The point of this piece was to expand on handloom (2) on what world my ancestors were living in. I only go back to the early 1800s but this was George III, Regency, George IV and Victoria (1837 onward). Living in villages up in the hills and then in districts of an expanding town, they worked in the mills and industries that supported textiles, be it card clothing, dyeing or the railways and domestic coal delivery. Did they know what was going on? Did they care? Handloom (2) does at least compare what the elite might have been doing compared with their very poor neighbours. I realised however that there was still more to say about our local people in their neighbourhoods.
Just a brief reminder that events are not nicely in a straight line. Similarly, accounts of various authors can seem to contradict one other. Suffice to say we are talking about the nineteenth century as if it was in two halves, early and late. For people like my ancestors, early was little more than a step from agricultural poverty. Late was real growth in income and living conditions. Roughly after 1830, more people lived in towns than the country and the factory machines were on the rise, taking over from the domestic textile industry. Water power and then steam. Overlapping these two eras were the Handloom Weavers.
The family information taken from primary sources – death, birth and marriage certificates. The background comes from textbooks and my imagination. For example, I prefer to think of my handloom ancestors working up in the hills with some land for crops and maybe an animal.
So my great great great grandfather, Eli, was a handloom weaver in Lindley. Born in the early nineteenth century. From his son’s birth certificate we know he was working the loom in the 1850s. In 1882 he and his family were living at Yew Tree Rd. Eli was said to be a clothier, but this could mean a number of things. As a romantic family historian, I want Eli to have been a weaver in a workshop or at home.
What sort of cloth did he make? This from David T. Jenkins, ‘Huddersfield: A Most Handsome Town’. By 1851, the year of The Great Exhibition, Huddersfield’s workforce totalled over 30,000. Roughly 3000 men and a little less women were in textiles. The type and quality of cloth was wider than any other area in Britain. Mostly for the home market, with some international trade as well. Intricate fancy woollen cloth required the handloom, especially when production runs were short, and handloom weaving was thus an essential part of the local scene until the 1890s. Fancy waistcoats gradually went out of fashion but there were still plenty of novel and ingenious products like cushions and tablecloths.
From Jennifer Stead, ‘Handsome Town’. As late as 1856 around half of woollen industry was home based. Lindley presumably is a good example of an early village. Self-contained, unplanned and industrial. Insanitary, squalid, feudal in deference to the local factory master (not domestic handloom weavers). Devoid of comfort. Two rooms. With spinning, weaving and winding there was little room for much else. Chairs, table, bakestone, stone sink. Beds on top of looms and perched on stairs. Such conditions persisted in the town, the poorest families sandwiched in courts and yards. By 1850 the outlying villages were changing to single class suburbs. For example, Edgerton for the elite. Hillhouse for the lower middle class – clerks, tradesmen, manufacturers. Lindley presumably similar. 1880s gas lighting, running water and drainage. Carpets, rugs, sideboard. Earth and water closets. One of the downsides was the loss of the queue and gossip at the local well.
From Richard Dennis, ‘Handsome Town’ – Lindley village joined up with Huddersfield around 1867. Newly constructed villas were home to merchants and traders. Solid middle class which I think applies to buildings below the clock and toward Edgerton. My imagination is still up in the hilly section above the clock and toward Salendine Nook. I also have to remember this dream is probably the early part of the nineteenth century and the middle class applies to the second half.
Information from Wiki, ‘Huddersfield Exposed’ and ‘Discovering Old Huddersfield’ (Gordon and Enid Minter). 1841 know as Lindley-cum-Quarmby. 2881 inhabitants in 1848. Home to four textile establishments, two of which are of interest. Acre Mills, makers of card clothing where great grandad William (son of Eli) worked as a stoker in 1880 and later as a joiner’s labourer. He was born in 1854 and died in 1927. Part of the new mechanical steam order. He is variously described as a steam engineer, engine tenter and stoker. I suspect he shovelled coal into the fire under the boiler. He later worked as a joiner’s labourer in a card clothing works, so the other titles in the mill would have been above his pay grade, especially the tenter who was king of the machines and kept the factory going by keeping the machines in tune. Card clothing separates entangled raw wool in preparation for spinning. William had three sisters who remain unknown. Between 1883 and 1922 he lived at Weatherhill Rd.
