The wholesale market and its mechanisms
THE manufacture of cloth was an occupation widely scattered throughout England, and English textiles were dispersed over a large area of the adjacent continent as well as at home. In contrast to this the wholesale market for cloths consumed both at home and abroad was always to a high degree concentrated at London, the nodal point for internal communications since the Roman occupation. Besides, the shortest and most convenient line of access for the transport of cloths lay from the mouth of the Thames to the Rhine delta, along a trade route that by 1500 was already long established and organised. Thus the nerve-centre of the cloth trade on the English side was inevitably sited at London, where in the first decade of the sixteenth century at least 61 per cent of the cloth exports of England was being shipped. A generation later, in the decade 1534–44, this proportion had swollen to over 84 per cent and was soon to increase. In the fiscal year 1568–9 as much as 93 per cent of the cloth customs duty was collected at London.42 There were fluctuations and a long-term tendency for the overwhelming preponderance of the City to recede. But it has been estimated that in the first forty years of the seventeenth century about three quarters of the total woollen textile exports still passed through London despite some loss of West Riding trade to Hull and despite the opening of a trade in Devonshire cloths direct from Exeter to the Netherlands which provoked some resentment in the City.
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