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Steve Smith

Interviewed on 19.02.2010

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TRACK 1 – STEVE SMITH

 

TW: It's Tony Wright, the 19th of February 2010, on Oxford Street, and I'm going to be interviewing Steve Smith. So, can you tell me your full name, and where and when you were born?

 

 

SS: Yes, well it's not that simple, either. I was born and christened Stephen Edward Smith, but I actually changed my name. It was "ph", but I didn't like "ph" so I changed it to "ven", and got rid of the Edward, which I didn't like. So I called myself Steven Smith - and that was legally done - but I was actually born Stephen Edward Smith. I was born at Halifax Infirmary on the 10th of August 1952, and I lived initially on the Banksfield Estate, which was a prefabricated council estate, very desirable at the time because it had an inside toilet - two of them - and it actually had a bathroom; you didn't have to use a tin bath. All of the terraces in Mytholmroyd at that time still had outside toilets and the like, so a lot of people were pushing for these. So, although it was a council estate, it was rather up-market: teachers, managers and the like, who it wasn't really meant for; but they'd sold their terraced properties and moved into the council estate; it was very popular for a while. Most of the back-to-back houses were demolished, but in 1952, in the fifties, there were a lot of them, even in Mytholmroyd, and they weren't very nice.

 

So anyway, I was born there and grew up there, going to Burnley Road School, Mytholmroyd, and then Calder High School. Banksfield Estate is...what?...four hundred yards from Calder High School. Well, my house was very handy. I worked very little at school, caused lots of problems, disinterested, never picked up on education. We did O-levels or CSEs at the time, and I managed to get myself down into another form, so I was doing CSEs - or I wasn't doing them! No, that's not true. I was supposed to be doing them, and I did what we called a fourth year then - that's a first year of the O-levels and CSEs - and then packed in and decided to work because I wanted the money.

 

 

TW: So were you fifteen then or sixteen?

 

 

SS: With my birthday being in August, I was actually fourteen when I left, which was allowed then, anyway, because my birthday was in August. I was fifteen that year. I was one of the youngest in the year, of course. So when I actually started at Ratcliffe's I was only fourteen.

 

 

TW: What job did you do?

 

 

SS: Initially, my father was a foreman in what we called the wet room, and we manufactured blankets. Ratcliffe's bigger brother, Moderna, made high quality wool blankets, but we made blankets that used man-made fibres - probably acrylic based, but I wouldn't be one hundred per cent certain which man-made fibre we'd be using. So they were cheaper blankets, and they wove them on site, and after being woven they had to be moved and washed, scoured, and that was the part of the wet room, which was my first job.

 

What you do is, you have something called dollies; there were five of them in a long row. There were pits about ten feet deep, lined with red brick. At the bottom they had like a drain, a double drain. One went into the river, which was the River Calder, which was very close to the factory, ten or twenty metres away. Or, it could go into the sewage system. It always went into the river unless the river was in flood or very high, because you didn't want the river coming into your factory. So you shut off that drain, then put it into the sewage system. But generally you didn't, because that took a long time. The sewage system was slow, and twenty of these vats, which were full of water, took a long time. In the river it was dead easy - straight down.

 

So these pits had inside them the wooden dollies. Now these were probably made of oak - I can't remember - but they were certainly made at the end of the nineteenth century. They were old, so they'd become worn very smooth and there were no angles on them at all any more. They were like big semi-circles sunk into the pits. So the pit went down seven feet, with the dolly inside it, and a drain at the bottom. So you filled them with water.

 

Then the cloth lengths, which were fifty or one hundred yards long - we were yarding at the time - would come in dry from the weaving department. At this point the cloth was very, very hard. I mean, you could cut yourself on it, and it was rigid. What we'd do is put the trolley behind, with the folded cloth on. It was a flat bed trolley. Then we'd run it over a set of power rollers to pull it into the water. We'd already filled it, and we'd also added soap by this time and we'd added creosote. No, not creosote - caustic soda. Get that right - creosote would have been interesting, wouldn't it! Caustic soda broke down the grease etc. Not a lot of it, because it also dissolves things. So you'd put a measure of that in with the soap.

 

 

TW: Did you use a little formula for how much soap and caustic soda you added for so many gallons of water?

 

 

SS: Yes, there were lines on it for a fifty yard water level and a hundred yard water level, and then you had an associate jug. You filled it from a big steel drum, and it had a little tap on, so you filled it up to there, you know, and that was the fifty yard one or the hundred yard one, and then you'd add a small amount of caustic soda, and you'd hoy that in and then you'd run your piece into the water. You had a long stick just to keep prodding it down. A lot of these pieces were long. They were tagged at either side because you'd got to get them back out again, and you needed an end. So you had a distinctive tag on them, usually bright orange and plastic, and it also was like a ring, so you had a hook to fish them out. Bear in mind the pit was the same depth as the dolly, near enough, so if you fell in one that was empty... and this happened to new workers; they used to initiate them by dropping them in... you couldn't get out again, because it was smooth and you couldn't reach the top. You're talking eight to nine feet to the top of the thing, so someone had to help you out. If you were very unlucky, they'd dye you, but you know that depended how polite you were to the older workers. So being with my dad, of course, there was no initiation:"That's Peter's lad!" - so I was left alone. Anyway, once you'd got your cloth in there, you could agitate it, so these dollies shook. They were like a washing machine, really, only they weren't rotating, they were agitating, sideways.

 

 

TW: Sort of mechanical?

