Tiverton Wool Trade No 4 of 5 on the history of this Devon town
The Devon town of Tiverton, 'two-ford-town', owes this name to its location between two rivers and its fame to the industry – the wool trade – which developed alongside them in the Middle Ages. In its heyday (1500-1750), thousands found work in the manufacture of woollen cloth and merchants grew rich on their profits. Their heritage can be followed around the town today.
JOHN GREENWAY (c1460-1529) was the first great Tiverton merchant. He traded from London and Topsham, exporting West Country cloth, hides and tin, for wine, dyes, salt, linen and canvas, from Brittany, Spain and the Netherlands. In 1497 he was admitted to the Drapers' Company of London and became a leading member of the Merchant Adventurers' Company, a protective export guild. He owned several armed cargo ships.
In the Middle Ages, trade went hand in hand with Christian belief. Wealthy people often gave money to establish a Chantry Chapel within a Church where people could pray for their souls. Others gave money for Almshouses with a Chapel attached. Greenway did both of these 'good works'.
GREENWAY'S CHAPEL, ST PETER'S CHURCH, 1517. This is St Peter's most inspiring feature. (DEL: It dates from 1517) Built in white Beer stone, completed perhaps in time for his father's burial, it is dedicated to the saints important to John Greenway – St Blaise, St Christopher and St Anne, patrons of cloth workers, travellers and Brittany respectively.
GREENWAY'S ALMSHOUSES, 1520s. Here in Gold Street are his Almshouses, once homes for five poor men who could no longer work. Each received eight pence a week and in return had to pray for the souls of John and Joan Greenway. (DELETE: Inscriptions instruct others also to pray, although few could read at that time). The Almshouses have been extensively rebuilt but the tiny Tudor Chapel survived even the devastating 1731 fire which started in a bakery close by.
Now part of the Tiverton Almshouse Trust, Greenway's bequest thrives, a lasting legacy and a model of its kind. Additions opened by Prince Charles in 2004 bring the total to forty residential units.
© Copyright of Lifechart 2008
Merchants' Trail was devised, researched and written by Tiverton Civic Society and commissioned by Mid Devon District Council, with Heritage Lottery Funding. Design and production was by Lifechart. Directions and medallions were by local schoolchildren. Full acknowledgments and further information is available at www.tivertoncivicsoc.org.uk.
Size shown is inside frame measurement
Mounted on 40mm deep wooden frame
159mm square with 350-word feature
Size shown is approx. image area
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