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John Harrison (1579 – 1656)

The Woollen Industry

One of the reasons why the wool trade grew so quickly in Leeds was because Leeds not only had a good supply of local wool, but it also brought in wool from outside of the town for finishing, dying and cutting.

Fulling mills and dye-houses grew up on the banks of the River Aire to cope with demand.

Fulling is the beating and cleaning of cloth in water. Before the fulling mills came along, this was done by hand. The River Aire provided power for the mill and water from it was also used in the cleaning process.

The cloth was placed in the fulling stocks with fuller’s earth (a soapy clay) and water pumped in. Here it was pounded with wooden hammers, themselves driven by a tappet wheel turned by the water wheel.

Fulling Mill 1661
Fulling Mill 1661

After fulling, the cloth was dried on tenter frames. A tenter was a wooden frame used for stretching and drying cloth. Cloth was fixed to the tenter frame with hooks. Once dry, the cloth would be dyed, brushed and trimmed of any loose threads to produce material of great quality.

It was an advantage to be able to carry out all these processes in the same place and to have a market close-by where the cloth could be sold.

The wool trade also created wealth for the rest of the town. As more people came to Leeds, food and other products were brought into town for sale because not enough food could be grown locally.

Fulling Mill Diagram
Fulling Mill Diagram