Chapter 2: Peak of Prosperity, 1849-1885 'Brothers in Partnership'

Beginnings 1779-1849
Peak of Prosperity 1849-1885
Responding to Decline 1885-1913
Unsettled Times 1913-1939
Unsettled Times (2) 1939-1962
Survival 1962-1979
Renaissance 1979 Onwards

JOHN HOLDSWORTH & COMPANY was well-established by the middle of the nineteenth century. It was a flourishing vertically integrated worsted manufacturing business housed in a complex of recently erected buildings on a site which still had potential for further expansion. The little land that was bought between 1844 and John Holdsworth's death in 1857 was used to erect more houses for his employees. To the buildings already in existence in 1849 were added a new warehouse and extensions to the power loom weaving shed in 1852.

Mills at John Holdsworth & Co
Mills at John Holdsworth & Co Ltd, 1930

A plan for the land owned by John Holdsworth in the townships of Skircoat and Southowram survives from 1855. The land he had accumulated over the years was now divided into four separate estates and trade buildings. The estates were Shaw Lodge, where John Holdsworth himself lived, Shaw Royd, Elm Wood and Spring Hall, each occupied by one of his sons. As well as the spinning mills, weaving shed and warehouses, he also owned a semi-derelict logwood dye mill, Grove Mill, two public houses, The Shears Inn and the New Inn, and a large number of cottage properties.

The journalist who visited Shaw Lodge Mills in 1849 was Angus Bethune Reach. He worked for the Morning Chronicle and covered the manufacturing districts of the north as part of the newspaper's examination of the conditions of the working classes. In 1849 he visited both Bradford and Halifax. He found that in Halifax, compared with its neighbour, 'things are conducted more slowly and quietly - the place has a touch of antiquity in its aspect and tone'. This did not imply a romantic view of the town which Reach described as 'a marvel of dirt'. The streets were 'disgracefully neglected' while some of the small courts and cul-de-sacs he visited were 'reeking with stench and the worst sort of abomination. The ash-pits and appurtenances were disgustingly choked, ordure and filthy stagnant slops lay freely and deeply scattered around, often at the very thresholds of swarming dwellings - and among all this muck uncared-for children sprawled by the score, and idle slatternly women lounged by the half-dozen'. 1

Mending Fabric at John Holdsworth & Co
Mending Fabric at John Holdsworth & Co Ltd, 1930

These opinions were confirmed by Ranger when he investigated the sanitary conditions in Northowram, Southowram and Halifax in 1850-1. Overcrowding and squalor were ubiquitous, the water supply impure and inadequate, and the state of the roads 'indescribable'. In Northowram, for example, people on their way to the mills 'have to wade through dirty streets to reach their work'. Smoke from the increasing number of mill chimneys was also becoming 'a great nuisance'. The impact upon life-span, even taking into account the greater mortality of young children (in 1846, 46 per cent of deaths in Halifax occurred among those aged under five), was dramatic. In Halifax and Skircoat in 1840-1, the average age on death for the gentry was 60 years; for tradesmen and artisans it was 25½ years, and even this had been 'much raised by an unusual number of deaths at advanced ages among weavers'. 2

In the mills Ranger found that temperatures were often stifling, that washrooms were not standard, privies few and far between (one for every 34 mill-hands) and children working in the mills were susceptible to epidemics. 3 On the other hand, he wrote that

It is fortunate for the several thousands who are engaged in the mills and sheds, that their employment takes them from the locale of the impurities that are allowed to abound in the vicinage and close proximity to their residences. Truth desires that I should state that a great desire is manifested to secure purity of atmosphere on the part of their employers, who are fully sensible of the great advantages desirable from regarding healthiness of their sheds; and a most conclusive evidence of the effect was apparent in the countenance of their people. 4

