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Russian Hemp Bale Seals from

Crediton & Topsham, Devon

   The river Culm flows from the Blackdown Hills into the Exe and out to sea through the ports of Exeter and Topsham. There is a long history of cloth and clothing production in settlements and mills using water power along the Culm, with some exports from Exeter and Topsham. The production and distribution of cloth in the Culm Valley is situated within a wider area, with links to clothiers, manufacturers and financiers in Wellington, Tiverton, Crediton and Exeter

      Crediton is said to have held the only South West cloth market up to 1538. Kerseys and later serges and flax were produced up to the 18th century with export to Holland, Germany and Portugal through the port of Exeter. Despite two major fires and strong competition from the industrialised north, in 1841 there were still 280 weavers, then leather making, boot and shoe making came to the fore.

          Serge, mainly from Exeter, Crediton, Tiverton, Cullompton, Wellington and Uffculme, was exported from Topsham to the continent with merchants’ houses and former warehouses along the Strand, and Topsham Quay. Topsham Museum has displays of local maritime history and other items related to the cloth trade including a tillett wrapper used by Fox brothers at Coldharbour Mill, to identify cloth exported through the East India Company. Several cloth merchants had houses in Topsham and the Topsham Quaker community had kinship links to the Were and Fox families of Uffculme and Wellington.

   Tiverton's time came in 1815 when industrialist John Heathcoat bought an old woollen mill on the River Exe. It followed the destruction of his factory and machinery in Loughborough by Luddites thought to have been in the pay of the Lacemakers of Nottingham. As a result he moved his entire lace-making operation to Tiverton and such was his reputation for looking after his workforce that 500 people – workers and families – walked the 190 miles from Loughborough to come and live and work for him in Tiverton. The factory turned round the fortunes of the town and once again it became a significant industrial centre in the south west.

   Bradfield Mill A cloth factory built by Cullompton men Brown and Fowler of Cullompton in the 1790s with Joseph Davy later becoming a partner. Brown and Davy produced worleys for the East India Company. After bankruptcy the mill was acquired by William Upcott and worked as a wool factory until 1870.

   Uffculme, Coldharbour Mill. The last 18th century working woollen mill in the West Country. Founded 1797 by Quaker Thomas Fox who built on the serge making business of his forebears, the Were family of Uffculme and Wellington. Production continued into the late 1970s after which the Mill re-opened as a Working Wool Museum. The pictures are modern day Coldharbour Mill.

    Bradninch. 3 generations of Cullompton Upcotts ran Northdown Mill from 1795: the mill was used as a woollen factory and 6 cottages occupied by spinners (women) and carders (men). In 1824 the Mill was destroyed by fire.

    Culmstock had a long tradition of cloth making. In 1394 a Culmstock man was the fourth largest wool merchant in Devon. Fox Brothers built a mill here in 1822 to spin yarn; William Upcott later took over the mill and operated it until 1870. Fox Brothers reopened Culmstock Mill for spinning and darning.

    Wellington. The Were family were active woollen manufacturers in Wellington from around 1730 and built the original Tone Mills in 1754. Thomas Fox, grandson of Thomas Were, became involved and when his grandfather retired in 1770 he was part of the new partnership established. Tonedale Mill complex was developed in several stages. Other woollen mills in Wellington - Westford and Prowses - were run by the Elworthy family, and Egerton Burnett cloth manufacturers were active from about 1835. 


