The area in and around Trowbridge became an important site for cloth making in the west of England in the medieval times, although archaeological finds suggest that production could go back even further.
There was abundant pasture for vast flocks of Wiltshire Downland sheep, that supplied a fine quality wool, and a plentiful supply of rivers and streams, which together made west Wiltshire ideal for cloth production. The fast-running streams were important for the many processes involved in cloth production.
The use of fine wool, later improved by wool imported from Spain, Germany and subsequently Australia, and the specialized finishing techniques meant that by the 17th century, the West of England became renowned for its production of high quality cloth. Furthermore, skilled mill workers, whose craft and knowledge had been handed down through generations, enabled the mills to produce a diverse range of cloth that had many uses including ladies skirting, men’s fine suiting, overcoatings, riding breeches, hunting coats and livery cloth. Some mills also produced blankets and cloth to cover tennis balls.
The Trowbridge mills’ clients were as diverse as the types of cloth produced. They included local shops, bespoke tailors from London’s Savile Row and the Royal family. In the 20th century clients consisted of renowned companies like Marks & Spencer, Gor-Ray, Jaeger and Burberry, and designers such as Mary Quant and even Hollywood film companies.
Throughout the 20th century and until the last mill closed in 1982, Trowbridge made West of England cloth was sold all over the world, with a catalogue from the 1960s listing clients from over 70 different countries.
In Trowbridge Museum’s displays you can learn more about the different types of cloth and the companies for whom they were produced.