Hainsworth - a concise history
Two centuries in textiles
The building of a dynasty, 1783 to 1900
The Hainsworth story is the history of one of the oldest companies in the United Kingdom. The company traces is routes back to the late 18th Century when in 1783 Abimelech Hainsworth, ‘Old Bim’, started his clothiers business. Cloth would be woven by hand loom weavers in their cottages and collected by ‘Old Bim’ who would then transport it by horse and cart to Leeds Coloured Cloth Hall. The tradition in the district at the time was to produce cloth dyed in the wool before spinning and weaving.
Abimelech began his trading with just half a crown and following the sale of his first consignment of cloth brought a silver pint mug which he gradually filled with gold sovereigns. By 1800 he had saved up enough money to buy 4 acres at the bottom of the village of Farsley, Cape Mills, and in partnership with his brother Joseph gradually employed a number of handloom weavers. In diaries dating back to 1822 Abimelech was remembered as keeping half the town agate (in work) and described as an exalted person.
When Abimelech died in 1836 he was the wealthiest man in the district and left a personal estate of £12,000 and two thirds of Cape Mills. This included five acres of land, 14 cottages and a blacksmiths shop. His shares automatically passed to his three sons and three nephews but in just four years five of the partners had passed away. With none of their sons of an age to succeed their fathers it left just one partner, John snr and his son Charles to run the business and in 1856 the firm changed its name to John Hainsworth & Sons.
In 1869 along came industrialisation and a new weaving shed was opened to house the new power looms. This saw the end of the time honoured practice of handloom weaving on which the company had been built. A new era had begun.
In 1882 a second mill, Temperance Mill, was purchased and the current partners decided they would split the company with one partner taking the Cape Mills site and the younger Abimelech Hainsworth ‘Young Bim’, the grandson of ‘Old Bim’, would take over Temperance Mill.
When ‘Young Bim’ took over in the mill it was empty. Within 2 years the mill had been re-equipped with fifty five looms as well as scribblers, condensers and mules, for various spinning processes, pairs of stocks and eight milling machines for different finishes. In 1889 Abimelech started weaving worsted fabric and to continue expansion he bought Spring Valley next door, which forms the main part of the mill today.
The scarlet cloth for the War Office had long been an important product for Hainsworth, but at the end of the 19th century demand for bright, distinctive combat wear plummeted when the increasing use of rifles and artillery in the Boer War led to a demand for a more protective colouring for army cloth. The company had already started working with Yorkshire College to create experimental new fabric constructions and in 1899 saw the first orders for Khaki Serge, a worsted warp woollen weft fabric. Bright cloths are still used today and our famous scarlet cloth is still manufactured at Spring Valley Mills and worn by the Her Majesty the Queen’s Royal Guard for ceremonial dress.
The World Wars and the great depression, 1914 to 1960
With the outbreak of war in 1914 the two mills had to adapt quickly to meet this unfortunate demand. Historically the various public services, railway companies, tramways, Post Offices etc had all had their own specialised uniform cloth, but under war time restrictions only seventeen types were allowed. There was a change of emphasis from smarter costly cloths to cheaper utilitarian Serges for battledress and narrow flannel for shirts and hospital use. During the war years the War Office ordered 66 million yards of greatcoat cloth, 17 million yards of whipcord and a massive 231 million yards of narrow flannel.
Not long after the War the depression hit and in 1920 the banks restricted loans to the Stock exchange and cloth manufacturers found they had large stocks of wool and finished goods that were becoming increasingly hard to sell within these desperate times.
There was a fall in export to countries such as the United States, Canada, Sweden, Chile, Italy, Belgium and Switzerland due the general trade depression and as many firms began to flounder and fail there was wide-spread bad debt, In 1922, to ease the financial plight, the two partners launched the firm as a limited liability partnership with a capital of £100,000.
The economic crisis was compounded with wages being greater in the British Textile industry than those of neighbouring competitors abroad, especially Germany. The Government set about easing this issue and set up an enquiry (Macmillan Enquiry) to recommended a 9.2% reduction in wages for all textile workers. The Union proposed a compromise of 6.8% but the Wool Textile Joint Industrial Council voted to implement the Macmillan recommendation. This immediately led to a bitter strike and textile companies nationally lost a large amount of business. Within a short time the spectre of bankruptcy and unemployment was becoming an all too real possibility to the trade and within a month the new Macmillan rate was reluctantly accepted. It was not until 1937 that the Joint Wages committee eventually agreed to an increase.
In 1939 World War Two broke out and once again industry was regulated by the Government. The Government’s Wool Control, with its headquarters at the Ben Rydding Hydro, commandeered all wool arriving in the country and rationed the supply to manufacturers. By 1942 91% of textile output was for Government departments, a meagre 6% for export (through license) and a mere 3% for home civil use. Sales to the lucrative export markets of South America were stopped, although sales of blankets and Khaki to Russia and India were allowed.
In 1939 the company had employed 350 people and by 1944 the Government had reduced the quota of employees allowed to 200. Many of the younger workforce had been conscripted into the armed forces or munitions.
With the coming of peace in 1945 Government control gradually lessened and by 1946 free wool auctions had resumed.
Perseverance through thick and thin, 1945 to 1989
After the war the full order books were fed by continuing Government orders and exports, encouraged by a good conversion rate and 1953 saw the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and Hainsworth were chosen to produce a special cloth in regimental colours to mark the occasion. It was just what the country, company and industry needed after so long at war – textile used in celebration.
