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5. Spinhuis

Oudezijds Achterburgwal 185

The transformation of raw hemp fibres into basic material for clothing, sails, kites, ropes, and everything that had to be robust and sturdy began at the spinning wheel. This tool was a source of income for some, a punishment for others.

The Spinhuis on Oudezijds Achterburgwal was a penitentiary for women, founded in 1597 in part of a former monastery. ‘This spinning house was founded here to avoid begging, leeching and iniquity for poor girls, maidens and women,’ it said above the entrance gate.

Young ladies who were guilty of fornication in brothels and inns, who had been arrested for drunkenness, or who had committed adultery, were also put to work here, ‘to the great expense of the city, to be disciplined and corrected’. The Spinhuis therefore had unmistakable ambitions! At the time, many kinds of textile products relied on yarn from hemp and wool. This was spun as a form of punishment.

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