PARKERS MILL, BINGLEY (1946-1948) film no: 1576
This is a promotional film made by Parkers Mill, a textile company based in Pudsey, which specialized in the manufacture or rayon, or artificial silk. The film includes a re-enactment which dramatizes the history of the company and its beginnings in Bingley in 1890 as well as the modernization of the factory and a typical working day in 1947. The film shows the making of their products, including extensive footage of the machinery involved, as well as marketing and sale of the products. It also shows the employees’ annual outing, sports day and garden party.
Title and Credits – Rayon Fabrics By Messrs Parker and Co. Ltd.
& Members of the Firm
Photography and Direction by A. Norman Riley esq. and Frank H. Laycock esq.
The film begins with extensive shots of fabrics which are displayed, draped on a lit stage, and with headless mannequins adorned with long, flowing dresses. The film also focuses on the many different kinds of fabric designs.
(Black & White)
Title – Our story commences in the year eighteen hundred and ninety.
There is a snow covered path seen through rows of trees.
Title – The ‘Knocker Up.’
A clock on a wall shows half past five, and a man in a bowler hat emerges from a building. He carries a long forked pole with wires on the end which he uses to bang on the upstairs windows of a large old industrial building. This causes two women in cloth hair ties and nightgowns to put their heads out of the window. He carries on doing the same at other windows waking up the factory employees to begin their day. The women emerge from their room, carrying a candle, and knock on another door from where a man emerges in his nightgown as well. He then rouses his room companion. Downstairs in the kitchen, other tenants gather and sit down for a cup of tea. After, they put on their coats, shawls and scarves. An older woman clears the table, and the workers make their way to the factory. They are all dressed in 19th century dress.
Title – The Founder of the firm.
Abraham Parker, a well dressed bearded gentleman, checks his pocket watch as the workers arrive. They enter a door with the sign ‘Abraham Parker, Manufacturer, Bingley.’ Inside the factory, the women get to work at their large electric looms, which can be seen in action.
Title – The Hand Loom.
Some men work on smaller mechanical hand looms.
Title – Breakfast time, old style.
A woman pours hot water from a large kettle, and near their workplaces, the women and men sit with mugs of tea and sandwiches.
Title – The day after.
Abraham Parker again stands by his door checking his pocket watch. He warns one worker for being late. Inside he takes count of his finances while recording them in a book. He then talks to some of the workers at the looms on the shop floor. Active machinery can be seen all around him. Back in his office, Parker inspects some of the cotton and fabric.
Title – Now, after fifty seven years of progress.
Arrival of employees
Now, in present day, factory workers arrive in contemporary dress and enter the factory entrance door.
Title – Arrival of warp and weft at factory.
A truck, Ben Wade of Pudsey, backs into the factory where it is unloaded. A wicker basket is filled with rolls of thread.
Title – The ‘Schweiter’ Winder.
A woman works on the factory floor where the Schweiter Winder is at work. One of the men who unloaded the truck brings up part of the delivery, and many of the winders can be seen in action. Another man wheels away a large roll of cloth, an d a man takes away some of the finished bobbins.
A woman checks the threads on one of the looms.
Title – Sleying.
A man is shown sleying (setting the warps).
Title – Warp goes to loom
Two men insert a large roll of thread onto a loom.
Title – The art of weaving demonstrated.
The process of weaving is shown with the looms fully set up. A shuttle passes back and forth. A woman stands at the machine while it runs, and many other looms can be seen in operation in the background.
Title – The wrong way ‘trouble brewing’
While standing at the loom, a man and a woman have an argument about what they are doing. There are close-ups of the damaged thread.
Title – Breakfast in the canteen.
The workers make their way into the canteen where kitchen staff have set up and are ready to serve. The workers queue for mugs of tea and breakfast before sitting down to eat. With the wall clock showing 9 o’ clock, a man pulls a rope, presumably a whistle, and the workers emerge from the canteen to resume work.
Title – The laggard.
A woman arrives late and is told off as she clocks in. Her clock card is held up to the camera, and after getting changed she makes her way to her workplace. She starts up several machines and a dial shows how much has been done. There is additional close-up footage of the machines at work.
Title – Felling out.
Using a large stick, a man pulls the threads away from the machine and cuts them. He carries the empty roll out.
Title – The Uster Twisting Machine.
This machine is shown in action.
Title – The cloth taken for inspection.
Two women remove a roll of cloth from a machine and take it into another part of the factory to be inspected.
Title – Inspection and Burling of Grey Cloth.