Reach had come to the same conclusion on his visit to the area in 1849. He considered that 'Stuff mills rival, if they do not surpass, silk mills in cleanliness, and coolness, and sweetness of atmosphere'. 5 At Shaw Lodge Mills, already 'a vast establishment, weaving all manner of stuff goods, situated upon the outskirts of the town, and surrounded by the dwellings of the workpeople' 6, he found both the weaving shed and spinning mill well-lit and well-ventilated. Other evidence shows that there were wash-houses for both combers and spinners at Shaw Lodge Mills. 7 Young women made up most of the weavers and also dominated the carding, drawing and spinning departments. Neat and proper of dress, with shawls and bonnets carefully along the wall, the girls were 'hale and hearty'. Reach wrote that 'Mr Holdsworth was energetic in calling my attention to their plumpness'. 8

Clock Tower with bell at John Holdsworth & Co
Turret Clock with bell at John Holdsworth & Co Ltd
Shaw Lodge Mills, Halifax, 1930

Reach found in general that those working in the local mills were predominantly young and female with a dozen women, boys and girls for every man. Men were employed as overlookers on the power looms alongside the women, or, in the main, as 'miserably paid' woolcombers. Many of the children employed were 'half-timers' who worked at the mill for half a day and spent the other half at school. At Shaw Lodge Mills, overlookers earned between 15 and 22 shillings a week. In the weaving shed, where there was one man for every ten women and girls, men received an average of ten shillings a week while the female operatives were paid an average of eight shillings. In the carding, drawing and spinning departments, the weekly wages for women and girls were around five shillings. 9

Since many women lived too far from the mills to return home during the dinner break, John Holdsworth had started a small cookshop near the furnace of one of the steam-engines where girls could heat up the ready cooked meal they had brought with them. Reach called it 'a dinner-bar' and watched some 300 meals prepared, which were 'handed over through a sort of buttery-hatch to each applicant as she shouted the number of her carding-machine, her spinning-frame, or her loom'. Most meals were meat and potatoes, perhaps with some mushrooms, accompanied by tea or coffee in little tin flagons. 10

Working hours in 1849 were still regulated by the act of 1844 but further legislation in 1850 reduced them again. The working day was limited to the hours of 6 am to 6 pm or 7 am to 7 pm with an hour and a half for meals. Except for those under 13, whose hours remained unchanged, working hours for everyone else were restricted to 10½ each day with 7½ hours on Saturdays. The 60 hour working week remained in force until 1870. 11

Reach also visited some of the cottages provided by John Holdsworth for his workers. These, Reach reported, were 'fair specimens of the ordinary construction throughout the towns of the county'. Siddall, across the Calder from Shaw Lodge Mills, was then little more than a series of farms and hamlets but many of those who lived there were already working for John Holdsworth. In 1851, 45 per cent of men over the age of ten (109) were employed in textiles with the greatest concentration of them (23) living in the new cottages John Holdsworth was building at Whitegate Terrace. Of females aged ten and over, 36 per cent were employed in textiles. Nearly all of them were aged between 11 and 30 and all except two of them were unmarried. For many years, a woman once married gave up her job and this was reflected in the fact that the 47 per cent of women in Siddall without an occupation were almost all married. 13

Reach, on visiting one of Holdsworth's hand-loom weavers in 1849, discovered that 'the trade was dying out'. Nevertheless, the firm continued to use hand-loom weavers until the 1860s. Balance sheets throughout the 1850s refer to stock in the hands of weavers. In 1852, for example, there is mention of hand-loom grey goods while in March 1860 Benjamin Mitchell of Brockwell was still being employed to weave damask table cloths on a pair of looms for the firm. 14

Interestingly, John Holdsworth's balance sheets also refer on several occasions during the 1850s to 'monies owing by shed hands' and 'balances owing by power loom weavers'. Either this was a remnant of the truck system or an indication of loans being made by John to his employees. In the earlier part of the century, many employers had used the truck system to pay their employees. Often this took the form of payment in kind or the deduction from wages of debts incurred through purchase from a firm's shop. Unscrupulous employers allowed their workers to run up heavy debts in order to gain a hold over them. The system was outlawed by the 1831 Truck Act but was poorly enforced and survived for some years.

