The cloth industry began in Frome in the fourteenth century. The industry helped the town become more prosperous than Bath. Entrepreneurs were given another opportunity to develop their businesses when church land was sold off a century later during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. This gave Frome an additional economic boost.
Froome Selwood was a sheep farming area and provided most of the wool to support the industry. The wool was supplied to the mills and workshops along the River Frome. At its peak, there may have been two hundred cloth mills on a six mile stretch of the river and dying became big business too.
Blue was the most popular colour of the time and some of the wool obtained by the clothiers was dyed by specialist blue dyers before it was spun. In 1808 a visitor to Frome reported “all the people of Frome being dyed purple with the manufacture of blue cloth”. Most of this production happened on Willow Vale and on Justice Lane. Some workshops were owned by dyers themselves and others were rented by cloth makers.
When the water level of the river dropped during dry spells, business was of course affected. There are records to show the religious community got involved in praying for rain to get production up and running again.
At the end of eighteenth century there were forty seven clothiers in Frome. Nineteenth century industrialisation brought coal technology to generate stream and slowly Mendip coal was used to replace the numerous water mills, but with the availability of cheaper labour in the north of the country, the cloth trade started to decline.
The industry did not die out completely until the 1960s when light engineering, plastics and printing replaced the business that shaped the architectural landscape of the town of Frome.
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