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Location: Barnoldswick. Nearer to Heaven than Gloria.


Post by Stanley »




© Stanley Challenger Graham 2008

The right of Stanley Challenger Graham as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patents Act of 1993.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

The front cover picture is the company’s letterhead, the picture on the back cover is by Daniel Meadows and is the author working on the hot boiler at Bancroft in 1977.

Dedicated to all the people who conceived, built and ran Bancroft Shed for fifty eight years. In particular, those who helped me to learn how to run a mill, understand how it worked and put up with my interminable questions, without them I could never have had such a wonderful experience.

I can’t possibly give adequate thanks to individuals, there are too many of them. However, I must record my thanks to Janet Sharples who has proofed the text. She of course carries all the responsibility for any mistakes, but I shall take the blame.

This map shows the location of Bancroft in relation to the town. If you want to find Barnoldswick look halfway between Burnley and Skipton in the Northern part of England. We are between 500 and 1000 feet up in the Northern Pennines.


Preface 1
1. The back story 3
2. The Nutter story 7
Tea Break: A tackler’s tale. 9
3. What is a weaving shed? 13
Tea Break: Young Tooley and Jackie Waterworth 23
4. How the mill worked 25
Tea Break: Recycling 29
5. The weaving shed 35
Tea Break: Bath night 43
6. The warehouse. Tacklers, cutlookers and the office 45
Tea Break: Hungry men 65
7. Tape sizing and some cloth construction 67
Tea Break: Body and soul 77
8. Looming and twisting 79
Tea Break: Gambling fever 87
9. Winding 89
Tea Break: Cable wireless and the Christmas Goose 97
10. The boiler house and chimney 99
Tea Break: Ferrets and the woman’s lot 107
11. The engine 109
Tea Break: Entertainment 115
12. A day in the life of James and Mary Jane 117
Tea Break: Education 157
13. Dragging it all together 159
Tea Break: Hard times 163
14. James Nutter and Sons take over 167
Tea Break: Hard times and society 173
15. Bancroft during the second world war 175
Tea Break: Attitudes to work and unemployment 181
16. After the war was over 183
Interlude: A list of workpeople at Bancroft in 1941 191
17. Surviving the peace 197
Tea Break: Conditions in the mill 201
18. The economics of the weaving shed 205
Tea Break: Work in the mill 215
19. The beginning of the end 219
Tea Break: The war years 231
20. The final solution 235
Tea Break: Wages and kissing shuttles 239
21. Weaving out 243
22. Moth-balling the plant 263
Epilogue 269

I live in a small town called Barnoldswick, mid-way between Burnley and Skipton and 600ft up in the Northern Pennines of England. It’s a walking distance town, you’re never more than ten minutes away from open countryside and the population is around 12,000 souls in 2008. For a hundred years it was a mill town depending solely on agriculture, cotton manufacture and associated services. We are reputed to be the biggest town in England that isn’t served by an ‘A’ road and so if you find yourself in Barlick (we use that name because it’s easier) you’re either lost or you meant to come here in the first place. The boundary changes of 1974 dragged us kicking and screaming into Lancashire but many people still regard us as a Yorkshire town. Actually I think they might be wrong, Barlick was always unique and has been quite happy to straddle the border, take note of what the Red and White Rose counties were doing and pick and mix the options. You’ll be nearest to the truth if you think of us as independent, slightly bloody-minded and convinced that we have the best of both worlds.
This relative isolation ensured that the town grew up to become self-contained. We still have good services and one of the attractions for visitors is that we have managed to retain the air of solid stone-built mill town even though the cotton industry is long gone. I wasn’t born here but I love the place and have been looking at its history for more than thirty years now. It’s a bit late in the day, I was born before WW2, but I’ve finally got round to sharing some of the things I have learned in fifty years of residence. Pity if I took it to the grave…
I want to tell you a story about a cotton mill. My qualifications for doing this are that I ran the engine at Bancroft Shed, the last steam driven mill to be built in Barlick and the last one to close. A lot has been written about the mills and parts of their operation and equipment but as far as I am aware nobody has ever told the full story of one of these marvellous places, it’s genesis, how it was built, how it functioned, what effect it had on the workers lives and eventually how it died. That’s my intention, I’ll leave it to you to decide how well I have done the job.
[If you have a computer, log on to this link and watch the film and the one that follows it. It will give you some background and help you to get a feel for the story. ... tanley.flv]
You’ll find that every now and then I give you a break from absorbing quite dense information because I know how hard it is to keep concentration levels up. Everyone needs a tea break occasionally so I’ve given you the literary equivalent. They are culled from interviews I did with Fred Inman who was a tackler at Bancroft. It’s a parallel narrative to my main story but from a different perspective, if there is repetition at times I think it’s helpful because it reinforces the main narrative. I hope you enjoy Fred’s version and that he helps you get a better insight into Bancroft and the world that shaped its story. If you like Fred’s story look at the Lancashire Textile Project on for more of the same.

Town Square in 2004.

Newtown round about 1906.
Barlick is a very ancient settlement, the name is thought to be Saxon, a man called Bernulf had a wick (farmstead) here before the Domesday Book and so when the King’s clerks came here in 1085 they marked us down as Bernolfwic, now modified to Barnoldswick which we shorten in everyday speech to Barlick and this is the name I shall use. We have evidence of Bronze-age settlement, the inhabitants were peasant farmers living off small enclosures and hunter-gathering on the surrounding land. About 4,000 years ago they had domesticated sheep and unless they were severely retarded found that the wool could be twisted into a yarn and woven into cloth. This domestic production of textiles lasted until the steam-driven factory system finally made it uneconomic in the 19th century. At first the fibres used were home-grown wool and linen produced from the flax plant, later there was some silk weaving. Cotton had been known as an exotic fibre for hundreds of years prior to coming into Britain in significant quantities through London in the early 17th century after Queen Elizabeth licensed the East India Company in 1600. The Company imported cotton fibre, fine yarn and some light cloth from the Indies. By the mid 18th century there was a high demand for the new lighter cloths. Some cotton was being traded in Liverpool by 1780 and after 1800 the ‘Pool was the entry port for virtually all cotton imports, particularly those from the United States of America as part of the third and final leg of the infamous triangular slave trade. Wool was still being woven by hand loom weavers as late as 1861 in Barlick but the domestic trade was small and shrinking. The main trading centres for cloth in the early days of the domestic industry were Colne and Halifax but with the rise of the cotton industry Manchester became the regional centre.
The genesis of the domestic textile industry was the necessity of weaving for the family. It developed into making cloth to use as a barter good and in the 17th century was organised by ‘clothiers’ who supplied the raw wool and marketed the cloth paying the weavers by the ‘piece’, a standard length of cloth. This is the origin of the modern term ‘piece work’ and this old wool trade still survives in some areas of the Outer Isles in Scotland weaving specialised high quality tartan cloth. In the mid 18th century cotton became the most important fibre. With the advent of crude water powered spinning machinery before 1780 sliver preparation in the cottages died out and they became full time spinners and weavers. Arkwright’s improvements were a great advance but the patents weren’t broken until the mid 1780s after which use of his waterframe expanded rapidly. Barlick had plenty of water power and got in on the act well before 1800 but there is no evidence of them using the Arkwright water frame, it seems they may have been using the cruder machines to produce good quality roving for the cottage spinners to improve the quality of the yarn. As soon as Richard Roberts perfected the power loom and started manufacturing them in 1827 the industry took them up, weaving moved into the factories and the slow decline of the handloom weavers started. By about 1850 they were almost extinct and the modern steam-driven textile factory system was fully established.
In most North West textile towns this would be where the boom began but true to form, Barlick was a bit different. From the early 19th century there were two dominant manufacturing families in the town, the Slaters and the Bracewells. The Slaters come into the story later, the man we are interested in at the moment is William Bracewell of Newfield Edge, commonly known as ‘Billycock’ because of his customary headgear a hard bowler hat. Born in 1813 in Earby he set up a putting-out business in the town around 1840 and by 1860 had driven everyone but the Slaters and their tenants out of business. The biggest casualty was his cousin’s enterprise, Bracewell Brothers at Old Coates Mill. Billycock was a hard man with only one ambition, to dominate the town. Using family capital for his initial establishment but later working on credit from the Craven Bank he rapidly expanded his empire, built two steam mills in Barlick, bought land and assets in the town and even an engineering works in Burnley and a coal field at Ingleton. In between he found time to promote and build a branch railway line and run the biggest milk round.
In 1885, during a series of family problems, Billycock died and because of bad business decisions he had made the firm he had built up collapsed. The will was thrown into Chancery and everything sold off to pay his creditors. The consequences for the town were disastrous and a contemporary report said that grass was growing in the streets. Other local capital holders whose income depended on the prosperity of the town got together, founded two ‘room and power’ companies and saved the town. A ‘room and power’ company is an association of capital holders who build a weaving shed and run it providing room and power for manufacturers as tenants. This was a brilliant success, the major company, the Calf Hall Shed Company, building one new shed at Calf Hall, buying Bracewell’s Butts and Wellhouse Mills from the receivers and later Viaduct Shed at Colne. The Long Ing Shed Company built one mill a year earlier but never grew beyond that. The ‘room and power’ principle gave entrepreneurs access to manufacturing at a low threshold of capital expenditure. These new entrants to the trade could concentrate entirely on their speciality, weaving cloth and this resulted in efficient management, good returns and the accumulation of profits which fuelled another burst of expansion between 1895 and 1914 when these successful tenants built their own mills. The town doubled in size. By 1914 Barlick had 13 mills and Bancroft in the course of erection, the proportion of looms to inhabitants was the highest in England, almost 25,000 looms and about 10,000 inhabitants.
One notable family of manufacturers who emerged from the wreckage of the Bracewell empire was the Nutters. In March 1920 when they finally started Bancroft it was the last and most modern weaving shed in Barlick. In July 1920 the cotton trade cracked and went into a slow decline, by 1980 it was dead. My story is about this last mill, Bancroft. By the way, you may have noticed that when I refer to the mills some are named ‘Shed’ and some ‘Mill’. The difference is that if a factory started by doing preparation, spinning and weaving it was named ‘Mill’. If it concentrated solely on weaving it was named ‘Shed’. I regard the collective term mills as being correct for all of them but will quite often refer to the specialised weaving mills as ‘sheds’.
So, we have our background, let’s get on with the tale… We need to know something about the Nutters.

James Nutter, date unknown but an impressive looking bloke.

Mary Jane Nutter (nee Chadwick).

One suggestion for the origin of the surname ‘Nutter’ is that it is a corruption of ‘neat herd’. ‘Neat’ is the old name for a deer and neat herds were men employed to turn deer back into the royal forests if they attempted to stray. The name is very common on the boundaries of the Royal Forest of Blackburnshire so this origin fits.
The branch of the Nutter family we are interested in originated in Rimington near Clitheroe. James junior (b.1845) [son of James (b.1811)] started work in a water powered textile mill at Howgill processing ‘shoddy’ which is substandard wool fibre regarded as waste by the high end of the wool industry. This is the origin of the pejorative term shoddy to describe anything that is of lower quality. The family moved to Barlick in search of employment early in the mid 19th century and young James got employment in one of Bracewell’s mills. He didn’t stay long there but joined in with some neighbouring young men selling Blackie’s Family Bibles door to door in Barlick and the countryside around.

William Atkinson in Old Barlick says that in 1864 Edward [Ned] Slater lost an arm in an accident at Wellhouse Mill and started selling Blackie’s Bibles to make a living. Edward died in 1885 aged 45 years but other young men had followed his example, Billy Brooks told me that James Edmondson did the same thing.

By 1867 James is back in textiles working in Porrit and Austin’s mill at Edenfield learning the trade of wool spinning and living at Tottington near Bury where he met and married Mary Jane Chadwick in 1867. Her father worked in the same mill as he did. In 1868 they were living at Straighby in Lancashire (Not sure where this is. Could it be a district of Tottington?) where their first child Eliza Jane was born. By 1872 he and Mary Jane are living in Gargrave, and have three children, he is working at Aire Bank Mill which was owned by the Earby branch of the Bracewell family. At the 1881 census he is back in Barlick and living at Townhead but is evidently doing quite well because they soon moved into a larger home, Stopes House on Gillian’s Lane opposite what is now Moorgate Road.

Sometime around 1880 James Nutter started up as a manufacturer in Nuttall’s New Coates Mill as a tenant with 56 Looms. Shortly afterwards he was in partnership with one of his former bible-selling friends, Slater Edmondson, in the Slater Brothers’ Clough Mill. In 1888 the partnership moved to the new Long Ing Shed with 400 looms. In 1890 the partnership broke up, Slater Edmondson stayed in Long Ing Shed with 400 looms but James started again in Calf Hall Shed with 414 looms. In 1905 he moved into the newly built Bankfield Shed with 900 looms working alongside Bradley Brothers who also had 900 looms in what was then reputed to be the biggest single weaving shed in the industry. James Nutter and Sons wove there until 1934.

Meanwhile, other branches of the Nutter family had been busy. Things get confused here because the different Nutter family firms were closely associated in both finance and management. What is certain is that James Nutter conceived the idea of building Bancroft Shed (then known as New Shed) at Gillians and was instrumental in starting the construction in 1914 even though he was still trading as James Nutter and Sons in Bankfield. The Bankfield unit was run by his son Wilfred Ewart Nutter (b.1883). James died at Southport on 20 February 1914 aged 69, he had a mastoid operation and then succumbed to gall stones. The war intervened and construction stopped at Bancroft. In March 1920 it was finished and his eldest daughter Eliza Jane deputed for her mother who was unwell and started the engine which had cylinders named James and Mary Jane. The first occupier of the mill was another Nutter firm, Nutter Brothers with 1200 looms. They ran it until 1934 when they moved into Grove Shed at Earby to take up space vacated by another Nutter firm, R Nutter Ltd which had failed in 1932, this firm had been run by Wilfred’s brothers Randall and Rupert. Nutter Brothers left their looms in Bancroft which was taken over by James Nutter and Sons Limited under the command of Wilfred Nutter. Nutter Brothers took the 900 looms from Bankfield and moved them to Grove Shed but remained members of the Barnoldswick Manufacturer’s Association. Incidentally, this was the end of Bankfield as a weaving shed because Bradley Brothers had gone bankrupt in 1920 and had been replaced by a rag bag of small firms which the other manufacturers referred to as ‘Woolworth’s’. Bankfield Shed closed and didn’t run again until WW2 when it became a shadow factory, first for the Rover Company and then for Rolls Royce who are still there in 2008. There was another firm, W E & D Nutter Ltd who were in Wellhouse Mill as tenants of the Calf Hall Shed Company with 1,125 looms. This appears to have been a partnership between Wilfred Nutter and I think David Nutter.

So, in 1934, in the middle of all the inter-war disputes and bad trade, James Nutter and Sons are weaving in Bancroft Shed and the firm continued under that name until final closure in December 1978. My involvement was that I went there as firebeater in 1972 and after about four months took over as engineer and ran the mill for six years until it closed down. Flawed though my account may be, it has the merit that I was personally involved and speak from experience.


Fred Inman, gent and tackler, taking his ease at lunchtime in the tackler’s cabin at Bancroft Shed in 1977.

One of the benefits gained from listening to people describing their lives is that apart from learning about their experiences and how they shaped their world you occasionally come across seemingly unconnected facts that had an impact at the time but have since sunk without trace. Try this one for size….

In 1906 there was a young married couple living on Albion Street in Earby. Parkinson Inman, the husband, was born in 1876 at Pately Bridge but spent most of his young life in Keighley where his father who was a navvy had moved for work. Parkinson started work as an engineering apprentice but seems to have left this quite soon because by the age of 16 he was a weaver. He followed an older sister to Earby in search of work in about 1892 and went into the Big Mill working for Hugh Currer’s and then Shuttleworths where he eventually became a tackler. In about 1903 he married a lass called Elizabeth Turner, born 1878 in Earby, whose family had a butcher’s shop on Water Street. Elizabeth wove in the mill and helped in the shop as well, she used to have to carry heavy baskets of meat around the town delivering to customers.

This is where the unconnected fact creeps in… ‘July 15th 1878. Birth of Melbourne Inman. Four times Professional Champion of English Billiards, 1912 - 1919 and winner of the first ever match to be played in the World Snooker Championships. He beat Tom Newman 8 games to 5 in a match which began on 29th November 1926 and finished on 6th December.’ Parkinson and Elizabeth had a son in 1906 and called him Melbourne Inman after this professional billiards player. This fascinates me because it was before Melbourne won the championship and it makes you realise how significant billiards was in the sporting scene at the time.

Two years later, on December the nineteenth 1908, Elizabeth had another son who they named Frederick, this time after a lodger who was living with the family. Frederick Inman is the source of the Tea Breaks, he was an informant in the Lancashire Textile Project in 1978/1979 and survived almost 30 years before dying in 2007 aged 98 years. A good man, a life well lived and a great loss. I shall never forget him.

I first met Fred in 1977 when he came to Bancroft to help us out. Jim Pollard the weaving manager had a bit of a problem because we were short of a tackler. At that time good tacklers were thin on the ground and who would want to come to Bancroft anyway, it had been on its last legs for twenty years. Jim was an old Earbier and he knew Fred was retired but still active so he persuaded him to come and fill in for us. It was a good day for Bancroft when he arrived, tacklers can be funny blokes, some can be a lot better to get on with than others. We were lucky because we had Roy Wellock and Ernie Roberts, two lovely blokes who knew their job. Fred moved into the big tackler’s cabin in the warehouse with them and I’ve seldom seen three people get on better. Eventually this partnership made the hard job of weaving out a lot easier because the weavers liked them as well.

Twenty years ago I could have started straight into Fred’s story but it’s an indication of how much times have changed that I’m fairly certain that not everyone will know what a tackler was. The loom overlooker or tackler was a man who worked in the weaving shed. His job was to keep his set of looms running and do everything he could to make sure his weavers could get maximum production. In the old days he had the power to hire and fire and his wage included an element related to how much his weavers made. It was therefore in his interest to get rid of poor weavers and press the others hard to get cloth off. He was the timekeeper as well and in the days of tramp weavers waiting in the warehouse at starting time he could go out and get a weaver to run any looms that were idle because the regular weaver was late or absent. Under this regime the tacklers were men to be feared and often had a bad reputation.

As conditions changed in the industry the link to wages was abolished, the tramp weavers faded into history and the tackler lost much of his power over the weavers but not his status in the hierarchy of the shed. I keep referring to tacklers as men because to my knowledge there was never a woman tackler. My experience of the breed forty years ago was good, they had a close relationship with their weavers and sometimes their pastoral care extended beyond loom-tuning. I once saw Ernie Roberts in the shed having a very serious conversation with a young lass called Susan about her career in weaving, Ernie was advising her to get a better job because he thought an intelligent young lass could do better for herself. I once asked Ernie to turn out his pockets so I could see what he carried round with him and noted that one of the items was a Fox’s Glacier Mint. I asked him what that was for and he said it was an essential part of his toolkit. If a weaver was having a bad day, say she had lost production with a bad warp or a smash or even had troubles at home Ernie reckoned that a good way to cheer her up was to give her a mint.

For some reason tacklers gained a universal reputation for being comical figures. ‘Tackler’s Tales’ abound in the industry and beyond. Ernie used to say that a tackler was a weaver with their brains taken out. I think the stories stemmed from the close bond between the tackler and his weavers, he was the man who turned up when things were going badly to set them right and there was always banter involved. One thing was certain, the tales are mostly funny and none of them nasty. We might even trip over a couple as we listen to Fred telling his story.

The contents of Ernie Roberts’ pockets. Note the Fox’s Glacier mint next to the string.

Bancroft Shed, Barnoldswick in 1975.

Ernie giving Susan a bit of career advice in the shed.

Sixty years ago this chapter would have been superfluous. Every family in Barlick had someone working in the mill and all the children would have been inside the mill at an early age taking hot meals in, delivering messages or just to have a visit. In these days of Elfin Safety this would be regarded with horror but we did things differently then. I was raised in Stockport and can remember before WW2 when I was still in my pram my mother used to stop at the top of the short slope down into the moulding floor of Hollindrake’s foundry in Princess Street to let me watch the sparks flying as the workers poured molten iron into the moulds. So what? My point is that Princess Street was the main shopping street of the town. Can you imagine a modern shopping centre with heavy industry in the middle of it? Later when I became independent and started to roam I often went after school to the LMS motive power depot at Heaton Mersey to wander round amongst the steam locomotives being prepared for their duty. (LMS shed number 9F. You see, we knew about such things in those days!) I rode on the footplate down to the coaling tower and I was once allowed to blow the whistle. This could never happen now even if the opportunity was there but in those days much of industry was wide open to us and it was no wonder we grew up wanting to be engineers and get our hands dirty. A couple of years ago I met with five old school mates I hadn’t seen since we were at Stockport Grammar School fifty years ago. Four of us had spent at least part of our careers on steam engines and the other two in engineering. We grew up understanding what went on in industry and it shaped our lives.

Heaton Mersey loco shed in 1947 where we used to play after school around lovely bits of machinery.
Things have changed, the steam driven mills have gone and even if they still existed they would be closed to visitors. Far too dangerous to let anyone in to see what they were doing. So my first job is to make sure that you all know what a weaving shed looked like and what went on inside it.

Looking across the shed roof you can see clearly that it is sunk in the hillside.

Built on sloping ground with the hill behind rising to Weets Moor Bancroft was in an ideal position. Gillian’s Beck flowed down from the hill and supplied the mill dam or lodge where the cold water for the steam engine condenser was stored. This supply of cooling water was the key to economic running, it ensured efficient running of the engine without which the mill wasn’t viable. Building back into the slope meant that the weaving shed was partially below ground level, this ensured a humid atmosphere which helped weaving. There was a road outside the front gate and plenty of room round the engine and boiler house to store stocks of coal. The large building nearest the town with the arched window is the engine house. The cast iron framed window was sectional and could be removed to allow access if large new castings had to be got in and out during erection or heavy repair. To the right, behind the engine house is the boiler house and the chimney. The two storey range down the front of the mill housed the warehouse on the ground floor with two loading docks for goods in and out. In the upper story were the winding, warp preparation and tape sizing departments. The building at the end of the cobbled yard is the office and the weaving shed lies behind this frontage built back into the hillside, the shed was the largest space in the mill and the most important.
It’s important to realize that Bancroft shed was built for only one purpose, it specialised in taking yarn in and weaving it into cloth. The cloth was described as ‘grey’ but this referred only to it’s unfinished state. Depending on the yarn used it could be any colour from white to a warm cream colour. Bancroft didn’t make yarn or bleach and finish cloth, it was simply a weaving machine.

This specialisation was the secret of the north east Lancashire industry’s success after about 1870. The days of the old combined mill were over, south east Lancashire specialised in spinning and they could deliver loom-ready yarn to the door of the shed in Barlick cheaper than we could make it. The Bracewell firms in both Barlick and Earby didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to specialise and became uneconomic and this brought about their failure in the mid 1880s. The low threshold of entry under the ‘Room and Power System’ of the shed companies further increased efficiency because the manufacturers could ignore the responsibilities of running the shed and concentrate on what they knew best, producing cloth.

There was a further efficiency which paradoxically was to eventually contribute to the decline of the industry. As the scale of the industry increased so did the sophistication of the trading system that supported it. The first Manchester Cotton Exchange was built in 1729 and subsequently enlarged four times, the last being 1921. At one time the main room was reputed to be the largest trading floor in the world. From its inception the Manchester Exchange was the business centre for the whole of the north western cotton industry and every firm had a Manchester Man, their representative on the ‘change. Thanks to the railway, these men could leave home in the morning and be on the floor of the exchange in less than two hours from Barlick. Once there they could sell cloth, take orders and buy yarn. It wasn’t unknown for an order to be taken, the yarn bought and dispatched to Barlick before the close of trading to be delivered the next day. The exchange was all powerful and rapidly established standard contracts and mechanisms to regulate the trade, these contracts contained clauses which allowed variations in price if labour or coal costs increased during the term of the agreement. This certainty of profit allowed the mills to work on high volumes and very low profit margins which was efficient and fine when demand was high and the mills were working to full capacity. In later years when volumes fell and competition between individual firms increased it was a disadvantage because the historically low profit margins couldn’t cover fixed expenses. Manchester soon had another name, ‘Cottonopolis’ and was famous for independent thought and progress. ‘What Manchester does today the rest of the country will do tomorrow’.

So, we all know now what a weaving shed is and a little bit about a particular shed, Bancroft. As far as I know Bancroft was the last steam driven traditional weaving shed to be built in the North of England and so it was the most modern. It had the potential to be the most efficient unit in the town and this undoubtedly helped it to attain the dubious honour of being the last one to close. There was one small problem, the real world had caught up during the extended building period. In July 1920 the cotton trade cracked and started the long decline to extinction. Bancroft was to work under this handicap all its life.

I’ve got a bit of a goodie for you now. In the late 1970s I bought myself a very expensive tape recorder and started to interview people connected with the mills about their lives and what they did for a living. This developed eventually into the Lancashire Textile Project, 1,500,000 words and over 500 pictures. If you want to find out more about this go to Google, type Lancashire Textile Project into the search bar and go forward from there. You’ll find the whole thing is on a funny little website called Oneguyfrombarlick which is run by a friend of mine and contains lots of information about Barlick. My informants were patient and very good to me. They suffered many hours of close questioning about every aspect of their lives and I’ll freely admit that a lot of the transcripts, though invaluable information for the social historian, are not the most riveting thing you will ever read. However every now and again a real gem of information surfaced and what follows is one of these.

Later on I’ll tell you how we went about closing Bancroft down because it is a story that needs telling to get it on the record. The story I want to look at now is how it started up in 1920. I was interviewing an old mate of mine, Jack Platt, not because I knew he had information about the mills but because he had worked in the Barlick quarries and later on had been a wagon driver, another subject close to my heart because I spent 25 years doing the same thing. When he talked about his early work experience I was surprised to find that he was one of the first weavers in Nutter Brothers’ Bancroft Shed. He was in there right at the beginning on the first day they ran the mill. I don’t know whether anyone has ever described this process before but in Jack we have what historians call ‘a prime source’, he was there, his description is straight from the horse’s mouth.

Jack Platt. Prime source for us and a good man. Rock Solid!

Aunty Liza staring the engine in March 1920.

Once the mill was finished and the opening ceremony had been performed in March 1920 Nutter Brothers wanted to commission the mill as soon as possible and get some production out of it. They knew that until they had bedded everything in and sorted out the inevitable teething problems they were losing money every day. The way they tackled this was get about 50 looms in, connect them up to the shafting, get some weavers in and start weaving cloth on a small scale. In 1920 all weavers worked on piece work, they were paid according to the amount of cloth they produced. This was reckoned up only after they had delivered a good piece into the warehouse and it had passed inspection. In 1920 the standard piece length was 100 yards and a good 4 loom weaver, working on an average cloth weight with everything going well could make about 6 pieces a week and get six shillings a piece wage. All this varied with the complexity of the weave and prices were set out in the Uniform List of Weaving Prices agreed between the unions and the industry which was standard throughout the cotton areas. One valuable piece of information Jack gave me was that when he and his mother and sister moved from Calf Hall Shed to Bancroft in March 1920 they were paid a standard wage. This must have been the practice when weaving a shed in because everything couldn’t be expected to run smoothly and the weavers would otherwise not get enough income to make working the initial bedding-in period attractive.

Jack was 16 years old in 1920 and he had been weaving with his mother since he was 12 when he was a ‘half-timer’. The school leaving age was 13 but if a pupil had a satisfactory record they were allowed to work in the mill for half the day and go to school for the other half. They did a week working in the morning and school in the afternoon and the following week this was reversed. My mother did the same thing in Dukinfield and she told me that school in the morning was best because you didn’t have to get up as early. At first Jack worked as a ‘tenter’ for his mother. (‘Tenter’ is a dialect word for someone who watches and helps a process, as engineer at the mill I was the ‘engine tenter’.) For this service his mother got half a crown a week for his services. (twelve and a half new pence.) When he went full-time a year later he was given two looms of his own next to his mother and sister and they worked as a team running ten looms between them. On moving to Bancroft Jack got four looms of his own and the same standing wage as his mother and sister, so they had 12 looms between them.

It’s 1921 at the back of the weaving shed. From left to right: Annie Platt (Jack’s big sister). Iris or Edith Barrett, Mary Joyce and Vera Scott. All young weavers in the shed.

When the mill first started there was only part of the first double row of looms nearest the warehouse, the loom shifters were at work alongside them filling the shed with what would eventually be over 1200 looms. There were 16 cross shafts in the shed driven by bevel gears on the lineshaft, eight were supported by brackets on the pillars holding the roof up, eight were on hanging brackets mounted in between on the girder gutters. Each shaft drove two rows of looms and so there were 80 looms to each shaft. It must have been exciting work because before they started up the weaving manager told them that if someone shouted to them ‘Get out!’ they had to immediately run to the door, through the warehouse and outside into the yard. They hadn’t even to stop their looms, just get out as fast as possible.

You might wonder what could go wrong… plenty actually. The greatest danger was from some fault on the engine. Remember this was a brand new engine with tremendous power running on light load and all sorts of things could go wrong. The worst thing that could happen was if it decided to ‘run boggart’, the common term for over-speeding. If the engine exceeded its design speed of 70rpm there was a real danger of it picking speed up quickly to a point where the cast iron flywheel flew to pieces because of the excessive centrifugal force. This wasn’t common but was by no means unknown. I have run a much larger engine at twice its rated speed and the 85 ton flywheel survived the experience so it was possible for the Bancroft engine to run fast enough to make the situation in the weaving shed dangerous but not disastrous for the engine. There could be a fault in the system of shafts inside the mill which transmitted the power from the engine, a bearing could heat up to the point where it seized solid and the power of the engine could easily break a shaft eight inches thick like a rotten stick. There were many things that could go wrong and it was almost inevitable that some of them would. The engine manufacturer, in this case William Roberts and Sons of Phoenix Foundry in Nelson, had several of their best men there to help the mill engineer keep everything safe. Roberts’ foreman on the Bancroft contract was a very experienced man called Jack Waddington and he would be a good bloke to have with you for the first week or so.
A little story about Jack Waddington, he was in charge of the engine on the day they had the opening ceremony. The great and good had assembled in the engine house, the boiler had a head of steam, the speeches were made and Aunty Liza, James Nutter’s eldest daughter who had married Joe Slater of Clough Mill, opened the stop valve to start the engine. Nothing happened. Arthur Roberts, one of the brothers who owned the Phoenix Foundry was present and shouted for Jack Waddington only to be told he was over at the Greyhound pub having a beer. A runner was sent and a short while afterwards Jacky appeared and was immediately pounced on by his boss who informed him that the engine wouldn’t start. Jack said of course it won’t, not until I have put the valves in, you didn’t think I’d let you start it without me being here did you? With that he took the valve covers off the high pressure cylinder, slid the cylindrical steam valves in, bolted the covers back on and said there you are, it’ll go now! Eliza opened the valve, the engine sprang into life and everyone cheered. Johnny Pickles of Henry Brown Sons and Pickles was there and told this story to his son Newton the man who taught me all I know about engines so we can be pretty sure it’s true. It says something about the regard that Mr Roberts had for his foreman that he didn’t sack him on the spot, not surprising really because he was such a valuable employee. Roberts’ lost Jack later when he was put in charge of erecting an engine at Bradley Mills in Nelson. He liked the plant so much that after it was commissioned he handed his notice in and stayed at the mill as engine tenter until he retired.

Back to Jack Platt and his four looms. As it turned out the warning about getting out quickly if told to was no idle threat. They had to evacuate several times over the first few weeks because of over-speeding, evidently the engineers were having a problem with the governor on the engine. Once when this happened Jack came back in to find that one his looms, about 1200lbs of metal, had been picked up bodily and dropped on top of another loom. As the engine over speeded the leather belt driving it from the drum on the overhead shafting had flown off the drum, caught on a bolt head and became a winch cable dragging the loom up until it hit the shafting which broke the belt and allowed it to drop. Jack was quite impressed! He confessed to me that he had run out once or twice without being warned, he just felt like a break from work and a bit of fresh air.

The shed and the machinery gradually settled in and within six weeks Bancroft was fully operational and running smoothly. By that time the standard wage had been cancelled and the normal piece rate working brought in. This wasn’t the end of the teething problems, there was a tragedy. A major danger in any cotton mill is fire. Water sprinkler systems were fitted in the most vulnerable areas such as the offices, warehouse and the preparation departments upstairs. Part of the fire precautions was to have heavy secondary fireproof doors fitted throughout the mill where they would do the most good. There were two entrances into the weaving shed from the warehouse and these had double wooden doors for use during the day but with a big teak fire door protected with tin plate on both sides hung on rollers running on a heavy metal track above the doorway which was closed at night. One day in I think 1921 a young woman weaver was going out of the shed into the warehouse to brew up and the fire door fell on her killing her instantly. Jack could remember helping to lift the door off her and lay her on the table in the warehouse with a lump of cotton waste under her head. Bancroft got a nickname that day which stuck for many years, they called it ‘The Graveyard’. By the end of 1920 the shed was commissioned and fully operational.

The doorway into the shed where the young lass was killed when the fire door fell on her.

1924, 0n the engine house steps. Young weavers, left to right: Eva Pateman, Annie Platt, Vera Scott, Elsie Barnes and Mary Joyce. I love the clogs and black stockings…

Bancroft weaving shed in 1977. Jack Platt and his family were weaving on these front two rows of looms.

I brought up the subject of Tooley’s barber shop in Water Street Earby during a conversation with Fred Inman and asked him about Young Tooley. I remembered that when I first went to live at Sough someone told me that if you went into Earby and asked who was the biggest liar in the town you would be told it was either Jacky Waterworth or Young Tooley. Fred laughed at this and said it was true, they both had reputations for ‘romancing’. He added that Young Tooley may have told lies but they were entertaining lies.

I was told once that somebody took an exceptionally big mushroom into the barber’s shop. It was like a dinner plate and he showed it to him. “There you are Tooley! I bet tha’s never seen one like that before.” Tooley said “I had one bigger than that t’other week. I was walking down Thornton Bottoms when I found it. My biggest job were getting the sheep from underneath it before I picked it!”

“Young Tooley reckoned he was with the Ghurkhas during the war and he says they had these knives, these Kukris and he says they throw ‘em you know and they can hit anything. One day he was going through the jungle with a Ghurkha and he says there were this here Japanese bloke stood there. The Ghurkha pulls this Kukri back, he fetches it back to throw it. Tooley says, no, let me throw it, so he did. The Japanese bloke never moved and the Gurkha says you've missed him. Tooley said, I nodded to him and his head dropped off.”

Fred and I agreed that it didn’t matter whether the stories were true or not, they were funny and entertaining. I can remember once visiting some friends who had three young lads and they always wanted me to tell them stories about things I had done and one day their mother pointed out to them that the reason I was a good story-teller was because I had been born before the days of television. I think there might be some truth in this, when I was a lad we spent time telling each other stories, many of them were downright lies but it was entertaining and passed many a happy hour.

I asked Fred about a story I had heard about Jacky Waterworth and a boxing match at the White Lion in Earby and here’s what he said: “Well It were Sammy Cragg and Jacky what were fighting. Sammy were a bit of a character, he’d been taken prisoner twice in t’war you know and escaped and that sort of thing and he were a bit of a boxer. Well, I'm saying a bit of a boxer, he’d be as good as owt there were in Earby. They arranged this fight 'cause Jacky fancied his self as a boxer, so they had it set out up in the top room at the pub, nobody ever went in the top room in them days. Eventually it gets out there’s going to be this boxing match. They had all the floor chalked, it were only oilcloth on the floor and they had it chalked like a ring and they were all the way round. And what did they call the fella? [Fred was trying to remember Stuart McPherson who did all the boxing commentaries on the wireless] There were a fella there wi’ a microphone and nowt attached to it, just the microphone. Anyway he were a real good commentator and he's sending this to the BBC - Jacky thought it were on BBC. And when they went into the corner you know for break, they daubed lipstick on Jacky’s gloves and then when they went in Sammy let him hit him, you know, all red on his face you know. And they were shouting “Give ower Jacky! Tha’s going to kill him!

Jacky's preening his self and he give him another and Cragg ‘ud go on the floor for about seven you know and this fella’s commentating just to perfection. And Jackie went into his corner again “Tha’rt doing well Jacky, keep it up, there’s nobody ever knocked him out afore.” “I’ll knock him out, I’ll knock him out!” All lipstick again tha knows and he's covered in blood is Sammy and Jacky’s knocking him down two or three times, just managing to get up in time you know. And then when he’s in his corner, Jacky's sat there, doesn’t ail a thing you know and they’re wafting Sammy and massaging him and rubbing him and giving him smelling salts. Then when they thought he’d had enough like Sammy just give Jacky a belt, about first time he’d hit him you know, he didn't hit him too hard but he'd had enough had Jacky when he did. [Fred nearly chokes laughing] So he stopped the fight then did the referee. And he got his photo taken did Jacky. [The picture was in the pub for a long time afterwards, Jackie in shorts far too big for him.] And then they arranged a return match and I think the police must have got to know sommat about it and he daren’t let ‘em have another do daren’t Sam Taylor, he were the landlord. You know it were, what would you call it? An exhibition or sommat and he weren’t licensed, so it didn’t come off again. But Jackie thought he were doing well and it were a real good show you know, if you'd have given a bob entrance money which were a fair good do then you'd have said I’ve getten a good bob's worth.”

Later I remembered the sequel to the great Waterworth v. Cragg fight at the White Lion. It appears that Jacky was convinced he was a champion and for weeks afterwards anyone in the know would reckon to be frightened of him if they met on the street, they would cross the road or hide in shop doorways. This was alright until Jacky met a bloke one day who didn’t know about his fearsome and entirely undeserved reputation. Jacky tried to face him down and ended up getting a severe beating. He modified his behaviour after this salutary incident.


The heart of Bancroft was the weaving shed which held over 1200 looms. In later years I interviewed a man called Victor Hedges who used to be a senior partner in the accountants Proctor and Proctor of Grimshaw Street Burnley. They specialised in managing shed companies for the shareholders and Victor knew as much about the practical economics of the weaving trade as any man alive. He said that a ‘thousand loom shop’ which was the description for a shed like Bancroft was the most profitable unit. The late George Forrester Singleton, founder of G F Singleton of Blackburn, industrial estate agents, valuers and auctioneers who are still in business today told me the same thing. If you look at the records of the individual manufacturers who were tenants in the shed companies you’ll find that many of them have multiples of 400 looms. This was related to the shed size, a standard 1200 loom shed could be easily divided into three units of 400 looms each. Each unit needed one tape-sizing machine to process the warps, one loomer to prepare the warps for the looms and one cloth-plaiting and inspection machine in the warehouse to deal with production. Bancroft never ran as ‘room and power’ but the same rules applied, 1200 looms, three tape-sizing machines, three loomers and three cloth plaiting machines. The rule of thumb for sizing the engine was that half a horse power was needed for every loom so a 600hp engine was sufficient. In practice, with 1200 looms it would be slightly overloaded because of other demands besides the weaving shed but one of the virtues of these engines was that they were built with plenty of capacity for overload. It was quite normal for a 600hp engine to run happily at 750hp as long as was necessary.

The weavers were the most important resource needed to run the shed. When Bancroft first started in 1920 the standard number of looms for each weaver was four, so 1200 looms required 300 weavers. To supply them with warps you needed three tapers, three loomers doing nothing but preparing warps for the looms by fitting the healds and reeds (we’ll explain these later). Once you had warps you needed weft for the shuttles. In 1920 this was purchased shuttle ready from the spinners and was delivered in big basketwork skips or sometimes wooden weft boxes. The yarn packages were then distributed directly to the weavers. This changed later on and we will come to that but in 1920 weft direct from spinner to shuttle was standard practice. 1200 looms needed attention to keep them going and this was the job of the overlookers, more commonly called tacklers. It varied from mill to mill but each tackler was responsible for between 100 and 150 looms depending on the type of loom and the cloth being woven. In 1920 I think Bancroft had ten tacklers. In the warehouse there were three men dealing with the cloth as it came out of the shed and managing goods in and out. Down in the engine house there was the engineer who was responsible for running the boiler, engine and all the transmission shafts in the mill. He had a firebeater (the name we gave the stoker) who managed the boiler. In the office there were two men, an office manager and his assistant. There was also a weaving manager who had a roving brief, it was his job to liaise between the shed and the office and generally supervise the running of the mill. At Bancroft in the latter days we had a director visit us once or twice a week, in 1920 there would be a director there every day perhaps doubling as weaving manager. There would also be a Manchester Man who spent most of his time in Manchester on the ‘change. That was the sum total of the workforce, over 330 people working together and turning out cloth as efficiently and quickly as conditions allowed.

Bancroft tacklers in the warp preparation department, Coronation 1937. Back row, left to right: Harry Hartley, George Beaumont, Herbert Crow, Dick Smith and Bill Tomlinson. Front row, left to right: Levi Steele, Johnson Carr, Dick Lord, George Monks and Ted Burke.

One little story about mill management. A friend of mine from Nottingham, Robert Aram, once told me about a mill he knew that made lace. It was run by two brothers and they had an interesting filing system. The mail was opened each morning and sorted, anything that wasn’t an order, a cheque or an invoice was thrown in the bin. This worked well until they were taken over by Courtaulds, a large textile conglomerate. The new owners immediately installed a modern office system with a manager, secretaries, clerks and all the latest equipment. They went bankrupt within three years. I’m not saying that the office re-organisation was the reason for the failure but what it does flag up is that there is nothing more effective in the management of an enterprise than in-depth knowledge and experience. The two brothers may have looked dreadfully old-fashioned to the new owners but the fact was that they had managed the business well enough for it to be attractive to Courtaulds. I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
We’ve got an idea now about what went on inside Bancroft Shed. We need to look at each part of the mill in more detail now and put some flesh on the bones. Remember that what I am telling you is direct from my experience in the last six years of the life of the shed plus what my informants and other research threw up. Different mills varied in detail and procedures, what I will tell you is how we did things at Bancroft which was broadly typical of the industry.

The original 1914 drawings for the proposed New Shed at Gillians by W M Atkinson, architect, Colne.

Insurance plan of Bancroft Shed drawn in 1955. This is exactly the same layout as the original build. 1 weaving shed. 2 warehouse with preparation, winding and taping overhead. 3 is the office. 4 is the engine house. 5 is the alternator room. 6 is the bunker and boiler. 7 is the small boiler house for the Cornish boiler that was never used. 8,9 and 10 are the canteen, kitchen storeroom and toilets behind. 11 is the chimney. 12 is the garage. 13 is a WC for the engine house and 14 is the sweeps store, this was dirty waste that could combust spontaneously, the building was the old air raid shelter from WW2.


An old-fashioned rag and bone man in Salford in 1977. The only difference between him and the early men is that he has the luxury of rubber tyres on the wheels.

There was another common feature of life in the first half of the twentieth century, the rag and bone man. He almost always rode round sat on the front corner of a two wheeled cart drawn by a single horse shouting ‘any rag bone’ as he did his rounds. Fred said that the usual rag and bone chap when he was a lad in Earby was Paul Brydon from Barlick. He was well known in the district and was notable because he only had one leg. His yard was on Forty Steps at Barlick in the early days and later he had a ‘marine store’ on Commercial Street. The name rag and bone man is a good clue to their stock in trade. When Fred was talking about clothes he described how his mother repaired them until they had reached the end of their useful life. If they were still good but too small for her lads they were passed on to someone who could use them. If they were beyond this she cut off the buttons and saved them and when she had a bagful of rags she gave them to Paul Brydon when he came round. The usual trade item for the rags was a donkey stone. He would take bones as well because there was a market for these down in Staffordshire in the fine china trade where the bones were ‘calcined’, that is burned until they were brittle and then ground down and used as an additive to the clay for the very best bone china.

The rags were sorted into cotton and wool. The cotton rags went back to the condenser spinning industry where they were broken down in machines with spiked drums until they were reduced to the original fibres. This was mixed with waste thread from the mills and some new cotton and spun and woven into a cloth that was easily raised, that is, put through a machine that raised the nap. The classic end products from this branch of the industry were the dreaded yellow duster and winceyette. If you’ve ever had either, you were almost certainly using recycled rags. The wool went to Bradford and was broken down into fibres and used for cheap cloth and blankets in the ‘shoddy’ trade. Any waste that was left was sold as fertiliser to the agricultural industry and spread on the fields to improve soil quality.

The rag and bone chap would also take old household items but the main trade was rags, bones and scrap metal. I can remember these men coming round in Stockport when I was a lad. There was a family called Mather’s on Brinksway who hired out carts and horses and bought the collected material from their casuals. Donkey stones had largely gone out of fashion by then and the standard trade item was a paper windmill on a stick for the children. The bottom line is that the Paul Brydons and Mathers of this world were the precursor of the modern recycling industry. Nothing was wasted, there was an outlet for everything except the contents of the ash pit. This philosophy of recycling even extended to the clinker and ashes from the boilers in the mills. Clinker and ash was ground down in mortar pans with quicklime and water and produced a very durable slow-setting mortar. It had the great advantage that once mixed it would be usable for up to a week afterwards as long as it was ‘knocked up’ with additional water before use. In fact the re-worked mortar set better than the new. If you have a house built after about 1840 the grey mortar you can see between the stones or bricks is ash-lime mortar from this source. The flue dust that came out of the flues and chimney bottom had a different use, it was the ideal material for bedding stone flags on and right up to the end of weaving at Bancroft all the flue dust went for this purpose.

All of this is contrary to the usually accepted view that the early coal driven industries were dirty and produced enormous pollution. This is undoubtedly true in terms of air quality but underlying this fact is a huge culture of re-use of materials. The only thing that ever came out of the mills that was totally useless and went into landfill was ‘sweeps’. This was the dirty down and waste heavily contaminated with oil that was swept up in the mill. Everything else had a use, sometimes not entirely legal, look at any old hen pen or allotment and you can still find traces of weft boxes and heald staves. Fences were made and huts repaired with the larger pieces of wood, heald staves were ideal for plant supports and light repair jobs. The mill owners usually turned a blind eye to this export trade, the only exception was in the run up to November the Fifth when no wood was safe, bonfires had to be fed!

Even the droppings from the tradesmen’s horses were recycled. My mother used to send me out into the street with a fire shovel and a bucket to collect horse manure for the garden, it was a fine thing for the roses. There was one other advantage that didn’t become clear until the first Clean Air Acts were passed in 1956. Gardeners noted a big increase in blight and fungal diseases on roses and other plants and it took a while for them to realise that for over 100 years the atmospheric pollution from coal-fired boilers was acting as a very effective defence against these problems, every cloud has a silver lining. So, the stonework may have been black and respiratory diseases more common but the roses were doing very nicely thank you!

It’s not my intention to suggest that everything was spotless in Barlick and Earby but if we are going to look at the history of the time we should take note of the advantages of the system as well as the problems. One final thought about this, there was much more low level infection around, everybody ate a peck of dirt before they died. Modern researchers are beginning to suspect that this exposure to pathogens, debilitating and dangerous as it might have been, ensured that the survivors had wonderfully efficient immune systems. Excessive cleanliness could be bad for us…

Station Road in about 1890. Think about the dirt that was trodden into houses and blown about by the wind in summer. No refrigeration so anything that was uncovered was going off very quickly and being covered with a fine coating of horse muck and even worse. They didn’t have our modern allergies.

Two pictures to familiarize yourselves with some parts of the loom.

Ernie Roberts gaiting a loom. You can see the four healds needed for this cloth hung on strings in the middle of the loom. The reed is the comb in front of the healds through which all the warp yarns are threaded, it’s fastened to the slay which is the path for the shuttle. Ernie has just undone the knots that hold the set together and he’ll comb the ends out evenly and wrap them round the roller in front of his thighs before putting them on the wooden cloth roller below.

Gwen striking a pose for me. The loom to her right is gaited and weaving. You can see how the cloth comes through the heald where the weft from the shuttle is beaten up. The selvedges run through the temples at each side which stretch the cloth sideways to counteract contraction. The cloth is running over the bar onto the sand roller which grips it and carries it onto the cloth roller below which is driven and puts tension on the cloth as it weaves. This was during weaving out and the opposite loom is empty.

The weaving shed was a forest of belts and shafting driving 1200 looms in the early days. This was taken when we were weaving out in 1978. Imagine all the looms with warps in like the one in the foreground.


By the time Bancroft shed was being designed in March 1914 by W M Atkinson of Colne the industry had 100 years of experience and a standard shed design had evolved. There were four masonry walls and the roof was built on a framework of cast iron girders weighing 150lbs to the foot length supported by cast iron pillars at regular intervals. These pillars had brackets on them for the shafting bearing boxes. There were also shafting brackets hung off the girders midway between each pair of pillars. The girders doubled as rain water troughs between each long narrow apexed roof, each length of which was blue slate on one side and glass supported by patent glazing on the other. To avoid direct sunlight and give even illumination for weaving the glass sections of the roof should face due north. In many sheds this wasn’t possible but at Bancroft the orientation of the site was such that it was a genuine north light roof. The shed was 200ft deep from front to back and 250ft wide. The floor was Rossendale stone flags. These were about four inches thick, heavier than a normal paving flag and they had another identifying feature, Rossendale stone doesn’t have a natural bed and so they had to be planed to a flat surface by machine, this gave them a ribbed face.

All the walls of the shed were whitewashed and the pillars painted brown on the bottom half and cream to the top with a green transferred floral frieze applied round the junction of the two colours. I know this was the colour scheme because they were never repainted during the life of the mill and were still the same when it was demolished 58 years later in 1979. The cast iron pillars were hollow to save metal but were perfectly adequate for their task.

Many early mills had gas lighting but as befits its modern status Bancroft started life with 110v direct current electric lighting from a large dynamo driven by the engine. There were some redundant glass batteries in the cellar when I was there and these used to be charged up during the day from the DC supply to give a source of electricity when the mill was stopped. The Nutter houses near the mill were wired to this supply for electric light and Ughtred once told me that it was his job to go round and collect the fee each Friday. The supply was changed to 440v three phase and 250v single phase in 1948 when the existing dynamo driven off the lineshaft was replaced by an alternator. The new shed lights were 150 watt Edison screw bulbs. There was a mains supply to the mill in its latter days but this only supplied electricity in the offices, engine house and some pilot lights scattered around the building.

The Lancashire looms were laid out parallel to the front mill wall in such a way that they were in pairs facing in towards each other forming the ‘weaver’s alley’ where the weaver operated the looms. Lines of shafting ran overhead along each double row of looms and drove them by means of leather belts from drums on the shafting to pulleys on the looms. There were sixteen of these cross shafts with two rows of forty looms on each. The looms were stopped and started individually by shifting the driving belt from a ‘fast’ pulley driving the loom to a ‘loose’ pulley which revolved freely without transmitting power. The belt guide that accomplished this change over was operated from a lever on the front of each loom. The long cross shafts over the looms were driven from bevel gears on the heavy lineshaft which ran from the engine house, through the warehouse and 200 feet up the side wall of the shed next to the boiler house on the other side. This wall was built three feet thick to support the weight of the shaft and gearing. The shaft was eight inches thick at the beginning of the run but reduced to four inches at its end. The end of the line shaft was extended through a hole in the back wall of the shed, this was standard practice in many mills as it allowed a useful sideline, a local builder could be allowed to site a mortar mill outside driven by the shaft. This gave an outlet for the ashes and clinker from the boiler furnaces because with the addition of lime and water they could be ground to make ash-lime mortar for bricklaying. This grey mortar was the standard for all building purposes from the days when ashes first became available until the mid 20th century when sand/lime/cement mortar became the accepted standard.

The shed was heated by ranges of two inch internal diameter steam pipe hung at about the ten foot level in a grid throughout the shed. You might wonder why these pipes were fixed like that as they would have been far more effective if placed near floor level. The idea was two-fold, to keep them out of the way of activities in the shed and most importantly, to avoid any direct heat on the warps because it was an advantage if they were slightly damp as this made them weave better. Many sheds had humidifiers fitted to raise the humidity but Bancroft, being sunk into the hillside, never needed these. I have evidence that Moss Shed in Barlick was so dry that they used to flood the floor with water at weekends in high summer. If a weaver had a susceptible warp they would drape a piece of damp cloth over the warp every night and over the weekends.

