The decline of the Lancashire cotton mills

A little history lesson on the Lancashire cotton mills and a great video made by the British council in 1941

Did you know that Britain used to be the biggest cotton cloth producer in the world?

The mechanised spinning and weaving of cotton fibre into fabric began in Britain and spearheaded the industrial revolution. By 1860 there were 2650 cotton mills in Lancashire, employing 440 000 people and producing half of the world’s cotton. At the turn of the twentieth century things were still going strong and the Lancashire cotton mills produced 8 billion yards of cloth a year which were exported all over the world.
Then came the First World War and cotton could no longer be exported to the foreign markets. This led to countries such as Japan weaving their own cotton, and by the 1930s 800 mills had closed and 345,000 workers had left the industry.

This entertaining video was made by the British Council to counter Nazi propaganda and help promote British cotton to the world during the Second World War. It shows that we could not only make some fine cloth but we could design some great frocks too – and check out the glamorous war-time ladies in the fur and finery as well. As the commentator says in his best Queen’s English –

“For in peace or war, Britain delivers the goods”

But this video did little to revive sales of British cotton, and during the 1960s and 70s, mills were closing across Lancashire at a rate of almost one a week. Sadly, today there are left than a handful of working mills left in Lancashire.

If you want to read more about the history of the Lancashire Cotton Mills visit SpinningtheWeb.org.uk

14 thoughts on “The decline of the Lancashire cotton mills”

  1. Dear All, Now time has come to trade with EU & 53 Commonwealth Countries. produce British & Buy British. Revive lost Industries & survive as Hero.

    1. Gandhi was in the UK as part of the Indian delegation to a London Round Table conference about independence – 1930 of 1931 I think. Not much happened there. He visited mills in Darwin and the Barlow family (stonkingly rich Bolton mill owners) in Edgeworth village. Gandhi of course wanted to reduce imports of cotton to India and was promoting local hand spinning. Lancashire cotton workers were losing trade to Japan and India which could produce yarn and cloth cheaper and wanted India to carry on importing Lancashire made dhotis. So the meetings, though friendly enough, we’re not going to agree on a ‘solution’. I believe it was this trip during which he was asked what he thought of British civilisation. He is reputed to have replied ‘it would be a good idea’.

  2. .Judith Edwards

    I like so many people are looking for cotton sheets like our grandmothers had cold crisp 100 per cent cotton and thick also .now we are out of the European .We should start to make these sheets again .People have been searching for years both here and in America .We should get these mills going making jobs for people .If you can make sheets that our grandmothers had you will sell them all over the world .there is a market for them.Like me they are willing to pay for the real thing .Not these thin sateen things that they try to pass off as cotton.Look at Chris old fashioned bedding .that should give you an ideal.

    1. I know it’s an old comment, but just in case, try Peter Reed in Nelson, Lancashire. They have a website but also sell through retailers. Very good quality long staple Egyptian cotton…..but at a price!

  3. I no longer have a business since I retired a number of years ago but I support the cause of improving and maintaining British industry and it’s products. You appear not to have a membership category which I, and I am sure many hundreds of more people like me, could subscribe to as a supporter.
    We desperately need to push self sufficiency as a major component in reducing our deficit and generating new money. We may not be able to match other countries in cost of production but with really good product quality we could regain our position as a major player service, design and manufacturing by offering PREMIUM PRODUCTS AT PREMIUM PRICES.

  4. Judith Anne Edwards

    Is there anyone who can tell me and others like me where we an buy100 per cent thick cotton cold and crisp bed sheets ,like our grandmothers had.please anywhere in Britain .

  5. nah i’d probably die in the first couple days cause I read in a book that most of the men couldn’t move their backs at the age of 30 cause of the cloth work cause ur bending down the whole time 🙂

  6. Pingback: BLACK BRITISH HISTORY – urbandeclaration

  7. Hi, this is completely unrelated but tied to Preston/Lancashire area. I live in Australia and am looking to trace relatives. My Grandmother Dorothy Eckersley was born 25 Nov 1902. She was the youngest of 10 and her mother Elizabeth Eckersley (nee Clayton) died not long after, then Nan’s father J. Eckersley (no further info on the birth cert) married the house-keeper. According to Nan’s birth cert they lived at 15 Brixey St, Preston. Approx 6 years later (1908) they migrated to Australia – Nan had her 6th birthday on the ship. But, only the youngest 5 children Peter, Maude, Tess, Bell and Dorothy came out, the eldest 5 stayed behind. By the time I was born both Nan’s parents were deceased so I have not a lot to go on.
    If this story resonates with anyone I would love to hear from you.

  8. Judith Buck, Mossley Heritage Centre

    Though I might mourn the loss of our manufacturing base and the jobs that went with it, I do not mourn the loss of the “dark satanic mills”. We are in danger of wallowing in too much nostalgia where the cotton mills are concerned. They may have provided employment but at a huge cost to the health and well fare of many (including children as young as 5 years of age)who worked extremely long hours with little time off and lived in the shadows of their place of work in cramped conditions. My own ancestors can attest to that, losing their hearing and many dying early because of the fibres they breathed in. The factories also polluted our rivers and our skies. Now at last our rivers and canals are recovering and the chimneys disappearing from our sky lines.

  9. Those made by fleece need to be dried carefully by hanging to let the excess water out of washing drip away. It is not a good idea to wring the fleece-made onesies after washing.

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