to Isle of Wight History Centre          

Return to Fulling Mills of the Isle of Wight Homepage.

The subject of urine, in the processing of wool and the production of cloth, is too large a subject to be dealt with here but it does require a brief comment. Human urine was used for scouring and cleaning wool and for dying wool, where it was used as a mordant. The woollen cloth industry had to compete in certain areas for supplies of urine with the alum and the saltpetre industries.

Urine provides a very convenient and accessible source of alkali in the form of ammonia, which is produced as the urine becomes stale and the urea, within the urine, decomposes to ammonia. This ammonia was useful for cleaning wool, prior to spinning as well as fulling. In many wool-processing areas, a urine collection was set up in urban areas to collect the 'chamberlye', 'wash' or 'lant'; large quantities were even collected in London and sent up north by ship. In his Practical Treatise on Dying published in 1823, William Partridge states

"Urine that is fresh voided will not scour well. That from persons on a plain diet is stronger and better than that from luxurious livers. The cider and gin drinkers are considered to give the worst, the beer drinker the best. When urine is collected it should be kept in close vessels until it has completely undergone those changes by which ammonia is developed".
In the 18th century Encyclopédié, produced by Diderot, the stages of spinning and weaving wool are detailed through a number of engravings. The picture (right) show the washing of raw wool in a tub of water and stale urine, before the spinning process. This same process was used again before the fulling of the cloth, straight from the loom.

L'Encyclopédié, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers", Denis Diderot: edited by Charles C. Gillispie, (Dover Publications, Inc.,1993)