In the West Riding in general and the township of Stansfield in particular the development of the textile industry was to play a part in reviving and expanding the economy and bringing unrivalled prosperity to the area.
The involvement of the Halifax region in the textile industry goes back many centuries, but this was only a very small scale until the late 15th century. Hitherto York and Beverley had been its great centres, but rigid guild regulations and increased costs of production signalled their sharp decline. This was to the benefit of the Pennine areas, where there was no guild regulation and a plentiful supply of fast flowing water to power the fulling mills to wash the wool.
Some individuals had prospered in the midst of the declining late medieval economy. They had survived plague and had benefited from increasing freedom, lower regulation and rents and higher wages. From the late sixteenth century onwards their descendants looked to take in land from the waste beyond the old manorial boundaries (‘assarting’) and the spur was the increasing economic potential of the textile industry.
Daniel Defoe passed through the region in1724 and the comments he recorded in his book“A Tour Through The Whole Of The Island Of Great Britain 1724” gives us a valuable insight into this economy at its most vibrant period:
“The nearer we came to Halifax…. the sides of the hills……, were spread with houses, and that very thick; for the land being divided into small enclosures from two to seven acres… every three or four pieces of land had a house belonging to it.
“….. I found that the division of the land into small pieces and scattering of the dwellings was done for the convenience of the business which the people were generally employed in. …This business is the clothing trade….
“We could see that at almost every house there was a tenter and on almost every tenter a piece of cloth or kersie or shalloon…..wherever we passed any house we found a little rill or gutter of running water…. and at every considerable house was a manufactory or work-house.
“Then as every clothier must keep a horse, perhaps two to fetch and carry for the use of his manufacture…so every manufacturer generally keeps a cow or two or more for the use of his family and this employs the…. enclosed land about his house for they scarce sow corn enough for their cocks and hens”
The aim was then to create a landholding or farming unit that would be large enough to achieve self-sufficiency in conjunction with weaving activities. The land had to have its own water supply (the plentiful distribution of spring water provided the essential infrastructure for the spread of settlements). It had also to be extensive enough to pasture a horse or cattle and for tentering cloth, and have an area to grow oats, perhaps keeping pigs and poultry, the whole large enough for the family’s subsistence. Thus was “The Dual Economy” created.
By such a process the yeomen/clothiers emerged and with them a distinctive form of architecture and pattern of farm holdings in the landscape. There are some fine yeoman clothiers houses in the Blackshaw region such as Strines, Fieldhead (the back of the house betray its early origins), Lower Moss Hall and Hippins. These buildings were constructed on early “assarts from the waste”- their location and early date possibly define the outer boundaries of the manor of Rawtenstall
Weaving was concentrated initially in the clothier’s house itself. Raw wool (later, cotton) was distributed to cottagers to spin and the yarn was woven into “pieces” to be sold at cloth halls and markets. Land sublet from larger holdings in small one or two-acre plots enabled the “outworkers” to maintain a balance between farming and textiles at a less prosperous level. This was called “The Domestic System”
As there was mutual need of each other’s economic input between clothiers and outworkers in the “Domestic System” so there was similar economic interdependence between textiles and agriculture in “Dual Economy” The whole created a virtuous circle that led to unbridled prosperity for the textile regions of the West Riding centered on Halifax, in which our region in the upper Calder Valley shared.