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Michael Patrick

   IDS 1384 .. HИЖHOCУXOHCKOИ = Lower Sukhona River .. Sukhona is a river in the Vologda Province from where the Ustyug Region produced high quality flax. ..    "found in R. Yeo, Crediton - now in Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter (Acc.No.99/1932)"

   Flax Mill in Crediton, Devon  by Mike Patrick

Crediton in Devon has a long history of the manufacture of woollen cloth. What is less-known is that in the early 19th century a factory was developed for the manufacture of flax yarn.
   John Cadlick Davy was a successful Devon clothier who had a serge manufactory at Crediton. Following his death in 1783, a partnership was formed between two of his older sons, William and Samuel who carried on business under the Firm of J. C. Davy and Sons. This partnership was, by mutual consent dissolved on the 24th Day of June 1795, after which date the business was carried on by Samuel Davy and Isaac Davy, under, the same Firm of J. C. Davy and Sons, on their sole Account.  The eldest son, William Davy, had married Susanna Broom, in 1780, and fathered several children before moving to the U.S.A. He arrived, with his family, in Philadelphia and was naturalized in 1796. He became a merchant in Philadelphia, where he remained until about 1812. In 1807, he was appointed Principal Agent of the Indian Department in the Jefferson government. Later, in 1816, he was appointed Consul of the U.S.A. in Leeds, England, where he stayed until his death in 1827. On a June day at the end of 1805, between two and three o'clock in the morning, a fire broke out at Messrs Davy and Co.'s woollen manufactory, at Fordton, near Crediton, which burnt with great fury for two hours, and entirely consumed the machinery and mills. Interestingly, Samuel Davy became a Director of the West of England Fire Insurance Company in December 1807.  By 1811 a guide to Devon announced that, "At Fordton, near Crediton, a considerable woollen factory has been converted into a mill for spinning flax, where this process is carried on in a very extensive and complete manner; and some of the thread is made into linen cloth, and bleached at the same place." A decade later, the Lysons wrote that “At Fordton, near Crediton, in the extensive buildings formerly occupied by the woollen manufacture of Messrs. Davy, dowlas, and other coarse linens, are now made”.
 The location of the factory can be seen on the 1839 Tithe Map of Crediton, but by the time of the Ordnance Survey map of 1890-1891, the factory has been demolished and is shown as the “Four-Mills (ruins).” Four Mills had been the name of the original mill used for fulling serge (a pair of “twin” fulling stocks).

   It is known that in the early part of the 19th century, the adjacent port of Topsham, 12 miles away, received a number of shipments each year of naval stores from the Baltic (hemp, flax, pitch, tar and tallow). Hemp was used in the rope manufactory at Topsham and although a little flax was grown in East Devon, it is quite possible that some of this imported flax was used to make sail-cloth at Crediton.
    A challenge remains for Devon metal-detectorists. Are there unexplored fields near Crediton which may be hiding Lead Flax Seals from the Baltic?
   Some Hemp seals have been found at Topsham not far from the old Rope-Walk.

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Topsham was once the second busiest port in England.

 Trade with the Baltic by Mike Patrick 

Please note this article is primarily about the HEMP trade at Topsham near Exeter and references in this article do NOT necessarily apply to the country as a whole.  The book “Around Topsham in Old Photographs” produced by Topsham Museum Society in 1990, included photographs of inscribed stones found at Rivers-meet, Topsham. One of them, located on the north shore of the River Clyst immediately outside the high wall, which encloses Rivers-meet, commemorates trade with the Baltic. It reads “1852 to 1861 SEVERAL CARGOES OF HEMP &c. FROM THE BALTIC DISCHARGED HERE   F.D.”  Inscribed stone found at Riversmeet.

