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  • Interviews and Storytelling: Richard Redman

    [TRACK 1]

    TONY WRIGHT:

    It’s Tony Wright, it’s 27th of February 2010 and I’ll be interviewing Richard Redmond.

    RICHARD REDMAN:

    By the way, it’s Redman

     

    TW:

    Beg your pardon. Redman. Could you tell me your full name and where and when you were born?

     

    RR:

    Yes I’m Richard Redman. I was born on the 25th of March 1926 in Pleasant Villas, Hanginroyd Road, Hebden Bridge.

     

    TW:

    Did you have a large family?

     

    RR:

    No, I was an only child and as a matter of interest, I was the first baby born by one Doctor Dearden in Hebden Bridge and it was done in our house, which was normal in those days, so that’s where I was, but I had several aunties and uncles in Hebden Bridge, and we in fact lived - in the other house at Pleasant Villas was my grandfather ,also called Richard Redman, and he’d lived there for a long time my where father had been brought up and my father had two sisters at that time because his two brothers had been killed in the trenches in the first war, so I had a lot of family of another generation around me, but I had a somewhat lonely single-child life there. Up there, there were other children around with whom I played in the early days. I think, most people today don’t realise the social set up in those days. There was – clearly my parents and grandparents were relatively well off and there were quite a number of middle class families in Hebden Bridge because most of the businesses were family owned in those days, and it was all very – society had been very dominated by the various chapels and everybody knew what everybody else was doing, and I think everybody was somewhat circumscribed by the attitude generally, and they had to be, or they felt they had to be careful what they said because of criticism of their peers. My grandfather was a very religious man and his ancestors went back generations in the Calder Valley, as did my mother’s parents and they very tied in with Wesleyan Methodism. He was a trustee of the old Salem chapel which stood on the site of the current Salem chapel and he had a stone with his name on the building, and they went – even when I was around – from early days they all had to go to chapel at least once, if not twice a day and my father as a child was very restricted in what they could do on a Sunday. I don’t think they were allowed to read ordinary books, they had to read the Bible and that sort of thing, so I was actually taken to chapel from an early age in the morning, but children came out before the sermon so we didn’t actually see very much of it. As a matter – just to sort of underline what society was like – my parents had applied to join a tennis club called the Caldene Tennis Club in Mytholmroyd but they were not given membership because they were in trade. That was the sort of attitude; I think you had to be in the professions or a gentleman landowner to be in that club, in spite of the fact that the firm – my father worked for the firm that my grandfather started and owned and they were by far the biggest employer in the whole area, but it was a very very, very different set up. My father joined the army during the army and served in the trenches, and saw what it was like, and eventually wounded and came back to England and set up as an instructor in the army, but because of what he saw in the trenches he totally lost any faith he had in God and religion and so on, but when he came back, his respect for his father was such that he dare not tell him this, so he went on going to chapel and I had to go as well but I was never forced to go to Sunday School, so I say I was very fortunate not to be brain washed [laughing] because that’s what it amounted to, and in 1934, I would be seven I think, they decided – my father was doing quite well and they decided to move away from Hebden Bridge and they bought a house in Cragg Vale and we moved to Cragg Vale, and I felt it was partly to escape from his father watching over him and controlling what he did so we moved up here at the age, seven I was, so the question of schooling arises I suppose. I should say perhaps that society as it was, it was a bit snobby; my father wasn’t but I think my mother was regarded as a cut above ordinary folk, and for that reason probably they didn’t want me to go to the local school where my father had been certainly and she’d been, but, so they sent me to a school which is now Sowerby High School but in those days was a grammar school and I presume fee paying and it had a kindergarten, and I was sent there. There were trams in those days so you went on a tram. I didn’t know at the time but my father had followed the tram in his car and made sure I got off at the right place and so on, so I went there and I didn’t learn a single thing in about two years, the reason being that I was very dyslexic. Of course that was not recognised in those days – you were thick, so they were very worried about all this and…..the first year we were in one class in one room with a woman teacher called Miss Williams and she was supposed to teach us to read and write I suppose, and all I remember was that she read us all – tried to get –well we were read Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’ which as you will know was Canadian, and it was of no interest whatsoever, because I was only interested in doing things with my hands – knocking nails in, or how engines ran and so on, because by that time I had the run of the mill. If my mother was wanting to going somewhere father would take me to work and I had the run of the mill and I could do anything; I would go and watch the steam engine at the age of about six. There’s no way you could do that today because it was highly dangerous, but I learnt at a very early age to keep clear of things and not to put my fingers near gear wheels; I’d open gears and belts and so on, so I was not interested in ‘Hiawatha’ so very surprisingly, they, well what was surprising was that this protected only child, they decided to send me to boarding school. In fact, my father’s cousins were the sons of his father’s brothers had been to boarding schools, I’ve no idea where, so this was nothing new as an idea, but was new, they had looked at the various public schools and decided that they definitely did not like the public schools and they discovered that there were progressive boarding schools and they got a book called The Progressive Schools Handbook and went and looked at a few and picked one called Bedale’s, which had a day prep school called Dunhurst and this was in a place called Petersfield which is Hampshire, fifteen miles from Portsmouth – a very long way away, so I was taken down there at the age of nine and left there [answered telephone] and I could go on forever about Dunhurst and Bedale’s because I was there till I was eighteen, but basically it was a progressive school and it had nothing like the public school

