Wool and Cloth
Trading began in Westbury when Walter Pavely, of Broke, obtained a royal charter to hold a weekly market and an annual fair in 1252. For over 600 years from then, wool was the basis of Westbury's trade and prosperity.
Raw wool was exported to Flanders and Italy up to the fourteenth century, when the Hundred Years' War disrupted this prosperous trade. At this time the techniques of spinning, weaving and finishing began to be practised locally, encouraged by Flemish immigrant weavers who settled here.
By Tudor times, Westbury woven broadcloths were being sent to agents in London. During the Industrial Revolution of 1790 to 1840 the old cottage or domestic system slowly gave way to the factory system. In 1790 Westbury's annual cloth trade amounted to £100,000 and the Napoleonic Wars kept the mills busy until about 1815. Then followed a period of depression. Dilton Marsh weavers demonstrated against low wages in 1817, and in 1826 William Cobbett, who could see nothing good in Westbury because it was a "rotten" borough, found unemployed weavers, who had applied for parish relief, set to digging fields by the parish overseere for 9d a day. Riots took place and Yeomanry troops were called out to restore order in 1822 and 1830. All the Westbury mills in turn became bankrupt, the biggest, the Angel and Bitham Mills of Overbury and Matravers, failing in 1847. To make matters worse, the vicar of Westbury reported in 1846 that the potato famine caused much distress. Now wonder these years became known as "The Hungry Forties."
It was as this time that Abraham Laverton first leased, and then bought the Angel Mill in 1852. He also bought the Bitham Mill in 1856. Between then and his death in 1886 his firm became one of the most prosperous in the West of England, and its fine quality cloth became famous.
Eventually by the middle of the twentieth century the only surviving cloth mills in Wiltshire were in Westbury and Trowbridge. Production continued in Westbury under the Laverton name until 1968 when the Angel and Bitham Mills closed.
Taken from an original account by Mr W T Watkins BA and printed in the Westbury Town Guide published by the Chamber of Commerce.
Gloving came to Westbury as a result of the opening of the railway in 1848. In addition to the factories around the town it was also carried on by piece workers in their own homes.
In 1871 Wiiliam Boulton started his company and his "Boulton Cut Thumb" became world famous. In 1901 he bought and extended Bull's Mill at Westbury Leigh. Large numbers of gloves were exported to the USA until the introduction of import tariffs in 1918 restrivted trade.
Brothers A L and W L Jefferies opened a glove factory in Fore Street in 1883, later expanding into five other towns. They also carried out the tanning and dressing of leather. In 1908 they bought a disused watermill in Hawkeridge and by the 1930's had about 400 employees.
West Wilts Glove Co operated in Station Road from 1908 until 1960 and the firm of V C Boulton had a factory in Alfred Street.
The last surviving glove manufacturer in the town was Reynolds and Kent, which had workshops in the Oak Inn buildings in Warminster Road. Their factory closed in 1999.
The former Boyer's cloth mill was sold to Walter Case, a tanner from Frome in 1890 and became the leather works at Westbury Leigh. Before the First World War it had approximately 100 workers. In the early 1920's sales dropped and there were lay offs, but new capital investment led to the production of fashionable suede kid. During the Second World War production was reduced because of the difficulty of obtaining imported raw materials. In the post-war years production increased again, but by the 1980's increased foreign competition meant the firm was unable to invest the money to modify its treatment of effluent as required by the local authority. Tanning ceased and the works became a dressing yard. The business was wound up 1984.
High grade iron ore was discovered to the north of the town during construction work for the railway in the 1840's. This lead to the creation of the Great Western Iron Ore Smelting Co in 1857 and the grand opening of the iron works behind the railway station in 1858. Soon the number of furnaces was doubled to four. The depression of 1877 was survived by lay offs and the closing of two of the furnaces. By the beginning of the twentieth century the company had serious financial problems, but survived with new management and increased demand due to the First World War. By the 1930's one of the furnaces had developed a fault and the works finally closed in 1933.
The open cast mines flooded and became lakes known locally as mineholes. Slag Lane is also a part of the works' legacy to the town.
In September 1962 Associated Portland Cement Manufacturers Ltd started production at the new cement works. Chalk was quarried on the hills above the town and pumped through a pipe line to the factory below. Clay was dug from the area near the works. In 1965 production doubled and the original chimney was demolished and replaced by the taller structure still seen today. The company was taken over by Lafarge in 2001 and cement production ceased in 2009. The site is currently used as a distribution depot.
Westbury is an important junction for the West of England and Bristol to Weymouth and Salisbury lines. The Bristol line opened in 1848 and the connection to London in 1901. The first station was demolished in 1900 and its replacement still retains much of its original features. During the First World War the station was an important embarkation and transit point for troops from camps on Salisbury Plain.