Wool cloth production in Britain started in the Bronze Age, in around 1900 BC, although fleece from domesticated sheep had been used for warmth as early as 6,000 BC. Initially, wool was combed from the sheep during the time they lost their fleece in the warmer months, with the first evidence of shearing, dating back to the Iron Age.
Even before the dawning of the 1st century, the Ancient Britons had already developed a woven wool industry. In fact, when the Romans arrived on our shores in 55 BC, British wool cloth was considered a luxury item. The Romans were so impressed by British woven wool cloth that they established a wool plant in Winchester in 50 AD, to further develop the skills of British weavers and ensure a steady supply of this prized item. By the 4th century, the British birrus (hooded cape) was amongst the highest prized and most desirable items listed in The Edict of Diocletian, a summary of traded goods across the Roman Empire.
Britain continued to export woollen fabrics to mainland Europe, and beyond, throughout the next few centuries, and this gathered momentum after the Norman Conquest in 1066 to such an extent that by the 12th century, wool was England’s greatest national asset. Over the next 500 years, Flemish master weavers settled in the UK, followed by Huguenot weavers from France, all adding their unique skills to the production of British wool cloth. By the end of the 17th century wool cloth amounted to over 65% of the value of British exports. Throughout this time, the wool trade created some of Britain’s wealthiest merchants, who then made sizeable donations towards the building of churches, schools and universities.
With the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, mechanical processes for spinning and weaving British wool meant that Britain was able to produce considerably more cloth for the domestic and international market, wit