     

    TW:

    When you say progressive, what do you mean?

     

    RR:

    To start with, it was open to any religion so the religious aspect….it was…we did have a weekly service but it was not a Christian service openly in that God was mentioned but not Christ and there were prayers but not like a Christian one, so there were quite a lot of Jews sent their children there, and it did not have any written school rules, nor did it have a proper uniform – up to the age of eighteen we all wore shorts and sort of jackets, well prior to the war, because that was mostly in the war, so there was no uniform. Competition between children academically was frowned upon so there were no class places, in fact there was no publicity at all of how you were going; you could tell other people and they would tell you but there was no a list of exam results or anything like that. Many of the staff were called by their Christian names, there was definitely no corporate punishment and there were no things like having to write lines, in fact I was given some lines by a new chemistry teacher for misbehaving in class, and I had to write out Archimedes’ theory a hundred times- I still know it – but this got around and I was the only person he ever gave lines to, it stopped, so…..it was very craft orientated. It had been tied up with the arts and crafts movement from the early days. It started, oh and of course, it was co-educational. Co-educational boarding from early 1890, probably the first in the world, so it really was very different to most schools, and indeed a lot of the things that are happening now generally were pioneered in those days. They had run it on Montessori grounds when I was there but they’d abandoned that because it was a bit too extreme, that’s when children do not do anything they do not want to do. There’s a school in my old house up the valley here that’s still run on those lines.

     

    TW:

    Do you think that kind of education influenced you for the rest of your life then?

     

    RR:

    Very much so, yes, very much so. I mean I’ve been a socialist all my life for instance, which might be thought unusual as an industrialist, but….the way I felt, I’m not sure they’d all agree, that I was most reasonable as an employer than many people. I know after we closed some of the people – somebody said to me once ‘we thought you were a hard bugger, but my goodness when we went somewhere else we realised it was different’ [laughing]….I mean I don’t want to go on too long about education, but that was very small, there were only a hundred and twenty in the senior school and so on, twelve in a class

     

    TW:

    Did you return to this area after that?

     

    RR:

