You are in [Themes] [Elizabethan Hungerford] [Trades and Occupations]

Back to [The Plague Epidemic, 1603-04]

For twenty five years at the end of the 16th century, Hungerford's Burials Register frequently includes much useful 'extra' information. Sometimes the cause of death is stated, but more often the trade or occupation is also given. In some cases, for example servants or apprentices, the occupation of the master is given - e.g. Joane Coleman servant to Richard Hunte, butcher (1597).

The range of trades and occupations mentioned in this way is considerable - no less than thirty, and if trades mentioned in other records (e.g. Vestry Minutes) are added, a total of thirty-five. The table below shows how many different trades were recorded. From butchers to barbers, bakers to beer brewers - the impression is that Hungerford could display a range of occupations typical of an Elizabethan town, albeit a small one. The cloth trade still provided much employment, and leather working was also

Survey of Trades and Occupations in Elizabethan Hungerford:

Food and Drink Trades:
Butcher 7, Innholder 2, Baker 1, Brewer 1, Cook 1, Fishmonger 1, Miller 1.

Cloth Trades:
Weaver 16, Tailor 9, Clothier 3, Shearman 3, Clothworker 2, Dyer 1, Feltmaker 1, Fuller 1.

Leather Trades:
Shoemaker 9, Glover 5, Tanner 2, Cobbler 1, Currier 1.

Building Trades:
Mason 2, Carpenter 1, Cooper 1, Joiner 1, Plumber 1, Turner 1, Wheeler 1.

Metal Trades:
Cutler 1, Smith 1.

Other:
Barber 1, Draper 1, Farrier 1, Hatter 1, Sawyer 1, Shepherd 1.

Notes:
- (i) Each record refers to inclusion of trade following an entry in Parish Registers or Vestry Minutes,
- (ii) Many people would have combined their trade with part-time farming.

There are few surviving wills and probate inventories for Hungerford at this time, which is unfortunate because these records can be very useful in studies of the local economy. Most of Berkshire has very good probate records, but because Hungerford did not come under the Berkshire Archdeacon's Court, it does not share in this historical bounty. It was an ecclesiastical Peculiar - all wills were proved in the Court of the Dean and Canons of Windsor, or the Dean of Salisbury. Survival of probate records for these courts is rather patchy, although fortunately we do have a few examples.

One local example is the probate inventory of John Collyns. An extract and the whole inventory is transcribed and annotated under John Collyns - Elizabeth Yeoman. Even a single document like this can add greatly to our knowledge of everyday life in Elizabethan Hungerford.

The Cloth Industry:

Hungerford remained a centre for clothworking throughout the 16th century. The local downland sheep produced a fine, short wool, ideally suited to the famous broadcloths which had dominated the international market in the time of Henry VIII. This was a heavy, warm and felt-like fabric, going rather out of fashion by the end of the century. The lighter and more fashionable cloths of the 'new draperies' were coming to the fore, but the traditional broadcloth appears to have continued in production in the local area. Perhaps Elizabethan Hungerfordians preferred warmth and durability to being at the height of fashion!

A range of specialist clothworking trades were carried out in the town, from clothiers to feltmaker, fuller and shearman. Carding and spinning may well have taken place as a part-time occupation in many households but because of the scarcity of probate inventories there is no specific information on these activities in Hungerford. The clothiers were the co-ordinating employers who purchased raw wool and then supervised every process up to the marketing of cloth. There appear to have been three clothiers in Hungerford in the late 16th century - Nicholas Passion, Robert Whitaker and John Youll: All were prominent members of local society, and John Youll was one of the main people involved in the dispute over the lost charters (see The Case of the Missing Charters).

By far the most common trade was weaving, with sixteen references. Quite often, weaving would be combined with farming, usually on a small scale. The loom would be kept in a small workshop either in a loft or in an outhouse. William Tylleys, who died in 1588, was noted as being a 'broadweaver' which suggests the continuing production of the traditional broadcloth. His broadloom, which was kept in the working shopp was valued at 30s. Although the sum total of all his household goods was only valued at £9 17s 8d, he seems to have lived reasonably comfortably He had a cow, a bullock, a pig and three piglets, stocks of malt, plenty of furniture - and a chimney, which not all houses did at that time.