In another room, men and women inspect cloth which has been stretched out on tables.
Title – Lunch.
In the kitchen women are washing up and preparing to serve lunch. Workers arrive at the canteen and queue up to be served dinner. They sit and eat together at small tables.
Title – After lunch.
The recreation room.
Here the workers sit around talking, playing cards, and reading magazines and newspapers. There are also two men who play table tennis. At 1.30 pm, all the workers line up to clock back in.
Title - The ‘Staubli’ paper dobby.
A room of punch card machines are at work creating the cards which will be used for the weaving designs. After which, a woman gets attention at a first aid station after cutting her finger. A man taking care of her ties a bandage on the wound.
Title – Afternoon tea.
A woman raises a tea trolley on a lift which she winds by hand. Then two women who work in the kitchen take the trolley around the shop floor at 3 pm. Workers are handed a mug of tea as they work at their machines.
Title – Learning to weave.
First day instruction.
A man shows a woman how to thread on a weaving machine.
Title – After a Fortnight.
Another woman is shown how to work a machine and switch a shuttle.
Title – Six weeks.
A woman putting bobbins on a machine is watched over by a supervisor.
Title – The Ruti Jacquard.
This weaving loom is shown in action, and a woman watches the cloth as it comes out.
Title – ‘Ceorcette’ weaving.
After finishing at her loom, a woman goes into the Ladies Restroom to wash her hands. She fixes her hair and make-up in the mirror and gets ready to leave.
Title – A deal in yarn.
Two businessmen look at some samples of yarn together. Then, one of the men has his secretary dictate a letter before phoning through a request of documents to be looked at.
Title – A Canadian Buyer.
A businessman enters the office and presents the man, who works for Parkers Mill, a card from J. F. Peacock Fabrics Ltd.. He is shown into the room where the men shake hands, and the visitor is offered a cigar. He is then shown samples of cloth through which he looks before making note of which he’d like to order. ]
Title – Export
Above a filing cabinet labelled “Export Orders,” there is a map of the world with flags stuck on it. A man gives instructions to two other office workers regarding the buyer’s order.
Title – Perching and Measuring.
A woman makes some marks on a roll of stretched out cloth, and a man inspects a roll of cloth as it passes through a measuring machine equipped with a counter. In a warehouse wooden crates are marked to destinations: Port Elizabeth, Bombay, Cape Town, Nairobi and Dublin. In an office a man inspects a piece of cloth through a magnifying glass and holds up different fabric designs. The man also holds up his inspection equipment for the camera. Following this is a flashback sequence featuring Abraham Parker is again seen, this time looking through his books.
Title – The annual outing.
Many buses, marked for Blackpool, are parked outside the factory. The employees gather and make their way on board. Some of them stop to pose for the camera. Once in Blackpool, some of them walk around the town while others can be seen on the fairground rides. The outing comes to an end as the workers make their way to a canteen where they sit in rows at long tables to eat their meal.
Title – An Annual Event.
The women have a sprint race across a field, and this is followed by a men’s sprint race. Then, both men and women take part in a three-legged race. Additionally there is a men’s relay race around the field and a wheel barrow race before the Tug-of-War. After the events, medals and awards are presented to the winners.
Title – The Garden Party.
In a large back garden, families sit around tables eating and drinking. Some tables are set up on the porch near the building, and others on the grass.
Title – The uninvited guest.
A dog arrives and is greeted by a young girl. Elsewhere, a man plays with a baby. Women sit around the edge of the garden and some girls eat ice cream from bowls. Other attendees chat and mingle before there is then a game of cricket. Some of the onlookers are seen, sitting on the swing and drinking beer.
Title – Design & Colour.
A man shifts through some samples of different designs and selects one which is shown in close up. He compares others to colour watches, and a few designs are shown.
Title – The Pattern Room.
Samples of all the different patterns are brought into a room where they are laid out on a table. A man and woman inspect some of the samples, most very colourful designs.
Title – Fashion Parade.
Materials – ‘Par Fabrics’
Gowns. – Messrs, Brown Muff Ltd.
Two women model gowns, one whilst sat smoking, the other stood powdering her face. The women then model many dresses on a small stages draped in colourful fabric. The women walk up to the stage, turn, and leave. Different types of dresses are being modelled including day and evening wear as well as a wedding gown.
The next scene features busy docks where a ship, ‘Beaverford London’, is being loaded with wooden crates for export. The film shows the massive port area, and a train can be seen passing in the background. Fully loaded, the ship sets sail. The film closes with a close-up of a Union Jack waving in the wind.
