The Fustian Trade

Fustian cutting.PNG

In the late 18th century cotton began to become more important in this area than the traditional woollen and worsted industry. From this time textiles here were based on cotton, particularly the kind of strong cotton cloth known as ‘fustian’.

Fustians are densely woven cottons with a pile or a napped surface. The best known type is corduroy, which has a distinctive ribbed appearance. The velvety pile or nap was produced after the cloth had been woven, as part of the finishing process. This was done by fustian cutters who used a specialised knife to raise the soft pile on the surface of the cloth.

Fustian cutting was first adopted here as a trade in the late 18th century, and the area around Machpelah and Foster Lane had become a centre of fustian cutting by the 1840s. Early on, children were sometimes given the less skilled work of cutting velveteens, which were another type of fustian, but cutting corduroy required considerable skill and was done by both men and women.

Fustian cutting remained a hand process through the second half of the 19th century.

Even when machinery came into general use in the early 1900s the hand cutting did not completely disappear.


Ready Made Clothing

HB Fustian clothes.png Photo: Sam Moore with display Cabinet from Nutclough works circa 1911 Jack Uttley photo library

In the second half of the 19th century, the fustian cloth produced in mills in the area was used as the material for ready made garment making. There was a new demand for ready made jackets and trousers, and Hebden Bridge soon specialised in this expanding trade.

Fustian was tough and resistant to wear, so this kind of clothing met the needs of both industrial workers and agricultural labourers.

The ready made trade was first developed at Wood Top in about 1860 when Peggy Barker, wife of William Barker, and her daughters Alice and Mary began making up fustian garments by hand at their home. They soon introduced sewing machines, although at first these could only be used for sewing straight seams and all the finishing had to be done by hand.

Most of the clothing firms were quite small but there were some larger ones, such as William Barker’s Clothing Company, Redman Brothers, and the Hebden Bridge Fustian Manufacturing Society.

The Fustian Society was founded as a worker’s co-operative in 1870 by Joseph Greenwood and a group of fustian cutters. They started out in a room in Crown Street then moved to Nutclough Mill, and began supplying fustian clothing co-operative stores in the Upper Calder Valley. They established a thriving business and earned a national and even international reputation as the most successful example of co-operative production in late Victorian Britain.



Sewing machinists.png Photo: Machinists at Nutclough Mill circa 1914 Alice Longstaff Gallery collection

In the late Victorian and Edwardian period Hebden Bridge prospered by producing ready made fustian clothing on a massive scale. Corduroys and moleskins of all descriptions were made up into jackets and trousers, and the town had a great reputation for the quality of its products. There was both a national and international trade, with important colonial markets in Australia and South Africa.

The second half of the 19th century saw the development of manufacturing (weaving), and of dyeing and finishing.

Hebden Bridge was able to consolidate its position as the main centre of the fustian trade, and the town became known as ‘Fustianopolis’.

Picture 2.png Photo: Hand finishers in Hebden Bridge circa 1910 Alice Longstaff gallery collection

By the 1880s there were a very large number of jobs for women and girls in the sewing shops and clothing factories, and average household incomes were higher than in many places. However, this was all ‘piece work’, so earnings depended on the level of skill and on the speed at which a machinist managed to work.

In 1916 machinists were working very long hours to keep pace with the demand for the army and navy and asked for increases in the piece rate. This led to an ‘unpatriotic’ strike of several thousand clothing workers in Hebden Bridge, but the government intervened and brought the strike to an end. From this time on, unions and employers in the district periodically agreed a ‘wages list’.

The Clothing Industry

Duffle coat.png Royal Navy duffel coats made by Redman Brothers 1939 - 45. By kind permission of Mr Richard Redman. A similar photograph of a duffle coat made in Hebden Bridge was used by the Royal Mail in the series of stamps issued in 2010.



After the First World War fashions were changing and heavy corduroys and moleskins were much less popular. Although some firms continued making corduroys throughout their history, there was a time of diversification in the 1920s, and some of the smaller firms went out of business.

Firms began to produce clothing in a range of new materials especially flannels and derby tweeds, and some mills began producing boiler suits and overalls, made out of lighter weight cottons.

In the Second World War Redman’s were producing duffel coats for the navy at Foster Mill, (the cloth came from Brearley) and Hoyle’s produced cord breeches for land girls.

By the 1960s there was increasing competition from abroad, although boy’s and men’s clothing was still produced here and new lines such as donkey jackets were introduced. By the 1970s profit levels had fallen drastically, the number of firms was gradually reduced, and mills were forced to close.

Fustian Cutting


Fustian from Alternative Technology Centre on Vimeo.