When William Tylley had woven his cloth, it would have been taken to the fulling mill, probably Dun Mill. It was soaped, carefully folded and placed in a large trough with warm water. Heavy wooden mallets pounded fullers earth into the fabric, thickening, felting and shrinking the cloth. The cloth would then have been dried in the sun, kept taut by means of tenter hooks attached to a frame (hence the common expression for mental tension as being on tenter hooks).

Another important part of the process was shearing; three shearmen were recorded in the parish registers, but there may of course have been more. For example, Richard Mitten, who died in 1599, possessed 3 payre of greate sheares, one sheareboard, one sett of handles. The shears would have been large hand-shears - to shear down the raised nap of the cloth; this was done over a curved pad - the shearboard. The handles were used before shearing - the cloth was hung over a beam and stroked with teasel heads set in a handle to raise the nap. This process was often repeated, especially with high quality cloth. All of Mitten's tools were worth the grand total of 20s, and this is quite typical for Elizabethan craftsmen. No expensive or complicated tools were required, but a shearman required a great deal of skill to remove the right amount of fibre.

There were other occupations associated with the wool trade and the cloth industry - clothworker, feltmaker and dyer. There was a woollen draper and nine tailors, two of whom also kept 'tippling houses' (Wilts RO Vol IV (1948) Minutes of Proceedings in Sessions 1563, 1574-92) - an interesting example of a dual occupation, presumably customers could enjoy refreshment while being measured for new clothes!

The Leather Trades:

Like the cloth industry, which was well documented in the middle ages, the leather trades were a very well established part of the town's economy. They still continued to provide considerable employment in the Elizabethan period.

Strictly speaking, the first stage in the leather industry was the butcher, and it is rather difficult to know if this means butchering (i.e. slaughtering) or selling meat, or possibly both aspects of the meat trade. Either way, Elizabethan Hungerford had its fair share of butchers, since this was the third most commonly-recorded occupation.

Several tanners are recorded in the late 16th century and the industry continued much later. William Wayte was noted as being the town tanner in 1599 and at least two other tanners were recorded.

Some of the processed hides may well have passed to local glovers, since this is a recorded trade (four references). William Grove was a glover who died in 1588: his inventory records £3-worth of leather dressed and undressed as well as scales, weights and yam in a wool loft. He also had a little nagge and a packsaddle - perhaps to collect his raw material as well as take the finished product to market.

Service Trades:

The range of trades associated with food and drink emphasises Hungerford's role as a route town - a function which would become more important in the centuries to come. With specialist bakers, brewers, barbers and innkeepers it could offer a range of services to travellers and locals alike.

Innkeeping was to become one of the most important trades in the town's economy in later years: it was already well established in the Elizabethan period. We found no references to 'The Greyhound', at this time, although a popular legend is that it was an important Elizabethan coaching inn. There were at least two inns, 'The Bear' and 'The Crown', and five 'tippling houses' (beerhouses, not providing food or accommodation). Two tippling houses were kept by widows, which was common, and another was kept by a barber - another interesting dual occupation! (Wiltshire Record Society, Vol IV 1948 Minutes of Proceedings in Sessions 1563, 1574-92 and PRO SP12/119 p 45 - Register of Innkeepers in Berkshire).

Exactly where all the different trades were carried out is usually unknown. We know there were two tailors on Charnham Street, and that the fishmonger, George Hedache, occupied a stall in the market house in the centre of the High Street. There is quite a bit of information about this in the Vestry Minutes (BRO D/P/71/8/1). Apparently it was owned by the Church, and was rented out for 6s 8d per year. By 1587 it was apparently "greatly in decaie" and the rent was reduced to 5s with the proviso that it should revert to 6s 8d only when it had been properly repaired. With a fish stall (no refrigeration!) in the middle of the High Street, numerous butchers and a tannery, the local 'atmosphere' must have been rather powerful.

(From Elizabethan Hungerford, Julie Shuttleworth et al, 1995

On to [John Collyns - Elizabethan Yeoman]

See also:

- Trades & Occupations - the main articles on this topic