Tobacco Growing in the Vale of Evesham,
Winchcombe and District,
and John Stratford.
By Gerald H. Stratford.


I deal here with a series of Statements which John Stratford, Gentleman, Salter, of Winchcombe and London, wrote himself.

Formerly, I traded with Broadcloth, that I usually vented, and sold to the Eastern Merchants, taking in exchange, their wheat, rye, and linen yarns, but chiefly Rough Flax, of which, I bought and sold again, a great quantity, and, by dressing whereof, many poor people lived, both in London, and in the Country, until the Netherlanders over threw the Trade, by bringing in dressed Flax.

I loosing by much decay, of the said poor, to whom I gave Credit with Rough Flax, and of others, that I kept in work, with the same, I rather chose not to Trade at all, than to bring dressed Flax of these Netherlanders, they taking the work away from the poor.

Presently, I took myself home, to County Gloucestershire, where the poor people do much abound, and there, planted so much tobacco, as the poor had for the work of that year's crop of one thousand five hundred pounds and upwards. ( Tobacco growing was banned in 1619 ).

But, planting of tobacco was Prohibited by Proclamation, and, I have for these last four years, sowed about forty acres of Flax, in which work, the dressing thereof, converting some little quantity into Linen Cloth, but only for a trial. And seeing an inconceivable distress and misery, increasing amongst the multitudes of poor people, that live in the Cities and Towns, where no clothing, or help of other work is, it was for them better relief, and the good of the Commonweal, in general, according to my endeavours, and desires, found by my said former Trade and Dealings, and latterly, by my practical experience therein.

1. A crop of Flax, on forty acres, made into Linen Cloth, will employ eight hundred persons, for a whole year, allowing three hundred men at eight pence per day, three hundred women at six pence per day, and two hundred young people at three pence per day, will yield to the sower, more profit than a crop of one hundred and sixty acres of corn or grass.

2. A crop of Flax, made into Linen Cloth, will yield more to the poor for their work, than the crop of wool, raised on four hundred acres and made into broad cloth, accordingly where do they beyond the Seas, where the sowing of Flax is much used. It raises a benefit to their own poor and Commonwealth, more than we do in the Kingdom by our Pasture.

3. And, whereas, the industrious man, Mr. Ben Webb, has brought in use, rape oil, and makes great quantities for clothiers uses, whence before, the used only Olive Oil, this seed of Flax is likewise good to make oil for Painters, and making good sweat soap, a little inferior, to the soap made by Olive Oil, of which, oil made of Flax seed, much might be made here also, and which seed is carried beyond the Seas to make oil there, and the oil therefore, bought back hither, and sold at a very great price.

Also, the very sheaves of the Flax, and chaff of the Flax, is said to be very good fuel for the fire, he to make experience thereof, used no other fuel for about the whole year, for all uses.

4.Other Linen Cloth, made here both for profit, and wearing, much exceeds that bought, and in the most, our cloth is made, but, with the refine of the Flax, growing beyond the Seas, and brought hither, and thereby keeping the best Flax for them selves, so to make cloth and thread for them selves.

5. We may make Linen Cloth, here our selves without difficulty. Not only for our selves, but also to send beyond the Seas, we do woollen cloth for the colder Countries, so may be Linen for the hotter. And, then rather because it is certain that one pound of Flax raised here is better than two pounds of the most Flax brought in badness, and decent fullness, whereof, has undone many of our poor that work it, which, doth recoil both upon the Merchant that brings it in, and such as sell it to the poor divers, they not being able to bear the loss.

6. If any of our idle poor, had Flax raised here, as they might have, and were compelled to work, and if they will not, willingly, or otherwise. Where as now, they are an intolerable burden to the abler sort, by begging and stealing, they could otherwise, become profitable to this Commonweal, paying for their food, and clothing, and live according to God's Ordinances, by the sweat of their faces, and in a more Religious Order.

7. That mean Land, such as the Uplands and remote Forests, Chases, and other Commons, which doth now increase, and knowest idle people, and is the breeder of weak and unservicable horse, and the bane of the sheep, that Land, being new, broken up, will bear good Flax. The more Flax we sow, the greater quantity of tillage it will begat, as the sowing of Woad does, and will prepare the Land better for Corn, afterwards.

8. Tillages, yielding maintenance to one hundred people, will not in a like area of Pasture, maintain twenty persons, with the wool there upon raised into Broad Cloth, yet, such is one's self love, desire of ease, dislike of hospitality, and a common good, that wise men do not only lay down Tillage themselves, but restrain their Tenants from breaking up the Land also.

9. If Tillage was so moderately increased, that we might rather have sufficient to send corn beyond the Seas, than to be found, by reason of want, to receive Corn from them, it would not only improve our own hand, save our Corn, and and employ the poor people, but also the Shipping of the Kingdom, by sending forth Corn so much the more increased.

10. Tillage yields, not only Grain, relief sundry ways for poor labouring people, but, also much Provision, both for the House and Markets, with which Pasture does not therefore, and for the reasons before, to be insecure.

11. We send Woollen Cloth beyond the Seas, which we endeavour to make so good and true, as we may, and make our Returns thereof, for the most part from them with, Corn, Hemp, Flax, Tallow, Cordage for Shipping, Wick, Yam, Match, Thread, Tapes, Linen Yarn, Linen Cloth, Fustia, and all sorts, Hops, Hemp Seed Oil, Linseed Oil and other Commodities, and to the greater enriching of them, beyond the Seas, whereas we might make, and raise, the same commodities here, and employ many thousands of poor, that now through want of the help of work, do pine, and miscarry Bonds, as be well minded through want, or were enforced, one will not steal but would rather endure such misery, being ashamed to beg.

There is no date on the Document, but is endorsed in 1606.

The Royal Proclamation is mentioned regarding the Prohibition on tobacco growing, which was made in December 1619, so therefore the Document must have been written in either 1623 or 1624.

Another Document written by John Stratford Esquire, the tobacco grower is dated March 1626/27, and is as follows.

1. It is found, by experience that by sowing Hemp, His Majesty, and Kingdom, may be supplied with Cordage, and Sail Cloths for Shipping, and be better and stronger than from beyond the Seas.

2. It is certain also, that the work of one acre of Flax, to be converted into Linen Cloth, will maintain twenty persons in daily labour, a whole year, about, to which compared, doth yield a greater benefit to the poor than the wools of four hundred acres of Sheep Pasture, converted into Broad Cloth.

3. That, by Sowing Flax, there might be more Linen Cloth, Thread, Thick Yarn, Match, Rope, and other necessities, to serve the Kingdom, with over plus to send beyond the Seas. Whereas now, they are brought in, to the great enriching and employment of them beyond the Seas.

4. And, our poor people, of this Kingdom, through want, berates them selves to lewd courses of life, living by begging, pilfering and stealing, that would, by the help of these works, be made profitable to this Commonweal, paying for their food and clothing, and other necessities, and live according to God's Ordinances.

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Data transcribed by Colin Hinson from:
A document written by
Gerald H. Stratford in 1988.
Reproduced here by permission
© Gerald H. Stratford.