The Devon Wool Trade

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In 1538, a group of merchants set up a Cloth Market in Exeter next to the existing Wool and Yarn Market in Northgate Street. The Merchants of Crediton, just a few miles away, who already had what they considered to be a perfectly satisfactory Cloth Market, wanted no rivals and were far from pleased. It was a turning point, not only in the history of Exeter but in the history of the Woollen Trade in Britain.

By 1700, it was said that 4 out of 5 people in Exeter owed their livelihood to this trade and probably a similar number in the countryside were making a contribution to the prosperity of Devon as a County. Exeter grew to become the 4th most prosperous town in the United Kingdom.

And the Stentifords? Let's examine some of the clues and pointers to their involvement in the woollen industry, beginning with Professor Hoskin's map taken from his book "Industry, Trade and People in Exeter 1688-1800" *

ŠThe Executors of the late Professor W.G.Hoskins

To a member of one of the Stentiford family groups, this looks like a map of our history. It is dated by the year 1700 but events proceeded slowly in the 16th and 17th centuries. Think of the map as a summing-up of a series of trade developments and family moves, some of which took place before the Serge Industry became established and some afterwards.

We can begin to see a reason for the acquisition of grazing land on Dartmoor, for the move by some family members to Calstock (just south of Callington in the map) in order to gain access to river transportation, for the move to Ugborough (just north of Modbury) to extend and improve grazing. And we can see why other members of the family moved to Exeter - merchants were needed there to protect the family interests in this vital trading centre.

* Published by Exeter University Press which has  a serious collection of books of interest to local historians on their list - visit them at


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