The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

The dregs of the people and ne'er-do-wells

In 1784, a minor French aristocrat, Francios De La Rochefoucauld, visited Sudbury and wrote the following lines...

'On our arrival at Sudbury we had breakfast and then sent for a manufacturer who told us a little about the trade of the town and its population. There is one remarkable thing for which the most competent authorities would find it difficult to give a proper account. Why is the population of the towns so different in regard to the class of people who live distributed in each town? Why are some towns inhabited only by the dregs of the people and by ne'er-do-wells?
I must recollect that I am in England, where the nobility and the gentry, who two or three months of the year are in the capital, are evenly distributed through all the counties round all the towns. The country around Sudbury is pleasant enough, the hills and valleys provide agreeable prospects, and yet the town and its neighbourhood are inhabited only by people without any fortune, by smugglers, bankrupts and the like. It is a misfortune for which I cannot account, but it is an established fact that there is not a decent man in the place.
There is a considerable trade in wool and silk stuffs. The latter are all for the London market, and the money being invested by merchants from the Capital who get the work done at the lowest prices. There are about a hundred looms at work. The number of woolen looms is larger; I do not know how many there are, as the manufacturer could not tell us. The cloth is course and thick, a kind of double serge suitable for being made into dresses for women of the lower classes. It is made in lengths of twenty-seven to forty yards, a yard being 3ft.
The trade of the town is as large as it can be, I mean that all hands are engaged in it, and even fresh hands would find work there. During the period of the American War the trade declined and sank almost to nothing, but now it has recovered its former vigour. However they say as regards Camlet and calendered stuffs, which they make in large quantities, France is beginning to be a serious rival. The Workman's wage is from twelve to sixteen shillings a week, a shilling being worth twenty-four sous. The rent of land on the outskirts of the town is twelve shillings an acre'.


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