      The initials F.D. refer to Francis Davy (1810-96), the youngest son of Robert Davy, shipbuilder of Countess Wear, who like his father, was also an iron and hemp merchant. Francis Davy built Rivers-meet House having enclosed the marshy ground on which it was built. This brief article examines the extent of the Baltic Trade with the Exe estuary. In the second half of the seventeenth century development of a trade in plantation products saw the sending of Barbados sugar to Gothenburg while in the early 1700s, two shipments of serge to Drammen and mixed cloths to Gothenburg represented attempts to provide return cargoes for vessels bringing naval supplies from the Baltic. The development of a regular trade was discouraged by high Scandinavian duties on English cloth. Baltic ports are 1,000 miles or more from Exeter, and contacts only developed because of their virtual monopoly of European supplies of naval stores and coniferous timber. Trade was almost entirely one way. A few unsuccessful attempts were made to establish woollen markets in Danzig, Drammen, Gothenburg, Archangel and St. Petersburg, but normally ships from Scandinavia and the Baltic cleared from the Exe in ballast. The Baltic timber trade was well established by 1660, four vessels entering from Norway in 1663. Trade continued on this scale in the eighteenth century, with Drammen as the principal market. There were occasional imports of linen from Archangel and hemp from St Petersburg. An important element of the import trade was represented by raw materials for the building and fitting out of vessels. In the seventeenth century pitch and tar were received from Scandinavia and hemp and flax from the Low Countries. Direct contacts with Russia for the import of hemp and flax were established by 1715 and at the end of the century Topsham was receiving two shipments annually from St Petersburg. Russian hemp and tallow were re-exported to south coast ports including Portsmouth and Falmouth. The hemp import reached 5964 hundredweights in 1827 but later fell off with the decline in shipbuilding. After 1815 Topsham began to import pitch and tar from Archangel, Riga, Stockholm and Gothenburg. During the eighteenth century bars of iron were occasionally received from Gothenburg, St Petersburg and other Baltic ports. Tallow came from St Petersburg and Archangel.

     Another inscribed stone from the north shore of the River Clyst, situated within the high wall, which encloses Riversmeet. The stone specifically commemorates trade with Russia. It reads “SEVERAL CARGOES OF HEMP & C FROM ST. PETERSBURG DISCHARGED HERE 1850 TO 1861”. At the time of the Napoleonic wars many overseas contacts were lost and the entrepot trade was reduced in scale. Important items at Topsham were naval stores from the Baltic (hemp, flax, pitch, tar and tallow) and the goods were distributed only to neighbouring ports. After 1815 the Baltic entrepot trade became for a time more prosperous. Messrs. Milford of Exeter could be described in 1823 as “the most considerable Importers of Russian produce between Portsmouth and Lands End”. Bonding privileges were extended to Topsham in 1842 and it became no longer necessary to send goods up to the bonded warehouses in Exeter. As the eighteenth century progressed the timber trade changed in character and Norway emerged as the chief source of supply. 1792 witnessed the receipt in Topsham of eight timber shipments from Christiana, Frederickstad, Langesund and Porsgrunn, the ship Carhas making three voyages from Langesund in the year. The William brought two timber cargoes from Memel, and there were two shipments of hemp, linen, tallow and timber from St Petersburg, and one of timber from Narva.      The Baltic trade was maintained in the early years of the Napoleonic Wars, but with the development of the Continental System a decline occurred, the number of shipments falling from 14 in 1806 to one in 1808 and none in 1809. Trade was on a small scale until the end of the war but, by 1815, contacts with Norway were again established, when ten timber shipments were received.

   Between 1817 and 1827 nine to sixteen vessels entered annually at Topsham. In the 1820s trade with the Baltic was dominated by Memel, Gothenburg and St Petersburg. In 1815 contacts were also established with Riga, which sent one or two annual shipments of flax, hemp, pitch, tar and timber.

   Similar cargoes came from Archangel. After 1850 a considerable expansion in the timber trade took place.    Twenty-five vessels entered from Norway and Sweden in 1872, and these two countries contributed a major share of the large timber import of this period. 1876 saw the import of 12,716 loads#, mainly of fir timber, more than four times as much as in 1840. The trade was now controlled by Russia, Norway and Sweden. Close commercial connections were maintained with the Baltic until the end of the nineteenth century. The overseas timber trade used vessels of over 100 tons. Even in the seventeenth century vessels of over 150 tons were employed in the Norwegian trade and by the nineteenth century it became common to see vessels of 300-700 tons. The majority of timber cargoes were discharged in the Bight and carried up to Topsham or the canal entrance by raft or lighter. In 1838, 19 out of 20 visiting timber vessels discharged in the lower waters of the estuary. The estuary’s timber trade was now controlled by Topsham which handled 1599 loads out of the 1995 loads received in 1849.      By 1849, while Exeter dominated the overseas trade of the estuary, Topsham continued to handle the major part of the timber and hemp imports from the Baltic, which was mainly for its own shipyards. Some small import of foodstuffs from the Baltic took place in the 1870s, when wheat and Barley arrived from Russia. It is unlikely that the inscribed stones pictured above were positioned to commemorate goods landed at Rivers-meet and it is interesting to speculate on their original or intended location.


