Textile heritage

Metal comb for hand-drawing hemp used at Calvert Bros. Ropery on Jerry Clay Lane, WrenthorpeThis collection contains nearly 300 objects relating to the textile industry in Wakefield and its surrounding area.

In pre-industrial Britain, Wakefield was an extremely important site for wool trading and cloth making. During the reign of Charles I Wakefield was a prestigious commercial site and held a weekly cloth markets.Late 19th century poster for George Lee and Sons. Ltd. of Wakefield

In the eighteenth century Wakefield was an important worsted cloth centre and was particularly famous for producing ‘tammies’. ‘Tammies’ are a thin worsted fabric which was often glazed and used for curtains and blinds. A key event was the opening of the 1699 Aire and Calder Navigation which increased the supply of long wool coming into Wakefield from Lincolnshire and Leicestershire. During this period Photograph of two female spinning operators working at M.P. Stonehouse in Albion Mills in Wakefield in 1923Wakefield’s Tammy Hall was a key centre to trade in raw wool and tammy cloth.

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Towards the end of the eighteenth century a number of dying and finishing companies were established in the area and processed cloth before export to London and the Europe. In 1805 Edmund Dayes described Wakefield as ‘one of the most wealthy and genteel of the clothing towns of Yorkshire’.

1960s Sirdar knitting patternLike many West Yorkshire towns, Wakefield’s landscape changed dramatically during the industrial revolution. The Trade Directories of the nineteenth century demonstrate the range of textile manufacturing processes being undertaken in mills and warehouses across the region, including: spinning, weaving, cloth fulling, dying and recycling reclaimed wool known as ‘shoddy’ and ‘mungo’. During this period the textile industry was one of the key forms of employment for local people and new businesses were springing up every year.

In Wakefield worsted and woollen yarn spinning was an important industry with world renowned manufacturers such as M. P. Stonehouse, George Lee & Sons and Paton & Baldwin creating high quality knitting World War II ambulance driver’s uniform, worn by Miss Mickman. It was made by local Pontefract factory Cohen and Wilks Ltd. in 1yarn. The Trade Directories of the early nineteenth century state that the woollen spinning trade had ‘amazingly increased the population of the town and neighbourhood’. Today the legacy of the woollen trade and manufacture can still be noted in Wakefield industrial architecture and the continuation of knitting yarn manufacturer Sirdar.

Ossett became one of the country’s largest reclaimed wool or ‘shoddy’ traders and is still represented by the town motto ‘Inutile Utile Ex Arte’ which translates as ‘Useless Things Made Useful by Art’. The process of recycling old cloth to make into new, involved sorting, cleaning and grinding rags to reclaim usable woollen fibres. This was often an extremely unpleasant and dangerous task as thick flammable dust from the rags would fill the mill.

Patons & Baldwins Ltd. Knitters Annual Digest for 1954Wakefield Museum’s collections provide a glimpse into the area’s rich industrial history and the lives of those working in the textile industry.

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Do you have any items relating to the local textile industry that are not in this collection? We are always looking to improve our collections, so if you have any items that we don't have and that you are interested in 1950s shirt box for a Double Two shirtdonating to us, please get in touch using the 'Contact Us' details.

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