By Alan Dyer

Part of a sequence which gives a advisor to the present interpretations of the main issues of financial and social heritage during which advances have lately been made or within which there was major debate.

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By 1486 it was complaining to the crown of decay, referring to unemployment caused by the cloth industry's problems. Even so, clothmaking and especially finishing remained important long after this date, for as late as the 1530s, 18 per cent of the city's new apprentices were employed in the textile crafts; this was no cloth flight on the scale of that at York. More serious was a sudden collapse in cloth exports in the 1490s, as described above. This was chiefly due to competition from London, though Exeter challenged from the south-west too.

Rather more helpful has been the intensive study of documentary sources in particular towns, especially deeds and rentals, sometimes combined with surveys of surviving structures and excavation. Town rentals in Bury St Edmunds [73] reveal that some central areas of the town were being abandoned, while others in the suburbs were growing. When the Abbey was dissolved the central housing property which it owned was very dilapidated, yet Bury's cloth industry had prospered in the fifteenth century.

Southampton's own merchants were few and operated on a small scale, so that the employment and wealth which accrued to the port was slight. During the early years of the sixteenth century Southampton flourished through being, next to London, the chief cloth-shipping port. From the 1530s onwards came collapse as the Italians moved to London and then the Londoners stopped using the port. In 1538/9 only 3 per cent of English cloth exports was shipped from Southampton. By the 1550s the town was extremely depressed and it staged no substantial recovery until after 1600.

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