Title – The End.
This film was donated to the YFA by Donald Eke, who made a number of films of the scouts in the Leeds area in the 1930s. Donald was a member of the Pudsey Civic Society, who acquired the film. The film was conceived during the war, around 1942/3, when the owners, the two Parker brothers, were both in the Homeguards, and met up there with a photographer called Rayner, who suggested making the film. From the film stock, it appears that the film was made over a 3 year period between 1946 and 1948, presumably as a promotional film, but also as a record of the company’s history. Nothing is known of the filmmakers, Norman Riley and Frank Laycock, who presumably would have been local, and the firm of Parkers went out of business some time ago, leaving little evidence of their existence save the memories of those who worked there (and perhaps the odd garment now to be found in a charity shop).
Abraham Parker wasn’t one of the really big textile players, like the Taylors of Batley, Crowthers of Marsden, Amblers of Bradford, Hirsts of the Colne Valley, Crossleys of Halifax or the Fosters of Queensbury. These vied with one another as to who could build the most impressive house out on the moors. But there were plenty of smaller family firms as well, now lost in the mists of time. Abraham Parker originally started out with his three brothers before branching off on his own. In 1910 he moved to Carlyle Road, Pudsey, before moving a short distance to Cemetery Road in 1933, the Grove Fabric Mill. It held its sport day in Queens Park, and would play cricket against other mill teams, as seen in the film.
Its heyday was between the beginning of the Second World War and about 1951 when demand was high (demand tends to go in cycles in the textile industry), and when it employed between 70 to 100 workers. It specialised in rayon (earlier known as ‘artificial silk’) which it brought in principally from the largest manufacturer, Courtalds, as either viscose or acetate. The local area was dominated by woollen mills which, because of the heavier material and more greased machinery, had dirtier workplaces. The material would be sent to London where the dresses were made, although the firm thought it would be a good idea to do a fashion show to advertise its products. For more on the woollen industry see the Context for Wormald and Walker Blanket Mill (1932).
The film shows each stage of the process with the warp, having first been steamed, loaded onto the looms on beams by the men overlookers. The weft was wound onto the bobbins, crossing over the warp to produce the pattern which was controlled by cards. Rayon is a very fine fabric and the weaving was done by women who had smaller hands. Each woman operative worked four looms, which was increased to ten per worker when they become automated. Dress material was made on the Jacquard. Much of their material was exported, usually to places where the textile industry was weak, such as Africa, Australia and, as seen in the film, Canada.
Albert Parker’s grandson, Roland Parker, who was to eventually take over running the firm with his brother-in-law, was mainly in charge of exports. He relates, on the ITV programme The Way We Were, that he spent two years familiarising himself with all the different aspects of the work, and was taught weaving by Amy Fenton and Bertha Johnson. It was his uncle who played Albert Parker in the film, and one of the mannequins at the end was a cousin.
The film also shows the beginnings of the firm, with employees living in factory accommodation, which was not unusual at that time. This was probably preferable to living in the crowded back-to-back houses that sprung up and insanitary conditions produced by jerry builders out to make easy money. Titus Salt was progressive in this respect, building a model village for his employees; although he was less so when it came to other issues like child labour and trade unions.
The Parker family too, running through three generations, were also quite enlightened employers, involving the workforce, through the foreman and works committee, in any changes. They also provided cheap food in the canteen and a game room. They joined the local tradition of mill outings, going every year to Blackpool where they would have a meal together and then enjoy races and have fun on the beach.
In the early days, when work started at 6.30 am, either bells, to get workers up early, or a ‘knocker up’ were common. Mitchell provides a good description: “In some areas the knocker-up, usually a decrepit man, shuffled around the streets wakening the occupants of certain houses for a charge of a few coppers a week. He rapped on bedroom windows with a long rod topped by wires, or used a long bamboo pole to which some rubber was attached; when the rubber was applied to the window ‘it made an awful squeak’.” (Mitchell, p 17) I suppose an alarm clock is ‘progress’ compared to this! What the film doesn’t show is the children, boys and girls from 12 years of age upwards, who worked part time; a practice that lasted until 1922.
The West Riding is of course famous for its mills and textile industry, which grew immensely with industrialisation in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The whole area was dotted with mills and factories, especially in the five valleys of the Colne, Holme, Calder, Spen and Aire rivers. Bingley was especially well placed as it is on the Leeds and Liverpool canal. The main era of factory building was between 1853, when Titus Salt established his mill at Saltaire, and 1873, when Lister’s Mill was founded in Manningham. Beginning in 1890, Parker and Co were relatively late on the scene. In fact it may not have been the best time to start a business as the US imposed a tariff on imports which affected trade. Yet in 1900 Britain claimed a third of world trade in cloth, and a third of this came either from Lancashire cotton or Yorkshire wool.