 

 

SS: Yes, they had power motors on them underneath and they were shuffling backwards and forwards, so you could see the water going "swoosh...swoosh", moving backwards and forwards as it agitated the thing. You had to turn it a little by hand, you know. You'd keep walking from one - you had five of them, so you did a different stake with each one. It took half an hour to wash a hundred yard piece. And after twenty minutes... now only a foreman did this; as I said, it was hard...so now you wanted softener to soften the cloth. That was thrown in after twenty minutes, and that was done by hand, and depending on the weave, depending on, really, what blanket you were doing at the time. That was quite skilled. So my father, who was the foreman, he used to hoy the softener in. The softener...oh, you could feel it on your hands. And your hands would start bleeding, because the softener gets on your hands, and you know, it's awful! Not nice! Can't wear gloves, either.

 

 

TW: Why not? Why couldn't you wear gloves?

 

 

SS: Because you had to feel the cloth when you're taking it out. I'll explain how you've got to get it out in a bit. Anyway, when that's done, you turn off the agitation. Then you'd find your tag, hook your tag, and up above it, directly up above the vat, you'd have a small power roller - small diameter, two foot across - and on top of it, squashing it, was a heavy stone roller, also two foot across but greater diameter; weighed a lot. You'd catch your end and you'd flick it through this roller. You had to get round the vat, catch it at the front; and you'd to be pretty fast or it shot round the roller... and that's a mess, if you lost one. Or it went into the...which you didn't want either; so you got quite skilled at flicking it in. It was running quite fast as well, so you didn't have a lot of time. I mean, you could have got caught, and it would have made a mess of you! Then you took it to another roller that was at the front of the machine. This was a lot lighter, but it was a power roller again. Again at the bottom they were wood, with rubber on the outside so they'd grip, and the stone roller was on top, so that would pull it there. Then you'd have two people, because the cloth had to come out, then it had to be folded, layered backwards and forwards; so this was your job, this two hundred yards. And bear in mind also, because it was man-made fibres, there were stripes and patterns in the blankets. They were already in by the weaving. They were dyed later, but weaved already. So you'd rainbow colours in quite a lot of the blankets; you know, eight or four different colours, one after another, repeated patterns, and this was the problem. You'd catch it as it came up, one at each side, and you'd pleat it backwards and forwards. You used to go one forward, one back, fling... and you'd build it up, layer on layer, until it got to about chest height. Then you were passing it down as you put it on, and you could get fairly high on some of them.

 

 

There was a reason for keeping it, which I'll explain in a minute, but in the end it was so boring! I mean, it took quite a while to do a hundred yard piece, and you were going to do another one and another one. You used to start counting the colours in it, you know: eighty-five blue, twenty-six red, thirty-two green, eighty-two blue...Oh, Jesus! I was regretting working in the mill quite early, it was driving me mad. But nevertheless, the money was good, and...

 

 

TW: If you don't mind, how much did you actually earn, working at fifteen?

 

 

SS: Pressure from my dad: he said, "He's doing a man's job; he's gonna get a decent wage!" So I was taking home five pounds, eight shillings - which was very good at the time indeed. Bear in mind, we were already drinking at this age - fifteen - and you could buy eleven pints of Whitbread dark mild for one pound. So when you were taking five pounds! And my mum took... I think she took... what's it now, fifty?... a pound note at the time, and we had a brown note which was half a pound...

 

 

TW: Ten bob

 

 

SS: Ten bob note. So, I used to pay a ten bob note in board to my mother; that's all. That left me a lot of pennies. I was quite a rich lad at that time. So anyway, I could tolerate the boredom. I had no choice anyway, because I'd committed to it now, and my dad was a hard man.

 

Anyway, once that process had finished, we pushed a cart under a machine that was probably twelve feet high - I couldn't say it was more. There were two gentlemen sat up on chairs, about eight feet in the air either side. It was a tentering machine. Bear in mind this cloth was swash dry but not dry, and also it had been in liquid, so some had shrunk, some hadn't shrunk, depending on how much pounding it had got. So it had to be dried completely, and it had to be kept at a standard width, so your standard width was created by the tentering and drying machine. You'd put your thing there, and you'd pass it up to these two blokes at either side. In front of each one of them there was a conveyor belt of needles. So they'd put one side of the cloth on the needles and then the other side, and it fed it onto the needles. It pulled it into an oven, which was about ten metres long at the top and ten metres underneath, and it went through this oven, dried slowly, and got stretched to the correct width. The needles went wider as it went into the oven, so it was stretching it and making the most of the material you had. Then it would come out into another truck, which would automatically pleat it. So it was dry at this point.

 

And then - it wasn't my job, but it was all in the same department - it would be pushed across to the raising machines. Blankets are a bit fluffy, not a lot fluffy, and that was quite skilful. If you're not careful you'll shrink it again, because raising does narrow the cloth, or blanket in this case. So they put a pile on it, made it fluffy. The raising machine is a big, big barrel, and on the barrel there are a number of rollers, twenty-four usually, rollers running lengthways across it. They rotate alternately, one clockwise, the other anti-clockwise.

 

 

TW: So they're on the outside?

 

 

SS: On the outside of this barrel. The cloth passes over slowly. The barrel rotates much faster than the cloth's moving, so it's fluffing it as it goes along, and you can, obviously, adjust how much weight you want on it. It was more pile on and more fluff, or less. You could also put something called counter-pile in. Once you'd made it very fluffy, your last rung was to bash it in, so you didn't have fluff blowing all over the shop. If you made a mess of it, which did happen, you had a cropping machine that used to take the excess fluff away. That was spiral, a long, long copper spiral - or gun metal, but it was copper coloured - and it rotated at an awesome speed. You'd run the cloth through, and it would smoothe the nap down and make a more even blanket. The higher quality blankets were always made that way. And then it would go into the cutting room, which was not our department.

