Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Found in a 1936 knitting magazine

I have a small collection of vintage knitting magazines.

Knitting and Homecrafts was a Canadian magazine published monthly by Homecraft Publications Limited in Montreal. A yearly subscription cost one dollar in the British Empire (of which Canada was a member), $1. 50 United States.

Flipping through, I found this interesting article--Romance of Wool--penned by Philip J. Turner, F.R.I.B.A....
England in the Middle Ages owed much of her prosperity to the raising of sheep and the production of wool which were the principal industries of the countryside. In the 15th century wool was described as indeed "the flower and strength and revenue and blood of England." At the time of the Black Death the rural districts were depopulated to such an extent that it was almost impossible to till the land properly, and as a consequence the country districts were turned over almost entirely to vast sheep runs. English wool which was always famous, was at first exported and made into cloth on the continent, but later on King Edward III decided that it would be wise not only to grow the wool but also to make the cloth. So foreign weavers, principally from Belgium, were brought over to give the necessary instructions, and stringent laws were passed against exporting English sheep. A first offence for breaking such a law resulted in the offender being imprisoned for a year; at the end of this term he was taken to the market place and his hand was cut off; if he offend again his head was cut off.
As time went on so much land was given up to the rearing of sheep and so little was being used for the cultivation of grain that Parliament, in the days of Henry VIII, passed a law which decreed that no tenant farmer should be allowed to keep more than 2, 000 sheep.
Lavenham in Suffolk was in the 15th century one of the great centres of this woollen industry, for the Eastern countries were then world famous for the sheep they produced--a reputation that has remained with East Anglia up to the present time.
Several merchants at this time amassed huge fortunes in the production of wool, and notably Thomas Spring--the subject of this article--who became a very wealthy wool-merchant. He is known as Thomas Spring the III for he was the grandson of the founder of the family, and is referred to in documents of his days as the "rich clothier". He must have been a multi-millionaire of his time, for next to the Duke of Norfolk, he was the highest taxpayer in the 15th century. Thomas Spring was born in 1456 and died at the age of 67 in 1523, when Lavenhem was at the height of its prosperity.
Lavenham, it may truly be said, is one of the most unspoilt towns of the Middle Ages that is to be found anywhere in England. It claims to have the finest timberframed Guild Hall in the land and an excellent example of a stone cross which is at least 400 years old, --an Inn, "The Swan", containing a wealth of half-timber work and a picturesque courtyard, --a profusion of old houses of the 15th and 16th centuries, and dominating the whole town like a miniature cathedral is the church of St. Peter and St. Paul which has few equals in the whole of England. The town is in fact consistently complete, its preservation being partly due to the fact that it has always been off the beaten track, so far as the main country roads and thoroughfares are concerned.
The view from the Tower is one of the grandest in the district, and the church is a splendid specimen of flint work with stone trimmings--the cutting of flints being a local Suffolk industry over 1, 000 years old.
Just before the church was completed this great commoner had been knighted which evidently pleased him much, for he had two dozen copies of his newly-got armorial shield carved in stone around this tower's parapet.
To view Lavenham right, you should ascend to the leads of the church-tower, 141 feet high. Arriving there you will feel predominant, and so I imagine did Sir Thomas who standing here nearer the heavens than any other man in Suffolk, and looking down on the town below might well have exclaimed: "Is not this great Lavenham that I have built by the might of my purse, for the honour of my name, and for the welfare of my soul?" Try to see in your mind's eye those portraits of early Tudor worthies that hang in the National Portrait Gallery in London, and then open your eyes quickly, and you'll see Thomas Spring, the new esquire, standing beside you on these leads in brave array, telling you how many marks he and his late father have spent on the church, and how many of the red-roofed houses that look so small were built as dwellings for their overseers and workfolk. One likes this sentence