Picture 1.png Fustian cutter at work circa 1890. Jack Uttley photo library

Special techniques were used in the finishing process, to give the cloth its characteristic raised pile surface, This was done by fustian cutters. In the 18th century, the common practice was still for a teenager to be apprenticed to learn these skills. John Ashworth was apprenticed in 17912 to Martin Mollineaux of King Street, and he later became a fustian dealer himself. However by the time that fustian cutting was well established here this apprenticeship system did not continue in to the 19th century.

Joseph Greenwood who was later the founder of the Nutclough Fustian Co-operative, described in his memoirs the convivial atmosphere in some of the workshops in which he was employed as a child and teenager in the 1840s. Cutting velveteens was simpler than cutting cords, and in the early 19th century this was sometimes done by children, and involved moving the knife along each race or tunnel of the cloth before that section of cloth was wound on, constantly moving the right arm forward and transferring weight and repeating these actions meant that children sometimes grew up with one shoulder higher than the other and a leg bent inwards.

The pile was produced on the surface of the cloth by fustian cutters working with specialised fustian cutting knives, this was a time consuming activity and any slips reduced the quality of the cloth,

The 1860s

There was a big expansion of weaving in the 1860s, and also of dyeing and finishing. The character and organisation of the trade was going through some important changes, for instance, small workshops were now seen as inefficient, and fustian cutting was now carried out in dye works alongside the other finishing processes.

This meant working factory hours instead of having flexibility, and women were now more likely to be employed as enders and menders in dye works rather than as fustian cutters. The Factory and Workshops Acts meant that children were only allowed to work under the half time system, working half shifts on condition that
they had reached a certain level of education.

There are frequent reports of serious accidents in the local paper; dye works were particularly notorious, especially falls into boiling dye vats, There was a tragedy in 1861 when Hiram Pickled died at Calderside Mill and a boiler explosion at Midgehole Dye works in the 1860s.


The Clothing Firms

Throughout the 19th century the textile industry in Hebden Bridge was based on cotton, and the mills were originally used for cotton spinning, then for manufacturing (i.e. weaving). Ready made garment making began in the 1860s and by the 1880s the town was the leading manufacturer of ready made fustian clothing. A large number of businesses were set up in Hebden Bridge, employing hundreds of workers, mostly women, who worked in sewing shops and clothing factories produced ready made clothing, especially jackets and trousers.


William Barker’s Clothing Company

Wood Top Dye Works 1.jpg Wood Top dyeworks Alice Longstaff gallery collection

William Barker set up business in the 1840s as a fustian manufacturer in the Colden Valley, but in about 1860 the family moved to Wood Top just outside Hebden Bridge. According to local tradition, his wife and daughters began sewing garments here by hand and from small beginnings a complete factory system was to emerge over 25 years. Mayroyd Mill was added to the business and was rebuilt as a clothing factory. Not just Barker’s Terrace but most of the shops on the north side of Market Street were financed by W. Barker and Co.

William Barker died 24th July 1887, but the business was inherited by his son in law John King and his grandson, Henry Whiteley King. An article from The Outfitter, Nov.1893, describes a visit to the factories in the Colden Valley and the dye works at Wood Top Mills, and describes the piece department, cutting room, finishing department, and clothing stock room at Mayroyd Mill. This factory must have been one of the first to be lit by electricity, generated from a waterwheel. The mills were connected by telephone, and there were retail outlets in Glasgow and Belfast. As well as the home market, Barker’s were exporting ready made fustian clothing to S Africa and Australia.

The following gives a sample of some of the businesses listed in Kelly’s Trade Directory for 1917.


Redmans Brothers

Richard Redman began working at age 8 and after getting experience in the trade Richard, now 17, with brothers John and Jonathon, began in business on their own. This was in a building in St Georges’ Square, in around 1875, but within a few years the firm moved to Salem Mill (on Co-op site) and in about 1890 bought Foster Mill. (For further information see entry for Foster mill.)


Joseph Greenwood and the Nutclough Fustian Co-operative

In the 1860s Joseph Greenwood became an enthusiastic supporter of the principles of Co-operative production. He had attended a Chartist meeting in Midgely and this influenced his future views and he became a determined supporter of the principles of co-operative production. He had first worked with his parents at their loom, but becoming, with his brother, a fustian cutter. He first worked for a neighbour who was also a clogger and then a member of the Moss family's workshop at Machpelah. In the 1860s fustian cutters were struggling to support themselves and their families, and there were frequent disputes and some strikes, leading to attempts to set up a co-operative workshop.

In the words of Joseph Greenwood, ‘few of us had as much as five pound note’, but 1870 saw the formation of a friendly society of the type that provided money for funeral expenses, but this group also had the intention of raising the capital to buy a dye works. They started the business with very little capital in a room in Crown Street. The formation of a partnership with the Co-operative Wholesale Society provided the money to buy Nutclough Mill in 1873. They marketed their ready made clothing, through co-operative stores, at first in the Calder Valley and in Lancashire, and profits were divided between the CWS and the workers.


