The Fools’ Goldrush: Forgotten aspects of the Alum & Copperas industry in Dorset and South-West Hampshire, c.1450-1618
journal contributionposted on 28.11.2019, 13:51 by Stephen Gadd
A reappraisal of primary sources suggests that the copperas industry in Dorset and south-west Hampshire became well-established somewhat earlier than is commonly thought, and continued later and with steadier success than is generally appreciated. While there are lengthy accounts of the history of the Dorset works and good ones of copperas production more generally, writers have historically tended to dwell on the spectacular financial losses of two particular rival courtly speculators, and have failed to note the geographical limits of the evidence arising from their disputes. Recent investigations have focussed on interesting but necessarily localised archaeological evidence, and have in some cases relied on auto-affirming circular arguments from secondary sources. Incorrect dating of primary sources, particularly among the State Papers, although usually noted to be approximate, appears to have seriously impeded the chronological analysis of the industry, while in one instance acceptance of a partisan contemporary source has exaggerated threefold the claimed value of the industry at one point in time, hinting mistakenly at a volatility simply not evident in other sources.
This article relates evidence that so-called ‘alum’ was collected and, more significantly, manufactured on the Hampshire coast in the fifteenth century, demonstrates early problems with the emerging system of monopolies, and identifies the locations of three copperas manufactories established in the district before 1565. The invaluable evidence collected from the Exchequer Port Books was greatly facilitated by a new document digitisation and transcription project.