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Heritage – Generations of Innovators

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Kirklees is built on the textiles industry; from the undulating hills that have been perfect for grazing sheep for wool to the plentiful supply of soft water from the Colne and Holme Rivers that is essential for washing raw wool.

In 1766 the trade moved from its humble domestic spinning and weaving beginnings to large-scale mill production and trading in the purpose-built Cloth Hall designed by Sir John Ramsden, which established a worldwide reputation for the manufacture of fine woollen and worsted cloth, and Huddersfield’s status as a centre for the textile industry.

During and following the Industrial Revolution, the once innovative hand-operated spinning jennies and looms became second-rate to large new machines, and with this  scale naturally, production moved away from individual homes to larger buildings or mills. Textile production became much faster and therefore more prolific. There were (and still are) hundreds of mills scattered across Kirklees. 

Despite organised protest, most notably by the Luddites who were completely opposed to the new machinery, the home workers had little option but to seek employment in the new mills; by 1911 there were 22,000 people working in textiles in Huddersfield. 

Kirklees textile story also sees the innovative development of shoddy and mungo, a technique said to have been established in Batley that shredded unwanted woollen rags or industry waste to create new yarn for soldiers’ blankets and uniforms.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the industry saw increased migration of workforce from Pakistan and India. And you can find out more about migration and the shoddy industry in the INTERWOVEN case study.

The decline of Huddersfield’s textile industry began in the late 1960s and was largely due to increased competition and technical advances. Other countries invested in new, more efficient machines which required less workers to make cloth more quickly. They mass-produced cheaper textiles, although of inferior quality.

Today Kirklees is reinventing itself as a centre for textile excellence; harnessing technology, innovation and progression through organisations such as the Textile Centre of Excellence and The University of Huddersfield’s Technical Textiles Research Centre, which aims to re-establish the town and region as a world leader in textiles by harnessing the newest technology and manufacturing techniques.  The centre brings together expertise in disparate fields of science, including technical textiles, engineering, digital technology, textile processing, cellulose science, medical textiles, fibre and polymer chemistry, pharmacology, surface functionalisation & material science. 

Kirklees is also nurturing the next generation with textile courses at Kirklees College, New College and a wide range of degrees at the University, and a thriving apprenticeship programme with the Textile Centre of Excellence.

Made in Kirklees cloth is having a resurgence through the environmental imperative to buy well and buy once, and a demand for more robust and characterful worsted cloths for TV in programmes such as Downton Abbey and Peaky Blinders. High end may be here to stay!

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