With the river and its close proximity to the sheep areas of the Mendips, Cotswolds and Salisbury Plain, Frome developed in Medieval times as an important centre for the making of cloth. In the 14th century wool was woven and fulled here (cleaned and thickened under water) and there were five fulling mills in the town.
Since the Middle Ages the town had a weekly market and from 1270 Frome had its own annual fair, gathering people from all over the county to buy and sell their wares - one of only three in the country. In 1492 Frome hit the big time and two more fairs were added to the town calendar.
FROME MARKET PLACE 1930'S
Even in 1721 a writer said that Frome was 'very famous for the manufacture of broad and woolen cloths' and, by then, it had become one of the largest towns in Somerset with a population of over 8000 - bigger than Bath in 1726. To this day we have more listed buildings per population than anywhere else in Somerset.
Woad was grown on the edge of town and the blue dye was much used for uniforms in the Napoleonic wars (on both sides apparently) and probably explains the Blue School's name and uniform, whose Grade 1 listed building remains on the high street today. Other natural dyes used were privet (dark green), heather (pale green) and lichen (purple). The wool was distributed by middle men known as clothiers, still a big Somerset family name, and distributed to the weavers at home, and once woven would be sent to London to be sold at Blackwell Hall.
St Catherine, the patron saint of weavers and spinners, had her own chapel in the town, which in turn gave its name to Catherine Hill and the now renowned artisan market that has become the Frome Independent.
Much of Frome's independent spirit can be traced back to the entrepreneurial capitalism of the clothiers and the wool trade. At a time in history when much of England was feudal, Frome had no lord of the manor and the traditional role of the church in the hierarchy was ignored, in favour of non-conformist chapels, some of which still survive to this day and will appear in another blog post.
Catherine Hill - Frome Independent - Photo: Resident