Pre-Industrial life

The domestic textile industry – Yorkshire Wool Cloth

English life prior to the eighteenth century is often referred to as traditional. It was also local; the Monarch and Parliament were remote. From 1760, traditional  became industrial with an inevitable overlap, depending on where change was occurring. Weaving in the West Riding for example was still done at home on hand looms beyond 1850. For the majority however, the traditional way of life was over by the end of the eighteenth century.

At the top of the local traditional pile were powerful, often titled, landowners with large estates. At the bottom were labourers and farm-workers. In between, along with the vicar, there was a small independent group of shopkeepers and owners of small businesses and farms, together sometimes referred to as the old middle class. Somewhere at this level or just below were the skilled workers.

In 1470, Yorkshire, mostly the West Riding, was the third largest wool cloth producer in Britain. In 1668, two-thirds of Britain’s exports were wool cloth. The centre of wool cloth production was the home. But to survive, they also needed to farm and few domestic cloth producers became rich. Whilst the West Riding is often regarded as inhospitable, especially to farming, its combination of soft water, plentiful stone and wood and adequate grazing for short-haired sheep made it suitable for the production of coarse cloth at least, driven by the rugged individualism of the cottage-based clothiers. These inhospitable moors were also less challenged by large landowners when they began to enclose land to improve productivity and dispossess agricultural workers.

The term clothier is often used to describe a merchant who visited villages and bought cloth for market. The home-based or domestic cloth producer, buying and processing wool, was also called a clothier. Confusingly, some did both. The domestic textile industry took place on a farm or a smallholding, with a horse or a donkey for transport (coal and wool), cows and a pig. They clothed themselves and dug peat for fuel. Each stage of the cloth-making process was allocated to different family members. Wool was first carded, usually by children, to remove and untangle short fibres. The spinning was done by women. They drew out the fleece into fine thread and twisted it into yarn. The weaving was then carried out by men. Scouring with urine and pig’s dung then cleaned cloth of grease which was bleached with sour milk and hung out on tenterhooks in open fields to dry. It then went to market.


Country life followed the rhythm of the seasons. There was no formal working week, apart from not working on Sundays. Spare time was spent on what are referred to as popular pastimes, for example bare-knuckle and cock-fighting, animal-baiting and games of ball. They incorporated four important ingredients: competition (winning and not losing), professionalism (getting paid for playing), commercialism (making a living from providing sports facilities or activities associated with sport, such as selling liquor and gambling) and spectatorship (paying to attend, enjoying the games and associated activities, deriving personal and community identity as a result).

Cricket, mostly in S.E. England, was one of the popular pre-industrial rural pastimes and a strong expression of local identity. It was adopted by England’s social elite, landowners and aristocrats, in London and its suburbs, during the Georgian era (1714-1830). Professional cricketers were employed for their skill and entertainment value to compete in one-off events for stake money, known as the Great Patrons matches. These professionals were bound up in more or less feudal arrangements. For example, Hambledon’s Lumpy Stevens was Lord Tankerville’s gardener. He was responsible for getting the middle stump introduced, so good was he at sending the ball through the old two-stick wicket. Some patrons like Sir Horatio Mann, were not above poaching players. Rules were constructed for each game, to ensure fairness, or at least an even contest. For example, odds matches, where the professionals would play teams of 18 or 22. Participants and spectators, from all sections of society, mixed together. Neither was there a formal boundary to mark where the playing area finished and all scoring was run. Large crowds attended. Gambling and drinking were accepted. Disputes were frequent. Other matches, without patronage, were arranged along the same lines. Playing on Broadhalfpenny Down, Hambledon was the leading club between the 1750s and 1780s. It was a team of professionals, playing together regularly, supported by Squire Lamb’s club of wealthy gentry and aristocrats, associated with The Bat and Ball public house. This regularity encouraged the development of playing techniques (length bowling) and formal rules (size of the bat, number of stumps). There were few social distinctions; aristocrats were comfortable with their cricketing equals. What cricket there was in Yorkshire would have followed this model.

Hambledon declined as a result of the collapse of the traditional rural economy, the move of the agricultural population into towns and the growing influence of The Marylebone Cricket Club, formed in 1787.


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