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1700 - 1780

The first printed map of Leeds made by John  Cossins in 1725, shows a prosperous market town, with the houses of the principal inhabitants, mostly woollen merchants, pictured round the edge of the map. The cloth market is shown on the map, as is the first white Cloth Hall. Tenter frames used for drying cloth are shown in the fields near the river.

The woollen industry continued to grow, although for most of the eighteenth century the production of woollen cloth was still a cottage industry, both in Leeds itself and in the outlying villages. It was usually a family enterprise, the spinning and weaving of the cloth being carried out in a room of the clothier's cottage.

Wool was bought at the market by the clothier, and taken back to his cottage for washing to remove dirt and grease. If it was to be used for 'mixed' cloth it was dyed at this stage. The clothier may have used a small dyeing vat in the yard, or sometimes there was a dye-house attached to the cottage.

The wool was then mixed with oil and beaten with sticks before being either carded (for short wool which was used for woollens), or combed (for long wool used for worsteds). Both processes were carried out by hand. Hand cards consisted of two leather boards with wires set on one side. The wool was worked between the boards in order to produce a mass of inseparable fibres. Combing involved placing the wool on a heated comb and using a second comb to pull the wool through repeatedly. The wool was then drawn off the comb in long pieces, and made into balls ready for spinning. The wool was spun into yarn, using a spinning wheel, probably by the wife and children of the clothier.

The clothier now prepared the loom for weaving. The yarn used to make the warp (the threads running lengthways) was treated with size, and  threaded onto the loom through small hoops which were alternately raised and lowered to allow the shuttle to pass through. The yarn for the weft (the threads running crosswise) were wound onto a bobbin and placed in the shuttle. A narrow loom was used for narrow cloths and a broad loom, which required two people to operate it, for broadcloths.

The woven cloth now needed fulling (worsted did not), and the cloth was taken to a fulling mill where it was  treated with fuller's earth to remove grease and dirt, and then pounded by the wooden hammers of the fulling stocks which thickened the cloth and strengthened it by matting together the warp and the weft. The cloth was then stretched on a tenter frame. The cloth was attached to the frame with tenter-hooks, and left to dry.

Clothiers brought their cloth to Leeds for sale to merchants, who then had it dyed if necessary and finished by a cloth dresser. By 1750 most of the merchants carried out the dyeing and finishing processes themselves, often in premises attached to their dwelling house.

Once the cloth had been died the nap was raise by drawing a board filled with teazles across the surface. Wool was removed from the teazles by the 'Preemer Boy' using a small pronged tool called a preme. The nap was then cut to a uniform length by the cropper, using hand shears.

By the middle of the eighteenth century the largest firms were the cropping shops which employed perhaps thirty journeymen and apprentices. Except for corn millers, and fullers, who used water power to drive their machinery, only simple, manually operated wooden tools and machinery were used.

Things were about to change. The industrial revolution was to change the skyline of Leeds with its church towers, and tall merchants houses to a forest of mill chimneys, pouring out black smoke.



Click images to enlarge
Cossin's map, 1725
Cossin's map, 1725
First White Cloth Hall
First White Cloth Hall
Spinning
Spinning
Broad Loom with Fly Shuttle
Broad Loom with Fly Shuttle
Raising the nap
Raising the nap
Cropping
Cropping
Merchants in the coloured Cloth Hall
Merchants in the coloured Cloth Hall




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© 2003 Leeds City Council | Site created by: LCC electronic information team | 25 March 2003