Cloth Workers

Leather Workers Outing 1949
Leather Workers Outing 1949

Women, when widowed, played a managerial role in the local textile industry as far back as 1622. That year Helen Manning, of Culmstock, reportedly had employed between 300 and 400 people in cloth making. Culmstock’s Elizabeth Hellings also was a cloth-maker in the 1660s. Two generations later, in 1744, Constance Bussell, a Cullompton sergemaker, was insured by the Sun Fire Company for her various buildings and rooms used for wool-combing and cloth-dyeing.

Fascinating Fact:
“Workers at the Culm Leather factory worked from 7.30am to 5.30pm and Saturday mornings. There was one week holiday a year. Life revolved round work and it was hard slog.” Marian Dummett.

Low wages in Devon’s early Victorian cloth trade had generally reduced the number of male workers and thereby increased the number and proportion of women. By 1840, male weavers in Cullompton had organised themselves within a body to protect their wages. Whereas men had elsewhere abandoned weaving, it was different in Cullompton which had that year 250 male weavers and 62 female ones. The census the following year showed women were also spinners, combers, knitters, wool-warpers, wool-feeders and cotton winders.

Children were another option used by employers to lower wages. In 1841 Benjamin Rutley, a 40 year old living at Clampitts, was a weaver as were his children James (15), and Sarah (14), while Hannah (11), George (9) and Robert (6) were employed as winders. The children’s wages were needed to supplement income.

Fascinating Fact:
“There was a pecking order for women. Some went into service where they were treated like slaves, or into shops. Factory girls were considered rough, but there was nothing rough about my sisters who were skilled workers and went to church. When they worked at Fox Brothers only women were weavers but men were overseers.” Marian Dummett.