So, we have our weaving shed. An enormous well-lit open space crammed with a forest of shafting and belts and 250 feet long rows of black framed cast iron looms weighing half a ton each. There were two things about the space which were striking, the first is the fact that it appeared to be almost monochrome. The most striking colours were the brown wood of the loom slays and picking sticks and an occasional cardigan hung on the back of a weaver’s chair at the end of her set of looms. Under the Factory Acts every weaver had to have a chair and they used this and a small box as their personal space, they all had a mug for brewing up, tea and sugar, perhaps a magazine and very often a cardigan for use when the shed was a bit chilly. The only other personal touch was the occasional pinup stuck on a pillar, some of these from WW2 survived until the mill was demolished. The other distinguishing feature of the shed was the noise it made when all the looms were running. A weaving shed in full song is a noisy animal, the roar would be disconcerting to anyone not used to it. None of the weavers wore ear defenders and many had a low level of hearing loss after years of exposure. Many thousands of pounds were spent on experiments to lessen the noise but all of them failed and right to the end of the industry the Lancashire loom made as much noise as it did when it was first invented. There was one small consolation, the noise was low frequency and nowhere near as damaging as modern high speed looms so it wasn’t as bad as some would like to portray it. However, it made communication in the shed by normal speech almost impossible. The weavers found a way round this, they used to ‘mee maw’ to each other. This was using exaggerated lip movements with no sound so they can lip-read each other. If a weaver wanted to say something privately to another weaver she would place her mouth very close to her friend’s ear so nobody could see her lip movements. If I wanted to spread a message round the shed, say if I was stopping early for some reason, all I had to do was go to the door of the shed, mee maw my message to the first weaver inside the door and before I had walked back to the engine house everyone in the shed had the message. There was also the smell, a pleasant mixture of oiled leather, linseed oil and the almost indefinable smell of the sized warps.

The weavers in 1920 were mostly women but there was always a scattering of men. This applied equally in the 1970s when I was there. The weaving shed is often cited as one of the first workplaces where there was equality between the sexes. This is true in that the wage scale was identical for men and women, however there were always the hidden undercurrents. The Weaver’s Union never had the same power as those catering for other workers in the mill like the tacklers, clothlookers, loomers and twisters because these higher grades were always men. This meant that the wage, though equal was low. Don’t worry about the names of the different skills, by the time we have finished you will have a pretty good idea of who they were and what they did. The weavers were also subject to more discipline, some of it overt but much of it buried in the system. Weavers were responsible for any faults in the cloth they wove and the amount of waste they made in the course of weaving. Let’s take these one at a time.

The ultimate quality of the cloth a weaver made was a product of yarn quality, cloth construction and well-maintained looms driven at a steady speed. Each cloth had instructions specific to its manufacture and these were stated on the card that accompanied the weaver’s warp into the shed when the loom was ‘gaited’. (This was when the tackler installed a new warp and set it up ready for weaving) Terms used and well understood by the weaver were ‘pickfound’ which meant that when a shuttle ran out half way across the piece the weaver had to find the pick end and insert the new shuttle in the same place so as to give the appearance of a continuous length of weft with no double threads. It was a given that the weaver would cut any loose tags of yarn off close to the cloth. Other instructions on the card would tell the weaver to pay particular attention to setting on the loom so as to avoid ‘stopping and starting’ marks. They did this by controlling the speed of the slay movement by holding the wooden ‘hand shelf’ as the loom was starting and stopping. Some cloths had to have a coloured thread inserted at regular intervals and in some mills weaving specialised cloths gold wire had to be woven in. I’ve never seen this done and have often wondered how the gold was accounted for. I have been told that the weaver had to buy the wire herself but I don’t see how they could afford this. The bobbin of wire was held in a very small shuttle and this had to be substituted for the regular shuttle for one pick of the loom which of course took time. Each finished piece of cloth had to be marked with the weaver’s loom number and this was usually done with black wax crayon. Some customers demanded that the number be sewn in so that finishing processes like bleaching and dyeing didn’t destroy the mark. This was usually paid for as an extra by the weaving firm but in hard times it had to be done as part of the job. This ‘sewing in’ caused a strike at Brook’s Brothers Westfield Shed in the 1930s. (The weavers lost.)

There were other ways in which the weaver could be made to work harder for his or her wage. Weaving cloth demands a constant supply of fresh weft packages for the shuttle. In some mills weft carriers were employed to do this but at Bancroft the weavers always carried their own weft from the warehouse. In the early days of the industry weavers had to carry their own pieces out as well but later on cloth carriers were employed. A Lancashire loom produces ‘dawn’ when it is running. This is cotton fibres rubbed off the yarn by the action of the loom which build up like cotton wool which is a fire risk and also makes the looms inefficient. The weavers were responsible for sweeping their own looms and alleys as long as there was a warp in the loom. There was a dedicated loom sweeper, always a man, and he would thoroughly sweep a loom and oil it when it was waiting for the tackler to come and install a new warp.

There were often faults that occurred due to a warp thread breaking or a malfunction in the running of the loom causing multiple warp thread breakages. An ‘end down’ was the weaver’s responsibility. They all had their own tools, a small drawing in hook (like a very fine button hook), a pair of tweezers with flat jaws and a sharp spike on the other end and a pair of small sharp scissors. They could quickly repair a broken end and get weaving again. A small multiple breakage caused by a shuttle running badly was called a ‘trap’. In many sheds there were ‘trap-hands’ who did nothing but repair traps for the weavers so that they could keep the rest of their looms running. Bancroft never had trap hands, the weaver had to repair all the broken ends herself. If it was a large trap and she had a sympathetic tackler with time on his hands he would repair it for her. A larger number of ends down (typically over thirty) was called a ‘smash’ and was usually caused by a failure in the timing of the loom. This was always a tackler’s job and in a very bad case the warp would be cut out and taken upstairs to be loomed again in the warp preparation department as this was the fastest way of repairing it. Everybody hated smashes. (The spinning industry had the same problem and a catastrophic breakage of all the ends in a mule was called a ‘sawney.)

This wasn’t the end of the weaver’s burdens. There was ‘time cribbing’ which was the practice of starting the engine slightly early and stopping late. Only a fraction of a minute but it all added up. Every shed had at least one clock on the wall, clearly visible to all the weavers. Bancroft had two, one over each exit to the warehouse. In some sheds the clocks were adjusted to run slow and corrected each day when the weavers weren’t there. This could gain an extra five minutes a day. The unions were very hot on time stealing and if it was proved the management always retracted because there was no defence.

A weaver was judged on the quality and quantity of cloth they produced. In 1920 the system of paying the weavers their wage was for the tackler to come round with the wages in small tins in a tray divided by wood strips and numbered. These trays were made up in the office according to the weaver’s production on ‘making up day’, usually a Thursday. This meant that a tackler knew exactly how much each weaver was making and here’s the clever bit, a proportion of the tackler’s wage was dependent on the production from his set of looms. This was an incentive to him to do his job well and keep his looms in good order but it was also an opportunity for him to identify the worst earners, chide them for being slack or in the worst cases get them sacked and replaced by a better weaver. In some sheds there was a board on the wall showing who the best and worst weavers were. If your name was up on that board as a low performer the message was clear, improve or you were out. It was very easy for a tackler to ensure that a weaver had bad production figures and many weavers suffered dismissal simply because they got on the wrong side of their tackler. I have heard of cases where this included refusing sexual favours.

Then there was the oppression of the clothlooker in the warehouse. In 1920 they had a very strong hold over the weavers because until they approved a piece it didn’t count towards the weekly wage. All waste had to be brought into the warehouse and weighed before being booked against the weaver’s name. If your proportion of waste was higher than average you could be called up into the office and reprimanded. This could have an interesting effect on the foul drains of the mill. If a weaver had too much waste they would secrete it about their person and flush it down the toilets. Many a drain was blocked in this way and Harold Duxbury once told me it was a common cause of call-out to the mills. In my day I had a brief period when I had the same trouble but that was due to the popularity of paper disposable knickers. Cloth faults, oil marks, loose tags or any other blemish could also result in a reprimand and of course, frequent reprimands meant that your days were numbered.

There was the ultimate time discipline of engine stop and start times. The whole system of management in the mill was dedicated to getting as much production out of the looms as possible. Jim Pollard told me that in the early days the management were looking for 95% efficiency and this could easily be checked by estimating the number of picks each week. A ‘pick’ was the passage of the shuttle through the loom and back. One of the ploys they used to ensure the least downtime was to make use of ‘tramp weavers’. Tramp weavers were itinerant weavers who for a variety of reasons didn’t want or couldn’t stick to a regular job. They were usually very good workers, if they weren’t they would never be picked out. At starting time in the morning there would be a line of tramp weavers in every warehouse in Barlick waiting for work. The tacklers would go in the shed and stand by their sets waiting for the engine to start. If a set of looms wasn’t manned when the shafting started to turn they went into the warehouse, picked a tramp weaver they knew to be proficient and set them on that set of looms for the day. If the unfortunate weaver turned up, perhaps after over-sleeping, he or she was sent home and lost a day’s wage. Tacklers also timed their weaver’s toilet breaks, Jim Pollard told me about an old male weaver he once had who kept a tin next to his looms to relieve himself in and he emptied it at break time. I’ve seen weavers as late as the 1970s who were stricken with cystitis and the doctor who attended one lass who passed out from this cause told me that one of the chief causes was not going to the lavatory when she wanted to. It was no coincidence that she was the most productive weaver in the shed. She wasn’t missing toilet breaks in the 1970s because of coercion but because her nature was to keep going and not waste time. If I’m building up a picture of a hard and very closely regulated life I’m doing a good job. No other section of the workers was regulated and driven so much as the weavers. Much of this was ultimately due to the fact they were mostly women.

Now here’s the strange thing about all this. I have never met a weaver who didn’t enjoy working in the shed. If you asked them why they should put up with such lousy conditions, long hours, hard work and low wages they always cited the friendly atmosphere. I have heard weavers in the latter days refer to Bancroft as a holiday camp. Of course, even the most enthusiastic had bad days but on the whole they all enjoyed it. I’ve thought a lot about this and I think the main factor was that they could see and measure the fruits of their labours by watching the cloth rolling out from under the shuttle. There was also the very short chain of command, they were in constant contact with their immediate supervisors. It was all a human scale endeavour producing a finished product that they understood perfectly.

We need to say something about safety and the dangers of working in the shed. When people with modern expectations look at the weaving shed through their frame of reference they are horrified by the forest of unprotected belts, the violent movement of the picking sticks and slays, the unprotected gearing on the looms and the number of trip hazards and heavy weights that had to be lifted. In 1974 when the administrative boundaries were changed we ceased to be the responsibility of the Yorkshire Factory Inspectorate based in Leeds and came under Quay Street in Manchester. A young inspector arrived unannounced one day from Manchester and was horrified by everything he saw from the flailing con-rods of the engine to the belts in the shed. He went away muttering that he would have to consult with his superiors. He had never seen a shaft and belt driven factory in his life. Luckily, his superior Mr W E G Greville was a very experienced man and was delighted when he heard that he once more had a proper steam-driven shed under his care. He brought a gaggle of his young inspectors up to Barlick for a visit and educated them in what a ‘proper’ factory used to look like. He asked two questions, first how many accidents were in the official Accident Book and second, how long did I think the mill would run before closing. I showed him the accident book, nothing in there but minor cuts and grazes and I estimated that we might last for another year or so. He told me and his young workers that the mill was perfectly safe because the workers all knew the hazards and could protect themselves. In theory we were illegal but in practice we were safe and he was going to do nothing to make an already precarious situation worse for the management. What a sensible man, and what a pity there is so little of this pragmatic decision-making about nowadays. He was definitely not a Jobsworth.

We’ll leave our weavers now even though there is much more to tell. Some of this will become apparent as we look at the other departments in the mill. The key thing to grasp is that the weavers were extraordinarily skilled workers. This was concealed partially by the fact that they were so numerous but even more so by their gender. After all, how could a woman be so skilled when everyone knew they were the weaker vessel…

Back into the shed after a brew. It’s ten to one and the engine will be starting in ten minutes. Just nice time to get set up for another three and a half hours of shuttling.

In the days when my beard was black… It was the engineer’s job to wind and adjust the shed clocks every weekend. (Picture by Daniel Meadows)
Fred and I got talking about what life was like at home in Lincoln Road Earby. I asked him about children standing at the table for meals and here’s what he had to say: “Well when we were little I can remember there were a little high chair and me mother used to lift me into that and I sat up to table in that and me brother used to be stood at side of me because he were a bit bigger. But he were stood on a little buffet and as I got older I can remember he could just make a do without. I'd to stand on the buffet then, they did away wi’ the high chair.” He said he stood for his meals until he was about ten or eleven years old. Other people have told me that they stood until they started work but Fred got a seat at table before he went half-timing at twelve years old.

Fred remembered a household where there was a slight variation on this theme: “I used to go to one of me father’s cousins, and he had six youngsters, there wouldn't be ten years in all the lot and they had a table on their own. Father and mother sat at one table and all these, they were round this table and the mother served ‘em all and then she came and served father and her and they daren’t say anything or move. When the father and mother had finished, she sided their plates and then went and give youngsters their second round of pudding or sommat like that. When the father and mother had had their pudding they'd say right and the kids would say thank you very much, please may we leave the table. And that were it then.”

I’ve come across lots of instances of these practices and they seem to have been fairly general at the time. I suppose it was a way of reinforcing the hierarchy in the house and maintaining discipline. Arthur Entwistle suggested that some children were marched to the table at meal times and he suspected it was something to do with Teutonic influence from the Royal Family. I’m always reminded of the old stand-up desks at Bancroft, in the early twentieth century clerks in offices stood up to their work at high desks. This is why our common perception of people in offices of a slightly later period has them all sat on high stools, which were needed because the old desks were still in place and were too high for a normal chair. Many a film-maker has made the mistake of putting Bob Cratchitt on a high stool when he should really have been standing. Winston Churchill used to do a lot of his writing at a stand-up desk.

I told Fred about delivering straw to Dales farms as late as the 1960s where the farm men were seated at a separate scrubbed table while the family had a table cloth. Ted Waite once told me that when he worked for William Taylor at Friar’s Head at Winterburn they used to bake two sorts of pies, one with sugar in for the family and one without for the men. The ones with sugar in had pastry crosses on the lids. I’ve often wondered whether this was the origin of pie decoration.

This conversation got us to talking about the Clark family at Seat House near Eshton, I used to pick their milk up at one time and had always remarked on what an old-fashioned set-up it was. The house was stone at the bottom and wood at the top and faced directly onto the yard. Fred surprised me by saying that the old lady who lived next door to him on Spring Terrace at the time had married one of the Clark brothers but he was killed when he was thrown off a horse at Leyburn. This connection led to Fred’s mother, Elizabeth, going with Mrs Clark to visit at Seat House and she got to know Eric Clark, one of the sons. This led to an arrangement between Eric and the farm man from Seat House and the Inman family. I’ll let him describe it:

“There were him and a farmer’s man, similar to Eric, two big young fellas. Well they'd no bath then at Seat House and every Friday they used to come to Earby, they had a motor-bike, and Eric went next door to Mrs. Clark’s for a bath and the farmer’s man came here for a bath. ‘Cause it were one of them do's, they were going dancing, and if same as Eric had his bath and he’d to have his bath and all, well there were a lot of time wasted. So me mother says “Oh you mun come and have one at our house.” And so Eric says to me dad, “You're interested in rabbiting aren't you Mr Inman?” He says “Yes” Eric says “Come over to our place. We’ve got plenty but if I aren’t about, get me dad to write you a paper out, you know, that you've got permission.” “Aye, alright.” So we went, it were one September me father and me went, I think we got thirty and we weren’t a reight long while of getting these thirty. So when we were coming away me dad says “We'll have ten apiece and leave them ten.” So he says to Eric, “We’ve getten thirty Eric. We'll leave you ten and take ten apiece.” Eric thought that were a good do because I think they got a shilling each for ‘em, somebody picked them up. Eric says “It's a good do is that Mr. Inman.” So next time he came for a bath he says, “Well, I don't like telling you but me father says “Is that all they've left, ten? They’re not coming no more, they should have taken ten and left twenty.” So Eric says “I'm sorry about it.” Fred and I laughed about this because it was a good example of how hard and tight those old Dales farmers were no matter how well they were doing or how much money they had.


You could be forgiven for wondering why I started my description of Bancroft in the weaving shed. Partly it’s because I have such respect for the weavers in general and the ladies in particular, they were the best work mates anyone could have, and partly because the weavers were the heart of the enterprise. Every other department in the mill was dedicated to one thing, keeping the looms running and producing saleable cloth. So, it’s logical to start in there and move into the warehouse which was another of the weaver’s haunts, they all had to come in here for weft and their cloth all passed through here.

The warehouse was as long as the weaving shed, 250 feet from the engine house at the north end to the office at the other end. It was 65 feet wide and 15 feet from the concrete floor to the ceiling. This ceiling was supported on cast iron pillars with steel cross beams and was formed by the underside of the double-boarded floor of the second storey. There were sixteen large windows in the east wall fronting on the yard and two loading bays with roller shutter doors. Despite the number of windows the warehouse was always a gloomy place because some of the windows were blocked by the two tackler’s cabins, the workshops and store rooms used by the loom overlookers. It was a bit brighter at the south end where the clothlookers lived because there were six more large windows in that wall. Because of Bancroft’s situation on the outskirts of the town, all the windows looked out onto green fields and hills with trees, hedges and grazing animals. Definitely not your archetypal ‘dark satanic mill’.

See what I mean? If you looked out through the loading bay door you saw green fields, trees and animals grazing. Lovely.

Leaving aside the tackler’s cabins, we’ll come to them later, apart from the south end where the cloth plaiting machines stood because of the good light, the whole of the warehouse was given over to storing weft boxes, skips and anything bulky that didn’t belong anywhere else. Near the office end were the stacks of neatly plaited, tied and labelled bundles of finished cloth waiting for onward dispatch.

In the latter days of the mill I was intrigued by the piles of boxes and weft skips which hadn’t been used for years, they just sat there gathering dust. Every one was marked in large letters with the name of the spinning mill from whence it came. You may have noticed in your travels around south east Lancashire that all the spinning mills have their names prominently displayed on the towers and chimneys. This was an aid to finding them but also because a short and easily recognizable name was handy for painting on the weft containers. Bee, Elk, Manor, and many more. I knew that many of the names I could see on the boxes and skips in Bancroft warehouse were those of mills which had long since closed down. I asked Sidney Nutter in the office about this one day and he said that because Bancroft had paid a deposit on these containers many years ago they were still on the company’s books as an asset and if they were destroyed they would reduce the value of the company. I kid you not, this clutter of boxes and skips was a phantom asset and as such was sacrosanct.

The two cloth plaiting machines at the office end of the warehouse. They were originally rope-driven but I converted them to electric motors after the drive rope from the shed broke.

Up at the south end there was an entrance to the office next to two large cloth-plaiting machines. These were combined inspection and measuring tables with a cloth folding mechanism underneath. The wooden roller on which the cloth was wound as it came off the loom was mounted at the front of the machine, threaded through the mechanism and when the clothlooker pressed a pedal at the front the cloth was pulled off the roller, traveled flat across the inspection table passing through the Trumeter which measured it and into the folding or plaiting section below where it was folded back and forth a yard at a time. When the piece had gone through the machine, the clothlooker took the yard square folded pile of cloth to the packing table, folded it over once onto itself and tied it up tightly into a bundle with strong string. A corner was pulled out of the centre of the bundle and the cloth details written on it for identification. All the cloth made for one order was in one pile and it sat there until road transport arrived to lift it and take it to the customer. Cloth was loaded by hand a bundle at a time and stacked on the wagon flat by the driver. I never saw a covered van used for this job because the same wagons that delivered the taper’s beams and weft took the cloth away and a box van would have hampered the loading of these.

By the time I was at Bancroft the clothlookers had lost much of their power. The only things they could pull a weaver up on were faults. In 1920 it was completely different. The clothlooker, like the tackler, had the power to make a weaver’s life a misery. Many a time they worked in collusion with the stricter tacklers and between them they could get anyone sacked if they wanted to. The clothlookers kept an account for each weaver in 1920, booking in each piece as it came off the looms. Making up day was Thursday and any piece that wasn’t in the warehouse by going-home time on that day didn’t get included in the wage. This could have serious consequences on the piece rate system. Suppose a weaver had four bad warps in her looms that were causing her a lot of trouble with ends going down and other weaving faults. It was quite possible to end the week without a single piece of cloth delivered into the warehouse and this meant that there was no wage, nothing at all. I think you can realise how dispiriting that could be. Of course it might mean that the following week he or she could have up to ten pieces off and a bumper pay cheque but that didn’t help with the groceries or the rent that week.

Weavers are a resourceful bunch… When a weaver’s warp is made on the taping machine a hammer drops at the end of each piece length onto the web of yarn as it passes over a pad soaked in black ink. This puts a ‘cut mark’ on the warp which can be seen in the woven cloth and this is the signal for the weaver to cut that length of cloth out and start with a new empty wooden roller on the front of the loom. Suppose it was Thursday and you were nearing the end of a cut. You could see the cut mark coming up in the warp at the back of the loom but by experience you knew it was five or six layers down and you weren’t going to reach it before the engine stopped that day. What you did was wet the warp where the ink stain was and dab at it until you had brought the mark up to the top layer. Weave that through to the front, cut it out and send it into the warehouse. Problem solved, another six shillings on that weeks’ wage. Of course the clothlooker would pick up on this under measurement but it was one of the few circumstances where a lenient view was taken because the mill lost nothing, the extra turns would be on the next piece that came off the loom.

In later years, after WW2 the system changed. ‘Pick clocks’ were mounted on each loom and the price paid was so much for every 100 picks and the weaver was paid off the readings on the clocks taken every Wednesday to be the basis of making up day in the office on Thursday. In addition the weaver was paid a fall-back amount each week in addition to the pick rate. It always amused me that because of the way the system had been brought in the weavers called the pick rate the ‘basic’ and the fall back the ‘bonus’ when I would have thought it was the other way round. The weaving manager read the pick clocks and the weaver’s wage was paid in individual envelopes at the office on Thursday so the tacklers had no direct information as to how individuals were performing. Of course they still got to know but by then the production element of the tackler’s wage had been abolished and so the pressure came off the weavers.

Many a time there could be a weaving fault as a warp came close to an end. This wasn’t the weaver’s fault and when the piece was inspected this section of cloth was cut off. The very first cloth woven after gaiting had the loose ends of warp on it that were first wrapped round the cloth roller and that piece was cut off as well. Such a piece of cloth was always known as a ‘fent’. The weavers used to use a suitable fent to make a ‘brat’ which was another name for a short apron but was always wrapped completely round the body and secured with a safety pin or a special apron hook. They were a cheap and very effective way of keeping your cloths clean. Some weavers preferred a bright pinafore because this covered the upper part of their clothing as well. The weavers were never provided with any work wear at Bancroft beyond the fents.

The warehouse was home to other vital pieces of mill equipment. The toilets were in separate blocks outside the east wall in the yard and were accessed from the warehouse. This had two consequences, the clothlookers could see who was going in there and how long they stayed. In 1920 this was serious information because the toilets were where you went for a smoke, smoking was strictly forbidden in the weaving shed, the warehouse and the departments on the second storey because of the grave fire risk. Also it was the management’s aim to cut down on time spent away from the loom and the clothlookers could time you. There was another reason for the positioning of the toilets outside the mill. Both men’s and women’s had a cast iron grill in one wall for ventilation. There was no heating and in winter this meant they were bitterly cold, a disincentive to spending any more time in there than was absolutely necessary. I was told many years later that there was a further reason for the toilets being outside the main structure of the mill, they weren’t part of the ratable value of the mill.

The cast iron grilles in the toilets. You can imagine how cold they were in winter.

I have a story about the toilets… During the very hot summer of 1976 I had many problems because of the dry weather. One of them was that the wooden beams supporting the glass roof in the lady’s toilet had shrunk to the extent that the roof was in danger of falling in. The management didn’t like paying overtime for maintenance of the mill fabric and so I had to attend to it during the day when they were in use. At first I was very wary, signaling my presence every time I went up the ladder to let my ladies know I was about to appear above them. All this went by the board when Phyllis Watson told me one day to get on with it as I wouldn’t see anything I hadn’t seen before! I gave up being a gentleman after that and just got on with the job and I have to report that my education advanced significantly in consequence.

One of the accessories in the toilets was a very old electric incinerator for burning anything that the ladies didn’t want to put down the toilets. I have to report that it was the bane of my life, always going wrong and I got quite used to ladies coming in the engine house and describing in very graphic terms just what was wrong and what I should do about it. I did strike one blow for freedom, part of my job was ordering essential supplies from a mill furnisher at Burnley and I upgraded the quality of the toilet paper without being detected by the management who provided their own. Only a small victory but appreciated all round!

Between the top loading bay and the entrance to the lady’s toilets was a large sandstone slopstone (shallow sink) under the window. On the window ledge was a cactus garden. Not your usual mill accessory but this belonged to Colin Macro the cloth carrier. It was typical of Bancroft in the 1970s that nobody saw anything unusual about this and as long as Colin did his job nobody ever raised any objection.

Next the slopstone was a large steam-heated copper hot water boiler. This was where everyone brewed up and was the equivalent of the ‘water-cooler’ culture in a modern office. It says something about different attitudes in the mill, a water-cooler would have been totally ignored, what people wanted was a nice hot drink. In 1920 each weaver paid a penny a week out of their wage for the use of the boiler and I once worked out that at 1920 coal prices and steam usage it was the most profitable piece of equipment in the mill. This was the only concession towards staff welfare both in 1920 and in the 1970s. Just after WW2 when ‘Britain’s Bread Hung By Lancashire’s Thread’ an outbuilding behind the boiler house accessed from the shed was converted into a kitchen and canteen which provided hot dinners for those who wanted them. In 1970 all the equipment was still in there but the room was only used by smokers.

Fire was an ever present danger in the warehouse and preparation floors and these areas were fully protected by a water sprinkler system. This was a series of pipes in the ceiling punctuated at regular intervals by sprinkler heads. These heads were kept closed by a bulb of glass or a low temperature fusible link that burst or melted if there was fire below it and the temperature rose. In many mills, particularly multi-storied spinning mills the system was fed from a tank at least 30 ft higher than the highest sprinkler head, that’s why such mills always have imposing towers, the sprinkler tank is installed at the top just below the roof. At Bancroft we had enough pressure on the six inch diameter sprinkler main to feed water anywhere we wanted it without the complication of a tank or booster pump. If water flowed through the main it activated a small turbine that turned a shaft with a loose hammer mounted on the end and this struck a gong mounted on the wall outside giving an external warning of fire. I had the job of testing this every week and recording the pressures in a log which was inspected regularly by the insurance company. This water main wasn’t metered and at some point some bright spark had gone to the trouble of piping the connection for the boiler feed water system up to this supply so we never paid for the water.

Up against the wall between the warehouse and the weaving shed was a flight of wooden stairs giving access to the second floor and next to it was a ‘hoist’, this is what we called it but the usual name is a lift or elevator. This was fairly modern and had been installed after WW2 to replace the original one which was much cruder and run off the shafting driven by the engine. This was another of my regular inspection jobs, I had to make sure the safety interlocks and emergency brake were serviceable, keep the pit at the bottom clean and free from flammable materials and check the oil levels in the gearbox. I kept my eye on the rope condition but this was the responsibility of the lift engineers Foulds from Keighley who came once a year to test the lift and renew the ropes if needed. The only other things that concerned me in the warehouse was the lubrication and condition of any elements of the power transmission system that passed through there.

Another thing in the warehouse which we need to take note of is the two tackler’s cabins. Tacklers are famously eccentric beasts. Ernie Roberts was one of them and a good mate of mine, he once told me that tacklers are weavers with the brains taken out. This was typical of the many sayings and tacklers tales that are associated with the craft. I say craft because that’s what it was, the Lancashire loom is a very simple machine, in fact in today’s terms, crude would be a better word but the reason it was never superseded in many Lancashire mills was because of its robustness, versatility and reliability. There were small differences in plain Lancashire looms and I’m not going to bore you with long descriptions of these, all you need to know is that at Bancroft we could weave any plain cloth from a surgical gauze to a heavy canvas. In the later days when orders became scarce it was this ability to quickly change a loom over from one ‘sort’ of cloth to another which enabled us to take small orders and weave them at a profit. Being crude didn’t mean that they couldn’t be finely tuned. Proficiency at ‘Loom tuning’ was the attribute that sorted the good tacklers out from the bad. A small adjustment here and there made all the difference to a hard-pressed weaver chasing picks. We had some good tacklers at Bancroft. I remember Ernie having problems with a loom once that was weaving unevenly. It transpired that a new loom sweeper had decided the nuts holding the frame together were too loose and so he’d got his spanner out and tightened them all up. Ernie soon saw what the problem was, slackened all the frame nuts off which allowed the loom to relax, read the loomsweeper’s horoscope and all was well.

Ernie Roberts having a fag and Roy Wellock honing his skills. A typical scene in the tackler’s cabin.

The funny thing about the tacklers when I was running the engine was that I always got on well with the first cabin but never seemed to hit it off with the second even though one of them was a near neighbour of mine. There was one incident in particular that worsened this relationship. In this second cabin one of the tacklers had some tomato plants in grow bags on the window cill. He looked after them like babies and was well on the way to a good crop. Came the summer holidays and a fortnight’s break. I was working for most of the holidays as this was when I did my heavy maintenance on the boiler and engine so this tackler with the tomatoes asked me to water them for him while he was away. No problem at all until at the beginning of the second week I noticed they were looking a bit poorly. I got my mate Ted Lawson to come over to the mill and have a look at them because he knew about these things. He inspected the offending plants and informed me that it was a bad case of Blossom End Rot! He said it wasn’t my fault, you couldn’t induce it in a week and the most usual cause was over-watering. Well, I think you can guess what happened, the tackler came back off holiday full of the joys of spring until he saw his beloved plants. Of course it was all my fault and he never spoke to me again. I just kept quiet, I knew there was no way I could win that one.

The cabin walls were lined with cubby-holes each labeled with the loom part it was supposed to contain. I say ‘suppose’ because as far as I could see there was no system whatsoever, the whole place was a glorious jumble of bits of iron and small castings and I couldn’t see how anyone would be able to find anything. Ernie Roberts assured me that there was order in the chaos and he knew exactly where to lay his hand on anything he wanted. He must have been right because I never saw them fast for a spare part. This was a good thing because the firms who made our looms were long gone and if we did need anything we hadn’t got we had to either cannibalise another loom or find it in a scrap yard. On the engine house side of the larger of the two cabins there was a store room holding larger loom parts and two big vats, one containing whale oil in which leathers were soaked before installing them on the looms and one full of linseed oil in which new shuttles were soaked until they were needed.

Maintaining the shuttles was a large part of the tackler’s skill. A shuttle is moving so fast through the loom that it is airborne and it has to be aerodynamically correct. A good tackler knows just which parts have to be shaped and smoothed as they wear in order to keep them working properly. Another common problem with shuttles was ‘ballooning’ of the weft as it flew off the yarn package during one pass across the slay (the wooden bed on which the shuttle traveled through the warp shed). If this happened the weft could snarl up on the next pass and cause a weaving fault. The cure was to line the inside of the shuttle with rabbit fur to put a drag on the weft as it came off the pirn or weft package. In a well run mill supplies of rabbit fur are ordered from the mill furnishers but at Bancroft the management hadn’t bought any for years. The weavers used to bring in odd items of fur clothing like gloves, hats and on one occasion a fox fur stole. These were cut up and used for weft control. Say what you will about Bancroft, we weren’t a big drain on the world’s fur resources!

Ernie Roberts checking out the latest donation of fur for lining shuttles.

Here’s something that didn’t happen in the days when tacklers were all powerful. Mary Cawdry needed a bit more fur in a shuttle but her tackler was busy so she set to and put her own in.

We may as well include the office in the warehouse description, it was actually a separate building but could be entered from the warehouse and was closely associated with it. The main office was a room about 25feet long, 15feet wide and 8feet high to the ceiling. It had been painted cream on the walls and brown woodwork when the mill was built and I doubt if it had seen much redecoration. The west wall, next to the warehouse was dominated by a fireplace with a mahogany surround with mirror that would get any architectural salvage merchant salivating. To the left of that was an imposing Milner safe that in common with many of its ilk was all show and no substance. The door and the front were absolutely solid but the back and sides were simply sheet metal walls forming a cavity that was full of teak sawdust. (Teak is almost incombustible, it was used in the fire doors as well for that reason) There was a large desk and a table together in the middle of the floor both of which bore the ‘VR’ mark of government property. On the desk was an Imperial typewriter and an old electric adding machine (I have a story about this later…). The main working surface was a long stand-up desk with a solid walnut top under the window facing up the yard. In the old days clerks worked at these desks stood up but we had gone soft over the years and there were two high stools with cloth padding made of folded fents, odd pieces of damaged cloth that were cut out of full pieces. In my time the office staff was Sidney Nutter and his brother Ughtred. Both were from the Nutter dynasty which built the mill but as Sidney often said, not part of the ‘Nutter Millions’. Sidney was full-time and with Jim Pollard the weaving manager ran the mill. Ughtred used to do two or three days a week to help with the making-up and the wages. I didn’t have a lot to do with Ughtred but worked very closely with Sidney and I liked him, he had a wicked sense of humour and I got the impression that in his day he had been a bit of a lad.

The stand-up desks in the office. Most of the office work was done here.

Sidney Nutter.

I have a story for you about Sidney… Sidney was a very mild and kindly man who hated saying no to commercial travelers when they called in and tried to sell us the latest wonder product. If one called he would send them down to see ‘Our Mr Graham’ in the engine house because he was only the office manager and had no authority. Codswallop of course, he simply wanted me to do the dirty for him. One day a traveler called in and as it happened came straight to the engine house. He was selling a miracle drain cleaner that would remove any blockage and solve all our problems. He had been well trained and had a demonstration for me that was pure theatre. He went through it and I could see that all he was selling was concentrated acid that would certainly dissolve not only a blockage but the joints in the drains as well. No matter, he was good and very entertaining. I told him that we might be interested but could he please do the demonstration again for ‘Our Mr Nutter’ in the office. As the firm was called James Nutter and Sons I have no doubt that the salesman thought he was onto a good thing dealing direct with the owner so I took him up to the office.

Sidney was alone in the office and as it was Tuesday afternoon I knew he wouldn’t be thronged. I took the bloke in and watched as he started his spiel. He opened his case, took out a Pyrex beaker and told Sidney to imagine it was a drain. Sidney was sat on his high stool with his pipe in his mouth taking in every word. The bloke poured some garden soil in the beaker saying that a blockage always contained dirt, then he brought out another beaker full of white grease, took a handful and shoved that in the beaker as well because the cleaner had to deal with grease. The next stage in the demonstration should have been when he whipped out the biggest sanitary towel you have ever seen in your life, wiped his hands on it, shoved it into the beaker and said “There’s always one of these and now you have a blockage!”. He never got that far because when he pulled the towel out Sidney’s pipe dropped out of his mouth and he said “Eh lad, what is it? A blindfold?” This stopped the salesman dead in his tracks and he started to explain to Sidney what the item was. Sidney heard him out, took his pipe out of his mouth and said “My God! Whatever will they think of next!” At this point the salesman lost the will to live, he packed everything away in his case and retreated down the yard, a beaten man. I looked at Sidney and told him he was wicked and then we both burst out laughing. See what I mean? A sly and wicked sense of humour.

Entertainment on one side, Sidney was a smart cookie. He knew the commercial side of the business inside out and Jim Pollard knew all there was to know about the technology. Between them they kept us afloat through some difficult times and when we eventually closed Jim told me that we had never had a month when we didn’t make a profit. Sidney died suddenly about four months before the mill closed, he had a brain tumour that was mercifully quick. I’m sorry he died so young, he was only 64, but I’m glad he didn’t have to go through weaving out because the mill was his life and all he had ever known. I used to spend quite a lot of time with Sidney and if he had lived he would have been one of my informants, he had already agreed to do it. I once asked him why it was that as the mills closed down all around, many of them weaving the same cloth as us but it never seemed to make any difference to our order books. He told me that he didn’t know the answer because it had always puzzled him as well. The only reason he ever came up with was that the Lancashire industry had lost the will to live, the customers recognised this and gave up trying to source their needs in England, they just went to foreign firms who would give them a low price just to get them hooked. I think there might be something in this because just before we closed I had a conversation with a buyer for Tootals, one of our main customers. He told me that his firm was at its wits end trying to source the cloth that we were weaving for them, nobody else was doing it. Even so, we closed… As Ernie Roberts said, “It’s like a black pudding. A bloody mystery.”
I have another little story for you before we leave the office. I don’t apologise for the fact it puts me in a good light, it happened just as tell it to you. It was mid-winter and very cold. We were firing flat out and just managing to keep the shed warm, those glass lights in the shed let the heat out as fast as you pumped it in. I had occasion to go up to the office to ask Sidney to order a load of coal for me and when I went in they had the fire roaring up the chimney in the office. I asked Sidney why they lit the fire when we had steam pipes in the office. He said that the heating had never worked in that office as long as he’d been there. I felt the pipes and they were only just warm so I told him that there was something wrong somewhere and I’d have look at it when I had time.

Later on after dinner things had settled down at our end in the engine house so I got John Plummer my firebeater to sit in the engine house and watch the oils for me while I went up and scouted round the heating system in the office. I soon found the problem. At some point, many moons ago from the state of the pipework, someone had fitted the steam trap on the end of the line back to front. (The steam trap allows condensate to get out of the system but keeps the steam in) The system was choked with condensate. I turned the steam off to the offices, took the big old Syphonia trap off and replaced it with a modern one, turned the steam on again and went back to the engine house with the old steam trap on a truck.

About half an hour later the intercom between the office and the engine house squawked at me and on the other end was Sidney, he said I’d better come up to the office at once. I went up and found him and Ughtred in their shirt sleeves, all the office windows and doors open and the fire damped down with old tea leaves from the bucket near the boiler in the warehouse. The temperature was about 85F and Sidney was not happy! Apart from the fact that the office was now too hot he didn’t like the noise the new steam trap made outside the back window when it unloaded at intervals. In the end I had to replace the new trap with the old one and cut down on the steam but we finally got it right and never had to touch it again. Sidney asked what the problem had been and when I told him what the fault was I don’t think he quite believed me. It just goes to show the level of engineering ability that had been employed when that trap was installed. All right, I know I’m crowing but we are all allowed our little triumphs!

There is one last thing we should remark on before we leave the warehouse and this was definitely peculiar to Bancroft. A stranger walking down towards the engine house from the office could be forgiven for thinking that his or her eyes were deceiving them as they neared the end wall. It looked for all the world as though there was a hump in the concrete floor and a corresponding dome in the ceiling above. This was not an optical illusion, it was the Bancroft Mushroom. The floor was indeed rising to a hump and this had been noted very soon after the mill was built. Harold Duxbury told me that they had been called in once to investigate what was pushing the floor up and when they dug into the floor they found a mineral deposit which was growing under the floor and lifting the whole of that part of the mill upwards. As it rose it was lifting the pillars which supported the floor of the taping department upstairs and the machines were constantly having to be levelled by putting packing pieces under the feet at each end. They took samples and sent them off for analysis but never reached a firm conclusion.

In 1979 when my mate Norman Sutcliffe of N&R Contractors was demolishing the mill I told him about this and asked him to see what he thought as they got down to it. He told me later that it was a mineral deposit formed as water oozed up through a bed of peat. They tried the depth of the bed with a forty foot girder hung off the crane hook and he said it was at least thirty feet deep. This solved the mystery of the Mushroom! I’d often thought that there was something like that, it was still expanding when I was there and one clue I noted was that in the back wall of the coal bunker which was very close to the affected area there was a strange bed of rock that didn’t look quite right, very red in colour. I think that when the mill was built they came across this strata and had an idea what it was and this is why the boiler wasn’t sited right up to the engine house as it should have been. Instead it had been turned round and moved away from that area. The last thing they needed was something moving under the boiler. Harold didn’t die until 1991 and when I found out about the peat bed I went down to Bank’s Hill and told him what we had found. He wasn’t surprised and I think was pleased to have got a definite answer after all those years. If you go to see the engine at Bancroft the mushroom is partly underneath the present entrance building and the car park. It may be that it can relieve itself by expanding outside and may not bother the building again. I hope so…

Harold Duxbury.

Jim Pollard and Sidney Nutter deciding on strategy, between them they ran the mill. The adding machine is the one that used to go berserk on engine house electricity until I made the adjustments to the alternator.

I always liked the directness of the office window. It was a command, not a request.

The shape of things to come, the office in 1979 during demolition.

In the last Tea Break we left Fred talking about how hard the old Dales farmers were. I told him a story which won’t be out of place here. “There used to be a farmer in Settle called George Staveley, he was a legend up there. He was eighty odd when I knew of him in the 1960s. If you go out of Settle up what they call If Hill towards Bell Busk and Kirby Malham, George had some land reight up on top there as you're going up out of Settle. There's a big hill goes up at the back, a big limestone hill and he had a lot of black cattle up there. Years after he were supposed to have retired he went missing in middle of winter. There was a lot of snow on ground and they got the mountain rescue out 'cause they knew he’d gone to look these beasts you know and it's blowing a blizzard. He didn't used to ride up, he used to walk up this hill every day, eighty odd years old, and all he ever wore were them terrible short Wellingtons that laced up, I should think they were about the worst thing that were ever made for your feet. They found him sat behind three bales of straw watching his beasts and reight enjoying himself and he couldn't understand why they'd come searching for him.”

“Years later I was down at Cyril Richardson's at Little Stainton and a van pulls up and this fella gets out of the passenger seat and it were George Staveley. I said “Eh, look who’s here, it’s George! What are you after?” He said, “Young man, do you know of a farmer called Metcalfe round here?” I said “Aye, just up the road there.” He said, “I understand he has a Standard Ford tractor for sale, a paraffin tractor.” which he had, Wallace had two and he were right attached to them. He didn’t like new-fangled tractors he used to like one that you could stand on when you were driving it, like the old Standard Ford. George said “Wait a minute, would it be Wallace Metcalfe?” I said “Aye.” He turned round to this bloke who was driving, and he said “Hungriest b****r in Craven, we’re wasting us time!” And this voice come down from the house, It were Cyril, he must have come out of door and realised who it were. He says “Well, that'll be a b***dy laugh. It’ll be the two hungriest b****rs in Craven together when you get up there!!”

Fred and I agreed that it wasn’t that these men were mean, it was just that they had led far harder lives than we can imagine and it left its mark. They had to be able and tough or they didn’t survive. This led to us talking about weavers and Fred said that the best weavers were the ones who were hungry, by this he didn’t mean short of food, he said that if you had a weaver who went in the pub, liked a drink and smoked they were the best workers because they had an incentive to earn that little bit more. Fred said “You get these evening shifts, six till ten, it's nearly all to run motor cars. We used to laugh about 'em. There’d be six motor cars stood outside Brook Shed on New Road waiting of their wives coming out at ten o'clock at night, fellas sat in. The wives were working to run the car and the fella were coming to take ‘em home, they were worn out at night.”

On the same subject Fred had some hard words to say about the guaranteed minimum wage. In many ways this was a good thing for the weavers as they were guaranteed at least some wage every week no matter how bad the warps were but as Fred said, the difference in wages between the best weaver in the shed and the worst was only a pound a day before tax. He saw this as the big drawback to the system.

Fred Inman fettling a shuttle in the tackler’s cabin. The vice is what used to be called a blacksmith’s vice and was original equipment from 1920 when Bancroft opened.


The second floor section above the warehouse was dedicated to the processes necessary to prepare the essential components the weavers needed to make cloth, warps and weft. It was divided into three sections, first,at the engine house end there was a department walled off by a wooden partition which housed the tape-sizing department. Next to this and directly over the cart race or loading bay in the warehouse below was a section which had a large double door opening to the outside and a hoist mounted in the ceiling. This was where the taper’s beams were lifted into the building from the wagons below, it wasn’t used for bringing yarn in, this was always unloaded in the warehouse where it was stored until needed in the winding department when it was brought up via the hoist. From here up to the wooden partition which divided the second department off, winding, at the far end over where the cloth-lookers were in the warehouse was an open space used for storing weaver’s warps which had been made on the tape-sizing machines. These warps were taken from this section into the third department, looming, which was in a long wooden partitioned cabin against the outside wall of the building so that it got the benefit of maximum light on the looming frames. The first thing a stranger would notice would be the ceiling of the warp storage section. It was a forest of heald and reed sets which had been cut out of the looms when a warp was woven out, more about this in a moment. They were incredibly flammable and this was one of the reasons why no smoking was allowed in this section and it was all protected by sprinklers.

There were healds and reeds hung in the warp preparation room and far more outside where the weaver’s warps were stored.
Let’s start with the tapers. The basic process carried on in here was taking in taper’s beams from the spinners, setting them up in the tape-sizing or slashing machine and passing the threads through a bath of boiling size (more about this later), round two steam heated copper drying drums, separating the threads into individual strands by splitting rods at the front end and winding them onto a smaller weaver’s warp at the front of the machine. Once the warp had the correct length of yarn it was cut out, delivered to the floor outside to await the loomers and another warp started without stopping the machine. Apart from getting the right number of ends on the warp and the correct length the process strengthened the warp yarn by infusing it with size and drying it. Without this improvement the warp yarns would tend to break up as the reed passed violently back and forth along it during the process of weaving. There were other reasons for sizing as well, some of them different in the 1920s than in the 1970s when I saw the process.

One of the tape sizing machines, this one was run by Norman Gray.

Before we look at slashing we need to talk about cloth construction. I can’t tell you all there is to know because I haven’t the knowledge but what I can do is give you some clues as to how complicated the subject is and how skilled the men were who worked out all the variables to make a specific cloth. Let’s start at the beginning. An order would come into the office for so many pieces of a certain quality of cloth. This would be a precise definition of the finished article and if it wasn’t met the cloth contract was invalid. The specification contained some basic information, the quality and count of the yarn to be used for the warp and weft and this could be different for each. The quality was the technical specification of the twist to be used, for instance it could include origin, grade, whether standard or super-combed, whether it had been treated by any proprietary process like Mercerising, gassing or dyeing, whether it was cotton or some other fibre. The count was the weight of the yarn which was measured by how many hanks or leas of the yarn there were to the pound weight. ‘20s’ was twice as heavy as ‘40s’ and so on. Twist as fine as 500s was regularly spun by the best spinners but we never got down to counts as fine as this at Bancroft. Our average count was 40s and perhaps we would go to 60s or 80s for some specific cloths. We regularly wove 8s which made a very heavy cloth. Once these parameters had been set the specification went on to give the pick count which was the product of how close the warp and weft yarns were together and this set the density of the weave. A weatherproof cloth like Grenfell Cloth made by Haythornthwaite’s in Burnley could be as dense as 600 threads to the inch of very high count super-combed Egyptian twist. A yellow duster could be as low as 25 to the inch and low quality yarn made from waste. Bancroft could weave either of these if asked to do so. This wasn’t the end of the specification, it could stipulate things like it having to be pickfound, all tags cut off, no burst selvedges and how these had to be constructed. Finally it stipulated the cloth width.

This is complicated enough but it’s only the specification, Jim Pollard as weaving manager had to work out how to weave the cloth to arrive at this standard. For instance, the simple things like how many ends would there have to be on the weaver’s warp to achieve the width? How much weft would be needed to weave the order? Two simple questions but consider this, every time a warp thread and a weft thread cross they distort each other slightly. 20,000 yards of warp thread will not make 20,000 yards of cloth, there is a contraction to be allowed for. The same applies to the weft and remember that the amount of distortion depends on the density and tightness of the weave, there is no standard allowance. This contraction also reduces the width of the finished cloth and the reduction is greatest the closer to the selvedge you get. So, in calculating the number of ends in the warp sufficient extra have to be allowed for to allow for natural contraction even though the temples on either side of the loom are physically trying to hold the cloth to the correct width. If enough ends are put in to give the width the count of warp threads per inch is higher at each side than in the centre. To even this out a ‘bastard reed’ has to be used which has a smaller count at each side than in the centre and after contraction it measures as correct. Too much information? This is only a fraction of the decisions that have to be made, can you see why it was such a highly skilled job? There are factors that have to be taken account of. If you need say 3,000 ends in a warp, you always specify one or two spares in case a warp thread goes down in the middle of weaving. This allows the weaver to discard the bad warp thread and substitute a better one. Sometimes it is necessary to have stronger threads on the edge of the warp to make a better selvedge, these were put in separately during taping.

Two sets of taper’s beams which have just been lifted in by the teagle hoist to the second storey. The teagle is the machine in the roof and the block at the end was on a runway and could run right out on a cat head over the yard. The warp thread is protected by thick cardboard at each end and a wrapping of brown paper in the middle.

Once all the decisions had been made about what was needed on the weaver’s warp to get the specified cloth there was the question of ordering the taper’s beams. These were much bigger than the weaver’s beams because they had to hold enough length of warp thread to make perhaps twenty weavers beams. Let’s take a simple example. Suppose you wanted to make weaver’s beams with 2,000 ends in them. You ordered perhaps five taper’s beams with 400 ends on each and enough length to make 20 weavers beams. An allowance had to be made in this length to make up for shrinkage of the yarn as it was being taped and again, this wasn’t a constant, it depended on the type of size, the properties of the twist and how the machine was set up. A further allowance was needed for the waste produced when first gaiting the machine and what was left in it after the completion of the required number of weaver’s beams.

Jim Pollard and Joe Nutter loading taper’s beams into the creel at the back of Norman Gray’s tape machine. Not the cleanest place in the world but don’t forget that we were running on a skeleton staff. We had no labourers and that’s why the weaving manager is labouring for the taper. No time for sweeping up.

Once the ‘set’ of beams was delivered at the mill it was lifted into the creel at the back of the tape. This creel was a framework that could hold up to ten large beams. From the creel the individual sheets of yarn had to be brought forward and combined with each other before being threaded through the machine, round the drying drums and out at the front end. This was done by tying the new sheets in bunches to the old sheet left over from the previous run. Once the machine was ready to start taping the old sheet and knots went through the machine until the new sheet had reached the front end of the tape and then the old sheet was cut off and became waste. Before this can be done the sizing section of the machine and the drying drums have to be made ready for the next run.

A set of beams running in Joe’s tape.

The place where the sheet of warp meets the size mixture is in the ‘sow box’ at the end of the tape nearest the taper’s beams, it is immersed by a roller which pushes it into the boiling size as it runs through the machine and then between two squeeze rollers, the top one covered with taper’s flannel, which squeeze the excess size out of the yarn and allow it to drop down into the sow box. However, before this happens the size has to be made.

Each tape machine has a size box next to it big enough to hold enough size to complete most of a day’s run on the tape. It has an agitator driven off the shafting and steam jets can be blown into the mixture to boil it. Size is weird and wonderful stuff and many large books have been written on the chemistry and constituents of various sizes for different jobs. The basic ingredients we used at Bancroft for a very simple mixture were tallow, farina (potato flour) or corn flour, a gum such as Tragacanth and water. In 1920 many cloths were sized to give more bulk and weight to the finished cloth and this was achieved by adding china clay to the mix. In extreme cases over 120% of the cloth weight was added size and this was specified by the customer. Once all the ingredients had been added to the water while the agitator was running the steam was turned on and the size brought up to boiling point. Once boiling fiercely it was kept in this state for perhaps an hour of more to give the starch granules time to burst completely. This period depended on the ingredients and the grade of size needed. Once it had reached its consistency it was a creamy fluid and was kept at boiling point while the tape was running.

Joe checking on his size box before starting a run.

A pump on the size box transferred the size to the sow box via a ball valve which ensured a constant level. Steam was injected into the sow box to bring the size back up to the boil and once it had reached this point the machine could be started. The copper drying drums are already up to temperature and being kept hot by a constant supply of low pressure steam at about 5psi. All is ready. The tape is set on at a low speed and the web starts to enter the boiling size on its way through the machine. As soon as the new sheet has reached the front of the machine the old warp is cut out, the end of the new warp wrapped round a new beam and the taper inserts splitting bars in the correct order at the front of the machine to separate the threads as they emerge from the drying drum because they are stuck together by the size in a broad sheet, a tape, this is where the process gets its name. When the separated sheet reaches the front beam it is cut out and the weaver’s beam proper is started. The taper leaves the machine running slowly while he makes any final adjustments to the splitting of the web and how the warp is running onto the beam. As soon as he is satisfied all is well he sets the machine on at full speed and the weaver’s warp starts to grow. It will take about 30 minutes depending on the number of ends until the warp is full. When this point is reached the tape is put on slow speed and working incredibly quickly the taper cuts out the finished warp, lifts it out, inserts an empty beam, gaits the web up to it and once it is running evenly sets on at full speed again.

The sheet is running through the tape now and the sow box is boiling nicely so Joe lowers the large copper roller onto the sheet and immerses it in the boiling size. The machine is only running slowly so he has time to get to the front before the sized sheet comes through.

There is one more difference between 1920 running and what we did in 1978. When all three tapes were running under the old system there were labourers in the preparation department who lent a hand whenever there was a two man job like lifting in and gaiting the taper’s beams. In 1978 we had no such luxuries. Until the latter days we ran two slashing machines, Joe Nutter and Norman Gray were the tapers. They laboured for each other whenever possible but if one was busy on his machine Jim Pollard went in and laboured for the one needing assistance. The hierarchy counted for nothing, all that mattered was what needed to be done to keep the mill running. There you have it, all you need to know about taping. I know that you are on information overload but don’t worry, you can always go back and read it again! Bear in mind that this is the idiot’s guide and can’t include all the skills that go into the job. If I’ve flagged up the complexity of the decisions that must be made to produce a properly sized warp fit for a specific cloth, I’ve done my job.

