The Handloom Weavers
For more than four centuries East Lancashire has devoted a great deal of its time and energy to the processes of spinning and weaving.
At first, woollen cloth was made from yarn spun from the wool of the native sheep.
By Tudor times, Blackburn was a thriving community whose importance was shown by the appointment of a special Government officer in 1566 whose duty was to inspect, measure and seal cloth intended for export. He had also to check for faulty dyeing, and excessive weighting of the cloth with chalk. The name of this official was the Aulnager, the Blackburn officer being deputy to the County Aulnager. The scale of the local industry at this date can be gauged by the activities of Alexander Nowell. In one week in July 1569, he purchased from local weavers and cloth merchants 2450 yards of woollen and 1300 yards of linen cloth.
Blackburn cloth was exported to the continent by way of Chester, Hull, Bristol, London and Southampton.
By the time of the first Stuarts, cotton was being used with a linen warp, and the local cloth was distinctive enough to be given the name "Blackburn checks", with some of the warp threads and also some of the weft being dyed blue a checked appearance was produced in the cloth.
Flax began to be cultivated in the area around Preston for use in their manufacture. The Civil War had an unsettling effect on the industry and at the Restoration, linen was imported from across the Irish Sea, as the quality was regarded as superior to the locally grown flax.
By the late 17th Century a new source of competition was developing in the shape of linen yarn from Hamburg in Germany, which was sold cheaper than Lancashire could manufacture it. These developments harmed the farmers who grew flax, but benefitted the manufacturing side.