Thursday, 26 May 2016

Spinning and weaving in early modern Essex

Continuing my posts on the vocabulary of the Essex Wills and its place in English lexical history, an introduction to which can be found here.

The Essex Wills are naturally full of words for household goods. The majority are words that are still used, though the things to which they are applied may now be different in design or appearance. A large majority are words, or meanings of words, that are no longer used, but are carefully recorded in dictionaries, and especially in the Oxford English Dictionary. But a significant number have escaped notice by lexicographers and yet can be found, often in large numbers, in wills, inventories, and other non-literary documents of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (and sometimes in earlier and later documents). 

Here are six terms from spinning and weaving that seem not to have been recorded in dictionaries: three kinds of loom and three kinds of wheel. As I know very little about these crafts, I can only offer them as contributions to the history of textile manufacture.

bastard loom


 Presumably ‘bastard’ in this term is the OED’s bastard adj. 6 ‘Of abnormal shape or irregular (esp. unusually large) size’. These are some occurrences in the Essex Wills:


1568 (II. 173) bastard loom

1574 (III.  415) the bastard loom standing next the great yard with the latch shuttle

1583 (V. 229) bastard loom

Elsewhere we find:

1498 Will of Robert Dacres of Beverley, Weaver in Testamenta Eboracensia (1869) IV. 137 Johanni Williamson, cognato meo, unum wollen-lome, et unum bastard-lome cum iiij heyldes et slayes pro panno lato et iiij heyldes et slais pro carsey. Antonio Awburgh, apprenticio meo, unum bastard-lome, illud proxime infra ostium, cum iiij heyldes et sleys pro panno lineo, et iiij pro panno canabeo.

1878 T. North Church Bells Northamptonshire  356 To one person he left ‘3 geere viz. a flaxen, harden, & a woolen’, to another ‘a bastard’s loom’, and to a third ‘a broad loom’.

[date?] in Archaeologia Cantiana (1923) 36 51 John Colman my servant have one implement called a bastard loom with all thereto.

1987 M. G. Andrews Men & Mills 187 These mills are the group organized a long time ago by Sam Patterson, who thought of the idea of a beautiful mattress covering and made it on a bastard loom created for him by Crompton & Knowles and Draper.

1996 J. Jones Family Life in Shakespeare’s Time 78 Besides a pair of looms, two kersey looms and a bastard loom, there were two warping bars and two troughs.


There seem to be no examples in Early English Books Online.

So the term is by no means limited to Essex: it was probably country-wide. And the 1987 example suggests that it is still a familiar term to those in the craft.


broad loom


Essex in the sixteenth century was evidently full of these:


1560 (I. 41) broad loom

1560 (I. 207) my least broad loom..my other broad loom

1568 (II.  144) 2 broad looms and one narrow loom

1574 (III.  407), 1581 (X. 42), 1584 (IV. 181) broad loom.


Surprisingly, given the existence of the adjective (broadloom adj. at broad adj., n.1, and adv. Compounds 2, 1925–1963) there is no entry for the noun in the OED and only one example of it (body carpet at body n. Compounds 2)—but this is from the twentieth century, so such looms, though doubtless now very different, must still exist:

1963 Which? Mar. 71/1 This..carpet..is made on a broad loom (6 ft. wide or more) instead of the usual ‘body’ carpet which is in rolls 18–54 in. wide.

Given that broadloom as an adjective describing carpets is an everyday term, you really would expect the dictionaries to have picked up the noun. The term occurs passim in the nineteenth century. 

Earlier and later examples include:


1537 in N. W. Alcock People at Home: Living in a Warwickshire Village, 1500–1800 (1993) 31 In the Schop A brodlom and all sych geres that longyth to the sam.

1610 R. Vaughan Most Approued, and Long-experienced Water-workes (STC 24603) sig. E4v, All which be appointed Attendants to maintaine and furnish twenty broad Loomes for the finest cloth; tenne narrow Loomes for courser Wooll, Flax, Hemp, and Hurds. Tenne Fustian Loomes, with such Silk-loomes as necessity shall require.

1683 E. Chamberlayne Present State England [Wing C1844] Because of the  Broad- Looms wherein it was wrought.

1779 Extracts from the Diary, Meditations, and Letters of Mr. Joseph Williams of Kidderminster [page] In my sixteenth year I began to weave in the clothier’s broad loom.

1996 The William and Mary Quarterly (Third Series) 53), pp. 43-66 55 Andrew Snider, who died in 1783, had one broad and one narrow loom, and the 1805 inventory of Samuel Sellers notes he had two looms with very specialized functions.


narrow loom


Clearly contrasted with the broad loom, for weaving narrower textiles. In the Essex Wills:


1560 (II.  117) narrow looms

1568 (II.  144) 3 broad looms and one narrow loom

1574 (III. 407), 1584 (IV.  181), 1589 (XI. 37), 1594 (VI. 170) narrow loom

Earlier and later examples:


1537 in N. W. Alcock People at Home: Living in a Warwickshire Village, 1500–1800 (1993) 31 In the Schop... 3 Narrow lomys and that belongyth to them. 

[a1565] in E. Ralph Cal. Bristol Apprentice Bk. Part III, 1552–1565 66 [Modernized text] To have at end one narrow loom.

1599 Will of John Coocke, weaver, St Mary Redcliffe in S. Lang & M. McGregor Tudor Wills Proved in Bristol 1546–1603 (1993) 53 To Reginald Newes a narrow loom and a flock bed.

