Celia Fiennes’s account of the handling of serges in Exeter in 1698

‘.. besides the large Market house set on stone pillars which runs a great length on which they lay their packs of serges, just by it is another walke within pillars which is for the yarne; the whole town and country is employ’d for at least 20 mile around in spinning, weaveing, dressing, and scouring, fulling and drying of the serges, it turns the most money in a weeke of anything in England, one weeke with another there is 10000 pound paid in ready money, sometymes 15000 pound; the weavers brings in their serges and must have their money which they employ to provide them yarne to goe to work againe.

The carryers I met going with it as thick all entring into town, with their loaded horses, they bring them all just from the loome and soe they are put into the fulling-mills, but first they will clean and scour their rooms with them – which by the way gives noe pleasing perfume to a roome, the oyle and grease, and I should think it would rather foull a room than cleanse it becausse of the oyle – but I perceive its otherwise esteemed by them, which will send to their acquaintainces that are tuckers [i.e. fullers or cloth-finishers] the dayes the serges comes in for a rowle to cleane their house, this I was an eye witness of; then they lay them in soack in urine, then they soape them and soe put them into the fulling mills and soe work them in the mills drye till they are thick enough, then they turne water into them and so scower them; the mill does draw out and gather in the serges, its a pretty divertion to see it, a sort of huge notch’d timbers like great teeth, one would thinke it should injure the serges but it does not, the mills draws in with such a great violence that if one stands neere it, and it catch a bitt of your garments it would be ready to draw in the person even in a trice; when they are thus scour’d they drye them in racks strained out, which are as thick set one by another as will permitt the dresser to pass between, and huge large fields occupy’d this way almost all round the town which is to the river side; then when drye they burle them picking out all knotts, then fold them with a paper between every fold and so sett them on an iron plaite and screw down the press on them, which has another iron plaite on the top under which is a furnace of fire of coales, this is the hott press, then they fold them exceeding exact and then press them in a cold press; some they dye but the most are sent up for London white.’