The manufacture of linen cloth from flax fibre is said to have been one of the most extensive and widely practised of the domestic industries of Europe from early times until the end of the eighteenth century, ranging across the continent from Russia, through Austria and Germany into Holland, Belgium, Northern France into the British Isles. Flax could be grown almost anywhere in Britain and by the mid-eighteenth century was widely cultivated and woven into linen cloth in many parts of England. But it was to Ireland, where the growing of flax and the making of locally marketed 'handle cloth1 had long been an occupation of the Irish people and to Scotland, where similar traditions applied, that it became of prime importance.2