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Wales-New Zealand Family History Society

a.k.a.    WANZ


WOOLLEN - where is it?

Published in The Welsh Connection - January 2004  #50

My forebears were buried in Woollen .................. where can I find Woollen?

A common question for genealogists!    

About Woollen

An act was passed in 1667 and 1678.

"No corps should be burying in anything other than what is made of sheep's wool only; or put into any coffin lined or faced with any material but sheep's wool, on pain of forteiture of £5."  With the exception of those who died from the Plague."

By 1814 the Acts were repealed.
In addition an affidavit to that effect was required not later than 8 days after the burial.

Lanatus - clothed in wool; buried in woollen.

Naked - this was a note made in the burial register when the body was unshrouded and the coffin was unlined.  This was often the case with the poor who could not afford the fine for burying the dead in anything other than wool.

The European textile markets depended upon the supply of raw wool.  In Britain this was a cottage industry, sheep farmers and cottagers each doing their small part.  The importance of wool is reflected in the presence of the Woolsack upon which the Lord Chancellor in Parliament sits.  It was introduced by King Edward III, 1327-77 and was stuffed with English wool as a reminder of England's traditional source of wealth - the wool trade. 

A rise in the price of wool in the sixteenth century, became important, as sheep were well suited to the pasture of Welsh hillsides.  Welsh woollen cloth was regarded as coarse and inferior, a reflection of a cottage-based industry.  But English cloth merchants attended Welsh fairs for the purchase of wool and cloth which they conveyed to English centres for further working.

Many of the bigger homesteads had their looms and weaving sheds, whilst the poorest cottage had hand-cards and spinning wheel.  Women learnt to knit ' as soon as they could talk", and finished a whole stocking a day.  According to one authority: "Every pennyworth of wool was converted into a shilling". As much as half-a-guinea was paid for a pair of hose made from the soft wool of Merionethshire.  Factories were set up in such towns as Dolgelley in the valley of Mawddach, and Machynlleth and Llanbrynmair in the vale of Dovey.  The industry was located in areas where water-power could be harnessed and between 1800 and 1830, many spinning and weaving factories were established, particularly in the Severn valley, an area which was linked with canal system of the kingdom in 1821.  

The Welsh economy was profiting increasingly from maritime trade with the rest of the world. Instead of transporting the wool to England, flannel and other woollen goods were exported from the ports of Wales, largely to America.  There, they were used to clothe soldiers and slaves.  Successive monarchs taxed the wool trade, especially when they had special need for added revenue, such as in times of ware.  In 1340, 30,000 sacks of wool were granted to King Edward III to support the French war.

Wool was made up into bales and half-bales, a full bale consisting of 110 yards.  The warp of the product was made of the fleece wool of the country, and the woof, was mixture of the same material with from 30% to 50% of lamb's wool.  It was made entirely on handlooms.  As a rule, the clip was sold in its rough unbleached state, and sent elsewhere for bleaching and fulling. About 1780, fulling-mills were established in the neighbourhood - which accounts for the presence of so many 'pandys' in the vicinity, and it became customary to hand the products for bleaching on wooden trellises or 'tenters' as they were called, which were a common feature of the countryside.

The History of Wales, J. Graham Jones
Brief Glory - The Story of a Quest, D.W. Morgan
A History of Wales, John Davies
The Story of Two parishes, Dolgelley & Llanelltyd, T.P. Ellis

Woollen Family Names

Family names which have come through participation in the wool trade.

Shepherd - tended the sheep
Pack / Packer / Packman and Lane / Laney / Lanier - transported the fleeces
Stapler / Staples - bought the raw wool
Card / Carder, Tozer / Towzer, Kemp / Kemper / Kempster (= combe) combed the wool
Dyer, Littester / Lister - dyed the wool
Webb Webber / Webster (German:Weber) - wove the fabric
Fuller, Tuck / Tucker / Tuckerman - fulled the fabric to create a nap
Shears, Sharman / Shearman - used shears to remove the nap from woollen cloth to produce finer qualities of fabric
Clothier, Draper - prepared the woollen cloth and sold it to the tailors
Taylor. Cutter - made the wool into garments.
There are also place names based on wool that have become family names"
Woolley, Wolsey
Shipley, Shepley
Sheppey, Shepperton
Shefford / Shifford
Shipton, Shepton  - (sheep-lead, sheep-town)

 1811 Woollen Occupations

Holdens Directory 1811,  some references to occupations related to the woollen industry.