1897 Sykes Mill became part of the English Card Clothing Co Ltd. In the twentieth century, cousin Gordon, son of George Major, worked here when it was known as the ‘wire works’. Lindley benefited hugely from the Sykes family philanthropy and many buildings where they lived and worked are still around today. The mill was sold to the NHS and is now the site of out-patients.
The other company of interest is Wellington Mills. Grandad Frank Walker was a cloth finisher here.
William married Harriet Bailey in 1882. Her father was Eneas, a smallholder of Cowrakes, Lindley. He grew crops, kept animals and worked a loom. Harriet was one of 13 children. William had 2 sons, Frank, and Arthur who died of meningitis aged 9. Frank was born in 1883 and died in 1943. He began as a cloth finisher at Pat Martins, Lindley, and lived on Weatherhill Rd, Clara St. Hillhouse and then back to Lindley, West St. By 1940 he was managing a grocers on Leeds Rd. Cloth finishing covers a number of processes which enhance performance and appearance of cloth, such as dyeing. Frank is likely to have been a supervisor.
Pat Martin, a Belfast designer, made fancy woollens on Spring St. in 1859. 1868 the company moved to Wellington Mills, specialising in plain and fancy worsted. His sons carried on when Pat died in 1880. Largest employer in the town. Had it’s own contract coal delivery from Alder St. on the main tramway. Dad remembered the coal trucks.
This piece goes back and forward a little, mostly to make sure the information is properly referenced. But it does reflect how history is written or how muddled I can easily become. We are not submitting for a Phd. Some background now from ‘Discovering Old Huddersfield’ by Gordon and Enid Minter. Lindley had over 2000 inhabitants by the middle of the nineteenth century (a village). It still seems to be in two halves. Built up along Lidget St. and this seems to have been a middle class development. Frank Walker on West St. might just qualify. But William and Eli lived out in the country. Lidget St. refers to a Lidgate Lane, a swing gate as an entrance to fields. The Coop was opened here in 1860 and steam trams ran from St George’s Square from 1883.
A brewery operated from 1850 at Weatherhill, supplying 4-5 locals. Netherwood’s, it went out of business around 1900. Just beyond the brewery, West Street becomes Cowrakes Road. Originally a single farmstead called Cowrakes. Rake is an old English word for a steep, narrow track where animals were formed into single file. A workhouse nearby dated from as early as 1813. St Stephen’s parish church, built between 1828-30 to commemorate success at the battle of Waterloo. There is a New Connexion Chapel on Lidget St., but it looks as though Frank Walker and Harriet Bailey were married in High St. Huddersfield. No doubt all the family’s religious affiliations would have been mostly non-conformist.
I need to complete some closing remarks. I think it goes without saying that I identify with these forebears. Independence was fostered in the domestic textile trade and I guess the non-conformist trend in chapels originates here. There are no kings and queens and I wonder if the guys ever bothered. They had enough to worry about. Frank became a shopkeeper and lived in a middle class villa. Otherwise it’s solid working class until my father some 100 years later gets a mortgage. There’s a lot of moving house during the nineteenth century. During a downturn in wages, families would move to lower rents or vice-versa. Flexible, the opposite of experiences in the current pandemic. You’re encouraged to go for broke to buy and house, and then it’s a liability. Small pox was rife in their time. Legislation was passed to ensure children were vaccinated. Not everyone had the vote. The manufacturers held sway, but were also benefactors. Some similarities with today but we have it a lot easier with housing and wages, though some might not think so. We are saturated with news, not always helpful.
So yes I identify with their character and I keep my shoulders nice and sharpened. But they had a hard life. Is it what you get used to?