As the extensions to the weaving shed demonstrate, John Holdsworth was investing in more and more power looms, of which an increasing number were Jacquard looms. The weaving shed at Shaw Lodge and the few hand-loom weavers still working for Holdsworth's turned out a wide variety of piece goods. As well as table covers and grey goods, there were cloth and dress goods. At the 1851 Great Exhibition, an unrivalled showcase for the industrial expertise of what was then the most powerful industrial nation in the world, John Holdsworth & Company were awarded a prize medal in Class 12 (worsteds) for a well-made range of furniture cloths and damasks in a number of colours. The exhibition catalogue was almost breathless in its description of 'Crimson merino and green durant, for lining rich damask. Black and white cotillion for ladies' skirts. Printed Tournays, registered patterns used for furniture. Green and gold, crimson, buff, blue and gold, gold and white and gold silk and worsted damask'. The catalogue continues with a long list of furnishing fabrics, table covers, dress fabrics, coat linings, damask aprons and lastings for buttons. One hundred and fifty years later, John Holdsworth & Company is the only firm to have exhibited in this section which still survives. 15

The manufacturing of the furnishing and upholstery goods such as those produced by John Holdsworth & Company was based almost entirely in Halifax. The lighter patterned damasks were nearly all being made on power looms by 1850 while the surviving hand-looms, according to the Halifax Guardian for 12 January 1850, produced goods 'usually of a massive character and are most adapted to the goods made entirely of worsted; whereas the goods woven by power looms are mostly composed of silk, cotton and wool, either singly or in combination'.

Drawing wool tops at John Holdsworth & Co
Drawing wool tops at John Holdsworth & Co Ltd
Shaw Lodge Mills, Halifax, 1930

The only part of the worsted process for which Holdsworth's relied on others was dyeing. At this time the firm was using Oates, Ingham & Sons, of Old Lane and Wade Street, stuff and woollen dyers and stuff finishers, to whom cloth was sent in the piece for dyeing. 16

With frame spinning and power loom weaving successfully established, the major part of the process which remained to be mechanised was wool-combing. For many years there had been repeated attempts to design and manufacture an effective combing machine but none had achieved much success. The breakthrough came with Lister's combing machine which was devised in the late 1840s. The balance sheets contain no references to combing machinery until 1855. Even then the value of nearly £3,000 seems low in relation to the high prices charged for each machine by Lister, who had a virtual monopoly. It could be that these machines were the elementary precursors of the Lister comb.

Holdsworth's continued to merchant goods from their own shop in George Street in Halifax and were also present at the Bradford Piece Hall. The firm opened its own merchanting branch premises in Bradford during the 1850s. In 1844, John had sent his two brothers, George and Henry, down to London where they bought the lease of a property at 6 Goldsmiths Street and set up an office and warehouse. Although inextricably linked with the Halifax business, George and Henry ran the London branch as a business in their own right until Henry sold the lease to his nephews in 1860. By the late 1850s, Holdworth's also possessed a warehouse at 47a High Street in Manchester where the firm had insured its stock of yarn for a thousand pounds. This was probably not stock for sale but cotton yarn purchased from the Lancashire cotton spinners, most worsted cloth being made with cotton warps by this time.

The mid-nineteenth century in general terms was a boom time for the worsted industry interrupted by short periods of recession. The year 1857 saw one of these periodic crises. Speculation and competition created a boom in wool prices which had encouraged the woolstaplers to increase the period of credit they gave to their spinner customers. The latter used this to embark upon a programme of heavy capital investment, encouraged by the false position of the market. When the general economic crisis brought about a collapse in wool prices, several spinners found themselves over-extended and out of business, taking a number of wool merchants with them in the process.

