Batley: the town of shoddy’s birth! Where the process for reclaiming fibres from rags was invented. That doubled in population between 1821 and 1841, then doubled again by 1901, thanks to shoddy. Full of grand buildings built from the proceeds of shoddy, such as the “Shoddy Temple”, a chapel on Market Square.
And the Market Square is the location of Batley’s Library and Art Gallery, where Shoddy will exhibited from Saturday 28th May (also Batley Vintage Day) until 11th June.
It’s wonderful to be able to take the exhibition, named after and inspired by an early form of recycling, to the place that became known as the shoddy capital of the world!
Batley and the other shoddy-producing towns of Morley, Dewsbury and Ossett were looked down on by Leeds and Bradford, producers of fine woollens and worsteds. Yet shoddy was the solution to shortages of yarn for weaving due to trade embargoes during the Napoleonic Wars. And was later used for military uniforms and blankets, along with many other types of cloth – and even manure.
Rag grinding machines produced a lot of dust – the Devil’s Dust – so a lot of people developed quite serious health problems through working in the shoddy industry.
Many others of course made their fortunes from shoddy, but they didn’t include Benjamin Law, widely credited as the inventor. The industry continued well into the 20th century in West Yorkshire, but decline began with the widespread use of synthetic fabrics and competition from textile manufacturers abroad.
There are many fascinating accounts of the shoddy industry in this area, such as Samuel Jubb’s History of the Shoddy Trade (1863).
I recommend Vivien Tomlinson’s website about Batley, with its “Shoddyopolis” section, merging family and local history together: www.vivientomlinson.com/batley/ui59.htm
She quotes the section about Batley from Walter White’s 1858 book A Month in Yorkshire, and it’s a great account of shoddy production. Have a read: www.vivientomlinson.com/batley/p153.htm#i4509
Another family history site that gives a thorough account of shoddy’s history and Batley origins: www.maggieblanck.com/Land/Shoddy.html