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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Fulling and Fulling Mills.
by Joseph Pettitt.

Fulling mills, introduced into England in the late twelfth century, See Footnote [1] had disappeared by the eighteenth in the south-east. The will of "John Peckham, fuller" of Fletching in Sussex is dated 1767; See Footnote [2] he was probably among the last.

Fulling was the processing of cloth which followed weaving. It entailed cleaning, compacting and tentering (stretching).

Before the introduction of mechanisation the cloth was beaten in water troughs with "bats" or trodden with the feet. Hence the names Master Fuller (later Mister and so Mr) and Master Walker. Cleaning materials were chamber-lye, fuller's earth, soap or just water. Wool when wet "felts" under compression and the cloth was thus compacted. After this the cloth was dried while stretched on tenter-frames; the hooks for the points of attachment were called tenterhooks (hence the metaphor of anguish).

If a nap was required, fullers' teazles, the flower head having hooked spines, were dragged across the cloth. (Mr Napper, or Napier, was the tender of the royal napey, not a nap-processor). If a smooth finish was required, Mr Shearer or Shearman set to work with his shears. Mr Ticker folded the cloth for the market but his name was eventually extended to the whole process.

In a fulling mill hammers operated by water power struck the cloth in running water.

Evidence for fulling must be largely documentary. Visual remains will be nil for pre-mechanised work; a bay with a pond or a broken bay with alluvium up-stream might indicate a corn mill, iron mill, fish pond or simply an ornamental pond. Occasionally one finds a document mentioning fulling or 'where a fulling mill lately stood'.

Field names may be specific, e.g. "Fulling Mill Field"; or "Tenter's" (in the Weald often "Tainter's"). These last may be away from water and one is often in doubt as to whether the site was associated with hand or mechanised fulling. "Fuller's" is ambivalent: it may be specific or it may indicate an occupier whose surname was "Fuller's" long after surnames were fixed and so meaningless. Even more doubtful is "Weaver's" which has a different and specific meaning generally.

Was "Tucker" a Wealden craft name? A will of 1600 See Footnote [3] indicates that it was.

So one might investigate "Tuck(er's)" fields and "Walker"? Helena Hall records "Walker" and "Walker Mill" for Sussex. See Footnote [4]

Every parish had its fuller and there are indications that most parishes at some time had a fulling mill. So here is scope for combining document and fieldwork. For those who are not diggers, here is an opportunity for a fuller life!


Footnote 1.

E M Carus-Wilson, "An Industrial Revolution of the Thirteenth Century" in Economic History Review, XI (1941); reprinted in Essays in Economic History, Volume ONE (1954), 46. See also R A Pelham's Fulling Mills, Number 5 of the publications of The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (Wind and Watermill section). Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 2.

East Sussex Record Office : A61, page 547). Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 3.

W D Parish's Dictionary of the Sussex Dialect, expanded and augmented by 'Helena Hall (1957).

See also "Cloth Making" in The Victoria County History, Kent, volume 2, especially pages 396, 403, and 404. A Tucker is mentioned for Hythe on page 403. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 4.

Tithe Apportionment Schedules (circa 1840) have comprehensive lists of field-names for each parish. Sites may be identified on the accompanying tithe-map and then marked on a modern OS 2 inch or 6 inch map. Return to the paragraph.
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