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History of Textiles in Huddersfield

A brief overview of Huddersfield's textile industry.

Early signs of textile trade in Huddersfield were evident as far back as the Early 1700s, following a groundbreaking realisation that the surrounding water sources and rivers were perfect for the washing of raw wool. The millstone grit which made up a lot of the surrounding Pennine hills enriched the water than ran down into the Colne and Holme valleys. Huddersfield sits on the convergence of the River Colne and Holme, which would make it the ideal central hub for UK textiles.

It was a humble beginning, with spinning and weaving carried out in the individual homes of the villagers. The finished products were then brought to the town's Parish Churchyard to be sold. Due to the quality of the goods, this soon gained traction and attention from further afield and Huddersfield's Cloth Hall was built only a few years down the line, where deals were done on a much larger scale. By the 1800s, weaver's cottages were ubiquitous across Huddersfield, usually consisting of three stories; the top two of which were dedicated entirely to textile production with (mainly) women and children working tirelessly to keep up with everygrowing demand. It was commonplace at the time for households to farm animals as their main source of income but this became a secondary pursuit to textile production as local cloth established a firmer foothold on the global stage.

During and following the Industrial Revolution, the once innovative hand-operated spinning jennies and looms became second-rate to newfound, futuristic mechanisms. The new machines were large, cumbersome things so, naturally, production moved away from individual homes to larger buildings or mills. Textile production became much faster and therefore more prolific. There were (and still are) hundreds of mills scattered across Huddersfield and surrounding suburbs. In 1911, it was thought that 22,000 people were employed in the Huddersfield textile trade - at the time, this was one-third of all men and two-thirds of all women! By 1961, there were 284 registered mills in the area known of 'Kirklees', 95 of which were in Huddersfield town centre. By this time, West Yorkshire had 168,000 textile workers. Many mills would specialise in one area of textile production but many of them were fully 'vertical' mills, meaning all textile production was done under the same roof (in short, spinning, weaving, mending and finishing) and an entire floor or two would be dedicated to certain aspects of production. The 'Name Edge' or 'Selvage' of the town's cloth boasted the words 'Made in Huddersfield, England' which became a globally revered brand, signifying the ultimate quality in the world of worsted. 

*It is believed, in the 1940s, Huddersfield had more Rolls-Royce owners per capita than anywhere else in England, displaying the wealth of the mill owners at the time*

Sadly, by the late 1960s and early 1970s, the technological advances of overseas competitors had grown significantly further than Huddersfield's and the textiles being produced off-shore came at a much cheaper price point. Despite the inferior quality of these goods, the increasingly price-driven market demanded cheaper products that the overseas manufacturers were able to provide. This inevitably dulled the shine of Huddersfield's former glory and mills began to shut their doors at a rate of knots throughout the mid to late 20th Century. Mills that had stood proud and provided livelihoods for families for over 100 years were now rendered derelict, seemingly overnight. 

Today, the vast majority of mills still stand but they stand as skeletons of their former self. Many of them have been renovated and converted into living and working space but a lot remain eerily quiet and empty. 

The Huddersfield textile industry has been through many transitions, good and bad, since its inception however one thing remains - the quality.

To this day, it is Huddersfield's inherently soft water and the local expertise that makes our wool and worsted fabrics so highly desirable. English Cloth is one of the last remaining cloth merchants that still designs and manufactures its own collections in Huddersfield. Although there are only a handful of suppliers left in the area, the quality is still just as special as when Huddersfield was grabbing the world's attention back in the 1800s. 

With our heritage behind us and the unknown ahead, English Cloth remains steadfast in its mission to produce the world's finest tailoring fabrics. Tailors and luxury fashion houses across the world still choose 'Made in Huddersfield' cloth above all others because they appreciate the subtle superiorities. English Cloth will continue to play its part to ensure that the highest standard of cloth and Huddersfield's heritage is upheld.