In the early 1300's Edward I put a tax on the export of wool, which
was one of Englands largest exports of the time. In 1331 Edward III
decided that as most of the exports were going to the continent to
be turned into cloth, it would be good to import some weavers from
Flanders. The weavers mostly from Ghent were keen to come to England
as their raw materials would be cheaper.
Time of Riches
Clothmaking had been practiced in the area since Roman times, but the
material produced was of poor quality, not very well woven, and required
The Flemish weavers settled in Tenterden , Biddenden , Cranbrook and
Staplehurst , and brought with them the techniques of fine weaving, and
of fulling to finish the cloth.
The weaving process started by the weavers producing the cloth, then the
cloth was scoured in a trough of water with a wooden scraper.
The cleaned cloth was then stretched on wooden racks to dry, these racks
were known as tenters, the iron hooks which held the cloth were known as
the tenter-hooks (hanging on tenter-hooks is an expression meaning in a
state of suspense).
After drying the cloth was rubbed over with fullers earth, a great deal
of which is found in the area, then folded and hammered by a water powered
heavy wooden hammer, which gave the cloth a smooth, non greasy surface.
After this the cloth was stretched again.
This high quality cloth was in great demand and brought wealth to those
villages associated with the industry. Just take a look at the village
of Biddenden and its row of weavers houses, to see some of the wealth
The End of an Era
During the next 200+ years the cloth was created, and the majority exported
into europe, however this was due to stop in Queen Elizabeth I's reign.
In 1566 an Act of Parliament was passed which prohibited the export of
unfinished cloths, this was intended to create work and wealth in the
clothing manufacturing industry. Most of the Wealden Broadcloth industry
was centered around exporting, with only a few local markets.This banning
of the export trade basically killed off the industry that brought great
riches to the area. Although the industry continued and took about 100
years to finally die, its time was over, and this Act signalled the end
of an era.