Religion has been an important part of Cullompton’s history. It is not surprising that piety gave rise to the most generous charitable gift to the town: John Lane’s aisle in St Andrew’s Church is typical of late medieval benevolence. His emblems (teasel frames, cloth shears and ships) are mingled with a text which, for nearly 500 years, has implored readers to pray for his Catholic soul.
Subsequent Anglicans also made cloth, most notably William Upcott, the main employer in early nineteenth-century Cullompton.
In 1861 the vicar, Rev Pickney, tried to close down a tannery business next to the parsonage. The smell was so bad that an entry in a church record book recorded the smell with the word “vomit”. The vicar told a court the constant smells ressembled those at funerals. Amidst much laughter the defendant said he liked the smell of skins and putrid meat. The vicar was awarded 40 shillings.
Not long after the Reformation urban cloth makers in Devon were thought to be largely ‘Puritans’. These Dissenters gradually removed themselves into new churches and it was many of these who were clothiers: Unitarians, Methodists and particularly Quakers, maintained production. The firm of Fox Brothers is the best known of the latter and their operations in Cullompton and at Coldharbour Mill were part of a regional and national cloth enterprise. Other Quaker families (such as Bidwell, Ellicott, Godfrey) were similar manufacturers. Quakers felt more at ease doing business with men like themselves, who they regularly met at Meetings, and who were also often relatives. Cloth was also a commodity the Quaker conscience was comfortable to trade in, unlike alcohol or armaments.