Over 200 years in the textile industry

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

Engraving of Mill IN 1822 the firm of Holdsworth was founded by John Holdsworth.

John had been brought up in the family textile business which was moved from Shibden to the Halifax Piece Hall on its completion in 1779. John began in business as a cloth manufacturer on the site of the present complex of mills. The business established so long ago by the founder prospered to such an extent that he was joined in partnership by his four sons and it was during their management of the firm in the 1850's that most of the buildings, which are still in use, were erected. The main weaving shed which is 240 yards long, bears the date 1852 and was constructed from stone excavated from the railway cutting which runs alongside the works.

In the mid-1860's the Holdsworth brothers erected new offices, a fine example of Victorian architecture by Sir Charles Barry, the British architect who designed Halifax Town Hall (his last great work) and many other buildings including: Cliveden House, Buckinghamshire, the Houses of Parliament (1852), Pentonville Prison, the Reform Club in Pall Mall, and Trafalgar Square fountains. Barry died in May 1860 before seeing the completed building, and his son Edward Middleton Barry completed the building. By 1885 the company employed about 2,000 people.

The Mill Premises c1830
The Premises c1830 standing in idyllic surroundings

At this period in their history, Holdsworths undertook the preparation and manufacture of wool from its raw state, including sorting, carding, combing and spun woollen yarns not only for its own use but also for sale in large quantities on the open market. They produced a vast assortment of goods and almost every individual loom, it was said, turned out its own distinctive speciality. There were worsteds, damasks, drapes, dress goods, serges, velvets, tapestries, uniform cloth, all in addition to speciality cloths for railroads and shipping companies throughout the world.

Thus the traditional market for Holdsworths had been the transport industry and for generations the company has been the market leaders in this field. Today it specialises entirely in the production of seating fabrics for buses, coaches, trains and ferries. It is the principal supplier to British Railways and to the London Transport Authority for their buses and subway, as well as virtually all the Local Authorities and Coach Fleet Operators throughout the United Kingdom.

Exports for an English company are a matter of life and death, and during the 1970's and 80's Holdsworths made a determined drive into Europe and established themselves as the predominant weaver of transport seating fabrics to virtually all the leading bus and coach builders of Europe, from Finland in the North to Spain and Portugal in the South.

Driving further afield, the company set out during the 90's to broaden its horizons across the major economic territories of the world, and established local facilities or agents in the USA, South America, Australasia, Japan, Singapore, The Russian Federation and Turkey. Holdsworth executives constantly visit their clients worldwide.

The weaving shed 1999
The interior of the weaving shed in 1999

Within the last few years Holdsworths experienced the most profound change in its history, it entailed the total replacement of all its machinery through a massive investment and re-equipment programme. Old machinery, some dating back to the 1930's and 40's, was replaced by the most up-to-date plant and equipment making it one of the most modern and one of the largest weaving units of its type in the world. Employing over 300 people, spurred the company to new efforts, to develop the North and South American and Australian markets which, thanks to its re-equipment programme, it was able to service. In a very short time Holdsworths had developed its association with leading US, Canadian and Australian companies, market leaders in their field as bus builders, seat manufacturers and suppliers to the transportation industry. The specialist requirements of these firms were carefully studied and analysed and the element of speedy and flexible service received prime consideration.

A view of the offices from the car park in 1999
The Offices, viewed from the car park in 1999

Daily air shipments of Holdsworth fabric leave the factory. Total shipping time, door to door, is measured in hours rather than weeks or months and there is constant contact via electronic means. The progress of shipments are tracked over the Internet and no matter what the time of day - voice, data and image information is exchanged directly to the desk.

The demands of the transport industry have changed. Bus and coach interiors have become high fashion. Once a range of colour and designs would last for ten years or more, but this is no longer the case and Holdsworths are constantly producing new designs and colours using the most up-to-date CAD systems to suit the highly individual requirements of the world transportation industry.

The skills and expertise of its designers have ensured that Holdsworths are universally recognised as leaders in quality and style. It is significant that the company is still a family business, the sixth generation bearing the name, still at the head of the business. Surely a unique record in any industry.

© 2024 David W. Holdsworth  

Please send questions, updates, additions to:
Middle Pasture, Halifax, HX3 0AG, UK
Tel: +44 1422 322500