0037 Old DecreeThe fortunes of the Guild closely followed those of Exeter’s woollen cloth industry. When the trade boomed in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Guild came of age, establishing itself as one of the most important organisations in the life of the city.

Progress to this position of power wasn’t always smooth – one episode nearly saw the Guild evicted from Tuckers Hall altogether! – but by 1600 the organisation was growing in confidence. At that point its membership numbered around 100.

However, one major problem remained for the Guild. Its members were proud, independent craftsmen, some of whom had become quite wealthy. All resented interference in their trade; however, the guild still remained under the close control of the city’s Mayor and his council known as the Chamber. Many members of the Chamber came from Exeter’s merchant class and represented their own interests rather than those of the guild.

For decades the guild struggled for greater independence from Exeter’s Chamber. Finally, in 1620 King James I granted a Royal Charter which established the Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen, the name by which the guild is still known today. Critically, the Royal Charter also gave the new Incorporation greater freedom, granting it more direct control over who could produce Exeter’s woollen cloth and the standards of production. At a time when the trade was expanding and prospering, this was a key victory.

By 1700 Exeter was responsible for a quarter of England’s woollen cloth trade. The Incorporation was booming and could boast a membership of 400 craftsmen. A few of its members even crossed a social divide to become merchants, exporting cloth to foreign markets and becoming wealthy men in the process. Little wonder that in this period members of the Incorporation were sometimes called Golden Tuckers.

But these days were not to last forever. For the Exeter cloth trade and the Incorporation of Weavers, Fullers and Shearmen, this period of prosperity was about to pass.

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