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1 Jun 2022

Textiles: Week 20 - 52 Ancestors

Sheep grazing

Simon Rose, a wool comber

My 4x great grandfather Simon Rose was a wool comber in Southampton in 1795.  We only know this because he took on an apprentice that year, his 8-year-old step-daughter Unity Hunt.

Wool combers were an indispensable trade within the woollen textile industry.  They were skilled labourers and undertook a seven-year apprenticeship before becoming a journeyman, taking up contracts wherever they could.  After gaining experience they could become a master wool comber. 

The wool combers' job was to disentangle the wool in preparation for weaving. It was a comparatively well-paid industry in the 18th and early nineteen centuries before being mechanised in the nineteenth century. It was a cottage industry in those days and was hot and dirty work. The hand combers first had to prepare the wool by washing, oiling and separating it into workable amounts, then heating the wool over coal or a woodstove prior to combing it. It was not until the 1840s that mechanisation was introduced and hand combing became redundant.

Simon was born in 1747 in Misterton, Somerset, a village very near the town of Crewkerne.  The area was known for sheep farming and cottage-based textile industries - wool combing and weaving.  Simon still lived there into adulthood because it was in Misterton that he married twice, the first to Susannah Burt and the second to Ann Hunt who outlived him.

It is unknown when he moved to Southampton or why.  Maybe there were more opportunities to extend his trade there. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, wool combers began to demand better working conditions and pay and it was probably at his father's feet that his son John Rose (1804-1884) became politically aware.

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