Cotswold Wool (Hunt and Winterbotham)

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Cotswold Wool & the Origins of Hunt & Winterbotham


One of the leading areas for the wool trade was a part of the West of England known as "The Cotswolds". Designated 'An Area of Outstanding Beauty' it is the largest in England and Wales, stretching from Chipping Campden, in the north,
The 'Cotswold Lion' sheep
to Bath in the South (80 miles), covering an area of 2038 sq. Km (790 sq. miles) and comprising farmland over 80% of its area. In the Middle Ages the Cotswolds was well known throughout Europe as the source of some of the best wool. The Cotswolds were - and still are - ideal for sheep, so the Abbeys and monasteries raised huge flocks of the 'Cotswold Lions'. These native sheep were large animals with golden long fleeces.

The Romans developed sheep farming on their big estates. They were perhaps building on methods and techniques learnt from the Celtic Britons. It is probable that in Roman Britain the sheep were smaller and therefore produced less wool. During Anglo Saxon times sheep farming continued to thrive and it's interesting to note that the words Cot and Wold come from this era. The sheep were grazed in large ‘cots' or enclosures, initially in the Cutsdean area of the north Cotswolds, the enclosures were sited on the ‘ wolds ' or hills. So a literal translation of Cotswolds is ‘sheep-hills'.

Cam Station with the old "Hunt & Winterbotham" cloth mill in the background. (This photo was taken on 31 August 1962 and is reproduced with the kind permission of the photographer, Ben Ashworth)

By the 15th century, England was so dependent on wool that the Lord Chancellor's seat in the House of Lords was made of wool and came to be known as the Woolsack, a reminder to their lordships of the absolute importance of wool. At that time, 50% of England's economy resulted from trade in wool and woollen products. Besides the church, this brought great wealth to local merchants. After 1536, the church lost it's controlling influence following the dissolution of the monasteries. Fine houses and elegant churches were built and even ordinary cottages had a beauty and permanence that makes them popular with buyers today.

Wool processing and cloth production

Processing the wool was initially a cottage industry, but during the late 16th century, weaving became concentrated in the Stroud area where the fast flowing streams from the steep slopes of the Cotswold escarpment were better able to power the new mills.

History records that cloth was being manufactured in the village of Cam in 1532 during the reign of Henry VIII, but it wasn’t until three centuries later that the business came into the hands of Thomas Hunt, to be joined in 1885 by Arthur Winterbotham. Thus began the partnership of Hunt & Winterbotham whose name has become synonymous with cloth of the finest quality.

Between 1750 and 1850 Cotswold wool production went into decline when wool output increased in the North of England where newer and more efficient forms of power were developed.

From the mid-Nineteenth Century, competition from the Yorkshire mills became intense and the fortunes of the textile industry in the South declined. Mills in the North of England where newer and more efficient forms of power were being developed. With decline came poverty as the area paid dearly for an over reliance on wool. (It is ironic to think that the beautiful Cotswold legacy is a result of a long period of poverty, when there was little money available for further building and development.)

In the 1920's a number of the remaining mills, including Hunt & Winterbotham, amalgamated to become known as Winterbotham, Strachan and Playne, (Arthur's wife was Elizabeth Strachan -- Ed). Now part of the Illingworth Morris Group of Companies, the organisation today is one of the largest wool textile groups in the world.

Winterbotham, Strachan and Playne move north

In 1991, the company relocated from Stroud to Kirkheaton, an entirely commercial move which not only brought the business to the heartland of the British textile industry, but also made it more strategically placed for both suppliers and customers. From there, a continuous flow of high quality fabrics leaves the Hunt & Winterbotham warehouse daily, for all parts of the world.

To anyone with a feeling for history and tradition, it is immensely satisfying to see such an enterprise developing in an area with historical links with the trade reaching back as far as the 16th Century.

Trading Partners

Just as famous as the name of Hunt & Winterbotham are its two trading names. John G Hardy and J & J Minn’s. Founded a century ago, John G Hardy immediately established a reputation for tweeds and country fabrics. It's "Alsport" quality is well known throughout the world and the Company has total worldwide exclusivity of the fabric and the name. The Prince of Wales, who attributed his name to a particular style of fabric, acquired his cloth from the Company which was originally located in New Burlington Street, London, before its move to Old Burlington Street.

Hunt & Winterbotham is used by the Company for the more classic Savile Row look, whilst J & J Minn’s represents the ultimate in fine quality fabrics.