    Yes. I was there till I was eighteen, I was Head Boy in the final year which did me a lot of good and in fact I was…I got a postponement of being called up because I was Head Boy for three months because I was eighteen in March and they let me stay another term, so I came back here after that, but of course this was 1944 in the war and everyone was called up so I was waiting – I had tried to get in to the air force but I went through an air crew selection board; there were about a hundred of us and nobody was selected that day because at that time the losses in bomber command were much less than they thought, so they stopped taking anyone in, but they went on interviewing everyone and I thought ‘right I’ll be going in the army’ but it turned out that there was this shortage of coal miners and Ernest Bevin who was Minister of Labour had decided to conscript people in to the mines and they were called Bevin boys, and I was conscripted in to the coal mines, so I was sent to a training place in Pontefract where we spent three months learning what mining was about and doing sort of commando course activities to fitten us up, and lived in a hostel and then I was sent to Woolico coal mine in Barnsley which is near the Yorkshire Sculpture Park now, indeed I’ve spent many hours underneath it, and I worked there for three and a third years, first of all on what’s called haulage which is a conveyor belt with tubs bringing the coal up to the bottom of the shaft, and then I got on to the safety staff which was a lot more interesting. I used to wander round on my own, sampling the air and dust and looking at the props and that sort of thing, and I got to know everything that went on in the coal mine which was quite interesting, but everything I’ve done since has been better [laughing]….so I would say from a very early age, I was going to Foster Mill. That was always…there was never…I had never any thoughts suggested that I might do anything else, and my father said ‘you don’t need to worry about exams’ of course he was concerned that I might not be able to pass them anyhow, being dyslexic and so on, but….’because you are going in to the mill there’ so I had really always – I never really questioned this, and so when I got out of the mines I started work in the factories. Of course by that time I knew an awful lot about them because I spent a lot of time messing about there; I used to go and use the workshops and so on, and my father talked business a lot at home, so I knew a great deal about the company, but as a result of going to Bedale’s, I…through a person from Bedale’s who was a friend of mine, a girl who’d been there was at the London School of Economics where they’d started a mountaineering club and they were having a meet; I was still in the mines at this time, one Easter in Derbyshire and asked me if I wanted to go along because she knew I was interested in hill walking and this was to introduce people to rock climbing, so I went on this meet where I met a person who became a lifelong friend and he was then working at Ferry Aviation in Manchester where they made aeroplanes and this of course was just after the war, no, just towards the end of the war, ’47, no it was after the war, and he was a friend of another person on this trip and we climbed together, and I got to know him and he became a lifelong friend and he used to come over here and we’d spend the weekend doing various things, but he was knowledgeable about further education in Management, which in those days was very rare; there were very few places taught Management as a subject and he suggested I should go on a course which he was about to do at the Manchester College of Technology, which was a faculty of the university; it’s now known a UMIST and I decided to do this. This involved – I started when I was in my last year at the pit and then went on when I was working here – this involved driving to Manchester on three evenings every week to do two one hour lectures from about the middle of September to the middle of June for four years, so it was quite an undertaking and these were university style lectures so it was not a degree course actually, but a lot of people on the course were graduate engineer trainees at places like Metrovix and the big engineering companies that were then in Manchester, and it was a very useful course indeed, and that really was the basis of my professional life because I would regard myself as a professional manager.

     

    TW:

    So Foster Mill, was that owned by your family at that time?

     

    RR:

    No, everyone thought it was, but Redman Brothers actually had been started in about 1874 by Richard Redman, my grandfather, and eventually his two brothers had gone in to the business and they’d done very well because I think he had an ability to find ways of making clothes efficiently. In the days he started, sewing machines were in their infancy and they only used them for sewing the straight seams and they had actually very large numbers of people doing hand sewing, and all the difficult bits were done by hand, and he devised ways with his wife to be of doing things like make the pockets and the flies and other bits with machines, which meant of course they could undercut a lot of the competition and that firm that was Redman Brothers was owned by the Redman brothers. After a while his two brothers went in with him and they became a company in 1871 I think it was, and went on as a family business basically until about 1901. Now in those days the clothing in Hebden Bridge was all made out of fustian, that’s corduroy and moleskin and so on, heavy clothes worn by manual labourers – farmers, navvies and that sort of people – not the stuff you see today, it was very heavy, hard-wearing cloth, awful stuff, and also in the area there were a lot of firms making this fabric and a few firms who were finishing it; that is it has to be cut and dyed, it was a very complicated thing involving about twenty-five different processes and a Manchester company known later as Wirrals were slowly buying up the dye works of which there must have been six or seven or eight in the valley, and the clothing people were worried that they would get a monopoly of dying and hold them over a barrel on prices, so my grandfather and some other clothing people got together with the biggest dye works owner called Moss Brothers and formed a combine of smaller companies called The English Fustian Manufacturing Company – EFM – and they then, all businesses were owned by this holding company, but EFM did not trade at all, it was just the owner of the other companies, and in fact they all went on as if they were still family businesses, they just ran them as before but the profits were pooled, or the losses were pooled, and so on. Of course this was long before my time, but that meant when I went to work for Redman Brothers it had been EFM for nearly fifty years, but people who worked there still….well they knew there was a combine, but I think they thought we owned, we still owned it, but in fact my father had never owned it. We had some shares – they all got shares in the English Fustian – and he…but they were very diluted, there were well over a hundred share holders I think and I know I had three per cent of the shares of English Fustian when it ceased trading, so it was not a family business any more which is what you were after, so…..

