Wine and wool, and to a lesser extent tin, were the trading staples of medieval Southampton. In medieval Europe there was enormous demand for wool, mainly to produce cloth. While the English did make cloth for their own use, very little of what was produced was actually sold abroad. It was the raw wool from English sheep that was exported to feed foreign looms. At that time the best weavers lived in Flanders, particularly in the rich cloth-making towns of Bruges, Ghent and Ypres. From the late 13th century to the late 15th century the wool trade was the mainstay of the English economy, with much of the trade going through Southampton destined for Flanders.
Because the wool trade was so lucrative the Crown often sought to control and profit from it. In the 1270s, during a dispute with Flanders, it forbade the export of wool to Flanders and only allowed it to be exported elsewhere by license. At this time most of the exporters were Italian, but some local men, including Peter de Lyon and Henry le Fleming, obtained licenses to ship wool. In 1275 the exchequer imposed a new Wool Custom. A considerable impetus was given to the wool trade in Southampton in 1320 when an ordinance of Edward II decreed that the town would be one of only eight ports from which the export of wool would be allowed.
The wool trade through the town was buoyant until the mid 16th century when improvements in the navigability of the Thames and the great growth in trade between London and the Low Countries caused a rapid decline.


Further reading:
'Commodities: The Cloth Industry' by John Hare in English Inland Trade 1430-1540: Southampton and its Region, by Michael Hicks (ed.), p153-160. (HS/h)
'Miscellaneous Commodities' by John hare in English Inland Trade 1430-1540: Southampton and its Region, by Michael Hicks (ed.), p161-162. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, p69-77, 154-55. (HS/h)
Southampton – Points in its Development to the End of the 18th Century, by G. H. J. Daysh, p11-28. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol. 1, by A. Temple Patterson, 1, 4. (HS/h)
Alien Merchants in Southampton in the Later Middle Ages, by Alwyn Ruddock. (HS/h)
Italian Merchants and Shipping in Southampton, by Alwyn Ruddock. (HS/h)


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