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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, September 2003 Contents

Berkshire Family Historian
September 2003

Mills and millers

Tom Hine

I have a collection of some 50 mill books built up over the last nine years. My most recent acquisition, Blockley — Village of Water Mills, raises a question in the editor’s foreword which I find particularly interesting, it reads ‘We need, furthermore, to know much more about our millers. Were all silk throwsters, as they called themselves, Baptists, as we are told, and if so why?’

My own feelings about his question of Baptists/Silk Throwsters is perhaps that this was a local peculiarity, although some Society members may be able to throw more light on this. Continuing with the subject of silk manufacture but closer to home in Berkshire, I have re-read an account of the silk industry in Wokingham, started around 1585 by refugee weavers from Flanders, right through to the decline in 1831. There doesn’t appear to be any reference to Baptists. Wokingham silk throwsters employed as many apprentices and paupers as possible, but despite the employment of almost 100, the town didn’t reflect any prosperity from its labour, indeed in the censuses of 1801 and 1811 they showed that the ratio of empty houses in the town was over twice that of the rest of Berkshire. Thomas Mann in his A Stranger In Reading, published in 1806, described Wokingham as ‘the most dreary dismal place you ever saw, where Poverty seems to have taken up her abode, and from whence the energies of the British character seem to have fled’.

The 1841 census for Berkshire shows there were just two silk throwsters (millers) employing 101 males and 100 females. Berkshire silk mills were at Reading, Newbury, Wokingham and Twyford. This last silk mill closed in 1829, and like all the others the decline was brought about by the treaty with France allowing French silk to enter this country duty free.

The National Archive for Wind and Water Mills should be opening its doors to researchers at its new home in Watlington House, Reading, in the early autumn. A total of nearly 40 collections has been already given or promised to the Archive. And by September there will be 5000 entries in the catalogue, making a start on locating the half a million records being sorted for reference. It is anticipated that several thousand high resolution images will be available free of charge on the internet. (Telephone Tom Hine on 0118-950-3063 for latest details.)

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created 9th December 2003