Today, I want to share another instalment of the Mills in our Midst series.
In this series I start with a ball, or in this case a scrap, of vintage ‘mystery’ yarn and use it to dig a little deeper into the industrial and social and economic histories of our craft, and reflect on our lived experience of the post industrial landscapes of our present.
The identity of todays scrap of yarn only came to light when I was planning my Litmus Cowl which I’ve written about previously. I have tendency to salvage unloved vintage yarns, an have a particular keenness for vintage heathered sock yarns.
As a result, in my stash were some little balls of just such heathered light fingering/3ply yarns that had been knitted up by their original owners, and pulled back and rewound. Before I used these I wanted to skein them up and wash them to remove some of the kinks remaining from their previous life.
As I did so I realised that one ball of yarn had only been partially knit up and pulled back and as I got to the centre of the ball I found the original ball tag. Not so much as a ball band but a little adhesive sticker folded, wrapped and sealed around the strand of yarn, reading:
‘Non-Shrink, PETER GREEN, Dye No. 12, PAMPLON 3 ply mixtures, non-shrink’.
It was enough to spark my curiosity.
I looked up Peter Green and wool and the only reference I initially found was from the National Archives which had an entry for ‘Peter Preen & Co, Wool and Textile Weavers, Bradley, Yorkshire’. This catalogue entry identified that the North Yorkshire County records Office holds the company ledgers for 1899-1911.
Armed with additional information on the location of the business I was able to locate a further record at Industrial Heritage Online which provided more information on Peter Green. This was largely due to an interest in his son, Horace Green, an engineer who established his own business on the same site as his father’s textile business, and who himself had links to the textile industry.
Horace Green, it explains, developed direct current motors for textile mills and engineering machinery and the pumps for cooling the machines that ran on their motors. Latterly he was worked on dynamos and alternators and was involved in military contracts during World War II.
Both Horace Green Engineers & Co Motor Works and Peter Green & Co Wool and Textile Weavers shared the Station Mills site in the Yorkshire mining village of Cononley adjacent to Bradley. Station Mills was bought by Peter, the father, at the turn of the century from George Turner, the fourth generation of Turner to work the mill site.
Originally the site housed 2 mills, High Mill and Low Mill and George Turner replaced Low Mill and incorporated High Mill into what became Station Mills. However, doing so appears to have bankrupted him and the mills and house on the site were sold on to Peter Green who already had mill property and had been producing textiles at Cross Lane Mill, Low Bradley since 1883.
A further reference to Cross Lane Mills explains that Peter Green had earlier bought this original combined cotton spinning and weaving mill in Bradley, which had been built by local businessmen to provide local employment, for a reduced price following the financial difficulties of this original group of businessmen and after a previous sale had fallen through.
Piecing this together it suggests that Peter Green had been in a position to buy Cross Mill Lane for the reduced price of £4,000, rather than the original price of £7,000 in 1883. He upgraded the beam engine in 1901 with a Smith Bros. & Eastwood 350ihp tandem compound condensing engine, named ‘Progress’, which ran until the mill closed in 19781. Then in 1905 he bought the Station Mills site from George Turner, then facing bankruptcy. At that time Industrial Heritage Online suggests that Station Mills had 250 looms and was producing Cashmeres, and that the company continued to produce textiles such as bed ticking and pocket cloths for spring interiors along with cotton shirting until 1968.
These 2 sources provided enough information to begin to sketch the landscape in which Peter Green was operating.
Michael Gill writing of Cononley for the British Mining, Northern Mines Research Society in 1999, for example, provides some interesting insights into the textile industry in his area. He cites George Ingle, and the evidence of water powered cotton mills in this area at this time, as challenging the common assumption cotton was spun and woven in Lancashire and wool in Yorkshire. Instead, this area was initially associated with cotton and only later transitioned to wool. This transition it seems was only partly driven by the development of steam powered cotton mills in Lancashire from the 1810s which gave them a competitive advantage from the mid 1800s.
Cononley as a mill town or large village, follows a much mirrored trajectory from cottage industry or proto-industrial development, to full industrial development and production.
Hodgson and Gulliver in their Cononley History speak to a history of hand loom weaving dating back to the 17th century when the West riding of Yorkshire was involved in the production of undyed and unfinished white ‘kersey’ cloth which by the end of the century was replaced by the production of worsted cloth bringing with it greater prosperity. The first evidence of this shift in Cononley was a reference they cite to Thomas Parkinson Shalloon maker in the 1774 parish record, shalloon being a light worsted cloth.
The first Mill in Cononley, in terms of a building given over solely to production, which is now a domestic dwelling, contained 3 mules with 120 spindles each and when sold in 1810, the owner was listed as a farmer and cotton spinner.
However, the transition from cotton to wool and from cottage to full industrial production was slower than may be assumed. According to Gill, the narrower hand driven, smaller power looms remained in use locally for a further 30 years or so beyond the development of steam powered looms. However, the reason given for this continuation rather than transition, suggests a desire for flexibility rather than scale; these smaller looms could be used for both cotton or worsted wool so that weavers using this machinery could respond quickly to changes in demand.
