Tuckers Hall, Exeter – The Guild and Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers & Shearmen
THE TEASEL IN CLOTH PRODUCTION
Earlier this year I visited the 15th-century Tuckers Hall in Exeter (before Lockdown). It has been occupied by the Guilds and Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers & Shearmen since 1471. William and Cecilia Bowden originally gifted them a plot of land to build their hall from which they could regulate the woollen cloth trade. Exeter was a significant centre for this trade, bringing wealth to the city.[i]
A ‘tucker’ is another name for a ‘fuller’ and is a West Country term. On my visit I encountered images of the Fuller’s teasel. It became apparent to me that it is was a significant tool in the production of cloth. Something I had not considered before!
Much of medieval England would have been a mixture of scenes related to the woollen cloth industry. Sheep on the pastureland, weavers in cottages, fulling mills on the rivers and streams, and cloth drying out on ‘tenters’ (or racks). There would also be dye-houses, drying houses and gig-mills. In places there would be fields dedicated to the growing of the Fuller’s Teasel.
So how was the Fuller’s Teasel used in woollen cloth production?
The Fulling Process
Once woollen cloth has been woven it needs to be processed further. Langland wrote circa 1370-90:
…Is not comely to wear,
Till it be fulled under fote, or in fulling stocks;
Washen well with water, and with teasels scratched,
Towked and teynted, and under talour’s hands.[ii]
The initial process described here is fulling which is the method of removing impurities. The cloth needs to be under water and the work done underfoot by ‘walking’ or ‘tucking’ – i.e. trampling the cloth. This helped to matt the cloth to make it stronger. Fuller’s earth was used to absorb the lanolin and other oil or grease impurities. Fuller’s earth is a naturally occurring clay found in the West Country.
The mechanisation of fulling with waterpower occurred in England in the 12th century. It had been introduced into Normandy by 1086.[iii] With mechanisation human feet were replaced with hammers, operated by a series of cogs that linked to and were driven by a waterwheel.
Once the fulling process had taken place then the cloth needed to have the nap raised.
The Fuller’s Teasel – DIPSACUS FULLONUM (although should be DIPSACUS SATIVUS for the true Fuller’s Teasel)[iv]
In the summer of 2020 I made contact with a Mr Paul Pickering, who lives in the village of Horton near Ilminster in Somerset. Teasels for the woollen cloth trade had been cultivated in Horton. Paul still grows them in his garden, and he invited me over to see them growing, which is where I was able to take my photographs. Teasels were still farmed by one family in Horton up until the 1960s.[iv]
The teasel used in cloth production is the stiff-headed variety. These heads were dried to make use of the naturally occurring hooks on the stiff heads of the plant. It is a Mediterranean biennial which produces branches and large seed heads which vary in size. The central large teasel known as the ‘king’. The next in size are the ‘queens’, whilst the smaller heads are known as ‘princes’ or ‘buttons’. ‘Buttons’ were pages.
The function of the dried teasel is to raise the nap on cloth. The Romans used the skin of a hedgehog for the purpose. In medieval cloth production the teasel heads were set onto a frame which could be pulled across the cloth. Later the heads were set on a revolving cylinder and the cloth passed in the opposite direction. The teasel hooks tear up the surface of the cloth. Unlike metal hooks the teasel hooks do not produce flaws in the finished cloth.
The Medieval Teasel Trade
By the 13th century the teasel had made its way from Europe into England and was being grown in the south of the country. At Taunton teasels as well as shearman’s sheers were purchased for a fulling mill in the first year of its operation (1218-19).[v]
This important product of the woollen cloth industry stimulated a trade in teasels. In the 14th century they were being exported from England to the Low Countries, which caused a problem in a teasel shortage. In 1326, Edward II, as part of the terms of the Ordinance of the Staple, banned the exporting of ‘Tasles’. The demand for the English cloth industry required that teasels be imported. An early consignment example was that of 1331-32 when 18,000 teasels landed at Exeter in a ship with woad and weld (used for dyes). This valuable import product from the Low Countries continued throughout the Medieval period into various English ports, along with ready made teasel frames and shearmans’ shears.[vi]
The system developed initially with a hand-held frame in which were set teasels (known in England as a ‘handle’). They would have been drawn across the surface of the wetted cloth to pull out the fibre ends from the weft. The more this was done the better the finish of traditional broadcloth. The old, worn teasels would have been used initially in the process, proceeding onto new ones at the end. The costs were therefore in teasels and skilled labour.[vii]
The Application of the Teasel
The process of refining the cloth was:[viii]
- Raising – the cloth was stretched over a bar or ‘perch’.
- Then equal-sized teasel heads on a frame (‘handle’ or ‘bachandle’) were passed over the surface of the cloth to draw out loose fibres, rough up the surface and raise the nap.
- Then the raised nap was shorn close and even by shears.
- Before each shearing the nap was raised again.