     

    [break for a drink]

     

    corduroy is woven, and was woven, by weavers who produced the fabric but this didn’t look anything like the corduroy that has a pile now, because when it’s woven the threads that form the pile are just long loops in the flat cloth, so it has to be first of all cut. In the early days they did this with hand knives and they used to push the knife up each race. Later on, certainly in my day, they were rotary machines with circular knives across which the fabric was run, and this cut part way through the cloth, just cutting the loops which would eventually form the pile of the cloth sticking up, and then it had to be….worked so that the pile began to come up and I must say I didn’t actually work in the finishing plant although I’ve seen it often enough. There were various processes. Having cut it of course, the cotton fibres were quite short so that there would be some fibres in the pile that were very short bits of cotton, so they used to cross brush it with things like scrubbing brushes going round on belts to try and get these out, and at some stage or other there were a lot of small hairs sticking up so they used to run it through a long line of gas jets at high speed to burn them off which was quite an exciting operation because if the machine stopped in theory the gas jets went out. In practice, occasionally they may not go out and the room in which they did that I remember had a ceiling of solid timber sixteen inches thick which was fireproof, and having done quite a lot of work on it at that stage, they then had to dye it to the colour required which meant putting it through dye vats which involved two big rollers with a cloth on and it went through from one roller to the other several times to get the dye in to the fabric, and then after that there’d be a lot more working to brush the pile so that it looked smooth and nice, and also there was a thing called a stentor, which was a long machine with chains up each side with needles on, pins rather, and the cloth was fed on to these pins and the chains slowly went further apart and stretched the cloth to the finished width and at some point or other they used to put a stiffening on the back of the cloth which used to be made out of old bones and stuff, so the old corduroys used to smell horrible if they got wet. Latterly they used a plastic-based substance, so those are some of the operations but it was a very complex business, and the result was that it was impossible to suddenly increase the volume of the cloth being produced in the area, and that was alright until you could import it from somewhere else, so it meant there was a restriction on the output. An ordinary finishing plant couldn’t finish corduroy; it was very specialised indeed, and a corduroy plant couldn’t finish flat cords, so that’s corduroy. When I came from the coal mines, we had factories in Hebden Bridge, this was Redman Brothers alone, Todmorden, Mytholmroyd and here in Cragg Vale, and the Cragg Vale ones had only been open just after the war because, I should say from…the thirties there’d been a shortage of female labour in the area and at the end of the ’39 ’44 war, ’46 war, it was acute, so they just could not recruit enough – they used to recruit people from school and teach them – they could not recruit enough to get the production they needed, so they’d opened this factory in Cragg Vale to employ in fact part time married women, whereas previously they would only take one people who could work full time, and in those days full time was five and a half days, a forty-four hour week. To facilitate that the method of making the trousers had been in about five basic sewing operations which were quite large in that I suppose a trouser in those days was taking about thirty minutes to make, and each one would be about six minutes roughly, so they’d broken this down in to a lot more operations in that people were only doing one pocket; a left pocket or a right pocket, a left pocket or a right pocket, a left fly, right fly and so on, and one seam, just taught operations lasting a minute or so

     

    TW:

    Almost like a specialism skill

     

    RR:

    That’s right, and you could teach somebody to do this very quickly, I mean in the old days teaching a girl to make a trouser through took two years. We were getting people to be earning – they were all paid straight piece rate by the way; if they didn’t do anything they didn’t earn anything – and we got it so that we could teach them in three months to do one job. Now that was alright from that point if view, but then the problem is keeping them all in balance. You can only make one pocket for each side on one trouser and you don’t want a lot more left than right and so on, so the management problems arise and how you organise it and they got a method working at Cragg Vale which involved a lot of getting up and going to get more work and coming back and sitting down and sorting it out and so on, and I got involved because I’d heard about time and motion study in Manchester and I’d done a short course on time study, well on work study generally, and I started re-organising how they organised the factory and also fixing piece rates using proper time study methods, as started in the States by Taylor – was it W.G.? [should be Frederick W Taylor] Anyhow there was nothing new about this in the world, but in this country proper time study was only really instituted during the war, the Second War, and so that’s how I started working and we then found production, the productivity in this small factory in Cragg Vale with about twenty people, was better than we were getting in the other factories making the same garments more or less in the old way, so we then decided to do this right through so I then got involved at the Mytholmroyd factory and ended up spending hours because they made rather more, a lot more different sorts of garments and I spent a year or two down there organising how to do this, the timing of it all and so on, and so it went on….gradually I spread in to wider areas and…one of the problems of this sort of manufacture is recording what everybody does and I got involved in trying to find ways whereby they could easily do it without using a lot of time and without using a lot of clerical labour to do it because the operatives used to write down what they did, but of course you’d get the odd one that would write down some things they hadn’t done, so….we had to have a system of checking off. All the bundles had numbers and you had to check off who’d done which and so on, but that was alright. I mean finally it all came down to barcodes and computers but that was much later….so I gradually got involved like that. Somewhere about that time, needing more production, they bought…the EFM board decided to buy a company that was owned by two brothers in Sheffield, and they bought this factory and myself and….some people from one of the other branches were involved in organising that and I used to have to go to Sheffield every Wednesday to sort that factory out. There was a factory manager, but again I was doing time study and things. They were then making overalls and boys’ blazers, school blazers, all very cheap stuff. This was in the days before man made fibres of course; most of the fabrics we used were made out of reclaimed woollen fibres mixed with all sorts of things. It was called cotton warp fabric where the warp’s made of new cotton and the weft put across it was made out of wool that had been made from rags, mixed with all sorts of things, with rayon and stuff, they were called union – union flannels – there was a big industry in Yorkshire in the Morley/Batley area producing these type of fabrics

