16th century. A Taunton will in 1533 by John Shattock, probably the father of Thomas, shows that he owned a "shoppe." It might have been full of looms. The fact he was either a tradesman or merchant means he had a high social status in society at the time. Citizens, merchants and tradespeople formed the ruling groups in towns, especially early in the 16th century. The successful ones bought property in the country with a view to entering the ranks of the gentry and this appears to be the case with Shattocks at this time. The list of wills for Shattockes shows a high concentration around Staplegrove - Taunton, and they appear to have acquired property in the countryside as well. (See The Age of Exuberance by Michael Reed, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986 p.14).

John Shattock's will of 1533 bequeaths a shop, an abode and donations to the Staplegrove church, so it is likely that John Shattock lived in Staplegrove but had his business in Taunton, which at the time was a separate village, just over a mile away, town centre to town centre. Today, Staplegrove is considered a suburb of Taunton.

In 1569 there is a record of a John Shattock in Staplegrove that identifies him as a vintner. Since wine was imported from southern Europe and the Mediterranean, he must have had trading connections outside of England. In general wool and cloth were traded for wine. This fits with the early history of Taunton, since it was one of the first towns in England to engage in making cloth rather than merely exporting wool. On the English Heritage page I discuss the case of another John Shattocke in the next century who was a merchant doing business in the Portuguese island of Madeira. Wine was a major trade item on the island. And I feature John Shattock, the merchant on this page: John Shattuck visits Samuel Pepys, the Diarist. Perhaps the John Shattock in 1569, who was a vintner in Taunton is the direct ancestor of John Shattock the merchant out of Madeira.

Tudor buildings (late 15th century to early 16th century) on Fore Street in Taunton.

Flemish weavers were invited to Taunton to help local merchants get more value from their wool. Doubtlessly Shattockes were involved in the wool industry, since it played such a prominent role in Taunton's early history. There was a fulling mill in Taunton from the early 13th century, which means cloth making had already begun to play a central role in the economy of the town even before the weavers from Flanders arrived to improve the quality of cloth being made. After wool is woven it is "fulled," which means it is pounded by wooden hammers to clean and thicken it. Those hammers are driven by a water mill. If you were a Flemish weaver, then settling in Taunton would provide you with a ready market for the wool you wove on your loom. The record of the death of Thomas Shattocke is found among the very first entries in the St. Mary Magdalene parish records in the middle of the 16th century. A Taunton will in 1533 by John Shattock, probably the father of Thomas, shows that he owned a "shoppe." It might have been full of looms. The fact he was either a tradesman or merchant means he had a high social status in society at the time. Citizens, merchants and tradespeople formed the ruling groups in towns, especially early in the 16th century.

Philippa of Hainault (1314-1369)

The two traditional industries of Taunton Deane were cloth production and agriculture. In a sense one was dependent upon the other, for wool provided the raw material for the cloth, not least the rough serge known as 'Taunton Cloth.' Flemish weavers had settled in the locality in the 14th century, bringing new techniques to what had been a simple home-based craft in earlier times. Merchant families became prominent, and participated in the affairs and expansion of the town. (p. 14)

There was a history of Taunton first published in 1791 and a revision published in 1822, that gives us the dates when Flemish weavers arrived in Taunton. (The History of Taunton, originally written by Joshua Toulmin, D.D., published in 1791. A revised edition by James Savage 1822. See the complete ebook here.)

Flemish weavers had apparently migrated to England as early as the invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066. (Flemish weavers were known as excellent warriors.) And in 1270, Henry III apparently tried to influence Flemish weavers to settle in England when trade was interrupted between the Low Countries and England. The cloth trade was in some distress by the reign of Edward III, which began in 1327. Apparently the king, Edward III, married Philippa of Hainault (daughter of the Duke of Hainault) of the Low Countries (now in Belgium). In marrying the duke's daughter, Edward III became "family." He then did something that we call today "poaching another company's knowledge workers." Here is how Toulmin describes it:

    • This town has been noted for its woollen manufactory, in which it carried on for a number of years a very large and extensive business. Its trade may be traced back for four hundred and eighty years to the reign of Edward III, to whose wise counsels belongs the glory of first bringing the woollen man factories into this kingdom. Previously to his reign, though England was famous for the growth of wool, it does not appear that the people knew how to make it into cloths, unless of a very coarse kind called friezes. Our wool was exported to the Netherlands, and enriched that country, which gave occasion to the institution of the order of the Golden Fleece by the duke of Burgundy. The king availed himself of the opportunity, which offered through the increasing intercourse between the two countries, in consequence of his marrying the daughter of the earl of Hainault, to send over, without suspicion, emissaries to the Netherlands to ingratiate themselves with the Flemish manufacturers. Every allurement was thrown out to this class of men, who in their own country earned with hard labour a poor and scanty maintenance, to invite them to transport themselves and their art to England. On the fair prospect of living in a superior style, enjoying a proportional profit of their labour, and forming conjugal connexions with the best families, numbers came over bringing with them their tools and their trade. pp. 368-369

Flemish weavers had their own reasons for leaving the Low Countries for England. The craftsmen in the towns were oppressed by the merchant companies and the weavers in the country were in conflict with the weavers in town, often interrupting their supply of wool. Practicing their craft in towns close to the source of English wool, in towns like Taunton in Somerset would be an appealing alternative for Flemish weavers.

