3. St Mary's Church Yard
Hidden away in the path are two brass markers. They could have been used for measuring rope or fabric to sell in the weekly market. Henry III granted a weekly Thursday market in Cheltenham in 1226.
What's the history?
These brass markers are a bit of a puzzle, art historian Nicolas Pevsner describes them as markers for measuring rope but it’s also been suggested that they were used for measuring cloth. Local historians Steven Blake and Jill Waller agree either could be an option but without sufficient evidence it is also difficult to date them exactly. Rope was made in Cheltenham and amongst the principle trades recorded in 1608 there was one silk weaver, ten weavers, four tailors (Cheltenham, A New History by Anthea Jones). In his book on Heritage Walks, David Elder notes on the ‘south side of the churchyard path there are brass measuring marks approximately 7 cm in length….used by traders to check the measurements of rope and cloth’. The two existing markers are about 4.9 metres apart and the missing one might have been in between.
Fabric widths are determined by the looms they are woven on and could range from anything from 50cm to over a metre depending on the fabric and where they were woven. For example, silks tend to be narrower than woollen cloths because they are more expensive. Also because silk was expensive it was sold by weight rather than length. Lengths were measured in cubits (elbow to middle finger tip) and yards (whole length of an outstretched arm).
It might be possible to find out more about our mystery markers in the Gloucestershire Archives.
Historical image shows an engraving published in 1787.
A local opinion
I had never heard about the brass markers; this is definitely a first and we will be going to the Churchyard to have a little look! I can’t imagine selling our fabrics outside St Mary’s Church nowadays, because everyone wants the material to be spotless, so trying to keep it from not getting wet or dirty would be really difficult.
We are a family business and we’ve been on the Cheltenham High Street for 22 years, selling haberdashery, wool, craft items and fabric. Everything we sell is sold by the metre or half metre; we do have a few products that are sold by weight, but predominantly, it’s all by the metre. Beads and sequins are sold in weighted packets, as well as stuffing for toys, which is sold by weight, in grams. Nowadays, expensive fabrics such as silk are also sold by the metre and not by their weight.
We measure material using wooden rulers; people like to see you measuring the fabric out, so no gadgets! We have two standard widths, either 160cm wide or 110cm; those are the only two sizes we get offered for craft and sewing fabrics.
Lots of crafters visit the shop to buy things, either to make their own gifts or to sell on their stalls, in Cheltenham at the market, or at different village halls, particularly around times such as Christmas and Mother’s Day.
The Sewing Box, Cheltenham.