Many different products created from shoddy

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

WE ALL know that history doesn’t write itself. It is written mainly by ordinary people who give of their time to research aspects of local history which interests them most.

They often spend years carrying out painstaking research to make sure they’ve got their facts right before finally putting pen to paper.

HISTORY MAN: Charles Day is photographed in the 1990s in front of the picture of the mill's founder Henry Day.

HISTORY MAN: Charles Day is photographed in the 1990s in front of the picture of the mill's founder Henry Day.

This week I am indebted to Charles Day, a director of Henry Day and Sons Ltd, Savile Bridge Mills, Savile Town, who has just completed years of research on his family business which was started in 1844 and closed in 2000.

What he has written is now in the possession of Huddersfield Archives and on the internet to be shared with the world, a little masterpiece, which only a man like Charles, with his in-depth knowledge of the shoddy and mungo industry and the processing of rags, could have written.

Shoddy was brought into the world in 1815 by a Batley man, Benjamin Law, who invented a machine which could spin yarn from old woollen rags.

In short he was able to recycle old woollen clothing and make it useable again.

Prior to that, clothing was made from virgin wool which was far too expensive to clothe the masses, but Law’s invention changed all that.

His machinery could produce vast quantities of much cheaper fibre called shoddy which led to the foundation of a huge textile industry here in Dewsbury and Batley, employing thousands of local people.

Shoddy, as Charles informs us, brought great prosperity to the Heavy Woollen District, and his great, great grandfather, Henry Day, of Hanging Heaton, was soon at the forefront of the shoddy revolution which ensued.

The papers written by Charles cover every aspect of the shoddy and mungo industry, chronicling its rise and fall over the last 200 years, and although much of the contents are technical, he manages to explain it in layman’s language.

The Day family were involved in textiles long before Benjamin Law invented his machine, but only in a small way compared with how the business was later to develop.

The first recorded person connected to textiles with the name Day, was Joseph Day who, in 1729, was working from his home in Hanging Heaton as both a farmer and a clothier.

In 1820 Joseph’s son George, had a licence to sell wool, issued by the Bailiff, Joseph Howgate, which had to be carried round with him at all times, the original of which is in the hands of Charles.

George’s son, Henry, worked with his father, and in 1844 started his own company, expanding into an area of Hanging Heaton, now called Day’s Yard, where he and his wife sorted and sold rags.

Henry built Quarry Cottage and then Quarry House in Day’s Yard, built from stone costing £10 from an old Methodist School and bricks from James Bray of Shaw cross.

As his company expanded, he then started to dye and dry rags, and also bought a rag machine. He had crude brick dye vats built, where the water was heated by a fire underneath the bottom plate, and once dyed, the rags were dried in the field at the bottom of the yard.

Henry also introduced hand-weaving there, and today doors can be seen on the top floors of cottages in Day’s Yard where the yarn was taken through for the hand-loom weavers.

Some of the names in Henry’s sales day book are those of men who became leading mill owners in the Dewsbury area, like Mark Oldroyd, Mark Day, Joseph Newsome, to name but a few.

The company continued to grow and Henry kept moving to bigger premises to keep up its rapid expansion, and the business prospered.

When he died in 1889, he left money in his will for a number of stained-glass windows to be erected in St Mark’s Church, Halifax Road, Dewsbury, some of which re still there.

The research done by Charles into the growth and prosperity of the shoddy industry locally reveals how much the town’s economy relied on plenty of orders coming in from all over the world.

The industry prospered in times of war, and when there were no wars, there was recession in the trade and unemployment.

The first Crimean War n 1853/6, and then the Franco-Prussian War in 1870/1, were both very profitable for the local textile industry, but in 1857 there was a great slump in the textile industry known locally as “the panic”.

The Russian-Japan War which started in 1904 brought orders to the Heavy Woollen District for 1,400,000 blankets and millions of yards of Army cloth.

There were no other countries able to make this type of cloth which had in it a considerable amount of shoddy, and 100 % shoddy blends were used for the multi-coloured army grey blankets sold all over the world.

There was so much demand for rags that trainloads of rags were bought in Europe and then shipped into the United Kingdom. Fortunately there was a large railway goods yard behind Dewsbury Town Hall with large warehouses to store many tons of rags.

Barges were used to bring rags, which had been delivered to Hull, by canal to Dewsbury, and on Mill Street East there were warehouses at the C anal Cut End, where the barges could unload and the bales could be stored in the wooden warehouses.

The barges could carry up to 80 tons, and it would take one man and a horse to deliver the barge to Dewsbury.

Old uniforms were sold by tender by large companies or government departments – the companies included bus companies, hospitals, fire brigades and the police, which included the RUC.

Most of the above garments had shoddy or mungo in them and so, as Charles Day points out, the Heavy Woollen District has been “green” for nearly 200 years.

Rag and waste sorting gave a lot of employment in the area, and the sorting was carried out mainly by women who were of Irish stock. Sorting was thorough, in some cases it had to be precise, especially wool dyed blue.

The more experienced sorters were given the difficult jobs, for which their pay was higher.

There will be thousands of rag sorters still living in the district, who worked in mills like Henry Day’s, and I hope what Charles has written will raise their self-esteem, for they may not know it, but they are history’s unsung heroes. They helped clothe the world.

Or as Charles Day reminds us, Dewsbury and Batley were in the recycling industry long before the word recycling had been invented.

In 1915, Henry Day’s firm became sophisticated and had a telephone installed with the number Dewsbury 95. In 1915 they bought their first wagon, a Vulcan costing £600

One of the biggest influences in the demise of the woollen textile industry was the invention of synthetic fibres, and people not buying wool cloth due to central heating and car heaters.

Charles Day, born in 1945, is the sixth and last generation of the family to work in textiles, and although manufacturing at Savile Bridge Mills ceased in 2000, the mill still survives and the company is still in business, letting out the property for rental income.

There is much more of what Charles has written which I know will be of interest to readers, but I don’t have the space this week. I will therefore write another article in the near future, concentrating on just how “green” shoddy used to be and what its waste products could be converted into. You will be surprised.

If you cannot wait until then, you can log on to Charles’s website – – and read it for yourself.