Indeed, at the same time that Lancashire was developing its steam powered mills, Gill notes that between 1822 and 1832, a group of local businessmen formed a Building Society and invested further in the cottage industry model in Cononley, building a row of 32 houses designed to accommodate hand looms in their rear, upstairs rooms. As result the 1841 and 1851 censuses both recorded 89 weavers living in these houses, latterly also that 54 were using hand looms and 33 power looms.
However, within a decade of the completion of this row of houses, High and Low Mill, both built in the 1840s, signalled the shift to the more familiar larger scale factory system associated with industrialisation and both were steam powered.
High Mill housed 190 looms and employed 120 workers, and this at a time when just 9% of Lancashire cotton concerns, seen as the benchmark of textile industrialisation, employed more than 500 workers. Moreover, the mills in Cononley were also significant developments in a wool context where by 1851, 91% woollen spinning mills and 63% of worsted woollen mills employed fewer than 50 workers*.
Gill’s Primary interest in the lead mining in Cononley leads him to draw attention to the relative importance and impact of the textile industry compared to mining on the area. He notes for example, that from the 1840s the local textile mills were by far the largest employers in the area and that unlike mining employed men, women and children. Census records show that in both 1841 and 1851 half of the recorded weavers were female, but the latter census also shows that 68% of female weavers had moved from hand to power looms, compared to just 32% of men. Hodgson and Gulliver, note that the approx 500 men, women and children recorded as working in textiles in the 1841 census, included 30 boys and girls of 14 or younger with a further 9 boys and 11 girls aged 10 or under employed as bobbin winders.
Moreover, while miners came in from other areas initially as the mine was opened up and only latterly employed a locally born workforce, workers at the textile mills tended to be from local families.
There are times when curiosity take you down some very interesting rabbit holes. That said, I still have outstanding questions…
For example, what of Peter Green’s background? How was he placed in 1883 to buy Cross Lane Mills and then Station Mills in 1905?
There may be a trace of a connection in Hodgson and Gulliver’s Village history. They write, ‘It is surely no coincidence that in 1705 John Bradley of Cononley married Mary Green, the daughter of John Green of Southwark, ‘Yarnman’. No doubt John Green was originally from the West Riding as he had two brothers living in Keighley and he left £100 in his will to the free Grammar School there’ (p.50). and that ‘Mary Green’s family connections make it quite likely that the 18th century prosperity of the Bradley family and their heirs was founded on the wool trade’ (p.33). However, the family is not really traced much beyond this point and no connection is made between no connection between these Greens, including John Green’s brothers who lived locally and Peter Green who appears on the scene in a position to buy mills in the 1880s.
They also that just 3 years after her husband bought Station Mills, in 1908 Mrs Sarah Green bought Cononley Hall from Thomas Swire Laycock and the Green family built the first four houses of the terrace known as ‘Beech Mount’, one of which Horace Green lived in, and that in 1911 the Hall was divided into three parts and occupied by a succession of families. It also notes the The Hall was transferred to Horace Green & Co. in 1923 and the company continued to own the Hall until the early 1980s. Now, you could stay there as it’s a B&B.
But if you’re looking for something more permanent, around 2006 Cross Lane Mill, which ceased production in 1978, was converted to residential use.
Station Works Cononley, which closed ten years earlier in 1968, has similarly been converted into luxury apartments under the name Horace Works:
While the original form of these mills has been maintained, albeit with a contemporary luxury annex, and ‘top of the mill’ penthouse apartments, it’s certainly a far cry from the days when the majority of men, women, and children in these communities engaged in poorly paid, long hours of the hard physical and noisy work of textile production on these sites. Instead these developments are marketed to people who work in neighbouring urban centres such as Leeds and will benefit from road and rail connectivity.
You may noticed my mixed feelings. So many similar buildings that have fallen into disuse end up demolished or converted beyond all recognition, effectively erased from our landscapes. It’s difficult to know how best to recognise our industrial past within the context of the particular challenges our post-industrial present.
I’d love to know what you think of this challenge. Your version of gentrification, which is what I think this is, may look different but generate similar tensions. If you’re familiar with the area and can fill in any gaps in what I’ve said, or if you are lucky enough to live in this part of the world and this is part of your daily lived experience, please do get in touch.
Until next time, take care,
* Howard Martin, Britian in the 19th Century, Employment in Textiles
M.C. Gill (1999) Cononley: The Anatomy of a Mining Village, British Mining No.63, NMRS, available from this link
Trevor Hodgson and David Gulliver (2000) The History of Cononley: an Airedale village. available from this link
- The engine ‘Progress’ was saved when the mill was converted into housing and has now been restored and is on public display at Bancroft Mill Engine Museum in Barnoldswick . Thank you to blog reader Tony Nixon for sharing this information via comments. It’s great to know that this piece of our textile history has been saved and can continue to tell this story. ↩︎