From the ninth century right through to the nineteenth century cannabis plants were widely grown throughout the United Kingdom. Noone is able to state definitively whether the plants were ever used in this period for their chemical properties (although these properties were known and had been well documented for many centuries previous) but the primary purpose was the creation of hemp.
Hemp is the fibre that can be extracted from cannabis plants; more specifically the Cannabis Sativa strain, which typically grows a lot taller and produces thinner leaves. Hemp fibres are strong, durable and insulated which meant that the fibre had a multitude of purposes. Throughout the country it was used to develop clothes, ropes, sales and canvases amongst many other products. These products were also recycled to create paper and the oil derived from the plant’s seeds could be used to fuel lamps.
In England hemp was introduced in the ninth century where it an early peak in production. The production slowed slightly around the twelfth century as new crops were discovered. During this time the crop was introduced in Scotland, which was experiencing an agricultural boom. In Scotland farming became segregated by crop, meaning that hemp was only to be found in specialised plantations. Most commonly it was located around fishing villages as hemp was used to produce the necessary sails, ropes and fishing nets for the boats.
In the sixteenth century hemp production reached its peak across the UK as Henry the Eighth demanded its growth for use in clothing, primarily for the armed forces. This was ultimately the downfall of the industry; as the UK struggled to meet demands hemp was imported. This imported hemp proved to be cheaper than the domestic produce killing off the industry.
Although the use of hemp as a clothing material had ceased, it has seen a recent resurgence. Traditionally the fibres that the cannabis plants produced were very course. This resulted in a tough and uncomfortable fabric and as more comfortable fabrics became readily available in Britain the manufacture of hemp clothing all but ceased. Over recent years however the clothing has had somewhat of a resurgence. The reason for this is that new strains of the Cannabis Sativa plant have been successfully bred and they offer a softer and more delicate version of hemp which can produce far more comfortable clothing. Hemp is also easily grown without the reliance on chemicals (such as herbicides, fungicides and pesticides) and yields higher fibre output per acre compared to similar fibres. These reasons combined have resulted in hemp growing in popularity, particularly amongst persons that are environmentally conscious.