Commercial Crisis and Change in England: 1600-1642

By B. E. Supple | Go to book overview

2. THE COCKAYNE PROJECT, 1614-1617

From 1614 to 1617 the development of the textile industry was conditioned by the Cockayne project. In later years pamphleteers were to look back at the disastrous experiment in dyeing and dressing cloth exports and attribute to its influence the stagnation of the cloth industry in the following three decades. It may be that Alderman Cockayne's project did no more than precipitate an inevitable course of events, but there can be no doubt as to the immediate violent effects it produced both in the manufacturing areas and in the organization of the textile trade. It enables us to date with some certainty the beginning of the real decline in what had formerly been England's one staple product -- the old draperies.

The story of the project has already been told in voluminous detail.1 Nevertheless the salient features of the developments in these years are worth emphasizing and, in the process, it may be possible to distinguish some hitherto neglected aspects of the project.


(i) THE ISSUES INVOLVED

In 1606 and 1614 well over a half of London's total cloth exports, and a much greater proportion of the Merchant Adventurers' shipments, consisted of 'white' cloths deriving from the western counties,2 and these went overwhelmingly to Germany and the Low Countries where they were dyed and dressed by local workmen. It was only natural that it should occur to men at the time that the value of, and the employment derived from, textile exports could be greatly increased if they were in the form of fully-manufactured (dyed and dressed) cloths. It was estimated in 1614 that dyeing and dressing woollen textiles would add anything from 50 to 100 per cent to the value of exports, while in sixteenth-century Leyden dyeing accounted for 47 per cent of the final manufacturing cost of cloth.3 In an age whose economic policy frequently revolved around the twin aims of maximizing exports and the employment of the poor, the export of only semi-manufactured textiles could not but seem a shameful waste, and schemes to produce the desired metamorphosis -- to redirect the emphasis of the English cloth manufacture and by-pass the Dutch finishing industry -- had a history stretching back into the sixteenth

____________________
Friis, chapters iv, v.
See Appendix A, Tables 4 and 9.
3
Add. MSS. 14027, fols. 265-6, reprinted in Friis, pp. 461-3; J. F. Niermeyer, De Wording van onze Volkshuishouding ( The Hague, 1946), p. 76.

-33-

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