Gossypium, the cotton genus, belongs in the world of botanics to the tribe Gossypieae part of the mallow family. Its flowers are creamy-white which later turn a deep pink and fall off, leaving seed pods called ‘cotton bolls’. Inside the bolls are seeds surrounded by fibres which are spun into thread for cloth and still today, in the age of synthetic fibres, accounts for forty per cent of the world’s textiles. There are thought to be over fifty species of the plant, only four of which have been domesticated and cultivated, two in the New World and two in South East Asia where it is believed that civilisations in the Indus valley were skilled in spinning, weaving and dyeing cotton over 5,000 years ago.
Cloth had been woven from early times for home use but our geographical position with uplands and downs suitable for sheep grazing made England a sheep rearing country while our strong ties with Flanders going back to the time of Alfred the Great saw a bond with the skills and markets of the Flemish people.
Once established in Lancashire there were many reasons why it would develop rapidly.
– that the organisation for providing the material and disposing of the finished product was already established through the ancient trade of linens and woollens
– it was free from the restrictions that inhibited the older trades and in Manchester, a market town under the constable, freemen were favour end to the detriment of strangers
One of the earliest references to cotton in Manchester comes from Irish state papers which say that in 1533 ” Irish dealers carried to Liverpool much Irish yarn that Manchester men do buy there” and in 1572 when the Queen was “besieged for patents to bring Irish yarn to Manchester where 4,000 hands were employed in weaving.”
By 1641 it was firmly established, mentioned by Lewes Roberts in Treasury of Traffic, “The people of Manchester should be remembered and worthily and for their industry commended.”
In 1650 the trade of Manchester consisted chiefly of “woollen friezes, fustian, sack cloths, mingled stuffs, caps, inkles, tapes and points etc”