Amidst strong growth came the night of 11 December 1955, when disaster struck the mill. Arthur Moffatt, the firm’s caretaker, noticed a red glow in the low side weaving shed. He raised the alarm and ran to move his horse from the adjoining stable. Within minutes the fire had spread to the two storey spinning block and in total it was estimated that three quarters of the entire mill had been destroyed. The life’s work of three generations and a fourth just starting, came crashing to the ground in just three hours.
Through disaster came the opportunity to rebuild and renew, and the company decided to move away from steam to electric power. The rebuild included a new two-storey main mill, a single-storey spinning mill, the scribbling department re-roofed and a new raw materials shed was erected.
Hainsworth’s success and growth in the following years came through acquisition. The ground work for this was instigated by John, a current partner, who recommended the two mills, Temperance and Spring Valley, be combined under one management team. The greater ‘whole’ became known as Spring Valley Mills where the company is still located today.
The next 30 years saw huge growth and Hainsworth purchased a number of companies, introducing a wide range of new products, including:
- car headlining cloth for the likes of Jaguar, Austin and Bentley
- horse clothing and undersaddles, the manufacture of the famous Newmarket horse blankets
- snooker cloth which became a main stay of the firm, being originally sold under the trade name Toptable
- specialised industrial cloth such as biscuit cloth, a woollen baize used for conveying biscuits
- piano baize for companies like Steinway and Renner
- the world’s most luxurious blanket brand, John Atkinson
- narrow fabrics including curing tapes (for wrapping around hose pipes), horse webbing and name tapes.
New machinery and technology was introduced to support the growing business and in the 4 years between 1980 and 1984 over £2 Million was invested. At the same time increased investment in research and development brought in new fabric.
Hainsworth had always embraced innovation and in 1975 the company took the decision to work with DuPont introducing the first protective Nomex® fabrics into the UK - a revolutionary step for a market used to wool, but one which was to prove very successful. This area of the business grew rapidly with the company to this day supplying fire services and military personnel around the world.
In 1968 the mill was hit by another disaster and suffered a major flood due to a violent storm. Yet another blow in the company’s history - with the mill in four feet of water.
Snooker Loopy, 1989 to 1999
Hainsworth worked with Hazelgrove Superleague during the 1970’s to develop the first English Pool cloth for a game that had been adapted from the American game of pool for English pubs. The game flourished and snooker and pool baize became the mainstay of the Hainsworth woollen cloth business. In 1985 18 million people watched Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis in the World Championship final.
In 1992 Hainsworth bought the famous E J Riley snooker brand followed in 1995 by Hazelgrove Superleague and a year later, their main competitor, Premier Pool. The net result being a doubled turnover and over 500 people employed.
Having invested a great deal in this sector the late 90’s saw a decline in TV audiences and with legislation brought in requiring brewers to sell off their public house estates, the pool market shrank and became increasing competitive. To combat this Hainsworth decided to consolidate its cue sports companies, much as it had done with its textile businesses years earlier, and a new factory was built to house E J Riley, Hazelgrove and Premier Pool.
Regroup and renew, 1999 to present
Globalisation had brought a lot of change and UK manufacturing had been in decline for over 50 years. 2 Non-Executive Directors were employed in 1999 to help guide the company through the next evolution.
With this came the decision to promote Thomas Hainsworth, already employed to run the protective business, to take a more senior executive role as Managing Director. Roger Hainsworth and Adam Hainsworth were promoted to the board and in 2002 Rachel Hainsworth also became a Director.
After 200 years, a fire a flood a declining UK industry Hainsworth’s was now a stronger, more experienced and focused company with its eyes set firmly on the future. With one other fascinating fact – it was still owned and run by the Hainsworth family.
With the global textile market rapidly changing and UK manufacturing in decline the company had to adapt. The first job for the new board was to sort out the pool offering.
Riley Leisure Ltd (the combined snooker and pool company) had a new management team installed and in November 1999 it was sold to the Management. Hainsworth retained a small shareholding and an exclusive right to manufacture the Riley snooker and pool cloth.
During the 1990’s Hainsworth had focussed its attention and investment on the cue sports side of business and, with that in decline, in 2002 invested over £1 million in new textile machinery, research and development, and marketing.
The strategy to acquire complementary textile businesses, although reduced due to a shrinking industry, did continue with the purchase of,Calder Carbonising, Joshua Briggs, Dandy and Globe Woollen.
With a now complete textile offering Hainsworth’s future is now focussed on working closely with customers and suppliers to develop innovative new textile products. A strategy that has been very successful with several patents already filed and leading brands established for product like:
- Hainsworth TITAN® a unique textile technology based on DuPont’s Nomex and Kevlar®
- our own Smart and Match pool cloths
- and in 2009 the introduction of its highly innovative woollen Coffins
To support this strategy Hainsworth has the ISO9001:2008 quality mark for design, development and manufacture, a UKAS accredited testing laboratory and so far has received the DuPont European Innovation award, and the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in Innovation, in recognition of its credentials.
By 2009 Hainsworth had completed over 225 years of trading with a clear strategy and an unrivalled history in textiles. To celebrate this in March 2009, having undergone a brand review in 2008 and business restructure, Hainsworth relaunched with a refreshed brand image and a firm grip on the needs of an ever-changing textile industry.
Should you like to know more about the history of Hainsworth you can purchase ‘The Hainsworth Story’, please contact us for more details.
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Through the Victoria England label, Hainsworth supplies the most prestigious tribal blankets in the world. Selected for its warmth, timeless durability and rich traditional design, the Victoria blanket originated in 1897.