1780 Descr. Tunbridge Wells 121 In the year 1727, a Mr. Henry Tricker made worsted and stocking yarn, and kept four narrow looms wherein was wove Calamanco’s, Camblets, Cloth-Serges, Stuffs for Gowns, &c. &c.

1849 Plough, Loom, & Anvil Oct. 229 This was a narrow loom, for cassimeres, made at the Oneida factory, in 1818, and started by William Graham, an accomplished weaver and excellent man, who, I believe, is yet living in the northern part of this county.


Dutch wheel



Obviously a kind of spinning wheel, but I don't know whether the design came from, or was thought to come from Germany (‘Dutch’ formerly = ‘German’), or whether ‘Dutch’ was used in the familiar semi-derogatory way for something felt to be outlandish.

From the Essex Wills:

1582 (IV.  173) 1 little Dutch wheel

1584 (V. 181) 2 Dutch chairs, a Dutch wheel, a great wheel

1584 (X. 61), 1588 (XI. 14), 1590 (XI. 106) Dutch wheel

More can be deduced from some of the following:


1712 Inventory William John of Gwynedd in H. M. Jenkins Hist. Rec. Gwynedd Pennsylvania (date?) xxiv. 339 2 Dutch wheels, and 2 other spinning wheels.

1764 Rep. & Observations Robert Stephenson to Trustees Linen Manufacture 52 Her Doulass was spun on what is called an Irish Wheel, with a Hoop Rim, and comes at Half the Price of the Dutch Wheel, and answers every purpose of the Dutch Wheel.

1788 Annals Agriculture 10 312 Our women spinners of wool [in Lusatia], with the Dutch wheel, (a great spinning-wheel introduced a few years since), if they spin kette, (chain-thread), earn, per diem, 4 groschen, 6 pfennings, to 5 groschen, (about 6d. English).

1848 Mechanics’ Mag. 14 Oct. 377/1 John Butterworth [1774–1845]..was sent at six years of age to work at a Dutch wheel in the neighbouring village of Royton, by which he was able to earn about 1s. 4d. per week.

2001 L. Ulrich Age of Homespun ii. 101 Although eighteenth-century inventory-takers continued to use these terms, ‘Dutch wheel’ gradually edged out ‘linen wheel’ in western Connecticut and some parts of Massachusetts.

2005 W. H. Crawford Impact of Domestic Linen Ind. Ulster 52 Spinning was done [in the eighteenth century] on the Dutch wheel, kept in motion by a treadle. By two separate cords the wheel turned both the bobbin on which the spun yarn collected and the flyer which spins and distributes that yarn along the bobbin.

Is it possible that the Dutch wheel was in fact the now familiar spinning wheel design?


long wheel


A different kind of wheel, perhaps? Examples in the Essex Wills:


1589 (V. 261), 1589 (V. 291), 1589 (VI. 215) long wheel

Later examples:


1688 R. Holme Acad. Armory [Wing H2531]  Spinning Wheele, called a  long Wheele, or a going Wheele, or a Woollen Wheele.

1726 Dictionarium Rusticum (ed. 3) II. LONG-WHEEL, Going-Wheel, large Spinning-Wheel, or Woollen Wheel, is so called because Wooll is only spun with it, and at none of the other sorts of Wheels; it consists of the following Parts. 1. The Stock, standing on the four Feet. 2. The Standard, that bears the Wheel. 3. The Axle-tree on which the Wheel turns. 4. The Wheel wherein  are the Nave, the Spokes, and the Rim. 5. The Head-standard, or two Pillars that bear the Spool. 6. The Spool, on which the Wheel-string is put. 7. The Spindle,whereon the Yarn is turned. 8. The Wheel-String that turns the Spool and Spindle, 9. And lastly, The Wheel-Finger, by which the Wheel is turned.

1760 Ann. Reg. 1759 162/1 To be knit from two threads of soft worsted, spun on the short wheel, called the Canterbury or Leicester wheel, 20 l… For causing to be knit, on the above conditions, the best and largest quantity of the like worsted hose, of the same size, and about the same weight, but knit from three threads, the long wheel spinning, 15 l.

1995 T. Hersh Cloth & Costume, 1750–1800, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania 29 Occasionally the terms ‘large wheel’ and ‘long wheel’ were used to indicate wool wheels. Altogether 713 inventories had some type of wheel for spinning.


The term is widely evidenced in historical sources.



woollen wheel


The same as a long wheel; perhaps the earlier term. In the Essex Wills:


1559 (I. 274) woollen wheel

1561 (I. 53) woollen wheel


Outside Essex Wills:


1585 Inventory in J. Wallace Hist. Blyth (1869) 7 Two old bills, and one woollen wheel.

1610 Inventory of Isabel Wharton of Gedney Lincs. in P. Crawford & L. Gowing Women’s Worlds in Seventeenth Cent. Eng. (2000) iv. 121 Item a linen wheel and a woollen wheel.

1675 in N. W. Alcock People at Home: Living in a Warwickshire Village, 1500–1800 (1993) 48, 1 wolinge wheel and 1 linnine wheel. 
1688 R. Holme Acad. Armory [Wing H2531]  Spinning Wheele, called a long Wheele, or a going Wheele, or a Woollen Wheele.

1789 Inventory in G. Anjou Ulster County, N.Y. Probate Rec. (1906) 43 A Woollen Wheel…A Spinning do.

1858 Rep. Select Committee Destitution (Gweedore & Cloughaneely) (House of Commons) 359 That man had a very comfortable house; he had three bedsteads and beds in ticks; good bedclothes, dressers, chairs, a table, boxes, a woollen wheel, two sacks of oatmeal.



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