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Thursday, July 24, 2003
SOUGH BRIDGE MILL (3)
It’s 1946 and Sough Mill has a new role in life. Bristol Tractors have moved in and set up three separate firms, Bristol Tractors, Forecast Foundry and Kelbrook Metal Products. They are employing 350 workers which is more than a weaving shed would have taken on the eight loom system. On the whole, Earby has come out of the war in good shape, increased skills, two new firms and a bright future. As I’ve said before, every cloud has a silver lining.
The Foundry and KMP not only did the Bristol Tractors work, they took outside contracts as well. I remember my father, an old time engineer by trade, coming in the shop one day after a visit to the foundry just to see what was going on and he was muttering to himself. I asked him what was wrong and he told me he had just been watching them casting rail chairs for British Railways. I asked him what was wrong with that and he said that the chairs they were casting were for bull-headed rails when he was quite sure that BR had standardised on flat bottom rail, a completely different article. I don’t know what came of that, I suppose BR paid up and took delivery. Not a good way to run a railway!
I have an idea that the sales director at the time was a man called Bill Gallemore. He must have known Bill Harrison the man I was driving for because we got the contract for delivering the rain water goods they made all over the country and that was my first load when I went on to the tramp. I remember my first job was guttering for a bonded warehouse at Menstrie in Scotland. They kept us going for about five years before I finished and went on the cattle wagons.
We got used to these little crawler tractors clattering past the shop. I think they gave them a test on the land behind the mill. I’ve been told that a man called Arthur Wood from Colne was one of the test drivers. Another name I remember from then is Chris Demaine from Foulridge. Chris was an old farm man originally and I have an idea he worked at Rovers at Sough during the war. We used to see a lot of him because he was the bookie’s runner for the works and was always popping in to use the telephone to put his bets on. Tom Ward worked in the office, my mother had a soft spot for Tom, she used to say he was a ‘nice young man’. Tom eventually left and started a tailor’s shop in Barlick on Rainhall road and retired about a year ago.
Here’s a list of some other names that cropped up in the research: H K West, shop foremen and his son John Michael West who was an apprentice. J Wilkinson, Colne. W Pickover, Earby. J Maxwell, Earby. Francis Clarke, Barnoldswick and Jennifer Rigby.
Much of Bristol’s production was exported and Eric Field the managing director travelled all over the world in the 1960s looking for trade. In 1969 Marshall’s of Gainsborough (a Thomas Ward Company) bought Bristol tractors and under their ownership the last Bristol, the Taurus, was built. I’m not sure when Bristol’s finished at Sough or whether the foundry and KMP carried on afterwards but Bristol Tractors itself was wound up in 1978 and once more Sough Mill was looking for a fresh role.
Today, the mill looks to be quite busy. It has been split up into units one of which is called Bristol House but the main occupier is Adapt Engineering and strangely enough, most of their work is aerospace related. So, all we need is a small weaving company to start up there and the wheel will have come full circle.
So there we have it, the story of Sough Bridge so far. I suppose that most people would pass the mill without a second glance but as we have seen from this brief history, it has been the scene of some important innovations. In the beginning it was room and power. This was the system whereby a group of entrepreneurs built a mill, installed the steam engine and shafting and let the space out to small firms. There were many such sheds in the district and they allowed a lot of manufacturers to get started for a very small capital outlay and one that could be financed from profits. Most of the new mills built after 1900 were financed by men who had started in room and power.
Percy Lowe and his role in setting up the self-help sheds came to the rescue of a lot of workers when trade got bad in the 1930s and it was as a direct result of this that Johnsons came to Earby. They provided constant high quality employment in Victoria Mill for 65 years, a fine record in the weaving industry.
What looked like a disaster in 1939 triggered off another phase of expansion and increased skills when the Rover Company came in and later in 1942, Rolls Royce. A spin-off from this was the number of small back street suppliers that serviced the aero industry. The conversion of Sough Mill to a modern electrified factory by Rovers allowed Bristol Tractors to come in and they lasted another thirty years and kept the skills going. Today the mill still serves a useful purpose 125 years on as accommodation for a variety of small firms.
The thing that strikes me about all this is that not one of the changes was as a result of a coherent industrial policy by the government. It all happened by chance and the right man being their at the right time. So, if you want a good question for a pub trivia quiz how about this one. ‘What is the connection between Percy Lowe, Clarence Jowett and Adolph Hitler?’ That one should get them guessing!
