Buried clothes riddle solved

Buried treasure: Clare Pugh and her son Flynn (pictured above) found a hoard of hats, buckles, buttons and braces scattered around in the soil while out walking at Avoncliff.

One of the more curious collections of objects brought into Finds Day was a hoard of old black felt hats, shoes, buckles, braces and buttons found by Clare Pugh and her son Flynn from Bradford on Avon while they were out walking their dog Bunty along the canal bank at Avoncliff.

Clare and Flynn had spotted the hats – along with leather soles, collars and cuffs, strips of fur, horsehair and bone scattered around in the soil after workers had created a walkway from the towpath down to the river meadows.

At first, Finds Day experts were baffled. Clare herself wondered whether the items may have come from the nearby poorhouse at Avoncliff. Someone else suggested they may have been the contents of a recently emptied narrow boat. It was also suggested that they might even be a recent case of fly-tipping.
What was particularly curious though was the range in date of the items.

While some items, such as the shoes, were dated by textiles experts to the early 1800s, others — such as the faux tortoiseshell handle from the art deco bag—were obviously later.

It was Bradford on Avon Museum’s honorary curator Roger Clark who eventually came up with the answer. He realised the items were probably related to the nearby flocking mills.

“The mill on the Westwood side at Avoncliff was converted to producing flock—ie shredding woollen fibres- some time before 1867 and the mill on the Winsley side also became a flock-mill in 1881,” he says.

“The industry continued at Avoncliff until the start of World War II. Of course, they were shredding old clothing that must originally have been collected by rag-and-bone men, or totters, who were a common sight on the streets, like Steptoe & Son.

“The items that have turned up must be what was unused at the time of the mills’ closing, or perhaps material rejected as being unsuitable, such as hats and leather goods.”

The museum is now considering putting on a temporary display and would like to hear from anyone who remembers the flockmills before the war.

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