Wool & Cloth - Rise & Fall

The rise and fall of the wool and cloth industry in Frome

The rise and fall of the wool and cloth industry in Frome 150 150 Frome Heritage Museum

Cloth making was an important local industry between the 15th and the early 19th centuries.

The wonderful Sheppard’s Barton houses were built as a kind of weaving co-operative, a very early precursor to the great industrial developments in the North of England. Until 1856 natural dyes were used for colouring the cloth. The whole 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; 160 miles of blue tunic cloth were produced in 1801.

However, the Napoleonic War only delayed the inevitable for the wool mills and cloth merchants of Frome. Modern machinery was not available in the area, and hand-made garments could not compete on price with machine-made items. The Frome looms were cumbersome and the spinning wheels slow. When spinning jennies did appear locally, weavers, fearful for their jobs, tried to smash them up as early as 1781.

Eventually, weaving and dyeing were virtually wiped out and the population plummeted, poverty was rife and many families emigrated to Australia and Canada. A lack of investment locally meant the nation chose to buy the cheaper and lighter cloth produced elsewhere.  Many mills closed as the trade steadily declined. Tucker’s, the last fabric mill of ‘The Finest West of England Cloth’ at Wallbridge shut in 1965.