 

So I got stuck there for a while, and it was the same every week. We did do some sheeting, which did have to be dyed, and that was a bit different. That was cotton, pure cotton for sheeting, and... but we didn't do much of it - we weren't a specialist cotton manufacturer.

 

 

TW: So did you do any dyeing?

 

 

SS: I did a little bit of dyeing, as I say, because that would be natural, undyed, unstained cloth coming in.

 

 

TW: What kind of dyes did you use?

 

 

SS: Well, I didn't. I mean, I wouldn't know. I mean, I didn't get involved in the dyeing part of it, because my dad did that. And also, I believe that if you made a mess of it, it became patchy. You know, it was a fairly skilled job, to be honest, to dye it up. It was cold water dyeing - cotton will cold water dye, as opposed to wool.

 

 

TW: So did they use, like, salt to fix it, or was there other chemicals?

 

 

SS: Don't know. I believe it was salt - it looked like it was, because they used to put it in in blocks, so it well could have been. But we're talking... probably no more than five per cent of production was sheeting; it wasn't a speciality.

 

 

TW: How many hundred yard lengths would you turn out in a week, sort of thing?

 

 

SS: In a week? I wouldn't know in a week, but you had five machines running all the time, so in a day...half an hour each one, and you were doing a nine hour day...so yes, you had turn-over time...so you'd have sixteen times five, hundred metre pieces, sixteen times five... so that's eighty, isn't it? So you'd run off about eighty pieces a day, and that's a lot of stripes to count. It really does do your head in after a while.

 

 

TW: Were you good at maths?

 

 

SS: Oh, it drove me mad! It was good training for the memory as well, counting. Because although they were candy-striped and there were four colours in each one, they could be different colours; so you had to try and memorise orange-blue-green, as opposed to... and I don't know why, but that's all that was going for me.

 

Anyway, I decided I didn't like that, and I wanted to go back to school. I was never going to work in a mill: that was my decision. And my parents went back to Calder High School and got permission for me to return, on condition that I went to somewhere called Todmorden Technical College which were there at the time, and did O-levels, four of them, at night-time. I thought, "Wow, this'll be it!" and my dad said, "But you'll still be working." I said, "How do you mean?" and he said, "I've reduced your hours." He says, "You can finish at three o'clock instead of five; be in there five days a week." He said, "You've made your bed; you can live with it for a year. But if you work hard"... and I thought, "I'm gonna have to!"... "and pass your O-levels, they'll take you back to school," which they did.

 

I had a crammed course at Calder High School, did O-levels and A-levels, and went to university in Newcastle. I stayed there until I was... what? 1976... I'd be twenty-four when I came down. My dad died while I was at Newcastle studying; I think I was in my second year. I had a brother that's younger than me by eight years and a sister that's six years younger again, so when I came back I had a sixteen-year old brother and ten-year old sister and my mother, who'd just been diagnosed with cancer, breast cancer; but it had spread and it proved to be terminal. She was very restricted in what she could do, so I found I had to come back to Mytholmroyd and be close, because mine was the only income, and sometimes my little sister, which is very annoying, calls me Dad, which really does agitate me a little, and then she'll say, "Sorry, Steve! Sorry!" I suppose, yes, I would be the one shouting,"Now, I said bed!" or, "Do the homework!"

 

So I had to get work locally, and it was rushed, and a place called Greenwood Stell's in Mytholmroyd, which was a corduroy manufacturer, offfered me a job as a manager. The manager himself was already in his seventies, the under-manager late fifties, and they said, "Two years, Steven, here, learning all the processes - and you'll do them, not learn them, do them - so many months of each or whatever's required; and then you can take over as under-manager in two years." So, it was started. Quite fascinating; and my first job was oiling, greasing and cleaning the looms. They were Picanol looms, Picanol Masters. They had shuttles in them, and they were bright green. What you'd do is: they all had grease nipples all over them, and you had a grease gun. But before you did that, you got rid of the dirty grease that had come out, and you'd get a bowl of paraffin - a bucket of paraffin - and you'd get a cloth, and you'd wipe them all down, and they'd all come shiny. It was incredible, because it goes back to the natural paint, so they were all bright green. Then you'd do all the grease points. You've already vacced it down, by the way. You had a little vacuum cleaner, a cylinder, so you'd taken all the fluff off.

 

 

TW: Was that at the beginning of each day, then?

 

 

SS: This was the whole job; this was what you did all day; it was a full time job. And bear in mind there were thirty-two looms in my part. There were some Northrop looms that were a lot older. These would be 1960 looms; they weren't very old, the Picanols, and very good looms as well. But the older shuttle looms were Northrops, which were twenties or thirties, and they had a tendency to do the heavy cords such as Bedford cords and things. We were doing mainly needle cord, the lighter stuff, and four shafts; so you know it was quite a simple weave. Bedfords were carrying... I think it was fourteen shafts; it was a lot more heavy job, and the new looms couldn't cope with it; they used to break. Because of the picks, you know - the picks, the threads. So, the number of threads you put in per inch with the Bedford was very heavy. The sley comes forward after a shuttle goes in. The shuttle goes in, carries the thread across; the sley comes forward and batters it into the cloth, and then goes back. Well, when you're putting sixty picks an inch in, and your weft's sixteen count, then what you've got is a lot of power; a lot of energy has to be absorbed. So the modern looms used to break often. The older ones were built for it and they could do it. Narrower cloth, as well, on the Bedford looms; the finished cloth was a lot narrower. The thing about the count, as well, is: in cotton - it would be cotton in this case - the lower the number, the thicker the thread. So point eight is very thick thread. Four is common thread for sheeting, sixteen needlecord, and you can get down to things like... what?...they always go by doubling...thirty-two, sixty-four. Sixty-fours are very fine, very high quality. We used to do moleskin using that, and that had a lot of picks in it; it would really bash up

 

 

TW: So moleskin was a very high quality material, then?