No such rash strategies marred the Holdsworth fortunes. A man who was patient enough to spend 20 years putting together the land for his business was shrewd enough to sit out the highs and lows of the textile industry. Suddenly, on 6 June 1857, John Holdsworth died at the age of 60. He had never sought a prominent position in public affairs, unlike several of his contemporaries, but it is surprising that the death of one of Halifax's leading manufacturers should pass unrecognised by an obituary in either of the town's two newspapers. He had retired from the partnership two years before his death, leaving his four sons in charge, but he had left his capital invested in the firm. The total capital value of the business at his death came to £244,000, the equivalent in 1999 of more than £14½ million. This was a considerable achievement. 17

William I Holdsworth, 1821-1885 W I Holdsworth, 1821-1885
Mayor of Halifax, 1863-65

He left his property divided equally among his four sons. His elder son, William Irving, inherited Shaw Lodge, his second son, George, Elm Wood, Tom was left the Spring Hall estate and John the land at Shaw Royd. Where one estate was valued more highly than another, the brother concerned was beholden by his father's will to pay a compensating sum to his other brothers. The capital remaining in the business after these bequests was divided equally among John Holdsworth's four sons. His widow, Sarah, a wealthy woman in her own right, was left only her husband's personal possessions and an annuity. 18

The partnership agreement which the four brothers had signed on 10 July 1855 was for a term of 14 years. Profits and losses were to be shared equally. The partners' capital accounts earned interest at five per cent per annum. George, Tom and John assumed the joint responsibility for hiring and firing people at Shaw Lodge Mills while William had sole responsibility for the same purpose at Bradford. Each partner was able to enter into any individual transaction up to the value of £5,000 (£300,000) but above that limit the consent of all the partners was required. Only William and George had the authority to sign cheques and bills. The agreement also specified the drawing up of annual balance sheets, the terms for the dissolution of the partnership, and the procedures for settling disputes.

William, the eldest son, was regarded as the business mind among the four brothers. As an employer, he gained a reputation during his lifetime as a master who paid 'reasonably good wages to his workmen, equal, certainly, and for a long time exceeding, those paid by many other firms', a record which partly accounted for the absence of any strikes at Shaw Lodge Mills. 19

Edward Akroyd built Akroydon, a model worker’s village, and the church of All Souls Edward Akroyd

With another prominent businessman, Edward Akroyd, he established the local corps of the West Yorkshire Rifle Volunteers when invasion appeared to be a threat in 1859. He achieved the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel and eventually succeeded Akroyd in command. He carried on the family tradition of Anglicanism and Toryism. He was an active Conservative for many years, delivering his views 'in terse English and vigorous style, avoiding the common place and the mere repetition of the arguments of others'. He became chairman of the Halifax association after Sir Henry Edwards, the former MP for the town, stepped down, but repeatedly declined to become the party's parliamentary candidate. 20

George Holdsworth 1822-66 George Holdsworth, 1822-1866

Nevertheless, he was the most publicly prominent of all the Holdsworths, sitting as a member of the Town Council from 1860 until 1869. In 1863 he succeeded as mayor John Crossley, the carpet manufacturer from Dean Clough, and served for two years. Early in his term, he persuaded the town's textile merchants and manufacturers to establish their own Exchange at the Town Hall for transacting business on market days, rather than using the Piece Hall in the morning and adjourning to the nearest hostelry in the afternoon. He was probably influenced in this idea by his experience of the Wool Exchange in Bradford whose influence the Halifax Exchange could never hope to equal.

Two of his other pet subjects were the improvement in the town's water supply and the expansion of the town's gasworks, but he expended most of his energy as mayor on pressing for the extension of the borough. This aroused considerable opposition from some local bodies but William Holdsworth played a key role in preventing the Borough Extension Act from being wrecked as it passed through Parliament in 1865.

