Farming and the dual economy

The 1801 Survey of Marsden in Almondbury (the larger part of Marsden, south of the Colne and east of Red Brook) shows that there were 103 parcels of land, occupied by at least 97 different people. The average holding was only 10½ acres, and most holdings were 8 acres or less. Fields were also small; most were smaller than 1.5 acres, and most occupants had 7 fields or fewer.

Could these smallholdings really be working farms? When we asked an elderly farmer "What is a farm?", she said that she thought a farm needed a barn. Well, in 1801 61% of the holdings did contain a "homestead" or a "house and barn", as opposed to just a "house". And in the 1838 rates evaluation6, 70% of 101 holdings contained a barn and/or a mistal (usually both) – many of the other holdings were mills, foundries or public houses, and had stables instead. So by this definition, we have perhaps 60 or 70 farms in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Yet the 1841 census7 lists only 29 households, in the whole of Marsden, with a "farmer". Farms – but no farmers! As Crump and Ghorbal8 state: "Economically these small holdings could provide subsistence for a family, but they could not yield a livelihood. Their purpose was to afford conveniences for the manufacture of cloth; their owners were clothiers engaged in trade, or at least, yeomen and small farmers who kept a loom going in their spare hours." This was the "dual economy", well established by the end of the 17th century. David Woodhead9 studied Marsden wills and inventories between 1692 and 1753, and found evidence for the dual economy in Marsden. Most of the people leaving inventories showed some dependence on agriculture, including tradesmen, craftsmen, and clothiers; farmers ("yeomen" and "husbandmen") were also involved in textile manufacture.

"Subsistence" farming was certainly not unimportant, if so much energy was spent on building those big barns, and miles of dry stone walls at the rate of six or seven yards10 per waller per day.

The Industrial Revolution and the Demise of the "Domestic System"
For centuries the life of the small yeoman clothier had changed very little. In 1800 the clothier would attend the Huddersfield Cloth Hall weekly to sell his "kersey" (a narrow woven woollen cloth) and fetch a stone of raw wool for the next piece. He would take the wool to a valley "scribbling-mill", like that at Ottiwells, for carding, and revisit the mill later to have the woven cloth fulled. All the other processes - spinning, handloom weaving, scouring, drying on tenters, burling and mending - were carried out at home, or let out to neighbouring cottages. "Finishing" might be done in a local cropping-shop. This was "The Domestic System". The whole family were often involved in the work of the clothier’s household, as is shown by the Hall household at Scout in the 1841 census:

Name Age Occupation
Betty Hall 56 Clothier
Benjamin Hall 30 Clothier
Hannah Hall 25 Woollen Weaver
Samuel Hall 24 Clothier
Betty Hall 23 Burler
Sarah Hall 19 Woollen Weaver
Abraham Hall 16 Woollen Weaver
Martha Hall 12 Woollen Weaver
Rebecca Hall 1  
Mary Hall 1  
Luke Shaw 21 Woollen Weaver


At least five people, including possibly an apprentice Luke Shaw, are weaving, with Betty burling the cloth. Benjamin and Samuel Hall and Betty (possibly their widowed mother) call themselves "clothiers", which indicates that they are in charge of the family business and of buying materials and selling the cloth.

By 1800 the fly-shuttle loom and spinning jenny had increased the efficiency of the home workshop. Despite this, wages dropped between 1795 and 1830; weavers became known as "poverty-knockers" (from the sound of the loom) "and lived on porridge, oatcake, barley bread, milk, potatoes and some bacon"11. Weavers and small clothiers will have relied on their smallholdings for much of this produce to provide subsistence. In the better times, textile work could be fitted flexibly around the needs of animals and the land.

Between 1825 and 1851, wool spinning and weaving were mechanised and brought into valley mills, at first run on water-power (aided by March Haigh and Wessenden Reservoirs built 1794 and 1836), then by steam (coal could be brought in easily by canal). Mechanisation of spinning, coming first, actually increased the demand for hand-loom weavers, although they were sometimes gathered together in a mill weaving shop (like the one, with Rates of £60.00, recorded at Bank Bottom Mill in 183812), or employed by the mill to work at home. Soon, however, most weavers worked on power looms in mills, and the Domestic System ended. The new "manufacturers" seem to have been wealthy "incomers" who could afford to invest. Some better-off Marsden clothiers, like the Halls of Binn Lodge, adapted and became small manufacturers, but most lost their independence; the numbers of clothiers sharply diminishes between the 1841 Census and 1851 Census, which sadly includes a "clothier for hire" and a "clothier for wages".

It is difficult to be exact about this process in Marsden, since rates surveys do not describe what activities occurred in mills, and the Censuses tend to refer to "weavers" rather than "hand-loom weavers" or "power-loom weavers". However, while 41 handloom weavers appeared in the 1851 Census, there were only two in 1861. The last Marsden handloom weaver may have been Samuel Holroyd, aged 76, of Dirker, recorded in the 1891 census.


The 1801 Survey map shows very clearly that housing was in farmsteads and cottages outside Marsden village centre. This bears out the way most people depended on land for farming (and for space to tenter cloth), and on streams of fresh soft water for textile processes.

Many of the surviving farm homesteads in Marsden are based on the "laithe house" plan, like Stubbins (dated 1772). The barn (laithe) with its mistal (area for cattle to shelter and be fed and milked) is under the same roof as the house. At ruined Nathans, the stone bases of partitions between cow-stalls can be seen in the mistal at the lower end of the barn. Sometimes barns were built separately, or at right angles, as at Old Ash, which also has a 1772 date stone.

It is often supposed that weavers always used upper-floor rooms doubling as bedrooms for their looms. An example of this is the row of seven mullioned south-facing windows at Nathans, later partitioned into two bedrooms. Where a house was built into the hillside, there might be a rear entrance to the first-floor loom shop, as seems to be the case at Binn Edge Cottages, where the door is now blocked up. However, looms were not all that large and could be found in any room of the house. Second-floor extensions to "weavers’ cottages", like the one at Bank Top, Hard End, are rare in Marsden. These were often built on to house a spinning jenny, so possibly the shift from hand spinning to jenny-spinning in mills occurred rapidly in Marsden, or alternatively spun yarn was bought in from other areas.

  1. Marsden Valuations 1838-1897, UCV/M, West Yorkshire Archive Services, Kirklees.
  2. Census records obtained from
  3. Crump, W.B. & Ghorbal, Gertrude, 1935, History of the Huddersfield Woollen Industry, reprinted 1988 by Kirklees Metropolitan Council, Cultural Services, p.14.
  4. Woodhead, David, Marsden 1690-1750: a dual economy,
  6. Hartley, Marie & Ingilby, Joan (1976), Life and Tradition in West Yorkshire, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London.
  7. Marsden Valuations 1838-1897, op.cit.