Introduction to the history of John Holdsworth & Co Ltd

Aerial photo of Shaw Lodge Mills c1950
Aerial photo of Shaw Lodge Mills, Halifax ca.1950

John Holdsworth & Company has been established in Halifax for six generations. Its roots lie in the West Riding worsted trade while its fortunes have been tied to the rise and decline of the British textile industry. Over two centuries the firm has seen success, stagnation, near-collapse and renaissance. In response to the shrinking of the British wool and worsted industry, the company has carved out a niche for itself world-wide. As a result it is now the market leader in supplying upholstery fabric for the bus and coach trade and more successful than it has ever been.

The thick velvety fabrics known as moquettes have been supplied by Holdsworth's for transport upholstery probably since the first railway carriage was upholstered in the 1830s. Many of the railway companies which flourished in Britain during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had their carriages equipped with Holdsworth moquettes. London Underground chose Holdsworth's as one of the suppliers for its tube trains. Bus and coach passengers all over the country found themselves seated on moquette manufactured by Holdsworth's in Halifax.

For many years, however, moquette made up only a small part of the diverse output of Shaw Lodge Mills. As far as weaving was concerned, Holdsworth's began to specialise only from the 1890s onwards and until the 1920s most of its sales were accounted for by the yarn spun in its mills. Moquette was also made for the furnishing trade and this formed an important part of the business until the 1960s. As the demand for moquette declined in the face of competition from newly-introduced Dralon, the company made the decision to concentrate upon supplying the bus and coach trade.

Since the early 1980s, the company has invested heavily both at home in modernising its production facilities and abroad in developing its export markets. Today the mill buildings erected in Halifax by the first John Holdsworth and his sons nearly a hundred and fifty years ago house one of the most modern moquette manufacturing operations in the world. Bus and coach seating around the globe is covered in Holdsworth moquette. For Mrs Dina Holdworth, the chairman of the company, it has been 'my huge pride and joy to see our material all over the world. I've been to the weirdest places in this world and stepped onto a bus to find I am sitting on our own moquette. It's a very extraordinary experience'.

John Holdsworth & Co Ltd is an extraordinary firm. For nearly two centuries it has ridden the roller-coaster ride of the British textile industry and survived intact as a successful family business. It is an achievement which owes a lot to entrepreneurial vision, ambition and persistence, qualities as characteristic of the current generation as they were of the first John Holdsworth, with whom our story begins.

© 2024 David W. Holdsworth  

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