Once the tape is running nicely on low speed Joe sorts through the ends as they pass through the raddle which is the zig zag comb which keeps all the ends straight and in order. When he is satisfied all is well he’ll put the machine on full speed. The curved lever with the black cloth tied on the head is the hammer which falls on the warp at set intervals, pushing the sheet down onto an inked pad. This puts the cut mark in that the weaver watches for as it is where she has to cut this length of cloth out.

A finished warp awaiting looming. Note the striking comb and you can just see the warp card under the sheet. This is a warp for good times, notice it is built up over the flange to get the most cuts on it.

The tape department during demolition in 1979. The donkey engine was saved by Robert Aram.

Fred and I were having a general conversation about sex education and Fred gave me his views on his attitudes towards physical well-being. He said that he used to subscribe to ‘Health and Strength’ a magazine first published in the 1890s and still on the news stands today. He said that he liked the views expressed in it and quoted one motto; ‘Sacred is thy body even as thy soul.’ What struck me was that old-fashioned though such expressions sound nowadays, this is as true now as it was 100 years ago, it struck a chord in the young Fred and he followed the precept. This got us on to society’s attitude towards modesty and he told me that in his younger days it was expected and enforced. I asked him what he meant by this and he quoted the example of a young Earby lad who was unwise enough to brag to his mates about a girl he had been with and the lass’s family forced him to put an apology in the newspaper. Fred said that this was unusual but very effective, it was the talk of the town for a few days and caused many a young lad to think twice before indulging in loose talk. This was in the 1930s, I don’t think it could happen today and it’s a very good indication of public perceptions and attitudes towards morality. Repressive perhaps but effective in protecting vulnerable people.

We discussed discipline in the family. I asked Fred what sort of punishment he got if he was naughty and he told me that it was always the strap. There was a piece of leather belting from the mill hung up at home as a reminder and “If you did owt wrong you'd get it.” He told me a story that Parkinson told him about his grandfather and discipline. Old John had gone walkabout at one time and Parkinson was 25 years old before they got back in touch. When they met and settled down for a talk Parkinson got his clay pipe out and started rubbing some twist up. His father told him ‘Put that out! Th’art not smoking in front of me!” and this was at 25 years old! Parental authority isn’t what it used to be. Looking back, Fred didn’t think his parents were too harsh with him, he recognised that they were doing their best to keep him in line and out of trouble. I asked him about prayers in the home and he said that they didn’t have family prayers as such but they always said a prayer with their mother before going to bed, in winter they knelt on the hearthrug in front of the fire. I may be wrong, but I doubt if bedtime prayers are as common today as they were in the 1930s. The image of a mother kneeling with her two sons and joining in bedtime prayers is of another age. I can remember my mother saying prayers with me before I went to sleep and this got me to thinking about the deep-rooted need to ask for protection during the night. I suspect it’s a very old fear indeed, when our Stone-Age ancestors slept they were at their most vulnerable. Fred said that they were never allowed to play out after dark and neither did his children.

Fred and Melbourne went to Sunday school and as they got older, church as well. Fred said that Christmas was seen as a religious festival more than a celebration. They got small presents but the main emphasis was on attending church and having a celebratory meal. At Easter they used to dye eggs and roll them in the fields. The old Lancashire custom of ‘pace-egging’, once widespread, is still to be found in some parts of the UK. ‘Pace’ comes from ‘pasch’, it comes from Old English meaning ‘Easter’. (this is where we get the term Passion Play) Pace-eggs are eggs specially decorated for the festival, usually they are wrapped in onion-skins and boiled, this gives a golden, mottled effect to the shells. The Wordsworth Museum at Grasmere in the Lake District houses a collection of highly ornate eggs originally made for the poet’s children.

One of the advantages about regular Sunday School attendance was getting books as prizes at the anniversary celebrations. These joined the parent’s prizes on the bookshelf and so there was always a stock of improving literature in the house. Elizabeth got the ‘Red Letter’ magazine once a week and Parkinson had his Sunday Chronicle. One thing we have to continually remind ourselves about is that reading and conversation were the only ways of passing the time indoors, the bad news for today’s youngsters is that there was no radio, TV or electronic games. If you were lucky there might be a pack of cards or dominoes or perhaps even a board game but beyond this you had to rely on your own resources. I’m sure every modern parent has heard the phrase ‘I’m bored!’ from their children. I wonder how many times this was said when Fred was young? The wonderful thing is that Fred’s generation was not deprived, in fact in many ways they were better off than today’s children.

Whilst on the subject of games it transpired that like me Fred had been a Meccano addict. This was a construction kit consisting of small metal strip and angles which could be used to build almost anything. It turned out that Fred and I were heavily into building cranes because they fascinated us and he told me a nice story about one crane he built which was powered by a clockwork motor. He used to have it on the table and used it to lift weights off the floor but was hampered by the fact that he had to hold it down while playing with it to stop it overturning so Parkinson made him a couple of holes in the table top for the holding down bolts! Can you imagine Elizabeth’s reaction to this? This reminds me of my father’s interest in my models, he was as hooked as I was and I think Fred’s dad was the same, we could both remember the first models we made, Fred’s was a crane and mine was a steam roller.

I like this combination of strict discipline but quite remarkable laxity when it came to serious matters like holding Fred’s crane down on the table. Times may have been hard and moral standards high but there was still room for some latitude. It reminds me of the old saying “tempering the wind to the shorn lamb”. [I wrote this and wondered where it originated, at first I thought it was biblical but a bit of a dig produced this: ‘From Les Premices (Geneva 1594), a collection of proverbs by the French scholar Henri Estienne (1531–98).’ There you are, we can learn something every day.] No wonder Fred is gentle, he had good teachers.


We’ve reached the stage where the taper has delivered a sized weaver’s warp into the storage area outside the warp preparation department on the east side of the upper store. If you looked at it you’d notice that the last thing the taper did before he doffed the warp from the tape machine was to insert a ‘striking comb’ in the loose ends. This is a comb with a keeper that fits over the teeth to stop the ends slipping out and becoming tangled. Using it ensures that the person who is going to convert this warp to loom-ready state has a good start, all the ends are separate and in order.

We have to plunge back into cloth construction. It’s been complicated enough so far but the parameters we have looked at were only the ones that needed to be put in place to get the warp to this stage. We now have to look at other aspects of managing the warp to get the cloth specification that the customer wants. I missed these out in the last chapter to keep things as simple as possible.

I’m sure you have noticed in the course of your daily life what a tremendous range of cloths we encounter. Everything from the plain weave of a yellow duster to the complexities of a very high class furnishing fabric or even a carpet. In passing let me mention that there is an even more esoteric form of weaving used for producing things like ribbons and bookmarkers which can have complicated patterns or even pictures and text woven into them. This is a separate and highly specialised trade which I shan’t try to describe. If you are really interested and want to know more seek out a book called ‘A Reputation in Ribbons’ by J F Sebire which tells the story of a Congleton firm, Berisfords, which is one of the foremost ribbon manufacturers in the world. There is also another branch of weaving which makes very wide cloths for the paper-making and baking industries.

There are many ways to achieve complexity in an ordinary domestic cloth. The yarn, the pattern of the weave and the incorporation of coloured threads. We did very little coloured work at Bancroft, most of our cloths were what used to be described as ‘Burnley Printers’, plain cloth that was intended for finishing by bleaching and sometime dyeing or printing with a coloured pattern after manufacture. Even so, there was a bewildering choice of options. The simplest form of cloth was a plain weave, what the loomers called a ‘two stave’ cloth. This meant that it could be woven using only two healds or staves to produce the shed through which the shuttle passed to deposit its weft. At the end of that pass the staves were reversed by the mechanism of the loom to ensure that on its return path the weft lay over the warp threads it had previously traveled under and vice versa. Have a close look at a tea towel and you’ll see what I mean. This is the simplest weave of all and is the one that was first invented thousands of years ago. The next type of weave that we would easily recognise is a twill (a ‘four stave’ weave) where the weft is inserted in the warp in such a way as to produce a diagonal effect on the surface of the cloth. Anyone who has done any dress-making will know that this is a very stable form of cloth construction that resists any tendency to deform it from lying flat and square. Cut ‘on the bias’ it can be made even more stable. Think of the difference between a knitted garment and one woven with good cloth. The knitted garment is much more easily deformed than the cloth, you can even stretch it. This is the same effect.

You’ll be pleased to know that this is as far as I am going to go with types of weave. Plain Lancashire looms are capable of being set up to weave other types of cloth and Bancroft often made these but the more complicated weaves like patterned curtains and furnishing fabric demand much more complicated looms which we hadn’t got. Blackburn was always a centre for what is known as Jacquard weaving and produced cloths of such mind-boggling complexity that it took an expert to understand how they were made. I used to have an overcoat that was self-lined. On the outside face it was a small dog tooth check like a Harris weave and on the inside it was a tartan pattern in different colours. This cloth was woven like that and was in effect two entirely different weaves in the same piece of cloth. Don’t ask me how they did it, I think I know, but I would bore you to tears! All I want to do is to alert you to the possible permutations of cloth construction and loom design.

Leaving on one side loom set-up which was the responsibility of the tackler when he gaited the warp in the loom, the biggest single factor governing the weave was the relationship between the passage of the yarn through the healds and reed in the loom. Just to remind you, the healds are the flexible elements with eyes to guide the thread inserted through them and the reed is the fixed metal comb through which all the threads pass which keeps them straight and in position and beats the weft threads up against each other to tighten the weave once they are in place. Once the individual ends have passed through the reed they are united into cloth by the weft. It follows then that the order and positioning of each end in the heald and reed set is the crucial part of ensuring that the requisite cloth is woven.

There are two ways of achieving this result. The first is to set the warp, the reed and the healds up in a looming frame and using a hook like a small button hook, catch each individual thread and draw it along the appropriate path through the set. This process is often called ‘drawing in’. If a warp has 3,000 ends, unless the specification demands double threads, each individual end has to be installed one at a time. Actually, a really skilled man uses a double hook and draws two ends at a time through different paths, you’ll see that Jim Pollard did this. As you can imagine, this process involved high levels of concentration and was very time-consuming.

Jim Pollard drawing a warp from scratch. The healds are set up in front of him and the reed is clamped fat in front of the healds. Jim is using a double hook which he inserts through the correct heald eyes and picks up two ends from the sheet set up behind the healds. Once drawn through the ends are picked up with a special knife which draws them through the reed.

Here’s a close shot of the ends coming through the healds and reed. There are two sorts of heald here, one with metal eyes and one with knotted eyes. Both sorts were efficient. The glossy appearance of the cotton strings forming the heald is due to the fact that when they have been knitted they are coated with varnish. Look carefully and you’ll see that each end follows a different path to its companion. This is what governs the way the loom weaves the cloth.
There was another way. Imagine a weaver’s warp of infinite length, once set up the healds and the reed would be correct for that cloth until they simply wore out and broke. Impossible of course but what was possible was to preserve the relationship of the yarn and the healds and reeds by cutting the warp threads behind the healds and knotting them together so they couldn’t slip through and leaving six inches of cloth at the front of the reed when the warp wove out in the loom. This set was ready for more yarn, all that had to be done was knot each individual end in the new warp to the corresponding end in the old yarn set and carefully draw the knots through the healds and reed before cutting the old warp threads and tag of cloth off and knotting the new ends together so they couldn’t slip back. This worked so long as you had continuation in cloth orders. In practice the sets of healds and reeds were hung in the roof space where they waited for another order for the same cloth to come in. If there wasn’t a ready loomed set for a new order the warp was put on the drawing frame and re-loomed from scratch.

In the old days the process of re-looming an old set to a new warp was done by setting them up in a frame and a man set to and twisted a knot to join each individual end to its mate. Not surprisingly, this process was known as ‘twisting’. It was very hard on the fingers and the twister would often dip his fingers occasionally into a small pot of glycerine and whiting or his own individual mixture which he made up at home. By 1920 when Bancroft became operational there was a new invention, the Barber knotting machine which came in from America. Once you had set up the warp and the heald and reed set, the machine would automatically go through the web knotting each end to its mate. This was much faster and amply repaid the time spent setting the warp up. There were two of these knotting machines at Bancroft in 1920 and two drawing frames. In the 1970s there was one Barber machine left in place and Jim had a drawing frame that was his personal property. When the mill closed down he took it home and set it up in his garage so he could occasionally draw a warp if someone needed one.

Property of Jim Pollard.

The Barber knotting machine ready to be set up.

The business end of the Barber knotter. Just accept that it is a very clever piece of kit which can tie over 2000 knots in ten minutes.

In the early days many mills had a heald-knitting frame and a reed making machine. They made their own new components as they were needed. Bancroft never made its own but relied on the commercial heald-knitters and reed manufacturers. In the later days when loom numbers dropped and money was tight Jim survived by cutting old healds and reeds down to size, he was cannibalising the old stocks to keep the mill going. Reeds were polished with a very fine carborundum stone, bent reed wires straightened, broken heald eyes repaired in fact any make do and mend that would solve the problem. Very occasionally Jim would be completely stuck and this was when he went round to see his mates in other mills to see if they had anything that would do. I don’t think we bought a new heald or reed all the time I was at Bancroft.

I have a story about the Barber Knotting machine. I have to report that the man who ran the machine didn’t like me. I could never understand why but in later years it was suggested to me that when George Bleasdale, the old engine tenter finished, there was some hope that a relation of the man on the knotter would get the engineer’s job. I don’t know what truth there is in this but it would explain a lot of things. We have to pop back into the office for a moment to explain how this story came about. Can you remember me mentioning that the two most important parts of the office equipment were the old Imperial typewriter and an electric adding machine that must have been one of the first ever made? The quality of the electricity I was making didn’t suit the adding machine. It was only used on Thursday to calculate the wages and if I didn’t switch the office circuit onto the mains the decimal point on the calculator used to go berserk and jump about all over the place. No problem there but I was always getting digs from the man on the knotter about the fact that his machine ran too slow because I wasn’t running the engine fast enough. More about engine speed later but this wasn’t the problem. His troubles stemmed from the fact that being an American machine it ran on 110v DC which was fine in the early days when this was the voltage used in the mill but became a problem when we went over to 250v single phase for the mill circuits in 1948. The solution was to fit a transformer and inverter which converted the standard UK voltage to one which suited the knotter. The complaints escalated until the man really upset me one day by accusing me of being frightened of the engine. I told him that speed wasn’t the problem and that they had suffered from this ever since the mill was converted to 250v in 1948 and nobody had ever found the cause. I said I’d find it and satisfy him.

You’re right, I was angry! I went out and spent two week’s wage on a heavy duty Avo multi-meter, a specialised piece of measuring equipment which I still have. On the Monday morning I took some readings in the engine house. The meters on the distribution board told me that I was making AC current at 440v three phase which was correct. However, when I took the same reading with the very accurate Avo meter it told me that the voltage was actually a fraction below 400v. An alternator’s voltage level is governed by the voltage of electricity you inject into the main exciter coils. This initial current is made by a small dynamo mounted on the end of the alternator and you can control the level of this and hence the output from the alternator by adjusting the resistance in the circuit between the exciter dynamo and the main coils. My problem was that even when set to maximum the exciter wasn’t delivering the requisite current to the main coils, the fixed resistances in the circuit had degraded and were impeding the flow too much. The reason why the voltmeter on the switchboard was reading the correct voltage was that someone had adjusted it to read 440 when it should have been saying 400!

This was a job for the sparks. I got a professional electrician in and he fitted new fixed resistances. We re-calibrated the voltmeter on the panel using my Avo because being brand new we knew it was accurate. I switched the alternator back on line and went up to the office to see if Sidney’s calculator was behaving itself. He tried it and was delighted, the numbers on the display were brighter, had stopped flickering and the decimal point as steady as a rock. I had earned a cup of tea.

Later in the day I was taking my ease in the engine house with a cup of tea and Jim came down to ask me what I had done to the alternator. Frank Bleasdale, the Winding master had told Jim that his winders were working better than they had ever done and production had risen by about 20%. (They ran off 440v AC) Jim also reported that the man on the knotter wasn’t happy. His machine had doubled its speed and because he hadn’t maintained it properly over the years he was having to overhaul it. On the quiet I think Jim was really pleased but ever the diplomat he didn’t say so. The reason I think this is that anything that pushed production up made his life easier. Later that day I went up into the preparation department and was treated to a torrent of verbal abuse from the vicinity of the Barber Knotter. I simply told the bloke he had asked for better power and now he’d got it he’d have to live with it. Oh, and by the way, the engine is running at exactly the same speed. Game set and match to Stanley, always a nice feeling…

There was a sequel. About two months earlier a man who ran a travelling fair had come to see me and asked if I wanted to buy a lot of 150 watt Edison screw bulbs that he had which were redundant because they had altered their lighting systems. They were very cheap so after having a word with Sidney the mill bought them. All this happened in summer when there was very little demand for shed lighting but then we got a thundery day with low cloud and in the afternoon I decided we’d better have the shed lights on. These were all controlled from a big breaker box on the switchboard. I put the lights on and immediately got reports from the shed that a lot of bulbs had blown. This was of course because it was the first time for almost thirty years that they had received a full 250v. Jim and I went in the shed with a case full of the bulbs I had bought off the fairground people and inside an hour we had every lamp up and running again. The level of light in the shed had gone up tremendously and Jim said that the extra production due to this would more than make up for the extra coal I was burning driving the rejuvenated alternator. Doubles all round! By doing a simple bit of checking and maintenance we had increased the efficiency of the mill and raised profits. I think there may be a lesson in there somewhere…

The storage area for beams and warps. The tape machines are to the left behind the wooden partition and the warp preparation is through the door to the right. The winding department was behind us to the right at the opposite end of the floor to the tapes.

Bancroft Loomers in 1937. Back row, left to right: Dan Brennand, Bill Eccleston, Bob Walker, Fred Walker, Walter F Plumley, Harry Calvert. Front row, Miss Jane Atkinson, Lawrence Keirnon, Mrs. Grev. Davy, Billy Whiteoak, Hilda Lomax, Hettie Clark.
In 1924 a three year old horse called Charlie’s Mount, owned by Charles O’Malley, won the Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket… You might wonder what this has to do with our Fred but there is a connection. Fred and I were talking about how his parents passed their spare time, Elizabeth enjoyed her reading, sewing and making peg rugs. Parkinson had his gardening, a pint with his mates and the odd threepenny flutter on a horse. It’s worth remembering that it wasn’t until 1961 that off-course betting on horses was made legal but there was a well-established system of ‘bookie’s runners’ in place all over the country which, though illegal, enabled anyone to get a bet on wherever they were, even on the shop floor at work. The runner would take the bet, get it to a bookmaker who had a telephone or telegraphic connection to the course and the bet was placed. The whole system ran on trust and was largely ignored by the police apart from the occasional arrest or raid to keep things in check. As a schoolboy 60 years ago I used to run bets on my bike to a council house in Green End about three miles from where I lived, there was a small trapdoor in the back door, all I did was knock and it would open, a hand would come out, and I handed the slips over. The system was alive and well in Earby in 1924, here’s what Fred said….

“He got a tip or sommat off one of his cousins. He were a game keeper were his cousin and I don't think he knew owt about horses but he must have told me father about this horse. There must have been some gentry up or sommat you know shooting, and they must have been throwing this tip about. They called it Charlie’s Mount, I allus remember and it won the Cesarewitch and I think it were hundred to one outsider and it were coupled with another horse and they both came up. It were very hush hush at home like but we knew me father had won some money 'cause he bought me a pair of new boots, Beaver boots. Them were good boots 'cause he allus had a pair of Beavers for when he were going out into the fields and I’d started going wi’ him a lot you know, so he bought me a pair an all out of his winnings. He’d about hundred pound to come or sommat like that wi’ this double. It were a fortune you know were that, and anyway he’d telled one or two of his mates and they'd all had a good do on it you know. There were about happen three tacklers then and they’d had a do on it and they more or less cleared this bookie out, he were only like a threepence and a tanner bookie.” I asked Fred who the bookie was and he said there was a bloke called Tom Waddington and it might have been him.

This was serious money in those days, the price of a house. The strange thing about this was that in the 1950s I had a bet on a horse running in the Cesarewitch one night when I was with drink taken in the Craven Heifer at Kelbrook. I didn’t often back a horse but Tommy Fitton persuaded me to have a bet and after rolling the winnings over to another horse I came out two days later with over £300 and have never backed a horse since. Remember that in the same decade my wage as a full-time driver was under £10 a week. My dad told me that he used to combine street bookmaking with his job when he was engineering in Manchester in the 1920s and did well out of it until he got a lot of bets on a horse that he was certain was a loser. Instead of laying them off with the next bookie up the chain he decided to gamble and stand the bets himself. The horse won at long odds, cleared father out and that was the end of his career as a bookmaker!

I have another story for you about betting on horses. Some years after my win I was working with a man who was a part-time river bailiff on the Lune in Cumbria. He used to act as gillie for a bookmaker from the Midlands who was a keen fisherman. The bookie gave him occasional tips which he passed on to his mates including me. They were amazingly accurate and I came to the conclusion that these horses were fixed because out of thirteen horses he gave me, only one didn’t win and that was given with the proviso that if the going was soft it had to be backed each way. Remember, there was no doubt about the accuracy because I was always given the tip before the race. The lad who gave me the tips reckoned to be a gambling man but when the flow of tips dried up with the death of the bookie I asked him how come he was still working? After 12 sure-fire winners he ought to be retired. I never got an answer…

There was a sequel. At Christmas we used to work flat out on the milk tankers delivering bulk milk to Halifax Dairies for separation into cream for the festive market. I got a message from H**** asking me to call in at the Denholme pub and pick up a present for him from the landlord. When I called in on the way back from Halifax the present was a case of very good whisky. My mate had been passing the tips on to the landlord who evidently was a gambler because he had made enough money to retire. Foolish though it may sound, I am proud to say I never succumbed to the temptation to have a bet no matter how attractive the prospect.


I think you know me well enough by now to know what I’m going to say next. Before we talk about winding we’d better make sure we know about shuttles, weft packages and some very basic principles of spinning.

The shuttle at the front is a kissing shuttle and has a full pirn on the shuttle peg. The back shuttle is a self-threader, you can see the slot down which the weft is pulled and automatically threads itself in the metal eye.

Here’s a rarity for you. A small four inch long shuttle for gold wire. The bobbin was dropped in to the well and the spring retained it. The wire was threaded through the hole in the side. The shuttle was propelled through the shed in the warp by hand.

The shuttle is the aerodynamically designed and maintained vehicle which travels back and forth in the loom carrying the weft, or cross threads, through the shed formed by the healds as they manipulate the warp to give the requisite cloth construction. It has a hinged spike inside it which is used to spike the centre of the weft package and hold it in place. The weft travels out of the shuttle through and eye in one end. This eye used to be a single hole, lined with metal or ceramic to make it smooth and hard-wearing. The weft was threaded through the hole by placing it near the inside end and breathing in sharply through the hole. This dragged the weft through the hole but also pulled dust and cotton fibres into the weaver’s lungs. This was ‘kissing the shuttle’ and was a contributory cause to many deaths from Bysinnosis, a lung disease caused by cotton fibres lodging in the breathing passages. Johnson and Johnson in Earby were one of the first firms to make the change to self-threading shuttles. As early as 1912 a Home Office Report concluded that the suction shuttle had no definite links to ill-health, although it did assert that the practice was insanitary and alternative methods were encouraged. The self-threading shuttle became mandatory in the UK in 1952 but many older firms were very slow to make the change because of the expense, I have a kissing shuttle that was made as late as 1973. Fred Inman, a tackler at Johnsons for many years, made an interesting comment about the old kissing shuttles; “But it used to be [with kissing shuttles]when you were having a lot of weft troubles, which you used to do, and you were getting these shuttles off weavers. Some of these fancy women wi’ all lipstick. All their shuttles were covered with lipstick. And I think that were one reason why a lot of tacklers, they didn't really chew twist but they allus had a little bit in their mouths as what as you might say, for a disinfectant. And some on 'em[the shuttles] they were caked up wi’ lipstick and you got some sandpaper and you given ‘em a good cleaning up 'cause you’d to kiss the shuttle to thread it. You'd to take it back to the looms you know and you might have to kiss 'em two or three times to get ‘em going ‘cause the weft were breaking. They said that there were more false teeth in Lancashire weren’t there and more empty mouths than any other county in England.” I’ve heard kissing shuttles blamed for respiratory disease but I had never heard them as a cause of bad teeth before Fred mentioned it. By 1970 all the shuttles at Bancroft were self-threading.

The weft package is a bit complicated. In the early days of the modern industry, from 1830 until after 1900 all weft was made on spinning mules. The way mules work is that all the individual yarn packages that are being spun are started at the same time, receive the same amount of weft on each and are all doffed together. Once the finished packages had been lifted off the spindles a lad went down the mule with a small pot of paste and a brush and put a dab of paste on the bottom of each polished spindle. When the spinning process started again the first few turns around the bottom of the package were soaked in paste and had long enough to dry before doffing. The natural tenacity of the yarn held the main body of the package together and the base was reinforced with the dried paste. These were known as ‘paste bottom cops’ and were standard for many years. There was a bit of waste with these packages caused by the paste sticking the cotton together at the end of the cop and an innovation was brought in to eliminate this. Instead of paste, a small thin paper tube was dropped over each spindle and formed the foundation at the base of the package without using glue. ‘Paper bottom cops’ quickly took over as they were less wasteful. There was a disadvantage to this system. Unless the weaver was very careful when skewering the cop on the shuttle peg the point could wander off-centre and when the weft delivery reached this point the thread broke and couldn’t be restarted so the rest of the ‘skewered cop’ was waste. Jim Pollard told me that you could always tell a weaver who had been taught correctly how to weave these packages because when they were inserting the shuttle peg into the cop to skewer it they held the cop still and rotated the shuttle and not the other way round.

When the More Looms System was brought in during the 1930s one of the compensations given to the weavers to allow them to operate 8 looms instead of four was to bring in larger shuttles and weft packages which would run longer without attention and thus increase productivity. It was soon realised that the best way to achieve this larger package was to use full length cardboard pirns as the basis of this larger package. These were impossible to skewer incorrectly. A further modification was necessary because the greater weight of the pirn and yarn tended to cause the package to slip forward on the shuttle peg when the shuttle stopped at one side of the loom. A small metal ferrule that fitted into a clip inside the shuttle was fitted to the bottom of the cardboard centre and these became known as ‘Welsh-hat pirns’.

All these different packages of weft could be delivered to the mill ready for going onto the loom and so in 1920 Bancroft didn’t have a winding department. The practice of winding weft packages at the mill from larger bulk packages of yarn from the spinning mill began when ring-frames and other more modern forms of spinning ousted the mules for most yarns. These home-made packages were known as ‘rewound weft’. There was another reason for starting to use them in the 1930s. The whole idea of the More Looms System was to get more production out of the weavers. One of the ways to do this was to make the weft package more reliable and cut down on weaving faults. We need to note a basic principle of spinning here. From the raw cotton right through to the finished yarn, once the process has got the individual fibres parallel with each other each subsequent process reverses the direction of travel of the sliver or yarn through the process. This is because it was found by experience that this produced the most evenly spun and reliable yarn. This applied to yarn that was rewound at the mill and the extra processes ensured as far as possible that any faults liable to cause a breakage would surface during the rewinding rather than on the loom. So, from the 1930s onwards a growing amount of weft was wound at Bancroft. In later years from 1973 until the mill closed we refined this even further. We took in yarn from the spinners on large ring cops and wound them onto an even larger package called a cone. These cones were then mounted on the pirn-winding machines and the final weft package produced. This got rid of as many yarn defects as was humanly possible. This was the process that Frank Bleasdale was master of in 1972, running two cone winders and four banks of pirn-winders with two ladies looking after the machines.

Jean Smith running the Britoba pirn winder in 1977.

A word about hierarchy in the mill. My mother used to be a beamer in Queen’s Mill at Dukinfield and she once told me that the beamers (producing taper’s beams on large beaming machines) considered themselves a cut above the other lasses working on spinning. The same applied at Bancroft, the winders looked down on the weavers, their job was cleaner, quieter and less tiring.

Frank Bleasdale was the winding master but he was also a good barber. He’d pop down to the engine house in a spare moment and give me a crop. Notice that we aren’t wasting time, the engine is running! (picture by Daniel Meadows)

We’ve just about covered warp preparation and weft package manufacture. Once the warps were loom-ready Jim let the tacklers know and they came up and took them down into the shed on little two wheeled trucks they called ‘bogeys’. The order the looms were filled was strictly governed by the ‘down-list’ on the wall of the warehouse where everyone could see it. As looms became empty they were marked on the list and the new warps went out into the shed strictly to this precedence, first down, first served.

There are a couple of minor details on the second storey to take note of. You will remember me saying that the taper’s beams were lifted in through the large door in the side of the warehouse over the cart race in the yard. The lifting was done by a teagle hoist manufactured by Baldwin and Heap of Burnley. The carriage for the hoist ran out over the yard on a cat-head built into the mill above the doorway and back into the mill on an extension of the runway inside the mill. If you had an eagle eye you would spot that there was a large removable section in the floor under the runway. This was big enough to accept one of the big copper drying drums from the tape machine if one ever needed to be taken out and sent away for repair. It could be lowered directly down into the warehouse and put on a wagon. The door in the side of the mill wasn’t big enough for them to pass through.

I have a story for you about the hoist… As engineer I was responsible for the inspection and maintenance of all lifting gear in the mill. Some of these tasks were discretionary and down to my good sense, others were statutory and had to be done at set intervals. All the old wrought iron lifting chains had to be annealed once a year and the hoist rope had to be renewed at set intervals. I had just had Foulds from Keighley in to renew the rope on the teagle hoist and knew that I would be having a visit from the inspector very shortly. After the job was finished I went and inspected it and found they had made a mistake when fitting the clips that anchored the rope at the end of the cat head. These clips have to be mounted a certain way and they had got them the wrong way round and they had to be reversed before the inspector came because he would fail them. I got on to Briggs and Duxbury’s the local builders and they sent up a wagon with a forty foot ladder and four men to help to rear it onto the cat head. We got the ladder up and I started to climb it. Now I’m not bad on ladders, in my time I have gone up many chimneys and a 200 or 300 feet climb was no problem. This was only about 35 feet but as soon as I started I realised I was in trouble. The first thing was the fact that the ladder swayed a lot and made me feel very insecure, chimney ladders aren’t like that, they are rock solid. The second difference was that when you are climbing a chimney you always have solid brickwork two feet in front of you, in this case all I had was Pen Y Gent 35 miles away! I have to report that I was not a happy bunny and was very pleased when I had got the clips reversed and was back down on terra firma. As the man said, the more firmer, the less terror!

While we are outside in the yard it may be a good time to look at a minor part of the structure, the large garage at the end of the yard. By the time Bancroft opened the era of road transport had arrived and I think that Nutter Brothers must have had at least one road vehicle from the earliest days, if they hadn’t, why build a garage? Jack Platt says that in the 1940s Nutters had two wagons, a flat driven by Bill Wilson and a smaller one that could be used as a flat or a tipper. This was driven by Abe Ware. Jack thought they might have been Albions. He remembered Jim Nutter driving their last wagon, an Albion Claymore. Jim was regarded as a bit of a laugh by Wild’s drivers because he very seldom loaded more than two high with weft boxes while Wild's were four high. Jack said Jim was alright at his own speed but really he wasn't fit to be on the road. Shortly after the war the wagons were disposed of because it was cheaper to rely on haulage contractors. All the coal was delivered by Dennison’s of Bradford who were hauled coal for our suppliers, British Fuel. I don’t think the mill was ever served by horse-drawn transport. If it was, I have found no evidence.

The coal stock up the side of the small boiler house and around the base of the chimney.

Looking up the yard towards the chimney and coal stack. The boiler house entrance is round the corner to the left.

Dennison’s wagon delivering coal for British Fuel. A tight fit but with an empty bunker almost all the load was dropped in. What was left was shovelled in by John and myself so the door would close.

I was talking to Fred about the advent of piped wireless in Barlick. I realised I knew nothing about this so I rang Walt Fisher at Earby who is always a mine of information on anything to do with electricity. He told me that piped wireless was started in Barlick by Stanworth and Shorrocks who started the Stanrock Radio Relay company from their shop at number one Rainhall Road. We think this was in the 1930s because the telephone number is given as 80. The cost of the service was one shilling a week and the main receiver and hub of all the cables was in the yard on the right up York Street as you turn off Rainhall Road. Later on Stanworth and Shorrocks had their shop in Albert Road opposite the Majestic on the corner, it’s a travel agent now, they used to have a wooden hut on the site where the Post Office is now and this was their workshop. Walt even knew the name of the man who put most of the cables up which were strung around the town, it was Teddy Cook who was the projectionist at the Majestic Cinema at the time. The air raid siren during WW2 was at the gas works on Skipton Road and the warning was relayed from there through the piped wireless system to make sure that everyone heard it. The network was eventually bought by Rediffusion Ltd and only yesterday I noticed a small inspection manhole with their name on the cover in the paving outside the disabled toilets at the end of Fernbank Avenue in the modern paving. They must have refurbished it when they re-laid the paving thinking that it was still in use.

Back to Fred and pastimes… I asked him where he played and it was in the fields and the street, tig, tin in the ring, whip and top, hide and seek. If they had a ball they would go and play in the yard of the Old Grammar School on School Lane in Earby which was a ‘gentlemen’s club’ at that time. Fred said they used to get chased out of there because he had an idea that gambling was going on and they didn’t want anyone to see this as it was illegal. Fred’s best friend in those days was a lad called Haydn Hargreaves, they grew up together and remained friends until Haydn died. They used to do a lot of cycling and Fred told me about a typical trip during the holidays “In fact we went one time did Haydn and me, it were July holidays, we’d be about sixteen. He were sixteen on the twelfth of July and my birthday were December you know, there weren’t much in us. We went to Morecambe and stopped all night, 3/6d. (17p) for tea, bed and breakfast and then we went to Conder Green, over Cockerham Marsh and Pilling Sands to Blackpool. We stopped all night at Blackpool and then came home the day after, well we'd had a marvellous holiday.” Fred said his bike cost £12 in 1924 and when you think about this and convert it into modern money you can reckon 4 weeks wages, this equates today to at least £1000.

Fred’s brother Melbourne was a very keen cyclist, he was in the Cyclist’s Touring Club and the Clarion. This was in the days when ‘Pop’ Hill in Barlick was the main man in the Clarion movement, he was a shoe repairer and clogger at the bottom of Manchester Road and founded the Clarion branch in Barlick. He was killed in an accident at Ribchester and there is a bench dedicated to him at the side of the road just past Yarlside Farm at Bracewell. The Clarion Club was formed originally to distribute Robert Blatchford’s Socialist newspaper, ‘The Clarion’, because the large distributors like W H Smith refused to handle it. They ran tea rooms for ramblers and cyclists and there is still one left at Dimpenley near Newchurch in Pendle. Fred can remember Melbourne’s club handbook, it had the Red Flag on the cover and had the words of the Internationale inside. “A reight Socialist movement”.

One of the nice things about talking to people like Fred is that they can remember small events. The reason I always include these is because they often record acts of kindness and shed light on how society worked almost a hundred years ago. We got talking about the Bancroft family who farmed at Booth Bridge, Thornton in Craven and here’s what Fred said: “He also had two brothers and I think there’d be two sisters at Brown House which were a very big farm and we used to go down there. They always had some geese at Christmas down at Brown House and somebody mentioned it to me, asked me whether I knew where they could get a goose so we walked down to Brown House, went to know if they had any to spare and they had two. So me father says well, so and so wants one. Then he came back and he says you're all reight, they have a goose for you down at Brown House. Then someone else says, I wish I’d known, I could have done with one. Well he says, there’s another one, he has two. There were no telephones nor owt of that you know so we walked down again, I think we walked down in moonlight or sommat like that at night. [One thing we often forget nowadays is that the favourite time for travel at night was when the moon was near full because there were no street lights outside the town] I weren’t reight big. Then at Christmas time me father went down and I can remember, we didn't go, but he carried 'em up in one of them big butter baskets what they used to have. Aye, fetched them home, delivered 'em and then we’d happen broken up for Christmas. We’ll say Christmas were at Saturday, we had Friday off school and we’d to take this basket back had me brother and me. When we got there, I’ll allus remember it, she were baking were Miss Bancroft, “Now then, could you eat a mince pie and a glass of milk?” She filled us a glass of milk up and a mince pie apiece straight out of the oven. We must have relished these mince pies and “Don't you want your milk.” “Oh, yes.” So we just had a sip. “Could you eat another mince pie?” “Yes please.” And we finished up with three mince pies apiece. Well we were as happy as could be! We could hardly get back home to tell me mother like we’d had three mince pies straight out of the oven and they weren’t little uns you know! They were real nudgers, three inches across, it allus stuck in me mind did that. And I can remember when we were going past one time, quite a while after, she said “Oh, them lads did enjoy them mince pies when they fetched the basket back”. Me father says “They could hardly get back home fast enough to tell their mother what a good do they’d had!” But today, ask a kid to walk to Booth Bridge wi’ an empty basket, not on spec of getting owt.”

No part of Bancroft Shed was more important than another but I have to admit that to me there is a certain amount of magic in the boiler house. This was the place where we unlocked the 100 million years old sunshine from coal and released it back into the light. I’ve always said that when the alchemists delved into the secrets of Earth, air, fire and water in their search for the Philosopher’s Stone and the ability to convert base metals to gold they little realised how close they were getting to doing it. In the boiler house we cracked the problem, we took coal, used air to burn it in the furnaces, boiled water into steam and then converted that steam into rotative motion using the steam engine to drive the shed and make money. We were turning base elements to gold and they called it the cotton industry.

Visitors to the mill always made a bee-line for the polished act that was the steam engine, a big show-off sitting there in the middle of its comfortable sanctum waving its arms about and sending power winging up into the shaft via the whirring ropes when in actual fact the real work of powering the mill was being done down on the stoking floor in front of the boiler. The boiler didn’t do anything to attract attention, there were no moving parts except for the slow groaning process of the moving fire bars in the furnaces slowly conveying the coal down the furnace as it changed from bright shiny coal to rough clinker and ashes. There was a gentle hiss from the under-fire steam jets that helped keep the clinker free-moving and aided combustion. Over all there was a dull roar as air rushed into the furnaces to make combustion possible. Not very attractive, certainly not waving its arms about but doing the most important job in the mill.

John Plummer.
The same could be said for my last fire-beater, John Plummer. He died this year and I was sorry to hear we had lost him. He started his career as a stoker (on the boats they called them stokers, in Barlick we called them fire-beaters) on drifters steaming out to the Barents Sea and Bear Island in the most dangerous waters in the world. He once told me that they hadn’t enough room in the small bunker for sufficient coal to get them to the grounds and back so they always started a voyage with extra coal in the fish hold. This had to be carried back to the boiler across the open deck in the worst weather in two three gallon buckets. A hard and dangerous way to earn a living. Later in his career he was on the Fyffe’s banana boats and said that it wasn’t bad going out but on the way back they had to fire for the refrigeration plant as well and that was hard. He also told me that occasionally the market price changed as they were steaming towards the Pool of London and the boat would stop while they opened the holds and threw all the bananas overboard before turning round and going back for another cargo. It was less of a loss to do this than carry on. John knew his job inside out and kept a clean boiler. I was never short of steam with him in charge.

We need a description. When you walked into the yard at Bancroft the first thing that would strike you was the large arched window in the end of the engine house. Behind it you could see a hint of polished steel, a glint as the tail rods moved in and out and rising above the bulk of the engine, the polished balls of the Lumb governor whirring round and controlling the engine. This was what dragged visitors straight into the engine. If you had taken notice while you were in the yard you’d have seen a large pile of coal next to a low building and further to the left a large green sliding door. Behind this was the coal bunker and the Lancashire boiler. The pile of coal was our reserve stock and varied from 150 tons to up to 300. The mill used 10 tons of coal a week in summer and 35 tons in winter when heating forced consumption up. Many people were surprised by these figures, they thought the engine was the biggest user. Not so, most of the coal we burned was for heating the shed, running the tape-sizing machines and heat losses in the plant, more of this later.

Inside the green door the floor level drops four feet to the level of the bunker floor and the stoking floor. The Lancashire boiler front is on the right and at the end of the stoking floor is the firebeater’s easy chair and a shelf for his personal belongings. There is a lamp over the boiler front shining on the highly-polished brass pressure gauge and the sight glasses which allow the firebeater to see how much water there is in his boiler. The only movement you can see is the slow rotation of the camshafts on the furnace front which drive the walking firebars. The walls are whitewashed but soon get a covering of coal dust, nobody could ever describe the place as a clean environment. We did our best but it was always a constant struggle against dust from the coal and the ashes. Just inside the door, above the three steps down into the house is a small derrick with a block and tackle. This is used for lifting the wheelbarrow out when it is full of ash and clinker (fused ash). Once up to ground level the ashes are tipped across the yard against the wall. Funnily enough this heap never seemed to grow, there was always someone wanting some ashes for an allotment path or for a base on which to lay flags and they knew they could just take what they wanted. One thing to note about the boiler house is that the stoking floor was the coldest place in the mill, winter and summer because of the constant draught of air coming in through the door and rushing under the firebars.

John Plummer making steam.

Over the years there have been many types of boiler, the most widely used and successful has been the shell boiler. As it's name implies it is a shell or tank of steel containing water heated by a furnace. Various designs were tried but William Fairbairn’s ‘Lancashire’ boiler patented in 1844 was the definitive design and was never excelled for durability, simplicity and overall economy. This is what we have, a nine feet diameter Lancashire Boiler fired by coal via mechanical stokers, the standard mill boiler for the last one hundred years.

Imagine a steel cylinder thirty feet long by nine feet in diameter with end plates pierced by two tubes three feet in diameter running through it's entire length. The fires are on grates at the front of these internal tubes and a system of flues leads the flame and hot gas through the tubes, back under the boiler through the sole flue or flame bed and then back round the outside of the shell and out to the chimney. The flues are built of brickwork and the boiler is supported by this structure and completely enclosed except for the front and a small part of the top where the safety valves are mounted and steam pipes come out to serve the engine and mill. This arrangement of flues means that the whole of the boiler below water level is bathed in hot flue gas.

The Greens Economiser. The flue gases from the boilers on the right pass through the nest of cast iron pipes on the way to the chimney. The feed water for the boiler is pumped through the economiser pipes under pressure and can be raised to very nearly boiler temperature.

In the flues between the boiler and the chimney is the Green’s economiser, a nest of cast iron tubes bathed in the hot flue gas through which water is pumped on its way to the boiler thus raising it's temperature. If you fill a domestic kettle with hot water it boils quicker using less fuel. Exactly the same principle applies here. Feed water has to be pumped in to the boiler to make up for steam use and the hotter this feedwater is the less coal we burn. Every ten degrees Fahrenheit you raise the feedwater temperature increases overall boiler efficiency by one per cent. The steam is led away through a six inch bore steel pipe, well insulated to conserve heat, and goes into the engine house to the high pressure cylinder on the engine.

No boiler can function without draught to force air through the fire bed and on a set-up like ours this is provided by a brick chimney 130 feet high, all the flues are connected to its base. Be aware that not all boilers get their draught like this, modern installations can have pressurised boiler rooms, individual forced draught on each furnace from powerful electric fans or a fan behind the boiler physically dragging the air through the flues and exhausting up a short stack. Our draught was natural and initiated by the chimney. We need to know a bit about chimneys and how they work, what I’m going to say applies to your open coal fire at home as well.

The layperson usually assumes that the chimney sucks the air into the bottom of the flue. Sorry, this is wrong, the chimney is full of hot gas and this is lighter than the atmosphere so there is a differential in pressure between the flue system and atmospheric pressure. It is this difference in pressure that allows atmospheric pressure to force air in through the furnaces to try to equalise the pressure inside and out. The difference at Bancroft was about half an inch water gauge. Very roughly this translates to slightly less than half a pound to the square inch pressure. Not much is it but plenty to drive air in through the fire bed.

This difference in pressure is a product of two factors, the temperature of the gases in the chimney and the height of the stack. The first explains why a cold flue draws so badly and the second why you always get a better draught in a two storey house than a bungalow. That’s why the chimney stacks on bungalows are often twice as high as on a normal house. The old engineers and mill designers had learned from experience what height they needed in a given situation and how wide the flue had to be for a given number of boilers. A single boiler like Bancroft had a typical 130ft stack. Larger installations went up to 250 feet and some special use stacks like those on chemical works could rise to 500 feet. One thing I learned much later in my career was that all stacks were undersized, I don’t want to get too technical here but if Bancroft had been provided with a 200 feet stack it would have saved them about 10% on the fuel bill during the life of the mill. I realised this when I was running a similar boiler to the one at Bancroft at Ellenroad on a stack 230 feet high and was amazed at the savings.

Mill chimneys are wonderful constructions and look so slender and fragile but if you look at archive film of bombed out cities during WW2, especially Hiroshima and Nagasaki you will see that the main structures that survived unscathed were the factory chimneys. They need regular maintenance by skilled men called steeple jacks, annual inspection by binocular, three to five year inspection by laddering, this latter operation often included giving the whole structure a coat of double-boiled linseed oil for weather protection. Occasionally more expensive repairs are needed. This was always money well-spent but unfortunately many mill owners, including Bancroft, only saw it as an expense, not an investment. Our chimney was neglected but not to the extent it was dangerous.

The chimney with Peter Tatham, steeplejack on the ladder. He was refurbishing the head and coating the whole of the shaft with double boiled linseed oil. This was not done until 1981 when the Bancroft Mill Engine Trust set about tidying the whole complex up.

Tom Phillips painting the stack with boiled oil.
The boiler is run at a maximum pressure of 160 pounds to the square inch (psi). If the pressure should rise above this point there would be a danger of straining or even bursting the boiler. This is safeguarded against by the deadweight safety valve mounted on top of the boiler at the front. This is a valve held shut by a large weight. Any pressure over 160psi is great enough to lift the weight and allow steam to blow off to the atmosphere through a three inch pipe poking out of the roof until the pressure falls below 160psi when the valve shuts again. Another safety device is the compound valve. This acts as both a high steam and low water safety device. If the dead weight valve can’t cope with the steam output the compound valve will open to ensure perfect safety. It also opens to give warning of low water level in the boiler a most dangerous condition.

One more point about safety. It surprises many people to know that the government plays no part in the day to day running and inspection of boilers. This is the responsibility of the insurance company who carry the risk on the plant. Their inspectors ensure by regular checks that the boiler is safe. The insurance company stands to lose money if there is trouble so they make sure that all is well with the running and maintenance. The system works well and keeps down premiums and accidents.

The boiler house and the engine house are part of a team and their function needs to be described together. Let’s have a quick look inside the engine house and then describe how engine and boiler worked together to power the mill.

The deadweight safety valve. The most essential item on the boiler. Set to lift at 160psi.

The boiler top looking towards the bunker. The large pipe is the steam main, the valve propped open with bricks is the compound valve.

The chimney top after Peter had worked his magic on it.

Talking about the mince pies at Booth Bridge reminded Fred of the friendship between his father and mother and the farm man and his wife at Fence End Farm. Fred said that George Proctor owned all the land round there and that the tenant at the big house [now called Queen’s Mead I think but then it was Fence End House] was Captain Smith. This figures because Captain Smith and his brother in law Mr Jacques the architect were major shareholders in the Earby Gas Light and Coke Company and the Mill Company which ran the old Bracewell interests at Victoria Mill. George Proctor was associated with both these enterprises because his firm Proctor and Proctor, accountants of Grimshaw Street Burnley, were secretaries and managing agents for both these and many other local companies.

Parkinson used to send Fred down to Fence End some Saturdays to borrow the farm man’s ferret if he was going rabbiting in the afternoon. Fred said he’d set off at eight in the morning and often went back with his father in the afternoon to go rabbiting at Elslack. He said that sometimes if someone else was going with him his dad would say it was too far for Fred to walk twice in one day so he would give Fred the money for the Saturday afternoon matinee at the cinema.

We talked about how his dad worked the ferret and it turned out that Parkinson had similar views to me, he let the ferret go down loose but muzzled with a piece of string and only used a line on another ferret if he wanted to entice the original one out if it had a rabbit bolted up. This happens occasionally if your ferret gets a rabbit holed up in a dead end in the warren, the rabbit is reasonably safe because the ferret can’t get at any vital parts and it would stick there with the ferret getting very angry and scratching at its back end to try to shift it. This can be annoying if you are on top waiting for the ferret to either bolt a rabbit or come out itself. All you can do is either have patience or send another ferret down on a line to coax the first one out. A frustrated ferret is one of the funniest sights in the world, they will come out of the hole and run round in circles, often on their back legs, chattering away to themselves. The trick is to block the hole and wait for them to try to get back down, then you have to grab them and do your best to quieten them down. On Sunday afternoon, after dinner, Fred and his dad would walk back to Fence End together to return the ferret.

Fred’s father was an outdoors man and when he wasn’t out hunting he would very seldom spend all evening at home. Fred said he wasn’t a boozer but liked his gill of beer [half a pint in local parlance but only a quarter of a pint in Imperial Measure] and a game of billiards at the Band Club. If it was a moonlight night (for walking in the dark) the farm man from Fence End and his wife would walk down to Earby and visit. The men would go to the Band Club for a beer and the women would sit in the house and keep each other entertained. Fred said that he was aware even then that there was a difference between the status of men and women, he reckoned the women were regarded as second class citizens and were reared with that attitude. The nearest his mother ever got to leisure was sitting in the house with a neighbour or going to church with a friend. One thing was certain, any woman who went to a pub on her own would be very suspect unless she was an old widow, a married woman would never dream of doing this.

This isn’t to say that Parkinson and Elizabeth never went out together. They enjoyed going to the first house at the Empire Cinema, this loosed at eight and if he wanted Parkinson would still have time for a beer. Fred said there was a stage at the Empire and the Earby Amateur Operatic Society used to put on occasional shows which were very well attended. At these times regardless of the weather or the phase of the moon, the farm man from Fence End and his wife would walk down, perhaps with a cart lamp for light, and often had to change into dry shoes and socks before going to the show.

I asked Fred when he saw his first motor car and he said it was after the Great War. A man called Caswell at Lina Laithe [Punch Bowl Farm] had a Ford Model T. I asked Fred how he went on for petrol and he said that there was a shop on Water Street called Frank Wilkinson & Son who sold bicycles and Pratt’s petrol in tins.

The Inman family had relations at Brierfield and occasionally Elizabeth would set off with the lads, they walked to Earby Station, caught a train to Colne and from there got the tram to the Boundary, from there they walked into Nelson centre and met the aunt. I was a bit surprised by this and asked Fred if the trams didn’t run all the way, he said they did but by walking the last bit his mother saved about fourpence and this was the price of a loaf! After meeting and a bit of window-shopping they all walked up to Brierfield and had tea. Coming back they got the tram all the way to Colne and then onto the train for Earby.

Times have certainly changed haven’t they, we hear all this talk nowadays about people not taking enough exercise and driving everywhere, this certainly wasn’t the case with Fred’s generation, perhaps that’s why he is still alive and well at 98! I can remember that my mother used to think nothing of setting off with two children walking and another in the pram and hiking seven miles to Dukinfield to see her sister and then walking seven miles back. Perhaps it will take a massive rise in the cost of owning a car and running it to make the difference needed to get this generation fit again. Mind you, some things change more slowly… I admit to being out of touch with modern married life but I often wonder if there is still some of the second-class citizen attitude lingering on in attitudes to women, we hear much about equality but I suspect that even today there are women who will only attain perfect freedom when they become widows. I hope I’m wrong but somehow I doubt it.


First, a very brief history of the steam engine. The first practical steam device used in this country in the early 18th century was Captain Savery's steam pump, ‘The Miner’s Friend’. This was a simple device with no moving parts apart from internal flap valves which raised to the pump by condensing steam to form a vacuum and then forced it upwards by pressure of steam in the same vessel. This was simple and very inefficient but it filled a pressing need, the raising of water to a higher level to de-water deep mines. The only way to convert this energy to rotary motion was to pump water up to a pond and allow it to run back over a water wheel.

The first improvement on this was Newcomen’s Atmospheric engine. A piston was pulled down by a vacuum created by condensing steam in a cylinder and it was returned to the top by the weight of the pump rods hanging from the opposite end of a large beam joining the two and pivoted in the middle. It was more efficient and was very successfully used in the tin mines of Cornwall where the profits were high and the coalfields of Wales and the Midlands where fuel was cheap. It was simply a pump, some attempts were made to convert atmospheric engines to rotary working so they could drive a shaft but they were very inefficient and soon overtaken by improved engines.

