History of the woollen Industry

Manningham Mill
At first worsted spinning frames were introduced into the cottages and for a while the operators had a monopoly. Carding and spinning was done mechanically in the factory but the weaving was still being done by hand. During the 19th century the hand weaving trade briefly boomed again, bringing weavers into the towns to sell their serge. Local populations expanded dramatically but it did not last and very soon mills closed as the boom in trade ceased. Changes in policy in the 19th century opened up the wool trade to international pressures. Huge mechanized factories were erected in the North of England (especially west Yorkshire - the fleece features prominently in the Leeds civic coat of arms).

Power loom weaving was introduced in the 1820s and entrepreneurs in Yorkshire were more likely to employ steam power than in other areas. The woolen industry declined rapidly in Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire, and Gloucestershire and East Anglia. By the 1830s the long association with the wool cloth trade finally ceased in the old towns.

Leeds in Yorkshire had become the market center where the cloth was exchanged and finished. The output of broadcloth in the area rose from 30,000 pieces in the late 1720s to 60,000 pieces in the 1740s. Leeds now covered 60 acres and by 1770 the town had a population of 16,000. Thirty years later, this figure had doubled.

Family wool trade names

Unlike any other trade (except for that of Smith), the importance in England of the wool trade has given rise to hundreds of family names.

  • Shepherd - tended the sheep.
  • Pack/Packer/Packman and Lane/Laney/Lanier - transported the fleeces.
  • Stapler/Staples (bought the raw wool)
  • Card/Carder, Tozer/Towzer, Kemp/Kemper/Kempster (= comb) combed the wool
  • Dyer, Littester/Lister dyed the wool.
  • Webb/Webber/Webster (German: Weber) wove the fabric.
  • Fuller, Tuck/Tucker/Tuckerman, fulled the fabric to create a nap.
  • Shears, Sharman/Shearman used shears to remove the nap from woolen cloth to produce finer qualities of fabric.
  • Clothier and Draper - prepared the woolen cloth and sold it to the tailors.
  • Taylor and Cutter - made the wool into garments.

There are also many place names based on wool that have become family names: Woolley, Wolsey, Shipley/Shepley, Sheppey, Shepperton, Shefford/Shifford, Shipton/Shepton [sheep-lea, sheep-town]. to name just a few.

A journalist visited Shaw Lodge Mills in 1849 and covered the manufacturing districts of the north as part of the newspaper's examination of the conditions of the working classes. He visited both Bradford and Halifax. He found that in Halifax, compared with its neighbour, 'things are conducted more slowly and quietly … the place has a touch of antiquity in its aspect and tone'. This did not imply a romantic view of the town which he described as 'a marvel of dirt'. The streets were 'disgracefully neglected' while some of the small courts and cul-de-sacs he visited were 'reeking with stench and the worst sort of abomination. The ash-pits and appurtenances were disgustingly choked, ordure and filthy stagnant slops lay freely and deeply scattered around, often at the very thresholds of swarming dwellings - and among all this muck uncared-for children sprawled by the score, and idle slatternly women lounged by the half-dozen'.

The sanitary conditions in Northowram, Southowram and Halifax in 1850-1 caused by overcrowding and squalor were ubiquitous, the water supply impure and inadequate, and the state of the roads 'indescribable'. In Northowram, for example, people on their way to the mills 'have to wade through dirty streets to reach their work'. Smoke from the increasing number of mill chimneys was also becoming 'a great nuisance'.

The impact upon life-span, even taking into account the greater mortality of young children (in 1846 46 per cent of deaths in Halifax occurred among those aged under five), was dramatic. In Halifax and Skircoat in 1840-1, the average age on death for the gentry was 60 years; for tradesmen and artisans it was 25½ years, and even this had been 'much raised by an unusual number of deaths at advanced ages among weavers'.

In the mills temperatures were often stifling, washrooms were not standard, privies few and far between (one for every 34 mill-hands) and children working in the mills were susceptible to epidemics. On the other hand, for the several thousands engaged in the mills and sheds, their employment took them from the locale of the impurities that were allowed to abound in close proximity to their residences.

'Stuff mills rivalled, if they did not surpass, silk mills in cleanliness, and coolness, and sweetness of atmosphere'. At Shaw Lodge Mills, already 'a vast establishment, weaving all manner of stuff goods, surrounded by the dwellings of the workpeople' , both the weaving shed and spinning mill were well-lit and well-ventilated. Other evidence shows that there were wash-houses for both combers and spinners at Shaw Lodge Mills. Young women made up most of the weavers and also dominated the carding, drawing and spinning departments. Neat and proper of dress, with shawls and bonnets carefully along the wall, the girls were 'hale and hearty'.

Those working in the local mills were predominantly young and female with a dozen women, boys and girls for every man. Men were employed as overlookers on the power looms alongside the women, or, in the main, as 'miserably paid' woolcombers. Many of the children employed were 'half-timers' who worked at the mill for half a day and spent the other half at school. At Shaw Lodge Mills, overlookers earned between 15 and 22 shillings a week. In the weaving shed, where there was one man for every ten women and girls, men received an average of ten shillings a week while the female operatives were paid an average of eight shillings. In the carding, drawing and spinning departments, the weekly wages for women and girls were around five shillings.

Since many women lived too far from the mills to return home during the dinner break, John Holdsworth had started a small cookshop near the furnace of one of the steam-engines where girls could heat up the ready cooked meal they had brought with them. Most meals were meat and potatoes, perhaps with some mushrooms, accompanied by tea or coffee in little tin flagons.

Working hours in 1849 were still regulated by the act of 1844 but further legislation in 1850 reduced them again. The working day was limited to the hours of 6 am to 6 pm or 7 am to 7 pm with an hour and a half for meals. Except for those under 13, whose hours remained unchanged, working hours for everyone else were restricted to 10½ each day with 7½ hours on Saturdays. The 60 hour working week remained in force until 1870.