William and his brothers became the principal benefactors of the new parish of All Saints, Salterhebble, created in 1846. The firm subscribed £100 towards the new church at Salterhebble and William laid the foundation stone in 1857, an event attended by prominent manufacturers like Edward Akroyd, John Crossley, William and John Foster and Henry Edwards. William also subscribed personally towards the cost of floor tiles, pew decorations, windows and the bell. His brothers, George and Tom, made similar contributions.

Salterhebble's first vicar, John Henry Warneford, was persistent in tackling millowners about some of the appalling conditions in which his parishioners lived. Warneford approached William and his brother, George. William was impressed by Warneford's spirit and directness. He drew up a list of other possible sponsors for Warneford to contact, promising to treble any contribution they made.

John Warneford also advocated schools for the children in his parish. Although this left George Holdsworth unimpressed (he is reported to have said 'It only puts ideas in their heads'), the Salterhebble Sunday School was opened in 1854. The school is still thriving today.21

Spring Hall, Halifax, 2000 Spring Hall, Halifax, 2000

By contrast with William, George and Tom Holdsworth have left little impression behind them. George, like all the brothers, was a justice of the peace. Tom was mechanically minded and was in charge of the machinery department at the mills. Both brothers, churchmen and Conservatives, and took little part in public life. George died prematurely at the age of 45 in November 1866 after suffering several epileptic fits. Tom also suffered from ill-health, taking a year off from the business during 1868 and retiring from the partnership in 1874 to live quietly in Spring Hall, which he had rebuilt to the designs of William Swinden Barber, a local architect. He also died suddenly, aged 56 on 1 May 1881, while staying at the Great Northern Hotel in London where he had attended the auction of some of William's painting at Christie's. His will left small sums to several local schools and the Infirmary.22

John Holdsworth was the youngest of the four brothers, nine years younger than William. Well-known and popular, he appears to have shared the business instincts of his eldest brother. It was John who sat on the Worsted Committee, the organisation set up in the eighteenth century to defend the interests of the trade. He was an important contributor to local Conservative party funds. A devoted Anglican, he supported the newly-erected church of St John's, Cote Hill, in Warley. He joined the Rifle Volunteers at the same time as William and reached the rank of Captain before resigning his commission in 1872. He too was a justice of the peace. Ill-health dogged him during the last years of his life but his death in August 1879 at the age of 49 was unexpected.23

The brothers during their lifetimes presided over some of the best years the business ever enjoyed. Between 1852-71 the firm achieved average annual profits of nearly £15,500 (equivalent to more than £900,000 today).24

The business at the time of the death of George Holdsworth in 1866 was probably at the peak of its nineteenth century prosperity. The worsted industry was prospering from the cotton famine created by the American Civil War. Cotton goods simply could not compete with mixed stuffs in which wool was the cheapening factor. There was an unprecedented expansion of the industry. For example, the number of worsted spinners-manufacturers rose from 125 in 1861 to 165 in 1867. The numbers of spindles and power looms in production rose from 1.2 million and 43,000 respectively to 2.1 million and 72,000 over the same period.25

Worth nearly £17 million in modern day terms, John Holdsworth & Company now employed 3,000 workers. Mill machinery was powered by a steam-engine generating 230 horse power and using 25,000 tons of coal a year. From the firm's own wells, 500,000 gallons of water were taken each day to supply the boilers with another 10,000 gallons from the town supply. Although no dyeing was done on the premises, the firm washed 300 packs of wool every week. Cotton and silk as well as wool were used in the shed.26

The Offices at Shaw Lodge Mills, Halifax, 1933 The Offices, built in 1865
John Holdsworth & Co Ltd
Shaw Lodge Mills, Halifax, 1933
Halifax Town Hall 1863 Halifax Town Hall 1863

In the mid-1860's the Holdsworth brothers erected new offices to accommodate the expanding administrative and design staff which featured a system of speaking tubes to connect the various departments. This is a good example of Victorian architecture by Sir Charles Barry (1795-1860), the British architect who designed Halifax Town Hall (his last great work) and many other buildings including: Manchester Athenaeum (1836), Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire (1851), the Houses of Parliament - Westminster Palace (1836-52), Manchester City Art Gallery (built 1824-35), the Treasury building in Whitehall (1845), Pentonville Prison, the Reform Club in Pall Mall (1837), and Trafalgar Square fountains. One of his sons, Sir John Wolfe-Barry, was the engineer for Tower Bridge.
Sir Charles Barry died in May 1860 before seeing the completed office building, and his son Edward Middleton Barry completed the building.