 

 

SS: In weaving, yeah. We had a lot of trouble with it, because of something called the worm gear that controls the feed. The warp at the back lets off at a specific rate and it's taken up by the gears at the front, so they've got to balance. Now, what we were finding, it was so slow weaving moleskin that the worm gear we had couldn't cope with that speed, so we had what we called banging up. That means the cloth started to slide back, so you'd get, if you like, bars, where you were putting too many picks in, and your cloth, before the worm gear kicked in again, started pulling it through. We had a lot of problems with it. We couldn't get it right at all with the Stells. They mainly came from Germany. They were doing it. It's also fiinished a lot differently, but that's a different story.

 

So after that, next was spinning... no, I'm sorry... winding. We'd bring the cotton in boxes, and it was on bobbins. Now a shuttle has something called a pirn in it. The pirns have got to be wound, and what happens is, the pirn unwinds as the shuttle goes backwards and forwards. When it's empty a head will come down, knock the empty one out and from something above, called a box, a new one will be knocked into place, a full one; and they had to be spun... sorry... wound, separately. Too much, they got jammed; too little, you were wasting time. So I had to learn how to do the winding and strip off the old pirns, put on the new ones and, you know, move them backwards and forwards in the boxes. We'd put them in the magazine, we called it - it was a rotating drum, really - and you knocked them all in, one by one. The older ones, the Northrops, they were still changing by hand on some of them, so the shuttle was stopped in the box, and the weaver would be very fast at it. You'd whip out the old shuttle, bash in a new one... a new pirn, rather... and set the machine going by relieving the brake and flicking it across again; and they were doing it that way. Some of the older women were brilliant at it, you know. They were really fast, and they virtually did a level and stop - very dangerous. So, you know, they'd catch it out in one loom until it was going again.

 

 

TW: You can lose fingers.

 

 

SS: Oh, God! You could anyway. The shuttles were beasts. When I was hit with my shuttle I was ...

 

I moved on to the next job after; that was weaving. I'd learnt to weave, and I was running a set of looms. I wasn't running the Picanol Masters; I was running older Picanols, 1950 ones. They had big shuttles, very long, very heavy. They had old-fashioned shuttle guards and they weren't very effective. So when I got hit by one, it left - I still have it to this day - a mark on my leg, from the point of the shuttle. They were metal at either end, and sharpened points. I mean, they were very nasty. And it shot out and impaled me on my leg. And they said: I'm a proper weaver now.

 

 

TW: Could I just stop you for a minute? I've got some shuttles upstairs. If I go and bring them down, could you tell me what all the bits are called on it, that sort of thing?

 

 

SS: Well, there aren't many names for them, but I'll have a look at your shuttles.

 

 

TW: Okay. [gone for shuttles]

 

 

SS: They would be for a Master loom. No... it would be that size, but it wouldn't have a bore in it. There were some smaller, for the Masters, than that. They are heavy, are these, as well.

 

 

TW: Are these old ones, then?

 

 

SS: Different looms... That one would have been used on the old Picanols; they called them Presidents, Picanol Presidents; I always forget them. Not the Masters - the Masters would have been about this size, but without the bore in the middle, and without the clamp in here, so that ... The clamp here holds the pirn, the metal part of the pirn. You just knock them, like that, and it points in this direction. Now down that side, on that side, you'd have fur stuck on, glued on, to keep the thread, if you like, so it doesn't bunch up... or to keep the feed smooth, really, so when it's coming in and out, like this, you don't get any loops in the cloth. So that one... And again, you see, they would have glued something along there. It's like a ... it was like fur. I don't think it was fur... It might actually have been that, but it looked like it... it had skin on the back, and you glue it on that side, a little bit there, in the middle. And then the thread would feed out in a regular manner without looping. But yeah, pretty excellent are them; very rarely you'd have to touch them. That's one I've not come across; it's a different design completely. Again, it's the same clicking mechanism, again, in there, for the pirns; and you've got a little bit left, see?

 

 

TW: There is a little bit of fur, yes, I see it.

 

 

SS: Now these would be all the way along, and that's there to give a smooth feed as it goes out. So, yeah, without the fur... If you'd got loops as well, by the way, you'd have to stop the machine, take it out - although the tackler would re-do it for you - and then... That would not... Well that's had it anyway; because there's no point on, in other words. So, the points had to be like... Now that's a good one - that's solid, and it's also very sharp. But that was another part of the game. We used to grind them - the weavers themselves would grind them, to make sure they were always sharp and smooth, because of course anything along here is gonna catch the shed as it runs through. You didn't want anything catching the shed. So the shuttle... That's in fairly good nick, actually - I mean, that one's in good nick indeed. Yeah, it's not in bad nick at all. It just feeds out of the eye there, of course, and the eyes could be lifted in and out... should have screws somewhere here; it does, on the back... and you used to knock them out. But we usually didn't bother, because you just slung them. It wasn't usually the eyes and things that went. What usually went was...they'd split, and once you'd got a split in ...

 

 

TW: How long would they last from new, would you think?