James Watt improved the atmospheric engine by condensing the steam outside the cylinder thus greatly raising it's efficiency because the cylinder was not cooled down at every stroke. At this time the engines were still used as pumps. Rotary motion could only be gained by pumping water to a higher level to run a waterwheel.

Improvements followed in boilers and engines. Pressure, power and efficiency gradually rose and the rotative beam engine was built where a shortened version of the pump rod was used to turn a flywheel by means of a crank. By the end of the nineteenth century the engine had been laid on its side, the beam dispensed with and we had the horizontal engine. Detail changes were made, different arrangements of cylinders, valve motions and drives but to all intents and purposes the engine we describe here was the ultimate product of two hundred years development and experience in the art and mystery of steam engine design and building. The design was often further ‘improved’ but it’s interesting to note that the vast majority of the engines that survived until the end of the industry were horizontal, cross compound, double acting, Corliss valve, condensing steam engines.

HORIZONTAL because it lies on the floor giving good access to all parts. CROSS COMPOUND because there were two cylinders and two beds, one driving each end of the crankshaft. The larger cylinder or low pressure runs off the steam exhausted from the smaller or high pressure giving greater efficiency. DOUBLE ACTING because steam is admitted at each end of the cylinder and forces the piston each way in turn. CORLISS VALVE refers to the method of closing the valves by means of a system of springs and dashpots named after the inventor, an American, George H. Corliss. CONDENSING because the exhaust from the low pressure cylinder is condensed in a receiver separate from the cylinder. This increases the overall pressure of steam by creating a vacuum in the exhaust pipe making for improved efficiency. Let’s look at our engine at Bancroft, Mary Jane and James.

Imagine yourself sat on a girder in the top of the engine house looking down on the engine. The first thing you will see is the flywheel, twenty tons of cast iron sixteen feet in diameter and grooved for the thirteen ropes which connect the flywheel to the smaller or second motion pulley driving the lineshaft beneath us. On the left hand wall a large pipe enters from the boiler and delivers steam at 160psi to the small or high pressure cylinder. On the right of the house is the larger or low pressure cylinder with a pipe at the right of the cylinder which goes under the floor to the exhaust valves on the high pressure side. Out of the front of each cylinder comes a piston rod which joins on to the crosshead, a large block of steel which slides in a recess on the engine bed which keeps it moving in a straight line. Hinged on to this crosshead is the connecting rod leading to the crank on the end of the crankshaft. In effect this is an arm turning a handle, the cylinder is the muscle, the crosshead the elbow, the connecting rod the forearm and the crank the handle on the crankshaft. As the rod moves back and forth it turns the wheel and powers the mill. Both sides of the engine are identical apart from the size of the cylinders.

In between the flywheel and the cast iron engine beds are the eccentric rods which control the valves on each cylinder. On the left side of the flywheel on the high pressure bed stands a large gentleman with two balls on his head. This is the Lumb governor and he controls the speed of the engine and regulates the steam flow at the required level for the load on the engine. He is driven by the three ropes running on the left side of the wheel from the flyshaft to his base. As Walt Fisher once said “As the speed rises the governor’s balls fly outwards”, this outwards movement controls the steam access to the engine and therefore its speed.

The engine lives in a large house with tall well lit windows, thirty feet from floor to eaves, thirty feet wide and sixty feet long. The cylinders and engine beds are bolted down on to large solid brick and masonry piers which go down through the cellar to firm foundations in the ground below. This cellar is twelve feet deep.

The flywheel of the engine is grooved for thirteen cotton ropes which are preserved by a dressing of tallow and graphite, this is why they look black and shiny. These pass up to the back wall of the engine house and drive a smaller or second motion pulley mounted on the lineshaft which runs for 250 feet to the back of the weaving shed. The second motion pulley is eight feet in diameter, the same width as the flywheel and grooved for thirteen ropes as well. When the engine is running at 69 revolutions per minute (rpm), the second motion pulley and the lineshaft it drives is rotating at about 150rpm, this can vary slightly due to the condition of the ropes, the weather or the load. The second motion pulley is carried on two large pedestal bearings and as the lineshaft goes out towards the engine house wall it carries another large pulley which is used to drive the alternator through a countershaft geared to give 750rpm. Everything in the mill and shed is driven off this shaft by gears and ropes or by electricity generated by the alternator. All the power comes from coal.

The alternator which was driven by countershaft from the lineshaft.

In the shed the lineshaft runs along the wall which is heavily built to support the weight and resist the dynamic forces of the lineshaft. At regular intervals on this shaft bevel gears are fixed which transfer a drive at right angles to a matching bevel on a secondary shaft running across the shed parallel with the rows of looms. The bevels aren’t exactly the same, one has an extra tooth called a ‘hunting tooth’ so that the teeth mesh differently on each revolution. This promotes even wear. The cross shafts are supported by bearings or ‘necks’ at ten feet intervals attached to the roof members and pillars. At intervals on these shafts are drums which transmit power to the looms by means of leather belts. Each loom has a belt and can be stopped or started at will by means of fast and loose pulleys.

There is one more essential part of the power plant, this is the large dam or mill lodge outside between the yard and Gillian’s Lane. It was fed by Gillian’s Beck running down from the moor at the back and this is a good supply which never fails even in the driest summer. The dam was about three hundred feet long by eighty feet wide and at the lowest point was about ten feet deep. It held the cooling water for the condenser on the engine and as I have often said, helped God to give us 12psi steam pressure for nothing. It was essential for economic running.

Right, you’ve got a good overview of the plant now. I don’t want to fall into the trap of writing a text book on steam boiler and engine running and maintenance. Perhaps the easiest way to convey how we actually drove the mill is to describe a day in the life of James and Mary Jane.

The lodge or mill dam. We had trout, moorhens and the occasional heron. To be more accurate this is a condenser pond and supplies the cold water which increases the efficiency of the engine.

The dam collected silt from Gillian’s Beck and about every three months we drained it and cleared as much silt out as we had time to deal with.

While the dam was empty I made sure that the intake to the condenser was clean and free from silt. (Daniel Meadow’s picture)

I asked Fred about families that had been badly affected by loose behaviour and drinking and he said: “They were nearly all big families where the fathers were boozers you know. I mean they were very, very poor, hand me downs and what other folk had given 'em and all that. Ernest [Roberts] told about wearing lasses shoes, button shoes, and you’d see them same, happen wi’ one clog and one shoe, one clog too big and another too little and well, in fact some on 'em smelled. They'd never known what a bath were or to be washed properly or owt of that. They hadn't even a handkerchief or not even a piece of rag, all they'd do is wipe their nose on their sleeve. I know some of them lads and lasses and they've turned out really good, what were fetched up very, very rough, ‘cause they saw enough at home and I suppose they thought well if I get wed it it’ll be a different carry on, they've been really good parents.” He reckoned that having such a bad early life had been an education for them and in many ways had been a good thing.

Fred could remember street performers, the barrel organ man with the monkey sat on top of the two wheeled organ and even a dancing bear, he thought that this was before the Great War. He intrigued me with a tale about a street game they had where one lad would be tied up in a sack and he had to dance about pretending to be the bear. “And he used to shout addy-on-conkay, he’d be dancing about in the sack and then when he’d had a do, he got out and t’others went in.” I’ve guessed at the spelling of what they shouted of course but if anyone has ever come across this game I’d love to hear about it as this is the first time I have ever come across it and the ‘addy-on-conkay’ is almost certainly a corruption of a foreign phrase, if I were to take a guess, French.

Another popular street activity was bowling hoops of iron made by the blacksmith. Fred said they called them ‘bowls’ and they had a ‘guider’ for them, a short piece of bar with a hook on the end and if they were rolling downhill they would steer the hoop with the guider. He remembered bowling his hoop from Earby to Fence End and back many a time. He and Melbourne got three halfpence a week pocket money and usually spent it on Charlie’s Rock, like a seaside stick of rock but made at Nelson by the uncle of Stanley Whittaker who used to have the garage at the old blacksmiths on Skipton Road. The man’s name was Hodgson and his rock was a favourite in Earby for many years. Fred could remember some things called ‘turnovers’, he said they were like a horse shoe with a lid on and they cost a penny, when you opened the lid there was a small present or sweets inside. Once again, this was a new one on me, has anyone else ever come across them?

I asked Fred about going to the cinema and he said that the Empire wasn’t built until about 1914 and prior to that there used to be film shows in the Weaver’s Institute at the side of the cricket field on Saturday afternoon. He thought the price was a penny a show. When the Empire opened the admission charge went up to three pence.

It seems funny nowadays but one of the regular entertainments in the town was political meetings and election hustings. Remember that there was no entertainment apart from the cinema and the occasional show so church functions and political meetings were a good way of passing the time. Fred said that up to about 1922 or 1923 the political choice in the Skipton Division was between Conservatives and Liberals but in about 1922 there was a Labour candidate and his father, who had always voted Liberal, immediately became a Labour man. Fred said that this meant that his mother voted Labour as well, there was never any question of her following her own choice, her job was to support her husband’s politics. Fred could remember a candidate called O G Willey who later gained a seat in another constituency. Roy Bird was the successful Tory candidate and Fred said they went to his meetings as well, in all they had free entertainment four or five nights in a week. He said the Labour meetings were good because there was a lot of heckling and argument between the stage and the audience but if you interrupted the Conservative speaker at the Albion Club you were immediately thrown out. Nowhere near as much fun! Simple pleasures, perhaps there is a clue here as to why so few people take an interest in politics today, the fun has gone out of it and we have mass entertainment overload swamping our minds every day.

Forgive me but we can’t have too many pictures of our Fred.


This is how you want to see your firebeater alert but taking his ease. You immediately know that he is on top of his job and all is well.

By the way, just in case you thought John did all the dirty work…

It comes as a surprise to many people to find that the entire power production and maintenance staff of a mill the size of Bancroft consists of two men, the engine tenter and the firebeater. The firebeater’s job is to provide steam for the engine, production processes, heating and hot water services. He is looked upon as a menial and treated as such whereas in fact he is the most important man in the mill. Without him nothing runs and if he does his job badly he can waste enough coal to make the mill uneconomic and close it down. His domain is the boiler house, which, no matter how much he sweeps, polishes and whitewashes is a dirty, often cold and a draughty hole. Yes, that’s right, cold, even though he is burning seven tons of coal a day in winter the boiler house is never warm. The fires devour cold air which rushes in through the open door and up the flues. There is always a draught from the yard outside across the front of a boiler and the doors always have to be left open wide enough to allow this combustion air to enter, even on the coldest day in winter.

The ready-use supply of coal is in the bunker. This is a space immediately in front of the boiler which can hold about 30 tons which is topped up as needed by the coal wagon. The coal stock outside the boiler house is only used when all else fails due to strikes, breakdown of transport or bad weather. There is an auger to lift coal from the bunker to the hoppers on the stokers but this will only function when there is plenty of coal in the bunker. When the level falls the firebeater has to remove the boards which hold the coal back and shovel fuel into the hoppers as needed. Unlike the old days we do not fire the boiler by hand. The coal is fed on to the grates by the Proctor Wide Ram coking stokers which spread it on the coking plates at the front of the grate and walking firebars slowly move it back as it burns until it drops off the back as ash and clinker into a pit which is cleaned out once a day or more often if the coal quality is bad. The air supply to the furnaces is regulated by the dampers which are movable doors in the side flues at the back of the boiler, these are opened or closed as necessary. Constant regulation of the dampers to suit combustion conditions and load is the responsibility of the firebeater. He is aided by a mirror mounted on the engine house porch which he can see from the stoking floor. This allows him to see the top of the chimney and the way he judges the amount of air needed is to gradually close the dampers until he gets a trace of black smoke at the chimney top. Then the dampers are opened a crack and all that can be seen at the chimney head is a faint blue haze which means you have optimum burning with no excess air which only cools the furnaces down. Some mills have complicated instrumentation to help the firebeater to achieve this, at Bancroft we had none, not even a draught gauge.

The firebeater’s hours are long and the work is demanding. In winter when the mill needs a lot of heating he is often in at midnight or even earlier to get the shed warm for the weavers the following day. In summer he is in at 07:00 and finishes at 16:30. Let’s follow him through a typical days work in winter.

At 02:00 on a cold frosty night in January our firebeater comes into work. John Plummer lived on the Ranch near Earby and the only way he could get to work was to walk which took him about 30 minutes, in the latter years he got himself a bike. When he arrived at the mill his first job was to open the mill gates and go into the boiler house. Once inside he switches the lights on and looks at two things, the water gauges and the pressure gauge. Depending on need this is the time to blow down some water out of the boiler. The reason for doing this first is that while the boiler is still any sediment settles to the bottom. The boiler slopes towards the front and at the lowest point there is a specially constructed blow-down valve. If this is cracked open for a short time it will remove any sediment at the front of the boiler. Done regularly this keeps the internal conditions in the boiler at optimum level. The water is tested regularly and boiler treatment chemicals are used to encourage the sediment to form so it can be blown out.

Imagine you are with him when he first opens the boiler house door, your first impression would be the smell of slowly burning coal, warmth and the sound of crickets chirping in the brickwork. Remember the door has been closed all night with minimal draught on the fires. There are always crickets in boiler houses, I don't know what they live on but they survive lay-offs, whitewashing and drought. As you look up at the pressure gauge you will get a surprise, lay persons always expect it to say zero when the boiler is still but it will be at 120/140psi. The boiler is always kept hot and so keeps it's pressure. Our firebeater notes the pressure and more important, the level of water in the gauge glasses. These are two glass tubes connected to the water in the shell and shielded by armoured glass cages. They show what level the water is at in the boiler as this is the single most important thing to watch. There is one sure and certain method of blowing a boiler up and that is to run it short of water. The reason is that if the tubes containing the fires are not covered with water they are not cooled, they become red hot, lose their strength and collapse, usually rupturing as they do so. We don’t want any headlines so we keep an eye on the water level at all times. There is a pointer at the half way mark in the glass tubes labelled ‘Working Level’. This only a guide, in practice the boiler is safe as long as you can see a level anywhere in the tube. When he finished last night John made sure that the water was within an inch of the top of the glass, it will have dropped a bit during the night but not much. If it has dropped more than this he knows there is a fault somewhere, perhaps he left the valve controlling the steam supply to the tapes open the night before. When he stops at night all the steam connections from the boiler are closed with the exception of the main pipe to the engine. This is left connected so a small amount of steam can be bled into the engine during the night keeping it and the main pipe warm so as to avoid water condensing in the system. Having satisfied himself that all is well the firebeater walks across the front of the boiler and pulls down the balance weights on the end of the wire ropes which control the side flue dampers. Then he goes up on top of the boiler and opens the damper between the boiler and the economiser. At once the fires start to roar as the pull of the hot stack gets the draught going. The dull bed of coals on the grate which has been smouldering all night to keep the pressure up burns up first bright red then a brilliant white which will hurt your eyes if you look at it too long. While he is up on the boiler top he opens the by-passes on the drains for the heating services and cracks the valves open to let steam into the pipe runs to warm them and blow the condensate back to the hot well in the cellar. He then descends and presses the button controlling the coal elevator which lifts coal out of the bunker and fills the hoppers on the front of the stokers which hold 3 hundredweights of coal each. As these are filling he opens the doors of the furnaces and draws some white hot coals up to the front with a heavy iron rake. When the coal drops down from the stokers it will fall on to these coals and be ignited. Once this has been done the fire will burn all day without opening the doors, fresh fuel being fed in from the stoker to make up for what is being burnt. The slides on the stoker hoppers are opened, the coal drops and after a few moments wait to get a good fire going on the coking plates the stoker motors are switched on. You might wonder why we don’t leave the hoppers full of coal to save time in the morning. Many people have tried this and been caught out by the coal catching fire and when they come into the house in the morning they have a real mess to sort out. The stoker motors drive the rams through an adjustable gearbox which meters the coal going into the furnace by adjusting the speed at which the stoker ram operates. Coal is fed from the hopper onto the dead plates and the moving firebars which begin their measured tread carrying the fire back down the furnace. If all is adjusted correctly, by the time the firebed reaches the end of the bars and falls into the ashpit it has burned completely and is ash and clinker.

The firebeater now opens a small valve at each side of the boiler and a hiss from each firebox announces that a small quantity of steam has started to blow up through the firebars. This helps the fused ash or clinker to break up and allows air to get in between the bars to effect combustion. The boiler is now firing, the next job is to start the feed pump while the fires settle down.

The check valve on the right hand side of the boiler is opened. This is left closed at night for safety, it allows water to flow into the boiler from the feed pumps but bars any reverse flow, theoretically the non-return element of the valve should stop any feed-back but no mechanism is perfect and so we don’t trust it overnight. We follow the firebeater across the yard to the cellar under the engine house. Here he oils and greases his pumps and starts the both boiler feed pumps on automatic control. This means that these pumps will only run when there is condensate to pump back into the boiler. This condensate is the water from the condensed steam which has drained back out of the heating system. This is pure hot distilled water and is ideal for boiler feeding, we return all we can as it saves fuel and boiler treatment. Once everything is running satisfactorily John goes back to the boiler house, checks his fires and the operation of the stokers and then goes back on top of the boiler to check his heating circuits. His aim is to close the by-passes on the automatic drains as soon as the cold condensate that has been sitting in the pipes all night has cleared the circuit. The slower this happens the better as this cuts down water-hammer in the pipe runs which can be very destructive. The best way to check on this is to feel the drain pipes, they will be ice cold while the condensate is flowing but will soon get too hot to touch when the steam has filled the pipe run. As the drains warm up he closes the by-pass on each run. From now on, the automatic drains will control the condensate flow. The firebeater knows from experience how much water he needs to introduce into the feed to make up for any losses so at this point he will probably go down into the cellar and set the by-pass valve on the auxiliary pump which regulates the rate of extra water passing into the boiler to make up for these losses. His aim is to feed water at a rate sufficient to raise the water level in the boiler slowly so that when the engine starts he has almost a full glass and the correct pressure.

The Brown and Pickles three ram feed boiler pump in the cellar.

He is now set up for a while and as long as he keeps his coal hoppers full, watches the water level and regulates his fires to maintain constant pressure he is free to do anything else he fancies. A walk round the mill unlocking fire doors, a brew and a read of yesterday’s newspaper, it’s still only 03:00 and today’s news is still being printed. The well organised firebeater has his easy chair where he can keep his eye on his boilers. We will leave him now and creep back to our beds until morning secure in the knowledge that all is well..

07:00. It’s still dark and we return just as the engineer arrives to get his engine ready for the days work. We shall come back to this point and follow him later.

Down in the stokehole things are much as we left them at 03:00. The stokers are groaning and squeaking away to themselves, not I should add because of any neglect, the firebars, due to the heat and ash, have to run dry, metal to metal, and so complain every now and again. There is the gentle hiss of steam under the bars and the deeper roar of air rushing into the firebox. If all is well the water level will be well above the brass pointer which shows working level on the water gauges and the pressure will be about 130psi. At about 07:30 the firebeater speeds the stokers up and opens the dampers a little, his aim is to be in a position to give the engineer all the steam he needs at 08:00 with a full fire when the engine starts and the process load comes on. Hoppers are topped up and there is a sense of urgency now. The firebeater watches his boiler carefully, he must have his fire right to the back of the bars and burning bright, water level correct and steam at 150psi dead on 08:00. No mean feat even for an experienced man. At two minutes to eight an almost inaudible rumble starts up, this is the main shaft behind the boiler house wall starting to turn. The observant bystander will note that the boiler pressure drops three or four pounds as the engine starts. Enormous volumes of steam are rushing up the pipe to the engine to give it the power to start the dead weight of the shafts and gears moving in the mill. This is the biggest pull there will be on the boiler all day but it only lasts a matter of seconds. The rumble of the shaft rises in volume until the engine has reached it's running speed. Then all the lights go out and come on again as the engineer switches from mains power to the alternator. The stokers and pumps stop as the switches trip out and must be started again immediately so John has a quick trot across to the cellar. The engineer hears the pumps in the cellar restart and this tells him that his firebeater is awake and on top of his job. The plant is now independent of outside energy. As long as the steam is kept up and all runs smoothly we are immune from power failures.

The firebeater tops his hoppers up, has a quick check that everything is as it should be and then goes up into the mill to read the temperatures in the shed, he sees the men on the tape processing and forms an idea of what steam they will be demanding. A close eye has to be kept on the weather, a shower coming over during the day can mean 100 horsepower extra load on the engine to run the shed lights and a drop of ten pounds pressure in as many minutes if he is not on top of his job. Dampers must be adjusted to give correct combustion, a good guide is to have just the faintest feather of smoke at the chimney top. There is one job that John must attend to which wasn’t necessary in 1920. He has to keep an eye on the economisers at the back of the boiler to make sure the water passing through them doesn’t boil as this can damage them. When it was new the economiser ran under boiler pressure, it was connected directly to the boiler and so could run at a far higher temperature without boiling. Over the years attrition on the pipes has weakened them and the insurance company will no longer accept the risk of running them under pressure so we have to control the amount of hot gas passing through the nest of cast iron tubes. This means we extract slightly less heat from the flue gases than we would with a perfect system but we still get a good saving of about 7% on fuel consumption.

Topping the hoppers up by hand. There was some loose coal about that John wanted rid off. The easiest way was to shovel it in the hoppers.

The small everyday tasks are attended to, sweeping up both down below and on the boiler top. Some boilers were insulated on the front plate but ours was bare steel and so we kept it tidy and protected by brushing it with a mixture of Black Lead and oil. The pressure gauge and water glasses are polished with Brasso and the water gauge glasses blown through to make sure they are clear and giving a true reading. A blocked water glass can show a safe boiler when water is at danger level, this is why there are always two independent glasses. Sometimes a glass will burst, not as fearsome as it sounds as the pressure is automatically cut off from them by an internal safety mechanism and the armoured cage stops the glass from flying about. A gauge glass can be changed while the boiler is firing in five minutes using just one spanner. Feed water levels and temperatures, steam pressure, mill temperature, load, coal supply to hoppers, all these points must be watched constantly until at 11:30 the boiler fires are slacked back for dinner when the engine stops for half an hour. The stokers are slowed down and as dinnertime approaches the pressure drops until at 12:30 there is only I00psi. As soon as the engine stops the firebeater opens his fires up again to start building pressure and water levels ready for a start at 13:00 when he will need 130 or 140psi. If he didn’t ease back before dinner the pressure would soon rise to 160psi after the engine stopped, the safety valve would lift and good steam would blow off wasting fuel. At 13:00 the engine starts again and then settles down for the afternoon which is usually easier as everything is warmed up, bearings are free and steam consumption is down.

John has stopped feeding coal into the furnaces and here he is raking the fire out evenly before burning them off.

At 15:30 the firebeater starts to think about banking his fires up for the night. The coal in the hoppers is allowed to run out and when they are empty the fires burn away till only a red hot bed of coals is left. The stokers and dampers are shut down, the fires pushed to the back of the firebars and the grates filled to the front with coal shovelled in through the door, about thirty shovels full in each furnace, twelve down each side and eight down the middle. The dampers are closed completely and then opened a crack, just enough to stop coal smoke from leaking back into the boiler house. This coal will slowly burn from the back and keep the pressure up all night. The trick is to do all this and finish up at 16:00 with at least 120 pounds of steam, a glass full of water and all tidied up. The engine will run off what is in the boiler till 16:30 pulling it down to about 80 or 90 pounds. The pressure will quietly build up during the night and you can usually reckon on having the same pressure in the boiler when you come in in the morning that you had at 16:00. A quick wash and our hero is ready to lock the boiler house up and set off for home and bed. Tomorrow is another day.

The firebeater is regarded as a menial and treated as such but a good firebeater is a pearl beyond price and a joy to follow, his trademarks are steady pressure, a clean floor and a smoke free chimney. He will usually be found sitting in his chair looking as though he has nothing to do. This is the mark of a competent man. John was such a man and a joy to work with. Let’s go back now nine and a half hours and follow the engineer in through the engine house door as he starts his day at 07:00.

If ever a man was monarch of all he surveyed it was the old fashioned engine tenter. He was absolute master of the engine and boiler, his word was law and strong mill owners have been known to go in fear of an interview in the engine house. The old days have gone, there is no place for autocrats in modern labour relations. I suspect that this is one of the main reasons for the decline of the steam engine, an independent prime mover, since the war. No one wants all their eggs in one basket and men who are fit to take charge of a responsibility like running an engine are few and far between. If the engineer doesn't turn up for work the mill doesn't start. Nowadays there isn't anyone who can stand in for him so things are even more difficult. The engine tenter must be absolutely reliable and master of his engine or trouble follows as night follows day. I was once asked what happened if I was ill. “You just come and be poorly in the engine house, it's as simple as that”. Actually I was lucky because I had my mate Newton Pickles who taught me all I know and he would come up and run the engine for nothing at the drop of a hat.

Back now to 07:00 on our cold and frosty morning. We follow the engineer into the engine house and the first impression is warmth, the smell of cylinder oil and the subdued gleam of polished steel and brass from the giant laid out on the floor in front of us. There is a slight hiss of steam from the warmer valve on the high pressure cylinder which has been dribbling a bit of steam into the engine all night to keep the castings warm. There is an occasional rumble from the feed pump in the cellar below as it fires up to empty the hot well which is taking in the condensate from the heating system. It was always a slightly anxious moment when you first switched on the lights, vandalism is a national sport these days and the thought lurks at the back of the mind that someone might break in one night and put a hammer through the lubricators, this sort of thing has happened and no doubt will again.

The first thing is to get your coat off as the temperature in the house never drops below 60 degrees even on the coldest night, then up to the side of the flywheel on the high pressure side. A brass teapot stands on the engine bed full of oil and this is used to fill up the oil pockets on the eccentric sheaves, then the crankpin lubricator which is bolted to the guard rail is filled. This feeds the crankpin through a banjo which is bolted to it, this lubricator is set on and starts it's measured feed one drop every four seconds. The oil it is feeding can’t get into the bearing until the engine starts but by that time there will be a pool of oil in the banjo and that goes in the bearing on the first revolution to give an initial slug of oil. The wrist pin is next, this is the bearing in the crosshead which carries the back end of the connecting rod just in front of the cylinder. This lubricator is filled up and set on as well. The brass teapot is put back on the engine bed where it came from. Next the rod lubricator on each end of the cylinder is filled with cylinder oil from the kettle which lives in a pocket specially made for it in the insulation on top of the high pressure cylinder. This is to keep the oil warm as it is too thick to pour otherwise. This kettle is the original one supplied with the engine nearly sixty years ago and is shaped to fit the pocket. Newton always used to tell me that rod lubricators did no good on an engine that was properly lubricated during running hours but I still used them. A bit more oil couldn’t do any harm.

The low pressure crank and the banjo oiler.

Now we go round to the low pressure side and do the same procedure in reverse up there. Two rod lubricators, wrist pin and crank pin then fill the pockets on the eccentric sheave. Back down the low pressure side, pick up cylinder oil kettle off the bed where it was left after filling the rod lubricators, go round to high pressure cylinder and top up the big Kirkham automatic cylinder lubricator on the front end of the cylinder, this big mechanical lubricator oils the cylinder while the engine is running, mainly by injecting oil into an atomiser in the main steam pipe which loads the steam with oil droplets thus ensuring that all the internal parts get their fair share. There is another lubricator on the low pressure cylinder but this is only used under heavy load, normally enough oil is carried through with the steam from the HP side to ensure lubrication. I used to use it for ten minutes before stopping the engine to make sure that the LP cylinder (LP is Low Pressure and HP is High Pressure) was well-oiled for the night. Next, the Lunkenheimer is topped up, this is a small lever operated lubricator perched on the back of the HP cylinder which is used for occasional oiling of the valves which are under steam pressure while running and also for an initial dose before starting. Then fill up the cylinder oil can which sits on a ledge at the front of the cylinder keeping itself warm, this oil is used for the valve motion and bonnets on both cylinders and the small cups on the linkage of the air pump bell crank just behind the low pressure cylinder above the slide. All these points are oiled now.

The high pressure valve gear and linkage. All the moving parts have to be checked and oiled. The low pressure cylinder is almost exactly the same.

A change of oilcan now for one with thinner oil in for the bearings and joints on the eccentric rods, rockers, valve gear and governor. Last of all the four small drip feed lubricators on the floor at each side of the low pressure slide are topped up and set on, these feed the bearings on the air pump linkage in the cellar. Finished with oiling for the time being.

A question many people ask is how much oil we use in a week, an engine tenter always seems to be walking round with an oilcan in his hand. This is true but the secret is little and often, we use about two gallons of cylinder oil and three of bearing oil a week. Big plain bearings and frequent attention are the two rules for long life in a machine. This was well understood by engine makers but is no good nowadays, machines have to be built to wear out to keep the builders in profit. The waste oil that drips out of the small bearings is caught by cotton waste in drip trays and on the waste that you use when you are wiping the engine down. This is all burnt in the boiler and so reduces the risk of pollution. Perhaps it would be more true to say that in this way we spread any resultant pollution over a wider area. This principle is well understood by the Central Electricity Generating Board and is the reason why power stations have such high chimneys and those on the East coast drop their pollution in the North Sea or on Norway!

I have an oil can story for you… At regular intervals through the day I used to oil the pivot joints on the valve gear which was of course in motion while the engine was running. You soon developed the knack of doing this in time with the engine so you could hit the oil holes with the spout each time. I was doing this one day when I noted an intermittent squeak in the engine. This was just the sort of thing that your ears and instincts were attuned to because it is a harbinger of trouble. I immediately went on to red alert and listened all round the engine to try to identify which bearing was the culprit. I couldn’t find it. It was only when I oiled the linkage the next time that I realised that it was the oil can that was squeaking! It had a plastic mechanism and for some strange reason the oil didn’t stop the squeak. I ditched the oilcan and had no more problems.

Another point that is commonly made by visitors is that the old engine builders had no idea of economy of materials and a machine could be built today to turn out as much power as us using a tenth of the material. Two things about this, the reason these engines go on so long is because they were ‘overbuilt’ and in order to cut the weight down it would be necessary to use advanced alloys, plastics and more complicated technology. The engine would cost more to buy and run, repairs would be outside the scope of the local engineers using well tried methods and what is more important, when the time did come for the machine to be scrapped, the resultant material would be just about useless. There is no part of an old engine that cannot be recycled, indeed cast iron of this quality is the highest priced scrap of the lot. That is true economy of material. A burnt out jet engine is just so much rubbish, an old steam engine is a saleable article.

The essential job of lubrication and inspection is now complete. Only two things remain to be checked now and then we're ready for a start. The most important consideration in the engine house, overriding everything else, is the need for safety. Unless you’ve seen the destruction that a runaway engine can cause it is difficult to appreciate the danger. The nearest parallel is a direct hit by a large bomb. We shall delve into this subject in more depth later on when we look at breakdowns but I mention it now to show how important the next job is.

The large gentleman with the balls on his head is the Lumb governor and speed regulator. The other gentleman with the hat on is Jim Sutton, Father to Charlie Sutton, my flue chap. Jim had called in to have a look at the engine before it finished.

Before the engine can be started the Lumb governor must be cocked and the safety gear checked. When the engine is stopped at night the gear is tripped out so that no one but the engineer can start the engine. Remember that there is enough steam in the boiler all night to start the engine, true it would not run long but long enough to wreck itself if all was not done correctly. Setting the gear up is only a minute’s job if you know the drill but would be sufficient to foil any attempt at a start by vandals or mischievous youngsters. The Wilby speed regulator in the governor linkage controls the amount of valve opening and sets this automatically so that the governor can work within its most effective range. This has to be wound open to a position that will give enough steam for the heavy load when the engine first gets up speed. When the engine was stopped last night it was on light load and all the shafting and bearings were warmed up. It needs more valve event now for a successful start. The tenter knows from experience where this setting is and winds perhaps three turns on the linkage. If it is dark and the shed light will be on an extra three turns are needed. The next job is to make sure the engine is in a good position for starting. A Corliss valved engine that is quartered by setting the cranks at ninety degrees to each other, LP side leading, can be started from any position using the valve key on the appropriate steam valve but some ways are easier than others. At one time I always used to leave the engine in a starting position when stopping at night so that all that had to be done in the morning to start was to cock the back steam valve on the HP cylinder and open the stop valve. About two years ago we were short of orders and running one week in two. This meant that the engine was stopped for eight and a half days at a time. A crack of steam was left on the warmer to keep engine and house warm and dry. After about six weeks I found I was getting a grunt in the high pressure cylinder when running on load. Newton and I took the cylinder cover off one night and found the grunt was caused by a patch of rust in the bore. This had been caused by steam passing through the gap in the piston rings as it found its way through the engine from the warmer. This washed the oil off and allowed rusting to start. Obviously the fact that the engine was always stopped in the same place made this worse as it had allowed the trouble to build up week after week. The lesson was learned, since then I usually let the engine stop where it will. We had no trouble after that. The engine has a small vertical barring engine which can be used to slowly turn the flywheel for maintenance or adjusting the position for a start. On a very cold morning it isn’t a bad idea to bar the engine over a few turns to break the cold oil seal on the bearings throughout the mill. Some mills are easier to start than others, Bancroft was easy but Victoria Mill in Earby was so hard to turn that they always barred the engine for half an hour before starting time in winter.

The Wilby regulator.

All is now ready for a start. Pressure is slowly rising as the firebeater lengthens his fires and builds up to a good head of steam. Now would be a good time to put the kettle on and have a brew. It should be mentioned here that engine house tea is the best in the world, brewed in the pot and left to infuse on a convenient ledge on the high pressure cylinder it tastes lovely, perhaps it's the cylinder oil hanging in the air that does it but there is nothing quite like it anywhere else. Any spare time between now and five to eight is spent wiping the engine down with a piece of cotton waste. This is not just a matter of cleaning, it is an inspection as well. The finest way to examine a piece of machinery is to clean it thoroughly, many a loose nut and small fault has been found with the cleaning rag or more likely at Bancroft, a handful of cotton waste.

Time goes on and 07:55 comes round. We set off now up the low pressure side checking that drain cocks are open, lubricators are running correctly and the big fish tank oilers at each side of the flywheel and second motion pulley are set on. These look just like aquariums and feed oil in large quantities to the bearings. After passing through the bearings it is pumped back up for re-circulation by small pumps, rope driven off the various shafts they lubricate. The pumps can re-circulate oil faster than the bearing uses it so they will soon catch up on the oil running into the bearing and back to the lower reservoir before we start running. A quick check on the alternator bearings is done to make sure they contain plenty of oil, these are ring-oiled bearings and are always OK but there is no harm in looking. It’s still dark so we must make sure that the big breaker switch for the shed lights is in so that as the engine starts the main lighting will come on. Up to engine starting the shed is partially lit by a few pilot lights running off the mains supply, just enough light to let the weavers get ready safely. Next we go down the high pressure side checking cocks and lubricators again. The warmer valve on the back of the high pressure cylinder is closed now, it has been open a crack all night leaking a bit of steam into the cylinders to keep them warm. This is essential as cold cylinders mean excess condensation on starting. Water is incompressible and can wreck an engine if it there is too much in the cylinder for the drains to cope with.

It’s about two minutes to eight now. A quick squirt of cylinder oil on each piston rod and a drop of oil is pumped into each steam valve on the high pressure side with the Lunkenheimer. Fit the valve key to the back steam valve spindle and take a last look at the cylinder drain cocks to make sure they are open, they are all marked with a saw cut on the head of the spindle so you can see at a glance if they are open or closed. The back steam valve on the HP cylinder is opened with the key and the throttle valve in the main steam pipe cracked half a turn. Steam rushes into the cylinder and builds up the massive push needed to stir the great weight of the shafting and flywheel. Slowly at first, but rapidly accelerating, the crank swings over the top and as it does you let the back valve shut. The valve motion opens the front valve to bring the crank back and from now on valve control is automatic and the engine slowly picks up speed.

Stanley starting the engine. Everything has been checked but this is always a serious moment, you don’t relax until everything is up and running.

A big engine starting up is a very impressive sight, it is also very dangerous. The forces involved are so great that any error on the part of the engineer or fault in the engine can lead to a wreck. Most troubles are caused by too much steam too quickly, especially on cold Monday mornings when shaft bearings are cold and stiff, there is enough power in the first stroke to shear the crank pin off. At times like these it is not wise to speak to the engineer or make any sound at all as his attention is completely taken up with his machine. As the speed rises the governor’s balls fly out and the bars rise until they are parallel with the floor, controlling the valves and holding the steam steady. The cylinder drain cocks are closed now and the vacuum builds up. A quick walk up to the distributor board and swing over the three big switches that cut us off from the mains and put the alternator in circuit, the shed lights are already on as we tripped the switch in earlier. Listen for the sound of the feed pump in the cellar, it will stop as you switch over. If the firebeater is on the ball it will start up again almost straight away. If not he's asleep and a quick trip to the boiler house is indicated.

Back round to the throttle again and a bit more steam is put on, the throttle is slowly opened until the engine has full steam. This must be done gradually or the engine will overspeed and become dangerous. When the valve is wide open the speed regulator is tripped in and most important the safety catch is dropped on the governor. This is a device that will trip the governor and close the steam valves thus stopping the engine if for any reason the speed of the engine varies beyond the capability of the regulator. Failure to do this leads sooner or later to disaster. Watch the regulator and the governor for a moment until you are sure that it has settled into the load and you are running safely. The engine is now running at the correct speed, 68 rpm so we now go round all the lubricators again and check that all oils are running, rope drives to oil return pumps are working and all looks well. The piston rod gland drain cocks are shut and a final check is made to see that the cylinder lubricator is feeding oil into the main steam pipe where it is atomised by the rush of steam and carried round to all parts of the cylinders and valves. One last check to make sure that the safety catch is down on the governor, better safe than sorry.

No rest for the wicked, we haven’t earned a brew yet! The engine has been checked and so even if a lubricator became blocked all will be safe for ten minutes. The tenter goes into the weaving shed to walk up the line shaft and listen for any untoward noises. The weavers will generally tell you if there were any squeals when the engine started as this is when dry bearings first show themselves. There are over 600 bearings in the shed alone, so it is not unusual to get an odd squealer or two during the week. Back to the engine now, never more than ten minutes away, and another walk round the engine checking that all is well. It's twenty past eight now, time we drank the tea that has been going cold since ten to eight and have a pipeful of tobacco.

To the uninitiated the engineer seems to spend most of his time sitting in the armchair in the corner of the engine house doing nothing. Sat down perhaps, but don't be fooled into thinking he's doing nothing. If you spend eight hours a day listening to a piece of machinery running you become attuned to it. The least variation in note will alert you straight away to trouble, this is the mark of the good man, he has a sixth sense about the engine. It's almost uncanny the way you can pick trouble out before it starts, many a time you will not be sure what alerted you, it is pure instinct. Besides, there is a clause in the insurance policy for loss of profits should the engine break down that stipulates that it must be constantly attended whilst in motion. My ten minutes away from the engine in the shed is actually a breach of this condition but I knew that I was a near safe as possible before I went because I checked everything.

I have story about engine speed… One of my frequent visitors was a retired local GP, Doctor John Wilfred Pickard. Stories abound about Doc Pickard in Barlick folk lore, like the time he was called out to a baby in the night which kept crying. John Wilfred attended the house, examined the baby and then turned to the woman minding the baby and pushed his hand down he front of her blouse. He felt her breast and said it was no wonder the child was crying, it was hungry and she had no milk. The woman informed him that it would be a miracle if she had as she was the child’s aunt and was only looking after him. (I asked John Wilfred if this was true and all he said was that there was more truth in that story than many of the others.) Whenever John Wifred sat with me and had a cup of tea he used to take my pulse. I put this down as force of habit but he told me one day that he had observed that after he had been sat in the engine house for twenty minutes his heart had slowed slightly to match the engine speed. He said mine was exactly the same. He told me that it was a common thing for heart rate to respond to music and that this was what was happening with the engine. He brought his old stethoscope in one day and we listened to the rings clicking in the cylinder bore as the engine ran. He gave it to me and I still have it. I used it many a time on the engine and very useful it was too.

John Wilfred Pickard giving me the benefit of years of medical experience. The pictures of ladies on the wall are the ones that were used for the Shiloh calendar.

The morning goes by spent in listening, walking round the engine and shed, checking oil levels, bearings and gearing. A hot bearing or neck in the shafting in the shed can be detected by the white cotton dawn that clings to the cast iron neck, if overheated it turns brown. A short ladder with two hooks at the top is kept in the shed, the hooks are put on the shaft and up you go to clean out the bearing and fill it with fresh grease. Work of this sort demands great care as a moving shaft is very dangerous. It only needs one thread of your clothing to get wound on the shaft and you will be dragged in and almost certainly killed. It is for this reason that I always favoured close fitting clothing and never wore anything round my neck. The engineer will go down into the boiler house and pass the time of day with the firebeater. This isn’t just politeness, he’s checking on how the boiler house is being run. The firebeater knows this and the floor will be swept, dampers adjusted and water levels correct. In the end the engineer is responsible for safety and the correct running of all the plant. The firebeater understands this and inspection is not seen as criticism but as a necessary backup mechanism, two pairs of eyes are better than one. He does the same with me when we have our mid-morning brew together in the engine house. He knew that if he saw something and mentioned it he would not be in any trouble, nether of us saw it as criticism but reinforcement.

There is a certain amount of paperwork to do, coal, oil and stores have to be ordered and accounted for. Many a time there is an odd job to be done round the mill, the engineer is responsible for everything except the actual running of the looms. Some of these jobs get done during the day in ten-minute stints, always check the oils once every ten minutes. So time goes on until a change in the note of the engine tells you that the weavers are slacking off for dinner. This will be at about a quarter past twelve, they only have half an hour for dinner and so some steal a bit of time to get home. Once more you go round with the oil and top up all lubricators. Oil the governor and valve linkage and make ready for the afternoons run. By now it will be twenty five past twelve and you walk round closing the fish tank lubricators and turn the power over to the mains again. All the drain cocks are opened and the speed regulator and safety catch lifted out on the governor. The steam valve is shut down to half a turn and the engine starts to lose speed gradually. This signals to the weavers that it’s almost stopping time and they start to knock their looms off. A skilled man with a bit of luck will bring the engine to a halt in a position ready for starting at dead on half past twelve. If he doesn’t manage this the barring engine is used to advance the engine to the correct position. This small engine gets its name from the fact that in the early engines this operation was accomplished by using a big steel bar to turn the flywheel.

The barring engine.

Now is the time to oil those parts of the engine which can’t be done while it is in motion, the governor, air pump linkage and wrist pin lubricators. Once a week the driving ropes are greased at dinnertime with tallow and graphite. This is rubbed into the grooves on the flywheel and second motion pulley and into those parts of the ropes that can be easily reached. If this is done regularly a different part of each rope is done each time and eventually all the ropes get done. This treatment stops the ropes fraying, lubricates them internally and prolongs their life indefinitely. It also gives a far smoother drive onto the lineshaft and this makes weaving conditions better in the shed. 12:55 rolls round in no time and the big lubricators are set on again, valve opening checked on the regulator and the engine set on once more, the same procedure as in morning. A double check round all drains and oilers and a walk round the mill.

A lot of engine cleaning can be done while the engine is running, also the little jobs everyone forgets, topping reserve oil tins up, sweeping and mopping the floor. general tidying up, dusting and polishing brasses. Many hours a week are spent in this fashion, the result is a clean house, no grit flying round to get in bearings and slides and a well inspected machine. The routine in the afternoon is the same as morning, at 16:00 John leaves for home (I always booked his time to 16:30) and at quarter past four we start to get ready to shut down for the night. All oils are topped up and cans filled ready for morning. At twenty five past four you go round the engine again but this time all lubricators are shut and all drains opened. The governor safety catch is lifted and the speed regulator tripped out. After the engine has stopped the governor linkage itself is tripped out and the warmer put on a crack to keep the engine warm for the following morning. A last walk round the shed smelling the air for anything warm and locking all the doors. Finally back into the engine house, bolt the door into the mill, put on your coat and it's good night Mary Jane and James. That is as long as something hasn't gone wrong and demands immediate attention. In later years I had a different method of stopping the engine. I used to shut the stop valve completely instead of easing it shut. Then I would run into the mill to listen to the shafting as it slowed down, the momentum kept it running long enough for me to get there. The reason for this was that if any bearings were running hot they squealed as they came to rest. A chalk mark on the pillar showed you where to go the following morning before starting time.

I have a story about the shafting stopping… One Friday night I ran into the mill as usual and was surprised to see one of our pensioner weavers stood there listening to the shed stopping. She was 78 and was finishing that day because of some new law which had been passed barring people her age from work. I asked her if she was all right and she said yes but did the lineshaft always make that noise as it was stopping? She was referring to the fact that as the shaft finally stopped the bevel gears clanked all the way down the shed. I said yes, but surely she’d heard that noise before? She said no, she was always out of the shed on her way home before it stopped. I marvelled at this, she had been a weaver for 65 years and never hung about at meal times. Those are the good workers.

There you have it, we’ve gone through one day's routine for the firebeater and engineer. Of course this is a much condensed version being only an account of the actions involved not the thousand and one pieces of skill and experience that go to make up the jigsaw puzzle. The man’s reactions to a certain set of circumstances are vital, the right course at the right time can save a disaster. It would be impossible to detail in a short account the experience gained in thousands of hours spent boiler and engine tenting. I suspect it would also be very boring so I’ll just give you one or two examples.

The firebeater has to be a man of almost abnormal perception. He is controlling a process which is going on behind three-quarters of an inch of steel plate and to the best of my knowledge no one has ever seen the inside of a Lancashire boiler at work. However, he has certain clues to help him, most of which are evident in the water in the gauge glasses. Normally it is clear and surges up and down the glass about a quarter of an inch each way due to the motion caused by boiling. If he notices water running down the tubes from the top it is an almost sure sign of danger from priming. This is a condition when owing to incorrect water treatment the boiler water froths up as it boils. This means that there is a good chance that excess water is being carried over into the steam main from the boiler and this can, under certain circumstances, build up into a mass of water or slug in the pipe. If this slug is disturbed by a sudden increase in volume of steam flowing, for example, more load going on to the engine, it can travel up the pipe and into the cylinder. Water cannot be compressed and if the slug is large enough, when the engine comes onto compression at the end of the stroke it will meet a solid resistance and something has to give. In theory this dangerous pressure will be unloaded by a brass relief valve on the cylinder but more than one engine has come to grief because these valves were stuck down on their seats by Brasso running in as they were polished. It can mean a cracked cylinder, valve seat or cover. So there you are, the engineer’s life and the livelihood of the mill depend on this poor ignorant labourer’s ability to correctly interpret the meaning of a few teaspoons of water running down a glass tube.

Quite a common occurrence in an engine house is a sudden reduction in load. Under normal circumstances the engine will cope quite comfortably on it's own, the governor will cut the steam down while the Wilby regulator winds some length out of the linkage and all will be well. The trouble comes when a sudden decrease in load is accompanied by high pressure in the boiler. The valve stroke under these conditions is very short as the engine tries to cut back on steam and the smaller the stroke becomes the greater any fault in valve action is as a proportion of the whole and a condition can be reached where the engine runs very erratically if left on its own. 300 tons of iron moving erratically is not a good thing. The inexperienced man could very easily panic. The good man knows that all he has to do is shut the steam valve down a bit which in effect reduces the steam pressure at the cylinder. The valves open to compensate and the engine runs smoothly again. A good trick then is to drape a cleaning rag or lump of waste on the throttled valve as a reminder it is cracked down, it is easy to forget and when the load comes back to normal the engine is short of steam and labours, the stop valve should be returned to fully open before this happens. A further refinement of action here would be if the engineer and firebeater realised this was going to happen before it did and took appropriate action. It's amazing what can be forestalled by a little walk round the mill every now and again, or recognising that the engine note is changing slightly. Skills such as these are vital to the job and make the difference between a smooth running plant and a disaster area. Impossible to detail and teach, they are the result of years of experience and observation. Any job has its quota of such skills, the difference between having them or not is the difference between the good man and the deadleg. We’ve looked at the day to day running, this leaves maintenance and breakdown. Let’s have a look at periodic maintenance.

There’s an old Scots saying; ‘When a man isn't fishing he should be mending his nets.’ This applies to any piece of plant and ours was no exception. Wear and tear must be kept at bay, the secret is regular inspection and maintenance. The boiler is particularly prone to wear and needs frequent attention. The efficiency and safety of a boiler depends on many factors, all of which are best controlled by good routine and regular maintenance. The most important safeguard is the annual insurance inspection. All boilers and pressure vessels have to be inspected by a competent person once every fourteen months. This is the law and is strictly enforced because without a satisfactory report they will refuse to carry the insurance and running a pressure vessel without insurance is an offence. A competent person under the Act is the insurance company’s Surveyor. These men are all highly qualified, many of them being ex-marine engineers. The old Board of Trade Certificates for Marine Engineers were some of the most coveted pieces of paper in the trade as the examination was very strict. The insurance companies carry the risk on the boiler and so it is obvious that they will make sure that the plant is in good order and is supervised by a competent person. The annual inspection is usually carried out during the summer holiday, the boiler is cleaned inside and out and inspected by the insurance company’s engineer. He alone decides whether it is fit for it's purpose and a good risk.

Jack, Charlie Sutton’s inside man, entering the water space to start scaling. The temperature inside is about 130 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are two main parts to the cleaning, inside the water space and outside. The inside cleaning is removing excessive scale inside the boiler. Just like a domestic kettle the boiler collects scale on it's inner surfaces. This is formed by the solids present in any sample of water which are left behind as the water is evaporated into steam. They form a crust or scale over all the inner surfaces of the boiler which are heated by the flame. This scale is kept to a minimum by treating the water with chemicals but gradually builds up as the year progresses even when using good feed water. The only practical method of removal is to get in the boiler and physically chip it off to a reasonably clean surface, a sixteenth of an inch of scale is regarded as OK and can be a good thing as the scale protects the metal from corrosion. This is done so that the inspector can see all the parts of the boiler clearly and do his job properly. There are other ways of shifting scale but all of them are bad for the boiler. Some ‘experts’ will even advocate treatment with acid, anyone who uses this method needs their bumps feeling because the acid attacks the metal as well as the scale. My flue chap, Charlie Sutton, used to tell a story about the boiler at a mill in Burnley which suffered badly from scale due to bad feedwater. The engineer knew he needed to do something before the annual inspection and was told that five gallons of paraffin put into the boiler with the feedwater would shift the scale. He consulted Charlie who told him that it was true but he didn’t advise it. About a week later the engineer rang Charlie again and said he was in trouble. He’d gone against Charlie’s advice and put the paraffin in and his blow-down was totally blocked, he couldn’t get any muck out of the boiler. Charlie went down and they pumped the boiler out after cooling it down and then tupped the bottom lid in with a sleeper. He said they got twelve barrowloads of scale out, washed the boiler down, laced it up and refilled it and put it back on line. Three weeks later Reg. McNeill the insurance surveyor inspected the boiler and found it as clean as a whistle apart from a strong smell of paraffin. He knew what had been done and told the engineer that if he ever did it again he’d refuse to pass it. The problem was that the paraffin got into the joints in the riveted plates and in the long term could cause leakage and corrosion in the joints. The message was that there is no easy way to get rid of scale.

You’ll have to work hard with this picture. There are three of us in the boiler chipping scale and sweating. Better than a Turkish bath and you weren’t half ready for a pot of tea afterwards!

The outside part of the cleaning is to flue the boiler. This is the process of cleaning out the gas passages, sweeping the walls down and removing all the flue dust. Flue dust is not the same thing as soot. Soot is incompletely burnt carbon and is the result of bad combustion. The dust in a boiler flue is fine ash which has been drawn up the flues by the strong draught necessary to burn large quantities of coal on the grate. It varies in colour from red to deep brown and we get about fifty barrow loads a year out of our boiler flues. Flueing is done at Spring and Christmas as well as Summer so as not to let it build up. Another interesting fact is that the dust that clings to the walls of the flues and the outside of the boiler itself is white. This is a sign of good combustion and is a product of the burning of the sulphur in the coal.

Hard to find the man, look for the goggles. One of the pictures Daniel Meadows did of the fluers working on the boiler at Bancroft. It was possibly the worst job ever invented.

Outside contractors are brought in to do the job, ours was always done by Charlie Sutton’s outfit from Brierfield, ‘Weldone’. It is one of the dirtiest, hottest most unpleasant tasks man has ever invented. The work is done in complete darkness, temperatures of up to 130 degrees and in an atmosphere of blinding choking dust. The only light is from low wattage bulbs because of the risk of electrocution and of course dirty goggles cut even this glimmer down. We reckoned to flue on the day after we stopped running. This means that the night before we have to get rid of a boiler full of hot water and steam at up to 160psi and cool the boiler and settings down to a reasonable level to allow the men to get in. This is done by blowing down immediately we finish work. Let’s go through the process step by step starting, surprisingly enough, about six weeks beforehand when we give the gang a date and time to be here. Everyone wants the fluers at the same time and it is a case of first come first served. Another little known fact is that we would never accept a dog or a cat’s body for cremation less than six weeks before flueing. This needs a bit of explanation.

