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art installation at Bourne Mill
'On tenterhooks' is an art installation in Bourne Mill, which will be open to the public 2nd-23rd August 2012 (Thursdays and Sundays, 2-5pm), with a free opening open event on Saturday 4th August, 2-5pm, featuring yarn craft activities for all ages. The installation is a collaboration between two Colchester artists, Clare Sams and Broa Sams. Clare is a textile artist and Broa is a carpenter and sculptor, and the installation is of collaborative mixed media sculptures.
[Thanks to Clare Sams for the 'On tenterhooks' information and for providing the image (below).]
Bourne Mill
Bourne Mill was first recorded c 1240 and, like the other mills on the same stream, it seems to have worked as a corn mill throughout the Middle Ages. St. John's abbey held the mill until the Dissolution, when it passed through a series of owners. It was a corn mill in 1632 and seems to have continued as a corn mill, perhaps with a fulling mill, throughout the 18th century. In the earlier 19th century it was a cloth mill for weaving, fulling, and finishing bays, run by Peter Devall, until 1833. When Devall sold up in 1833, it was the end of the cloth industry in Colchester, after centuries of being the staple industry of the town. The mill seems to have been disused after 1833. However, by 1860 it was in use again as a corn mill. The mill closed in 1935 and was given to the National Trust in 1936. It was converted to a house, but the machinery was restored in 1966 and it was opened to the public as a historic building (information from VCH 9).
The building called 'Bourne Mill' is the surviving part of the water mill. It is a very picturesque listed building overlooking Bourne Pond (the mill pond). (Read more about the building in its entry on this web-site, at
Bourne Mill is owned by the National Trust and is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a programme of events. It is in Bourne Road, Colchester, Essex CO2 8RT.
Cloth industry in Colchester
The installation is a response to part of the long history of Bourne Mill, a water mill powered by a water wheel. A 'fulling mill' was used in the textile manufacturing process and, in Colchester, this textile was bay or bays (or 'bay and say', a fine cloth), and perpetuanas. Tenter frames were also used in the manufacturing process and some of the fields within and around the walled town centre were once full of tenter frames, holding cloth on tenterhooks, eg in what is now Upper Castle Park. Colchester had a long history as a cloth-making town and was famous for its 'bay and say'. Many people, of all ages, would have been employed in cloth-making here, in all its stages, from wool-combing, spinning and weaving, fulling, roughing, etc, to seaming and dyeing.
There were two fullers in Colchester in the 11th century and the cloth trade took off here in the 12th century. It was given a boost in the late 16th century with the arrival of Dutch or Flemish cloth workers, and the town flourished because of it. The industry went into terminal decline in the 18th century and ended in 1833 when Peter Devall, the last baymaker, sold up. The cloth trade was, for centuries, the staple industry of Colchester. The cloth workers were mostly outworkers, ie they worked in their own houses and yards and were paid by the piece, in Colchester itself and in the surrounding villages.
(Celia Fiennes in "1698 Tour: London to Bury St Edmunds": '... Colchester is a Large town in the Compass of Ground ... there is a ... broad streete and near its Length like stalls on purpose to Lay their Bayes when exposed to saile. Great quantetyes are made here and sent in Bales to London that is 44 miles distant. Ye whole town is Employ'd in spinning weaveing, washing drying and dressing their Bayes in wch they seeme very Industrious. The town Looks Like a thriveing place ...'
Daniel Defoe in "A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain" (1724-27): '... [Colchester] may be said chiefly to subsist by the trade of making bays, which is known over most of the trading parts of Europe, by the name of Colchester bays, tho' indeed all the towns round carry on the same trade, namely, Kelvedon, Wittham, Coggshall, Braintree, Bocking, &c. and the whole county, large as it is, may be said to be employ'd, and in part maintain'd, by the spinning of wool for the bay trade of Colchester, and its adjacent towns ...'
The cloth workers were heavily exploited and restricted by their employers and by the Dutch Bay Hall, and at the mercy of fluctuations in trade. In 1725, 'the Poor distressed Bay Weavers in Colchester' sent a petition to the King, complaining about the oppression of their Masters 'the Bay makers that trade to the Dutch bay Hall', for reducing their wages; it was signed by over 120 bay weavers. In January 1725 there were weavers' riots in Colchester. The rioters broke into the town gaol and released a rioter, and the ringleader John Curtin was shot dead after resisting arrest by the constables. At the request of the baymakers, troops were sent to suppress the rioting.
In 1793, Richard Patmore, a baymaker of West Stockwell Street, was indicted for distributing part of Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man", which was considered subversive.)