        [The material in this brief summary is largely drawn from the excellent book “The Ports of the Exe Estuary” by E.A.G. Clark, published by The University of Exeter (1960 and reprinted 1968).]

Additionally, Mike did some research on the 18th-19th century woollen cloth trade in the vicinity and while looking at the letters of a Lisbon merchant who imported Devon cloth, Mike noted that he was also involved in the importation of hemp from St. Petersburg to Lisbon in October 1835, using the ship WOLGA, under the command of Captain Tuleff. Morning Advertiser - Thursday 26 November 1835 - ARRIVALS: LISBON - Oct. 10, Wolga, Tuleff, from St Petersburg].

   About PeaceHavens - This database is an ongoing project involving the daily finding and identification of Russian Lead Flax Bale Seals from the old disused 18th/19th century Flax Mills of the Industrial Revolution in the UK.    For many decades in the 18th & 19th centuries, Russia was by far the world's greatest exporter of these flax stems via Archangel, Konigsberg, Kronstadt, Libnau, Memel, Narva, Pernau, Revel, Riga, St Petersburg, Tilsit, Windau and Great Britain was Russia's major customer. Every bale of flax stems was fastened together with a lead seal by a quality control inspector. The discarded stems of the flax with seals still attached were prized as fertilizer by local farmers and were spread onto the land mixed with night soil manure.