 

 

SS: Oh, you couldn't tell. I mean, what happened, we wouldn't use the same manufacturers. There were a lot of shuttle manufacturers, so they were always looking for cheaper ones. We got some man-made ones, not made of wood, from America, and they didn't...They were complete - they didn't have a point on, like this is metal. But they were hard, so you just ground the shuttle itself down to a point. But they turned out to be very poor, and they wore very fast, you know; they were no use to you. And it depends again on the machine set-up. If the tackler's not set the machine up properly, what it had a tendency to get is, it's not holding it in the box properly, you know. It will go into a box, and there's two leather...how can I put it?... like patches, on either side of the box, that grip it like that, and you hold it like that before the picking stick wallops it again. And the picker on top would hit it there, would knock it back across, so it's being walloped at great speed. But if it comes into the box, and the leather on the box is worn, it'll lift slightly, or lift like this; and then it gets walloped, and of course it's coming at an angle. It's gonna hit the shuttle guards, and then it'll crack and break. So it didn't have really a life, you know. You didn't want to change them if you'd got a good one running. You'd be quite happy with that. You thought...

 

 

TW: Would it be about a year?

 

 

SS: No, no, no! I mean, I've changed them in days.

 

 

TW: Really?

 

 

SS: Oh, yeah! Yeah, you were expected to get two or three weeks out of them. Some of them - it depended again what jobs you were doing, which loom you were on - some of the older looms, the Presidents, were in fairly bad shape, and they used to smash up shuttles quite regularly. They were often breaking, and they were often flying. I mean, the idea of a flying shuttle is literally ... One of these things can be moving at a phenomenal speed, and when it hits you ... you can imagine!

 

 

TW: Like a bullet, almost.

 

 

SS: Yeah, there was a lad died at Stell's. He got hit on the side of his head with one - hit in the head - and it killed him instantly. I was on littler shuttles, about that size. No, smaller than that. That's the size of a Master shuttle, but it's not one, because it's got the bar in, and they're the older ones.

 

 

TW: When you say Master shuttle, what do you actually mean by that?

 

 

SS: The Masters. The machine was called a Master.

 

 

TW: Oh, I see.

 

 

SS: So each machine has its own specific shuttle. You see, that one can't be changed automatically; that's an old shuttle that has to be loaded. Whereas this one, there, you see, all you do is bash on that part, and the pirn... It's a shame you don't have any, because it would have been useful to have some; I could have got some, as well... However, the pirn would push in there, the metal band around like a cylinder at this side, and the thread is down along there. So what would happen, a little hammer comes in, bashes it out there, and the empty one drops through almost instantly, and it flies away, and the new one is bashed into place from the magazine. So it's constantly... Now that is from an automatic loom. That obviously isn't, because you can't do that - you can't knock it in and out; so it has to be fed.

 

 

TW: So it's probably older than that one.

 

 

SS: It is older, yeah. These are the newer ones. That's automatic as well, because they're a different design; they're not the designs we used around here.

 

 

TW: So they're sort of fifties-sixties sort of era, would you think?

 

 

SS: Sixties. We still had shuttles in the seventies running in, and still having some looms, but because they made better cloth. You've got to bear in mind that when it was on that pirn it was continuous. It just let it off all the time. So there was one thread going backwards and forwards. Now on a Rapier loom, which took over - and we're on Stells at the moment - or an Air-Jet loom or whatever, it's one thread right across, each time, and it's cut. A cutter cuts it. So the Rapier comes in, takes one thread, cut; one thread, cut; so, instead of being continuous in the cloth, there's lots of them all together. Now that means you've got waste; you've got something called selvage. Because otherwise, you see, what happened - your thread would loop and bend, and you don't want that. You want smooth cloth. so you've got to hold it, with something called eight bobbins at either side, and these were on a plane, weaving up-down, up-down. We also had something called the Leno; it was a contraption that tied a knot round every thread as it comes in. It moves - again - on shafts; they're all moving on shafts. It goes up and down, ties a knot every time; so it ties in each thread. But the selvage edge is cut off, and it's taken away and run away as waste. So if your cloth's that wide, you're losing that much.

 

 

TW: So you've got a lot of wastage, really.

 

 

SS: It is, but they were a lot faster. I mean, if you come and look at ours, I mean ours are doing six hundred picks a minute. It's fast, yeah. You're used to them, mind you. You know, you might find them a bit... hopping, when they start on you.

 

 

TW: So are you weaving again now, then, are you?

 

 

SS: Yeah, that's all I do, because I can't tackle - or I can't any more, because of my heart. I can't lift, and it's quite a heavy job. So what I do is, I support. I work with another lad. He does most of the weaving, and I do the awkward bits - putting on new bobbins, changing the selvages. And when they cock up - they go round sand rollers, and they're running riot - I tend to correct it all; but I don't do lifting. If I have to knot or tackle, everything's got to be lifted for me. So, I'm just running the knotting machines; and I still do that sometimes.

 

 

TW: Well, to take you back a bit: you were doing this two years, basically training up to be the under-manager. So carry on with that story, and what you did next.

 

 

SS: What I did next, I did weaving for about six months, I think it was, and then I did knotting. I worked with an old bloke, who was ... it was a Guild, then, of knotters ... So I worked as a knotter and learnt that. Then I started learning to tackle. I worked with a guy called John Smith, a wonderful tackler. He died. He was only about forty something when he died. Surprised, but I didn't know him when he died. I was still doing the under-manager thing. I was tackling, and we were all told that Greenwood Stell's was shutting down.

 

 

TW: So you never got to be under-manager, then?

 

 

SS: No. No.

 

 

TW: What is tackling?