In those days, if someone had a dead dog or other small animal they would bring it down to the mill and when we were burning the fires off at night we would throw the body in and cremate it. It was a very clean and efficient way to dispose of them. The reason we didn’t do it during the six weeks before flueing is because that is how long the smell hangs about in the flues. I know that’s almost unbelievable but you will just have to take Charlie Sutton’s word for it. He had been flueing boilers all his life and could tell if you’d burnt something in the fires. Another cremation job we had occasionally was burning confidential files for local solicitors. They would stand and watch as we burnt them off.

At dinnertime on the last day before the holidays the firebeater starts his preparations. His aim is to finish at 4.30 pm with as little water and steam in the boiler as possible. He cuts his feed pumps back and lets the water level drop back slowly all afternoon. This saves coal as he is putting in less cold water and it all has to be thrown away anyway. When it comes to what would normally be banking up time, or very often earlier if the weavers have drawn their holiday pay and gone home, he opens the dampers and lets the coal burn away until only a few dull red coals are left, this takes about twenty minutes. The engine carries on running on the reserves of steam already in the boiler. The firebeater shuts the water feed to the boiler completely. When the fires have burnt off they are pushed over the back of the grates with the long rake and the ashpits cleaned out with the long shovel and barrowed away to the ash heap in the yard. At this stage he is left with clean grates, an empty ashpit and enough steam and water in to last till the engine stops. When the engine stops the firebeater goes up onto the boiler top and lifts the weighted arm of the compound valve and blocks it up with a couple of firebricks. There is now a three inch pipe from the steam space in the boiler up through the boiler house roof and open to the atmosphere. Steam roars out and mounts as high as the chimney. The noise is fearful and announces to everyone within a mile radius that work has finished at the mill for the holidays.

For about twenty minutes nothing can be done but wait for the pressure to drop in the boiler. The amount of steam is fantastic and a good idea can be gained at this time of the amount of energy locked up in a boiler under pressure and containing some 3,000 gallons of superheated water. It has been calculated that there is enough energy in a 9 foot diameter Lancashire boiler to lift it and it's contents, a weight of about 100 tons, 7,000 feet into the air.

Blowing the boiler off.

When the pressure drops to about 40 pounds the roar quietens as the valve automatically closes. The blowdown valve at the front end of the boiler is then opened and the water left in the boiler is forced out by the remaining steam pressure and floods the drains under the yard. This water is at a higher temperature than atmospheric boiling point as it is still under 40 pounds pressure. When it clears the blow down pipe into the drain the pressure is released and the excess of temperature over 212 degrees Fahrenheit is dissipated in turning most of the water into steam. This bursts up through manholes and grids and the yard is filled with steam drifting about obscuring everything. Another twenty minutes elapses until with a few last rumbles all is still. The covers of the man holes into the flues are knocked off now, dampers opened wide and ashpit doors opened, anything that will let air up through the flues to cool them down so that the gang can get in the following morning. The two manholes on the boiler are unbolted and knocked in, one on top and one low down at the front and air begins to circulate through the boiler as well.

By the next morning the boiler is just cool enough to work on and flueing can commence. Now for a confession. The process of preparation I have just described is without doubt one of the worst things you can do to a pressure vessel. Ideally a boiler should be kept running all the time under constant load and temperature. The biggest cause of stress is sudden change of temperature and pressure and we have just dropped our boiler from 160psi and 330 degrees Fahrenheit to zero and about 100 degrees. Having said this, blowing off in this manner has been standard practice with Lancashire boilers for many years. Although theoretically a bad thing it was found in practice that the old riveted boilers could stand this treatment and the gain in time outweighed any disadvantages. It is possible to get the boiler opened up quickly and give as much time as possible for repairs and maintenance. The sooner these were done, the sooner the engineer and firebeater could start their holiday. We were the only ones working like this in the 1970s and while I will admit to the theoretical heresy I still maintain it is the only right and fitting way to start the holiday.

At 8.30 am. the following morning the flueing gang arrives. For years our gang was Weldone from Brierfield, Charlie Sutton and his merry men. The size of the gang depended on the amount of work there was to do, in this case for a full flue and scale there would be five men. Charlie and his mate Jack were the inside men, one man shovelling dust away, one barrowing out and the fifth would make a start on the scaling in the shell itself. Charlie would reckon to be finished in the flues by dinnertime and Jack would go into the boiler and start scaling with the fifth man. The process of flueing is quite simple, it is the conditions it is done under that makes the job exceptional. Basically all the gang are doing is to sweep and shovel all the dust and muck out of the settings. However, in addition to this they are inspecting the boiler and it's settings as they go and a good man gets a second sense about loose rivets and leaky seams. This is not a thing a man can be taught, only experience can give these skills. I've heard Charlie say that Jack could tell a leaking rivet just by touching it. I wouldn't disbelieve him having seen this knack in use once or twice. Charlie himself was an expert on boiler settings and brickwork and even when he retired I still asked his advice from time to time and sent other people to him. By 15:30 we are getting to a straight edge as Charlie calls it. In other words the flues are swept out and every rivet in the shell has had the scale chipped of it and there is nothing to stop the insurance surveyor from doing his job. All is tidied up in the stoke hole and the dampers are closed to keep a little heat in the settings to keep them as dry as possible. We usually flue on the Saturday so the inspector will be booked for Monday morning if possible. Here’s a curiosity for you. Charlie had a chipping hammer that had belonged to his father and he swore it had never needed sharpening. It had a metal handle and was a strange shape. Charlie said that his dad Jim always swore it was made out of a piece of a meteorite. I can’t say whether this was true or not but I’ve looked at it carefully and it was definitely unlike any metal I have ever seen.

Jack on the left and Charlie, straight out of the boiler after scaling. Jack was a hard man but you can see he’s had enough for one day.

The insurance examination is slow, careful and very thorough. Nothing is left to chance. Every rivet and joint is sounded with a hammer and every fitting carefully inspected. If the maintenance is up to scratch and we are lucky there will be no surprises, if there are then the engineer and his mate must set to and put them right. It’s not unknown for a major fault to be found in which case it may take the biggest part of the holidays to put right. This is one good reason for starting preparations as soon as possible after the mill closes. Assuming we are lucky and no fault has been found the boiler can now be closed up and refilled with water, all the doors to the flues are replaced and luted up with fireclay and cement to stop air leaks, blow down pit plates put down and any parts removed for inspection replaced. All this and the routine jobs such as packing valves and replacing washers will take up most of the week remaining. We like to leave the boiler ready for relighting so that we have as little as possible to do in the second week of the holiday.

A key factor in this process of inspection is the relationship between the mill engineer and the insurance company’s surveyor. If they know and trust each other they can soon get to a point where both are satisfied that the boiler is correct. I used to agree with the surveyor what valves and fittings we would remove from the boiler to be stripped, refurbished and inspected. Sometimes I brought up matters he hadn’t considered. I once found a wasted bolt in the solid steel swan neck blowdown pipe and suggested we take it off and re-fix it after refurbishing the seats. He agreed even though it was not very often done. We found that all the bolts were wasted and the seating needed building up by welding it and grinding it flat. Co-operation like this is good and leads to a safer job. I remember our managing director Mr Birtles coming to me one summer to tell me how smart he had been. He’d been looking at the National Vulcan Insurance Company’s policy and decided he could get cheaper cover off another firm called Ajax. I knew a bit about this company and told Birtles it was the biggest mistake he could make. The way Ajax ran their business was to insist on everything being made good as new every year. Added to this was the fact that Vulcan knew our boiler, they knew me and we always got away lightly on repairs. None of this cut any ice and on the day appointed the Ajax surveyor came to see me before the shut-down not to consult with me about what needed doing but to give me my instructions. He wanted every fitting taken off the boiler and stripped. I said very little but as soon as he had gone I contacted our Mr Birtles and told him we would need a three week shut-down to comply with the Ajax demands. A day later we were insured with Vulcan again and I had a good laugh over it with Alan Roberts the surveyor when he came to inspect the boiler at short notice.

Dennis Sterriker from Rochdale Electric Welding building up the corroded face of the swan neck blow-down bend.

As we have seen the boiler takes a lot of cooling down. The reverse is also true, it takes three days to get a boiler warm enough to fire hard without damaging it. Lighting fires is usually a job for the Thursday before a start on the following Monday. This is another operation that surprises the novice when he first sees it done. They have visions of mountains of firewood and newspaper, all that is needed is a handful of oily waste in each firebox and a shovel full of coal, light the waste, open the dampers and in five minutes the fire will eat coal as fast as you can shovel it on. On the first day we get a good fire going then burn it off, bank it up heavily and leave it all night. By the following morning the boiler is nicely aired all over and a start can be made on getting some steam up. Pressure is slowly stepped up until by Sunday night we have a full boiler and 150psi.

All the time this has been going on the engineer has been catching up on his jobs in the engine house and only one job remains to be done before he can say he is ready for a start on Monday. The engine hasn’t stirred for 16 days and all the bearings are stiff both on the engine itself and in the shed. It would be asking for trouble to leave this state of affairs until a start was made on the first day. The engine is rolled over with the barring engine on the Sunday, the better the day the better the deed. Then, after perhaps five minutes barring and oiling or when the engineer thinks all has freed up enough the engine is started on the throttle and run for about ten minutes to make sure all is well, a quick wipe down with an oily rag and we are all ready for work again.

That’s the biggest job of the year, other jobs crop up more frequently. One regular task is cleaning out the dam. Our water for condensing and boiler feed comes from the dam or lodge at the front of the mill which is fed by a stream which runs down off the moor on the Weets behind. Quite a lot of silt comes down with the water in bad weather and every now and again we open the sluice at weekend and let some of it go down the beck where it would have gone anyway, this gives us the chance to put on waders and go paddling about in the mud cleaning out the intake to the condenser pump and making sure the sluice is clear. The dam keeps very clean and is used as a home by ducks, water hens and trout. We also get occasional visits from a lone heron in search of his breakfast. The intake grills to the tunnel leading to the dam, higher up on Gillians Beck, also have to be cleared especially in Autumn when the leaves are falling.

Another annual job is whitewashing the windows in the shed roof to keep the temperature down in summer. Until you’ve whitewashed 2000 windows you've never lived. However it is a peaceful job and you get a good view of the surrounding fields while you're doing it. It’s done on the second or third Saturday in May and we start at about six o'clock in the morning, a lovely time of the year and no shortage of volunteers to get the job done. Unlike some mills we never needed to clean the whitewash off the glass with coarse wire wool at the end of summer. I mixed the whitewash so thin that by the time summer ended and we got heavy rain it had all washed off. The worst part of the job was the way the sharp edges of the slates caught your ankles as you stood in the gutters.

Ernie Roberts and Roy Wellock helping me to whitewash the shed windows. A lovely job on a fine summer’s morning.

After reading this you will probably get the idea that we spent the biggest part of our lives crawling under, climbing over and working through the plant and buildings. This isn’t far from the truth, there are over 800 bearings in the mill to keep greased and free, little items like adjustments to the engine, new driving ropes, welding broken parts and making new ones. The list is never ending, any plant needs a lot of attention, this is our job and the reason we are paid. The consequence of bad maintenance is breakdown, good maintenance means a quiet life. Let’s take a look at some of the things that can go wrong.

All inanimate things have one thing in common, the process of decay. Unless an object is living and can regenerate itself it is quietly dropping to pieces. The remedy for this is maintenance. If the rate of maintenance doesn’t exceed the rate of decay there will be a failure or breakdown in the mechanism sooner or later. In the mill the most dramatic example of this is the runaway engine. Ever since the steam engine was invented the control of the tremendous forces involved has been the designers biggest problem. The well maintained engine is a delight to behold, sweet running and perfectly controlled. It’s as well to remember that the power involved is great enough to wreck the engine, the mill and you if it gets out of control and ‘runs at t’boggart’. The most usual cause of this disaster is some sin of omission or commission in the setting, maintenance or operation of the governor mechanism. The consequence of this can be that the engine speeds up to such a pitch that the cast iron flywheel is not strong enough to stand up to the centrifugal force and bursts releasing millions of foot pounds of kinetic energy. Pieces of cast iron weighing tons are thrown hundreds of feet smashing all in their path. The connecting rods flail about smashing themselves and anything they hit. Pistons burst through covers and cylinders are smashed. The aftermath of a serious runaway is a nightmare and rectification involves rebuilding the entire engine. This would be doubly worse in the present state of the industry as it would mean the permanent closure of the mill. Even more responsibility for the engineer.

Thousands of feet of shafting and steam pipe require regular inspection and repair. The engineer may seem to be half asleep when he is walking around the mill, this is because his attention is completely taken up by listening watching, smelling and often feeling the mill as it runs. It's an old joke that a good engineer is always falling over stuff in the shed. This is because he spends most of his time looking up in the air at the shafting instead of watching where he is going. Another category of accidents is a sudden failure of a piece of metal somewhere in the plant. A hidden flaw deep inside a shaft or gear may grow slowly year by year until it finally causes complete fracture and failure. This cannot be foreseen and the unfortunate engineer in charge is to be pitied.

All breakdowns aren’t necessarily major disasters. A minor part may fail or shear and be put right in a matter of minutes but quite often a minor failure goes unnoticed and builds into something bigger. This is the reason for constant attention to detail, regular inspection and cleaning down, the minor faults are put right before they can grow into killers. These are depressing subjects for any engineer. No matter how well he does his job he knows he is going to miss something sooner or later and get himself into trouble. When such a thing does occur the job is to get things running again as soon as possible. The first action is usually to find a way of bypassing a breakdown, a good example would be a stoker failure. All is not lost, open the firebox door and fire by hand, it will not be as efficient as the stoker, this is why they were fitted, but it will keep you going and not cause loss of production. Once this has been done the extent of the damage must be assessed and the right resources brought to bear on it. If it is a big job outside engineers may be called in because specialised tools and skills may be needed. Once the decision has been taken to do the job and the course of action decided on the main essential is speed. All night working may be called for if this is cheaper than stoppage. Engineers have slept on the engine house floor many a time. All in all, interesting subjects to talk about but the further we keep away from them the better.

John and Stanley doing an emergency repair on the blow down main so as to be ready to run the following day.

Mention of help brings us onto the subject of the outside men. Every now and again jobs need to be done which are too big for the engineer or are beyond the scope of his skill and equipment. At this point we usually pick up the phone and ring Henry Brown Sons and Pickles at Wellhouse Shed.

Brown and Pickles is a subject worthy of a book on it's own. This small local firm had at one time over 150 engines on their books and they were responsible for the heavy maintenance of all of them. They had the skill, experience and machinery to tackle every job on an engine. The engine repairing business has shrunk until they now only have five on the books and they make their living doing general machining for anyone who has a job outside their capacity. Their service is just as good now as it was in the great days, a phone call brings Newton Pickles up inside five minutes and all problems are quickly reduced to minor upsets when you have help of this calibre. One of the questions I was always being asked was where did we get spares from. There is no friendly local steam engine dealer and anyway, these engines were all unique, a part off one will not fit another. The answer is that we have to make our own. If it is within the capacity of my own lathe and tools I make it myself, if it is too big for me I send for Newton and he makes it. No job is too big. Between us we could build a new engine if necessary and of course if there was the money available.

Newton and Stanley fitting a new packing to the HP cylinder cover.

Another essential man is the rope splicer, many of the old engineers were experts at this as they were always being called on to do it. I could make an adequate job if forced but we can still call on the services of William Kenyon at Dukinfield in Cheshire who are the last firm left in the country who can do the job. At the drop of a cheque book they will send an expert splicer anywhere in the country and soon have you running again. They replaced the drive ropes for the governor for me and made a wonderfully neat job.

Last but by no means least, the boiler makers. This is a misnomer really as the manufacture of riveted pressure vessels is a lost art. There are still firms who can do a repair or make a small riveted boiler but none could actually make a riveted Lancashire boiler from scratch, all boilers are welded now. Theoretically welded boilers are better than riveted but in practice this isn’t the case. I have yet to see a welded boiler running at its designed pressure after 100 years service, this is by no means uncommon with an old Lancashire boiler. The usual calls for the boiler repairers are for such jobs as replacing a broken rivet or welding in new fusible plug seats. We have done both these jobs in the last two years.

Another problem that crops up is the fact that being one of the last engines left in the business we run out of suppliers for everyday necessities which 40 years ago were in common use. Rope grease is a case in point, I only knew of two firms left who made it and in 1978 could see us having to make our own out of tallow and powdered graphite. Shafting waste and grease were also a problem, these specialised greases used for the 600 shaft bearings in the shed were only made by one firm when we finished. The remedy would be to get the firms to tell you what their recipes were for these things. You will usually find that even though a firm is going out of business they are loath to tell you how they made their speciality, intelligent guesswork has to be applied and some weird and wonderful concoctions are brewed up in the engine house to do certain jobs. There is another side to this coin which is occasionally of use. Firms which discontinued a particular item years ago will be so surprised and pleased to find you still have one in use they will move heaven and earth to help you if something goes wrong. Consulting and advisory engineers will travel the length of the country to bring you advice and help at no charge at all. It’s very heartening to know that there is still a drop of the milk of human kindness left in the system. Of course engineers in general are a patient, humane and even saintly body of men. They work under great difficulties for intractable and inhumane management and so are forced to be paragons of the virtues to survive. I can hear the collective rustle of eyebrows flying up among the workers and upper echelons, nevertheless that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

I have two stories for you… I was snoozing in my armchair one day in the engine house when someone shook me to wake me up. I opened my eyes and there was our Mr Birtles the managing director. He wasn’t a happy bunny, he had found both me and John asleep in our chairs and told me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t pay us for sleeping. I asked him to have a look at the pressure gauge and tell me what we were running at. He reported 140psi on the button. I said that in that case he shouldn’t worry about the firebeater because as long as he was asleep he wasn’t burning coal. The engine was plonking away smoothly at 69rpm and I knew that the weavers were having a good day because it wasn’t long before I had been for a walk round. As for me being asleep, he knew fine that the least variation in the engine would get me on my feet. I pointed out that what he didn’t know, because we hadn’t made a song and dance about it, was that John and I had been working until 2am that day repairing a burst blow down main. I think he got the message, he went away and left us alone.
On another day I was half asleep in my chair and out of the corner of my eye a movement attracted my attention. From where I was I could see right up the length of the engine house on the low pressure side but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. I half closed my eyes and there it was again but I still couldn’t make out what was attracting my attention. Intrigued I got out of my comfortable chair and walked up the side of the engine towards the trapdoor that opened into the cellar, a quick way for the engineer to get down there if he needed to without going into the yard. As I neared the trap I saw what had caught my eye, a hand crept out of the hole, grabbed a spanner laid on the floor and whipped it into the cellar. I went out into the yard and leaned over the wall overlooking the cellar steps. After a few minutes a small boy crept out with an armful of very large spanners followed by another lad with a similar load. You’ve never seen anyone as shocked in your life when I asked them what they thought they were doing. I knew both of them and the one that lived opposite my house blurted out that they were starting a bicycle repair business and needed some tools! I pointed out that this wasn’t the way to get them and anyway, they would never find a nut on a bike big enough for the spanners they were pinching. They put the spanners back and I had a quiet word with their parents but the funny thing is that my forbearance wasn’t appreciated, one mother played war with me for frightening her son. There’s nowt so queer as folk…

Jim Sutton and his grandson paying their last respects to a working engine.
One of the things that fascinated Fred and I was the fact that so many of the workers in the mills were rock solid Tories. Fred told me about a woman who worked at Albion Shed who was a strong Tory. She complained to A J Birley the mill owner about Labour supporters sticking pictures of the Labour candidate up on pillars in the mill, she thought he should sack them all. A J said he couldn’t do that as some of them were his best weavers. Fred said that it was the Great War that made the biggest change in voter’s attitudes. ‘The War to End All Wars’ as it was called gave hope to the oppressed of some improvement in their lot because of the sacrifices they had made. ‘Homes Fit For Heroes’ was a popular slogan of the time but once the danger of war had passed the lowest paid in society could see no evidence of any gain.

Immediately after the war there was some improvement. Two things were at work; the residual goodwill towards the returning servicemen and awareness of the undercurrent of change in attitudes towards traditional authority which had led to revolution in Russia. The government was afraid that British workers might follow the same course. However, in 1920 world economics came to the politician’s rescue, commodity prices soared as demands for scarce materials forced prices up. This put pressure on manufacturing industry exhausted by the war effort and hampered by out of date machinery and processes that were suffering from lack of capital investment. Markets at home and abroad collapsed and government was powerless to do anything about it. Single industry towns such as those in our area which depended totally on the textile mills were hit hardest and the view in some quarters was that there was nothing like a good dose of unemployment and hardship to bring the workers to heel.

In 1912 Fred started school at the Wesleyan church school. He stayed there until he was seven and then transferred to Alder Hill until he was thirteen. Those who lived at the other end of town went to the ‘Board School’ on New Road. Fred said “I’d only six years there and I used to enjoy it but then I got a teacher and she… whether she weren’t capable of doing her job reight I don't know, only that were standard four and I finished my education there, she just knocked me, well a few on us, flat. What had been good scholars up to coming into her class just went to pot. She wouldn't bother wi’ you and I don't, you know, when I look back and think, she weren’t capable of adjusting herself to all different types of children. She'd just pick about four out and them were her pets ‘cause when they were getting to that stage where they started studying then for their exams to go to Skipton Grammar School. Well if she could get some and they passed their exam for Skipton Grammar School probably she thought it were a feather in her cap and it didn't matter about the other twenty five or twenty six what were in the class, what happened to them. That were my opinion later on in life.”

Fred was twelve in 1920 and he started work half-time. You did mornings at school and afternoons at work one week and swapped to morning work and afternoon school the next. One of Fred’s favourite subjects was woodwork on Friday morning and Mr Thornton the teacher was so impressed with his skills that he arranged for Fred to have every Friday morning in school so that he could do a full year on woodwork before he left aged thirteen. The idea was that he would try to find him an apprenticeship as a carpenter when he left but this never happened.

Fred started night school as soon as he was in full time work at Bracewell Hartley’s in Brook Shed on New Road. “We used to take English, Drawing and Wood-work and for two years we took book-keeping you know, just to alter us subjects a bit, three nights a week, three shilling it were to join. We used to come home from work at half past five get us tea and run back to New Road to sign on to make sure you could get in, there were that many. They only allowed so many in, and if you put about 90% of your attendances in you got your three bob back.” I asked Fred why he went to night school and he said his motive was to improve his education but it wasn’t all academic. The serious subjects were taught at New Road but there were model-making and woodworking classes at Alder Hill.

I can’t help comparing attitudes to education in Fred’s day with what happens now. He said there was no contact between the parents and the school unless you did something wrong. Parkinson and Elizabeth trusted the system and left them to get on with it, basically all they were interested in was whether Fred was being taught reading, writing and arithmetic. There was no such thing as career guidance or alternative subjects, it was assumed that all the pupils were going to be labourers and in Earby that meant either farming or the mills. Some pupils who showed a specific aptitude might go as apprentices in skilled trades like engineering or carpentry but there were very few places available. The brightest pupils were candidates for scholarships to Ermysted’s Grammar School at Skipton and theoretically these were open to all but in reality there were barriers like the cost of uniforms and travel which meant that only the children of the wealthier parents got to go. Horace Thornton reported the same flaws in the system in Carleton at the same time. Fred couldn’t remember a single instance of a weaver’s son going to Skipton. Notice that I have made no mention of the girls, unless parents were very wealthy there was no chance of a girl escaping the system and getting into higher education. Fred’s opinion was that the teachers, seeing themselves as middle-class, looked down on the weavers and didn’t see them as anything other than mill-fodder.

It may be of course that Fred’s opinions are coloured by the bad experience he had in his last year in school but I have come across this opinion so often in these interviews that I think that he may have had a point, there was bias and the weaver’s children were disadvantaged. You can’t help wondering how much talent was wasted because of prejudice and poverty.

I’ve worked you hard and thank you for staying the course. It will all be worthwhile because you now have a better idea than most of what a weaving shed is, what the component parts are and a fair impression of what the workers did to make it an efficient producer of good cloth. It’s time you had a bit of light relief so I shall tell you the story of the productive years at Bancroft larded with plenty of individual stories of people and happenings. What is often forgotten is that the key component of the whole of industry is the workers and their skills. Too often they don’t get a voice, this was why I took the trouble to do the Lancashire Textile Project all those years ago and have been promoting it ever since. It is prime source historical evidence straight from the horse’s mouth. Research into history is tricky stuff but one thing you can be sure of is that the nearer you get to the source, the nearer you will get to some kind of truth. Notice that I don’t claim access to absolute truth, people are always subjective, they tell it from their perspective. I don’t believe there is any such thing as pure objectivity, only the consensus of the subjective. My role is to try to convey that consensus to you. Right! Enough philosophy, let’s have a look at the dynamic system that was Bancroft in the glory years.

I’m in trouble straight away, I’m going to have to backtrack on that statement. The fact is that Bancroft missed the glory years because they ended a year before the engine first started when the post Great War boom dried up. The peak of the trade in Barlick was from 1887 when the first shed company at Long Ing opened to the outbreak of the Great War which was to shatter the old imperial trading patterns and flows of capital forever. I don’t count the re-stocking boom after the war because it was an illusion, the more perceptive amongst the manufacturers knew this because the export trade had almost vanished. Even they hoped against hope, after all, they had seen hard times before but their experience was that after every downturn the trade roared back stronger than ever. Less than twenty years later they knew this was all finished.

Even so, Bancroft had the advantage of being a modern shed working under experienced management with excellent trade connections. If anyone could survive, they could. In the light of what they knew at the time, this was quite rational. The Nutter dynasty was successful, powerful and there were strong ties between the different firms within the dynasty. I can’t tell you a lot about Nutter Brothers except for their role in the move of James Nutter and Sons from Bankfield to Bancroft while they moved to Grove Shed at Earby. Let’s go into this in a bit more detail because it illustrates some of the fascinating problems you come up against when investigating commercial decisions which, by their very nature, were conducted in great secrecy.
We have to go back to the opening of Bankfield Shed which was another single mill room and power build going under the trading name of the Barnoldswick Room and Power Company. It was built in two phases but it is the first that interests us. At the time the first 1800 loom weaving shed opened in 1905 it was reputed to be the biggest single shed in Lancashire. James Nutter and Sons and Bradley Brothers were the first tenants with 900 looms each. Billy Brooks told me that Bradleys were bakers and knew nothing about manufacturing, they were also a private unlimited company. In 1920 this proved to be a fatal combination because they went bankrupt and lost everything reputedly because rather than accept the fact that there was no market they continued weaving and building stock in their warehouse until they ran out of money. Previous to this the Craven Herald reported on the 26th of March 1920 that Bankfield Shed had been sold to the tenants for £122,000, this equated to about £40 a loomspace. On this reckoning Bradley Brothers would have been liable for about £36,000 and one wonders whether this contributed to their failure. Remember that this was in a period when there was some very rash speculation in the whole of the Lancashire industry and firms were re-capitalising their assets at what turned out to be hopelessly optimistic prices because in July the same year the trade finally cracked when the post war re-stocking boom ended.

What is even more curious is that Harold Duxbury, who knew about these things, told me in a private conversation that shortly after this Bankfield was sold to Aldersley and Windle for £7,000. The Aldersley family were large capital owners in the town and I have an idea that Aldersley and Windle was a firm of accountants. Both Harold Duxbury and Victor Hedges of Proctor and Proctor at Burnley knew what was behind this but when I put the question to them they both clammed up and took the secret to the grave. I have no doubt in my own mind that there was some sort of paper transaction going on here that nobody wanted to divulge. I doubt if anything like the sums mentioned ever changed hands. Another curious thing is that even after selling the shed the Barnoldswick Room and Power Company were still quoted as the owners during other bankruptcy hearings in the 1930s. If I was asked to take a wild guess I think my favoured partial explanation would be that Bradley Brothers and James Nutters were major shareholders in the formation of the Barnoldswick Room and Power Company. The ‘sale’ would be a good thing for both as they would only be transferring assets from their firms to their majority stockholding. Suppose that when Bradley Brothers failed the shed company bought their shares at a knock-down price. Work it out for yourselves…

In ‘A Way of Life Gone By’ Arthur Green talks about the succession of firms which followed Bradley Brothers in the ‘bottom shop’ at Bankfield after they bankrupted in 1920. The Barnoldswick Manufacturing Company (nicknamed ‘Woolworth’s’) took over but were a ‘flash in the pan’. It was at their bankruptcy in 1930 that the room and power company were still the owners.

There seems to have been a succession of small firms in the vacant space until 1934. What happened then was that following the failure of another Nutter family firm, R Nutter, at Grove Mill in Earby, it was thought best for James Nutter and Sons to move out of what looked increasingly like a failing shed. This was when Nutter Brothers at Bancroft moved to Grove taking James Nutter’s 900 Bankfield looms with them and James Nutter and Sons moved into Bancroft using the looms already in situ. In a report in the Northern Daily Telegraph in 1937 about the prospect of Bankfield being bought by Walker Reid (1937) Ltd of Dunfermline for weaving artificial silk it was noted that Bankfield had closed in 1934 when James Nutter and Sons moved out. The mill was later bought by British Celanese according to a report in the Craven Herald in March 1938. They did a lot of work modernising the mill but the war intervened and its next use was as a shadow factory occupied by the Rover Company from Coventry.

Complicated stuff isn’t it. I’ve detailed what I know about this episode because, apart from having a direct bearing on our story about Bancroft it demonstrates a thread that can be found running through the history of all the shed company tenants. If they saw an advantage like a rent-free grace period, better conditions in a more modern shed or simply a lower rent they thought nothing of moving lock stock and barrel across the town into another shed. There were small firms of ‘loom shifters’ in the town who made a very good living out of moving looms from one location to another very quickly and efficiently. I could find you dozens of examples. But back to James Nutter and the story of Bancroft.

The ultimate loomshifters. Norman Sutcliffe and his merry men scrapping the looms in 1979.

Fred and I talked a lot about hard times, not surprisingly he gave me some new insights into the subject. Fred saw the worst of the deprivation and uncertainty that prevailed amongst the workers at that time, we have to accept him as an expert.

The thing that seemed to affect Fred most was the bitter feelings that sprang up between, and sometimes inside, families. Imagine having a family to support, no savings, and suddenly your income vanishes. This was the situation many people found themselves in and some adopted desperate measures. When Earby was locked out and there were some mills still running on blackleg labour like Dotcliffe at Kelbrook it made sense to try to get work to survive. The blacklegs, or knobsticks as they were called locally, had to run the gauntlet of pickets at the mills where they suffered verbal and physical violence. Further, it was common practice for the weavers who were solid in the strike to congregate outside the houses of the offenders and beat dustbin lids or otherwise harass the families well into the night to deprive them of sleep. Fred knew of families who tried this route but couldn’t stand the intimidation, some of them were forced to leave the town. Remember that at this time the Midlands motor industry was entering a boom period and many people left Barlick for good in search of employment. If this interests you seek out the Arthur Entwistle transcripts in the LTP, he was one of these economic migrants.

A further problem for the strike breakers was that if they had declined any pitifully small dole payments to get back into work as knobsticks and then voluntarily chucked the job up because of intimidation they lost the dole as well and were worse off than they were before. Fred also made a very important point about the More Looms dispute which I have flagged up before. Many people still believe that what the weavers were striking against was the system itself but this is not the case. Most speakers, both from the unions and the Communists made it very clear that what was concerning them was the fact that no provision was being made to cushion the effects of the new system on the weavers who were inevitably going to lose their jobs if More Looms was adopted. The weavers weren’t ignorant, they knew there had to be a change in order for the industry to survive but they saw that all the pain was going to be borne by those least able to stand it, those displaced by the new arrangements.

It’s very hard for us to realise just how bad the inter-war years were for the workers at the bottom of the heap. Funnily enough, the worst effects don’t seem to have been hunger and eviction, although of course these evils abounded. The main thing that seems to have affected people like Fred and coloured the rest of their lives was the insecurity, the bad feeling and the very real violence that occurred. I know of one instance where a policeman drafted into Earby during the disputes stayed on afterwards and many of the older end ostracised him, they couldn’t forget the part he had played in the violence used by the establishment to break up demonstrations and pickets outside mills. The wonder is that so many weavers survived and eventually prospered. An even greater wonder is the number who went through this period and volunteered for service at the start of WW2.

One good thing that came out of all this hardship was an increase in the sense of community amongst the workers. Fred said “They were all like Coronation Street in those days…” If someone was ill the neighbours mucked in to help. If a family was in trouble the kids would get fed surreptitiously at neighbour’s houses when they were playing out. The thing that always strikes me when people tell me about this self-help culture is how sensitively it was done, without show and without it appearing like charity. The bottom line was that everyone knew they could be in the same position but they had their pride and tried to help others to preserve theirs. Ernie Roberts once told me that it even as a lad when his family was in desperate circumstances he remembered the number of anonymous gifts that were simply left on the doorstep, even the Salvation Army tried to be discreet when delivering a weekly food parcel. There is something very caring about this recognition that people had other needs apart from the physical, they had to be allowed to keep some dignity.

Closely allied to this subject is privacy. We seem to have this mental picture of people popping into each others houses for a cup of tea and a gossip. Fred said that whilst this might have happened occasionally it was definitely not the rule, in his experience it was unusual for people to be invited into other houses, particularly at meal times. He was very definite about this and remembered how surprised he was when he and his father called at Mr Nutter’s house in Thornton in Craven with a message. The old man asked Fred in so he could show him a rare plant he had, ‘Balm of Giliad’. It was reputed to have medicinal properties and Fred had never seen one before but the thing that stuck in his mind was that he had been asked into the house to see it while his father waited on the doorstep. Social interaction seems to have taken place more on the doorstep, out in the street or, in the case of the men, at work or in licensed premises and clubs.

Fred talked about his father’s drinking. He said that Parkinson liked a pint but drink was always last on his scale of priorities. Fred thought that this attitude to alcohol, which Fred himself adopted, was a result of having seen his father drink too much. He talked about families he knew where the kids had suffered from a boozy father but had turned out to be good men. He said that he went to night school with some particularly hard done-to lads and they made good scholars and did well for themselves.

Earby was no bed of roses in those days but what shines out in everything Fred told me is that the character of the majority of the workers was so good that they not only survived but prospered. Reports during the worst of the disputes give the impression that the government were puzzled by the solidarity of the strikers in the face of hardship. The impression I get is of an underlying bedrock of morality and compassion for others which was the glue that held society together no matter how bad things got. I wonder whether it is as strong today?

The Hungry Thirties. Jim Rushton, a noted communist and agitator for worker’s rights leading a protest march in Earby in 1932.

Bear in mind that when we talk about James Nutter’s we mean the firm run by James’ eldest son, Wilfred Nutter. His father James died in 1914 six years before Bancroft was completed. Wilfred ran the firm when it was in Bankfield and masterminded the disposal of the assets in 1934 and the move to Bancroft. We need to look at one aspect of Wilfred’s private life because it is pertinent to our story. Wilfred had a daughter and a son, Reginald. I was told by several people that it was a matter of regret to Wilfred that Reginald never showed any interest in the family business. Owen Duxbury told me that Reginald Nutter had Gill Hall Farm in the 1930s. He knew this because he once saw some plans for a proposed extension built by Briggs and Duxbury when he was researching his family. He also said that Reginald had no interest in his father’s business and never went into cotton.

This has a bearing on one of the key participants in our story. Jim Pollard was a very promising cricketer in his youth when he lived in Earby and at one point was offered a place in the Lancashire County Cricket Club’s junior team but his mother couldn’t afford to let him go. Jim got over this disappointment and started playing for local teams where he soon started to attract the attention of club chairmen looking for talent. One of these was Wilfred Nutter who was a big man in the Barnoldswick Cricket Club. Jim’s father died in 1935 and it was essential that he found work to help support his mother but of course this was a bad time to be looking for a job in the textile districts. Things looked bleak…

Young Jim, the promising cricketer.

At that time he was playing for Colne Cricket Club and so he went to the chairman, a manufacturer called Pickles, and told him that if he couldn’t find him a job he would have to leave the club. Jim said that it did the trick and he was given a job, not at the chairman’s own mill, he was managing director at Courtauld’s Standroyd Mill at Cottontree, but at Lambert’s Tape Sizers at Nelson. When he arrived on the first day he wasn’t even allowed to take his coat off because it was a union closed shop and so he came away empty handed. It looked as though he was snookered but out of the blue a man called Harry Kay who had a shop on Rainhall Road and was a keen Barlick cricket club supporter got in touch with him and told him to go and see a chap called Wilfred Nutter at Bancroft Shed who just happened to be president of the Barlick club. Jim went up to see him and Wilfred made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, he offered him a job in the preparation department (how handy that you know what this is!) at standard wage if he would join Barnoldswick Cricket Club and play for them. On top of that he gave would give him seven shillings and sixpence a week out of his own pocket. (Thirty seven and a half new pence) This was a permanent job with a wage that meant wealth beyond the dreams of avarice and Jim bit his hand off.

This was the start of Jim Pollard’s association with Bancroft and he once said that Wilfred knew his dad had just died and seemed to take him under his wing. It was almost as though Jim was a substitute for Reginald, the son who never came into the business. Whatever the truth in this, Jim stayed the course until Wilfred’s death in 1958 and after that under the new owners, K O Boardman of Stockport and was there until the end.

Wilfred lived for his cricket. He was a strong supporter of the Barlick club but Jim said he was no easy touch. If the club wanted say £750 for a new project he’d offer them £500 of it but they didn’t get it until they had raised the other £250 by their own efforts. Jim soon settled down at Bancroft, he started courting a lass in Barlick, went living with her and they married.

Jim’s first job was twisting, joining up the reed and heald sets off an old warp to the new warp. He was paid fourpence halfpenny (about 2 new pence) for every 1000 ends he twisted, a top man could do 15,000 in a day and there was a standing wage element on top of that. Jim didn’t like twisting, he could do it well enough but never took to it, he mixed up his tin of glycerine and whitening to protect his fingers and got on with it but all he had his eye on was the drawing-in frame where as he put it, “you put the pattern into the healds”.

In 1935 there were 1,152 looms in the shed at Bancroft. To keep these going there was a Barber knotting machine, four hand drawers and Jim twisting. “The Barber machine was run by Bill Whiteoak and sometimes Russell Wilkinson but he was shortly to leave and go to another Nutter firm, W E & D Nutter at Westfield Shed. The backman on the knotter was called Eccleston. A good Barber machine operator and a good backman could do about 32 or 33 warps a day. The hand twisters were Dan Brennan, Walter Plumley and Bob Walker plus a spare man called Bobby Calvert. On top of that you'd also got two labourers. One used to have all your healds and reeds ready and cleaned for the machine and also put sets at the side of the drawers which they had to do that day. Then the second man for that used to come and he’d go round, he’d go down and carry his healds about for him while he brought them into the hoist, old wood hoist, and brought them upstairs. He’d sweep up a bit, he was what you could call a spare, an odd job man. He’d be on about twenty five or twenty seven shillings and sixpence a week then”. (£1.30) Jim told me about the hours they worked, “The preparation department worked from seven in the morning, half an hour break at half past eight till nine o'clock for breakfast then you carried through from nine o'clock while half past twelve, then you had lunch break from half past twelve till half past one and you worked through then another four hours till half past five. But in them days we carried on working from half past five till nine o’clock every night for four nights a week, you'd one night off which was Wednesday night because the fellow that ran the Barber knotter had to go to the Cooperative society meeting on a Wednesday night, and that's why you got one night off.”

About 400 to 500 warps would be ‘downed’ in a week, a ‘down’ is an empty warp coming out of the shed that has to be replaced. Most of the weavers were still running four or five looms at 220 picks a minute. When More Looms was fully implemented the number of looms per weaver went up to ten and the speed was reduced to 180 picks a minute. Jim could remember the violence of the protests against More Looms and had accidentally become involved in the picket at Sough Bridge mill when he called in to visit a mate of his one afternoon in 1932. He was mistaken for a ‘knobstick, a blackleg or strike-breaker, “When they come to finish at half past five and we came down them stairs I were amazed. Police, crowd, booing us, I were innocent I didn't know about such thing as a strikes. Then in come the police and started with truncheons and scattered the pickets, they ran across the railway at Sough Bridge and they said a lot of them police were brought in specially, they weren't local police but brought from Doncaster area, a bit rough.” This is valuable evidence because we tend to forget the levels of violence and civil unrest that characterised labour relations during the troubles. Barlick Council complained to the Home Office about the level of police violence but were told that the police said it was necessary to restore order and the matter went no further.

In 1935 the tacklers in the weaving shed were in charge of 140 loom sets. Jim said that it would be easier to cope with that size of set than the 70 looms which was the usual number in 1978. The reason for this was that the looms and the healds and reeds were in better condition and the weavers were far better. He cited the case of a trap bringing down less than thirty ends, the old weavers would take them up in a very short time and keep their other looms going as well. If it was more than thirty it was an unwritten rule that a man was brought down from the preparation department to take them up for her so the other looms could be kept weaving. In 1978 it would be the tackler that did it because there were no spare men in preparation. Another big difference was that the cloth wasn’t taken off the looms on rollers. When a cut mark came up the weaver had to cut the cloth out and pull the cloth off the roller in folds before taking it in to the cutlooker in the warehouse. Then she had to wrap the end of the cloth round the taking up roller herself and put the tension back on. Jim reckoned that most modern weavers couldn’t be trusted to do this correctly and this was one of the biggest reasons for bringing in wooden rollers and cloth-carriers. The cloth carrier cut the cloth out and gaited the loom back up to the taking off roller which in this case was an empty wooden roller. There were five clothlookers in the warehouse and two cloth bundlers in 1934.

After about six months on the twisting Jim was put onto a drawing frame and started off on plain weaves. He never went to night school to learn cloth construction but picked it as he went along and by reading every book on the subject he could lay his hands on. He was doing exactly the same job then as he was doing in 1978 when the mill closed but along the way had picked up other responsibilities as the preparation work reduced and in effect became the weaving manager. The warps they made varied between 1,500 ends and 3,500 in a 36” cloth and Jim was soon getting to the stage where he could draw an average warp in an hour and a half from start to finish. This wasn’t a bad speed. In the latter days of the mill I’ve seen him draw over 20,000 ends in a day, often working into the night. When we were struggling for orders and getting new sorts in that we hadn’t woven before he was essential and kept the shed going. Things weren’t made any easier by the fact he had to cut old healds and reeds down many a time. In 1978 the tacklers were very scornful of the quality of the warps because of the worn out healds and reeds but they knew that this was the only way to keep going.

In 1935 the industry was in turmoil because of ‘More Looms’ and I asked Jim how many people working for James Nutter and Sons were in the union, he said that as far as he knew there were none but I got the impression that if they were union members they’d keep quiet. Jim never addressed this directly but I think they would have been quietly sacked. Hard times. One piece of evidence I found stated that Nutters didn’t covert the whole shed to More Looms in one go, they tried the system out gradually because “they didn’t want to sack anyone” I think this was an example of Wilfred’s management abilities, he didn’t want to provoke his workers. I have figures for the number of looms each weaver was running in 1941 and even then, the larger sets were in the minority.

The great thing about having Jim Pollard for a source was that he wasn’t just a good man on the technology but he could remember people so we can put some names to the management in 1935. Wilfred Nutter spent most of his time in the Manchester office and had a Manchester man to help him. The weaving manager was Vernon Nutter, preparation manager was Stanley King, Tom Broughton was chief clerk in the office and Robert Walker was the wages clerk. There were three tapers, Joe Nutter who was still there when we closed, Rennie Shepherd and Joe Cowley. Many of the names long forgotten but essential to a busy shed turning out 200,000 yards of cloth a week. That’s a lot of weaving.

Christmas 1940 was a red letter day for Jim, he was called up for army service in the war where he became a gunner, saw his share of action and ended up being invalided home with a bad case of Black Water Fever which put him in hospital for more than a year and affected him for the rest of his life.

I have a story for you about Jim’s war service… At one point early on in the war he was an Ack Ack gunner (anti-aircraft) protecting the big explosives factory at Ardeer on the West coast of Scotland. One of the peculiar things about this part of Scotland is that they play cricket and while Jim was billeted in Stevenson the local club got wind of the fact that he was a useful player. They approached his commanding officer and got permission for Jim to play for them at weekend. This was right up Jim’s street of course and he found a set of flannels and some boots and went down to the ground. When he got there he was pleased to see long queues waiting to get into the match and as he rounded the corner he found out why. There was a large notice board next to the entrance to the ground which announced that the guest player for that weekend was ‘Pollard of Lancashire’! Alright, you youngsters won’t recognise the significance of this but being a crumbly I can enlighten you. At that time one of the most famous cricketers in England was a bloke called Dick Pollard, also known as ‘Th’Owd Chain Horse’ because of his strength and the fact he would bowl his heart out all day. The crowds were under the impression they were getting a different Pollard!

Bancroft, in 1935 had almost 450 people running 1,152 looms for 50 hours and making 200,000 yards of cloth a week. Remember that at the peak of the industry when Bancroft started in 1920 there were 14 mills in Barlick and many were bigger this. No wonder we were a single industry town, nobody had any time to do anything else.

The looming department in 1979 during demolition.

Both Fred and his dad were members of the Overlooker’s Union which used to meet in the Ambulance Hall next to the Band Club on New Road in Earby but Fred said that eventually the Band Club offered the union space to hold the meetings and gave all who attended a check for a free pint of beer. The meetings transferred next door and no doubt the Band Club made a profit because they would be selling beer to them all evening. We talked about how strict the unions were in enforcing the rules and Fred said that in Barnoldswick and Earby they were no where near as particular as they were in Colne and Nelson. I asked Fred what he meant, he said that in Colne and Nelson nobody went into the mill until the engine was starting and as soon as the engine stopped they were out. In Barnoldswick and Earby workers would go in before the engine started to get ready for the day’s work and at night when the engine stopped tacklers and twisters would finish the job they were working on rather than just down tools. He reckoned this was because so many of them had loaned money to the firms they worked for and regarded it as almost a family business. This was even more evident after the collapse in 1932 of R Nutter and Sons at Grove Shed and the advent of co-operative firms in some mills in Earby. These were the ‘self-help shops’ where the weavers paid so much a loom (usually £2 annually) for weaving and shared in the profits. At one time Grove Shed, part of Victoria Mill and Sough Bridge Mill were self-help and it was the Victoria co-op that was bought out by Johnsons and became the basis of the biggest and longest surviving weaving operation in Earby. This move to self-help and the advent of Johnson’s was largely the brain-child of Percy Lowe who was the weaving manager at Grove Shed under Nutters, a name almost forgotten now but Earby owes him a great debt.

Talking about Percy Lowe and the training he had with Nutters got Fred on to describing the quality of the management in those days. They had started young and done, or helped to do, every job in the mill. By the time they got into the office and started to learn the business side they were skilled men and well able to take on the responsibility of running a large mill. Fred commented that those days had gone, many of the management in the post Second World War years hadn’t got this grounding and this contributed to the decline of the industry. This reminds me of Bob King who died recently, he was a mill manager in Earby and when the trade entered terminal decline he went out to New Zealand and used his experience over there to design and run mills and invent new uses for old cloths. One has to wonder whether innovation like this could have saved some of the industry at home if the skilled men had been there to drive it forwards.

The value of talking to someone like Fred about his experiences isn’t simply because of the hard facts you can learn. Just as important is the overall picture of how the workers interacted with the industry and the effects this had on the community. One of the advantages of working in a single-industry town is that social intercourse is much easier because everyone understood the problems their neighbours faced as they had exactly the same ones to contend with.

The picture that builds up as we listen to people like Fred is of a busy, walking-distance town which in good times was reasonably prosperous. Much is made of the bad times in the inter-war years but we should not forget things like the high level of owner-occupiers, most people were either owners of or were buying their houses. There were very few distractions and if you could keep out of the boozer and leave the horses alone, it was possible to save. Fred made a very important point when he mentioned the number of people who lent money to the firms they worked in and regarded themselves as having a stake in the business. This stems back to the days when there were no banks in Barnoldswick and Earby and the safest place for your money was to invest it in the mill you worked at. It was a good thing for the mills because the usual interest rate on such loans was half a percentage point below bank rate. The workers had a stake and additional income and the manufacturers had cheap capital. We can still see the legacy of this solid base in the traditional society. The houses they built were solid, stone-built properties which even now are better than modern houses and built to higher standards. The lay-out of the streets tends to encourage interaction, the garden fronts and the back gates which are so handy to lean on and watch the world go by. These are small things and easily overlooked but contribute much to the quality of our lives 150 years after they were built.

Dam Head on Gisburn Road in 1908. Still under construction. These are desirable houses in 2008.


I’m writing this in December 2008 and in these enlightened days we have wall to wall news coverage giving us all the doom and gloom we can manage and more. Everything seems to be in crisis, the weather, energy foreign wars and the biggest economic crisis since 1926, or so they tell us. I’ve got news for you, they have short memories. In 1939 we were about to see an industrial and economic crisis that makes 2008 look like a picnic. I was surprised to learn, not long ago, that many young people have never heard of the Second World War. I hope they read this chapter.

In 1939 the pressures that had been building up in Europe since the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 which ‘ended’ the Great War were coming to a head. Nazi Germany invaded Poland and precipitated WW2. It was not that much of a surprise. Much has been made of how ill-prepared we were for war but nobody has ever told the story of the areas where we were very efficient. When the war started in September 1939 a lot of thought had been put into how best to get the country on a war footing very quickly.

The government had been busy. They had accepted the dictum ‘The bomber will always get through’ and realised that the Luftwaffe knew exactly where many of our major production facilities were. It had been noted during the inter-war years that the German airship Hindenburg seemed to get lost frequently when coming in over Britain on its way back from America. There was a suspicion that they were taking aerial photographs of possible targets and after the war it transpired that this was correct, the Luftwaffe were making their plans. Chief amongst the vulnerable industries were the large engineering firms in the Midlands who made aero engines. One of these was the Rover company and a year before the war started officials from what was to become the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) were scouring England for large factory facilities in out of the way towns which could be quickly converted to war production. Every cloud has a silver lining and the long decline in the textile industry that had closed many mills had provided the ideal sites for re-locating industries. Empty mills in Clitheroe, Earby and Barnoldswick were requisitioned and by the end of 1940 Barlick had an aero engine industry when the Rover Company moved in to Bankfield and later took over Butts, Wellhouse, Calf Hall and other mills in the town. They also used their heads and took the country club at Bracewell Hall for their offices…

All this is fairly well known but there was another initiative to rationalise the cotton industry and put it on a war footing. Lessons had been learned from the Great War and the planners knew that demand for cloth would fall, cotton supplies would diminish and much of the labour force would be needed for war work. An entirely new layer of management was imposed on the industry, the Cotton Control Board (CCB) backed up by the Board of Trade. Resources such as raw materials, fuel and essential supplies for maintaining and running the remaining mills were strictly rationed. Licenses had to be obtained from the government for all these resources and regional offices were set up to administer the structure. All this was bad enough but there was more. Decisions had to be made about how many mills were needed and closures were enforced by the CCB.

I have very little evidence for exactly how this was done but one thing I am certain of is that Wilfred Nutter made some very smart moves, in fact it is the manner in which he managed this situation that leads me to think that the Nutter firms were all under his control. He seems to have started with one major priority, that his most modern and efficient asset, Bancroft Mill, should survive and carry on weaving. He managed this by closing down all the firms apart from James Nutter for the duration of the war. Nutter Brothers at Grove finished, the shed was emptied and was taken over as a shadow factory. W E & D Nutter at Westfield closed and most of their looms were moved up to Bancroft and stacked two high on top of the existing looms at the back of the shed reducing the effective number at Bancroft to about 500. Wilfred was actually forestalling the ministry here because he knew that he was going to be forced to make a 60% reduction in the number of looms he ran anyway. This was a controversial move at the time because moving W E & D Nutters out of Westfield effectively shut Brooks Brothers down until the end of the war and the shed was requisitioned for storage. Somehow I don’t think Wilfred would be flavour of the month with the Barnoldswick Manufacturer’s Association because the Brooks brothers were key players. The net result when the dust settled was that Wilfred had his way, Bancroft wove right through the war when so many other firms were knocked out. I don’t know about you but I get the feeling that Wilfred was a smart cookie and had determination to match. The net result of the closures in the national industry due to the war was that the number of looms fell from 530,000 in 1935 to 220,000 in 1941. In 1948 it was back up to a post-war peak of 355,500. Compare this with 810,000 in 1915, a crude indication of what had happened to the industry in thirty years.

On top of all this the national economy and supply network was put on a war footing as well. If you think we have economic problems now just remember that everything had to be bent towards armaments and a tremendous expansion of the armed forces. The techniques of deficit-financed management of the nations wealth that are being deployed in 2008 to counter recession are a pale imitation of the same principles that were honed to perfection in the war years. Just about everything was rationed from food, clothing and fuel to people’s ability to decide where they were going to work. That’s right, you needed permission to change your job. The workers at Bancroft in 1939 were stuck there for the duration.

