Coggeshall cloth trade

A Paycocke stands next to a cloth press, producing finished cloth © Suzanne Rose

A Paycocke stands next to a cloth press, producing finished cloth

Whilst Coggeshall has a long history dating back to the Patheolithic Period, it was most prosperous during its involvement in the cloth trade which began in the 14th century at a time when the Kings of England turned their attention to the production of cloth rather than the export of wool. Many tradesmen established themselves in villages, keen to avoid the eyes of restrictive guilds.

Weavers in North Essex were famous for their Bay cloth (plain) and Says cloth (twill) but Coggeshall was particularly known for its ‘Coggeshall White,’ a new and novel kind of cloth introduced by an Italian in c1528.

By the mid-16th century, the wool trade was well established in Coggeshall. Still in 1565 Elizabeth I allowed immigrant skilled weavers, mainly Flemish, to settle in East Anglia in the hopes they would share their skill with others to create a wider web of weavers.

The cloth trade was still flourishing by 1664 when an exclusive trade guild was set up in Coggeshall called 'The Gild of the trade and mystery of the Clothiers, Fullers, Bayworkers, and New Drapers'.

By the mid-18th century, the cloth industry in Coggeshall declined. The industrial revolution pushed work to the factories in the north, local farmers discovered arable farming more profitable and war interrupted trade.

By 1815, Bay cloth was no longer produced. The people of Coggeshall fell poor. Starting afresh, local villagers began setting their sights on tambour lace and silk industries.

Did you know

  • Paycocke’s originally fell in the parish of Sunnedon rather than Coggeshall but it was incorporated (or replaced) by the parish of Coggeshall in later years
  • Long Bridge marked the divide between Great Coggeshall (where Paycocke’s is) and Little Coggeshall (where the abbey complex was)
  • Common phrases like ‘on tenterhooks’ and ‘a web of lies’ derived from the cloth trade

You may also be interested in

  • G. F. Beaumont, A History of Coggeshall, in Essex (Coggeshall, 1890)
  • Look back at Coggeshall in pictures - Coggeshall Heritage Centre, Once upon a time in Coggeshall (Coggeshall, 1998)
  • Chris Aspin, The Woollen Industry (Shire 81 album, 1982)