 

 

SS: Mending looms and changing them. I used to change patterns. I used to mend things. Several patterns then were put on something called...Oh, what's it called?... packets - big metal bars with different shapes, different shapes that affect the lift of the shafts. So you used to put packets together in a specific design, underneath, and then they'd lift the shafts to the pattern you wanted. So you had to put them together yourself, and all that sort of thing. So I was learning to do all that, and it shut down! We'd been importing cloth from Czechoslovakia for a while, "supplementing" it, they said; but then they realised they could produce it a lot cheaper than us, and they just shut us down. So I was made redundant; told before Christmas. Not a happy year, that. We were all told at Christmas that we were shutting down. I'll give him his due: Alan Greenwood did burst into tears and what-have-you, and then, after, I thought, well...

 

My mum at this stage was gettting a lot worse. She was on chemo and all that. So it wasn't a matter of going back to teaching or anything, which I would have had to start doing soon. She was about seven... six and a half... years at home; she never went into a hospice; so I always had to be near. Anyway, I got another job in textiles straight away, and that was tackling and weaving; I was doing both. I'd do so many days weaving, and then I was tackling. We were setting up some new looms and machines, working at a place called Fairlea Mill, in Luddendenfoot; it was Courtaulds at the time. It was making nothing but sheeting, and it was going in as... Well, they used to make their own... What's it called?... They used to make their own weft from scratch,and they'd bring it in as bales, blend it, spin it, the lot. You know, sliver it, card it and then blend it. They used to make their own warps as well. Warps were made with thicker, rougher thread, but because it was cotton it was weak, so you used to have to size it - put size on it in size baths. It had to be dipped, and it had to be cooled again, to

make their own warps.

 

 

TW: What kind of size was it? Was it rabbit skin or fish, or what was it?

 

 

SS: I've no idea. I've never thought about it, really. I used it for wallpapering, because I took some home and it didn't smell, so it wasn't that bad. Well, it smelt a bit when you mixed it, but it was like ordinary size, to be honest, that you could buy at, you know, the painter and decorator's shop. Yeah, I took quite a bit home - very sticky.

 

Anyway, this place, you see, it used to go out in loom state. The cloth was straight off the loom into rolls, and it was still hard. It needed to go into the wet rooms to be finished and cut. We didn't do that; Courtaulds took it away. They had articulated wagons coming quite often. Big shed. I think there was...what? It ran three shifts, and the main shed, it had a hundred and twenty-odd looms in it, and it ran three shifts, doing nowt but. And I used to weave on them four days a week. Friday and Saturday, I used to go down onto some other looms called Rotec looms - not box shuttles. We were starting to

make beer towels, and we were setting them up, and we were trialling some fast looms, super-fast looms. Now these looms I was working were again Picanol looms, and they were again shuttles, but the new ones we were taking at this time - it would be about 1978 - were Rapier looms; well, what they called Picanol Rapiers. But then Courtaulds decided that they were shutting us down.

 

So I got made redundant there, and moved instantly to simply being a weaver. I went weaving at a place called British Furtex at that time, and that's Luddendenfoot as well. I only did that for about five or six weeks before I got offered a job, which was tackling, knotting and weaving, at Pecket Shed up near Old Town in Pecket Well. I worked there for about a year and a half, I think it was. But it was very run down and orders weren't brilliant, and it was part of the same group as Greenwood Stell's were. I mean, ironically, they were the same old bloody looms that I had worked before, that had been moved to Pecket Shed; and their other looms had been demolished and thrown out. They had some old Lancashire looms up there, and they only had two of them running - overhead arms.

 

 

TW: I've seen them.

 

 

SS: They move in and flings it like that - and they were buggers to run. Oh, they were monsters! They were dangerous, as well. And they had two of them running. So I was doing all sorts there, because everyone had to muck in. But it was producing again; the stuff we were making was the same as Greenwood Stell's. It was going to the finishing dye works on the way to Tod; it's still there... Moss brothers. It was all going down to Moss Brothers at the time. So we were doing that, and of course we had to try and do moleskin again, and I thought, "Oh, God! Here we go!" Every morning you're messing with the worm gears because they were cold, all the machines. They wouldn't play for ages, and we were producing crap; it wasn't good. So after a while, they just lost it. It was mainly bringing cloth in from abroad, and they just ... up there they just re-rolled it and checked it and sent it out to Moss Brothers. But they were closing it down when I was there. They were moving all the old looms, you know; all the old Northrops were being demolished and taken out for scrap. So I did a lot of that as well - pulling things apart and, you know, seeing its demise, and ...I've missed one! I also worked...I think it might have been actually after British Furtex but before Pecket ... I worked at a place called Cinder Hill Spinning Company. I worked there as a blender and sliverer. Sorted, so to speak!

 

 

TW: Oh! Could you explain those processes a little bit, then?

 

 

