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Protecting England Wool Trade

Protecting England Wool Trade

Here follows a cheery tale about your ancestors and what you can deduce about them from the old burial records (if you can dig them up, so to speak).  From the Middle Ages onwards the wool industry in England was the mainstay of our economy, so any threats to the prosperity of landowners and their tenants, who depended on wool for their livelihoods, was considered a very serious matter.  Such a threat began to emerge in the 1600s with the import of linen and silk from overseas, notably from Holland.  However, other events deleterious to the woollen trade came in the form of civil wars, the plague and a royal proclamation forbidding the export of unfinished cloth.  So detrimental was the influx of foreign materials to the home economy that in 1666, in the reign of Charles II, the first of the Burying in Woollen Acts 1666-80, was passed.  These Acts stipulated that the dead, with the exception of plague victims and the destitute, must be buried in pure, English, woollen shrouds. (We presume that no one would have touched a plague victim with a barge pole, let alone a woollen shroud.)

A £5 penalty, a huge sum in those days, was imposed for non-compliance with the Acts.  To prove that the deceased had been buried in a woollen shroud (also referred to as being ‘buried in wool’, or as a ‘woollen burial’), an affidavit had to be sworn, usually by a relative, before a magistrate.  The entry in the parish register would then read ‘affidavit’, or some similar wording, to demonstrate that the law had been obeyed.  Half of the fine was distributed to the poor of the parish and the remaining half was awarded to the informant. The entry for the poor, whose estate was unable to meet the expense of a woollen burial, would read ‘naked’, a sad little legend.  Thus, if your ancestor’s entry in the register was marked ‘affidavit’, he or she was probably was reasonably prosperous.  The Acts were finally repealed in 1863, although many people had long since ignored them.

In fact, feelings against foreign imports of material ran so high that in Hoxton a woman, who was dressed in silks, was stripped naked in public by the local weavers and left in the town square. Another deterrent to using alternatives to wool was people who poured acid over non-woollen garments, in order to register displeasure at foreign cloth depriving the English of their living. 

We recommend our Luxury Sheepskin Single Sided Cushion Covers in ivory; very useful around the home and also to cover your confusion, should you be caught on the hop by irate Hoxton weavers.

A further precaution against falling foul of weavers and sheep farmers would be to opt for burial in knitted woollen or wool felt coffins, which many people favour nowadays, being an environmentally sound burial option.

A phrase originating from woollen burials is ‘You can’t pull the wool over my eyes’.  It indicated that that you were not dead and hence could not be deceived.  

Released On 25th Apr 2018

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