With so many different types of fabric available, design was becoming a crucial factor in maintaining a competitive edge in the market place. The copying of designs was rife and the passing of the Copyright & Design Act gave some redress to firms whose registered designs were plagiarised. Designs registered under the Act were protected by copyright for three years.

In 1861 Holdsworth's were sued by a rival Halifax manufacturer for infringing one of his registered designs based around the motif of a Persian star. Holdsworth's lost the case but spent the next six years fighting to overturn the verdict, finally losing in the House of Lords in 1867.27

The manufacturer in question was Henry Charles McCrea. Born in Dublin, he had emigrated to England in the 1830s. The irony was that he had joined John Holdsworth & Company as a weaver and claims were later made that he had become a partner in the business. There is no evidence to support this claim and it seems highly unlikely given the strong family tradition of the Holdsworths. McCrea then left the business to establish his own damask manufacturing business. He later became mayor and a noted public benefactor.28

Samples of the rival fabrics have survived and are almost identical. Holdsworth's argued in court that the firm's own version of the pattern had been in existence for some time but, on the basis that Holdsworth's had promoted the pattern as a novelty, the court were inclined to believe McCrea. Given Holdsworth's argument in court and the fact that the firm was prepared to go to the time and expense of fighting the case all the way to the House of Lords, it does not seem improbable that Holdsworth's were right; that the firm had been producing the pattern for some time but had never bothered to register the design; and that a rival sought to steal a march on one of the leading firms in the worsted trade by registering under his own name one of their most popular designs.

The firm extended the weaving shed for the third time in 1867. At the same time, Holdsworth's purchased more property in Shaw Hill, including another 27 cottages for their army of employees. More land was purchased at auction in October 1868 on which the firm erected Holdsworth Terrace. The second lot from the same auction, comprising the Shaw House estate, which the firm had failed to secure in 1868 was bought by private treaty in 1871.29

Holdsworth Terrace, Halifax, a row of ample cottages built in the Gothic style, was one of the ways in which William Holdsworth responded over time to the approach which had been made to him by the Reverend John Warneford. At the time the land for Holdsworth Terrace was bought, the firm had 162 cottages and houses, tenanted by upwards of a thousand people, mainly the firm's employees within a couple of hundred yards of the Hebble brook. The brook had become 'like a stagnant ditch' with sewage clinging to the banks in a half-dry state. William and his brothers were deeply concerned since the 'foul and pestilential gases' from the brook were making many of its properties uninhabitable. In order to get anything done about it, the brothers were forced to sue Halifax Corporation for its negligence in tackling the nuisance. By 1875, the situation had obviously improved since, according to the Itinerary of Halifax, the firm had recently another 83 cottages on both sides of the brook.30

Holdsworth's were more reluctant to become involved with educating their workers. George Holdsworth's notion that education was a bad thing because it put ideas into people's heads seems to have been shared by his brothers. The firm employed a large number of 'half-timers' but for many years did little for their education.