There was another form of labour management that affected the men. A decision was taken as to whether allowing them to remain in their employment was more important to the overall war effort than calling them up for military service. If you were in a ‘reserved occupation’ you were safe from the call-up but locked into that job until the war was over. This was a reassuring situation in one way but not good if you were in a job you couldn’t stand or with management who were treating you badly. It wasn’t unknown for men to apply for call-up rather than stay in such a position.

Another thing that is forgotten now is that cloth was essential to the war effort. A firm like Johnson and Johnson at Big Mill in Earby who wove nothing but gauze for wound dressings had no problems qualifying as Essential Works under the regulations. Horace Thornton was working in Skipton for Rycroft’s at Broughton Road Shed during the war. Rycroft’s were noted as weavers of very high quality shirtings and fine dress fabrics and during the war concentrated almost entirely on parachute cloth. This was very high specification cloth and strictly inspected for quality by the MAP. Horace was therefore regarded as a key employee in a reserved occupation and he is the source of much of my knowledge about the subject. Bancroft cloth was not as high quality as Rycrofts but just as important in other ways. One staple during the war was a very high quality, heavy cotton cloth that we still wove in the 1970s when I was there. I remember saying to Jim one day that a shirt made out of that cloth would last you for ever. It transpired that it was such high quality because it was used for making cloth polishing wheels for the engineering industry. It had to be good stuff to stand up to the duty demanded of it.

I know I use this phrase frequently but here we go again… every cloud has a silver lining. The workers in the shed saw an improvement in both their terms of employment and the amount of their wages. This didn’t kick in immediately but by the time the war was over the piece rate system had been modified so that it was no longer possible to weave for a week and get no wage. The average wage for a weaver in 1936 was thirty one shillings and five pence (£1.57), in 1945 it was three pounds eighteen shillings (£3.90). In 1941 the weavers achieved a goal they had been pursuing for years, on the 19th August 1941 a Minimum Wage Agreement was signed. This was the first general agreement in the textile industry that guaranteed the workers wages couldn’t fall below a certain figure. This varied during the war but started at 25/- (£1.10). This agreement and the management of these changes was overseen by local Emergency Joint Committees which included representatives from all sides of the industry. Here’s a list of some of the things they made decisions on: Dawn to dusk working. Whitewashing sheds. Protection from flying glass. The provision of air raid shelters. Air raid precautions.

Dawn to dusk working is an intriguing subject but if you had been alive in the war you’d realise that one of the first air raid precautions brought in at the beginning of hostilities was the ‘black-out’. All street lights were turned off for the duration, motor vehicle headlights had to be masked and windows had to be covered with black out material during the hours of darkness. All this was done to deprive enemy bombers of any indication where their targets were. In the early days it wasn’t physically possible to install black out precautions overnight so the mills worked only during daylight hours until the black out could be installed, from dawn to dusk. Eventually all the windows in the mill were fitted with black out curtains that could be pulled up to cover the windows thus allowing the mills to work when it was dark. In 1978 the hooks and eyes used for guiding and controlling the strings that operated these curtains were still in place in the ceiling of the weaving shed at Bancroft.

There was one short-term problem for the industry as a whole in June 1940 when the Board of Trade, as part of its strategy for reducing the amount of cloth available on the home market gave customers the right to cancel cloth orders. I have no direct evidence that this affected Bancroft but it was so serious that deputations from the weaving trade made strenuous efforts to have the order rescinded but failed. I think we have to remember that cloth contracts were the life-blood of the industry and over the years had been refined to a stage where they were seen as Holy Writ. Tampering with these would be a very strong signal to the manufacturers that the rules of the game had changed.

It isn’t my brief here to chronicle the social history of WW2, I think you have enough oil in your collective cans to realise that, like the Great War, everything changed. If you want evidence of this think of the general election of July 1945 and the reforming Labour administration that followed. However, there is one area we should look at in some detail because it was to be very important after the war.

During the whole history of the textile factory system the industry had been managed by the manufacturers to give them control over every aspect of the trade at the expense of the workers. Wages and conditions were screwed down to give minimum operating expenses and in a single industry town the workers had little choice but to knuckle down to it. 1940 changed all this when the Rover Company moved into Bankfield and other mills in the area. Rolls Royce took over Bankfield and Gill Brow in 1942 and so Barlick had two modern industrial firms thanks to Herr Hitler. I have evidence of workers moving from Barlick to the motor industry in the Midlands as early as 1931 because wages and conditions were so much better down there. Many workers displaced from the mills in 1939 went into Rover and Rolls Royce during the war and were surprised to find out that you could get as much money for sweeping the floor as you could doing a highly skilled job in much worse conditions in the mill. It was the small things like clean level floors, lower noise levels, better lighting and clean toilets that made the biggest impression. Everything in the mills was 19th century standard including the wage structure and it was obvious to outsiders that things had to change.

I asked Horace Thornton about this because he was a very intelligent man and had worked all this out for himself while he was locked in a reserved occupation at Rycroft’s during the war. He said that he used to hear the management talking about what would happen after the war and said that they seemed to be totally oblivious to the changes that were happening. They thought that they were going to be able to go back to the old-fashioned management structures they ran pre-war. Many of them resented the improvements that had been forced on them by government regulation and I get the idea that there was a certain amount of social engineering going on which was initiated by civil servants who were shocked by the conditions they found in the industry. Many of the manufacturers were convinced that they could turn the clock back to the ‘good old days’. They were in for a big shock.

All over the land Home Guard platoons were formed. This one was at General Gas Appliances in Audenshaw near Manchester. The bloke with glasses in the centre of the second row is my father.

Factories which had made nothing bigger than a gas cooker suddenly became shipbuilders…

or making signs for air raid shelters.
Fred and I were talking about conditions in the weaving sheds. We both agreed that there was a vast difference between the worst and the best and Bancroft was somewhere down at the bottom of any league table. The management had made a good job of building the mill and equipping it and then spent nothing on it at all apart from essential maintenance. The floors were terribly uneven, plaster dropping inside the shed, green mould up the walls where the shed butted into the hillside and the toilets were a disgrace.

Fred contrasted this with his time at Johnsons from 1952 to 1978. For the first part of his time there Percy Lowe was in charge and Fred said he walked round the mill regularly and both his eyes and his hands were busy. “He’d say to the manager so and so wants doing, get all the tacklers in at Saturday morning and get it done. And another time they were going to make some Lenos [A very complicated weave] “Get to know how to do them, get the tacklers in at Saturday morning”. Johnson’s were one of these places, you never said how much will we get, what are we getting, you said nothing but your money were allus there. You allus left it to Mr Lowe, whatever he asked you to do, whatever you did, there were no quibble about paying for it. We did a lot of Saturday morning work then, there were allus sommat. He’d walk round and he’d see sommat you know. Same as you used to lap [wrap] sand rollers wi’ gauze so as they didn’t pluck. One time he said “It looks like a blooming rag shop, we'll have ‘em all painted, tell all the sweepers to come in Saturday morning and lift the rollers up and the tacklers can paint ‘em, we'll have it looking tidy”. That were what he used to say. It were what you call good house-keeping, he were allus on about good house-keeping. Every day there were a fella there and he used to go round all the mill picking all the wrappers up, you know what, them spare ends what were running round (Spare ends in the warp ready to be used if an end went down). The weavers used to cut ‘em off and they used to put ‘em on the floor and he used to go round and all the lap ends off the warps were all on his arm. None had to be laid about on the floor and none had to go into the sweepings as rubbish. They were picked up and put in a bag all tidy as clean waste. Twice a week the same man had to go down the main shafting and sweep the dust off it. Percy kept things as tidy and as clean as he could, he were interested in the job, he knew what he were doing, but there's some of these others, they wouldn't know one thing from t’other.”

Johnsons had a shaft man. His job was to see to all the bearings on the shafting and when he wasn’t doing that he went round with a stick with a piece of iron hoop on the end lined with emery. He passed this down the shafting as it was turning and eventually all the shafting was polished until it shone. Newton Pickles once told me that a lot of shops polished the shafts and he said that when you came to move a drum it was a beggar because the shafting was thinner where it had been polished over the years and you had to make new bushes so it would fit. Birley’s at Albion Shed got the thumbs up from Fred as well, he said they were a good management and understood the trade. They weren’t frightened of weaving for stock if orders were down because that was generally when yarn was cheapest. This could be a risky undertaking if you didn’t know exactly what you were doing but Birleys did well at it. I was always told that this was what banked Bradley Brothers at Wellhouse in Barlick, weaving for stock and getting caught with cloth there was no market for.

Fred talked a lot about the big beam engine that drove Victoria. He said they used to say it drove all the looms from the Empire Cinema across to New Road. Newton told me it had 2,800 looms on at peak and so was delivering about 1500hp. It took 42 tons of coal a week to drive these and cope with seven taping machines, and this was without heating the shed. Even so, reckoned in coal burnt per loom it was the oldest and most efficient engine in Barlick or Earby. Fred said that in winter, when the shafting was cold, they barred it round for half an hour before attempting to start it, this was because of the length of shafting and the friction in the cold bearings, they had to be freed before the engine could overcome the inertia on starting without damaging anything.

I asked Fred what the attitude in the dole office was on the odd occasions when he had been playing for a week. I asked him if there was any superior attitude on the part of the clerks in the dole office. “Yes 'cause you knew one or two on ‘em what were working in the dole office and you knew what sort of people they were. Just give 'em that bit of authority and that were it. There were one fella in particular he knew all the Earbyers and he were as good as gold, no ifs and buts. He’d talk nicely and say sign here Fred and sign there Fred you know, like that. Or sign here Stanley, sign there Stanley. He got pulled up, he were too good to the clients what were coming.” I asked Fred who pulled him up. “The manager at the labour exchange, he said it weren’t his job [to be nice], he’d to just throw this paper down and they'd to fill it up and if they didn’t fill it up right there were no money for ‘em when it went in. That were the attitude of some of them managers, and these clerks, well some on ‘em you know, they were all in wi’ the manager and they just used to throw it down. 'Cause I had an instance of that, I'd gone and he said “Put your name there.” did one on 'em. So I put Fred Inman and it must have been two year after, I signed on again and I got this paper and filled it in and I put, signature F. Inman. When I went to draw me dole he says “What’s this?” He says “Fred Inman there, F. Inman here. Are they two different fellas?” I said no, only I were told to put me name there, and now I saw signature, so I put me signature. He says “Well you'll have to wait.” So I waits while they all get the money what were there, then he says “You'll have to come to Barlick.” I says “When?” He says “Friday.” They were out at Thursday. I'd to go to Barlick, at Friday night, five o'clock at Barlick, just for that simple thing like that and he knew damn well that there were nowt wrong about it.”

1945 was a good year, the church bells rang and we all had street parties, once for VE day and again for Victory over Japan. For the first time since 1939 we could have the street lights on and not bother about the black-out and enemy bombers. I was still living in Stockport then and in the early years of the war we had retreated to the Anderson shelter in the garden every time the sirens went which was quite often because the Luftwaffe were trying to hit the big railway viaduct about a quarter of a mile away that carried the main west coast line. At last we could relax, six years of fear was behind us.

Victory over Japan street party in Bankfield Avenue, Heaton Norris, Stockport. If you look carefully on the left side of the picture you’ll see two ladies next to each other with babies in their arms. Look just below the right hand lady and you’ll see a handsome young lad with black hair….

Barlick was never bombed, the MAP men had chosen well when they took over the mills for aero engine production. The workers displaced from the mills who had gone to work at Rover and Rolls Royce had different skills now and had got used to working in reasonable conditions. Even if all the mills had opened immediately after the war they wouldn’t have been rushing back. As it turned out, Rolls Royce stayed in the town and are still here but Rover went back to Coventry and left a lot of empty mills that had been totally refurbished to modern standards. This available space plus the fact that there was a disciplined work force used to modern methods of production made Barlick and Earby very attractive to industries who wanted to get a head start into the markets that would surely come as the economy got back to a peace time footing. We got new industries, Jowett Motors from Bradford moved their Bristol Tractor division into Sough Bridge Mill and this spawned the Forecast Foundry and Kelbrook Metal Products on the same site. Armorides moved into Grove Shed at Earby with an entirely new industry making plastic coated fabrics for the car industry. Blin and Blin, a woollen firm, moved into Calf Hall and for the first time in the history of textiles Barlick we had spinning mules. Carlson Filtration took over Butts and numerous small enterprises started in odd parts of mills that were left unoccupied. Tom Clarke set up a small mattress making firm called Craven Pad in his back yard in Skipton using his gratuity payment from his RAF service. Later moved into Clough Mill at Barlick and eventually Silentnight was born, one of the biggest bedding companies in the world and a major employer.

As mills like Westfield and Wellhouse were de-requisitioned they were filled up with looms that had been stored for the duration and the engines started again. By 1947 we perhaps had half the total number of looms running compared with 1920. This didn’t mean that we had half the weavers employed in comparison because one of the effects of the war years had been to allow most of the manufacturers that had kept going to change over to a full-blown More Looms System. Many weavers now ran eight looms in a set at most mills, at Bancroft we eventually ran ten sets but we were a bit slow to convert completely. The looms that were changed had been slowed down by changing the pulleys on them and instead of rattling away at 220 picks a minute they were down to 180. This made it easier on the weavers, easier on the old looms and theoretically easier on the tacklers because they would have less faults. In fact the tacklers didn’t see a lot of benefit because the standard of weaving had fallen due to lack of training during the war years and this meant more weaving faults attributable to the weaver. Tackler’s sets had to be halved to about seventy looms a set where More Looms was fully embraced.

The systems of licensing which had been brought in at the beginning of the war to ration resources and make sure that every input was really essential and would produce the desired return were kept in place. I have a quotation from the Nelson Engineering Company Limited dated 28th of August 1947 for new light fittings in the weaving shed and part of the letter reminds the management that it is their responsibility to apply for the licence from the ministry which was necessary for the work. Everything was still rationed and would stay that way until the mid 1950s. We were beginning to realise that the war effort had completely drained the nation, we were flat broke. The Marshall Plan to get Europe back on its feet wasn’t fully applied to Britain. The only way out for the nation was to make money by exporting manufactured goods and a new slogan appeared, ‘Export or Die’.
Let’s look at some figures, they can be boring I know but we need some comparisons with pre-war working to give us an idea of what the war had done to the industry. I’m concentrating on what applied to Barlick, for instance, only plain Lancashire looms are counted. The figures for the whole industry were collated by the Amalgamated Weavers Association. In 1935 there were 530,000 looms, in 1948 this had fallen to 144,814. (286,600 if you include modern looms). Worrall’s Directory of the Lancashire Textile Industry (1957) records 808,796 looms in 1916. In 1948 the figure is 421,300. (In later years Worrall’s figures as supplied by the individual manufacturers could be suspect because they were often over-estimated to give a rosier picture of how the firms were doing). As I’ve said before, this history is tricky stuff and when you start to look at statistics it gets even more problematic. Feinstein in his National Income Expenditure and output of the UK. 1855-1965, a very reliable source, give us some surprising evidence. He says that overall production in the textile industries in the UK in 1937 was slightly above 1913 levels despite all the industry’s problems and in 1948 was running at only 12% below the pre-war figure. This almost certainly reflects technological advances across the industry. Singleton, in his Lancashire on the Scrapheap gives total exports of cotton cloth in square yards for 1938 as 927,000,000. The figure for 1950 when post war exports reached a peak is 624,000,000. In 1938 we imported 52,000,000 square yards of cloth annually, in 1950 this had risen to 287,000,000 with most of the increase accounted for by India, Japan and Spain. By 1960 the imports had reached 728,000,000 yards. The message was clear, the reign of ‘King Cotton’ was over.

I have to make a confession here. I have feet of clay. When N&R were demolishing Bancroft they cleared the office out and burned all the papers except for a few I managed to rescue. I suppose that technically this makes me a thief but I have to report that I haven’t lost any sleep over it. The result is that we have some valuable figures specific to Bancroft. The first piece of evidence is a copy of a return made to the Cotton Spinners’ & Manufacturers Association for their census of manufacturing wages in November 1945. We know why the census was taken because there is a letter dated 18th November 1945 explaining that it was required because a wage demand for a 7.5% advance had been received from the Northern Counties Textile Trades Association. It gives us some valuable clues about the way Bancroft had been run during the war. There were ten juvenile weavers on less than four looms and their average wage was £2.25. It’s evident from the figures for the other weavers that Bancroft hadn’t fully adopted the More Looms System by 1945 because the majority of weavers, 103 of them, were on four loom sets and earning an average of £3.50, only 38 were on large sets. Two weavers were left out of the survey because they were pensioners running a reduced set of looms. There were four winders averaging £2.50. One beamer on £2.75. Seven tacklers averaging £6.50. Two tapers on £6.40. The man running the Barber Knotter was on £6.70 and his backman got £4.90. There were two drawers on £5.60. 5 Cloth lookers on £4.35 and two weft and tape labourers on £4.45 a week. The total number of loom hours lost by absenteeism during the week ending October 27th 1945 was 6,152. The number of licensed looms stopped because of shortage of labour was 170. The firm had a license to run 900 looms of which 730 were running.

In a similar survey dated November 1947 the total number of weavers is slightly higher at 160, the wage bill is £632-10-0. Loom hours lost is 1,308, stopped looms was 146, licensed looms 900 and the number of looms running was 704.

We can draw a few conclusions from the 1945 figures. Only 38 weavers out of 141 in total are running bigger sets, presumably on More Looms conditions, these weavers are the highest paid in the shed. (In 1947 there were 57 weavers on sets larger that 4 looms and once again they are the highest paid in the shed, three of them earning over £5 a week) Wilfred has managed to steer Bancroft through the war years losing only a third of looms in production compared with the pre-war figure of 1,183. We can make a very rough guess from the number of looms in 1945 that he’s producing more than half his pre-war production of cloth with less than half the weavers and we know that his total wage bill for those weavers is just over £500 (£632-10-0 in 1947). There is a good chance that he is running more profitably in 1945 and 1947 than he was in 1938. Wilfred didn’t die until 1958. Bancroft had a good man at the helm for what had to be done next.

I can give you one more set of figures for licensed looms and I suspect this is the most accurate one of the lot. It was produced by the Barnoldswick Manufacturer’s Association. It isn’t printed but is a carbon copy of a neatly typewritten document, a lot of trouble went into producing it. It gives the number of licensed looms for every firm in Barlick. Don’t worry, I’ll just give the figures for Bancroft. In 1940/41 1,183 looms. In November 1941 it was 1,152 looms. (This coincides with the figure Jim always mentioned and I think that this may be the date when full licensing was introduced as the figures carry on on a larger separate sheet and all of them change.) February 1942, 1000. October 1942, 900. From March 1943 to October 1947 when the series ends the number is constant at 945 looms. There is a supplementary sheet which details the licensing fees paid into the Barlick Manufacturer’s Association as a membership fee. The total paid by James Nutter Ltd at Bancroft Shed between November 1931 (1/3 per loom) until October 1947 (1/6 per loom) was £972-15-0. There is a balance sheet dated December 31st 1947 for the association which states assets of £5,612-3-7 and liabilities of £1,223-19-10, total looms in Barlick 7,373 and an excess of income over expenditure of £4,388-3-8, which is 11/10 per loom. There are always puzzles when dealing with specific returns to different organisations. One arises here when the figures above are compared with the official returns to the Cotton Control Board in 1942/43. These give the total number of looms as 1,152, licensed looms 524. The discrepancy may be due to a different definition of licensed looms because there is reference to an additional 478 looms running weaving cotton which roughly equates to the figure of 900 licensed looms given to the Manufacturer’s Association.

There is a speculation I can make from this list. It concerns three Nutter concerns, James Nutter and Sons, Nutter Brothers and W E & D Nutter. Between them in 1941 they were running 3,500 looms in Barlick and Earby. It’s interesting to note that even though Nutter Brothers had moved to Earby which had its own manufacturer’s association, they retained their membership at Barlick. Nutter Brothers were in Grove Shed at Earby and this was taken over by the MAP as a Rover shadow factory yet right through the war they are noted as paying the licence fee on 406 looms. I don’t understand this but I do know from Harold Duxbury’s evidence that they were tenants in Wellhouse well after the war so they survived the conflict but I also know that Wellhouse had no weaving in it during the war years so there is a mystery there. W E & D Nutter seem to vanish during the war but popped up again post-war weaving at Friendship Mill, Read but I suspect that by then Wilfred had no interest. There is one tantalising piece of evidence, a request from the Cotton Control Board for a monthly return dated January 1948 from W E & D Nutter, Bancroft Mill. It is signed by Vernon Nutter who was the Manchester Man. Could it be a phantom firm used to get a yarn allocation? In a letter to the Cotton Spinners and Manufacturer’s Association attached to the completed census form of 1945 it was stated that W E & D Nutter were included in the return.

The suspicion I have is that one of the ways Wifred could have arranged for Bancroft to continue as the second largest firm in Barlick (S Pickles and Son had 1722 looms) throughout the war years was because the firms he was closely involved in had lost two thirds of their weaving capacity. One factor may have been the use of W E & D Nutter, whether as a functioning firm or a phantom. I have had vague verbal evidence that some of their looms were stacked at the back of Bancroft weaving shed. What is certain is that there would have been a lot of infighting and discussion amongst the twenty two members of the manufacturer’s association before the reductions were agreed and the two men who did best were Wilfred Nutter and Stephen Pickles.

Three small things caught my eye while I was trawling through the old papers. One was a letter from the Cotton Control Board in 1942 flagging up that there was going to be an increased demand for cotton drill cloth and asking firms to give estimates of how many looms they could turn over to this production. Tropical gear for the army? In another letter dated 27th of August 1946 from the Board of Trade it was explained that a new rationing system was to be brought in and one of the reasons given was that they wished to ensure that yarn was available for ‘re-opening weavers’. Evidently the return of mills to production after the war was putting strain on available resources and these were going to be shared out. The last is a letter dated October 1945 headed The Barnoldswick Cotton Trade Insurance Company Ltd. based at Westfield Mill, secretary Christopher Brooks who has signed it. It is to James Nutter and Sons Ltd. and concerns a claim made by Miriam Wiseman for injury sustained at Bancroft. I knew that the manufacturer’s association was formed to protect the members against the consequences of the 1897 Workman’s Compensation Act and that they had formed an insurance company but this is the first hard evidence for it I have found.

That’s quite enough figures. They tell us what we need to know. Our impressions of trade in Barlick are reflected in the national figures. Because of the war, the physical size of the industry halved, productivity increased slightly after the war because of more efficient working but between 1938 and 1948 the great foreign low-wage cotton producers had seized the export market and we would never recover the predominance we once held particularly in imperial trade.

In the immediate post-war years this wasn’t as clear to the industry as it is to us with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. Government policy homed in on the Lancashire Textile industry as part of the solution to the problems of the economy. A shiny new slogan appeared all over the north of England, ‘Britain’s Bread Hangs by Lancashire’s Thread!’ There is little doubt that the industry was motivated by this campaign. We see evidence of this in Barlick in general and at Bancroft in particular. Let’s have a look at what happened at Bancroft.

The most pressing matter immediately after the war was survival and one of the first things that had to be addressed was catching up on essential maintenance of the fabric of the mill and the plant. Even if a firm had capital it was hampered by rationing of resources under the licensing system. I don’t know how long this lasted but it would be well into the 1950s. (I have copies of returns made to the Cotton Control Board as late as September 1951) However, as things slowly improved the restrictions eased. In 1947 the decision was made to replace the existing 110v DC dynamo with an alternator which would make mains standard power, 440v three phase and 250, single phase AC. This meant that the whole of the mill had to be re-wired, new light fittings installed and of course needed a new alternator. The work was done by the Nelson Engineering Co. Ltd. and we know the figure for installing 432 new 200 watt 16” reflector Benjamin Saaflux units with anti-vibratory flanges was £1,984, add to this the cost of re-wiring the rest of the mill and installing the alternator and we are looking at a considerable investment. I know that around this time the Whitehead governor on the engine was replaced by a more accurate Lumb governor and speed regulator, I suspect this was to cope with demands of the alternator which was more sensitive to speed fluctuations than the old Direct Current machine.

The shovel stokers on the boiler were replaced with Proctor coking stokers which were more efficient. An automatic damper regulator was installed in the boiler house and changes made to the condensate return system to achieve better efficiency. A Frank Pearn feed pump was put in to supplement the Weir steam pump and injector as the main boiler-feeding pumps early in 1945 at a cost of £150. I have the original license granted by the Board of Trade Machinery Licence Division authorising the purchase I July 1944, the order couldn’t be placed until this had been approved and the Board of Trade had to be informed when the machinery had been delivered and installed. In August 1947 H P Cooper’s of Burnley were brought in to fit eight new driving ropes on the engine in preparation for the increased load on the drive cause by the new alternator. They were back in 1950 to install a new drive rope on the counter drive from the weaving shed into the top end of the warehouse which drove the cloth-plaiting machines. This rope failed in 1977 and I didn’t replace it, I fitted electric motors to the cloth plaiting machines.

I have one last piece of paper for you. It soon became apparent after the war that the diehard manufacturer’s dreams of a swift return to ‘the good old days’ were illusory. Working conditions had to be improved to attract and keep good workers. One of the initiatives adopted by James Nutter and Sons was to provide canteen facilities. They converted a room off the weaving shed to a kitchen and started offering a service but I don’t know how it was done. I suspect that they employed their own staff and ran it themselves. The catering industry was aware of the opportunity and I have a letter from Hayden’s Caterers Ltd whose Manchester branch was at Willow House, Marple near Stockport in which they enquire whether they could have the contract. What tickled me was the sample menu they enclosed. All the prices are of course in old pence (240 pennies to the pound sterling) Soup with roll, 2d. Joint, entrée or fish with two veg., 9d. Sweet with custard, 3d. Tea, 1d. Coffee, 2d. Cakes 2d. Sandwiches, cheese, meat or fish paste, 2d. Ham, tongue, pressed beef etc., 3d. Buttered toast, 1 1/2d. Buttered tea cake, 2d. 1d. extra per meal where waitress service is provided. I love evidence like this, these were innocent times, imagine what the menu would have to be today…

Our bottom line for this period is that Bancroft survived the war better than most. Apart from the restrictions under the wartime regulations we get the impression that it was very much business as usual. The pressure of wartime production had allowed more progress to be made with the introduction of the More Looms System with less unrest than during the 1930s and there was to be no more opposition. The Victorian design and good engineering of the plant and machinery had served the nation well, it did all that was asked of it without breakdown. Things could have been much worse. Now for the long struggle to survive the peace.

The disused canteen equipment still in place in 1977.


I will admit that unless one of your forbears is mentioned in this list it could be worth skipping. However, I suspect that many old Barlickers will get some pleasure out of this evidence that their ancestors existed and were recorded.

‘A list of workpeople employed by James Nutter and Sons Limited at Bancroft Shed, Barnoldswick on December 5th 1941.’

Name address occupation age

W E Nutter The Knoll Man. Director 59
F W Mattocks Gisburn Road Salesman
Vernon Nutter 25 Park Road Manager 42
W Bracewell 44 Lwr Rook St Clerk 17
Fred Midgeley 1 Calf Hall Rd Engineer
Harry Brown 2 Mosley St Fireman 27
W W Wilson 12 Rainhall Rd Motor driver
R Sharples 28 Park Ave Cloth looker 37
J T Isherwood 18 Back Park St Cloth looker 41
George Nutter 61 Park Rd Cloth looker 61
Jn. Greenhalgh 12 Skipton Rd Cloth looker
Walter Naylor 3 Robert St Cloth looker 33
Thomas Roper 12 Frank Street Warehouseman 54
Harold Parker 12 North Parade Warehouseman 46
Cyrus Eccleston 45 Wellington St Night watchman
Fred Naylor 3 Robert St Night watchman 58
John Burrell 42 Rosemont Ave Tape labourer 30
Joe Calverly Taylor Avenue Taper
Rennie Shepherd 28 Victoria Rd Taper 50
W K Whiteoak 146 Gisburn Rd Machine operator 30
Wm Eccleston 15 Beech Grove Machine operator 55
Robert Walker 16 Cavendish St Loomer 46
D Brennand 10 Taylor St Loomer 67
Lawrence Kieron 4 Hollins Rd Loomer charge hand 39
Wm Tomlinson 48 Manchester RdHead overlooker 38
J Carr 24 Beech Street Overlooker
L Steele 2 Essie Terrace Overlooker
Les Beaumont 26 Cobden St Overlooker 51
Richard Lord 17 Sackville St Overlooker 46
Edward Burke 9 Powell St Overlooker 49
Eddie Green 53 Harrison St Overlooker
George Stretch 11 Alice St Weaver 51
Alfred Geldard 7 Bethel St Weaver 57
Sam Ottie 35 York St Weaver 62
Bracewell Stanley15 James St Weaver 61
Cyril Brown 5 Pleasant View Weaver 38
Clifford Hartley 33 Gisburn St Weaver 41
J W Wellock 23 Bruce St Weaver 63
Arthur Stockdale 6 Park Road Weaver 48
Edward Pickup 8 Essie Terrace Weaver 44
Rennie Brown 34 Park Avenue Weaver
Tom Harrison 37 Lwr East Ave Weaver 40
Holbury Metcalfe19 Clarence St Weaver 62
Sam Wiseman 9 Montrose Terr. Weaver 42
Fred Pearson 27 Beech St Weaver 42
Wm Coppinge 58 M/c Road Weaver 51
Thos Lawson 62 Uppr York St Weaver 41
Clarence Downs 50 Park St Weaver 54
Robert Beckett 6 Gillians Weaver 39
Joe Croasdale 2 Lane Bottoms Weaver 62
Fred Brown Willow Bk M/cRdWeaver 36
Herbert Brown 4 Rook Street Weaver 52
Alan Preston 8 Cavendish St Weaver 32
Wilfred Preston 19 Earl St Weaver 38
Luther Duxbury 11 Park Street Weaver 45
Craven Waddington21 Park Rd Weaver 48
Edward Fishwick 74 York St Weaver 53
John Tattersall 47 Park Rd Weaver 50
Harry Cawdrey 10 Cavendish St Weaver 49
Thos Horrocks 13 Colne Road Weaver 62
J W Dent 17 Turner Street Weaver 36
Sid Myers 21 East Hill St Weaver 30
Wm Shuttleworth4 Rook Street Weaver 54
Jn C Taylor 7 Clifford Street Weaver 58
Walter Smalley Lynfield Tubber Weaver 61
Fred Exley Lynfield Tubber Weaver 49
Rennie Geldard 18 Butts Weaver 44
Harry Moody 55 Lwr Park St Weaver 48
Alfred Thomas 5 Lane Bottom Weaver 41
Joe Bentley 59 Cobden Street Weaver 50
Ron Tattersall 47 Park Rd Weaver 18
Les Wilson 19 Colne Road Weaver 16
Thomas Green 9 Town Head Weaver
Chas Watson 71 Lwr Rook St Weaver 70
Jim Unsworth 50 Esp Lane Weaver
Henry Preston 8 Cavendish St Weaver 67
James Waygood 6a Hartley St Weaver 68
Thos Taylor 4 Park Street Weaver 65
John Wilson 17 James Street Weaver 66
H Edmondson 60 Skipton Road Weaver 69
Fred Barrett Standridge Farm Weaver 66
Jim Robinson 3 Ribblesdale Ter.Weaver 68
Joe Brooksbank 23 Essex St Weaver 65
Wm. Metcalfe Burdock Hill Weaver 72
Rich. Pollard 3 Bank Hse. Flats Weaver 69
K Harwood Twister 16
L Golding 40 Park Road Weaver 33
Henry Brown 28 Valley Road Weaver 54
James Monk 152 M/c Road Loomer

Alice Stell 11 Sackville St Weaver 61
Mrs Schofield 4 Fountain Street Weaver
J Hodgkinson 20 Bracewell St Beamer
M Davy 42 Lwr Rook St Winder
M MacDonald 53 Esp Lane Weaver 60
Mary Horrocks 13 Colne Road Weaver 62
Rose Mason 69 Sunset View Weaver 64
Anne MacDonald Winder
Ethel Hartley Weaver 41
Ivy Robinson Weaver 44
Margaret Stretch Weaver 50
Ellen Pate Weaver 19
Evelyn Conboy
Winnie Bennett Weaver 29
Alice Hartley Weaver 42
Hilda Pickering Weaver
Annie Metcalfe Weaver 35
Florrie Geldard Weaver 52
Jessie Pearson Weaver 39
Clarice Moore Weaver 38
Marion Chadwick Weaver 38
Nellie Duxbury Weaver
Bessie Tomlinson Weaver 32
Mary Calverly Weaver 49
Eva Smith Weaver 31
Eliz. Boothman Weaver 36
Ellen Waddington Weaver 29
Ruby Swire Weaver
Mary Sharples Weaver 30
Kath Kiernan Weaver
Dorothy Cawdrey Weaver 48
Hilda Brown Weaver
Gertrude Coppinge Weaver 49
Minnie Wiseman Weaver 55
Nellie Clarke Weaver
Millie Broughton Weaver 29
Alice Sharples Weaver 50
Mary Ashley Weaver 54
Maud Chadwick Weaver 52
Violet Bailey Weaver 45
Edith Edmondson Weaver 43
Nellie Demaine Weaver 42
Doris Brennand Weaver 25
Mary Duckworth Weaver 46
Mabel Pearson Weaver 46
Mona Platt Weaver 30
Gladys Aldersley Weaver 24
Evelyn Ratcliffe Weaver 42
Mary Stockdale Weaver 49
Elsie Pearson Weaver 37
Chrissie Eccleston Weaver 21
Kate Lord Weaver 42
Anne Cope Weaver 49
May Robinson Weaver 53
Marion Turner Weaver 25
Louise Green Weaver 35
Phyllis Parkinson Weaver 31
Edith Brown Weaver 33
Eliza Mason Weaver 55
Chrissie Plumbley Weaver 43
Winnie Parkinson Weaver 26
Mabel Lodge Weaver 52
Ruth Hacking Weaver 41
Lilly Taylor Weaver 52
Jessie Smith Weaver 32
Eva Pateman Weaver 39
Gladys Newbould Weaver 50
Mary Dacre Weaver 50
Alice Cryer Weaver 39
Gwen Moore Weaver 40
Laura Demaine Weaver
Emily Gorton Weaver 39
Polly Fishwick Weaver 53
Eliza Daly Weaver 45
Eliza Chatwood Weaver 28
Elsie Pickering Weaver 47
Doris Stockdale Weaver 40
Daisy Kenyon Weaver
Jane Nutter Weaver 49
Hilda Bailey Weaver 33
Mary Monks Weaver 47
Ethel Holden Weaver 42
Elsie Mason Weaver 34
Annie Burke Weaver 47
Mary O’Neill Weaver 19
Nellie Moore Weaver
Olive Moore Weaver 38
Anne Astin Weaver 39
Maud Reid Weaver 48
Gertrude Gleeson Weaver 42
Elsie Hargreaves Weaver 40
Jennie Waterworth Weaver 24
Winnie Bentley Weaver 46
Annie Exley Weaver 43
Edith Lawson Weaver 38
Emily Waterworth Weaver 35
Evelyn Lee Weaver 34
Eliz. Hayes Weaver
Florence Crerar Weaver 54
Polly Hodson Weaver 33
Mary Downs Weaver 28
Annie Bell Weaver 37
Jane Craddock Weaver 32
Annie Stephens Weaver 24
Nora Titherington Weaver 21
Eva Nutter Weaver 31
Gladys Dobson Weaver 34
Sarah Edmondson Weaver 53
Mary Holt Weaver
Alice Demaine Weaver 32
Sarah Bracewell Weaver 26
Muriel Daly Winder
Lillian Whiteoak Winder
Alice Martin Weaver 40
Elsie Windle Weaver 26
Dorothy Hesketh Winder
Mrs Moss Winder
L Palmer Winder
H Clarke Winder
May Brooks Weaver 40
Ethel Ashworth Weaver 51
Annie Green Weaver 40
Ivy Pickup Weaver 33
Olga Hartley Weaver 19
Ida Brennand Weaver 20
Joan Cope Weaver 19
Doris King Weaver 20
Jean Holmes Weaver 18
Hilda Green Weaver 18
Nora Heyes Weaver 19
Madge Edmondson Weaver 16
Olive Reid Weaver 16
Eliz. Demaine Weaver 17
Greta Holmes Weaver 15
Enid Holden Weaver 16
Nellie Hudson Weaver 24

Lovely stuff! I quite enjoyed transcribing that list because all the time my mind was working trying to guess which families they are related to in the Barlick of today. I hope that some of you found your grandparents. Did you notice that the male employees came first and that they didn’t bother to record the addresses of the women? Surely this can’t be sex discrimination…


Once the initial transition had been made to near-peacetime conditions Bancroft settled into the collar in what was to turn out to be a deadly competition with every other mill in Lancashire. If this sounds extreme, believe me it wasn’t. In the days of full order books the competing firms in a certain range of cloths could afford to act in a reasonably civilised way towards each other. In the face of ever-growing foreign competition it became a fight to survive.

One thing I noted from the old documents I retrieved from Bancroft during the demolition is that in 1941 there are still three beaming frames in the mill, two of them in use. The number of winders has gone up which means that more rewound weft is being produced. The significance of this is that one of the conditions the manufacturers had to satisfy when going onto More Looms was that they had to give the weavers bigger shuttle packages and rewound weft. The first gave then longer between shuttle changes and the second improved the quality of the weft and cut down on weft breakage in the loom. Eventually the beaming frames had to go, I’m not sure when but I am pretty sure that this wasn’t because the process was uneconomic but because the space on the preparation floor was needed for the winding machines necessary to produce enough rewound weft as more looms were put in bigger sets on the new system.

Sometime during the 1950s the looms in the Bancroft weaving shed were respaced to allow more efficient running. They were re-arranged so that they were in ten sets with alleys in between running from the front of the shed to the back. This meant that each weaver on a ten set and her tackler had access to the looms from each end and that all her looms were next to each other cutting down on the distance the weaver had to walk. The Shirley Institute was established in 1920 by the British Cotton Industry Research Association at Didsbury near Manchester as a research centre dedicated to cotton production technologies. Amongst other subjects it researched the ergonomics of weaving and the results made so much sense that the manufacturers applied the advice in their sheds.

In the early years of the industry the plan was simply to get as many looms in the shed as was humanly possible. I have seen holes cut into the brickwork in the walls of sheds to allow an extra couple of inches so that another loom could be squeezed in. In some old sheds you’ll see an arc worn in the brickwork, this is where the nut on the end of the shuttle box wore the wall away as the loom was running. This was bad enough for the weavers but even worse for the tacklers who were so short of room they had to carry warps in on their shoulders. Ernie Roberts who tackled in many sheds in Barlick told me that the advent of More Looms meant bigger weaver’s beams and the occupational disease of the overlooker became getting ruptured by awkward lifting of heavy warps. Re-spacing made it possible for warps to be wheeled in on trucks and it was a great improvement. At the same time some of the 36” looms were replaced by 56” looms as there was a demand for wider cloth. This reduced the number of looms in the shed but made for more efficient working. Remember that re-spacing also meant re-positioning the driving drums on the shafting. Most mills used eight sets as standard but Wilfred must have thought ten sets were better. He did make one concession, on the side of the mill nearest the lineshaft there was a row of eight sets from the front to the back of the shed. When I was there in the 1970s this was known as ‘The Pensioner’s Side’ and the oldest weavers in the shed wove there. Jim Pollard once told me that an average weaver could get as much production out of an eight set as they could on a ten and on the whole he would rather have seen all the weavers on eight sets because they weren’t as good overall as the old weavers.

Newton Pickles once told me about a peculiar problem they had at Bancroft after re-spacing. They had some special cloths in some of the looms and as it happened these were given to the best weavers who wove at the far side of the shed away from the lineshaft. Some weavers preferred this as they didn’t like the noise the bevel gears made when the shed was running. The problem was a pattern in the weave that baffled them for a while until it was realised that what was causing it was a harmonic fluctuation in the speed the loom was running at. They got Newton’s father, Johnny Pickles to come and look at the engine because they assumed that was where the fault lay. Johnny was a brilliant engineer and he told them it was nothing to do with the engine, the problem was torque building up in the 250 feet long cross shaft that drove the looms which was releasing itself and then building up again and this was what was causing the speed variation. The management weren’t totally convinced so Johnny said he’d prove it. At the time Brown and Pickles were making donkey engines like the one Bancroft had in the taping department to run the tapes when the engine was stopped. He brought a small flywheel from one of these engines up and keyed it onto the end of the cross-shaft which drove a set of looms weaving the problem cloth. This damped out the variation in the shaft and the cloth wove perfectly. The management were impressed but didn’t like the idea of having a flywheel mounted on the end of each shaft so they moved the problem warps over to the lineshaft side of the mill where there was no torque effect. Newton said that Johnny was convinced that all cross-shafts should have a flywheel on the end and that it would pay for itself in more evenly woven cloth.

By the mid 1950s the whole of the shed at Bancroft was working on the More Looms System. The practice of paying wages only when a piece had been delivered into the warehouse was stopped, the weavers were paid a fall back wage plus an amount based on the number of picks they had woven in a week. A pick is one double traverse of the loom by the shuttle and this was measured by the Orme Patent Pick Clock, one of which was mounted on every loom. The weaving manager read the pick clocks once a week and this reading governed the piece-rate the weavers received. At the same time a long-hated power was taken off the tacklers. Up to this time part of the tackler’s wage depended on how much cloth his set had produced so it was in his interest to drive his weavers. Many of them did just this and if they couldn’t get production made the weavers life a misery so that he or she would leave and make room for a better worker. This was made even worse because the tacklers delivered their weaver’s wages to the loom in small open topped tins. They knew exactly what each weaver was getting and the system ensured that the tackler confronted the weaver every week. After pick clocks came into use the wage was paid by the weaver collecting it from the office in a sealed envelope. Ernie told me about instances he had witnessed pre-war where tacklers discussed weavers and plotted how to get rid of them, this all finished because weavers were so thin on the ground.

Another change brought about partly by the war but also by the general inter-war decline in the industry was that the tramp weavers disappeared. There used to be a pool of itinerant weavers, most of them excellent workers but averse to working in the same place all the time, they liked to keep moving. This was why we had the model lodging houses down the Butts, they had to sleep somewhere. Between the wars every mill in Barlick had a group of tramp weavers waiting in the warehouse at setting-on time in the morning. Any weaver who wasn’t at the looms ready for the engine starting was replaced by a tramp weaver and lost a days pay. After the war the shortage of weavers ensured that time-keeping became more relaxed.

In the five years after the war much had changed and the industry looked almost healthy despite what the manufacturers saw as retrograde steps. This was an illusion, things were slowly declining overall but in the better connected firms with reasonable orders this wasn’t immediately evident. Curiously enough one of the major factors that damaged the industry was the efficiency of the contract system overseen by the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Profit margins had always been low because of the security of this system when orders were plentiful. Once orders started to drop there was no room to improve the margins and another factor kicked in that wasn’t fully appreciated at the time. We need to look at the economics of the weaving shed and the effects of running under capacity… I can hear you groaning, deep joy, we are going to delve into economics. Bear with me, it will make the rest of the story easier to understand.

The ‘Artisan’s Working Men’s Home’, the Model as it was always known, in Butts. This picture would be taken in about 1920.

This building was a lodging house as well.


Fred was a mine of information on the inner workings of the mill and if I were to start to tell you all about that we would be here for a long time. He explained the role of tramp weavers and the practice of standing for work in the warehouse waiting to take the place of any weaver who didn’t turn up on time. He described the pressures put on the weavers by making them account for all their waste in the warehouse. I questioned him particularly about the pressure the tacklers could put on the weavers in their set if they were not performing well enough, remember that the tackler’s wage in those days depended on how well their weavers wove. All this evidence helps to build up a picture of how the management indirectly enforced discipline on the weavers to the point where it could be described as repression. Round about the 1930s this ethos started to change as the workers became more militant but traces of it hung on until the Second World War.

Fred also gave me evidence that supported my belief that a ‘black list’ was operated in the trade. This is incredibly hard to prove definitively but too many people have averred that it happened for any historian to ignore it. Talking about the strikes and picketing against the perceived evils of the ‘More Looms’ system he said “But that were a funny thing weren’t it. You went out on strike, you didn't know who were going to finish. You knew so many were going to have to finish, they didn't know who, and probably some of them what come out on strike and happen stood about a bit picketing, well them were marked, they didn't get back at all.” I asked Fred directly whether a black list was operated and he was absolutely definite that it did. In other words, the manufacturers were using the excuse of militancy to weed out workers to ease the necessity for running more looms. This was always covert, I will never be able to prove it as a fact but I think the evidence points us towards this conclusion.

We talked about the practice of ‘time-cribbing’, starting the engine early and stopping late to get a few more minutes work out of the weavers. Fred told me about the informal network that the manufacturers ran to make sure the factory inspector didn’t catch them contravening the regulations. “And so they'd gain all them minutes, which add up over a period. I can well remember this. They’d come round would the tacklers and they'd say ‘Inspector’s coming round’. No young person or woman had to be in that mill and as soon as the engine stopped they'd to get out and they hadn't even to come in until the engine started, and that minute and half while the engine were getting its speed up they'd to oil their spindles and then they'd to be ready. They hadn't to oil their spindles while the engine were running according to the inspector. Well that inspector had probably been at Colne, they’d ring that through from Colne to Earby or Barnoldswick and they'd have somebody on Earby station. Station master ‘ud probably know this inspector and if he got on the train to Barlick he’d ring 'em up at Barlick and he’d also ring ‘em up at Earby. “He’s gone to Barlick!” He hadn't much chance of catching anybody hadn't the inspector 'cause it were all worked out, everybody know before he landed.”

I know this sounds like something out of an Ealing comedy but given the close-knit relationships inside the trade and the local community I am absolutely sure that Fred is correct. Not only that, but as late as 1977 when I was running Bancroft engine there was a relationship between management and the inspectors and we always had prior warning of an inspection. I am not suggesting that this relationship was corrupt, indeed, I doubt if it could be. The process was that the inspectors knew that they had the power to cause the manufacturers a lot of trouble if they wanted to but in the end this would do the local economy no good at all in a period of bad trade. Shutting a mill down temporarily because of a minor infraction of the regulations wouldn’t help either the managers or the workers and in the end, the rules were there to protect the employees. This relationship didn’t always hold good, particularly in the early industry when there was a national campaign to improve the lot of the workers, particularly children, in industry. In Leonard Horner’s report to Parliament as Chief Factory Inspector for the half year ending in April 1850 he said that when he visited Mr Bracewell’s works [Old Shed, Earby] he was tipped off that under-age workers were hiding in the privies. He took a policeman and found ‘thirteen young children, male and female, packed so close together as they could lie on each other’. Colne magistrates fined Christopher Bracewell £136, this would be about £4,500 in today’s money.

Fred told me two more tales that illustrate the attitudes in those days. “Saturday morning, the engine stopped, we'll say at half past ten and you were dashing out, you’d get a black look, you were supposed to stop behind and clean your boxes a bit and titivate things up. And tacklers round here, they'd be same in Barlick and Earby, they never had to go home while twelve o'clock, unless there were sommat extraordinary. They’d to stop in and go round fastening spindles and putting buffers on, doing odd jobs, any warps out, gait warps. There were one instance a fella what comes in the White Lion now [1978], he’d be about seventy four, and he told a tale about there were a medal competition one night when football were on and there were three on ‘em weaving. As soon as the engine started slackening they stopped all their looms and run out. When they got to the door there were one of the bosses there. Now lads he says you’re coming out faster than what you go in, he says get back to your looms and come out at the same speed as what you go in. This chap said we daren’t do anything but walk back in and then walk out quietly. And then another time I'd been to the toilet and I were just fastening me pants up and he came did this boss. He says “Hasta been smoking?” “No, I don’t smoke.” (Sniffing sound) So he says, “It's twist smoke is that, somebody's been smoking twist.” I thought it's a damn good job I hadn't been smoking or he might have sent me home for the day or sommat like that.”

Life is always a balance between the good and the bad. It’s no use viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses, we have to report honestly, these things happened within living memory. In some ways at least, we have improved attitudes towards the workers but I often think that traces of the old ways still persist. I’ll leave it up to you to make up your own minds.

Here’s one thing that hadn’t changed in eighty years, the urinal in the toilets at Bancroft. Not a pretty sight, taken during the demolition but it never looked much better than this.

The Lumb governor on the engine. Nobody ever recognised it but he only ate about three tons of coal a week. The most economical worker in the mill.

Anyone who has followed the fortunes of the textile industry will be well aware of the simplistic arguments that have been advanced over the years to explain why the fall from supremacy to oblivion was so abrupt and complete. It’s worth noting that in terms of production and sales, the national consumption of cotton cloth is higher now than at any time during the peak of the industry. The global figures are even more striking. So, ignoring short term fluctuations in the market which are always with us and to a certain extent predictable, there is no simple answer on the demand side. An economist once made the simple observation that it was ridiculous to suppose that Britain should ever try to become a banana producer, all right this is so obvious as to be a given. I was once asked by a school teacher where the last cotton fields were in England. Think about these two sentences, there is a clue embedded in them.

The reason why we became the world’s largest manufacturer of cotton cloth was because we had a demand, a home market and technology responded to this demand by developing a new technology, the steam-driven factory system. We had the necessary capital to invest in this and ample labour. All that was missing was production of the raw material and it is no accident that the meteoric rise of the industry coincided with economic ocean transport largely based on the infamous triangle based on the slave trade and sugar which was the foundation of the development of a port near to us, Liverpool. Throw in canals and railways and we have a very efficient transport system. This edifice of demand, capital and labour drove the development of Empire and this in turn drove the home industry because it expanded the market. At one point the export of cotton goods accounted for more than half of Britain’s exports.

Two factors eroded these advantages, the slow but sure one was the development of textile manufacturing in the developing world, particularly the cotton-producing countries. It’s the banana argument, far more efficient to process the raw material where it was produced if there was adequate technology supported by investment. The second factor was the discontinuity in world trade cause by world war. From 1914 to 1918 the world was starved of British production and this unsatisfied demand triggered production for the home market in the cotton producing countries. Hindsight is 20/20 vision and looking back now it is quite clear that the UK as a whole started to lose ground in general exports, the thing that had made us ‘The Workshop of the World’ after 1870. The cotton textile trade didn’t immediately feel this effect until the Great War intervened, empire trade kept it growing. In July 1920 this edifice cracked and never recovered. The simplistic focus of those affected by the down-turn was ‘foreign competition’ and ‘starvation wages’. Whilst there was a certain amount of truth in both concepts, the real reason was more complicated. This is what I want to try to explain.
In terms of invested capital, availability of labour and a perfected technology the British textile manufacturing system was as near perfect as it could be in 1914. It was supported by a very efficient infrastructure part of which was the reservoir of trading skills and practices on the Royal Exchange in Manchester. Every refinement in contracts, communications and knowledge of the trade was fully exploited. Weaving firms could accept orders, buy yarn, arrange delivery and seek new contracts without stepping off the trading floor. The Manchester Man was the weaving firm’s representative and he was always a man who understood cloth construction, pricing and the contract system. Given sufficient demand the system ran like a well-oiled clock and enabled the smallest manufacturer with say 200 looms to compete with the giants of the trade. In every sense, it was a level playing field and this encouraged independence in the individual firms and supreme confidence in the system. ‘What Manchester did today, the rest of the world did tomorrow’. The basis of all this was buoyant demand and despite temporary lulls in trade this was what the industry enjoyed until 1920.

When the trade cracked it wasn’t immediately obvious what was happening. It took a while for the realisation to sink in that it was the export trade which had gone bad on us. This situation wasn’t helped by twenty years of depression in the inter-war period. By the 1920s individual firms had started to fail. Something had to be done. I’m not going to describe in detail all the policy changes that were tried, let’s just agree that the major initiative in the weaving side of the industry was to reduce capacity. In 1939 The Cotton Industry (Re-organisation) Act was passed to implement scrapping and price maintenance schemes which had been agreed by the industry and the Board of Trade but the war intervened and they were never used. Natural wastage accounted for the loss of capacity before WW2 but during the war it was decided that the industry had to be restricted by regulation to ensure that as much industrial capacity as possible was directed to the war effort. In January 1941 it was decreed that capacity should be reduced to 60% of what had been operating in November/December 1940. This was to be achieved by stopping 40% of the machinery in each mill. For reasons that I shall explain in a moment, this was the single worst decision that was made and was to be enshrined in later policies.

The mistake was compounded by the fact that the government had promised that whatever war economies were introduced, the industry would be allowed to return to pre-war trading conditions as soon as circumstances allowed and this became the goal for the individual firms. In 1959 the government put a scheme in place to encourage the scrapping of looms, £80 was paid for a working loom and £50 for an idle one. The intention was that by this means, capacity would be reduced and capital injected into the industry for modernisation.

