Morley: the shoddy connection

I visited the members of Morley Community Archives last week to find out a bit more about the textile industry in the town, particularly, of course, the shoddy industry. As we’ve mentioned before on this blog, Benjamin Law is usually given credit for inventing shoddy, but sometimes his brother-in-law, Benjamin Parr, and/or his son, also Benjamin Parr, are given credit. The consensus seems to be that the first mill to produce shoddy was Howley Mill, in an area called Benny Parr Woods. Often said to be in Batley, the mill was on Howley Beck, on the boundary between Batley and Morley, so is actually partly in both.

Morley lies within Leeds Metropolitan borough but retains a strong identity as a market town with a proud history. I wanted to hear more about this from the dedicated group of volunteers at Morley Community Archives. They meet at Morley Library (a beautiful building with well preserved tiles and mosaics) where they are preserving and digitising archive material relating to the town for future generations.

Crank Mill, Station Road by Brian Sykes
Crank Mill, Station Road by Brian Sykes

Thanks particularly to Dr Clive McManus of Morley Local History Society who gave me a potted history of Morley’s textile history, illustrated through many old photographs of Morley’s mills – Perseverance, Crank, Prospect, Britannia and Oak Mills amongst them. It was interesting to see Morley Town Hall ringed by mill buildings.

You can find a good factsheet about mills and the textile industry, which of course includes the importance of shoddy to the town, on the Community Archives website:

And there are plenty of pictures on the searchable Leodis photographic archive from Leeds Library and Information Service.

Oak Mills by Steve Partridge
Oak Mills by Steve Partridge

Fires were quite a common problem in the mills – perhaps due to poor sorting of rags, leading to metal objects getting into machines and creating sparks. Deafness was a common industrial injury – many workers in the mills became expert lip readers due to noise or deafness. As we know, it was a hard life in the mills, and most of the workers in Morley’s mills were women, who started learning how to work the machines before they reached their teens. By the 1950’s the industry began to decline, and was all but dead by the 1990’s.

See Morley’s mills on a map:

Many thanks to Morley Community Archives.


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