b_960_960_16777215_00_images_landscape__0001_Exeter_Cloth_Trade.jpgOn a visit to Exeter in the 1720s, the writer and traveller Daniel Defoe captured the city’s spirit by calling it a place ‘full of Trade and Manufactures’. At its vibrant centre was the woollen market.

Locals may well have exaggerated their estimates of the total weekly sales, but the fact still stands – Exeter’s woollen markets were thriving and powerful places.

Hamlyn’s market

Exeter’s early markets were informal affairs with merchants meeting to buy and sell cloth in existing street markets and local inns. But by the 1530s the cloth trade was growing, attracting more business and more merchants. In 1538 the city’s mayor, Henry Hamlyn, made a decision to establish the first dedicated cloth market. This stood in South Gate Street and sold woollen yarn and serge cloth.

In 1542 a second market selling yarn and ‘raw cloth’ (meaning material which was yet to be dealt with by Exeter’s finishing trades) opened close to Hamlyn’s market. In 1555 a further market opened, this time in a hall at the New Inn. The inn stood in the middle of the city’s High Street next to St Stephen’s church which still stands today.

As the woollen cloth industry boomed, the market at the New Inn became overcrowded and yet another was needed to cope with the volume of trade. Exeter’s final market for woollen cloth was established in 1636 in the lower hall of St John’s Hospital School, also on Exeter’s High Street.

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