SS: Yeah. What you got there was bales to come in, mainly raw... sorry, waste... cotton; stuff that had been ripped to pieces. Now they used to use something called devils, and the cotton waste was put into a devil. They were called devils for a reason: they caught fire a lot! They were vicious, and they rotate at great speed. They'd take thread in; they'd shred it to pieces, literally; and it would come out like cotton wool. But all you needed was a bit of metal and a spark, and whoof! They were off! And so it was a regular thing. Every week we would get this. Then, you'd so many bales out of them, and you'd mix it with raw cotton coming in from America. Now that - you could pick it up in slabs; and if you hit someone on the head with it, it would knock them unconscious. It was heavy and compacted. So you'd blend it, depending on what end product they wanted, to make an acceptable cotton. If it was raw stuff, we'd make something called bump, which was also known as shoddy: nasty, cheap cloth, in a way, and used for curtain linings. We still use it today, but we don't make it in this country any more, seeing as they're all shut down. So what I had to do was blend it all together. I had a machine that was on three levels, three floors. I'd feed it on the top floor, and it would first... a gigantic machine with six-inch spikes... it would rip all this stuff open; and it would then start moving along under air pressure - you know, being blown along. Then it would drop down to the next level, and that would comb it and remove... it would go over these magnets, supposed to remove all the metal fragments, because a lot of this was also thrown in... I missed this, as well... You'd also have two bales of sweepings, trash, so that had all sorts in it - bits of metal, nails - and the magnets were supposed to lift it all off. They didn't always get it. And it would go in to spikes that rotated faster and faster, until it was really open - really open - and then it would zoom right up to the top floor and it would go through ... oh, I can't remember what it's called ... a large cylinder, sort of. It blew against the cylinder and then it was scraped off. Then it was dropped into these... they were like a hole in the floor... down a chute; and you had these pits. These pits were about fourteen foot deep, and they all had big fire doors on, because quite often they caught fire; and when they burnt, they burnt! So you had metal fire doors on the top, so when one caught fire you could flip the metal door down fast, and then you were zooming downstairs with the fire hoses, trying to put them out. That happened quite often, as well. You had three of these bins; as you filled one, you went on to the next one. But they were different qualities, so you didn't, you know, you... And then they'd go from there to the carding engines - all blown through - and that's where they made it into the sliver. Then it was taken on to the spinning frames and made into thread - all fairly rough stuff. It was all done at Cinder Hill, and that shut down - went bust. That's when I went to Pecket, and Pecket also went under.

 

Redundant again! I mean, they're all redundancies. And then I went to Calder Weaving. They offered me again; no breaks in employment! They offered me a job weaving, and then I did weaving, in which I was making very good money - very well paid. I went knotting there, and did knotting for a few years. Then I went back to weaving again, bit of tackling, bit of all sorts. I wouldn't say I was tackling - I was changing the looms. When they took out all the old shafts to put a new design in, you've to lift everything, disconnect it, drop in the new ones and put... whatever. I was doing that sort of thing. And I was making up the shafts, because as you probaly understand, you've got four or five shafts, and you'll have... a draft, it's called, like shaft. You can have 1-4-3-2, 1-4-3-2... repetitions. Some of them were very complex, because you had fourteen shafts. You had to thread them with a little eye, and when you thread them... they're called a reed hook; they're about this long, with a little fancy hook on the end... you bring it all through. Then you've got something called a reed on the front, which is like a comb in a way. It's metal, with lots of slits in it and each one's called a dent. You put so many threads through for each dent, depending on what your cloth wanted, and...it used to be called a sleying knife, and you (cutting sound), and if you went wrong and you picked up two, you started again - and some of the bigger designs had, what, six or seven thousand ends in, so it was very annoying. Some of them were very fine. I mean, you'd get some of them that were... oh, in each inch... you'd have as many as forty dents an inch; so it was very fine. Some them weren't: some of them were only seven or eight dents an inch - very easy. Some were four, two, or whatever. Anyway, that's what I'd do with them, and that lot had to be lifted out, and the new ones put back in. And such a big one, you know, and different widths. So I did that at Stell's for a while. Stell's was owned by an American company called Allegheny International, making over-blankets at the time; electric over-blankets, and they had to be wired. We didn't do the wiring. What we did do at that point, we wove them, raised them and cut them. They called them shells; each blanket was a shell. And then they went to Roton, where they were wired up by women - very fast; big money, as well. And we were called Sunbeam - the name. We were Sunbeam, the name we were selling them under at the time...

 

 

TW: I remember that name.

 

 

SS: ... then Rowenta...

 

 

TW: I remember that name as well, yeah.

 

 

SS: ... and eventually we bought out Dreamland; we took them on as well. So we were quite big. Too big, as it turned out: Alleghny was a corporate fraud, and they went bust in America. Biggest bankruptcy of all time. So we got shut down. Made redundant again!

 

Now I lived down South for a while. But the man what owned the factory previously, that had sold to Allegheny, bought it back - for a pound - and started making electric blankets and selling them to Rowenta, and whatever... you know. So I came back, looking for a job, and they said: "Right! We're expanding on to a night shift back at Calder Weaving, under a new management," and he said... Well, I went down to the dole office and they said, "We've got a weaving job. Did you work at Calder Weaving?" I said, "Well, I did seven years there, doing t'same job." So they just rang up and said, "We've got someone called Steve Smith." They says, "Tell him to start on Monday." So I started on the Monday, and they put me straight on to the night shift on my own. That was great. I had a labourer with me, and I thought, "They're going to give me two weeks' training." But they didn't; they just said, "Right, you're weaving on t'night shift, Steven." But it didn't last that long; it lasted about six or seven months; then they put me on days. Then I went knotting on days - which was better than the night shift - and then I went knotting on days, back to that again. And I've been there since - fourteen years, now. I've done this, that and the other - back at weaving ... Well, I'm weaving now.

 

 

TW: So are you still making electric blankets?

 

 

SS: No, electric blankets have died out completely. They got less and less, and we started to make them for South Africa and abroad for a while, but that market's died; so we don't do any at all now. We've moved in to... which has turned out to be a gem. We're using the same materials which I called shoddy before - point eight weft, which means it's thick weft, and some fours - that was at one point made by Cinder Hill, but they've shut down. So now we have to import it, from Spain, I believe, and brought to a place called... bought by a company called Shylo, who put their own label on it and sell it to us. But it is for inter-linings - thermal linings for curtains - and they raise it, and fireproof some of it, shrink some of it, depending on what the orders are, and it goes in between... like, your own curtains here have got a pattern on one side, then you've got a lining on the back, which is plain; well, they go in between there, and they create a thermal insulating layer. And of course, with the environmental interest at the moment, it's big business, and we're selling lots of it. And we've diversified into fancier stuff as well. We produce for... what's it called?... Laura Ashley; quite a lot of designs for their soft furnishings. You know, fabrics for settees - we weave that at the moment. We do a lot of hundred per cent pure linen - don't know what they use it for. And we also do something for Barbour - we do tartans for them - and they use it as linings for... they make jackets that are... what's the word?... waxed... waxed jackets. So, the waxed jackets ...