Other clothing companies in 1917

John Hilton and Co. listed at Salem mill 1901, and at Market Street in Kelly’s 1917, as wholesale clothier. On the corner of Hilton Street was the factory of DA Blackburn, (top storey removed after a fire).

Greenwood Bros., 24 -25 Market Street- now a jewellery shop – had a second floor cutting room, where patterns were chalked on piled up layers of cloth to be cut out by men using power driven band knives, whilst on the top floor, women joined up pieces of garments using sewing machines, and hand sewing difficult parts.

Beehive Works, Hebble End, behind the Methodist Church. Broadbent and Blackburn had 200 machinists and 60 finishers as well as 30 male workers here in c.1916. Broadbent Bros. and Blackburn listed in Kelly’s 1917. (Blackburns later move to Tower Works).

Dewhirsts Clothing Factory. This is the building opposite Fountain Street which was originally the warehouse for Salem Mills.

Helliwell Bros., Wholesale Clothiers, Market Street, listed in Kellys,1917. This is the building at the bottom of Cuckoo steps described by AG as a clothing factory of JF Helliwell.

C W. Crowther, Wholesale Clothier, Waterside. This firm later moved to a building on Brunswick Street. Kelly’s,1917,

Melbourne Works, lists W. Crossley, Fustian Manufacturers, Richard Sutcliffe and Co., and John Horsfall and Sons Ltd. all at this address. Kelly’s 1917. It has now been developed into flats on the side of the canal in the centre of town.

Cheetham’s Ltd, Crown Street, wholesale clothiers, Kelly’s 1917.(now fish and chip shop)

Hartley’s, Linden Mill. Hartley and Astin began as partners but later Astins ran their own business. Linden Mill has a datestone, 1905, and is a good example of a purpose built clothing factory.

Astin Bros are listed at Hangingroyd Lane in Kelly’s 1917, but may also have had premises on Valley Road (now the health centre, with a datestone 1902).


Weaving Sheds – two examples:

There were a large number of fustian manufacturers in the town, especially in the Hangingroyd area. Of these, Crossley Mill was one of the earliest, but when weaving expanded in the 1860s many new weaving sheds opened, mostly in the town, but also in the surrounding area, including Pecket Shed.

Pecket Shed
This steam powered weaving shed was built as a speculative venture in 1858, but was owned from 1862 by John Wilcock and Sons. Steam power was used here until the 1940s. The firer up, William Crabtree, was known as Billy Steamer. Source:W Stanley Greenwood, Crimsworth Dean, Pecket Well and Hebden Bridge.

The single storied weaving sheds were demolished in 2007-8, and the site redeveloped for housing. The 4 storied building contained the boiler house, sizing room, warehouse and offices, and the chimney and engine house also survive.

Greenwood and Stell operated here as the last fustian weaving shed in Hebden Bridge, and closed on 23rd October, 1998.

Crossley Mill -
The 1830s and 40s saw the enlargement of cotton spinning mills and the introduction of steam powered weaving into the area. Two steam powered mills were built by J Crossley and Sons, in 1819 and 1822. This firm were producing cloth using both power and handlooms in 1833, but power loom weaving gradually took over. The Crossley’s built worker’s housing at nos.1-7 New Road, and the houses opposite contained workshops and accommodation.


Dyeing and Finishing

In the town were the Stubbing Holme Dyeing Company, locally known as ‘Top o’th Holme’ Waterside, Bankfoot and Central Dye Works, and there was dyeing and finishing along with manufacturing at Hangingroyd and Nutclough mIlls. In the surrounding area were Bridge Royd at Eastwood (Moss Bros), Wood Top, and Midgehole Dye Works.

Bridge Royd Mill was a dyeworks before it was taken over in 1887 by Moss Brothers, and Brisbane Moss are still use the building (and were dyeing and manufacturing corduroys until quite recently). Cockenden Mill, Eastwood, an early cotton spinning mill, used from 1867 as Dan Crabtree’s Dyeworks, closing down in 1937.

Crimsworth Water Dyeing Company was founded by James Worrall of Salford who bought the mill for £9,700 in 1861. The firm employed about 50 people in 1868 but this had doubled by 1872.

In the 1890s machines that cut the pile on cord were developed and these cutting machines were installed in the premises of dyeing and finishing firms. Midgehole Dye works are said to have been the first to use them.

The dye works was in use until 2009 by Hebden Dyeing Company, though not for fustian.

Wood Top, William Barker and Co, taken over in 1913 by Clay & Crabtree, closed 1961. Demolished 18.10.63.