Cotswold Wool Trade

Another snippet from Highways and Byways of Oxford and the Cotswolds:

‘Before the Norman Conquest it is not likely that sheep-farming on any scale was carried on. the few fleeces raised on each manor would suffice to supply the rough cloth or frieze that formed the country dress of the lord and his dependents. The yarn was spun and woven at home, and the labour of each community was self-sufficing. But with the advent of the wealthy Norman landowners the waste land of the manor was no longer allowed to remain without its profit. The wolds now became, as they continued to be for 6 centuries, vast sheep-walks, and the produce of the countless flocks that grazed them far exceeded the wants of the scanty population. the wool was grown for sale, and England soon became the principal wool-producing country in Europe. A story told by a contemporary chronicler shows that at least as early as the beginning of the 12th century, the Flemish traders were in the habit of coming to England for their wool In 114, certain canons from Laon crossed over to England in order to collect subscriptions towards the rebuilding of their church. In the same ship were several Flemish merchants with more than 300 marks of silver in their purses. On their voyage they were attacked by pirates, ‘whereupon … the aforesaid merchants in despair of their lives, offered their bags and purses with all their money to Our Lady, and cast them on her shrine, beseeching her with pity and tears, promising that if only she saved their bodies from the hands of the pirates she should keep all their money for the restoration of her church.’ A wind thereupon rose and scattered the enemy, and the monks were in charity about to give back some of the money to the merchants, ‘but they as soon as they saw that they had escaped death, forgot their fear, and without permission each one took his bag and purse, leaving nothing to our Lady but idle words of thanks. But now let all who give their property to God and take it back again, listen to the revenge which the just Judge her Son took for his Mother. they had journeyed over almost the whole of England, and had spent all their money in buying vast quantities of wool, which they had stored in a great building on the coast of Dover; but behold, on the night before the day on which they intended to cross, the building suddenly took fire and was burnt down with the whole of their wool. Then when they had lost all their property and had become destitute, they too late repented of the insult they had offered to the queen of Heaven.’

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