When did serge making start in Lapford?

Devon was a world centre of serge making from the C14. Rural communities played a vital part in this industry, producing wool and undertaking various production processes in the home. In Lapford few records survive of Lapford’s involvement in the serge making before the 1851 census when the industry was in rapid decline. The earliest record is the will of late C18 serge maker who appears to have grown wealthy from managing Lapford’s serge making industry.

Despite an absence of records Lapford would almost certainly have been involved in serge manufacture to some extent throughout several throughout several centuries of countywide serge prosperity.  Rural villages like Lapford could undertake all processes from wool production to finished garments. The only process to be standardly mechanised was ‘fulling’ (pummelling woven garments to waterproof them). It is possible that fulling was performed on Lapford Mill leat read more, and if this wasn’t the case villagers may have used combing techniques to produce yarn that avoided the need for fulling.

When did serge making end in Lapford?

The 1851 to 1871 census shows the rapid disappearance of weaving within a generation. The industry had been in slow decline for over a century but no records exist to indicate the number of weavers in the village prior to 1851. The 1841 census lists only male occupations; serge weaving was not given as a profession at all!

How many looms were there in Lapford?

In 1851 there were 34 weavers, 1 visiting weaver and 1 yarn spinner in the village. It is reasonable to assume that all weavers were working in the village. Weaving mills existed at Exwick, North Tawton and South Molton but lack of transportation and transportation cost would have prohibited daily commuting.

Looms would have been shared amongst weavers as not all weavers were in full employment and weavers needed to perform various other tasks away from the loom. Therefore 34 weavers did not mean 34 looms, a more reasionable estimate is 15-20. As serge making was already in rapid decline at this time the number of looms in Lapford at the height of the cottage industry is likely to have been more, perhaps 20-30 looms.

Where did weaving take place?

Census records reveal where weavers lived (see table below) and in many cases this would have been where they weaved. For weavers based in the village centre the census records does not reveal their precise location. 

It is likely that many looms would have been located in the upper room of family homes where light and ventilation were best. It is also possible that there were weaving centres with more than a single loom in a room. Possibilities include the Poor House (now Vine cottage), Blackberry Gate and today’s Heathfield and its once adjoining buildings. A map of the village from 1842 appears to show Heathfield and four later demolished cottages as a combined space, perhaps with a long continuous upper floor where  a number of looms could have been operated. 

This 1842 drawing shows Heathfield (left of row) joined without division to four now demolished cottages. Was this a weaving ‘centre’ with a continuous floor across the whole left half of the row for multiple looms? This side of the building had access to the whole of the back court where a long linhay for drying and stretching cloth was later constructed.

On the opposite side of the road was Higher Mills, now Barton View. There are no records to indicate that weaving took place here but “mill” suggests that it may have once played an industrial role. The Higher Mill lands ran down to Lapford Mill leat. Was there a “higher” (upstream) mill for fulling cloth in addition to today’s “lower” (downstream) grain mill?

Who were Lapford’s serge makers?

Serge-makers managed activities and lived in relative comfort compared to most weavers.  William Snell was a Lapford serge maker in C18. William Hitchcock was a prominent South Molton serge maker in the mid C19 with Lapford family connections. He retired to Lapford having lost considerable wealth in the collapse of the Devon serge making industry.

Who were Lapford’s serge weavers?

Prior to 1851 we have only the names of a few male weavers

1769 John Challice
1800 Roger Challice
1804 Robert Challice.

Historically most weavers would have been a men but, as the industry declined, wages fell to the point where they no longer provided a family income. Women took up the profession (despite being paid considerably less than men) as a means of supplementing their husbands low agricultural wage. A number of serge weavers were widows who had with few other possible sources of income. In the 1851 census all weavers were woman.

The 1851-71 censuses provide the names of people involved in serge manufacture. Job titles include ‘serge weaver’, ‘woollen weaver’ or just ‘weaver’, also one ‘yarn spinner’. In all cases serge remained the primary end product. Sarah Dockett of Blackberry Gate was the last known Lapford weaver; hundreds of unrecorded village weavers probably proceeded her.

1851
1861
1871
Barnhayes
Agnes Townsend Weaver Weaver
Blackberry Gate
Sarah Dockett Weaver Weaver
Fanny Jerrett Weaver
Mary Jerrett Former weaver
Mary Anne Jerrett Weaver
Ann Smith Weaver
Burry cottages
Charlotte Delve Weaver
Cleave cottage
Ann Edwardson Weaver
Forches cottage
Maria Coles Weaver
Susan Crocker Weaver
Sarah Sicker Weaver
Forches Head
Mary Howard Weaver
Labour cottage
Jane Jerrett Weaver
Mary Jerrett Weaver (visiting)
Little Hole
Grace Gregory
Little Hole cottage
Jane Leach
Elizabeth Ware
Moor End cottage
Mary Ann Jerrett
North Lake cottage
Elizabeth Thorne Weaver
Stones cottage (no1 to no3)
Thomazin Easterbrook Former weaver
Mary Jerrett Former weaver
Ann Luxton Former weaver
Town Place
Susan Coneybeer Weaver Weaver
West Gate
Ann Longman Weaver
Maria Sampson Weaver
Village/unnamed cottages
Elizabeth Bradford Weaver
Ann Burridge Weaver
Elizabeth Burridge Weaver
Elizabeth Challice Weaver
Martha Cockram Weaver (pauper)
Mary Cockram Weaver
Jane Delve Weaver
Maria Dockett Weaver
Maria Fancock Weaver
Ann Heal Weaver
Ann Lee Weaver
Mary Palmer Weaver
Mary Prueth Weaver (pauper)
Ann Raymont Weaver
Mary Rice Weaver (pauper)
? Rounsfell Yarn spinner
Ann Shapman Weaver (pauper)
Frances Webber Weaver

 

 

 

 

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