The film gives a good idea of what designs were being made by small producers like Parkers. In the aftermath of the Second World War there was a radical change in textile design, as evidenced in the exhibition put on by the V&A in 1946, Britain Can make It. The UK was at the forefront of the so-called Contemporary design in the 1950s, with Lucienne Day’s wonderful Calyx of 1951, exhibited at the Festival of Britain, leading the way. In fact Lucienne Day’s designs, which become so popular over the next twenty years, such as the 1951 pattern Flotilla, were printed by Heal's Fabrics. This leadership in fabric design began during the war, when Enid Marx was made textile designer for the Design Panel of the Utility Furniture Advisory Committee established in 1943. Her designs were usually geometric or abstract with small-scale repeating patterns.
These ideas were taken up by the Festival [of Britain] Design Group, who were influenced by the abstract art, and bright colours, of Paul Klee, Joan Miro and Alexander Calder. In fact textile manufacturers began to directly use artists to make designs, led by Alistair Morton of Morton Sundour fabrics who commissioned many young artists to create designs for both clothing and furniture.
Yet, although there is little, if any, evidence of the remarkable Lucienne Day in the designs on display in the film, many are clearly of a modern inspiration. This is not so with the paisley in evidence in the film – named after the Scottish town that started using it in the mid nineteenth century. This design goes way back to India and Persia, although it became fashionable again in the heyday of the psychedelic late 1960s.
Rayon was first produced commercially by Courtalds in 1905, with the name ‘viscose’ (becoming rayon in 1922). It only really took off with the development of high-tenacity rayon in the 1940s, and it became a wartime substitute for silk, enabling cheaper clothing and fabrics. Rayon is easily confused with polyester and other man made fabrics, whereas rayon is a natural fibre (a polymer) deriving from regenerated cellulose, usually from wood pulp – hence semi-synthetic. It does however have most of the advantageous properties that man-made textiles have, such as strength, durability and ease of use when being manufactured – being able to be made into high quality yarn. Although it has some disadvantages – it loses strength when wet, and is prone to shrinking and creasing – it is easily dyed and is very versatile: it can be made to look and feel like cotton, linen, silk or wool (see Lyle).
Rayon is still used extensively. The largest producer of rayon today is Grasim of India, with European countries and the US making up most of the rest. It might be thought that with global warming using a material that derives ultimately from trees might not be a good idea. However, one assessment of the overall environmental impact of the production of rayon concludes: “The renewability of their [rayon fibres] main raw material, their overall energy efficiency, their lack of dependence on fossil fuels, their long history of safe use in hygiene applications, and their easy disposal and natural recyclability make them strong contenders for tomorrow's textile industry.” (Woodings)
As in most other places, the mills have mostly gone from Pudsey and Bingley: either demolished or turned into apartments. A Leeds City Council document on Conservation areas in Pudsey from April 2009 states that the Allan Brigg Mills on Lane End and the Grove Works on Cemetery Road should “only be demolished in the most exceptional circumstances.” (p 18) In Bingley the one exception is the Damart mill, easily visible with its tall chimney. The possible brothers of Albert Parker, Parker & Partners of Park Road Mills in Bingley in the 1920's, before moving to Argyll Mills, closed by 1946.
With the closing of the mills, so too has gone much of the clothing industry, with much of our clothes now coming from countries having cheaper labour – posing shoppers the ethical dilemma of whether buying from these sources is helping the poor there or reinforcing bad pay and working conditions. Fortunately the number of clothing producers working according to (some) ethical guidelines is increasing, and there are still plenty of more local ones to choose from.
Mitchell, W.R., Yorkshire Mill Town Traditions, Dalesman, 1978.
Ngozi Ikoku, The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Textile Collection: British design from 1940 to the Present, V&A Publications, 1999.
Dorothy Siegert Lyle, Modern Textiles, John Wiley and Sons, London, 1976.
C R Woodings, The Environmental Aspects of Solvent-Spun Cellulose Production and Use, Courtaulds Research, Coventry, England.
Where to buy ethical clothing, The Guardian
Pudsey: Conservation Area and Management Plan, April 2009 (large file)
This film is an extract. To access the complete film please contact the Yorkshire Film Archive