in his will (spelling modernized): "I will that satisfaction and restitution be made to every person complaining and duly proving any injury, wrong, extortion, oppression, "disteyte" (distraint), or any misbehaving or demeaning against reason or conscience, by me to them done in any wise." To which the cynic may reply: "A guilty conscience, and fear of hell-fire!" Well, the next clauses in his will are to provide for the singing of masses in many churches for his soul's health--"immediately after my decease in as hasty time as it may be conveniently done." The rich clothier feared that his soul might have a hot time in purgatory pending the singing of the masses! "Priests' blackmail and medieval fire insurance" says the cynic. Yes, but it produced fine churches, and you couldn't raise the money nowadays.
The town of Lavenham and district for many centuries belonged to the wealthy de Veres, Earls of Oxford, who held the title for five and one-half centuries and they were in consequence the patrons of the place. The de Veres took their name from Ver, a small town in France and most certainly came over with William the Conqueror. At the time of the building of the church he was the principal Lord of the land. The 13th Earl who helped to build the church commanded the right wing of the army at Bosworth. Probably all parishioners vied with one another in offering money or labour, but chief of all were John de Vere, thirteenth Earl of Oxford, who died in 1512-13, and our illustrious Thomas Spring, who died 1523-24. Democratic co-operative is no modern growth; here we have belted earl of the bluest blood in England and new rich tradesmen uniting together to build the finest church in Suffolk. When the tower was begun, the Springs were non-armorial, so around its base their trade-mark alternates with the shields of de Vere, Howard, Montague, and Neville: but before it was finished, the heralds' college had granted them arms, which, because they finished the work, they reproduced two dozen times around its parapet, and also many times on , and in their south chancel-chapel. Let us hope that the de Veres smiled good-naturedly--noblesse oblige--at the pride and delight taken by these worthy tradesmen in their new toy. Little did they then realise that Bridget, the rich clothier's favourite daughter, would later on, by marrying Aubrey de Vere, second son of the fifteenth earl, become grandmother of the nineteenth Earl of Oxford, and ancestress of the Dukes of St. Albans!
Sir Thomas Spring was twice married: After the death of his first wife he was perhaps over zealous in making money, and guilty of misdeeds in making and selling cloth; at any rate he applied for a general pardon, which was granted in 1508. No misdeeds in the past could then be brought up against him. Henry VII, "pardons, remits and releases Thomas Spring of Lavenhem of all murders or felonies, or accessory murders or felonies, rebellions, deceptions, contempt, etc. also of all usurious contracts, usurious bargains, corrupts covenants, etc., also of illicit sales of cloth, wool, linen, and for non-payment of foreign merchants, and for all false deceptions in the selling of woollen cloth."
He devised in his will that on the thirtieth day after his death masses for his soul should be said in every town and parish where he owned land; if this wish was carried out masses were said in about one hundred and thirty parish churches.
Trade fell away in the 17th century and Charles II endeavoured to stimulate the trade by decreeing that all dead bodies should be buried in woolen shrouds, a law which remained on the statute book for 120 years. But Lavenhem was already decaying and its prosperity departed with the rise of the great industrial towns in the North of England. Yet the grand old houses, or many of them, still remain, and Lavenham is, in large part, a monument to the enterprise and business acumen of our old wool-merchant, Sir Thomas Spring, the "rich clothier", of Henry VIII's time.
In 1578 Queen Elizabeth visited Lavenham when Sir W. Spring was High Sheriff of Suffolk, and the present Queen Mother visited Lavenham in 1928.
Recently the roof of the Church that Sir Thomas Spring built has had to be very extensively restored owing to the ravages of the death-watch beetle. It is interesting to note in this connection that Sir Cecil Spring Rice former Ambassador to the U.S., and a descendant of Sir Thomas, was one of those instrumental in carrying out this work.

I plan to share more article from this magazine (which is the oldest I possess) as well as from others in my care.

2 comments:

Lorraine said...

Interesting article, Leanne, and I'm not much into history.

The Sweater Curse said...

Thank you for the feedback, Lorraine.