     

    TW:

    So it was recycling really.

     

    RR:

    Oh very much so, yes. And of course these were the sort of fabrics that we were making into trousers. Corduroy, strangely enough, after the English Fustian was formed, because of the possible shortage of corduroy suppliers, corduroy became less and less important and they started using a lot of these woven cloths and it didn’t matter any more, so actually they needn’t have done it [laughing] and particularly because a lot of the people who went in to the combine were actually family businesses that weren’t really doing very well and were very glad to get their shares in a much bigger company and be guaranteed their dividends as a result of the efficiency of the people who were in the business.

     

    TW:

    How many different…I mean you say, you know, your family are from Foster Mill and Moss Brothers as well

     

    RR:

    Yes, there were about twenty firms all together

     

    TW:

    Oh really, that many?

     

    RR:

    There was one called Crowthers which was quite a big firm and they occupied Hangingroyd Mill which is still there near the market where the bistro is, well that mill was incidentally a very early steel building

     

    TW:

    Oh I didn’t know that

     

    RR:

    A frame building, but my grandfather in fact, I should have mentioned earlier, started when he was seven as a….something in the cotton mill and went to school half time; six to twelve at work, twelve to six in school in theory, or the other way round. He then went in to the clothing industry and worked in that mill, Hangingroyd Mill, in the clothing industry; that’s where he learnt how to do clothes, so that was one of them. There was Melbourne Works, which has now I believe just been turned in to flats up Hangingroyd Road. It belonged to the company – that was another firm in there called….I’ve forgotten what they were called – one of the earliest firms in the area called Barker’s, had a big mill near the station where there’s now a sort of stone firm. That got burnt down; that was another clothing firm; there was Richard Sutcliffe’s – I think they were actually in Melbourne Works, who became Melbourne which was a very big distributor of clothes eventually, and they occupied the site which is now the Co-op supermarket in Hebden Bridge. That was half Melbourne, there was also a weaving shed there that belonged to Moss Brothers and a big warehouse belonging to Moss Brothers on that side, a sort of five storey building, all knocked down one weekend actually, and there were several small merchants of cloth involved and there were quite a lot of small clothing firms; they’d all gone when I was in volved, in fact one of the jobs I want to do is to write all this up. Downstairs I’ve got huge shelves full of all the stuff from English Fustian, but not that they kept very good records in the early days, so there were a lot of small firms but the silly thing was that they all competed against each other. They would go…my grandfather might have been going to Manchester to sell things in the warehouse and there might have been one of the others trying to undercut him, you know, same company – just ridiculous. Mixed up with all that there was a firm called the Hebden Bridge Estate Company which was started quite separately by my grandfather and his brothers and the Moss Brothers when the Savile estates were selling off quite a bit of Hebden Bridge, and the Hebden Bridge Estate Company was formed to buy some of this property. Now they bought all the land between the river, starting by the new….what’s it called…Civic Centre is, the old Council Offices; all the way along between Victoria Road and the river where Shepherd’s garage is and all that lot, the buildings weren’t on it of course then, and where the road crosses the river, ditto all between Victoria Road, beyond the bridge, right through to the other end where it stops, and they bought all that land together with all the houses on Windsor Road and Windsor View, and this was the Hebden Bridge Estate Company, and Foster Mill, so until we combined the two companies in my day which must have been about the early seventies, the Hebden Bridge Estate Company owned Foster Mill and Redman Brothers rented it from them, so it was very complicated, and there was a weaving shed there of course which was not part of Redman Brothers, that was part of the Hebden Bridge Estate Company, but because the directors interlocked, in fact Redman Brothers took virtually all the production of that weaving shed; it was a very complicated set up. It worked very well until the mid seventies, so it was a really very complex set up and in my day it was a highly profitable company.