I have some evidence from men who were in the industry at the time. The late Bob King was a mill manager in Earby at the time and quotes a figure of £100 per loom for scrapping and one would have thought that he would know. Both he and Fred Inman, a tackler at Johnson’s in Earby reported the same thing. Manufacturers who were offered £80 to £100 for scrapping a worn-out loom that was perhaps 60 years old and keeping what they got for the scrap metal thought it was Christmas. Some firms scrapped and started again under a different name, Booth and Speak in Earby closed and reopened as Speak and Booth. Holden Brothers closed and reopened as Bendem in Wellhouse Mill. Ernie Roberts said that when they scrapped looms at Barnsey Shed in Barlick a loom salesman happened to call in and detected that a fraud could be taking place. All the scrap men had done was to crack the end frames of the looms so that they collapsed. It was a simple matter to weld the frames back together and have a saleable article. Ernie said that the salesman blew the whistle, the government inspector came in and the looms were totally destroyed. Fred Inman told me that he knew of such looms being sold back into the trade and that he had also seen scrapped looms cannibalised for spare parts to refurbish secondhand looms brought in to replace them. Fred also mentioned something which I had never heard before. He said that there was no coordination between the scrapping program in the spinning industry and that in the weaving sheds. He cited an instance where Johnson and Johnson’s main spinner suddenly announced that they were scrapping and a new supplier had to be found. Fred reckoned it was just luck that the two initiatives roughly cancelled each other out. The policy was flawed in concept and implementation. We’ve touched on the fiddles, let’s have a look at the basic concept of reducing capacity in individual mills.

You’ve guessed it! In order to understand the basic flaw we need a crash course in the economics of running a steam-driven weaving shed. Don’t panic, this will be brief and simple. All other things being equal, the three economic factors are capital to finance the building and plant and provide working capital for stocks of yarn, material in the looms and cloth sat in the warehouse awaiting sale. Revenue which is the constant flow of money in and out as materials are bought, wages are paid and cloth is sold and finally, the fixed costs like rates, depreciation, maintenance and heating costs which broadly remain the same regardless of the level of production.

In the 1950s the capital, whilst it still sat on the books, was written off. Over the life of the mill it had paid the initial capital many times over. In practical terms it was the resale value of the plant, buildings and stock. The revenue looked after itself as it was directly correlated to the level of production, all it cost was the interest on the money employed and of course, given an adequate level of profit this was covered. The killer, and the factor that the various reduction schemes never fully realised was the fixed costs. Take a very simple example, if you had a thousand looms and the fixed costs were £1000 per month the cost per loom was £1. If you only had 100 looms, the fixed cost was ten times as much, £10. This means that given a constant low profit margin, the surest way to lessen the viability of the shed was to increase the standing charge on each loom. This was exactly what partial scrapping of a shed did to it.

It gets worse, I’ll give you some figures now that I am sure will surprise you. To the casual observer looking at Bancroft in the 1970s the main part of the fixed costs was running the engine. This was the argument made by the men from the National Industrial Fuel Efficiency Board men made when they came round in the 1950s to convince mill-owners that the best way to get savings was to scrap the old steam engines and go on to individual electric motors on each piece of machinery. In fact their agenda wasn’t to help the mill-owners, their brief was to get raise electricity consumption to justify rebuilding the generating industry and the national grid. The casual observer’s impression and the arguments of the NIFE men were totally flawed.

Power production at Bancroft in the post war years had a cost. The factors were fuel consumption, wages and maintenance. The last two were constant and there was no capital depreciation because the engine had paid for itself long ago. The variable was coal consumption, in winter we burned about 35 tons a week. Let’s have a look at where all that energy went. In summer the consumption was less than ten tons a week so we can say straight away that at least 25 tons went on heating the mill. The summer steam consumption was consumed by four things, running the engine, process steam, heat losses within the system and generation of electricity. The process element was the tapes and they were very hungry, always boiling size, heating the drums for drying the warp and running the donkey engine when the main engine was stopped. They consumed an average of five tons a week. The heat losses on the pipework and plant were almost constant and I reckon they amounted to at least two tons a week, they were going on 24 hours a day. The electricity generation comes under running the engine but we still need to recognise it as a cause of fuel consumption. This means that the engine and all the motive power put into the shed to drive the looms and make electricity is consuming about three tons of coal a week. An amazingly low figure but I assure you it’s genuine. This would drop slightly if the number of looms fell but so little that we can disregard it for this argument. The killer punch is that no matter how many looms you take out of the shed, this energy cost stays the same. If you emptied the shed completely it would still cost you 27 tons of coal a week in winter. As it stood, the fixed cost per loom rose with every loom taken out of production. To all intents and purposes it cost just as much to run the mill.

This is why partial scrapping was a mistake. Entire sheds should have been scrapped and production concentrated into those that were left to ensure that they ran at full capacity with the minimum fixed costs per loom. This was the model that served the shed companies well. They kept their mills full of tenants and ran at full capacity. This minimised the fixed cost per loom which was of course the basis of the rent charged to tenants. This gave the individual tenants the best deal for their start-up but became a trap which prevented expansion when they grew, this was what forced them to build their own mills. Once in the new mills they were hard-wired for independence and I believe that this was the root cause of what looked like a suicidal disregard for basic economics when the orders started to dry up. This was reinforced by the confidence built up by years of success. The manufacturers were too proud to admit that their firm had to be the one to go. They had a viable plant and they were going to run it to the bitter end. In their mind-set, any amalgamation or co-operation was a reversion to the days when they were tenants and not complete masters of their own fate. We can see now that the bitter end was the inevitable consequence of their actions.

There was another element dragging the industry down. It was a combination of neglecting to train weavers, dropping standards of shed discipline to attract and retain valuable labour and wear and tear. Jim Pollard had studied loom efficiency all his life. He reckoned that pre-1914 in a new plant with good weavers and harsh discipline some firms might have reached 95% loom efficiency. The way Bancroft was structured in the 1970s Jim estimated we could have reached 88%, as it was, with all our difficulties we were running at about 60% efficiency. The bottom line is that after the war everything was stacked against the industry in global economic terms and the situation was made worse by blinkered management attitudes towards rationalization. If you think about it, Wilfred was almost certainly aware of this and that is why he fought so hard to keep Bancroft as full as possible during the war even at the cost of damage to his other interests.

I have two stories for you about engine efficiency which demonstrate the bad decisions made in the latter days. The first is from Newton Pickles and concerns the Pendle Street Mill in Nelson which he was running because the regular engineer was off work with an injury in 1969. Here’s the story in his own words…

“Well it were a sad start to the job, the engine driver, the lad that had been firing there for a lot of years, had taken over the engine when the old engine driver died. He’d only been running the engine about a fortnight and he was coming to work, to have a look at the boilers one Sunday night or put a bit of steam into the shed, and he hits a car, somewhere on Every Street and has an accident. Well, they rang for me on Monday morning and I went right away and they got another chap to look after the boilers, a retired fireman that I knew very well that had fired all his life round Nelson, he knew sommat about engines as well. In big shifts and little uns, between him and the manager, they got it running. They went up for the old engine driver that had retired and he wouldn’t come back because he’d had a bit of trouble with the bosses I think just before he retired. But anyhow, it doesn’t matter.

I got theer and as soon as I walked up the steps everybody else walked out! Of course, I’d worked at that shop for donkey’s years and they just said Good Morning Newton and walked out. They told me what had happened with the engine driver, his leg were broken and it’d be a long time, but you’ll look after us like. I says of course I will, and settles down to the job. And they said Tom Higham’s firing for you, but you know it’s winter and he’s been coming in at four in the morning so we let him go home at dinnertime. I says That’s all reight. Anyhow, Tom stopped with me all that first Monday and I settled down right away because I’d run it before over the years.

They were on oil firing. I’d run it before when it were a coal shop. I asked them how long their man was going to be off and they said oh, happen two or three month, we don’t know but he says anyhow, we’re electrifying the looms did the manager. He said they were hoping to finish by the July holidays. So I settled down to eight or ten weeks like you know. I thought he’d be back will the lad soon as he gets reight. By gum he didn’t get reight, he started with cancer and he died so I stopped on until the end.

But the electrification like, I just weren’t interested in it at all and Miss Duckworth that were the old bosses daughter, unmarried daughter, comes down to see me one day happen some time around Easter time and she sat in the engine house with me a long while and she just says to me, Excuse me Newton, I don’t want to appear ignorant but is this engine worn out, is it done like they’re saying it is? I said What! This engine’s better now than the day it were built in 1887. Whoever in the world is telling you that tale? Well she says, all these in’t mill have and this electrician and the manager. I said the engine never will be done Miss Duckworth, as long as we’re about and you spend a bit on maintenance on it every year, anyway, it hasn’t had any for a lot of years and it doesn’t need it. A bit in’t boiler house perhaps but you’ll still have that to spend after your engine’s gone for process and heating. Oh, she says, my father would spin round in his grave if he knew about this.

Anyhow, it didn’t stop electrification and they kept electrifying them. I used to oil me air pump every dinnertime [in the cellar], I never struggled of a morning and I never struggled at night, I used to do me work during the day, me having to travel and all. I used to grease and oil me air pump at dinner time and I was right then until the day after. I used to walk down on me planks at dinnertime and they’d put this new cable down the engine house side in the cellar. It was a cable about two inches thick and naturally, I used to run me hand down it, it were like a hand rail as I were walking down the planks and it was just aired. As it was getting on towards the end of June and they’d more looms going on to electric and I were getting less load on’t engine, I were getting so as I couldn’t bide me hand on this cable at dinnertime. So I drew th’head electrician’s attention to it, I fetched him in. I said hey, this cable down the wall side, it’s getting blooming hot you know. Naaa, he says, it’s only thy heat that tha’s making in here. When we get this blooming old thing stopped it won’t get warm then. It’s all th’heat tha’art making with that blooming old engine. Blooming heck he says, that were the way he talked, Blooming heck, when we get that thing stopped and get shut of thee and that chap in the boiler house we’ll run this shop for nowt. We’ll run this shop for as much as it’s costing for yaa two in wages. I says Will you. Anyhow. I’ll just go on a bit with this story.

Before I got me fireman, I only had a fireman for the last three weeks in the afternoon. I ran it meself from just after breakfast at t’morning, I used to let Tom go home, you know he were an old chap of about 67 or 68 and I used to let him go home. He were doing me a good turn coming early morning. So they got a bit bothered about me being on me own all the time and they made arrangements in’t mill that somebody allus had to come down at brew time and have a natter with me and then go back seeing as I was all right and hadn’t gone round the shafting or getten meself fast in’t engine which I had more bloody sense. Anyhow, one afternoon, th’big man came down to stop with me, but he didn’t come while about twenty past four, and he were a nice feller but he were no engineer, he were a weaving manager, he were over all the lot for Duckworths. I were in’t boiler house sat in the boiler house reading comic cuts and pressing red and blue buttons on the board, keeping us running. Now then Newton he says, whoah, won’t it make a difference to our bills when we get shut of the engine! Eh, I says, I’m not going to answer that, anyhow, have you got a bit of time? Oh aye he says, I’m all straight now, I can stop with you a bit and have a natter. Well I says, half past four and I have me chores to do so I whipped up on to the top of the boilers and I shut the tape valves and all the heating off. I’d two boilers on that’s all and just as I came down the iron ladder all four of me burners went Woof! Steam were up at 160. [Recognise that what Newton had done was shut down all steam consumption except the engine.] So I stayed talking to him for a few minutes and then I says don’t go, I just want you to see how much you’re going to save when the engine stops cause just now, we’ve everything off but the engine. Reight ho he says. I says I want thee to stop here and count how many times them burners fire before I stop the engine at five o’clock. And I think if I remember rightly we’d a 15psi dwell on those burners from 160, it came down to 145 before it fired up again.

So I goes up into the engine house and takes me jacket off and wiped round all the beds like I did every day, it were spotless even though I says it meself. All me beds all the way round the floor, me cylinder tops and me covers and it were getting on to five to five so I sits down a minute or two and at five o’clock I stopped the engine. I waited while it stopped, put it in the reight shop for starting and went down into the boiler house, he’s still sat there. Now then Frank, how many times has them burners fired since I left you? I thought the feller were going to cry cause I looked up at the pressure gauges and they were on 150 pound, they were just getting ready for firing and we’d run half an hour with two boilers on, capacity, I’d run half an hour and they’d never sparked and I knew damn well they wouldn’t. I thought the feller was going to cry, he said Tara Newton, got up and walked out, as he was going I said, That’s how much your going to save when you’ve getten all this bloody wire in the mill!” [Newton was right about the cable as well, it was overloaded and burned out shortly after they stopped the engine]

Here’s something similar that happened at Bancroft. I was talking to Newton at the time and he’d just told me the Pendle Street story.

“We’ve talked about boilers but there’s one aspect of it that I don’t think we’ve mentioned. It was summer time last year (1978), now I knew we were going to be finished in good time because as you know, the last day before the summer holidays, especially at Bancroft, as soon as they got their wages they went home. We always used to finish at happen dinnertime or three o’clock in the afternoon something like that. Anyway I said to John Plummer, me firebeater, don’t bother about keeping your water up this morning, let your water go quietly away and at dinnertime don’t have any coal in the hoppers. They’re going to be going home early and [if we do need any steam after dinner] just for curiosity we’ll see how long it will run on it. He finished up at dinnertime wi’ about half a glass of water, just below working level and he’d have about 140 pound on and his fires were out. So he shut his dampers and [ashed out] and I told him it would be all right because none of them would be coming back. Now it just so happened that they had a bit of bother over holiday pay that year, they didn’t get as much as they thought they should have done and beggar me, one o’clock we’ve got a shed full of weavers! Shed full of weavers and no fires in the boiler. So I said the John, Well! I got hold of Jim Pollard and I said Look, We’ve dropped a bit of a clanger here because we’ve no fires in. Oh he says, There’s plenty of time, light ‘em again! I says Well, I’m not lighting any fires and he said we’ll have to! No, I said, We’ll start, we’ve plenty of steam but I don’t know how long it’ll run. What I’m going to do, I’ll start up and run as long as I can. Now it didn’t take ‘em long to sort out [the problem with the holiday pay] and by about half past two they were all sloping off and getting ready to go home. I know that nobody will ever believe it but that engine ran from one o’clock until quarter to three with no fires in the boiler. Mind you, there was hardly any load and there was no water in the glass when we finished.”

I’d better stop telling stories, I could go on all day. I think you might have the picture now. There is one more thing to report from the 1950s. On August 19th 1958 Wilfred Nutter died and Bancroft was left without a helmsman. Later that year the mill was sold to K O Boardman of Stockport and a new era began. The mistakes had been made, we were in the grip of global economic forces and flawed management decisions. All anyone was interested in was surviving. Bancroft had lost Wilfred Nutter but was to survive for another twenty years. Let’s have a look at what happened.

The mill yard in 1974. A bit overgrown and tatty. The building on the left is the old air-raid shelter which was used for storing sweeps.

In 1977 we had a demonstration of what Gillian’s Beck could do when it got angry. We never stopped but it was a close thing. The becks running off the moor react quickly to heavy rain.
We often mention children going to work half time, half a day in the shed and half a day in school. Talking to Fred about this made me realise that there was something I didn’t understand because as I understand it, the 1918 Education Act raised the school leaving age to 14 years and abolished half timing. Fred was born in December 1908 and so would only be ten in 1918 and should have missed half timing. The only exception I can find is that under the 1918 Act, half timing was allowed in rural districts until 1922 but specified work on the land. Perhaps the mill owners were taking advantage of this loophole. I think this is the explanation but have never found any official confirmation. If nothing else, this shows how important the family wage was in the weaving towns of NE Lancashire.

I asked Fred to give me his version of the chain of command in the sheds. “Well, at these little places there were t’boss at the top and then there’d he what they call the boss cut-looker. If there were any spoilt cloth he had authority to sack the weaver had the cut-looker. Then tacklers, they were in authority, they could set ‘em on and stop ‘em if they wanted. (The weavers) I don't suppose, well if the boss saw owt out of the ordinary he’d stop them. But them were who were the bosses over the workers. Then you’d have a boss in the twisting room, generally a loomer, and he’d be in charge of the twisters, if they didn’t pull their weight he were in authority to straighten them up a bit. But there were no managers at a lot of places in Earby, it were just the boss cut-looker and tacklers.” Fred agreed that it was usually a boss cut-looker that got the job of weaving manager of there was one going.

We talked about meal times and got onto the vexed subject of tea-brewing. Fred said, “You took your tea can, you brewed up at home then you took your can and you filled it up at work at the hot water boiler. It weren't boiling, it were just hot water. [When Fred says ‘brewed at home’ he means mashing the tea by pouring a little boiling water on the tea leaves. This would brew normally with just hot water in the mill.]” I asked him if they paid for the hot water. “Not at Bracewell Hartley’s but they were doing at Birley's. Them that wanted to, a lot wouldn’t do. It was a penny a week for hot water. The warehouse man used to stand there when they were coming away from the office with their wage, he were stood there and you'd to put a penny into the tin. A bit harsh were that, weren’t it?” I agreed with him because if you reckon up a place like Bancroft where they also charged for hot water at that time the revenue from the boiler came to a tidy sum. “They'd have eleven hundred loom running so eleven hundred looms, that’d be, well, if you divide ‘em by four, there were eleven times twenty five that’d be two hundred and fifty, there'd be about two hundred and sixty weavers and two hundred and sixty pennies a week. That’s a pound a week. In 1920 a ton of coal cost about £2 and it didn't take anywhere near half a ton to keep that boiler going for a week so the hot water boiler in the warehouse was a nice little earner”. (The Calf Hall Shed Company was paying 42/- a ton at that time)
One thing that always struck me when I talked to people like Fred was how clever the manufacturers were in getting the maximum production out of their workers, especially the weavers. They had a system which deprived the weavers of power, the only criterion that defined status was how much you earned and this fostered competition in the shed between the weavers thus benefiting production and profit. This was as true in 1978 when Bancroft finished as it was in the days Fred is describing. Weavers used to compete with each other for the most picks and sometimes small bets were laid. The whole of the manufacturing system was geared to this end. I have heard old managers say that they missed the steam engines because one of the great advantages of an engine is that when it starts, the weavers had to start, this was why time-keeping in the engine house was so important. In the spinning mills in the south of Lancashire they had instruments on the engine that recorded the number of revolutions the engine made in a week. Woe betide an engineer whose rev. count was down. He would almost certainly be on the red carpet in the manager’s office. It was noticeable in these sheds that on days when a lot of cleaning was done the engine ran faster, this was due to the engineer getting his count in for the week. This didn’t apply at Bancroft, the only measure used in the office was coal against cloth, not a bad way of reckoning efficiency.

In the early days of the water-powered industry there used to be a saying, ‘one foot in the field and one in the shed’. There was good reason for this, in summer when the water was low and the mills couldn’t work full-time there was always work on the hay harvest. Many mill owners ran farms in tandem with their mills for this reason, they could put their labour onto the land to fully occupy them. I was interested when Fred gave me evidence that this old tradition lingered on well after the watermills had finished. He said “When I got to be about fifteen and sixteen if there were any chance of going hay timing you know, [I’d be off] when I'd had my tea. And down what you call this Booth Bridge, I had a mate and he were on the dole and this farmer wanted a hay time man so he got on there for a fortnight and it were a bit of good weather and this farmer must have said, do you know anybody what’ll come down at nights. And he said “Aye one of me mates will.” So he told me and we finished at half past five. I dashed home, got me tea and on me bike. You used to work while half past ten at night and when it got to be Saturday as they'd finished I didn't know owt about payment for hay time. So he said “What do you want.” I said “I don’t know.” He says “Well, if I give you thirty bob will you be satisfied?” I said aye because every night when you'd finished you went in and it were very plain but you'd two slices of toast and two poached eggs. And about happen eight o'clock at night you got some sad cake or sommat like that and tea. You were well looked after and I thought my word, thirty bob!”

It struck me that I used to do the same thing when I was running the shop at Sough. Any spare time I had at haytime was spent helping Abel Taylor up at Greenbank and later on in the 1960s I was still doing it for friends. I think all this has finished now with the advent of machinery and sileage. I wonder, would young lads take such extra work if it was about nowadays? It was healthy work in the open air and an entirely different experience. As such I can’t think that it did us anything but good. One thing is certain, there were more links between the town and the country then than there are today.

In the 1950s any spare time I had was spent hay-making with Abel Taylor at Greenbank Farm on Gisburn Old Track. This was in the days when we worked with horses, Dick was a good intelligent horse and knew as much about the job as we did. Doing work like this gets you in touch with the ground under your feet.

While I was running the engine I lived here at Hey Farm and kept cattle. Every morning I walked down to work in the engine house through my own field, checked on my cattle and then went into the mill. One foot in the field and one in the shed. I could see my beasts out of the engine house window. They don’t make jobs like that nowadays. It wasn’t bad for the kids either…


From 1960 onwards the whole of the textile industry in the North had a common experience. I’m going to concentrate on Bancroft and Barlick but everyone had the same problems. Every firm was searching for improvements in efficiency but what hit them every time was a combination of ineffective measures and the flood of cheap textiles which was beginning to flood into Britain. Let me repeat the figures. In 1938 we imported 52,000,000 square yards of cloth annually, in 1950 this had risen to 287,000,000 with most of the increase accounted for by India, Japan and Spain. By 1960 the imports had reached 728,000,000 yards. This was foreign expansion on a par with what we had experienced domestically 100 years earlier.

I don’t want to beat you over the head with tales about mistaken decisions in the search for efficiency but I’m going to allow myself one last reinforcement by giving you another example of how things could go wrong.. I was talking to Newton Pickles about Rycroft’s at Broughton Road Shed in Skipton where Horace Thornton used to work.

“Anyway, eventually one thing comes to another and they had a fire, a reight fire, burnt t’top room reight off, tapes and everything. So when they got going again they decided they’d do away with the engine, electrified all the looms and put in a lot of new ones with motors already on them. I knew all about this, what had gone on, I had nothing to do with it. Anyway, three quarters of the way through winter I get a telephone call to go to Broughton Road Shed, they wanted to see me, the old boss wanted to see me who’d retired long ago. So naturally I went down and I didn’t go to the boiler house, I went straight to the office, I had an appointment for half past two in the afternoon. Eh Newton he says, I haven’t seen thee for a long while, come on in lad and sit down.

Now then he says, I want this lot here that’s running this place, and that’s just the way he talked, I want this lot here that’s running this place to tell you what they want, they’re burning rather a lot of coal in that Lancashire boiler for heating. This young chap’ll start!

T’young chap says, We’re burning rather a lot of coal. I says are you, have you kept the three-ram pump we put in donkeys years since for pumping all your [condensate] returns back to the boiler? Oh, he says, Where was that? So I thought we’re up against sommat here, he didn’t even know they had one. Anyhow he says, We’re burning as much coal as we were when the engine is running just to heat the mill and run two tapes in winter. Th’old feller says Newton, he’s telling bloody lies. The deliveries are exactly what they were when the engine was running but ask him where that 250 tons has gone off the stack! Eh well, the young chap looked a bit sheepish and he says Yes, that’s gone and all I’m afraid. I says Come on, let’s go and have a look.

So we went round to the boiler house. I’ve never put me face into such a place in all me life. It used to be kept reight nice and tidy and moderately clean you know, boiler gauges cleaned and all that. Everything were rusted up, water gauge glasses were sizzling out o’t bottom, one shut off and the other one open. No covering on the boiler front, a chap with hands as big as shovels throwing coal in like he were on the Titanic going to Africa or somewhere. Stokers all stopped, oh my God, what a mess! Anyway I stood a bit and watched him, I didn’t go in, I stood at t’door outside into t’yard, I watched him and didn’t say owt. I were careful about that, didn’t say owt, and his water’s coming nicely down t’glass and I thought well, he’ll have to pump it up wi’ sommat in a bit. I didn’t know what sort o’ pump he were using because I hadn’t seen our three ram that we put in. The engine house had been made into a winding room and our ram pump had been in the engine house bottom, there were no tank for condensate, I couldn’t see owt. I thought it might still be in th’old cellar you know. Anyway he comes out o’t boiler house and he goes round the corner and they had a blooming big fire pump about ten inch bore at t’pump end, about 2,000 gallons a minute. Well, he starts that up and it were chump-pong, chump-pong, and t’feed pipes were screaming across the boiler house and t’water went up the gauge glass, wheeee, just like that and the steam came down from 100psi to 30 while I were stood there watching it! Aye well, I says, Let’s go back to the office and have a talk!

The hot box at Bancroft where all the condensate came back to and was pumped into the boiler.

I never said owt to t’bloke that were on’t boilers, like a farmer or sommat. Anyhow it didn’t matter didn’t that because it were nowt to do with the chap. So we went back to th’office. I said Well, for a start off you’ve got no return system; you’ve scrapped it all haven’t you? Scrap chaps have taken it and all your steam from th’heating’s going down the grates. Cause it were puffing up all over the place in the boiler house. You really should have let me know and I’d have come down and telled you what the scrap could take and what he had to leave. First of all we want a tank and we want a pump and we want some hand brushes and a long brush and some shovels and get yon boiler house cleaned up and get t’muck swept off t’top o’t boiler. We want a half horse electric motor to run the stokers and I think, between you and me, we need a fresh fireman! Well, th’old feller says I’m not even going to ask you how much it’ll cost, just get it done. This were th’old feller, Get it done! That were unusual at Broughton Road, they were allus wanting to know an idea of what it were going to cost, which is t’reight way. Anyhow I got some lads down and we had a pump in stock and we soon made a tank and we were there for weeks before they got it all piped up. We put t’tank and t’pump in’t boiler house up one side, I had to get t’coal out o’t way and we put t’tank and t’pump in and got that working and we put a half horse motor on the stokers. Big shifts and little shifts I think the fireman must have realised and he chucked up so I were working down there with ‘em part time. There were me and Sidney and Jimmy and it were winter and we kept chucking an odd shovel full or two on and they didn’t bother about a fireman and I used to bank it up at night for ‘em. We went through most o’t winter like that. I got the motor on the stokers and got them working and I’ll tell you how far we went with that, I got a brand new damper regulator from Accrington and I put that on. Oh, and we put the connies back on line, they’d all been uncoupled. Well, we used to put steam in the mill at seven o’clock in the morning, bank the boiler up and you didn’t need any more in while dinner time wi’ all the returns coming back to the boiler. Tape returns an all because all the pipes were there; they’d just uncoupled them and shoved ‘em down any grates they could find. There were more steam coming out than Skipton Station and it were all coming out of Broughton Road. That system stayed in for donkey’s years and then eventually, it were only a year or two since, they put a package boiler in. That’s it, how long ago’s that, it must have been about ten or fifteen years since must that job [1963/68] and it were never touched no more until they put the package boiler in.”

The Weir steam driven boiler feed pump at Bancroft which was only used as an emergency measure if the electricity supply failed. You always need belt and braces.

Can you remember my explanation about fuel use in the mill? The experience of Broughton Road Shed wasn’t untypical. The management hadn’t taken the trouble to acquaint themselves with the facts and suffered accordingly. I often wondered why Bancroft was the only shed in Barlick that had kept its engine and asked Newton about this. He told me that when the NIFE men arrived at Bancroft to do their sales pitch Wilfred asked them to hang on while he got his engineer in. He rang Newton and explained what was happening so Newt dropped everything and went to the mill. He and Wilfred listened to what the salesmen had to say about the advantages of electrification and the guaranteed economies and when he they had finished Wilfred asked Newton what he thought about it. Newton said it sounded marvellous and that if the economies were true Wilfred would be daft not to do it. However, he said that just to be on the safe side Wilfred should ask the electricity company to state the economies in writing and give a guarantee that if they were not achieved they would pay for the reinstatement of the original plant. The NIFE men left, the guarantee was not forthcoming, the engine stayed in and Bancroft survived long after all the other firms closed. In 1978 when a man called Malcolm Dunphy was thinking of buying Bancroft Shed for his oil burner company I was asked to draw up comparative figures for energy costs of a 500kva load for the engine and mains electricity. The engine was half the price of the electricity. It is hard for people to accept this even now after all the evidence is in but steam engines were never uneconomic. People often talk about the ‘passing of the steam age’. Baloney! They should enquires what is driving the alternators at all the power stations except hydro and wind power. It’s steam turbines, even nuclear power stations need steam to convert the energy into electricity. The Steam Age is alive and well thank you!

The spinning industry was fighting as well and the major spinners invested heavily in new technologies to make them more competitive. Yarn imports were hitting them hard. I asked Jim Pollard if this ever made any difference and he told me that he never saw a decrease in the price of yarn due to new methods like the introduction of break spinning. On the contrary, in his opinion the quality of the yarns had fallen as the old machinery was scrapped. Something had changed in the balance of the industry. Since 1600 and the new light cloths from the Indies, the technology had driven the type and quality of cloth. After 1950 it seemed to be the market dictating what the technology should be.

I later had confirmation that there was perhaps something in this. As part of the Lancashire Textile Project I investigated the condenser mule spinning industry in the Rossendale Valley in 1979 and found it was something of a time-warp. The raw material they used was waste cotton from all over the world and they made heavy condenser yarn that was ideal for any cloth that had to be raised to put a nap on it like Winceyette sheets, night dresses and even the dreaded yellow duster. It was a niche market and they could sell all the yarn they made at a good profit. On November 4th 1988 I went with my mate Robert Aram to have a look at what was definitely the last mill in Lancashire to operate mule spinning. They were at Taylor and Hartley Fabrics Limited, Field Mill, Kenyon Street, Ramsbottom, Haslingden, Lancashire. BL0 0AB. Telephone Ramsbottom 2191. [I saw a stamp while I was there and got the details down on a piece of paper.] The condenser mules at Haslingden had finished by then and Taylor and Hartley were making the same type of yarn. The factor that finished them was the advent of continental duvets and the demise of the Winceyette sheets and nighties due to central heating. On such small factors whole technologies can hang.

The last mules in Lancashire.

When Wilfred Nutter died and Bancroft was bought by K O Boardman of Stockport in 1958 there was a lot of trepidation in the shed. Everyone was convinced that closure was imminent. This feeling never went away because all around the old manufacturers were going out and mills closing. As Jim said, Bancroft hovered on the verge of closure for over twenty years and he thought that this was definitely used as a management tool. In fact Bancroft never made a loss right up to closure. Jim had a theory, never proved, that there was another factor involved. Boardman’s imported a lot of finished garments from Pakistan and it may have been an advantage to them to be able to say that they had a weaving shed of their own. The label ‘woven in Lancashire’ was a powerful sales incentive. Deception had long been common in the trade, Jim said it was wonderful how much cloth woven in Barlick was sent to Ireland for finishing and came back labelled ‘Irish Linen’.

On the surface, nothing changed at Bancroft. As late as the mid 1960s we had a ‘housewife’s shift’, sometimes called the ‘moonlight shift’. This was a four hour stint from six o’clock in the evening until ten largely manned by women who had left the industry to look after their husbands and children. Jim said that many of them were weaving to keep the family car on the road. There were occasional periods of short-time working. This was a concept that was unique to the weaving trade in that there was an arrangement with the Labour Exchange whereby if the necessary notice was given, employees in the weaving trade could be put on the dole for a couple of days a week and receive full benefit without the ‘waiting days’, I think it was three days, that applied to industry in general. This was official recognition of the special case in the cotton industry.

There was the continuing pressure from the comparative wage levels in weaving and the other industries in the town. A weaver could leave the shed and go to work for another firm in the town and get a better wage for less work. The factor that kept them in the shed was that on the whole they enjoyed the work and the companionship. Weavers have told me that they considered Bancroft to be a holiday camp and there was always a good atmosphere in the shed. Jim Pollard was effectively running the mill by now and he leaned over backward to keep his workers happy. If there was any one thing that kept Bancroft going it was Jim, he made do with old healds and reeds, coped with every different cloth thrown at him and managed to keep close personal contact with everyone in the shed. There was one ploy in particular that he used to benefit the weavers.

When we were short of orders this meant that there would be less warps going down from the preparation department to the shed. A harsh management would address this by lifting warps out of a part set of looms and using them to fill up the other sets. This kept the cost of the guaranteed wage down by putting individual weavers on the dole, they were sacrificed for the general good. Jim took a different route, he wanted to keep his weavers happy so he arranged with the tapers to make half warps. This was making two weaver’s beams out of one. Of course this was less economic because it put the preparation cost up but it kept the weaver’s in full production as long as the orders kept pace with production. We wove many of these part warps and usually got away with it.

Another ploy was to take in ‘commission weaving’. This was to sub-contract to a firm that had an order that they either couldn’t weave fast enough or in some cases didn’t want to weave. In the 1970s we had quite a lot of work like this and one of the cloths was a special weave that was in effect three different cloths in one warp and was a combination of three fibres, cotton, worsted wool and an artificial fibre. It was used for the stiffening fabric in the lapels and collars of suits. This was difficult to draw, bad to weave and very dirty because it was shedding black fibre. The weavers hated it but it paid the wage and was a good earner.

Billy Lambert. Retired tackler, expert weaver and secret weapon.

Down in the engine and boiler house John and I were constantly looking for ways to save fuel by running more efficiently. I knew from past experience that small alterations could make a big difference to the balance sheet. I learned this early in my career as engine tenter in 1972. The man who had run the engine before me wasn’t God’s gift to engineering even though he thought he was the bee’s knees. When I took over the engine I made a lot of small adjustments to the valve timing, cover on the steam ports and on the governor. I also got some rope grease and over a period of about four weeks got over a hundredweight of tallow and graphite into the ropes. After a couple of months I had the engine running a lot better. Newton Pickles taught me all I know about steam engines and he used to call in frequently to check on me and make sure I was running safely. He came in one day after I had been doing my tweaking and as he sat there drinking his tea he noted the smooth curve of the ropes as they flew up from the flywheel to the second motion pulley and said he’d never seen it running so well. I had been working on another aspect of the engine as well, the speed. The engine was designed to run at 70rpm but over the years this had dropped back to below 68rpm. The reason for this was always said to be that the looms were getting older and couldn’t weave at the speed they were designed for. I could never understand this because they had been slowed down considerably when More Looms was brought in. I needed a secret weapon…

On the pensioner’s side near the lineshaft we had a weaver we called Billy Two Rivers (Billy Lambert), who was an ex-tackler who had stopped tackling after an injury to his neck caused by carrying heavy warps in to the looms on his shoulder, one of the casualties of the More Looms System. He was an excellent weaver who made more cloth on his eight loom set than most weavers could on ten. I had a quiet word with Billy about loom speeds because I knew that one of the tricks to getting the most out of the shed was to have the engine running at exactly the right speed for the atmospheric conditions. You might wonder what atmospheric conditions have to do with weaving… The leather belts were very sensitive to humidity, if the air was dry they tightened up and the looms ran faster, if moist they slackened and the looms ran slower. I knew I couldn’t assess this myself, only a good weaver could do it so I came to an arrangement with Billy that once the engine had settled down I’d go into the shed and walk up the lineshaft for my morning inspection. As I passed Billy he would surreptitiously give me a signal about the speed, whether to speed up a bit or slow down or even leave it as it was. Most mornings there was a slight adjustment one way or another and after a short interval I’d go back into the shed and get the nod from Billy that it was OK.

After about a month of this I found I was running at just over 69rpm and there were no complaints. Then one morning Jim came and had a sit with me and asked what I had been doing to the engine house speed, I knew I had been rumbled and confessed all to him. I asked him whether I had to go back to 68rpm and he said no way! He said I was the most popular bloke in the mill because the ploy had worked and it had been noted in the office that production had increased and the weavers were making on average £1.50 a week more than they had a couple of months earlier. What puzzled me was why the top management hadn’t realised what a difference a small improvement could make, after all they had 150 years of experience behind them.

Remember what Newton said about condensate returns and three ram pumps when he was talking about Broughton Road Shed? There was a firm called Spirax Sarco who manufactured steam traps and control gear. They provided a free correspondence course for steam users in industry and I sent off for it. I did it on the firm’s time during my odd few minutes away from the engine during the day. It was very thorough and I learned a lot. Using the knowledge I had gained I persuaded the management to buy some Spirax steam traps and went round the mill refurbishing old traps and replacing those that were worn out. Eventually I had every trap running efficiently and almost all the condensate running back into the hot well for feeding back into the boiler.

I had a big problem. Can you remember me mentioning that Bancroft had to apply for a licence to buy a Frank Pearn three ram feed pump in 1945? Installing this meant that the steam driven Weir pump could be put on stand-by thus saving steam. Thirty years later the pump had done good service but needed work on the valves. My problem was that it was a big job and I couldn’t afford to have the pump off-line as it was essential to running the mill. I had a word with Newton and found that they had a big three throw pump down at the workshop at Wellhouse Mill which they had made in the 1930s for Finsley Gate Shed at Harle Syke and had bought it back from the firm when they scrapped their mill. It was provisionally sold to Hill’s Pharmaceuticals at Harle Syke but Newton hadn’t heard anything from them. If I wanted it I could have it for £180 and the switchgear and wiring would bring the total up to £250. It was a good pump and managed correctly would solve our problem. Consider the case of normal running for average demand. The feed pump is set so as to replace the water lost by steam-raising as fast as it leaves the boiler. If demand goes up, the feed pump can be stopped and the water level allowed to fall. The fire can then cope with the increased demand without alteration because it isn’t heating cool water up. The converse applies if demand falls, the fires can be left as they are and the feed water rate increased to regulate steam pressure. I determined I would have it.

We need a bit of education here on the efficient management of the Lancashire boiler. You might think that if you want more or less steam the thing to do is have a bigger or smaller fire. You can do it that way but once a fire is running well on the grate it likes to be left alone. Every time you alter the feed or the draught it has to settle down again. The Lancashire boiler contains far more water than any comparable boiler and this capacity for water is your biggest asset if the fires are left alone and the feed rate speeded up. This is a very efficient way of managing a boiler and very safe.

We couldn’t run like this because the Pearn pump was losing ground against the boiler even though it was running flat out all day. I had to set the Weir pump on at dinnertime to catch up on the water level and at night after we had banked up I had to leave the Weir running while I went home for my tea and come back about two hours later to shut it off. So, once I had my figures I got Mr Birtles, our part-time managing director down into the engine house, and with Newton as back-up I set out the problem, the solution, the cost and the estimated saving of about a ton and a half of coal a week at £30 a ton. An irresistible argument, in six weeks the investment would have paid for itself and we would be making a profit of £50 a week. Mr Birtles did what he knew best, he immediately said no to any expenditure. I was ready for this, I’d seen him coming, I made him an offer. I said I’d put the pump in at my own expense in return for a written agreement to pay me half of the coal savings each week. This meant I’d have cleared the debt within ten weeks and after that I’d be on a bonus of at least £25 a week for the remainder of my employment. That did the trick, he agreed to the change.

Brown and Pickles delivered the pump onto its bed after John and I had carried over three tons of concrete into the cellar in buckets and poured the bed. We got the pump up and running replacing the Pearn pump and I stripped that down to refurbish it. Once it was in perfect condition I put it back in service and arranged it so that it pumped water permanently from the hot well around the economisers at the back of the boiler. Once it had passed back to the engine house cellar it was almost boiling and returned to the hot box. As soon as that was full it tripped a mercury switch controlled by a float in the box and the big pump kicked in and sent the water into the boiler. We put a bypass into the Pearn pump delivery pipe so that we could recirculate water back to the hot well under very fine control. This recirculation rate governed the speed that water was sent through the economiser and put in the boiler so we had perfect control over our boiler feed. We could run a wide range of flows with a simple valve adjustment, everything else was automatic and because the Brown and Pickles pump was so big we never again had problems with feeding the boiler. The coal consumption dropped by almost two tons a week, the firebeater’s job was much easier and I had steady steam on the engine which further improved my weaver’s lot. Wonderful!

There was one nice thing happened while Jim and Bob Fort from Brown and Pickles were helping to erect the pump. The big crankshaft on the top of the pump is made from a solid billet of what used to be called ‘90 ton’ steel. It took ten days to chop out on a lathe because it had to be turned on four different centres. Jim remembered making that shaft 30 years earlier. I asked him how he could be certain it was his and he showed me where he had made a mistake and turned a cheek off one of the end journals, it had to be compensated for by making a specially shaped bearing. Nice touch, if you go down into the cellar at Bancroft engine house and have a look the pump is still there and you can see the mistake.

Jim was busy as well. He found a large cone-winding machine that was going to be scrapped, bought it for scrap price and we installed it at the end of the winding department. The advantage was that it was cheaper and better to get our yarn on ring package, rewind it onto cones and use the cones to feed the Leesona and Britoba pirn winders. It made the winding department more productive, made better weft and saved money. The only innovation that originated with higher management was that they sacked Wild’s buses who had been running the worker’s transport from the mill to the town and vice versa to save them walking. They replaced the bus with an old Bedford van with boxes in the back to sit on. As soon as it arrived I spotted that the pinion bearing oil seal on the back axle was leaking and had to be replaced. Guess who got the job of doing that…

Bancroft was surviving but only because of the dedication and attention to detail of the workers. Foreign competition increased, markets shrank and profit margins were pared back even more. Despite all this, we were running in profit and as long as the orders kept coming in we would be OK, perhaps… I once asked Sidney Nutter why it was that as other firms packed in we didn’t get more orders and he told me that this had puzzled him all the time he had worked at Bancroft. Common sense said that it should help us but in practice it never did. Sidney reckoned that it was the mind-set of the buyers, if one source of cloth failed they didn’t bother looking towards the mills that were still running, they just ordered imported cloth, often at an initial discount to get them on the hook. He said that the trade had lost the will to live. I have to say that I agree with him.

The 1930s were important years for Fred. Our favourite 22 year old was in regular work, living at home and enjoying life. He was a regular church-goer and told me an interesting fact about the new church that was built in 1909 over the railway crossing near Lina Laithe to replace the tin tabernacle on School Lane which had served Earby since 1888. Fred said he used to ring the bell for the service but instead of a normal church bell they had a large piece of pipe and he had to hit it with a hammer. Fred said that it got to be a bit of a chore having to be there for every service and eventually he got into the habit of ringing the bell and then sloping off home. The parson, Fred thinks his name was Atkinson, took him to task about this and said that if Fred didn’t attend church he’d strike him off the electoral roll. This was too much for Fred and his church-going days finished there and then. This was a good example of the autocratic behaviour of those in the community who saw themselves as something akin to a squirearchy.

This topic came up when we started talking about courting and marriage. I’m a bit out of touch with courting customs nowadays but I’m willing to take a small bet that they were cheaper and just as effective 80 years ago. How it worked was that the lads went for a walk on what they called ‘The Rabbit Run’. This was a walk from Earby to Four Lane Ends at Colne, at Langroyd. “We never used to stop, just walk there, no calling in pubs or owt of that, walk there, home, bed, clogs on.” Word got about that there was a new lass called Margery living with her grandmother at Hague Houses between Kelbrook and Foulridge, Fred took an interest and 18 months later, in 1932, they were arranging their wedding.

The intention was to get married at Earby but the parson was so brusque with them, never even asking them in when they went to arrange for the banns to be called, that they went to Kelbrook and saw the vicar there. Fred said he was a nice man and made them welcome so they gave him their custom. It wasn’t a big do, they were hard up, Fred said there were about five people there. Forty years later, in 1972, Margery arranged a celebration at the White Lion for about 25 people, all the friends they couldn’t afford to have at the wedding breakfast.

Their first house was on Beech Street next to the station but Fred said the rent was 13/- a week [65 pence] and too much for them. Twelve months later they had moved to a cottage at Coolham Farm, just below the reservoir on Stoneybank. This was handy for the bit of land Parkinson had bought for his hens so Fred could help him but they decided to move down the hill to a cottage at Well owned by Jim Cowgill. They were there for a fair while but then Jim wanted the cottage back so they bought a house in Longroyd Avenue. They weren’t there long before his mother’s health started to fail so they moved into 14 Stoneybank to help Parkinson care for her. His mother died in 1952 and Parkinson followed her two years afterwards so Fred bought his brother’s share in the house Parkinson Inman bought in 1927 and lives there to this day.

At the beginning of WW2 Fred was living at Well cottage and working as a tackler at Birley’s in Albion Shed. He was deferred from war service because they were weaving for the army and he was an essential worker, he had to register but was never called up. He joined the Home Guard and told me many good stories about the things they got up to. We get the impression nowadays that it was ‘Dad’s Army’ but Fred said they were very serious and it was hard work. They used to man a lookout point on Pinhaw every night and it was hard to have to do this after a full day at your normal occupation.

The war meant guaranteed employment, short time was a thing of the past. However, you were tied to your job in the mill unless directed to work somewhere else by the authorities. This didn’t bother Fred but he said that as soon as the controls were lifted after the war many weavers changed jobs. [I know from a notice I have that was put up in Bancroft Shed that the Essential Works Order was terminated at Bancroft on May 1st 1946 and I assume this was the same date for all the mills.] The government cloth was checked for quality by visiting inspectors and Fred gave an example of this, “Well, they used to have fellas coming round testing the cloth to see that it were fully up to standard and I know one particular weave we used to have, if I remember reight they had about a 56 pick, and this fella came round and it had to go up to 58 and then they were weaving a lot of hundred yarders and they'd be coming out at a hundred and three and hundred and four yards. Well he made 'em check all of them, and all them bits had to be added on and then at the end of the war the weaver had to be paid for 'em. They gained that way did weavers with having the inspector coming round.”

The tramp weavers vanished and in some ways this lifted a load off the workers because they knew that if they were five minutes late they wouldn’t find someone else doing their job. One thing interested me, I had seen the hooks and eyes in the north light weaving shed roof at Bancroft for the wartime blackout but never understood how they worked. Fred told me that the windows were blacked out with frames covered with tar paper which were lowered into place by cords or pulled up against the ceiling out of the way during daylight. The edges of the window glass were painted black to stop any chinks of light showing. Ordinary upright windows simply had frames which were lifted into place.

Apart from the common hardships of uncertainty, rationing and the demands of the Home Guard, Fred and Margery survived the war as well as anyone and shortly after VJ day were living on Stoneybank and looking forward to better days. In some ways they were not out of the wood, like everyone else they had to go through another ten years of shortages and uncertainty as the country readjusted after a very close shave. What we often forget now is that the food rationing that started in February 1940 didn’t end entirely until 1953. There was also the fact that nothing had been spent on maintenance of the mills during the war and the effects of this were to be come increasingly evident as time went on. The country and its infrastructure were tired and it was going to take a long time to recover.

This was what Mr Tabiner hated. I confess that we were never as bad as this. I decided we’d better have a picture that showed what proper black smoke was so I got John to shut the dampers for a few seconds.

The Bancroft solution to economical worker transport, an old Bedford van with some boxes in the back.

Make do and mend. I made the new pipework needed for the Brown and Pickles three-throw pump at home out of odd bits of pipe robbed from elsewhere in the mill.


I had been busy thinking in the engine house during the winter of 1977/78. We were having problems with the stokers and I could see that more trouble would come as the weather warmed up. My problem was that the number of looms running had dropped to the stage where if there was no heat and the tapes weren’t demanding a lot of steam the boiler fires were so short that they were letting air in at the back. This ruined economy and made smoke.

Under the ‘Dark Smoke (Permitted Hours) Regulations, 1958’ the Council had the power to prosecute firms if the regulations were contravened. The inspector was known colloquially as ‘The Nuisance Man’, partly because the offence was causing a nuisance and partly because he was a nuisance to us. The man’s name was Mr Tabiner and he was usually quite reasonable with us but in 1970 there had been an extension to the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968 which allowed councils to designate areas in which domestic dark smoke came under the same legislation. Previous to this, whilst people didn’t like mills producing dark smoke they didn’t complain because they knew we were in trouble and their friends worked in them. Once the regulations were applied to the householders and fewer people had friends in the mill there was a different attitude to dark smoke from the mill. It became a case of ‘Why should they be allowed to get away with it when we can’t?’ There was another problem, Bancroft was on the SW edge of the town and the prevailing wind blew our smoke over the built-up area. The bottom line was that Mr Tabiner had let me know that he had less discretion and we should be very careful.

Apart from anything else, dark smoke is wasteful, it’s a sign of less than perfect combustion. I remember my friend Mr Birtles coming into the boiler house yard one day and complimenting me on the fact that we were running smokeless, there was just a faint haze at the chimney head. I told him that I wasn’t as pleased because I could see things that were invisible to him. I could see five pound notes fluttering out of the chimney and drifting away over Barlick. I knew of course that try as we may, we could never get better than about 70% thermal efficiency on the boiler so we were wasting at least £30 out of every £100 worth of coal we burned. That was what I meant by the five pound notes. He didn’t see the point, he told me that sometimes I said some very silly things…

So, as I say, I had been doing some thinking and this is what I came up with, a paper on possible savings on fuel and less dark smoke.

16th. February 1978

The Proctor Coking Stokers at present in use are getting in a very poor condition. Essential maintenance in order to maintain present levels of efficiency will cost at least £1700 this year and the same next year. If we take into account the unforeseen costs which will inevitably crop up we can safely assume that the total cost over the next two years will be in the order of £4,000 at todays prices. After all this expenditure we shall still be left with an inefficient, labour intensive system.

Three possible fuels. Gas, oil and coal. I have made enquiries and the price of gas would be the equivalent of £45 a ton for coal. This fact together with considerations such as availability and the cost of testing the boiler before conversion put this method out of court. Oil is a possibility but here again there are major snags in that there would be difficulties with the boiler and settings which would negate any economies gained. I feel we should stick to coal as this is the cheapest fuel at £30 per ton and would not entail any extra strain on the boiler or attrition of the settings. There are three feasible ways of firing coal. First is the chain grate. This is efficient but very expensive and time-consuming to maintain. Not recommended. The Coking stoker, expensive but efficient if we incorporate improvements lately brought out by Proctors to alleviate difficulties with short fires in summer. A major disadvantage with this is that it is not possible to get any significant degree of automatic running. If we are going to spend money we might as well finish up with a better system. The third and I think the most attractive system is the underfired stoker. With this system we have almost complete automation at quite a reasonable cost. This is the system that Sutcliffe and Clarkson adopted when they were faced with exactly the same problems that we have now. According to Jack Barret of the coal board they are showing a saving of about a third on their coal consumption even though they now leave the heating on all night. They were burning about 1000 tons a year the same as us. According to Jack they have dropped this to 600 tons but we must allow for poetic licence on his part. The actual figure could easily be found out by consultation with them. Their case is exactly the same as ours. In winter the heating is left on all night and there has been an increase in production in consequence with lower costs and less coal.

It seems probable that this will be in the region of £6000 /£7,000 to install. I have arranged for detailed estimates from two firms. Hodgkinson Bennis and another firm run by the brains who have defected from this firm recently who would put in a very keen price I feel. You will receive these as soon as they are presented.

I realise that finance is a problem and offer the following suggestions. At any one time we have about 180 tons of coal in stock in the yard and boiler house. If we were to burn this stock off in the period up to the summer holidays we would have a credit on the coal account of £5400 at £30 a ton. This would very nearly pay for the installation and if we are going to save as much as the coal board say we will there will be a saving of 150 tons by Christmas. In other words the stocks will be nearly replaced. I would take these figures with a pinch of salt until I had seen how we do but even if the fuel saving is only half of what they say we shall have rebuilt the stock inside one year on present coal purchasing levels. There is of course the risk of running without any stock at all. I would recommend that we clear the yard out completely and keep one load near to the boiler house in case of late delivery by British Fuel. There are two more sources of finance, one definite and the other possible. The Coal Board run a scheme whereby it is possible to draw three years discount in a lump and then pay full coal price for the three years. If the coal savings are greater than the discount this of course in a good deal but that would be up to you. The second source is Development Grants, Jack Barrett is looking into this as well.

I fee1 we should go for a system by which we can do away with excessive hours in winter on the boiler. It may be that we will find that we can cut the hours down on the boiler to perhaps four a day. I would not favour one man doing both the engine and the boiler as it is too much and one job or the other would suffer. Apart from this the engineer would quite rightly want extra money for doing both jobs and there would be no saving. There is little point in doing the job unless we do it properly and gain the maximum amount of saving. The coal handling arrangements will have to be rearranged anyway as we shall need more room at the front of the boiler to operate the stokers, this will almost certainly entail going over to conveyor or blower delivery which will put about 50p per ton on costs but will ease the load in the boiler house considerably and be saved in labour. You would be amazed at the number of hours spent moving coal about under our present system.

It will take a fortnight to change over and therefore it is a summer holiday job. In view of the fact that we are going to have to do something anyway may I suggest that we aim for conversion this summer. If you take up the suggestion of burning the coal off it would mean starting to burn stock by the middle of April. The only other alternative is to take an extra week off at September and give us a fortnight then. The first thing we should do to is see Sutcliffe’s and find out the advantages. It may be that they were more uneconomical than us in the first place.

I took the paper up into the office and waited to see what transpired. I heard nothing about it until the end of August 1978 when Birtles came down to the engine house and told me to burn the stock. I asked him if this meant they were going to take up my suggestion about fitting new stokers and he said that he would let me know. When John came into the engine house for a brew that afternoon he asked me why I was looking so glum. I told him that he was looking at the biggest bloody fool in Barlick, I had closed the mill. Jim Pollard came in a bit later and I told him the same thing. He obviously knew something but was keeping it to himself. He told me that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself and the best thing to do was wait and see.