I have transcribed the entire section of the fourth chapter of the Taunton History book on the woolen and silk industries in Taunton. You can find it as a sub-page of this one. It makes for fascinating reading on the ups and downs of the woolen industry that affected the lives and fortunes of our Shattocke ancestors. There is also a great story of how an English draughtsman and mechanic stole the plans for a silk weaving machine from Italy and was poisoned by an Italian woman before he could benefit from reconstructing the machine. It is written in the perspective of the times, as the section of child laborers in the silk factories attests.

A point that emerged from the book is how well connected Taunton was to London. Toulmin describes how London interests purchased or rented property in Taunton to set up silk weaving factories.

Shattockes in Taunton

Market Day at the Parade in Taunton sometime in the 1890s

We have a record of a Shattock who a member of the local militia as recorded in the "Certificate of Musters in the County of Somerset Temp. Eliz. AD 1569." This was a voluntary militia. John Shattock was a pikeman, who had a long pole used to protect the company's musketeers from charging enemy cavalry. Is this John Shattock, the vintner? Part of the reason why people joined the militia was the pay of one shilling. Presumably the John the vintner would not have joined for this reason. And this was a dangerous time to be in the militia, the Eighty Years War had begun the previous year on the continent and there was the First Desmond Rebellion in Ireland.

The descendants of the original settler in the Taunton area would also have experienced war in their new homeland. Wikipedia provides us with a synopsis of the battles that raged in Taunton.

In 1451 during the Wars of the Roses Taunton was the scene of a skirmish between Thomas de Courtenay, 13th Earl of Devon, and Baron Bonville. Queen Margaret and her troops passed through in 1471 to defeat at the Battle of Tewkesbury. In the Second Cornish Uprising of 1497 most of the Cornish gentry supported Perkin Warbeck's cause and on 17 September a Cornish army some 6,000 strong entered Exeter before advancing on Taunton. Henry VII sent his chief general, Giles, Lord Daubeney, to attack the Cornish and when Warbeck heard that the King's scouts were at Glastonbury he panicked and deserted his army. Henry VII reached Taunton on 4 October 1497 where he received the surrender of the remaining Cornish army. The ringleaders were executed and others fined a total of £13,000.

Taunton Castle changed hands several times during the Civil War of 1642–45 but only along with the town. During the Siege of Taunton it was defended by Robert Blake, from July 1644 to July 1645, with the town suffering destruction of many of the medieval and Tudor buildings.[4] After the war, in 1662, the keep was demolished and only the base remains. On 20 June 1685 the Duke of Monmouth crowned himself king of England at Taunton during the Monmouth Rebellion and in the autumn of that year Judge Jeffreys lived in the town during the Bloody Assizes that followed the Battle of Sedgemoor.

The Taunton Election of 1754 and Decline of the Woolen Industry

If there were still heavy involvement of Taunton or Staplegrove Shattocks in the woolen industry, it would have suffered a deadening blow in 1754 in the Taunton Election. Taunton had been a hotbed of revolt against the established church. According to James E. Bradley, in Religion, Revolution and English Radicalism (Cambridge University Press, 1990) the Dissenters and Low-Church Anglicans dominance of the woolen industry made them powerful players in English politics. Bradley describes Taunton as one of the centers of English religious and political revolts in England (p. 351). There was a huge contest that ensured a Whig victory for the Dissenters over their Tory adversary. But it cost the government a huge amount of money to secure the election of the Whig candidate through corrupt means and the ensuing riots ended in the loss of lives and eventually lead to the decline of the woolen industry in Taunton. According to a history of the woolen industry in nearby Wellington (The Woollen Manufacture at Wellington, Somerset; Compiles from the Records of an Old Family Business by Joseph Hoyland Fox, 1923), the Taunton Election was one of the major factors in the rise of the woolen industry in Wellington.

The introduction of machinery for the carding and spinning of wool did not take place until the close of the eighteenth century. Before that time all the work was carried on by hand, as well as combing and weaving, this being done in the cottages. A large part of the population of Somerset and Devon were thus employed, not only the people in the towns, but also throughout the country districts. The introduction of machinery and the erection of mills caused a social revolution and concentrated in the towns the work previously done in the country districts.

1754 was the year of the Taunton Election, that proved so disastrous to the woollen industry in that town, where the manufacture of serges had employed some eight thousand people men, women, and children. Much of this trade was diverted to other places, and a considerable share must have gone to Wellington. (p. 6)

He quotes from Toulmin's history of Taunton:

The mischief of their influence in this respect was particularly felt in the continued and violent opposition of the year 1754. The demand for its goods was then great ; but through the idleness and debauchery of the season it could not be answered. The orders, being returned to the merchants, were sent for execution to other towns, with which, the intercourse being thus opened, was continued.'

In fact the decline of the woolen industry in Taunton, a major center from medieval times, probably contributed to the emigration of Shattocks to other parts of England and the world. In fact, the founder of the London Shattocks, Thomas Shattock abt. 1770-1842, who went to London, was born 16 years after the Taunton Election.

Want your family store told on this site? Contact me.