     

    TW:

    Did you…..well did the family then with the estate company; did they sell off those bits of land up to where Shepherd’s are?

     

    RR:

    Yes. They gradually sold them off. They used to own the land and Shepherd’s…there was a shop at the end…

     

    TW:

    Edmondson’s

     

    RR:

    Edmondson’s shop and Shepherd’s, they owned that land. For a long time Shepherds were tenants and then there was…..they sold a bit off, there used to be a yard that belonged to the council when it was Hebden Royd Council and then a big lump was the CWS weaving shed where Shepherds have part of their business now where you can take your car to be serviced, and they slowly sold if off in lumps, yes, all the way along the other end was a machine tool factory called Ormerod’s that made shapers but it was part of Asquith’s I think eventually, but that was still working into the….certainly the sixties and there was a clothing factory called Hoyle’s who had a big factory on there as well, that went after the war so it was a mix up…..oh and also the Hebden Estate Company a lot of owned Hollins, a very desirable area now and I mean I….what annoys me is when we went in to liquidation all that property was sold off at breakdown prices

     

    TW:

    Was it really?

     

    RR:

    I wish I’d bought it [laughing], but you see the property side….English Fustian also owned houses down at Scarbottom; there’s a row of houses still, near the new bridge and beyond those, the mills on that sight, I don’t know if you remember that. The trouble was, the Government after the war…rents were fixed; you could only put them up a little bit so that in fact you were losing money on any house property you owned until I suppose….it was Mrs Thatcher’s lot stopped that, but that was…..which when we went out of business actually, but it was a no-no really then; not so now [laughing]. We had in fact forty-four houses….so I worked up through work study and my father was the M.D. His cousin was around and he had been very much involved prior to the war, but he really retired after the war; he’d been on sales, I mean he used to go selling clothing made at Redman Brothers before the First War; he’d go out to Romania and places trying to sell clothes, amazing man, and he was a very good salesman and he kept the sales going, apart from which he was a very good pianist and he really wanted to be a musician, but he actually was…he again was involved with the chapel. Foster Lane – there was a chapel at the end of Foster Mill originally, of which he was the organist, and more or less subsidised considerably. He was a very good man and they ran the Sunday School; the only Sunday School I had ever been to was one his wife ran, which I found very boring, I think being dyslexic doesn’t go with religion because you can’t remember all the names [laughing]. He was…..it was a somewhat…what’s the term…they treaded people a bit as family, basically if you went to that chapel you could get a job at Redman’s, and before the war he used to take parties of sewing machinists to Switzerland for a week during the Wakes; they paid but I have a suspicion they didn’t pay the full cost and that was quite remarkable.

     

    TW:

    Were there any other sort of outings that the company paid for?

     

    RR:

    Not many. We occasionally…on the hundred year anniversary we had a private train to go to Blackpool, I think Allan Stuttard mentioned this; I didn’t go actually – a lot of people – they all went and it was a bit of a chaos actually, and the problem…..well I think they were given half a crown or something, but the people who didn’t go didn’t get it and said ‘well we didn’t go, why can’t we have the train fare?’ and you get all this, and also there was the problem that we had factories in Sheffield, we had factories in Todmorden and so on, and where do you draw the line? And anyhow it wasn’t Redman Brothers any more

     

    TW:

    Did the people who worked in the mills, was there housing then? Did they rent a house?

     

    RR:

    Some did yes, but of course the housing belonged to the estate company and so it wasn’t the same. There was tendency that if a house came empty you would offer it to people, yes, but it wasn’t really like the old style towns where the mills owned all te houses. You certainly wouldn’t lose your job if you left or anything like that which happened in some areas, and we had, I mean, even before the ’49 war, the ’39 war, a large proportion the workers in the Hebden Bridge factory, our factory, came from Todmorden and so on, because the problem was getting enough workers really. The population of Hebden Bridge started to decline in 1900 and it went down.

     

    TW:

    Why do you think that was?

     

    RR:

    ….I think the businesses were not doing as well. The palmy days, I mean my grandfather when started, he was making a hundred per cent profit on turnover and there was no tax, so you could do very well, and he built up from nothing in about thirty years to having three mills and five hundred operatives; well that all ceased around 1900 - the competition was such that the profit margins went down and down and down, and in my day we regarded ourselves as lucky if we made four per cent on turnover gross at the end of all the write downs and so on, and that was taxed of course, and when I started work income tax on the highest level which was only about…I don’t know…twenty thousand probably, was seventy-eight per cent. They ought to bring that back for the bankers [laughing]. On unearned income there was another fifteen per cent so you had….at a certain time I was getting enough to pay ninety-eight per cent tax on my marginal income which was just ridiculous, well it was fairer really because the money was needed, but if we could do that today it would solve all the problems there are.