SCG/30 April 2003
SOUGH BRIDGE MILL (2)
With the outbreak of war there arose a pressing need to move essential war production out of factories well known to the Germans into safer accommodation. Plans had already been laid for this contingency and it had been decided that the Air Ministry would run ‘shadow factories’, in other words, the ministry would bear the expenses but the works would be managed by the occupants. On the 12th of September 1940 an advertisement was placed in the Manchester Guardian and as a result of this the Rover Company learned that Bankfield Shed in Barlick was stood empty.
Bankfield had a lot going for it, it was a larger mill than most and was owned by British Celanese who had bought it and refurbished it in preparation for opening it as one of their branches. It became Shadow Factory Number Six on the 25th of September when the requisition order was signed.
As soon as Rovers had moved into Bankfield they started looking for other sites in the locality. Butts and Calf Hall in Barlick, Grove and Sough Bridge in Earby and Carleton Mill at Skipton were all available and were requisitioned. So, it looks as though by 1940 all weaving had stopped in these mills. Perhaps this means that the self-help Nutters (Kelbrook) Ltd went out before this date.
Much refurbishment had to be done to make Sough Bridge suitable for precision engineering. Floors had to be levelled and concreted and adequate electric distribution systems installed. Once this had been done Sough Mill restarted as a factory for the manufacture and refurbishment of piston aero engines, I think one of them was the Armstrong-Siddeley Cheetah. Labour was recruited from the surrounding area and the mill remained in Rover Company hands right through to 1945 and the end of the war.
1945 brought further upheavals as Rover pulled out and concentrated again on their Coventry factories. It was the end of lucrative war work and all the workers who stayed ended up unemployed. In many people’s minds it was a return to the ‘hungry thirties’ and there was more than a little resentment. It’s little wonder that they felt as though they had been used to help win the war and then thrown on the scrapheap. This of course was part of the reasons for the landslide Labour victory in the General election.
But there was a ray of light on the horizon. Earby had two well appointed factory units, fully refurbished and electrified. They also had a reservoir of labour who were used to precision work. Horace Thornton once told me that when Armorides came into the town at this time and took over Grove Mill, one of the managers told him that Earby was the cheapest place to set up a modern industry in the West Riding. There were other people looking at Earby as well.
We need to step back a bit here and look at the history of another firm, Jowett Motor Cars. My younger readers might never have heard of this marque but if you go to vintage car shows you can still see the occasional Jowett Javelin or Jupiter and if you are really lucky, a Jowett Bradford Van. There has never ever been a motor car quite like the Jowett Bradford. Built like a hen hut on wheels and powered by a flat twin engine, you could recognise them a mile off simply by the sound of the engine.
The first one I ever saw was up at Black Lane Ends. I had called in to see Jack Emmott who farmed up there with horses, he hadn’t even got a tractor. I was surprised to see him rolling sedately round the croft at the back of the farmhouse in a peculiar looking van. He had the windscreen wound open. Yes, this isn’t a mistake, you could turn a handle and wind the windscreen up for ventilation or better visibility in fog. What was even more surprising, he had a horse yoked to the front!
I asked him what he was doing, always a good thing to do if you are completely baffled, Jack said “Our Harris reckons it’s time I learned to drive so I’m getting used to the steering and brakes before I start the engine.” Put like that it all made sense, I can’t tell you whether he ever got his licence but I treasure the memory of my first sighting of a Jowett van!
Wilfred Jowett of Bradford was a gas engine maker and general engineer in the late 19th century. His daughter Ruth and the two surviving sons William and Benjamin left the family business in 1901 and set up a company of their own, The Jowett Motor Manufacturing Company. Eventually their main premises were at the Springfield Road factory in the village of Idle near Bradford. Not surprisingly the brothers were known as ‘Bill and Ben’.
William had a son called Clarence who followed on in the family firm. In 1936 William bought a small company making agricultural tractors and in 1945 Clarence severed his ties with Jowett Motor Cars and concentrated on running the tractor firm, Bristol Tractors.
Bristol Tractors had started up in 1932 and was manufactured by Douglas Motors Ltd of Bristol. In 1935/36 William Jowett bought the firm and production of the tractors moved to Idle at Bradford. A Jowett engine was used to power them and production carried on during the war rising to perhaps 80 tractors a year by 1940. In December1945 and January 1946 Clarence took over Bristol Tractors and moved it into Sough Mill. He might have done a deal with H A Saunders who were Austin distributors at this time and I think the Sough tractors had Austin engines. What is certain is that the mill had a new lease of life. Things were looking up, Earby had a motor manufacturer!
SOUGH BRIDGE MILL (1)
Sough Mill loomed large in my life in the late 1950s. Keeping the shop next door at what was then 99 Colne Road, Sough meant that the trade from the workers next door was a welcome boost to our takings. I can remember at the time being quite intrigued by the fact that one of the firms was making small crawler tractors. Somehow this didn’t seem to fit in with the usual manufactures of the district.
