Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Weaving Warrington's Past

At our meeting on September 22, Kit Heald of the Warrington Historical and Archaeological Society spoke on the links between our crafts and Warrington’s long history and really widened our knowledge of the area.
A settlement at the lowest crossing point on the River Mersey, Warrington existed as a community in the tribal era before the Romans took control from the area around what we now know as Stockton Heath. We learned that Wilderspool Causeway was exactly that – a road through the surrounding wetlands.
In this wet and marshy land flax and hemp were grown and production of linen and canvas became one of the main industries of the town. In 1686 there were 16 hempyards around the town supplying the fibre for the manufacture, locally, of sailcloth to equip the huge fleets of galleons which defended these islands. It is ironic to learn that in those days peace meant real hardship for people who produced sails.
In the eighteenth century the manufacture of fustian grew and continued along with canvas. Fustian is woven from a mixture of fibres and is a hardwearing fabric with a pile which had to be cut by hand by skilled workers. Cockhedge Mill was a spinning mill which closed in 1960.
Warrington was never a one-industry town. It was involved in wire making (of course!), tanning, soap manufacture, shipping, brewing, file making, glass manufacture, sugar refining and pin making, to name the main ones. It is good to know that our crafts of spinning, weaving and dyeing were among the earliest of Warrington’s trades and that we are continuing the history of the area.