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West Yorkshire Textile Heritage Project

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Project Background

Page of samples for spring 1861 by Tolson Brothers of Dalton, Kirklees Museums

The West Yorkshire Textile Heritage Project is a partnership formed by Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield museums to develop a unified approach to presenting the rich history of textiles in West Yorkshire.

Funded by a grant from the Esmee Fairburn fund, the project improved collections documentation and access, created a textile trail leaflet, a website and an online database.

Please visit for more information about the project.

Textiles of West Yorkshire

Textiles have been a major industry in West Yorkshire for over 300 years. Companies have specialised in all aspects of textile production from spinning and dyeing to weaving and finishing. This has been supported by engineering-focused industries, including the making of looms, motors and spin dryers, and marketing and trading in textiles.

The region is most famous for producing woollen and worsted cloth. Bradford produced so much worsted that is was nicknamed worstedopolis, but Huddersfield was also an important centre for this high quality cloth which is still produced today by firms like Hainsworth in Leeds and Burberry in Castleford.

Moquette Loom in Calderdale Museums

A diverse range of textiles have been produced in the region. Samuel Lister's Manningham Mills in Bradford was once the biggest silk mill in the world. Huddersfield's fancy trade used cotton and silk to create beautiful vestings and other patterned cloth. In more recent years manmade and synthetic fibres have also been increasingly important.

However, wool has always been the most important fibre. Dewsbury was the centre of the heavy woollen district, which produced heavy duty textiles like blankets and rope. The Dewsbury/Batley/Ossett area was also the world centre of the shoddy industry which made new cloth from recycled wool.

Knitting yarn has been produced in Holmfirth and Wakefield, and firms such as Jaeger and Sirdar still have local offices. West Yorkshire is also important for carpets and moquettes (used for public transport seats). Holdsworth, originally from Halifax and now in Meltham, have been supplying London Transport since the 1820s.

Knitting pattern for P&B yarn, Wakefield Museums

The Collections

West Yorkshire is made up of Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees, Leeds and Wakefield. Each of these local authorities has a museum service, each with important textile holdings that reflect their local manufacturers. They cover machinery and tools, samples and pattern books and finished textiles.

Bradford Museums has a comprehensive collection of machines, covering every aspect of the textile industry in Bradford, from processing the raw material to the finished product. The companies covered include Listers, Salts, Hattersley, Moons and Riverside. The collection also includes related items for example time clocks, testing machines, a costume collection and photographs.

One of the most important parts of the collection are the sample books, which holds the pieces of fabric, information to set up the looms and the design sheets which were used in the factories to make the fabric.

Noble comb in Bradford Museums

Calderdale Museums has had a focus on costume and textile collections since 1900. There are more than 17,000 items from around the world tracking the development of textile production. This represents the influence of world textiles on local production as well as how local textiles have been exported around and influenced the world.

Everything from early hand spinning, carding, combing, weaving, finishing and costume is covered. There is also a very good collection of industrial textile machinery including an original spinning jenny and a variety of looms. Different fibre types are represented with a natural emphasis on the wool and worsted for which the area was famous. Halifax was home to Akroyd & Sons, the largest worsted spinners in the world, and Crossley’s Carpets, the largest carpet manufacturers in the world.

Kirklees Museums and Galleries reflects the products that were produced in Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley areas. The large pattern book and sample collections include examples of the fancy trade, carpets, moquettes, suitings, plush fabrics and shoddy and mungo.

The collection of tools and machinery is particularly strong for the early days of industrialisation. The social impact of the industry, especially the luddite uprisings, is represented by some very rare and significant objects. The artefacts are supported by extensive paper and media archives including photographs, manufacturers’ catalogues and trade publications. Joshua Ellis, Learoyds, Taylor and Lodge, Wormalds and Walker and Godfrey Sykes are amongst those firms well represented in the collection.

The photographic collection can be viewed online at

Leeds Museums and Galleries holds a broad textile industrial collection as a key part of its Designated Industrial Collections. The main display is at Armley Mills, once the largest woollen mill in the world. It tells the story of Leeds’ rich industrial heritage through both it’s own history and the collections, exhibitions and galleries in the museum. The collection showcases all aspects of the textile industry, from the machines that made the cloth to the end products and reflects the huge impact the cloth and tailoring industry had on Leeds from its development in the mid-19th Century through to today.

Armley Mills maintains key links to today’s manufacturing companies and runs a spinning mule in association with Hainsworths, a family run business dating back to 1783. Companies such as John Barrans, Burtons and Hepworths are well represented, along with many smaller tailoring companies, who helped develop mass production of tailored garments and make the suit available to everyone.

Wakefield Council's Museum Service contains nearly 300 objects which tell unique stories of the textile industry in the region. Examples of textiles produced in the local area include knitting yarn samples and finished products such as clothing, bedding and soft toys. A large proportion of the collection is made up of photographs and ephemera, including correspondence, advertisements, catalogues, packaging and knitting patterns. These document the industry, related trade and commerce, and the social life of people working in the industry.

Manufacturers represented include W.E. Rawson Ltd. Patons and Baldwins Ltd., Fur Fabrics Ltd., Sirdar, Double Two Ltd., Cohen and Wilks Ltd., Thomas B. Ramsden & Co, Calverts Ropery in Wrenthorpe, Bekeart Textiles in Pontefract and M. P. Stonehouse at Albion Mills.

Contact Details

Bradford Museums:
Calderdale Museums:
Leeds Museums and Galleries:
Kirklees Museums and Galleries:
Wakefield Museums:

Image Credits

Page of samples for spring 1861 by Tolson Brothers of Dalton, Kirklees Museums
Moquette Loom in Calderdale Museums
Knitting pattern for Patons & Baldwins Ltd. yarn, Wakefield Museums
Noble comb, Bradford Museums



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