Since its introduction to the global market, communities around the world have used European made wool cloth in place of traditional materials in the making and decorating of clothing and other items.
This theme focuses on cloths imported by the Hudson’s Bay Company trading from the late 1600s with Native Americans in northern North America, and the British East India Company which traded widely in Asia from the 17th century.
Most content comes from an exhibition held at RAMM. This was inspired by tradecloth, used on objects in the Museum’s World Cultures collection and research undertaken by conservator Morwena Stephens, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB). The exhibition ran from 8 May to 4 September 2004 and continued at The Museum in the Park, Stroud, 8 October 2005 – 16 April 2006.
Thanks are due to Cory Willmott of the University of Manitoba, Susan Heald and Dominique Cocuzza of the National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution, Carolyn Corey textile dyer and historian, Ian Mackintosh of the Stroudwater Textile Trust, Susan Hayward of Museum in the Park, Stroud, Sherry Doyal, Conservator and Geoffrey Slater from Coldharbour Mill Museum for helping to develop and inform the research for this exhibition.
We are grateful to Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and Tabitha Cadbury, Curatorial Assistant for Anthropology for the loan of the ‘Stroud’ strap dress.
Thank you to all the staff and volunteers in the partner organisations who have worked hard to make the project happen.
Generous support from the Heritage Lottery Fund made the exhibition and associated activities possible, with additional support from the AHRB Research Centre for Textile Conservation and Textile Studies.
From the Middle Ages, British wool was the foundation upon which domestic and foreign trade developed and flourished. In the South West, the Stroud Valleys of Gloucestershire and the county of Devon played an important role in this industry.
The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was established by Royal Charter from Charles II in 1670. The charter gave the company control over one third of present-day Canadian territory.
The East India Company was established to rival the Portuguese and Dutch in the spice trade from Asia.
Broadcloth and Devonshire long ell making involved many stages of manufacture by different skilled workers, as described by Thomas Fox in 1813: ‘Woolsorters, Washers, Scourers, Combers, Spinners, Spoolers, Warpers, Weavers, Quillers, Millmen, Burlers, Packers, Helpers &c.’
Many examples of wool tradecloth prominent in ethnographic collections are red, a colour of great symbolic importance to many cultures.
This exhibition is related to a research project studying the characteristics of cloth made for trade by the Hudson’s Bay Company and the East India Company.
The indigenous communities trading with the Hudson’s Bay Company and the East India Company adapted the cloth and integrated it into their own traditions of material culture.
A glossary of terms