Over the years I have amassed quite a bit of information about the mill and it seems to be a good time to drag some of it together. Remember what I always say, there is a built-in health warning, the research never stops and I shall make mistakes and get some things wrong. Having said that, I believe I have a pretty good picture now so here goes.
I have to say right away that I don’t know exactly when the mill was built. It isn’t on the 1853 OS map and all I have are two entries in Barrett’s Directories for 1887 and 1896 noting that Nathan Smallpage and Son were cotton manufacturers there. Bracewell Hartley and Company are cited as being at Sough in the 1902 Barrett. What is certain, because I have copies of the order book, is that the Universal Metallic Packing Company of Bradford supplied two of their duplex packings for the 500hp Robert’s gear drive tandem engine described by Newton Pickles as being in there when he knew it.
These packings were usually fitted as replacements for the original soft packings so the engine was older than 1912. The contractor who fitted them was Henry Brown and Sons of Albion Street, Earby and the invoice was presented to the owners of the mill, The Kelbrook Mill Company. So, it looks as though Sough Bridge was built as room and power by a shed company. If this is the case the most likely date for the building of the mill would be about the mid 1880s.
In the Manchester Exchange Directory of 1912 Nutter and Turner had 252 looms and H G Wilkinson was the salesman. The East End Manufacturing Company had 268 looms and the salesman was Edward Henry Baldwin.
In 1928 the second motion shaft carrying the drive from the engine to the mill broke and stopped production. Henry Brown and Son had expanded by then and had a larger workshop at Wellhouse Mill in Barlick. They made a new shaft and fitted it and my picture this week shows it laid in the thoroughfare at Sough Mill ready to be re-installed.
The engineer at the mill between the wars was Jim Pickles, uncle to Johnny Pickles. Johnny spent a lot of time with his uncle at Sough and it was this experience that decided him to run away when he was put to work in an office. Jim must have had a word with Henry Brown because Johnny went down to the Albion Street workshop and served his apprenticeship there. After a brief spell working in Burnley he came back to Browns as foreman and eventually restarted the firm when Browns liquidated in 1929. This was the genesis of Henry Brown Sons and Pickles of Barlick who at one time had over 150 engines on their books.
Fred Inman told me that up to 1930 Joe Foulds had looms in Sough and Nutter Brothers had most of the shed. In 1932 the Nutter Brothers interests collapsed and over 4,000 looms stopped in Earby. This was a disaster for the town but ‘cometh the hour, cometh the man’.
Nutter Brothers had the whole of Grove Shed in Earby up to the liquidation and the manager and Manchester Man was called Wilkinson. He had an assistant called Percy Lowe and in 1979 Horace Thornton told me that he was a good man and trained an even better one in Percy. When Nutter Brothers went under, Percy Lowe inaugurated a scheme whereby weavers could buy their looms for £2 each and start up as cooperative enterprises. One started in Victoria Mill and another one at Sough where the weavers traded from June 1932 as Nutters (Kelbrook) Ltd. It looks as though either Nutter Brothers rescued something from the crash or their name was taken by a cooperative because the 1938 directory records Nutter Brothers as having 1,152 looms in Grove Shed.
Because they were a self-help shed, the Sough firm carried on trading through the 1932 strikes over wage reductions of 10%. 7,000 workers were out in Barlick, Earby and Skipton and 80% of the mills between Skipton and Preston were stopped. There was a nasty incident on the 29th of August outside the mill when a crowd gathered to picket. Ernie Roberts told me that one of the main instigators of the protests was James Rushton who was a founder member of the Barnoldswick Communist Party in 1931. The police had brought extra men in from the West Riding specifically to act as strike breakers and they baton-charged the picket scattering them across the fields. The incident was serious enough for the Barnoldswick Urban District Council and the Weavers Association to protest to the Home office on the grounds of police violence. Two men were arrested.
These were hard times in the cotton industry and the first permanent closures started, the biggest being at Bankfield Shed in Barlick which never wove again. The self-help firm in Sough Mill survived until at least 1938, Worrall’s directory records them as having 520 looms and H Lord was secretary. The cooperative venture in Victoria mill had a different fate. By 1938 their 870 looms had been bought out by what was then called Johnsons Fabrics Ltd and the manager, secretary and salesman was Percy Lowe. They wove on until 2000.
However, international events were to change everything. Herr Hitler started on the course that was to lead to World War Two and this was going to change Sough Bridge Mill for ever.
SCG/30 April 2003