Bradford on Avon’s Woollen Cloth Industry

Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire


Church Street and Abbey Mills c1880

Bullpit, Church Street and Abbey Mills in the 1880s


The making of woollen cloth began at a domestic level, but some of the processes, especially the fulling or cleaning of wool, started to be mechanised by the adaptation of existing water-powered flour mills as early as the late 12th century.

Clothiers, the middle men who handled the processes from sheep to finished cloth, made fortunes that can be seen in fine Tudor, Jacobean and Georgian houses, or became bankrupt with bad consequences for the working population.

New dedicated woollen mills began to be built from the 18th century and new steam-powered machinery was introduced, gradually removing the industry away from homes.

Weaving, on hand-operated looms, was one of the last processes to move into the factories after water and steam-powered weaving machinery were installed. Hand weavers were still operating in their homes, especially in outlying places like Woolley and Broughton Gifford Common, until late in the 19th century.

For more history see the Museum booklet by Kenneth Rogers 2014, The domestic woollen industry at Bradford-on-Avon.

Largely because the industry finished a long time ago in Bradford on Avon, little remained to reach the Museum’s collection. Those interested in the industry, its processes and equipment should visit Trowbridge Museum, which has made a speciality of the West Wiltshire woollen industry, which survived until the 1980s in Trowbridge. Elsewhere, there is the Museum in the Park at Stroud.

An old photograph of a hand loom, possibly in the Bradford area

A handloom, believed to have been in a Bradford on Avon workshop


Bibliography of the Bradford on Avon woollen cloth industry

Barford, K.E. The West of England cloth industry: a seventeenth century experiment in state control. Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine 42, p. 141.

Corfield, M.C. (ed.) 1978. A guide to the industrial archaeology of Wiltshire.

Mann, J. de L. 1971. The cloth industry in the West of England from 1640 to 1880.

Palmer, Marilyn & Neaverson, Peter 2005. The textile industry of South-west England: a social history.

Ponting, Kenneth G. 1975 Wool and water: Bradford-on-Avon and the River Frome.

Rogers, Kenneth G. 1986. Warp and weft: the Somerset and Wiltshire woollen industry.

Rogers, Kenneth 2014. The domestic woollen industry at Bradford-on-Avon. Bradford on Avon Museum booklet.

Werran, Kate 1993. Limpley Stoke Mill. Bristol Industrial Archaeology Society (BIAS) Journal 26, pp. 15-19.

Williams, Mike 2013. Textile mills of south west England.