Other places in the town with associations with cloth-making are:
* Cannock mill in Old Heath Road (a fulling mill)
* East Mills by East Bridge (once included a fulling mill)
* 77 East Hill (originally a bay and say warehouse, according to Richard Shackle; and, also, the owners of the warehouse lived in the house opposite)
* a building to the rear of Winsley's House, at the far east end of the High Street (originally a bay and say warehouse, according to Richard Shackle)
* 6-7 East Hill (once a woollen cloth factory, according to Shani D’Cruze)
* the castle was used as a wool store for the town's annual wool fair (in 1806)
* the Riverside Hotel (formerly the Castle inn) on North Station Road was, in 1691, owned by Abraham Fromanteel (baymaker) and Samuel Daniell (linen draper)
* 96 High Street was, for generations, the home and business premises of the Shillito family, cardmakers
* 30 East Stockwell Street (Peake's House) may have been the house of a weaver, as it has what looks like a weaver’s window on the first floor
* 35 West Stockwell Street was formerly the Bishop Blaize inn, where the town’s woolcombers met (St Blaize was their patron saint)
* the Dutch congregation met in All Saints’ church until it was disbanded in 1728
* the Red Lion inn, where a meeting of creditors was held on the 3rd May 1756 for the bankruptcy of 'Bay-Maker' Upcher Alefounder
* the Faunus and Firkin wine bar in the High Street was formerly the Bay and Say public house, and originally The Lamb.

Stalls were set up in the High Street to sell cloth, probably in the upper part near the Exchange/Dutch Bay Hall. Abbeygate Street was once 'Clothiers Lane' (on a map of 1748).
Cloth merchants in the town could build up great wealth and power from their exploitation of the labour and poverty of their cloth workers, and they paid for some of the finest buildngs in the town.
* 24 North Hill (now the Marquis of Granby pub.) was a house owned and perhaps built by wealthy clothier Henry Webbe in the early 16th century.
* The Minories art gallery and art school on East Hill was originally a fine house, bought by baymaker Isaac Boggis in 1731. In 1762, his son Thomas Boggis, wealthy baymaker or bay merchant, inherited the house. He modernised it after 1775; the property included a bay and say warehouse adjacent to the house, on its east side (now demolished).
* 83-84 High Street was a house built for baymaker and mayor William Boyes. It was later lived in by Charles Hills, another baymaker, c 1768-1780. In 1781 the property was described as '... large lofty warehouses and chambers over the same, lately used in the manufacture of baize ...'.
* Rebow’s House on the corner of Head Street and Sir Isaac's Walk was built in its present form by Sir Isaac Rebow MP who made his fortune in the cloth trade; his memorial survives in Colchester Arts Centre (formerly St Mary-at-the-Walls church).
* Winsley’s House at the east end of the High Street was the home of wealthy baymaker Arthur Winsley; he founded Winsley’s Almshouses in Old Heath Road and his memorial survives in St James' Church. (Winsley Road in New Town is named after him.)
* Winnock's Almshouses in Military Road were built in 1678 by John Winnock, a wealthy clothier or baymaker. (Winnock Road in New Town is named after him.)
* 2-3 Trinity Street was once the home of Benjamin Smith, a baymaker who went bankrupt.
[Read more about all these buildings in their entries on this web-site.]
The wealthy baymakers also owned lots of small houses in the town, which their weavers were forced to rent from them; and some cloth 'factories' were buildings which weavers were forced to work in by renting space from the baymakers.
There is a gravestone in St Martin's churchyard for Jacob Ringer Bays Maker, and a brass memorial in St James' Church to John Maynard, clothier and alderman. There is a memorial to the Colchester martyrs in St Peter's Church: two of the martyrs, John Spencer and Richard Nichols, were weavers. There is a stained glass Weavers' Memorial Window in the Council Chamber of the Town Hall.
The Dutch Bay Hall, the cloth trading centre in the town, once occupied the upper floor of the Exchange building in the High Street, on the site of the Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Office building.
Other demolished buildings associated with the cloth trade include North Mill and Stokes Mill, and the Weavers' Arms inn at 11 Middleborough, where the weavers used to meet.
[Note: '... Colchester contains about 8,000 inhabitants. The principal manufacture is baize, which is mostly exported to Spain. The trade is in a declining state, owing to the war between France and Spain. About 100 looms are employed in silk manufacture. Weavers earn from 8s. to 9s. a week ; wool combers, 10s. to 12s. ; spinners, from 4d. to 6d. a day. Children 8 or 9 years old earn by spinning 2d, to 3d. a day ; card makers, 2s. a day ; women weavers, from 5s. to 5s. 6d. a week ; agricultural labourers receive during harvest, 1s. 8d. to 2s, a day ; common labourers, 1s. 6d. a day. There are 18 friendly Societies with 20 to 40 members each, who pay 1s. monthly into the box. Sick members receive 8s. to 10s a week, and aged members 6s a week. The parishes in Colchester were formerly incorporated for the purpose of supporting their Poor, but about 50 years ago they were disunited, and now each parish manages its own Poor ...' - from Eden's survey of the poor in 1797, at ]