Origin of this article is unknown.
It was given to me torn out of a magazine, Normally I would seek
the permission of the author before using it but the content was
so interesting with its connection to Mattishall that I did not
want to leave it out.
Should anyone know of its origin please contact me...... So permission
and credits can be given.
whatever their branch of trade, have avoided the accusation at
some time or another that the function which they performed was
unnecessary or that their profits were the cause of their increase
prices. The wool-middlemen, or wool-broggers, of the sixteenth
century were no exception. Their function was to travel through
the countryside buying wool from farmers, to carry it by horse
and cart to distant towns and villages, and to sell it to the
On the face of it, they preformed
a service of the greatest value to farmers and weaver alike; but
unfortunately for the weavers, wool-broggers played many tricks
of their trade. They frequently mixed sand and all kinds of rubbish
with the wool and held it back in order to create a false scarcity,
forcing weavers to offer increased prices for their supplies;
they made great profits by buying cheaply and selling dearly.
Despite these evil practices, the wool-brogger was often indispensable;
but the wealthier cloth makers could afford to send their servants,
or even to travel theirselves, in search of wool and so to dispense
with the brogger’s services. So it was throughout the sixteenth
century the wool-brogger was continually subjected to criticism
and to legislation restricting his activities.
The Norfolk wool-broggers, however,
escaped the restrictions placed upon their colleagues in the West
Country or in Suffolk and Essex, for example. For this good fortune
they had to thank the worsted weavers of Norwich and nearby villages.
Wealthy men were rare in the worsted industry, most weavers working
on a small scale, and neither weavers or spinsters could afford
the time or expense of travelling to the west of Norfolk to buy
wool. Moreover working as they did on such a small scale, they
wanted wool in small quantities – only eight pence or twelve
pence worth at a time, we are told – and the sheep farmers
were naturally unwilling to make such paltry sales. In these circumstances
the wool-brogger was truly indispensable and the worsted weavers
relied upon him to bring wool to their market. After wool-broggers
had been prohibited throughout the country, an Act of Parliament
recognised in 1547 that the Norfolk worsted industry could not
carry on without them and this county was granted exemption from
There appears to have been about
fifty wool-broggers working in Norfolk; the most complete list
of these men was that drawn up by the country Justices of Peace
in 1577, and it contain forty-seven names. One striking feature
is the extraordinary concentration of the brogger’s homes.
A large number of them lived in Mattishall, with a few others
in the nearby villages of Mattishall Burgh, Hockering and East
and North Tuddenham.
The reason for this concentration
is not far to seek. Their trade demanded that the wool-broggers
could conveniently travel back and forth between the wool-producing
west of Norfolk and the worsted-weaving area in the east, and
Mattishall, in the very centre of Norfolk, was admirably situated
for the purpose. A number of Mattishall families supplied more
than one member to the wool-broggering trade – the Cresswells,
Allen, Halls, Reynolds, Howletts and Bootes, for instance; but
outstanding was the Watts family. Wherever evidence of the broggers’
activities is found, there too, is the name Watts – be it
Thomas senior, Thomas junior, William, Edward, Roger or John.
From Mattishall and elsewhere the
broggers travelled widely in search of wool, buying from small
farmers and wealthy gentlemen alike, In 1520 a brogger from Tuddenham
visited Hunstanton to buy wool grown on the L’Estrange estate;
in 1558 Edward Watts was in Great Ryburgh in 1561 William Patrick
of Mattishall made a deal at Wood Rising the whole 1500 stone
of wool that Sir Richard Southwell had produced that year; and
in 1566 three Mattishall broggers were buying wool from Sir Roger
Townsend at Raynham. During the summer months, before and after
shearing time, the broggers were rarely to be found at home, but
were out with their pack-horses making advance contracts for wool
still on the sheep’s back, or hagging over the contents
of a farmer’s wool house.
The wool was taken to the broggers’
home villages and temporarily stored in their wool houses before
the final journey to the market towns or to Norwich. And some
broggers, like Firmin Neve of Mattishall, kept the wool in their
warehouses in the city before it eventually reached the spinster
Not all of the wool collected by
the Norfolk broggers found its way to the worsted weavers; some
was carried southward to the cloth-making districts of Suffolk
and Essex , and the Mattishall broggers are found selling wool
in Bury St Edmunds, Hadleigh and Colchester for example. There
is no doubt that the broggers turned increasingly to the Suffolk
and Essex markets as the result of the serious decline experienced
by Norfolk worsted industry during the first half of the sixteenth
With the settlements of Dutch and
Walloon immigrants in Norwich and the manufacture of their new
types of cloth, the worsted industry recovered its prosperity
in the last quarter of the century, But the broggers did not readily
relinquish their trade with Suffolk, and at various times the
Mattishall men were brought into the Norwich Court of Mayoralty
and ordered to bring all their wool to the market of Norwich.
The trade brought considerable wealth
to a number of Norfolk men. William Watts, of Mattishall for example.
At his death in 1647 Watts had goods worth £456 –
including wool worth £77 and £200 in ready money.
Many Yeomen and gentlemen could boast no more. But other broggers
were less fortunate, or less astute, business men; the trade had
brought no fortune to Henry James of Biston who died worth only
£2 16s 2d , and it most have been precarious for Francis
Aylemer, of Buxton, who had little at his death apart from debts
of £60 owing to him.
The Norfolk wool-broggers are but
one of the fascinating groups of men which a study of worsted
industry has brought to light. They occupied a special place in
industry, and special place in rural society. And after their
heavily-laden pack-horses must have given a special atmosphere
to the large and prosperous agricultural village of Mattishall.