On the 22nd of September a notice was pinned up throughout the mill.


As everyone will have read in the local press, we have received the attached letter from the Borough of Pendle Council.
The Directors, having considered the position, and taking into account the effects of running at 50% capacity, the general trading conditions which have persisted for the past few years, and the cost of eliminating the smoke problem, have reluctantly decided to announce that the Company will cease trading when all existing orders are woven out.
All redundancy payments will be honoured and a firm date for closure will be given after consultation with the unions concerned. We take this opportunity of thanking everyone for their loyal support over the years.

Signed P J Birtles. Managing Director.

The letter from the Council referred to was dated 5th of September and was in effect an ultimatum that should no concrete scheme for eliminating the smoke be presented in the following six weeks the Council would seriously consider prosecuting the company.

I really do believe that until I reminded them they hadn’t realised that they had £6000 tied up in coal stocks. Whatever, we now knew the worst, we were weaving out and would the last person to leave please turn off the lights.

At the end of the war Fred was still tackling for Birleys at Albion Shed, he was reasonably happy there but could see what was in the wind after the war finished. Talking about the manager there he said “You were allus in the muck and the way he used to talk when this come on, you know. He'll go, she'll go. [after the war] I thought yes, he's going to be back at th’old do, I mun be away from here afore he gets on to that again. I disappeared and so did a lot more what he’d been on to. They got a bit of a shock did some of them type of managers what were going to go back to the old system after the war ‘cause it never came about. There were one at Johnsons, I've heard about him, he used to say “Wait while the war's finished, I’ll have about twenty weavers stood in warehouse, I’ll alter this carry on!” He never got to do it ‘cause it never happened. You could see what they were, bullies, they were nowt else.”

In 1948 Fred went to work for a small firm called New Bridge who were weaving silk at the Big Mill as tenants, they had about 200 looms and paid a good wage. To give you an idea, there was one weaver there who gave up a good clerical job at £6 a week to go weaving for £10. Fred’s wage went up as well and he felt he was better treated. One of the biggest changes in the trade after the war was that there was competition for labour from new firms like Rolls Royce who paid better rates and guaranteed wages. The textile trades were still basically on piece work and it was obvious this had to change, the piece rate never went away, weavers were still paid by the pick at Bancroft as late as 1978, what changed was the introduction of what the weavers called the ‘fall-back’ rate. In effect this was an amount of money that the weaver was entitled to even if they had a bad week and hardly any picks. At the time Bancroft finished in 1978 this was about £26 and a top class weaver could add perhaps £15 to this on pick rate.

Fred agreed that the changes in wage rates were good for the weavers but he saw bad effects as well. “They got as we say slip shod, they didn't care a hang, 'cause they could see there were nobody coming into the trade. Rolls Royce were at Barlick, Rover were at Sough and they were going into these other industries and they were taking advantage then were workers in the mill.” For once the weavers had the upper hand, all the manufacturers were short of labour. The pressures of low productivity and higher wages started to take their toll and by the 1950s those firms that had survived were under intense pressure from foreign competition. While the government and various industry committees argued about what to do, the industry quietly slipped away.

There was one notable exception in Earby, Johnson and Johnson at Victoria Mill. Fred could see which way the wind was blowing at New Bridge and went to work for Johnsons in 1952. This turned out to be a good move, he was to stay there until he retired in 1973. Johnson and Johnson were one of the first firms to make the change to self-threading shuttles. As early as 1912 a Home Office Report concluded that the suction shuttle had no definite links to ill-health, although it did assert that the practice was unsanitary and alternative methods were encouraged. The self-threading shuttle became mandatory in the UK in 1952 but many older firms were very slow to make the change because of the expense, I have a kissing shuttle that was made in 1973. Johnson and Johnson bit the bullet early and also respaced their looms to make access easier. As we’ve seen before, Percy Lowe and his successors were keen on improvements to make the mill cleaner and safer to work in, they were one of the leaders in the trade in terms of working conditions.

In 1976 Fred was enjoying a well-deserved retirement after over 50 years in the weaving shed when he had an unexpected visitor one evening. It was Jim Pollard, weaving manager at Bancroft Shed in Barnoldswick who had a bit of a problem. The mill was doing as well as it had in previous years and if taxed the directors were very optimistic about future prospects. However, there were people in the mill who knew even more about the weaving trade than the management, they understood the significance of part warps, small orders for unusual cloth types and commission weaving. These were all unmistakeable signs that the situation was worsening, it wasn’t a matter of if the shed would close but when it would happen.

One of the first results of workers losing confidence in their job security is that they start to look for a way out, exactly what Fred did in 1948 when he was at Birleys. At Bancroft we saw some of our best weavers move out, many of them to Johnsons at Earby where good weavers were still in demand. Even more significant, Jim found he was a tackler short. Luckily enough, Jim was an old Earbier and knew about Fred and the fact that he was retired. I don’t think Jim had to work very hard to persuade Fred to come and help us, he was like an old fire-horse hearing the alarm bell and sprang straight into action.

This was when I first met Fred in the tackler’s cabin in the warehouse at Bancroft. His reputation had preceded him and Ernie Roberts told me we were in for a treat, he said that Fred was one of the best tacklers and nicest men he knew. As usual, Ernie was right, Fred settled in with us as though he had been there for years and the weavers on his set thought the world of him. There was no firework display, no settling in period, Fred just started doing what every good tackler does, he kept his weavers happy and the looms running. I soon got into the habit of talking to Fred and listening to what he had to say and in the breaks between our respective duties he advanced my textile education even further.

Many of my readers will have worked in the shed and know just how important it is to have a good tackler but for the benefit of the younger ones it might be a good idea to explain. The tackler or loom-overlooker was, if you like, the loom-tuner, he gaited the loom up with a warp, adjusted the loom for the type of cloth needed and started it weaving. Once he was satisfied that all was well he handed over to the weaver who carried on. The only time the tackler went back to that loom was when the weaver asked for his help, maybe for an adjustment, re-tightening a wheel or gear on the shaft or repairing a breakage. Sometimes there was a really bad smash and a bunch of warp ends were broken, the tackler identified the cause, put it right and often took all the ends up for the weaver so that she could carry on weaving and not be held up. It could take two hours to repair a bad smash and on an eight loom set that was eight looms idle if the weaver had to do it.

What was perhaps more important was how nice the tackler was with his weavers. They could soon get fed up with a tackler who was grumpy, stingy with his time or blamed the weaver for everything that went wrong. Fred was none of these, I never saw him lose his temper and he always treated his weavers with respect, he acted towards them more as a partner than an overlooker. In short, he was as near perfect as you could hope for. I used to love to get him going on the difference between the way Bancroft was run and his experience down at Johnson’s, he knew things were bad with us but even so he was amazed to see Jim cutting old reeds down, cobbling healds together and cutting every corner he could to keep expenses down and the looms running. He laughed at our uneven floors, archaic equipment and even the state of the toilets.

Like all the old hands he was glad to get back to a shed driven by an engine through shafting and belts, he said that Lancashire looms wove better off the shafting than on individual electric motors. He liked to come down into the engine house for a cup of tea and would sit there watching James and Mary Jane doing their stuff. John Plummer, my firebeater, and I had got running the boiler and engine to a fine art and I’d like to think he appreciated this. Like all competent men, we were never in a hurry, we anticipated steam demand and lighting load and the whole plant purred like a well-oiled machine.

In September 1978 the closure was announced and the first thing that happened was that all workers over retiring age had to finish. As Fred was 69 he had to go and that was the last time he worked. I’m happy to say that he had a long and happy retirement. He once told me that it was impossible to get a good pair of braces and his were nearly worn out so I brought him a pair back from America and you’ve never seen a bloke more delighted. That was the last time I saw him in his house on Stoneybank, after that I visited the care home in Barlick where he stayed during his final years. He died quietly with no fuss in 2007 when he was 98 and the world was poorer for his passing.

Colin, Mary and Gwen on the last day we wove. A cynic might say that this showed they were glad the mill was closing but I don’t think so. This was the spirit that got us through a world war, whatever happens, keep your sense of humour!

It may well be that there is a serious gap in my reading and research because I can’t ever remember reading anything detailed about the process of weaving a shed out. I want to fill this gap. Luckily I don’t have to rely totally on memory because as soon as we heard the news of closure I started to make an audio diary of what was happening. I shall rely on this heavily so remember that if you get impressions of sadness, anger or resignation this is because these were the emotions that were ruling us at the time.

Here’s the first thing I recorded, “Today is Thursday 21st of September 1978. On Tuesday 19th September we finally got the word that we have been expecting for a long time now that this mill is going to weave out on December 22nd. In other words, we are all going to be redundant, out of a job. This is no shock but it’s very sad. I think everybody feels the same way about it. It's a shame, Bancroft is a happy place to work at, and it seems that happy places to work at can’t make money these days.”

I think that sets the scene for our story, despite the fact that we all knew what was coming, the confirmation of our worst fears was a blow. It’s fair to say that we were in shock. Looking back on the event thirty years later I am glad that I was part of it happening. It meant that I could observe and share the reactions of my fellow workers and if I am reminded of anything, it is the spirit that was abroad in WW2. We were in trouble, the future was uncertain and the defence was to look after each other and make sure we never lost our sense of humour. I learned more about the character of the workers in the next three months than in the preceding six years.

[From here, anything that I have lifted verbatim from my audio diary will be in quotation marks]

Weaving out, cold shed, empty looms and fewer workmates.

“I should just explain one or two things about the actual mechanics of weaving a shed out. It has to be understood that weaving, like any other manufacturing process, is a pipeline, raw materials are going in at one end and finished cloth comes out at the other. When I say finished cloth it’s grey cloth in our case which is the trade term for unfinished cloth, it’s actually white unbleached cloth. We have to contract for our raw materials and people also contract with us to supply them with cloth so it isn't possible to just shut the doors and go home and say ‘That’s it, Bancroft's finished.’, we have to honour our yarn and cloth contracts. In effect what this means is that Bancroft will now start to weave out. In other words as cloth contracts finish machines will be shut down and they won't start up again. As the number of looms drop, so the number of weavers will drop. We still have some sets to tape but as soon as they have been done the taper will go. So we are now entering a period of rapid decline which will last about three months and we shall weave out on or about 22nd of December. It may be a day or two earlier. Who knows, we might have a little more to do, I don't know but it will be something like that. When we reach the end the mill will be run by three or four people, the last tackler and possibly one weaver will be weaving out. Jim the manager will still be here because he has got his twelve week notice and of course I shall still be here to provide motive power. I shall make sure the fire beater's also here as well. I can see the situation arising where the management will say that due to the decreased load we don’t need a fire beater. That’s wrong because as the load decreases on the engine it becomes more difficult and dangerous to run. In many ways the easiest engine to run is a fairly heavily loaded engine because you have no problem about suddenly fluctuating load as any such event is such a small proportion of the total load. On very light loads you only need somebody to shut down one small thing and you could lose 25% of your load, which can mean your governor flying out. When I say the governor flying out, it moves in such a violent way that the safety gear overrides everything and shuts the steam off to the engine and stops it. However, I shall surmount these difficulties by running the engine at a lower pressure as we go on, even though there is no point running at below 80psi. because you lose so much efficiency.”

It interests me as I read this thirty year old material that even in the first days of weaving out I was thinking about the strategies we needed to adopt to stay safe. My biggest fear was having an accident in the last days of the mill as circumstances changed. I spent a lot of time trying to foresee the difficulties and forestalling them. While we are talking about safety we should look at the governor in greater detail because its efficient operation was going to be very important as the load dropped.

“The governor is driven by three ropes down the right hand side of the flywheel from a pulley on the fly shaft to a pulley at the bottom of the governor. From there the motion is transmitted by a bevel gear to the shaft up the centre of the column to the governor. This shaft and the bob weights turn proportionate to the speed of the flywheel shaft. We might as well get it over with, the old joke about the governor is that as the speed rises the governor's balls fly outwards. The action of the governor is self evident, as the speed rises the balls are pulled outwards by centrifugal force. As they try to fly out they raise a bob weight on the drive shaft which is just a way of counterbalancing the power in the balls. As the bob weight moves up and down it controls the linkage which connects the governor to the Dobson block catches in the valve gear which control the amount of opening on the valves. The result is that as the engine speeds up the governor shortens the travel on the valves and as the engine slows down the governor lengthens the travel thus keeping the engine at a constant speed. There is also the Wilby speed regulator which improves the action of the governor. If there was no speed regulator the governor would have to control the valves over the full extent of their travel which would mean that a very small movement on the governor would mean a large alteration of the valves. This would mean that it was very sensitive and this is a bad thing in a governor as it leads to what we call hunting. In other words the governor overcorrecting one way or the other all the time, it can't settle down to a steady level.

The regulator gets over this difficulty by allowing you to build the governor in such a way that it only controls a very narrow range of the actual valve travel, thus making it very steady. This means that if the fluctuation of load on the engine extends beyond the range which the governor can cope with it can't manage it. This is catered for by the speed regulator which alters the length of the linkage rods between the governor and the valve gear. This means that the governor controls a fairly narrow range of the engine speed and the speed regulator moves that range up and down the total power range of the engine. So what you have is a very steady governor working on a small range of the valve travel and the speed regulator alters the position of that range in relation to the overall range of the engine power as and when it’s needed during the day. This means that in the case of any sudden load on the engine or sudden cessation of load due to a shaft breaking or perhaps the governor ropes breaking, something like that, the governor can't cope, so there is a safety gear fitted. The safety gear consists of a peg which, if there is a sudden violent fluctuation of the governor one way or the other breaks the link in the connection of the governor to the valves. The governor rod drops to the bottom and both steam valves on the high pressure cylinder are shut by the dashpot springs and don’t open again until the gear has been reset. This means that no steam is going to the engine and it slows to a halt. This safety gear is also controlled by a system of buttons in the mill and the shed similar to a fire alarm. If you break the glass the switch in the casing flies open, breaks the circuit and a hammer drops on the governor and knocks out the safety peg. This is a very safe system because the solenoid which holds the hammer up is powered by the supply of electricity that comes through these buttons from the mill. If the supply of electricity to this safety gear ever failed the hammer would automatically drop and the engine would stop so it's a fail safe mechanism. If there is any malfunction in the safety gear itself the engine will stop.

In fact this isn’t a very efficient way of stopping an engine. An engine is like a railway train, it's a large moving mass with a lot of energy locked up in it. The flywheel and shaft weigh something like 30 tons and it's moving at 69rpm. There is about 300 tons of shafting in the shed which is all moving and full of kinetic energy. It's impossible to stop it immediately so even if somebody breaks the circuit in the mill it'll be at least two or three minutes before the engine stops which would be a long time if you were caught up in a shaft and being dragged round by it. There is a way of speeding up the stopping of the engine and that is by having a vacuum breaker as well. In other words, when the safety gear is tripped, it not only shuts the steam valves but also opens a valve on the exhaust to the condenser which allows air to rush in and break the vacuum on the low pressure cylinder. This is because even when the steam's turned off, for a minute or so there is enough vacuum in the system to keep the engine running. This engine hasn’t got a vacuum breaker on and never has had. I can’t really understand why, I should have thought that every engine would have had one.”

I think it may be about time I made a confession about the Tate’s Patent Stop Motion on the Bancroft engine. In theory this was a brilliant safety device that was fail-safe and enabled anyone in any part of the mill to stop the engine if necessary… The only problem was that it didn’t work. That’s right, it was useless. The problem was that when the solenoid was de-activated and the hammer fell it didn’t knock the cam out in the governor linage. I tried many a time to adjust it so that it would stay in under normal running but work when the hammer dropped. I never succeeded. I’m sure if I had applied myself more to the problem I could have cracked it but I never bothered because I was protected by the over and under speed catch and was constantly in attendance. Nobody will admit it but many of these stop motions were either ineffective or by-passed.

I have a story about safety… I was running the engine one day when the fire alarm went off. In theory what I should have done was stop the engine immediately and go round to ensure that the mill was evacuated. What I actually did was heave a big sigh because from previous experience I knew that what was most probable was that a tackler had caught one of the fire alarm buttons with the pike on the end of a warp and broken the glass. So I cancelled the alarm, walked round the engine checking my oils and then went to the treasure chest, got a spare glass and the key for opening the alarm button case and sauntered out into the warehouse on my way to the shed.

The first thing I saw was Ernie, one of the clothlookers, running across the top of the warehouse and into the shed carrying a teapot. This was not normal behaviour, Ernie didn’t usually run and never with a teapot in hand. Intrigued, I went into the shed which was working as normal except for two things, Billy Two Rivers was stood next to one of the engine stop buttons with a tackler’s spanner in his hand and when I came through the door he said ‘Shall I stop the engine Stanley?” I told him no because I knew it wouldn’t work and anyway I had no spare glasses for those buttons, they were bigger. I think Billy was quite disappointed, he’d worked in the mill all his life and never had a chance to stop the engine.

The other curious circumstance was a faint haze of blue smoke in the middle of the shed. I went to it and found Ernie extinguishing a small amount of glowing waste cotton under a loom by pouring water on it from the teapot. It was very effective and the smouldering waste was soon cold and wet. What had happened was that the bottom rod of the loom had been rubbing on the floor and the friction had started the waste smouldering. Problem solved, I replaced the broken glass, went back to the engine house, initiated the alarm system again and tested it and then brewed up. It was only as I sat there that the full enormity of what I had done struck me, suppose it had been a serious fire, I could have been responsible for death and injury. I made a mental note that in future I would behave differently and got on with the day. Looking back this was a very human failing, I admit I was totally in the wrong but this is how human beings react to circumstances like these, they think that it can’t be happening. I was lucky, no harm done but a lesson had been learned. I am reminded of the story about Napoleon who, when being told about the virtues of a general interrupted his informant and said “Yes, but is he lucky?” You can be the best man in the world but every now and then you need luck on your side. There is one other matter which strikes me, I knew that if I stopped the engine while the tapes were running and the tapers didn’t get across to the donkey engine quickly enough to get it in gear and keep their machines going it would ruin the warp being taped, an expensive matter. This is no excuse but was one of the factors I would have in mind.

I forget the name of the lady on the left but the other two are Phyllis and Gwen.
I think I talked more to the weavers once we knew we were on the way out and if anything this reinforced my opinion that they were the salt of the earth. I think if anything we had more laughs at this time than before. I can remember being party to a hilarious conversation with Phyllis Watson and Gwen about a film they had been to see, ‘Last Tango in Paris’. I remember that I found them creased with laughter next to the tea urn and when I asked to share the joke Phyllis told me it was about the strange things people could do with half a pound of butter. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination but my education was advanced yet again.

Left to right: Essie, Susan, Gwen and Phyllis.

One of the unexpected problems we encountered was the depressing effect that empty looms had on the weavers. When we started weaving out there were probably 400 looms in the shed that had been empty for years and over time they had acquired a covering of dawn or fly, perhaps over an inch thick in places. They looked for all the world as though they had been left out in a snow storm. These never seemed to bother the weavers but when sets started emptying amongst the working looms and a weaver suddenly found herself surrounded by dead looms and a friend who had woven there was missing it hit them hard. Jim soon caught on to this and after having a word with the weavers concerned he spoke to the tacklers and we gradually consolidated the looms that were still running to the front of the shed nearest the warehouse.
Some of the weavers and a couple of the tacklers decided not to wait until the bitter end and left voluntarily. This meant that they didn’t get the statutory redundancy pay but they thought it was worth going into another job rather than facing the long slow decline. The redundancy pay wasn’t much, anyone who qualified received one weeks pay for every year worked up to a maximum of 20 years. This was hard on anyone who had more than twenty years of service and in some cases got harder still. If you were coming up for retirement and that date fell before the actual closure you got nothing. Fred Cope, one of the clothlookers fell into this trap. He had more than twenty years service but was due to retire, poor Fred didn’t get a halfpenny which we all thought was rotten luck. There was more, when I got my form RP3, the official notification of redundancy pay due to me, I found that the redundancy payment was based on a flat weeks wage with no overtime. I argued successfully that this was wrong and the payment should be based on total pay including overtime averaged over the 12 weeks before the notice was given. It took a couple of weeks of infighting with the office but when I threatened to take the firm to court they agreed that I was right. I made sure that everyone knew exactly what had happened to me so that they could check their payments. I could have done without this, it left a nasty taste in the mouth. There was another niggling little thing, we were running out of toilet rolls. Don’t ask me why but as engineer I was the keeper of the toilet rolls! When I put an order into the office I was told not to bother “They would bring their own.”. I have to report that there was a confrontation and the toilet rolls were bought but in penny packets as required from the local supermarket.

While all this was going on I was working hard on the Lancashire Textile Project in my spare time. Knowledge that we were on our last legs spurred me on to add to my archive of photographs of the mill while I had a chance. There was only one problem, film was expensive and I was watching the pennies, we didn’t know where my next wage was going to come from. I gave it a bit of thought and what transpired was one of the nice things that happened as we were sliding towards the abyss. I rang Tom Clark’s secretary at Silentnight, I think the lady’s name was Mrs Tyldsley and she had worked as his secretary forever. I asked her to have a word with Tom and let him know I needed £50 for film. An hour later a chauffeur driven limousine rolled up outside the engine house and Mrs Tyldsley got out, came into the engine house and shoved five tenners into my hand. I thanked her and asked if she needed a receipt, she said there was no need, the money was out of Tom’s back pocket. A nice gesture and not the first time he had helped. What sun there was shone a little brighter that day.

“It is a truism that a weaving manager likes to go into the shed and see the weavers sat down because that is when they are making money. A good weaver isn't sat there if there is any shuttling to do or any ends down so if the weaver's sat at the end of the alley it means that everything's weaving all right and there is cloth rolling off. In other words, as long as they are sat down it's 100% production. When you come to think, this is true of a lot of other trades as well. I know if I was employing a man and he was for ever rushing around in small circles I’d start worrying about him. I like the men that always seem to have plenty of time and that's one of the things about weaving, a good weaver is a joy to watch, there isn't a movement wasted and every chance they get they’ll sit down and take a rest. They seem to work round in a rotation, even on different weights of weft, where shuttles aren’t lasting the same length of time, they are to be able to keep up a routine and a rotation round the looms. This means that they never have to run from one end of the alley to the other. Just one of the little skills that goes to make up a good weaver and we have got some good weavers here. I’m afraid they are dying out, nobody's training them now. Apart from anything else, in order to train a weaver, the weaver has to have an incentive to work, and that's one of the things that’s missing now, there isn't the same incentive to work as there was. Take our position now, we are going to be redundant on the 22nd of December. We are told that we'll get redundancy money, earnings related supplement, the dole and back tax. Wages are so low in this shed that some employees will actually be getting more money on the dole than they would if they were working. When John Plummer came to work with me he took a drop in income to get back into a job, he could get more from the benefits system because he had children than he could make on his wage. In many ways this is a fine thing, I'd rather have that than the hungry old days, but in other ways it's wrong, people should have to work for their living.”

I sat there looking at the engine, installed in 1920, just about run in and good for at least another 100 years knowing that on the balance of probabilities it would be scrapped inside 6 months. Scrapping an engine is murder, especially when you have had something to do with it. A steam engine is almost a living being, I don’t know what it is about them, I've often puzzled over this. I think part of it is the gentle giant syndrome, everybody likes elephants, big blokes, big ships and steam locos. They are warm, they keep you warm in winter. Mill engines are lovely things to work on, plenty of room, plenty of stuff to polish up - not that I have ever been noted for going crackers with the Brasso! I'd rather keep them running sweet. You can sit in a house with an engine running smoothly and it is very soothing.

No doubt the more technically minded amongst the people who read this will know something about indicating steam engines. Indicating a steam engine is a way of finding out exactly what's going on inside the cylinder as an aid to valve settings and diagnosis of faults. There has probably more been written about indication than any other single subject concerned with steam engines. I'm afraid that I am here today to tell you that the biggest part of it is all a load of tripe. There’s a lot of difference between the theory of running a steam engine and the practice, and I should think this is the same in every other walk of life. It’s possible to adjust the valves on this engine to give a perfect indicator diagram and the engine will run like a basket full of pots. There is only one thing that counts, how evenly the flywheel is being turned and that’s basically all you need to know about whether an engine is running right or not. It's easy to tell with a rope drive engine, when you go into an engine house where there is a rope drive just look at the ropes. If they are swinging across to the second motion pulley in a big smooth curve and hardly kicking at all, just gently rising and falling, that engine's running right. If you go in and you see the ropes flogging about and jumping up and down, either they have been very unfortunate and they have got a very bad rope drive, in other words the harmonic frequencies in the drive are wrong, or they have got a badly adjusted engine, most likely the latter. So, the rule about indicating is that it's a good thing to do every couple of months just to give you an idea of any faults that are developing but it certainly is not the ultimate guide to valve setting. There are so many things which can affect the running of a steam engine and really the only way to get to know is to sit with them and live with them as I have with this engine for the last five years.

“In three months all this'll be over and it's very sad. You have got to make a conscious effort not to actually, I wouldn't say go into a decline, but you have got to harden yourself against the knowledge that everything that you have looked after and cared for is going to be smashed up. It killed people in the old days, some of the old engine tenters just went into a decline and quietly died when they smashed their engines up. I can understand it. I must admit to being depressed myself this morning, it’s a couple of days now since we got the word and it's just about sunk in. What we have to look forward to is decline. It'll finish up that there'll just be Jim Pollard, Ernie Roberts on the last set of looms, me running the engine and John Plummer on the boiler. There'll be four of us and we'll have the job of killing it. I say we'll have the job of killing it, we won't actually, I shan't because I have already told Newton Pickles from Brown and Pickles that he can stop this engine for the last time. It's the last one he worked on, all the others have gone so I think it's only fair that he should stop it. When this engine stops it'll be the end of an era for Barnoldswick anyway, the last engine in Pendle and the last of the big weaving mills in Barnoldswick. This town used to have 25,000 looms to 11,000 people and when Bancroft stops that's it, there'll just be two little units, one with about 80 loom and the other with 98. What we are seeing is the end of the first part of the industrial revolution. In some ways I am glad I've been here to see it. In fact I am very grateful for the chance that I have had to record the finish but in other ways I am very sorry because what started off as just an interesting job and a pleasant exercise has become for me, the same as a lot of other people in the industry, a way of life and there is going to be a big change in my life when this engine stops. Anyway, I suppose we'd better look to the future and remember those famous words of Walt Fisher, ‘When they did away with the engines, they did away with a lot of bloody hard work.’”

That was direct from the audio diary and it was straight from the heart. However, the depression I was feeling then had to be put on one side because we had an engine and a shed to look after.

Running a plant like Bancroft is largely a matter of having a good routine. There are jobs like checking the oils on the engine that have to be done every ten minutes, the other maintenance jobs like lubricating the big lineshaft bearings can range up to a month. Others are even longer. One of the thoughts that constantly came to mind was that in the middle of a task you’d suddenly realise that this was the last time you would have to do it. It wasn’t until it came to this that you realised how soul-destroying the job of weaving out could be.

One good thing about the amount of time and effort I had put unto getting the engine as near to perfect adjustment as possible was that it was much easier to manage on the declining load. It’s the biggest test of an engine. I remember Newton coming in to sit with me one day and as we were supping our tea he asked me how many looms I had on and I think it was under 100. The steam was at 140psi and the engine running beautifully on very small valve openings. He paid me the biggest compliment I ever had, he said “It’s running better than any time since it was new. We might make an engine tenter out of you yet!” Praise indeed from a man who probably knew more about steam engines than anyone else in the world at that time. I was lucky in many ways, not least in having Newton for a mentor.

By the time we got into the final days we had got a good routine going and were managing well. We were in the heating season and it was interesting to see how little difference there was in coal consumption as the load went off. This was confirmation of what I had always said about the relative energy consumption of the engine, heating and process. I think that in a way we had all resigned ourselves to our fate and it was slightly less depressing.

There was another change that was a constant reminder of what was happening. One of the consequences of being one of the last steam-driven mills was that we always had a trickle of people turning up at the engine house asking to see the engine. I always treated them well and enjoyed the interest but as we neared extinction the word got round and we got more and more visitors. I still let them in and was polite to them but every now and then I cracked and told them that it was strange that we had run in almost total obscurity for 57 years and we were suddenly a must-see attraction.

The visitors weren’t all your normal steam enthusiasts, we were honoured by a rather more important personage one day when Peter White, the Inspector Of Ancient Monuments from English Heritage called in. I asked him how the government could allow what was probably the best example of a steam-driven mill be destroyed, together with all the skills that went with it. I asked him if he knew that Brown and Pickles were going to finish as well, another repository of irreplaceable skills. I said that the obvious thing to do was buy the mill, divide the shed, install B&P in one side and weavers on the other and run the mill making tea towels for the government and using B&P as an apprentice school and heritage engineering resource. He told me that the government couldn’t be seen as entering into competition with industry and so it couldn’t happen. I asked him how we were any different from the Royal Ordnance Factories or the Royal dockyards. It made no difference. He told me that the decision had been made to let Bancroft go and then run screaming rape down the corridors of power to reinforce the plan of taking over Jubilee Mill at Padiham as the show-case steam-driven weaving mill, they were still running at the time. The best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley…They lost Jubilee when it was demolished by N&R and finished up with Queen Street at Harle Syke as the last steam weaving shed, possibly the worst one they could have chosen. I still think that my scheme was viable but it’s all water under the bridge now.

I have a story about the ‘last weaving shed’… From 1984 onwards I was in charge of rescuing the Ellenroad engine at Newhey near Rochdale and in the process of doing this I became aware of a weaving shed at Norden, Cudworth’s at Baitings Mill. It wasn’t running but when I went to look at it I found it was a complete steam-driven weaving shed. There was a sequel. I can’t remember the exact date, it would be about 1993 or 1994, I had been invited by Peter White to accompany a Council of Europe jolly across northern England looking at industrial heritage sites. The excuse for me being there was the Lancashire Textile Project and all the work I had done on big artefacts. I couldn’t be with them at the start and joined the party in Durham. Put your hard hats on, there’s going to be some serious name-dropping here! I was in the crypt of either the cathedral or the castle taking wine with Lord Montague who was at that time the chair of English Heritage and various senior members of the organisation and I decided to be naughty. I asked Lord Montague if I was right in thinking that the basis for the decision to fund Queen Street at Harle Syke was that it was the ‘Last Steam Driven Weaving Shed’. He said that this was correct. As I opened my mouth I could see heads shaking in the background and eyes rolling upwards as they realised what I was going to say next.

I said, Are you aware there’s another steam driven weaving shed in Rochdale? It was a moment to cherish, they all knew there was one but they weren’t interested in it so they had ignored it. LM was very interested and asked me to send him details. I did, I sent him a full set of pictures of the mill and received in reply the standard small ‘your communication has been received’ postcard. End of story, deep-sixed. In truth Baitings Mill at Norden wasn’t a very interesting building but it had all the elements of a steam driven shed. What upset me was the fact that they all knew about it but ignored it for their own ends, it would have been ‘untidy’ to recognise it.

A few years later I got a request from my good friend Robert Aram. He asked me to go over to Baitings at Norden and photograph the loom-breaking and dismantling of the engine. I did this and it was just like the old days, blood and mud and smoke and destruction. As Robert said, it’s the last one we’ll see. When I got home I rang EH in London and got hold of a nice young lady in the NW Region office who knew nothing. I was very kind to her and told her that if she wanted to spread joy she should go to her boss in the NW division and say “Stanley says you’re safe. Cudworth’s are scrapping everything at Baitings Mill”. She asked for my name and number but of course, nobody ever got back to me…

There was another possible buyer for Bancroft. A man called Malcolm Dunphy at Rochdale had a business manufacturing oil burners for industrial boilers and he was interested. He visited us one day and the first we knew about it was when a helicopter landed in the field next to the office. Talk about a clash of technologies! This overture fell through and in the end it was N&R Contractors, the demolition men, that bought the mill. At that time you could have bought Bancroft as a going concern running at a profit with a skilled workforce for £60,000. Incredible isn’t it…

We found that we were news, radio reporters and television crews descended on us, sucked the juice out of the images and vanished. We became a three minute slot on the evening news.

The vultures. They had no insight and cared even less. All we were was a few minutes of air time to end the evening news.
It’s December 12th and here’s part of my diary for the day. It gives you some idea of how things were going with us and the industry in general.

“Just a few thoughts today on what it's like to be working in a mill that's weaving out. The only people who are working normally now are myself and John Plummer the firebeater. When I say normally, we are the only people who are doing exactly the same job that we have done for the last six years, the same as has been done ever since the mill started. We are still making steam, running the engine and producing power to drive the mill. The difference being that the load is now much reduced, there are very few warps left in the shed, most of the weavers have three, four or five looms empty. All taping has stopped, looming's stopped, winding is very nearly finished, there are no yarn deliveries, no back beams coming in. The only wagons that come in now are vehicles taking empties out to take them back to mills so that we can draw the deposits on them. We did send one other delivery out the other day which was a very sad one. We sold some looms. Sutcliffe and Clarkson's at Wiseman Street in Burnley, who still run on a steam engine bought some looms off us to complete an order for us which they will take over and weave themselves afterwards. It’s a steady order for some very strong cloth, the heading here is ‘Two Brown’, it's a very strong pure cotton cloth. I’m not sure what it’s used for, I think it's for polishing buffs in the metal finishing industry. The big laugh about this was that the day we delivered the looms there was a big headline in the Evening Star at Burnley that Stayflex, the firm which owns Sutcliffe & Clarkson, had gone bankrupt that day with a deficiency of £6,500,000 which left us in trouble in several ways. One was they had got our looms and we hadn't got the money. The second was that they weren't able to complete the order and we’ll have to find somebody else to complete it and the third was the fact that Stayflex, the firm that owns Sutcliffe & Clarkson's also owns one of our biggest cloth customers and we have a lot of cloth in the warehouse ready to be delivered to them. We had known that they were in low water for a bit and we haven’t delivered any cloth to them unless they paid for it up front. Well now of course we have a load of cloth stood up there at the top of the warehouse which is never going to go out or at least not to that firm. It is a fairly common cloth and we’ll probably be able to find another customer for it but not before December 22nd, so we shan't finish up with a clearance of cloth in the warehouse. An interesting point about Sutcliffe & Clarkson's closure is that the original owner of the firm, Reg. Clarkson who has about two years to do still works there as a manager and the last information we had was that he had gone to Leeds to try and buy the mill back off the receivers! Sutcliffe & Clarkson is one of the few mills in this area that is full up to the doors. They have 500 looms and they are working flat out and making a profit. Reg said he didn’t see the point in throwing 150 people out of work just because Stayflex themselves have gone bust. Whether he will buy the mill back is anybody's guess, I don’t know, but they have told us they are continuing trading, that they will weave the order and that we will get paid for the looms. This is Sutcliffe & Clarkson of course and not Stayflex which looks vaguely hopeful.

Looms going out to Sutcliffe and Clarkson’s.

News of another closure yesterday, Greens at Abbey Mill, Whalley who also have a steam engine. This is the firm that offered me a job in October which I refused and they are to finish in March. It’s only about three weeks since that Newton Pickles was down there weighing everything up and quoting them for electrifying the shafting, in other words putting an electric motor at the end of each cross shaft in the shed to drive the looms. I think the quotation was for about £2,300 for each shaft for a 30 HP Horace Green motor from Cononley, the best motors money could buy. This included all the necessary alterations to the shaft, bearing and wall plate. I asked him at the time whether he thought this would ever be done because to my knowledge this is the fourth time that Greens have been quoted for electrifying the mill because the engine has been in a dodgy condition for a long while. He said that it looked as if they were going to do it this time, there you are, it’s not going to happen.”

I forget when it happened but at some point during this last year we heard that Boardman’s had been bought out by money from India, we never knew the full details of this, it didn’t seem to make much difference to how we ran, Birtles was still the managing director and everything went on as before. Let’s go back to December 12th 1978.

Peter Birtles.

“Another interesting point that has emerged is the fact that we are not the only firm that is being closed down after being bought out by Indian money. It appears that Indian money is coming into Lancashire in order to buy cotton weavers out and close them down. It makes you wonder whether they can see their costs rising and realise that in five or ten years Lancashire textiles could be competitive again so before this happens they are making sure that the units of production are reduced as much as possible. It won’t be costing them any money because they'll be stripping the assets and they'll get back what they paid for them. All clever stuff, I have no doubt that we have done it from time to time in other places, they appear to have learnt very well off us! I was talking to a traveller the other day and he tells me that he knows of at least 12 firms who have been closed down this year in this way and we are one of them. I also mentioned it to Doug Hoyle who was the MP for Nelson and he told me it was true. Be that as it may we are left in the position of running this mill now until Friday December 22nd or such time as no weavers turn in. The reason I say this is that I can't see us running until December 22nd. All redundancy money is to be paid out on Wednesday 20th, all holiday pay and wages owing. They are going to estimate the wages and pay everything out on Wednesday December 20th. So in other words this is going to be the last time any of us draw any money off the firm of James Nutter and Sons Ltd. I can't see the weavers coming in Thursday and Friday to weave in a shed when they could be out doing their Christmas shopping because Friday is the last shopping day before Christmas. There is of course Saturday, but who wants to go shopping on Saturday? So in all probability this engine and the mill will cease running on that Wednesday, fairly early I should imagine. Thursday we’ll probably have three or four weavers in and we might start the engine but I don't know. Friday, certainly not, I can't see it. It'll be a big shock to me if we start this engine on Friday the 22nd.”

One of the earliest historians of the relatively new field of Industrial Archaeology was a man called Owen Ashmore who was professor in charge of the Manchester University Department of Extra-Mural Studies. He had written to me on the 11th of December asking whether he could visit and take a few pictures. I remember he sent me a stamped addressed envelope but I rang him at home and told him that if he came on Wednesday he would stand a good chance of seeing us stop forever. Wednesday came and we ran normally all morning. Newton turned up because I had tipped him off about what I thought would happen. Owen Ashmore arrived mid-morning saying that he couldn’t stay for long as he had another appointment. I told him to get his priorities sorted, if he waited until 12:30 he’d see the engine stop for the last time. Nobody knew this for certain of course but I was ready to put money on it. I had a word with Newton and we decided that we’d stop as normal as though it was the end of the day and then he and I and John would come in on Thursday, run the engine while we flooded it with oil and then shut down, blow the boiler down and drain everything as a frost prevention measure. I wanted to make sure that if anyone ever wanted to start the engine they would have a fighting chance. At noon I asked John to burn the fires off, ash out and bank the boiler as normal. He got on with that while we waited for stopping time at 12:30. As it came up to time I told Newton to get on with it and get the engine stopped. He demurred but I told him that he had looked after it all its life together with all the other engines in the town so it was only right that he should stop it. He went round, shut all the oils down, opened the drains and stopped the engine while I photographed him doing it. The engine rolled to a halt and that was it. I was proved right, the workers all waited in the warehouse dressed ready for home, drew their money and slipped away. Bancroft was finished.

Newton Pickles stops Bancroft engine on the last working day.

Jim and his workers in the warehouse waiting for their last payout. It says much about Jim that he managed to keep so many working until the last day.

Stanley stops Bancroft for the last time…


Everybody had finished but John and I had things to do before we could walk away from the mill. Before I tell that story, here’s the last section of the audio diary I made at the time.

“We are attracting a lot of attention from the preservationists, people who want to see the mill and its industry its technology preserved for the future, it is regarded as part of our textile heritage. Two things about this, it's rather late in the day to suddenly realise that you are losing something as important as Bancroft, and second and even more important, everybody loses sight of the fact that it isn’t the machinery and the technology that matters as much as the people. There’s only been one solitary voice apart from my own raised in defence of the workers who were going to lose their jobs. This was a man in Earby, a councillor, and my heart warmed to him when I saw the letter he wrote to the local paper. The striking thing is that the people who want to preserve the mill would never consider working in it, the conditions are so lousy, the wages so bad, toilets with cast iron grilles in so that the wind can blow through and discourage people from sitting there too long, floors that are so rough as to be positively dangerous if you are wheeling something across them or walking across them, inefficient heating system, no canteen facilities. The transport to and from the mill which is regarded as essential nowadays is an old van with wooden seats in the back. The wage is ridiculous, there isn’t a weaver in the shed that can earn £1 an hour during a week of hard work. If an industry gets to the stage where it can’t pay the workers a wage commensurate with the effort and skill that they put into their work it's time it closed. As regards preserving our textile heritage, I think that the sort of thing that I have been doing with the tape recordings and photographs is the way to do it. They take into account the things that really matter, the people and the technology. The artefacts are important of course, but we have steam engines preserved now, we have Lancashire looms in museums, we have mules, drawing frames, anything you care to mention, we have already got it in museums. What we need is the story of the people, their skills and how they felt about the industry. One thing is sure and certain, nobody at Bancroft wants to stay on, nobody wants to keep running, we are all absolutely fed up. It’s a very depressing thing to be working in a factory which is slowly dying underneath you, I never realised it would be as bad as it is, it really does get you down.

We haven’t long to go now, a week today and we’ll be on the last lap. I was asked the other day what my overall thoughts were about Bancroft. I think I’ve said most of the things I want to say about the actual closure, it's a very depressing thing, but I am glad that I came to work here and I am glad that I was able to see what a weaving mill actually looks like, how it works and what the atmosphere is like. This is a very old fashioned industry, it's also a very happy one. One thing that nobody can ever say about Bancroft is that, during the period that I have known it anyway, it was an unhappy place to work, everybody likes working here and there is a good atmosphere. If I was asked to put my finger on the reason for it I'd say that people enjoy working in an industry, when I say enjoy working, that's the last thing they'd admit to, but they actually do, they enjoy working at a job where they can see the results of their efforts. It’s not some anonymous screw that they are making and sending off and they never see the end of it, they can see piles of cloth ready to go out in the warehouse and they understand that. The management is very close to them, in fact the management have very few decisions to make which concern the workers. There is a job to do, the weaver, and the winder, and the loomer and the taper know what that job is and they don't need any direction, they get down and do it for themselves in their own time and get it finished. The chain of command is very short, I think this is one of the secrets. I think that the thing that could take the heart out of a worker more than anything is the fact that they are never in contact with the people who are making the decisions. Obviously the big business decisions such as whether to close the mill or not had been nothing to do with us, they have been made far away, but a worker isn't really concerned about them, they aren’t part of the day to day working life. The day to day decisions are when you go for your weft, when you stop for a brew, how hard you work, things like that. The sad thing is that this sort of atmosphere and way of working doesn't seem to be commercial because we have had to stop. No doubt later when I have done spinning for the LTP my thoughts will become more clear and I might be able to come up with some positive conclusions, I hope so.”

On Thursday morning, 21st December 1978 John and I rolled into work late at about 08:00, woke the fires up, started to make steam and had a brew while we waited for Newton because I knew he would want to be in on the act. I had made sure that we had plenty of oil in stock and we were going to use it to good effect. When Newt rolled up we fed him on tea and a bacon butty and then I started the engine. As it ran we flooded all the bearings with oil and ran the cylinder lubricators at full bore. Quite a few people had heard we were running for the last time and turned up to watch us. I stopped the engine for the last time and as it rolled to a halt John Plummer tipped five gallons of anti-freeze I had won from somewhere into the air pump in the cellar. We were making sure there was no frost damage no matter how long it stood idle. Then we went round and smothered every bit of bright metal and cladding with oil. It looked a right mess when we had finished but was protected.

We went to the boiler then and helped John to burn off and ash out. I went up onto the boiler top and lifted the compound valve for the last time. I had asked John to make sure we had almost 160psi when we finished and we all stood back and watched and listened to a very satisfactory signal to the whole town that we had finished our shift. We knocked the lids in on the boiler after we had blown down and swept up. All that remained to do after that was drain the lodge and lock the place up. I had considered pinching one of the shed clocks but decided that would be dishonest. Sometime during the night somebody got in and took both of them…

Newton supervises oiling the engine up.

I had to go in on Friday, I had arranged with the water board to come and turn the mains water and the sprinkler supply off. This took about half an hour and that was it. I forget now what I had to do with the keys but some arrangement had been made. I had one last look in the engine house which was cooling down by then and felt dead. I locked the mill gates and walked away into another life…

Last job, turn the water off at the mains…

A last look back as I walked home

I can’t resist one last story…

Friday the 8th November 1974, Bancroft engine house. Not a bad morning, we started as usual at 8am with the shed lights on so this meant a nice bit of load on the engine because we made our own power with an alternator driven by the engine. My firebeater Ben Gregory was finishing this week and I had a new bloke, Bob Parkinson, starting on Monday so I wouldn’t have the place to run single–handed which was hard work. All was well and I sat in my armchair at the desk in the corner of the engine house with a pint of tea and a bacon butty. Christmas was coming, things could be worse! The only nagging thought was the thump in the air pump on the low pressure side which had been there ever since I started at Bancroft and which everybody assured me was water hammer in the body of the pump due to a design fault. It had always been there so I had to live with it.

Being engine tenter on a large engine was a responsible job. Apart from obvious things like safety and economy, everybody’s wage depended on how well the engine performed. Smooth uninterrupted power going down the shaft into the shed meant the weavers stood a chance of making a decent wage. The worst thing that could happen was a stoppage due to my neglect so you never left the engine alone and walked round at least every ten minutes checking on all your oil feeds and looking for potential faults. This morning was no exception and on one of my trips round the oils that morning I noticed that the crosshead cotter on the high pressure side was bleeding a bit. The red oil coming out of the slot it was fitted in was a sure sign it was slightly loose.

At dinnertime, when the engine was stopped I got the hand hammer and gave the cotter a clout to drive it up and tighten it. It went in a shade and then sounded solid, job done and problems averted. On the way back round the engine to put the hammer away I clouted the low pressure cotter as I was passing and got a shock, it went up a quarter of an inch! I hit it again and it went in another eighth of an inch and felt soft. A job for Newton Pickles, I’d ring him as soon as we’d started and got settled down after dinner. When I started after dinner the engine sounded strange and it took me a few seconds to realise that the famous Bancroft thump in the air pump had vanished. The low pressure crosshead cotter must have been loose for years! Newton came up that evening and measured up for two new cotters and we scheduled the job for Friday the 20th of December, the day we finished for the Christmas break. On that day, Bob and Jim Fort came up from Brown and Pickles’ after dinner and as soon as the weavers had gone to the pub, they started on the cotters while Bob Parkinson and I blew the boiler down and got ready for flueing. We had to open up the boiler and flues and get them cool enough for Charlie Sutton and his gang from Weldone at Brierfield to get in the flues the following day and clear all the dust out that had accumulated since July. By Tuesday the 24th the cotters were in and fitted, the boiler was back together and fired up and I was ready at 3pm for Newton to call in on his way back from attending to an engine at Holmfirth, we were going to run the engine and check that all was OK.

As it happened, Newton was held up so Bob went home and I settled down in the warm engine house with my pipe and a pint of tea and the gentle hiss of steam passing into the engine to warm it. There was only one lamp lit and as it came dark the engine house gradually became a magic place. There was the wonderful smell of steam and hot oil, my pipe smoke drifting up into the roof and every now and again, a grunt as the metal of the engine expanded and Mary Jane and James, the two cylinders, settled down in a fresh position. Just after 5:30, Newton came in accompanied by his grandson John who was a lad at the time and had been across to Holmfirth with his granddad for a trip out. We put the shed lights in and after barring the engine round a couple of times to make sure nothing was catching in the low pressure cylinder, we’d altered the stroke of the piston slightly by fitting the new cotter, I started up and we listened to the engine.

It was a wonderful improvement, there wasn’t a sound out of the low pressure side, the engine was running like a rice pudding! We left it running and sat down at the desk with a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label and had our Christmas drink! We’d earned it.

Now I realise that all my readers are not engineers and a lot of what I have told you here is double Dutch but I can assure you that anyone who had been with us in that engine house would have enjoyed the experience. There was just one bulb lit on the far side of the house and Newton and I sat there sipping whisky and listening to a perfectly tuned steam engine ticking away at 68 revolutions a minute. Young John couldn’t understand why we were sat there doing nothing and started agitating to go home. In the end Newton told him that if he wanted the engine stopping he’d better do it himself, we found him a buffet to stand on so he could reach the stop valve and he did it.

We shut everything down and sat there in the semi darkness with the whisky, the engine talking to us as it cooled down and the ghosts of the old engineers listening approvingly as we talked about engines and the magic of steam. Young John couldn’t understand why we weren’t going home and it wasn’t until we had finished the whisky off that we decided Christmas had better start or our wives, Olive and Vera, might have had something to say about it. By today’s standards I suppose Newton and I were victims, there we were, on Christmas Eve, having to work. It wasn’t like that to us, we were interested in the job and even though it was our living, were fascinated by the power of steam. It’s a happy bloke that can have an experience like that and when I look at the speed people are rushing about today chasing what they call quality time I can’t help feeling sorry for them. How many jobs give experiences like that which are fresh in the mind after 35 years?

During 1977 and 1978 I’d been doing a course called Open College at Nelson and Colne College and had qualified for a place at Lancaster University. The December finish at the shed meant that I couldn’t start in 1978 but I was accepted for September 1979. Peter White the inspector of ancient monuments at what was then the Department of the Environment had found me a job for a year researching and photographing water mills in the Lake District. As you can imagine, this was right up my street and I enjoyed it. This, plus going into university in 1979 meant that I missed most of what followed at Bancroft. There was the usual round of committees and negotiations and in the end the local council decided to support a bid to save the engine house, boiler and chimney so that it could continue as a heritage attraction in steam. One of the leading lights was Les Say who had been in charge of Rolls Royce. He initiated approaches to me very early on and tried to get me to join in the fight to preserve the engine but I wasn’t interested, I had been damaged too badly by the closure. Eventually he came to see me and twisted my arm and I gave them a hand. I drew up the constitution for the trust, gave advice and found myself elected as chairman. I resigned as soon as I was at Lancaster because I couldn’t give it the time it deserved but by that time the Bancroft Mill Engine Trust was in being and had funding.

The funding was all part of a package whereby a Derelict Land Grant was given to finance the demolition of the mill and the necessary works to weatherproof the remainder and leave it in a condition where it could be run as an attraction. My old mate Norman Sutcliffe of N&R demolition moved in with his merry men and they made short work of dropping the mill, filling in the lodge and leaving a site fit to be developed for housing. As far as I can recall, all this happened in 1979/1980. The Trust took over the engine and set about getting it back into steam. I had nothing to do with this as I was too busy at Lancaster. Newton kept me up to speed and told me that we had done a good job of oiling up, when they first barred it over the rods came out of the cylinders as bright and shiny as on the day we stopped it. The Trust was lucky because they had Newton and his partner from Brown and Pickles, Walter Fisher, to guide them successfully through the work. They couldn’t have had two better men. Thirty years later the engine is still steamed occasionally and is an important part of the borough’s heritage stock, all due to the untiring work of the volunteers.

I suppose that all this is good news but I still can’t help thinking what we could have had if my idea of saving the mill and Brown and Pickles had been taken up. It would have been a unique attraction and I believe a profitable one as well. Still, as my dad used to say, it’s all water under the bridge. The most concrete legacy of the whole exercise as far as I am concerned is that I was able to record in pictures and sound recordings something of the people who worked there and the immense skill that went into running a weaving shed. It was a thorough job and I urge you to look up the LTP on Oneguyfrombarlick and see what there is in there.

Well, that’s it. If you stayed the course you now have a pretty good idea of what a weaving shed was and how it worked. I hope you’ve also picked up on the insights that Fred and I have given you into the society that was built on the weaving industry. The industry dominated Barlick and shaped its development for almost 150 years but in the end was ripped out of the fabric of the town in less than thirty years. All those wonderfully skilled people were told in no uncertain terms that they were on the scrap heap, King Cotton had finished with their services. The wonder of it is that they were strong enough to pick themselves up, find new outlets for their talents and survive and prosper. Mind you, they had good training because in their lifetime they had done nothing but fight against the odds. That’s what I want to leave you with, not just some knowledge about the mechanics of the industry but with a clear vision in your minds of the people who made it work, what their lives were like and how skilled they were. If I have managed even part of that I am well pleased.

I have one last story for you… Ernie Roberts was tackling for Holden Brothers before WW2. He was walking down the warehouse with one of the directors one day and the man noticed that Ernie’s shoe sole was flapping about, the stitching to the uppers had reached its sell-by date. “Eh Ernie, we can’t have you walking about like that, you might trip up and hurt yourself, here, tek this.” With that he reached in his pocket and pulled out a wad of notes. Ernie cheered up immediately, it looked as though there was going to be a concrete and welcome gesture of solidarity. The director pulled the elastic band off the roll of notes and handed it to our hero. “Here you are, put that round it, it’ll stop it flapping!

The late Ernie Roberts. A nice man.
Stanley Challenger Graham
Stanley's View
scg1936 at

"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!
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