Devon : Claims for Bounties for Raising and Dressing Hemp and Flax  1784
Growers Name     Estate     Parish     Quantity     Year
George Buck     Daddon     Bideford     175 stone     1782
William Hole     Venton     Bishopstawton     400 stone     1782
        Lower Mullycott     Ilfordcombe     190 stone     1782
        Stonyard     Barnstaple     108 stone     1782
        Long Closes     Pilton     210 stone     1782
Jeremiah Alford     Cotton     Bishopstawton     210 stone     1782
William Snow     Deans     Braunton     100 stone     1782
Josiah Braughton     Penny Changes     Axminster     34 stone     1782
Benjamine White     Umburn     Shute     61 stone     1782
William Studley     Hust     Shute     128 stone     1782
        Bishopsfield     Shute                
        Cocksleigh     Shute                
        Redpitt     Shute                
        Colins Land     Shute                
John Stower     Copse Close     Shute     32 1/2 stone     1782
William Newton     Helverstead     Broadclist     64 stone     1782
Richard How     Higher Sainthill     Kentisbeare     42 stone     1782
Simon Kelly     Gorill     Hemiok     68 stone     1782
Faithfull Cleal     Franks     Woodbury     90 stone     1782
        Moathill     Woodbury                
Faithfull Cleal     Weeks     Aylesbeare     50 stone     1782
John Baker     Summers Mill     Willand     150 stone     1782
        Redgate     Willand                
Ann Wood     Park     Willand     64 stone     1782
John Binford     Burnrey     Willand     51 stone     1782
John Collins     Coomes     Willand     48 1/2 stone     1782
Matthew Manley     Braddocks     Cullompton     325 stone     1782
        Little Poor Close     Cullompton                
        Broadparks     Cullompton                
        Langlands     Cullompton                
Abraham Hooper     Selgons     Halberton     32 1/2 stone     1782
Thomas Pulman     Taw     Halberton     129 stone     1782
        Eveleighs     Halberton                
Henry Wilkinson     Huish     Instow     448 stone     1782
Faithfull Cleal     Bass'     Withycombe     60 stone     1782
        Spicers     Lympstone     105 stone     1782
Robert Ball     Barn     Broadhembury     117 stone     1782
        Shippen     Broadhembury                
Richard Coles     Stockland Head     Plymptree     120 stone     1782
Joel orchard     Lindridge     Bishopsteignton     300 stone     1782
John Tamlin     Bridgetown     Tawstock     25 stone     1782
John Tamlin     Little Eastacombe     Atherington     40 stone     1782
Richard Herring     Bidwell Barton     Newton St Cyres     129 stone     1782
Nicholas Churley     Bartletts     Uffculm     29 stone     1782
John Gilman     Oxenhams     Uffculm     197 stone     1782
        Charters     Uffculm                
Elisha Bennett     Mersons     Uffculm     128 stone     1782
        Stadelands     Uffculm                
        Coles'     Uffculm                
Henry Broom     Twogoods     Uffculm     550 stone     1782
Philip Wright     Corsecoombe     Ffeniton     280 stone     1782
Henry Havill     Ducks     Heavitree     99 stone     1782
John Otton     Benbow     Farringdon     319 stone     1782
William Mortimore     Dartnes     Silverton     143 stone     1782
Henry Chapman     Rickstall     Heavitree     149 stone     1782
Edward Lee     Blackhalls     Pinhoe     28 stone     1782
Daniel Sanders     Monkerton     Pinhie     166 stone     1782
Thomas Trood     Wotton     Pinhoe     142 stone     1782
William Godfrey     Withybridge     Pinhoe     43 stone     1782
Osmand Chave (and)     Bishops     Kentisbeare     90 stone     1782
William Middleton     Butsons     Kentisbeare     121 stone     1782
(and)                     10pounds        
John Salter     Fords     Kentisbeare                
        Averys     Kentisbeare                
        Endicotts     Kentisbeare                
        Westhayes     Kentisbeare                
John Coles     Kingsford     Kentisbeare     145 stone     1782
                        10pounds     1782
John Coles     Shepheards     Cullompton     42 stone     1782
                        12pounds     1782
Edmond Frost     Challices     Kentisbeare     279 stone     1782
        Sallers     Kentisbeare             1782
        Lydons     Kentisbeare             1782
William Broom     Sanfield     Kentisbeare     279 stone     1782
John Ffrost     Halsbeer     Kentisbeare     197 stone     1782
        Blackborough             2pounds     1782
Francis Ffouraker     Away farm     Kentisbeare     134 stone     1782
Thomas Ffouraker     Allhallows     Kentisbeare     140 stone     1782
John Westcott (and)     Glebe     Kentisbeare     127 stone     1782
William Broom                     10pounds     1782
John Westcott     Averils     Kentisbeare     20 stone     1782
Charles Copp     Berry     Clist St Lawrence     39 stone     1782
Gilbert Hitt     Eveleigh     Clisthydon     185 stone     1782
John Weeks     Summerbridge     Clist St Lawrence     95 stone     1782
Gilbert Hitt     Upton Hitt     Clist St Lawrence     61 stone     1782
Joshua May     Burlands     Halberton     87 stone     1782
Robert Collins     Great Stones     Cullompton     61 1/2 stone     1782
