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looking back at the last 70 years of weaving at County Brook Mill.
This week, the U.K. celebrates The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, marking her 70 years on the throne!
A lot has obviously changed in Britain in that time, especially in the world of weaving. We spoke to the directors of Mitchell Interflex to find out the history of their mill over the last 7 decades.
We have been working with Mitchell Interflex for 22 years*, but the historic County Brook Mill actually dates back to 1786! The Mitchell family has been involved since 1907 and today is run by the fourth generation of the family, William Mitchell’s great-grandsons, Adrian and Lance.
As you might imagine, things have changed considerably in that time - in 1914 the mill had 50 looms and employed 15 workers, which increased to 400 looms and 140 workers in 1936!
Obviously, the Second World War had a huge impact on manufacturing, especially textiles, due to a raw material and labour shortage. The Board of Trade introduced the CC41 Scheme (CC standing for ‘controlled commodity’ or ‘civilian clothing’) to streamline manufacturing so clothing and other items like blankets and bedding could be produced efficiently.
Furniture and shoes were also regulated, however, across all items the theory was the same – producing pared-back designs which would be cost-effective to produce, with minimal waste and last a long time. (An ethos we share today!)
Although rationing gradually eased in the years following the war, the Utility Scheme officially ended in 1952 - the year Elizabeth II acceded to the throne.
As restrictions were lifted, fashion and other products became more exuberant. Fabrics woven at County Brook Mill in the post-war years, ranged from 10” to 60” in width and included haircloth, interlining for Marks & Spencer and Hermes ties, bunting, denim, blackout cloth and striped fabrics destined for the deckchairs of the Royal Parks in London!
After the war, the mill continued to modernise and the oil engine, that had replaced the original waterwheel, was replaced by an electric motor and by the 1960s, the mill was entirely driven by electricity. (A water turbine had been installed around 1954, but it proved unsatisfactory and was removed after a few years.)
After 1960, the number of looms at the mill continued to decline and by the end of the decade, there were 250 including the modern Northrop automatic shuttle looms. There was a corresponding reduction in the workforce and between 1950 and 1970 the workforce halved from 140 to 70. From the post-war years of the 1920s, the cotton weaving industry had been in steady decline and during the 1960s and 1970s, mills closed across Lancashire at a rate of almost one a week!
County Brook Mill fortunately survived and in 1974, the company purchased ‘Interflex Linings’ of Bradford and became ‘Mitchell Interflex Limited’. During this time, all the old semi-automatic Lancashire looms were replaced with automatic ones although one remains at the mill as a focal point to retain a link with the past. (The original 5’10” cast-iron waterwheel axle is preserved in the mill yard as a reminder of the history and heritage too.)
Now, the mill is equipped with high-speed Dornier rapier looms that can each weave up to 500 metres a day, and a few of the old Northrop shuttle looms: the perfect fusion of modern design and traditional techniques!
We are hopeful that the revival and support for British craft and manufacture will continue into the next 70 years and beyond and we will continue to pioneer excellence and originality within our woven products.
*How Wallace Sewell met Mitchell Interflex*
When Wallace Sewell was launched in 1992 we initially wove at a variety of mills across the north. At the start of the new millennium, we were working with a mill in Todmorden when disaster struck. During that summer’s production for Wallace Sewell, the mill was flooded as the River Calder broke its banks and there was no way the mill could resume weaving.
However, Emma and Harriet used to keep a backup list of recommended mills and commission weavers and on this list was Mitchell Interflex Limited. Emma and Harriet embarked on a road trip of the north, visiting many mills, including Mitchell Interflex, who agreed to take on Wallace Sewell’s work. First, they rescued the drenched warps from the Todmorden mill, then had them dried, and finally commenced weaving and we were able to produce our collection for that year.
Over the last 22 years, the mill has risen to the many challenges that Wallace Sewell has thrown at them and now provides space to turn the finished cloth into scarves and throws, before these are dispatched to over 200 stockists in 23 countries around the world.
Shop opening hours over the Platinum Jubilee period:
Thursday 2nd & Friday 3rd June: Closed
Saturday 4th June: Open at 11am as usual