To most Devizes inhabitants, the name ‘Anstie’ is synonymous with snuff, but it is not generally known that an 18th century member of this trading family was an internationally famous clothier, who touched the lives of many leading figures of the period. John Anstie lived at a time of great economic and political change,. For a decade he stood in the national limelight, becoming an authority on wool, promoting a parliamentary bill and acting as informal consultant and Free Trade publicist for the Younger Pitt’s government. As a manufacturer he was in the vanguard of technical progress, achieving such excellence that he supplied cloth to crowned heads and leading number of English and European society.
In this spirited account his achievements as clothier, politician and citizen are traced through letters, newspapers, parliamentary and local records. His accounts in the family ledgers for 1776 to 1793 provide clues to his extensive financial commitments, while his five highly articulate pamphlets reveal his liberal, progressive views and his own philosophy and character. His shadowy later life after his bankruptcy contrasts sadly with his earlier brilliance, and his achievements have been overshadowed by the later prosperity of the family tobacco business. Yet his career exemplifies a liberal West Country clothier receptive to changing economic ideas and innovative technology in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution.