Exeter charity marks 400th anniversary with big celebration and a special unveiling

PUBLISHED: 16:18 29 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:29 30 September 2020

The original Royal Charter from 1620 is in excellent condition.  Photo: Moments to Media

The original Royal Charter from 1620 is in excellent condition. Photo: Moments to Media

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The Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen unveils new gates at its historic HQ

New commemorative railings by blacksmith artist David Tucker, depicting the cloth trade as a signpost to Tuckers Hall. Photo: Moments to MediaNew commemorative railings by blacksmith artist David Tucker, depicting the cloth trade as a signpost to Tuckers Hall. Photo: Moments to Media

On 3 August 1620, a crowd gathered in front of Tuckers Hall in Exeter to greet Thomas Shapcot who had journeyed from London on horseback bearing the Royal Charter granted by King James I.

The royal seal of approval allowed the Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen of the city to become an Incorporation, enabling them to be a self-governing body protecting the trades, mysteries and quality of cloth-making from outside influences which had affected reputation and price to an unsustainable level.

The impact of this trade has influenced the history of the Exeter ever since, However, this remains little known to many of its present day citizens and visitors.

Tuckers Hall in Fore Street is a unique medieval hall built, owned, and occupied by ancient guilds of cloth workers since 1471, controlling the manufacture of woollen cloth-making and trading in Exeter.

New commemorative gate at Tuckers Hall designed by blacksmith artist, David Tucker. Photo: Moments to MediaNew commemorative gate at Tuckers Hall designed by blacksmith artist, David Tucker. Photo: Moments to Media

A significant piece of history, The King’s seal of approval, helped Exeter to excel, leading to a prosperous era of 150 years of cloth-making. At one point over 1,000 pieces of cloth a day were being produced in the city, with 400 master craftsmen belonging to the Incorporation, representing 25% of the nation’s production. Exports from the port of Exeter increased, making it the third most important city outside London.

READ MORE: 30 great days out to enjoy in Exeter

Fast forward 400 years and members of the Incorporation gathered in ceremonial robes to honour the anniversary of the granting of the Charter, which allowed the newly incorporated guilds to become freemen. Representing Thomas Shapcot, Jeremy James Taylor OBE dressed in 1620-style costume to read aloud the first line: “James by the name of God our King of England, Scotland, France and Ireland; Defender of the Faith to whom all these present, shall come greetings.”

Ian Gardner, now Master of the modern day incarnatiion of The Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen, says: “The original Charter is kept at the South West Heritage Trust and we are grateful to them for loaning it on the day.

“Also, a thank you to RAMM in Exeter for two intricate 18th century wooden tillet blocks, used as early trademarks when business was booming in Exeter, because of the cloth trade to Europe.”

As part of the 400th anniversary celebrations, new commemorative railings were unveiled by Head Warden Nicky Baker outside Tuckers Hall. Beautifully hand-crafted by blacksmith artist David Tucker and substantially funded by Coastal Recycling Community Fund as part of their corporate social responsibility activities, they illustrate the process from sheep to ship; acting as a signpost to the importance of the cloth trade to the city.

From 1642 onwards, there has been a history of charitable giving by the Incorporation and this continues today. Says Ian: “We are proud to support local projects such as YMCA Exeter, and recently purchased the freehold property Cornerstone in Kimberly Road, to enable Hair@theAcademy continue their good works in supporting vulnerable young people to gain qualifications in hairdressing.”

Find out more about here the charity’s work and its history

FACTS ABOUT EXETER AND THE CLOTH TRADE

Exeter was one of the most important UK centres for woollen cloth, employing seven out of ten people in the city at its peak.

Shearmen did not shear sheep - they trimmed finished cloth with shears weighing 22lb.

Many Devonian family names come from the trade: Weaver; Stocker; Knap, Shearer and Walker (a man who walked the slurry liquor into the wool).

Stale urine (known as wash) was a source of ammonium salts to whiten the cloth.

Tucker is the Devon word for a Fuller who washed the cloth and pounded in fulling stocks to soften the texture.

The phrase ‘cloth ears’ came from deafness caused by the constant noise of looms and fulling hammers.

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