It was my great pleasure to meet and talk to Brian Richardson last week, about his experience working in the woollen mills of Morley.
Brian is a member of the Ribblehead Group at Pyramid of Arts. Pyramid’s director, James Hill, had suggested I meet Brian after he’d read a post on this blog about the role of disabled people in the textile industries, so I could get a first hand account of mill work.
Here’s what Brian told me, until we ran out of time to talk. It would be great to sit down with Brian again and hear more about his working life in the mills – we reckoned about 49 or 50 years ago. Brian worked as a piecer. Piecers leant over the spinning machines or mules to mend broken threads and keep the mules spinning.
I lived in an old house in Morley, with an old coal fire
I worked in three mills in Morley: Gillroyd Mill, Glen Mills, and Henry Booth Mill in Gildersome.
I was a piecer, I worked between two machines that went in and out, I were in the middle with some other blokes, about 6 of us.
The machines had bobbins on. You had to watch the mules that went in and out, when a thread broke, you had to run down to where it broke and piece it together
You had to watch when the bobbins – there were big bobbins, about 2 foot high – when they finished you had to doff them off. You had to change the bobbin, you had to walk down, carry it, there was a machine that made the big bobbins. I used to carry two on my shoulder and one in my hand.
Not only that, when you were doffing the mules and that, you had to put the bobbins in the right basket, you had to read to put them in the right basket. I learned a bit of reading when I was at school, a little nipper.
The floor was really slippy ‘cos of all the oil we used on the spindles to make sure they don’t stick to anything. The oil used to sometimes run on the floor and you didn’t have time to mop it up. There were no safety shoes then, you know. I used to wear gripper shoes so I wouldn’t slip on the floor.
My dad was a spinner, if anything broke, he used to mend it. They were really big leather belts on the mules that he had to mend.
We used to start about 8 o’clock and finish about 4 or 5 o’clock. I worked hard, we didn’t get many breaks.
Not only that, I used to work nights with my father. It was really more money.
I liked it, I wasn’t scared or nothing, but it was hard staying awake. I had to wipe my eyes to stay awake.
My mother, she was a weaver, in the same mill, right down on the bottom floor. It made a lot of noise, it made her deaf in one ear. It was so noisy I had to come out again. There were about 20 to 30 people working at the looms.
The baskets were right long, they were on wheels. With being different threads, different thickness, different colours.
There was a sign: BE CAREFUL NOT TO MIX THE BOBBINS
We were on the top floor. When the basket was all full of bobbins, they used to push it to a doorway so they could lower it to the ground floor, where there were some people that would push it to one side ready for collecting.
When the mills closed down I worked in West Riding Papers, but I’d rather have the mill job. It was more interesting and exciting in the mill, and you knew more people.
I miss the money we used to get, I missed the people I used to work with, some were English, some were Asian people. I got on with them, we used to have a laugh.
Them that made the big bobbins, it came on a big machine. I used to chat to the blokes and when they stopped the machine I asked them why, they said they were going to fettle it. They had to climb up on top of the machine to clean the rollers.
Textiles was my favourite of all the jobs. I had to wear a uniform, all blue, with the name of the job you were doing sewn on the chest.
Tell you the truth, I really enjoyed it. I nearly cried when the mills shut down.
Thanks to Brian for his time and for sharing his story. Thanks also to Pyramid of Arts.
For more on the woollen industry in Morley, see another post from just over a year ago.