Cloth and Politics

The cottons, especially the calicoes, imported from India became very popular. In England, which had always had a thriving wool trade, various protectionist laws were established to protect the woolen industry from this threat. First the printed calicoes were banned. This created trade in the gray unfinished cloth (fustian) which was sent to London to be finished.

The wool trade objected when the imports of cotton recovered. Parliament passed a law fining anyone caught wearing dyed or ‘stained’ calico, but they exempted neckcloths and fustian.

In 1783 Thomas Bell invented a process to print cotton using copper rollers. At first only a few pieces were printed but by 1850 over 20,000 pieces were completed.

Now the Calico printers in their turn took steps to protect their product. In 1916, they and the other printers joined and formed a trade association. This then set minimum prices for each ‘price section’ of the industry. This held until 1954 when it was challenged by the government Monopolies Commission.

Even printed cloth has a political history.


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