The Cloth Industry in Dursley and Cam

At one time the woollen cloth industry was central to the area's fortunes, indeed it was the main reason for the region's population growth during the 16th, 17th and early 18th centurys. By the 16th century the wool trade was established in the Ewelme (or Cam) valley and the area became famous for its fine "broadcloths". It wasn't just this cloth though that the area was known for, there were many others - twill, cassimere, buckskin, medley, serge and worsted were all produced in the local mills.

The main processes involved in cloth making are:

  • Shearing
  • Washing
  • Carding (combing to align the fibres)
  • Spinning
  • Weaving
  • Fulling (mixing with fullers earth and pounding to remove natural greases)
  • Dying
  • Raising the nap and shearing it to get a fine surface
  • Pressing

Cloth making in the area began as a cottage industry with individuals often working out of their own homes, perhaps working for many masters and walking miles to collect and return materials. By the late eighteenth century the clothiers realised that it was to their advantage to get all their workers together under one roof and this led to the rise of the factory system which was generally welcomed by most except, significantly, the weavers.

The 1820's were the boom years of the industry with around 180 mills in the Stroud area although this was short-lived. New machines, powered by steam as well as water, caused a surplus of labour and consequent over production. This in turn led to wage cuts and a drift towards poverty for large numbers of the local population. Mills began to close and clothiers left the industry, fearful of losing their wealth in the downturn. Increasingly, there were riots and strikes by large groups of weavers, demanding higher pay and better conditions but this caused disquiet amongst the more wealthy inhabitants of the towns. In 1827 troops were sent into Dursley to quell any uprisings although they weren't universally welcomed.

In 1820 there were eight cloth mills operating in Dursley but this rapidly fell. By 1840 there were five and by 1860 they had all closed. In that year the only mill still operational in the locality was the one at Cam Mill, which is still open in 2009.

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