     

    TW:

    Well they say that it would put entrepreneurs off if they got taxed so much, but it seems like it didn’t put you off.

     

    RR:

    No, well I had a somewhat unusual philosophy probably. I believe that our purpose in life was to make clothes for people and to provide employment at a reasonable rate, and we were actually paying well above the minimum rates and to try and make a reasonable return for the shareholders, and to pay our salaries, but I didn’t regard making a huge amount of money as…it wasn’t possible to start with, it wasn’t the be all and end all. Now, today…I would say I spent more time, when we were talking about salaries, trying to prevent the Board paying themselves too much than the other way round, and though we were very well paid actually, you know, compared to lots of other people. I think I was getting as much as the Prime Minister at one time, but Prime Ministers were very badly paid [laughing]. I was only in gross of course because you didn’t really….well we were very well off in fact, I’m not grumbling, compared to the average wages in the factories, I mean I started in the mines in ’44 and I was very well paid as a miner, five pounds a week but the factory workers then would be earning about three pounds a week I should think, but of course prices were low, but when I was a child your average worker lived in a cottage up here , say, they’d no water in the house, there was no toilet in the house, they might have a carpet sweeper and that was about it. Well look at it now [laughing]

     

    TW:

    Quite a change!

     

    RR:

    Yes. I mean when I started work we were very well off. My father had a car, my mother had a car. At the firm though, the directors – and there were only really two and one manager - had cars. When I went I had a car, my cousin had a car. None of the workers had cars, but when it all folded, the final rump of the firm down at Mytholmroyd at Greenhill there, a large proportion of the machinists were coming to work in cars

     

    TW:

    Progress then

     

    RR:

    Yes, it’s progress till the oil runs out….so my professional life though…..I should say when I was about thirty-one my father who was the M.D. died and my uncle retired, and so that left myself and my cousin to run Redman Brothers, in fact we were very much by that time co-ordinated with Sutcliffe-Melbourne who were in Market Street. We were the main production unit, they were a big distribution unit. They had sixteen travellers, three thousand retailed accounts all over the country, quite a big export trade and a big warehouse where they were ordering garments from…they had a factory of their own as well, a small one, but most of the production we made in big bulk. They then put it in to stock and distributed it as and when required. They sold two seasons; they sold forward several months, opening orders, then supported it from the stock we had and that went on. My father had started it in the thirties and it gradually grew until they were virtually distributing the whole of the production. This meant we’d cut out the wholesalers, we used to do that, and the company was making two profits effectively, and doing very well out of it. It was a very satisfactory arrangement until we…..really the jeans starting becoming the main thing really. Everybody used to wear trousers. Jeans eventually took in our time at least half of the total trouser trade, so that really began to be painful and we couldn’t make jeans because they were made entirely on different machines altogether. In any case most were imported, and then of course imports came rolling in and there were tariffs – quotas rather – up to about the middle of the seventies, so there was a severe restriction on the number of garments that could be imported and they were slowly going down, and it meant that it became impossible to manufacture garments or textiles in this country, and roughly six hundred thousand [600,000] people were thrown out of work, and today, I mean if somebody had come to me in the sixties and said ‘I want ten thousand [10,000] garments in four weeks’ we could have made them, presumably when we’d got the cloth. Today you couldn’t find anyone in Britain who could make ten thousand [10,000] garments, ever. It’s frightening really, but I was very lucky because I came in at the right time and got out at the right time.

     

    TW:

    It’s interesting because what it seems like is that after the Second World War, gradually new types of man made fibres started coming in….also imports started becoming more and more of an issue as well, and it seemed like the labour market, there was not as many people available to do the work as possible, and new technologies as well I suppose come into it as well, so there’s a huge amount of factors there going against you really.