Robert Collins     Great Sladecross     Halberton     163 1/2 stone     1782
Robert Collins     Four Acres     Uffculme     111 stone     1782
John Tutcher     Bullen Quarter     Luppitt     66 stone     1782
John Tutcher     Parks     Upottery     54 stone     1782
John Ffortescue     Clist William     Plymptree     195 stone     1782
Richard Weston     Bradley and     Halberton     68 1/2 stone     1782
Richard Weston     Shebbear     Sampford Peverill     29 stone     1782
Richard Weston     Pains     Uplowman     73 1/2 stone     1782
John Tanner     Gaddon     Uffculme     156 stone     1782
James Matthews     Mersons     Kentisbeare     45 stone     1782
James Matthews     Locks and     Uffculme     596 stone     1782
James Matthews     Nicholas Hayne     Culmstock     25 stone     1782
John Ffrost     Poole Farm and     Kentisbeare     298 stone     1782
William Hole     Mullycott Pill and     Ilfordcombe and     180 stone     1782
        Pollington and     Bishops Tawton and                
        Honyard     Pilton and                
William Hole     Mullycott Pill and     Ilfordcombe and     36 stone     1782
        Pollington     Bishopstawton     4 pounds        
                and Pilton                
William Hole     Pill     Bishopstawton     6 stone     1783
                        12 pounds        
William Hole     Pill     Bishopstawton     11 stone     1783
                        2 pounds        
William Hole     Crownley     Bovey Tracey     8 stone     1783
                        8 pound        
William Hole     Crownley     Bovey Tracey     17 stone     1783
                        2 pound        
William Hole     Crownley     Bovey Tracey     297 stone     1783
                        6 pound        
William Hole     Crownley and     Bovey Tracey     228 stone     1783
        Mullycott and     Ilfordcombe                
        Honyard and     Barnstaple                
        Pottington and     Pilton                
        Vinton     Monkley                
William Hole     Mullycott Pill and     Ilfordcombe and     306 stone     1783
        Pottington     Bishops Tawton                
William Hole     Vinton     Monkley and     232 stone     1783
        Mullycott     Pilton                
George Buck esq     Daddon     Pilton     108 stone     1782
William Snow     Deans     Braunton     87 stone     1782
                        7 pound        
John Gillham     Oxenhams and     Uffculme and     274 stone     1784
        Stow     Halberton                
Elisha Bennett     Andrewes     Uffculme     222 stone     1784
                        12 pound        
James Tozer snr and     Averys and     Kentisbeare     68 stone     1782
Thomas Stone     Shallicies     Kentisbeare     8 pounds        
Simon Kelly     Andrewes     Uffculme     153 stone     1783
Thomas Bond     Cleave Hays and     Churchstaunton     224 stone     1782
        Ridgewood     Clayhydon     6 pound        
Thomas Adams     Antens and     Churchstaunton     27 stone     1782
        Borkham     Clayhydon     6 pound        
Faithfull Cleall     Iceland     Withicombe     110 stone     1783
Faithfull Cleall     Higher Buley and     Woodbury     65 stone     1783
        Farringtons     Woodbury                
Thomas Adams     Monkey     Churchstaunton     29 stone     1782
                        2 pound        
John Baker     Mays Beers and     Halberton     150 stone     1783
        Mountsteven     Halberton                
Matthew Manley     Padbrouk Head     Cullompton     180 stone     1783
        Sellers and                        
        Mudfordsfield     Cullompton                
John Collins     Stone and     Halberton     28 stone     1783
        Higher Ash Cross     Halberton                
Joseph Corse     Girson     Willand     130 stone     1783
Richard Bridle     Murrin and     Tallaton     120 stone     1783
        Streetpit and     Tallaton                
        Slade     Tallaton                
Robert Collings     Tuckers and     Halberton     416 stone     1783
        Longlands and     Halberton                
        Leonard Wishes     Halberton                
        Close and                        
        Corham and     Halberton                
        Great Nine Acres     Halberton                
Joseph May     Palmers and     Halberton     50 stone     1783
        Westlicks     Halberton                
Joel Orchard     Lindridge and     Bishopsteignton     200 stone     1783
        Humber     Bishopsteignton                
Henry Wilkinson     Huish     Instow     120 stone     1783
John Manley     Sprys Moiety of     Halberton     71 1/2 stone     1783
Edmund Ffrost     Halls and     Kentisbeare and     520 stone        
        Choises     Broadhembury                
Henry Brown jun     The Home and     Uffculme     540 stone     1783
        Moosons     Uffculme                
John Gilham     Oxenhams     Uffculme     291 stone     1783
Henry Broom jun     Twogoods and     Uffculme     945 stone     1783
        Moosons and     Uffculme             1784
        Miller Barns and     Uffculme                
        Home     Uffculme                




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