Cloth Making

Frome’s clothiers and the bell from Sheppard’s Mill

Frome’s clothiers and the bell from Sheppard’s Mill 150 150 Frome Heritage Museum

Frome, with its river and close proximity to the sheep areas of the Mendips, Cotswolds and Salisbury Plain, developed in Medieval times as an important centre for the making of cloth. 

Former Wool Dye House in Central Frome

The clothiers were middle men who collected wool, distributed it to the weavers to make the cloth, and then sent the finished cloth to Blackwell Hall in London for sale. The weavers were paid by results. Some of Frome’s larger houses were built by these clothiers, e.g. Rook Lane House in 1600 and Fromefield House in 1796.

Until 1856 natural dyes were used for dying the cloth. The Trinity area was originally fields known as the ‘woadground’ or ‘Wade ground’ from the plant used to make blue dyes. During Napoleonic times Frome was famous for its blue cloth for army uniforms.

Other natural dyes used were privet (dark green), heather (pale green) and lichen (purple).

In the 19th century children as young as 8 worked in the cloth mills in Frome on weekdays from 6am until 7pm, with 45 minute breaks for breakfast and dinner, the latter brought to them and their fathers at work. On Saturdays, they worked until 2pm.

The children earned between 2/- (10p) and 2/6 (12p) a week for wages. Their breakfast was usually bread and cheese, with potatoes, cabbage and meat for dinner. In the evening they were given a hot supper of potatoes with dripping.

Bell from Sheppard’s Mill 

This is displayed in the Museum

Inscribed J. Rudhall Glocester fecit 1811. The bell was presented to the Museum by Tuckers of Wallbridge on the closure of these mills in 1965. Originally used in Sheppard’s Mill in Spring Gardens to summon the children to work when there was enough water In the mill pond to turn the wheel. Sheppard’s Mill closed in 1878.