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Russian Flax and Hemp Bale Seals from

Hull and District

  

  From the Baltic the Hull traders brought in flax, which was required in growing quantities by the manufacturers of linen and of sailcloth canvas. Beginning in the 1570s Hull regularly imported several hundred tons of flax every year, an undertaking which involved the use of much shipping. Along with flax came other naval stores—hemp, pitch, tar, and timber—imports which reached a peak in 1586–7 when naval preparations against a Spanish invasion were in full swing. In addition, after 1580 corn, especially rye, was imported in varying quantities as the yield of the harvests at home demanded. During good years Hull exported corn, but during the food shortage of the 1590s large quantities were imported. This made possible a great increase in Hull's cloth exports which reached their highest point in 1598–9, at a time when the town was petitioning to be made the staple for the export of northern kerseys. Flax and corn remained the chief elements in Hull's imports from the Baltic until the late 17th century. Also in Lloyd's Register of 1776 is James Moss as master of Dallam Tower, a brig of 160 tons, built at Lancaster in 1767, and owned by M. Fresh. There were voyages for this vessel with James Moss as master from 1768 to 1776, mainly to Narva and St Petersburg, often calling at Hull on the outward voyage. The vessel returned mostly to Lancaster; but the voyage referred to in his wife's letter of 1774 ended in the Wyre estuary to deliver flax and hemp to the manufacturers of Kirkham sailcloth.  The position of the Hull traders, in common with that of other Englishmen in the Baltic, was only established with difficulty, for Danzig firmly upheld the Hanseatic privileges. Troubles mounted until, in 1579, the English were provoked to transfer their mart to Elbing, and in order to consolidate the organization of their newly thriving trade the merchants founded the Eastland Company. In this the influence of the Londoners was strong, but merchants trading from Hull, who had hitherto made much use of the port of Danzig, quickly

 

 

 

established themselves at Elbing and were able to secure their own rights in the new company. Some of the flax bales were imported through the Port of Hull while naval stores and undressed flax were obtained from Narva, Reval or Riga, spruce linen yarn came usually from Konigsberg and Elbing. The advance of the 1730s is noticeable also in the volume of leading imports, as given in the official customs returns. If anything, these figures will understate the volume of trade because of smuggling, though there is no reason to suppose widespread smuggling in the sort of goods in which Hull traded.  Admitting, then, the possibility of under-

 Number of Ships Entering Hull
Origin 1567 1609 1637 1687
Norway 3 16 29 59
Sweden     7 16
Danzig, Elbing, and Konigsberg 14 33 32 16
North Baltic 4     18
White Sea and Arctic 4 4 1
Scotland 43 19 6

recording, the official volume of undressed flax rose by 73 per cent between 1728 and 1737, linen yarn by 233 per cent, hemp by 224 per cent, deals by 49 per cent and iron by 54 per cent. More significant, however, than the growth in volumes was the gradual yet momentous change in the geographical distribution of trade. In 1717, for Instance, no ships at all had arrived in Hull from Narva, only 2 from St. Petersburg and 9 from Riga; but in 1737, following the Anglo-Russian treaty of 1734 (which, among other things, made life easier for British factors residing in Russia), 11 ships came from Narva, 7 from St. Petersburg and 20 from Riga.  The eastern Baltic increasingly supplied the flax and yam required by the growing linen industry of England, and the hemp that was necessary for Hull's own rope-makers.  Russia and Prussia stand supreme among Hull's trading partners at the turn of the century, with St. Petersburg alone accounting for one out of every four or five ships entering Hull, while Hull in turn was receiving about one in five of the ships clearing from St. Petersburg. Joshua Gee, writing in the l730s, commented that 'hemp and flax are so useful in navigation and trade, that we cannot possibly do without them; the first for cordage of all sorts, the latter for making sail cloth, as well for the linen manufactures that are carried out in this kingdom'.   By the early 1780s Spruce linen yam from Prussia and raw Dutch from Hamburg and Amsterdam had together reached over five million pounds, and Hull was the leading port in the trade, despite Liverpool's position as intermediary between Manchester and the Irish flax industry.  The importation of flax was also expanding apace, much of it soon to be diverted to Marshall's mill at Leeds, where they were beginning to spin yam as good as most of that imported from the Baltic. The magnificent Temple Mill built by Marshall at Holbeck with an Ancient Egyptian Temple facade. (A Grade I listed former flax mill built between 1836 to 1840 and based on the Temple of Horus at Edfu, reflecting a craze for Ancient Egypt which swept European society in the first half of the 19th century.)  Tow had also made its appearance, probably in the sixties, but the great expansion in the trade came later, when Marshall's also developed a machine for spinning it.  Russia and Prussia stand supreme among Hull's trading partners at the turn of the century with St. Petersburg alone accounting for one out of every four or five ships entering Hull, while Hull in turn was receiving about one in five of the ships clearing from St. Petersburg. Ships from Russia passed the 150 mark for the first time in 1792, from Prussia in 1802.   Linen cloth of Baltic or Scottish origin was to be found in almost every coaster and there were also small shipments of linen yam, flax and, of course, the cotton wool that was used by the Strutts and other canon people to the east of the Pennines.

Imports into Hull from the Baltic States

1790 1800 1810 1820 1830
vessels tons vessels tons vessels tons vessels tons vessels tons
243 61,964 466 83.732 459 73.786 318 62,448 632 109,60

   On 19 November 1915 a coastal shipment of hemp from Hull was

 the last direct import of textile fibre to be received at Arbroath.

   Hull, along with nearby Yarmouth on the east coast, and Newcastle, on the north east coast, seem to have avoided the slave trade itself. Instead they traded directly with the plantations in America and the Caribbean, supplying the colonies with window glass and vegetable seeds bringing back tobacco, sugar and rum on return.

   December 06, 1709. Order by Treasurer Godolphin to same to observe an order of the Queen in Council [undated] to permit the ship "Speedwell" now in the Humber with flax, hemp &c. from the Baltic to come into the harbour and unload, all her mariners being in good health and she having been some time in Holland and in several roads on the coast of Great Britain since leaving the Baltic. But the feathers and Polonia wool are to be kept on board till further order.

    Russia stands supreme among Hull's trading partners at the turn of the century with St. Petersburg alone accounting for 1 out of every 4 or 5 ships entering Hull, and ships from Russia in 1792 passed the 150 mark.

     The Baltic remained the chief source of flax and hemp and Hull consequently remained a leading port in the trade throughout the 18th century. The eastern Baltic was also vital for that other necessary component of 'naval stores' - the masts and spars that came, above all, from Riga.

 

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Copyright 2022 © Ged Dodd

 aka PeaceHavens Project
Click here for the terms
of free copy & share &
supporting your Project