Spinning and weaving had taken place in Lamberhurst on a small domestic scale in antiquity like in most towns and villages, but never progressed beyond this to the finishing processes in the production of cloth, fulling and finishing (or 'dressing') .
Then around 1275, a yeoman named Robert Cogger, moved to Lamberhurst. He was to build Coggers Hall in the village as his main seat circa 1280, but more importantly, single handedly rescued the village from virtual economic collapse through the crash in the wool market. He realised that there was now a ready market for home made woollen cloth and instead of trying to export wool, established the first cloth making industry in the parish. He was one of the new breed entering the cloth industry at this time, leasing land which he farmed and sub-leased to other farmers, living off his farming returns and rents, with spare capital for investment in other ventures. He leased a large area of the Manor of Mayfield, south of the Lamberhurst to Wadhurst Road, from Whisketts Farm to Lady Mead, which was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury's Manor of South Malling, near Lewes (6). Robert held this land through the mesne tenure of the de Scotney family.
He could be described as the first capitalist entrepreneur of Lamberhurst. He specialised in the production of 'Kentish broadcloth', which was the most valuable of the two types of cloth produced on the Weald, being a heavy, luxury cloth, produced in great quantities. The other was 'kersey cloth' which was inferior in quality and thickness. 'Broadcloth's' main markets were London and Western Europe.
There were statutory standards, regarding its manufacture, which were a minimum length of 28 yards and minimum weight of 86 pounds and was usually one and three quarter yards wide (48).
He styled himself as a 'clothier', who required numerous skills – the knowledge of wools, the art of dying and overall knowledge of the whole process of cloth manufacture but his key skills were in management and entrepreneurship.
Whereas the prior processes were carried out domestically by women in farmhouses and cottages, or small establishments with little capital investment, fulling, particularly 'broadcloth, required capital investment to build the mills to provide the water power and machinery to carry out the process. Robert Cogger had this wealth.
He built a water powered Fulling Mill to the north west of Coggers Hall, powered by the Gill Stream via a Mill Pond (1).
He would have purchased the raw wool locally and have had a very organised system of independent out workers for the spinning and weaving processes, operating out of their houses in the village and then carried the fulling process in his own mill.
Fulling involved three processes: scouring, milling (thickening) and then stretching.
The first stage was to scour the cloth to rid it of its natural oils and greases that would have inhibited the binding actions of the dyes. This process involved smearing the cloth with Fullers earth (hence the process's name) which was mined at Maidstone and immersing it in a trough of hot water and then labourers would trample the cloth underfoot.
The second milling stage was to consolidate the fibres of the cloth and produce a uniform thickness. This process was to pass the cloth under water powered hammers usually three times to remove all final remains of the natural wool grease and dirt, to strengthen and smooth the cloth and to thicken it by compressing and binding its fibres. The first time the trough would have contained urine, the second fuller’s earth and the third hot soapy water, before a final thorough rinsing in clean water. Each pounding lasted two hours. (58)
The stocks would have consisted of a wooden frame to support an inclined wooden shank and heavy wooden foot on the end, which was lifted by means of a tripped cam shaft and allowed it to swing downwards in an arc onto the cloth in the trough. Usually the stocks were set in pairs, working alternatively. As can be seen in the diagram above, the face of the foot had a stepped edge and this, along with the concave base of the trough, advanced the cloth after each blow, reducing the risk of over pounding of sections. (57)
Fulling was a skilled process and the fuller would have to take into account the type of wool, the type of water, the cloth texture, the temperature of the water and the time allowed under the fulling hammers. Any error would result in holes and the ruin of the whole bolt of cloth. The fulling process resulted in the cloth losing 10 – 20% of its size. Therefore the final stage of manufacture in Lamberhurst, prior to dying, was subjecting the cloth to process known as 'Tentering'.
The wet cloth was stretched on two parallel wooden upright frames similar to an open fence (see drawing above) built outside the mill, but near to it. The cloth was pulled evenly and hooked onto blunt headed, upward facing hooks driven at intervals on the top rail of the top frame and then onto the nails of the bottom adjustable frame, stretching it to the required size by adjusting it to the required tension and left to dry.
It also ensured even drying and bleaching of the cloth in the sunlight. (23, 56, 57, 58)
'Taint Mead' behind Coggers Hall on the west bank of the Gill Stream was where Robert Cogger organised the stretching of his unfinished wet cloth on 'tenters', or hooks (1). The term 'on tender hooks' was so generated.
Then he would have put it out to individual dyers in the village and collecting it back for the final 'finishing' or 'dressing' process, which raised the nap, by brushing it with teasel plant heads (similar to Scottish thistle seed heads) mounted on a wooden handle and then cropped to a uniform thickness with hand shears, which improved the cloth's appearance and feel by making it smoother. (23, 56, 57, 58)
This would not have been carried out locally. His major market was selling untreated cloth to finishers in London or on the Continent (the latter under strict licence).
Transportation to his end market would have been by pack horse to Tonbridge or Maidstone and then by boat to London via the River Medway and the River Thames to London or to the Continent via the Kent ports.
The wealth he accrued is confirmed by the will of his wife, in which she is listed as being liable to a one off annual tax payment of four shillings, the highest that had ever been recorded by a Lamberhurst parishioner, other than gentry.
The cloth industry developed to be, along with iron manufacture, the most important industry in Lamberhurst.
It was still recorded as being in operation in 1501, in a Seminal Indenture, over two hundred years after its establishment, a 'fulling mill and mill pond on the Gill steam that flows through the garden (of Coggers Hall) to the rear'.
The Act of Parliament of 1566, which banned the export of unfinished cloth, must have been a catastrophic blow to the business.
A mill pond is recorded in 1568 on the Gill Stream behind Ricards, but no mill. (5)
The lack of an entrepreneur of the stature of Robert Cogger in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century caused the ultimate demise of the business. The almost continuous wars in Northern Europe, which was its predominant market, were drastic, but it was the demands of fashion for a lighter cloth that was its death knell. It appears that instead of entering the emerging market for lighter, cheaper cloths, the Lamberhurst industry 'buried its head in the sand' stuck to what it knew and saw its business collapse (49).
The weaving industry in the village had followed the pattern in the rest of Kent, with the commercialism and expansion of the existing domestic industry. In the 1570s, commercial manufacture was established at the Tan House and Tiled Cottage on School Hill.
The Fulling Mill was converted to a cider press circa 1620. It is not illustrated on a map of the village of 1770, so it must have been demolished by then. No trace of it survives today, its foundations are under the new houses and rear gardens of Ricards Mews on the west side of School Hill.