 

 

TW: I've got one - I'll get it.

 

 

SS: Oh, have you? Right, right! Well, we do the inter-linings for them. (TW brings jacket) Oh, God, yeah! The green one: modern check, you call that one; yeah, that's modern check. I would have woven that. (laughing) Yeah, that's what we do.

 

 

TW: Can I have your signature, please!

 

 

SS: I've never seen it finished, to be honest. Yes, well, that's what we're doing as well; we're doing them. We don't do all the checks. I think there are sixteen different checks. We do six of them: modern, ancient, and a few others. Yeah, that's modern check, that one, and as you'll see, it's a bit patterny, and ...

 

 

TW: A lot of picks in that, then, I guess.

 

 

SS: Not that many, believe it or not; it's quite open. It's a bit more awkward because of the number of colours you're running in. They're not shuttle looms, so you don't need boxes. What you do is: the Rapiers run through little things called fingers; each finger carries a different colour. So, the fingers are on giant magnets, electric magnets; and when the rapier's coming in, the colour it wants will go down on one finger and feed it. So, the fingers are going all the time, so it's just throwing threads in. There are not that many... No, there are not that many picks per inch; it's surprising. It's quite fine weft.

 

 

TW: There's only white, black, yellow and green in that, isn't there?

 

 

SS: Let's have a look. Also, your warp's also coloured. Now, when you're knotting them, that's very difficult, because you've got to be sure you're tying colours to each colour, because the pattern's very distinctive. So, Yeah, you'd have... you've got white, of course. I can't remember how many they have; they all have the same, by the way, I think. Check has the same numbers. So, you've got dark green, light green, yellow... that's three. You've got a black... four; white... five; I thought there was six. There might be a slight chain difference on one of them, but I don't think so. There might be five, but I thought there was six... thought there was six colours running in. Some of them are very close, by the way; some of the greens are very, very similar. So it might be a five run, this one.

 

 

TW: Could you get the darker green with the black mixed in?

 

 

SS: I don't know... I don't know. But as I say, we don't do all the colours; we only do some. And we only do one green, and that's this one. And then there's lots of yellowy ones, orangey ones, you know. One way or another, we produced for... What's it called now? You know, these... They make handbags that cost a fortune...

 

 

TW: Prada?

 

 

SS: No, it's Yorkshire. They're long coats... those big coats they make. It's a very expensive product, eight hundred quid for a sodding handbag! Yeah, we make them. The designer was in; I said, "Look, lovie! I'm not being naughty, but there's a lot of faults in this." She said, "Oh, we'd just throw that away." She said, "It doesn't cost much to buy the cloth, does it, and we're making eight hundred pounds." I thought, "Blow it!" " Well," she says, "You are silly!" I can't remember what they're called, now.

 

 

TW: So you make handbags as well, then?

 

 

SS: We make the materials.

 

 

TW: You make the materials for the handbags.

 

 

SS: We do the overflow. What happens is that they've got their own production unit. Now, when they're busy, these people come to us. So, we've got quite a lot of variety going through at the moment; quite a lot, but... I wouldn't know how many different types we've got at the moment. We've only got fourteen looms. There is a sample loom; that doesn't count. One never changes: it's always doing inter-linings; it never does anything else. So there's twelve looms that alter, and currently I would have said four or five are on inter-linings. It's a sign we're short of work, we're not too busy. We've got none on Barbour at the moment; we took the last one off about a month ago, and we've not got any fresh orders in. I'm... I'm thinking... Laura Ashley's slowed down a great deal. We do a lot of things called linen stripe and linen plain and marquee - linen with big stripes, you know.

 

 

TW: Is that because of the recession, then? Do you think quality goods like those aren't moving as quickly as they once were?

 

 

SS: I personally think that if you look at Laura Ashley's, share prices are dropping a lot. And they are a major customer. I think everyone's pulled back on their stock; simple as that. A lot of them had a lot of stock to work on before; certainly this lot did - Barbour. You've got to bear in mind that some of the orders we were just finishing were made twelve months previously, and we've just woven them up now because they didn't call for it; but the warps have been sat there for quite a long time. Very hard to get, as well, because there's only one place in the country that are capable of making coloured warps, and that's called Blackburn Dyers.

 

 

TW: Really? Just the one?

 

 

SS: Just the one that can do them, yeah. They're quite complex, are the warps. I mean, you're talking... a lot of length on them. These... five thousand metres, this stuff.

 

 

TW: That long?

 

 

SS: Yeah, it will run for two and a half months on the loom before it comes off. Other stuff, no. I mean, if you're doing linen, believe it or not, linen is a thousand metres, and we'll knock that off in two or three days. It'll come off and be changed and reknotted, then put another one in. And believe it or not, the inter-linings, like fours, last a long, long time - again, five or six thousand metres long. The warps are very fine; the wefts are quite heavy... but you know, one way or another. So that's where I am now, doing that.

 

 

 

TW: Well, we'll stop there, then, and call it a day.

 

About Us

Wild Rose Heritage and Arts is a community group which takes it's name from the area in which we are located - the valley ("den") of the wild rose ("Heb") -  Hebden Bridge which is in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.

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Pennine Heritage Ltd.
The Birchcliffe Centre
Hebden Bridge
HX7 8DG

Phone: 01422 844450
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