School and Church, Siddal, ca. 1900
School and Church, Siddal, ca. 1900

Many of the firm's workers now came from Siddal. In 1871, the census discovered that 39 per cent of males aged ten and over and 50 per cent of females of a similar age were employed in textiles. The bulk of them worked at 'Johnny's', as the firm was known locally. According to Ben Wilson, in his memoirs, The Struggles of an Old Chartist, school provision in Siddal and Salterhebble before 1870 was 'very bad'. The people of Siddal petitioned Holdsworth's in 1867 to build a school but the firm did nothing. Three years later, the 1870 Education Act opened up an alternative and in 1872 the Halifax School Board was asked to build a school in Siddal. This action at once prompted William Holdsworth to announce that work was starting on the firm's own school at Whitegate and therefore a board school would not be needed.31

The primary motive for William's action is likely to have been political. The Education Act was the work of one of the great Liberal governments. Halifax itself was by now a town which returned a Liberal representative to the House of Commons. The last thing William wanted was to have his employees being educated as a result of a Liberal Act of Parliament in a school controlled by a Liberal-dominated School Board.

His plan received initial support from the Board of Education in London on the grounds that the Whitegate school would be large enough to cater for the whole of the area. This provoked local uproar and set the Anglican and Tory Holdsworths against the mainly Liberal and non-conformist people of Siddall. No one wanted to send their children to an employer's school. A campaign begun by local Liberals quickly demonstrated the overwhelming support which existed for a board school and won the backing of the Halifax School Board which stated that 'so populous a District ought not to be shut up to one single school partaking of a private character under the management of one individual firm. The inhabitants dislike such a course as it tends to compromise the independence of workpeople'. The Board of Education gave way and on 12 July 1875 the board school at Siddall was opened.

Among its initial intake of 167 pupils were 37 who transferred from Holdsworth's school at Whitegate which had been in operation for some time. Two weeks later, the Halifax Courier reported that the firm had sacked all those 'half-timers' between the ages of ten and 13 in its employ who had now chosen to attend the board school. The school log book records several instances of pupils being compelled to leave Siddall school in order to keep their jobs at Holdsworth's. On 3 September 1877, for example, it was noted that 'Ada Hollis just turned 10 years of age has left on account of working at Holdsworth's and in consequence has to attend their school'. This unhappy situation was solved only in the early 1880s when the firm closed the school at Whitegate and another it had opened at Salterhebble. The former was used as a Sunday School for St Mark's, Siddall, being formally handed over by the firm to the church in 1916.32

As well as their interests Halifax, the partners also had branches in Bradford and London to manage. By the early 1870s, the Bradford branch was employing a manager, office staff, warehouse staff, stock-room staff and three travellers. The firm was now directly responsible for the London branch although Henry Holdsworth continued to be employed as manager. The London branch, operating from rented offices in Goldsmith Street and a warehouse in Gutter Lane, employed warehouse staff and one salesman in addition to the manager. Both operations appear to have been supervised from Bradford by William Holdsworth. In the early 1870s, the Bradford branch was contributing sales of around £80-90,000 (£5.4 million) while London recorded sales of between £25-30,000 (£1.8 million) a year.33

Both branches found it difficult to maintain this level of turnover after the early 1870s. John Holdsworth & Company as a whole, after achieving annual profits for the previous two decades, recorded annual losses for the period 1872-85. Partnership capital had slumped by 1885. In 1880, William Holdsworth's capital account, ran into deficit as a result of heavy personal drawings and constant losses, and he had to withdraw large sums from his personal account at the Halifax & Huddersfield Union Bank to inject into the business. In the following year, when the business recorded one of its larger losses of nearly £12,000 (£720,000), Shaw Lodge Mill was mortgaged in part as security for two loans totalling more than £49,000 (£2.9 million), one from the local architect who had designed Spring Hall, William Swinden Barber, and the firm's solicitor, George Mumford, (who married his youngest brother John's widow Mary Ann Holdsworth,) and the other from Tom Holdsworth.34

The record trading conditions of the 1860s and early 1870s had gone. From 1874 onwards, the worsted industry saw prices of wool, yarn and piece goods fall, profits drop, bankruptcies rise and exports decline. But the industry was not depressed. The number of spindles in operation continued to increase, employment grew, more and more wool was consumed, and, in 1885, although the number of power looms began to drop, exports began to revive. The difficulty was that the worsted industry had never been faced with trying to make profits during a long steady decline in prices. For many of them, this posed many problems. It was the vertically integrated worsted businesses who found themselves most susceptible to steadily falling prices since they had the longest period of time to wait between purchasing raw materials and selling finished products. A number of them, like Holdsworth's, were able to offset this difficulty by increasing the volume of yarn they sold.