     

    RR:

    Yes. Well the man made fibres worked to our advantage in fact, I mean when I started there was nylon but we didn’t use nylon as far as I remember. It had been invented before the war by and that was around, and they made things like parachutes out of it in the war, and then we had rayon which is made from wood was available before the war, and we certainly used rayon for linings and that sort of thing, and we started weaving a mixture of rayon and nylon at the Estate Company weaving shed, which gave the rayon a strength so you could make trousers out of it, and that was one of the first man made fibres and that became generally available, and for a while that was a very good thing, because the old trousers made from these….regurgitated fibres, they didn’t last very long, I mean you bought a pair of trousers every year and they’d fray round the bottoms after that. Now they last forever. So eventually we got nylon which was used to reinforce weaker things, then we got polyester – Terylene – and that was new, and the point was that when they first came out these new fibres, they were all branded and the people, basically ICI in this country defined how it could be used and you weren’t allowed to degrade it because in weaving they always started degrading cloths you see; you’d have this nice cloth and they’d say ‘I want it cheaper’ ‘alright we’ll put less in it’ and it got to be a horrible cloth. They wouldn’t allow that to happen, so Terylene came mixed with wool for several years. The retailers had never had it and it was marvellous because it could be washed and the pleats stayed in and the creases, so that the price you could get was…..the margins you could get were better than the stuff where everybody knew to the nearest ha’penny what it should cost, and we started making a lot of money in those days, and over a period you’ve got Terylene with wool wosted and then eventually they allowed it to be mixed with rayon, but with sort of sixty per cent Terylene and rayon which was equally strong, still around. That, in the period sort of sixty to seventy, mind you, you kept getting new fibres like Acrylan, that was another one, then you got crimp Terylene which was called….I’ve forgotten what that was called now, but it’s still widely used today. That made it feel very woolly, and you kept getting every two or three years a new brand which everybody wanted and there wasn’t enough, and ICI were paying us quite a lot to advertise it and so on. It really was a good period, but eventually of course the imports and everything stopped it. It was bound to happen, but you were in the position of having a huge lot of machinery and people doing things and you couldn’t get out of it

     

    TW:

    Did you have to continually adapt every few years then to new types of manufacture?

     

    RR:

    Oh yes. The different cloths required different techniques, different needles in the machines and so on, and we were continually trying to increase our efficiency. We employed consultants one year and eventually we got to the point where we were making the sewing aspect of trousers, sewing and pressing, we got it down to about nineteen minutes which was a very….much better quality trouser also than we had previously been making, I mean at one time in Todmorden we were doing nearly fifteen thousand [15,000] a week in the factory, that was just the Todmorden factory. We were producing well over twenty thousand a week [20,000] for a long time, altogether, and new machines came along and so on, and a lot of investment went in

     

    TW:

    So it changed from say before the Second World War when it was kind of trousers and all of that until after the Second World War it wasn’t just trousers, but other kinds of clothing as well

     

    RR:

    Well it had also been other clothes and they had always made – Foster Mill had always made coats, sleeved garments I should say, and waistcoats, and of course until, oh…..certainly after the war, everyone had a suit, you know, and a lot of people went to work in a suit, collar and tie; I never see a tie now, so there were the big multiple clothiers, Burtons and so on, producing suits, but gradually more and more trousers were worn with sports jackets and we made sports jackets at Foster Mill. Incidentally we also made, during both wars, all the duffle coats worn by the Royal Navy, the whole lot, all the ones that were, actually issued, which was enormous, from fabric largely made in this valley; heavy, very thick, woolly cloth, but also before the war, the factories could, most of the girls were trained to make a wide range of different clothes, I mean they had breeches, you know, down to here - plus fours – boys…children wore short trousers, what we called knickers – shorts – and they were either lined or unlined and the girls could make those and it was much easier to run then, you just gave the girls all the bits and she made them all, but that was alright when you’d lots of labour and time to teach

     

    TW:

    A lot of people have told me that…..if you fell out with your boss you could walk out the door at the end of one day

     

    RR:

    I was for a long time….Hebden Bridge for a long time had its own employment exchange in Market Street and it had a committee of employers and I was on that quite a while, and the unemployment rate in Hebden Bridge was about point on per cent. Basically there were about four men that we all knew who were really not capable of work and that was about it. There was no surplus labour at all and we were all fighting to get school leavers. What we live on was the fact that the textile industry was declining long before the clothing industry declined, so we were taking people in that would have gone to the textiles and also the machine tool industry had completely faded out over the years, so there were more men about from that but there was no unemployment really in Hebden Royd; amazing compared to today, and of course there were all the other industries, Thornbers and people. I don’t know if you’ve come across – you’ve probably heard of Thornber Laying Chicks.

     

    TW:

    Well I phoned….is it Raithe? I phoned him up today to make an interview but I couldn’t get an answer. I spoke to his wife yesterday. I will do one of these days

     

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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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