Bridgend - a Woollen manufacturory establishment here..........
Builth - Thomas WOOSTNAM - skinner and woolstapler
Caerphilly, Glamorgan - The principal manufactories are woollen and iron goods.
Evan JAMES - woollen mfg & weaver
Thomas WILLIAMS - woollen mfg & weaver
William WILLIAMS - woollen mfg & dyer
Cardiff - John TOWNSEND - worsted mfg.
Carmarthen - David DAVIES - mfg woollen
Dolgelly - Manufacturers coarse woollen cloth
David GRIFFITH, John HOWELL, Robert JONES, William JONES,

Griffith JONES, Rees LEWIS, Evan OWENS, Robert OWENS
Knighton, Radnorshire - Edward MORGAN - wool stapler
Llandaff, Glamorgan - John HILL
Llanidloes, Montgomery - Considerable manufactories of flannels & woollen
John MARPOTE - wool card mfg & flannel mfg
Llandyllins, Montgomery - Flannel mfg
Machynlleth, Montgomery - The principal manufactories are woollen goods
John JONES - drover and famer
Owen JONES, John PUGH, John HUGHES, Arthur WILLIAMS - woollen mfg's
Neath - Phillip JONES & Co. - woollen mfg.
Presteign, Radnor - John GRIFFITHS - woollen mfg.
Wrexham, Denbigh - Richard LLOYD - woollen merchant, Chester Street


Burial of a Shepherd

It is said that at one time there was a certain ritual adhered to when shepherds departed from this world.  These keepers of the flock had conscientiously cared for their sheep for seven days a week and for such devotion had received a meagre wage.  They had very little opportunity of attending church.  Being a stout hearted breed, they were out all year round on the hills. To jog the Almighty's memory that they even existed, a custom was employed which was meant to excuse their absence from church.  A reminder was placed on a dead shepherd's chest before his coffin lid was finally sealed prior to burial - a clipping of sheep's wool.  It was a gentle reminder that the body had been so hard at work all year and every year, caring for his flock, that he had not opportunity to attend church.


The Fleece

Dyer, an English poet, who wrote "the Fleece" in the year 1757, says:

From one-wheel spinning
And many yet adhere
To the ancient distaff at the bosom fixed,
Casting the whirling spindle as they walk;
At home, or in the sheepfold, or the mart,
Alike the work proceeds.

To a new invented machine for the spinning of wool in a manner entirely new.

But patient art,
That on experience works from hour to hour,
Sagacious, has a spiral engine form'd,
Which on an hundred spoles, an hundred threads,
With one huge wheel, by lapse of water, twines,
Few hands requiring' easy tended work,
That copiously supplies the greedy loom.



Believe it or not

Miscellaneous 'facts' about Wool

English wool (which included Welsh wool) was sold to the most skilled weavers in Europe (the Flemish) and the resulting yarn used for a number of purposes not necessarily connected with textiles.
One of these uses was the manufacture of bow strings.  Welsh woold twisted into twine made the strongest box strings in Europe.  The strength of the resulting twin enabled the Welsh to cut a much narrower notch in their arrows than the French.  In medieval warfare archers soon ran out of arrows and relied on being able to use arrows fired by their opponents.  The narrow v-shaped notch in Welsh arrows was too narrow for the French to be able to fire them back, using the thick -twined bows they carried.  The Welsh, however, were easily able to fire back French arrows as they fitted the narrow  bow string perfectly well.

Source: -

One pound of wool can be spun into 20 miles of yarn
A perfectly preserved woollen sock was found  buried in silt on the banks of a river in England. The sock is estimated to be 1,000 years old.

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