Even so, it was too much of a struggle for many of them.. Of the 278 worsted spinner- manufacturers operating in 1870, more than 100 had failed by 1875. Only 42 of the spinner-manufacturers listed in 1870 still survived in business by 1912. 35

The splintering of worsted spinner-manufacturers into spinners and weavers was accelerated by several other factors. There was an increasing demand for worsted yarn from overseas; the increasing volume of cotton yarns required made many firms disinclined to spin their own yarns; the greater variety of fabrics and the impact of changing fashions made it impossible for one spinner-manufacturer to cover the variety of cloths being sold without spinning and stocking a huge number of different yarns and tying up capital unnecessarily.

All these destabilising influences did nothing to deter the Holdsworths from continued capital investment in their business. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s the firm bought new looms, frames and other machinery while a new combing shed was built in 1876. But the difficulties faced by the trade affected asset values. The valuation carried out for the firm in 1879 upon the death of John Holdsworth revealed a deficit in property values from the previous year of nearly £23,000. This was in addition to a trading loss for the year of almost £8,500. The total 'deficiency' of more than £31,000 (£1.9 million) was divided equally among the partners.

The death of John Holdsworth left William as the sole partner between 1879-81. Remarkably, the only one of the four brothers to have children was George, a circumstance of fate which obviously contributed to the longevity of the business through the avoidance of an excess of heirs. George and his wife, Hannah, had seven children, of whom three were boys but one, Arthur, died as an infant. It was the two surviving boys, Walter, born in 1851, and Clement, born in 1855, who became partners with their uncle, William, on 7 April 1881. It required a capital investment from the new partners. The terms of the partnership were largely standard conditions but it was stipulated that the profits made by the business in any one year had to exceed £2,200 before any distribution took place. Otherwise, the partners had to make up the difference equally. It was also specified that decisions would be based not on consensus but on a majority of the three partners. 36

The new partnership was short-lived. Throughout the firm's long history, not one of male members of the family with an active role in the business has survived until the age the of 65. Walter Holdsworth died after a long illness at his residence, Spring Hall, on 22 November 1885. He was only 34 years old. His short life had shown some promise. Before joining the firm, he had taken a degree at Trinity College, Cambridge. A generous but shy and retiring man, he followed the family tradition of Conservative politics and Anglican religion and, like his uncles, also won a commission, this time in the West Yorkshire Yeomanry.37 He left two infant sons, neither of whom joined the business.

This was not the only mortal blow to befall the firm. Exactly two weeks later, William Irving Holdsworth died at Shaw Lodge aged 64. His health had been indifferent for some years and he was particularly susceptible to the damp autumns and cold winters of the West Riding. Like his nephew, he was buried at All Saints, Salterhebble. As was the family tradition in times of mourning, Shaw Lodge Mills were closed on the day of the funeral. Many employees lined up to form part of the funeral procession, which included 22 private carriages in addition to those of the family, the hearse being preceded by the Mayor of Halifax and a detachment of the borough police force.38

After various legacies made by William and Walter, the residue of their estates came to Clement Holdsworth. At the age of 32, he was left in sole ownership of one of the largest businesses in the worsted trade which was continuing to experience huge difficulties. On the death of his uncle, the business was revealed to have made a loss of more than £20,000 during 1885. Despite trading profits of more than £14,500 , falling asset values, depreciation charges and the losses mounting at the Bradford branch accounted for a gross deficit of nearly £35,000 (£2.1 million). It was quite a challenge.

Cross references used in this chapter

Sources of Information used to prepare the John Holdsworth corporate history

© 2017 David W. Holdsworth  

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