Cloth Manufacturers & Merchants

Many merchants were noteworthy in Cullompton’s long history of textile making. The most illustrious of the late medieval period is John Lane. His memorial, the aisle named after him in St Andrew’s church, continues to impress the beholder. It was built in the 1520s with emblems of his occupation carved in stone. The fan vaulting is inspiring and visitors can still just read his plea to “Remember the soul of John Lane with the Paternoster and Ave Maria and the soul of Thomasine his wife”. The profits of his trade paid for the building of this aisle and representations of the ships which carried his merchandise can be seen on the church exterior.

18th Century Merchants

In the 18th century there were many small businesses in the town making cloth. By the industrial revolution, the cloth trade depended on a few merchants and manufacturers and the people who worked for them, many of whom were Non-Conformists.

William Brown and John Fowler built Bradfield Mill for cloth production in the late 1700s. Brown, a Presbyterian, owned Selways and attended what is today the Unitarian Chapel (then it was Presbyterian). By 1739 Fowler had leased half of The Walronds and the remainder was occupied by William Bidwell, a Quaker and also a cloth merchant. Generations of Fowler’s family were involved in Cullompton’s cloth trade including his father Ralph who was one of the earliest local men to be insured with the Sun Fire Company. John Fowler established a serge-making business incorporating his father’s wool-combing and in 1744 he purchased 12 dwellings that became known as Fowler’s Sergemakers’ Cottages.

19th Century

Joseph Davy, who lived at Paradise Cottage and was also a Non-Conformist, became part owner of Bradfield Mill in 1815. Seven years later fire destroyed the mill, and although it was subsequently rebuilt he and the other owners were declared bankrupt in 1834. His wife Martha was the sister of his partner William Brown.

William Upcott became the prime cloth manufacturer in Cullompton in the early 1800s. Shortlands was only part of his textile empire. Upcott purchased Culmstock Mill in 1830, eight years later he leased Bradfield Mill and in the 1840s he bought the town’s workhouse to use for cloth production.

The Fox and Were families were Quaker cloth-makers who were active in and around Wellington. Thomas Fox had Coldharbour Mill rebuilt in 1799 and seven years after his death, in 1821, his sons renamed the firm ‘Fox Brothers’. It adapted to the Industrial Revolution by bringing in mechanisation and creating factories. Nearly a century later, Fox Brothers opened a factory in Cullompton.

At least two Cullompton men, Andrew Ellicott and his son also Andrew, both Quaker cloth-makers, emigrated to the American colonies where they established cloth mills.

Fox brothers logo

Fascinating Fact:
William Upcott was Cullompton’s most important cloth merchant in the industrial revolution and his ancestors donated the Upcott Field to the town.