Textile manufacturing in the city of Bramsche, 22 km north-east of Osnabruck, flourished for 400 years, chiefly due to the water-power available at mills on the River Hase that were owned by the bishops of Osnabruck until 1849 and then by the Clothworkers’ Guild. In the 18th century Bramsche was notable for the production of heavy woollen fabrics that were dyed red, using technology introduced by the Thuringian M H Wolff (1709-81), and used for uniforms by the British and Hanoverian armies. Until 1849 the mills were used for grinding grain, working leather, crushing oil seeds and sawing wood, and only one wheel was available for driving textile machinery. From 1849 the clothworkers used all the power available on the site, and subsequently supplemented the water-power with a steam engine. All textile manufacturing processes were concentrated at the mill and the domestic system in Bramsche was largely abandoned.
The factory closed in 1972 when most of the machinery was cleared, but was revived as a museum which opened in 1997 with machines of the early 20th century brought in from elsewhere. Displays tell the story of textile manufacturing from earliest times, and some rare early 19th century wooden machines used in domestic production are exhibited. Visitors can see self-acting mules used for spinning woollen yarn on the ground floor, and looms for weaving woollen fabrics on the floor above, and can then progress to shops where fulling and other finishing processes are demonstrated, and to the dyehouse.
The highlight of the museum is a section in which letters, parish documents, family traditions and photographs have been used to re-create the lives of seven people who were involved with making textiles in Bramsche over 250 years. Johann Heinrich Reffelt (1773-1829) appears as an apprentice, but he progressed to become one of the city’s principal clothmasters. Gesche Thole, who migrated from Bremen to marry the master of the mill, portrays the period of the Industrial Revolution. Henrich Storch, describes the difficulties faced by a small-scale clothmaster at the time of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1. Herman Thole, an apprentice between 1884 and 1887 shows life in Bramsche during the early years of the German Empire. Auguste Werner, about 1900, had an ambition that was never fulfilled of migrating to the United States. Arnold Surendorf-Wonning was an entrepreneur who set up his own small factory on the edge of the city in the 1920s. Dorothea Landefeld, an apprentice in the 1960s, details the decline of textile manufacturing in Bramsche.
The museum is a starting point for tours of the historic city of Bramsche and for a network of cycling and hiking paths, one of which goes to the top of nearby dykes from which visitors can see flocks of sheep, successors to those that once provided the clothmakers with their raw materials.