The Importance of Wool, the Centrality of Shrewsbury

The British historical annals are heavily inked with deadly and drawn out battles, territorial conquests, and a colourful retinue of kings and queens whose personalities and predilections inexorably shaped entire nations. Other more subtle, but no less significant reasons that Britain has been able to garner a position of wealth and power for centuries exist. One is wool, which lent greatly to its economic position both at home and abroad. A significant centre of medieval wool trade in Britain is Shrewsbury, and the city’s well-preserved historical buildings are a testament to this. Staying in a Shrewsbury hotel that is housed in a timber-framed 17th century dwelling or a cafe that is sheltered in a 15th century chapel are all connected to the wealth brought through the wool trade.

Shrewsbury, as well as other towns, were centres for wool trade for a variety of reasons. Access to rivers and waterways meant that the product could be transported along more easily and in greater volume for export, although placement along heavily used trade routes was also key. Market charters meant that towns able to host large fairs benefitted from the additional income generated by the event. Wool was a commodity that involved a variety of smaller industries allowing it to be as central as it was to the economy. Sheep were either raised by a variety of people and the wool purchased by an investor. They would then process the wool to extent by parcelling it out for washing and cleaning, employing other people, then the wool could be processed further and dyed, carded, and made into fabric, or it could be left in a more raw state. It could be purchased by cloth merchants for export or for greater processing. In all, the wool trade provided an extensive system of livelihoods for many people in English society.

Nowadays, the wool blanket on the beds of hotels in Shrewsbury was more likely important from somewhere else. Though wool is still part of the British economy today, it will never be as central as it was before, though no less important.

February 13, 2012 | Author: | Posted in Business


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