The secret of Exeter’s success was its woollen cloth trade. The story of how the industry expanded from humble beginnings to become the main driving force behind the city’s fortunes is a fascinating one, full of twists and turns, triumphs and setbacks.

Read more ...Before Exeter's Cloth Trade history can be told, one question needs answering: What was it that brought the woollen cloth trade and Exeter together to form such a successful partnership?

Exeter was a well-connected city. A successful industry needs demand for its output. Demand for woollen cloth came from domestic markets – the biggest being London, and from foreign ones – the most important being France, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain.

Read more ... The woollen cloth trade needed water to power its simple machines and to support several stages of the production process. Exeter could meet this demand, offering a reliable, plentiful and easily accessible supply.

Read more ...Read more ...By 1400 Exeter was a significant centre for the trade in woollen cloth, but it was not yet a commercial powerhouse. Exeter was the regional capital, the South West’s major city, but within the woollen cloth trade it still had to compete with local rivals.

Read more ...On 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.

Read more ...Banking on success: At the height of its powers in the 1600s, Exeter’s woollen cloth industry dominated the region. Although the trade dwindled to nothing over the next 150 years, it still left a legacy. Tuckers Hall is one visible reminder of the cloth trade’s importance, as are the grand merchant houses that can still be seen around the city today. But one of the industry’s most significant legacies came in the shape of a business, that of merchant banking.

Read more ...The Guild of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen was not the only association to emerge from the woollen cloth trade. As early as the 1200s, the merchants who bought and sold woollen cloth also began to join forces. Together they formed what came to be known as the Company of Merchant Adventurers.

Read more ...When it came, the end of Exeter’s centuries-old woollen cloth trade took place within just 100 years. War played its part in the industry’s downfall. First the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) cut through the trading links that Exeter had enjoyed with Continental Europe as France, Spain and the Dutch Republic all took the side of the American revolutionaries.

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