The cloth needed to be kept damp during this operation or the teasels might scratch away the fibres altogether.[ix]
The first raising and shearing was often done while the cloth was still in the fuller’s hands and damp from the fulling process. The cloth would need to be kept moist during further processing by sprinkling with water. Regulations refer to the necessity for the cloth to be kept moist. One of the earliest known technical ordinances for the English cloth industry was of 1260 at Leicester. This was where the fullers were made to swear that they would not use the teasel frame (‘bachandle’) on dry cloth.[x]
‘Handles’ (the teasel frame) and shears were often bequeathed by will. A Frome clothworker left ‘my shears, my handles and my shearboard’.[xi]
During the 18th and 19th centuries the process of raising or dressing the cloth was mechanised. Teasels were still employed but now on a teasel gig or raising machine. The 20th century saw more mechanisation and the teasel hooks replicated using materials such as wire, wood, rubber or plastic. Until this time replication of teasel hooks never worked. It was tried in Leicester in Edward II’s reign – iron hooks were used, and an ordinance was issued (1343) to prevent fullers using such instruments of iron.[xii]
The teasel was still considered a tool of quality into the second half of the 20th century and continues in a limited form today – uniforms, billiard cloths, fine fabric made from cashmere, etc.[xiii]
Another interesting fact is that flock wallpaper was made from the waste product of the woollen cloth industry. ‘Flock’ is the waste product which was glued to designs on adhesive coated cloth to create a raised velvet-like textured. This appeared to have started in the late 17th century,
Tuckers Hall – search out the teasels
At Tuckers Hall in Exeter images of the teasel can be found in the stained glass, on coats of arms and in the iron work on the gates. In the main chamber there is a vase full of Fuller’s teasels on the table.
The Guild’s coat of arms was granted in 1564 – it includes: weaver’s shuttles, a teasel frame and pair of shears.[xiv]
Unfortunately, the teasel embedded in the wall on the street at the Guild hall is a wild one and not the one used for raising the nap on woollen cloth!
NOTES ON TERMS
A chardener (m) or chardonnier (f) could be someone who gathered and sold teasels used in carding wool, or someone who made the frame upon which teasels were set for raising a nap on cloth (a ‘card-maker’).[xv]
‘Carding’ (Lat. carduus, a thistle or teasel) – process of combing textile fibrous materials to remove imperfect fibres.[xvi]
[ii] Penelope Walton, ‘Textiles’, in English Medieval Industries, ed. John Blair and Nigel Ramsay (London: The Hambledon Press, 1991), p. 330.
[iii] Derek Hurst, Sheep in the Cotswolds: The Medieval Wool Trade (Stroud: Tempus Publishing, 2005), p. 193.
[iv] ‘Teasel Farming in south Somerset’, Horton Village < http://www.hortonvillage.co.uk/teazle-farming/4594558324> [accessed: 2 June 2020]. NOTE: Unfortunately this link is no longer valid as discovered in September 2022 – see Bibliography for more information.
[v] Eleanora Carus-Wilson, The Significance of the Secular Sculptures in the Lane Chapel, Cullompton, Medieval Archaeology, 1 (1957), p. 111.
[vi] Carus-Wilson, p. 111.
[vii] Robert A. McMillan, Teazles and Teazle Men: The teazle trade in the West Riding of Yorkshire since the eighteenth century(Robert A. McMillan, 2012), p. 5.
[viii] Carus-Wilson, p. 110.
[ix] Carus-Wilson, p. 110.
[x] Carus-Wilson, p. 110.
[xi] Carus-Wilson, p. 110.
[xii] Carus-Wilson, p. 112.
[xiii] McMillan, pp. 5-6.
[xiv] ‘History of Tuckers Hall’.
[xv] ‘Appendix: Some occupational words or surnames’, in Two Early London Subsidy Rolls, ed. Eilert Ekwall ([s.l.], 1951), pp. 354-359. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/early-london-subsidy-rolls/pp354-359 [accessed 6 March 2020].
[xvi] Hugh Chisholm, ed. (1911), ‘Carding’, Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th ed.). (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911).
Carus-Wilson, Eleanora, ‘The Significance of the Secular Sculptures in the Lane Chapel, Cullompton, Medieval Archaeology, 1 (1957)
Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911), ‘Carding’, Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th ed.). (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911)
‘Flock Wallpaper’, V&A <https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/flock-wallpaper> [accessed 16 November 2020]
‘History of Tuckers Hall’, Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmenhttps://www.tuckershall.org.uk/hall/history> [accessed 8 November 2020]
Hurst, Derek, Sheep in the Cotswolds: The Medieval Wool Trade (Stroud: Tempus Publishing, 2005
McMillan, Robert A., Teazles and Teazle Men: The teazle trade in the West Riding of Yorkshire since the eighteenth century (Robert A. McMillan, 2012)
‘Teasel Farming in south Somerset’, Horton Village < http://www.hortonvillage.co.uk/teazle-farming/4594558324> [accessed: 2 June 2020] – NOTE: Unfortunately this link was discovered as no longer existing in September 2022. There is no replacement information – for nearest information consult Robert McMillan’s book in this bibliography – if I remember correctly he mentions Horton in it.
Walton, Penelope, ‘Textiles’, in English Medieval Industries, ed. John Blair and Nigel Ramsay (London: The Hambledon Press, 1991)