Film ID: YFA 114 Video of YFA_114 Wormald And Walker Blanket Mill Dewsbury 1932 WORMALD AND WALKER BLANKET MILL, DEWSBURY 1932 Visitor TabsDescription Made by the Empire Marketing Board for Wormald and Walker Blanket Mills, this film documents the entire process of making woollen blankets at a mill in Dewsbury. The film begins with an aerial view of Wormald and Walker Blanket Mills. Inside the mill there is a long line of machinery in operation, with women working at the looms. A steam train passes by the station, and then raw stacks of wool are loaded onto a horse and cart from the loading bay. At the factory, these are taken into a warehouse and inspected. In a large room workers are at long benches with account books. The wool is being sorted. The sacks of wool are emptied into a large storeroom, mixed, and loaded onto a conveyor belt into more machinery. Women are working the Jacquard looms. In another room, men are brushing down the blanket material. The wool is then boiled and put onto carts for the next stage. The wool goes through various stages of treatment before being loaded into carts from large barrels. It is then packed into bags and continues through a number of different stages including dying and weaving into the finished carpets. Scenes of men stoking the boilers follow this. There is a large room full of looms being worked by women. The blankets are then finished off by hand, cleaned of excess wool using brushes, inspected, and packed up. There is a room with piles of unfinished blankets, and machinists are at work sewing the edges. In a machine tool room, red hot metal is being made into machine parts. In other rooms the machines are being maintained, timber is used (for packing boxes?), and baskets are hand woven. A group of elderly staff pose for a photograph outside a large doorway, focusing on one man in particular. He is William Robinson, who, at the age of 90, had just been awarded a medal by the Yorkshire Post for having worked at one firm for longer than anyone else in Yorkshire. This posed scene is followed by another group of elderly women in working clothes. Next, the workers leave the factory at the end of the shift. At an outdoor event, possibly the factory sports day, a man makes a speech which is followed by a game where people try to flip coins into a bowl. There are also other games including one with a blindfolded woman as well as a cricket match during which the factory can be seen in the background. Back at the factory, men are checking and folding blankets, and the blankets are taken through large machines. Two women carry piles of finished blankets to a large store. Next long the lines of blankets hung on wooden drying racks are drying outside the factory. The blankets are then packaged for distribution, using a compression machine, and taken away in wooden crates by horse and cart. A steam engine pulls a train of goods wagons. At an outdoor event, there is a brief speech. Additionally, there is more footage of the blankets drying outdoors. Also, there are women working the looms and brief scenes of further components of the blanket making process. There is a brief scene of houses and streets before blankets on a roller ad then returning to the cricket game. Next wool is spun onto large spools, and then there is an external view of the factory. Large outside vats of water are shown before a river with a bridge and church. The horse drawn wagon loaded with blankets crosses the bridge. Original patterned blankets are opened up for display, and one of the women holds up a very fluffy white blanket. There is a building with a lantern over the doorway as well as more scenes of the bridge. Then a woman finishes off the ends of a blanket on a sewing machine and holds it up for the camera. An almost finished carpet goes through a machine. Wool is cleaned or dyed in a steaming liquid. Following this are many of the stages of the blanket making process and all the machines are in action. A man holds up for display a handful of pine shaped brushes. The blanket material is being hung out for drying before the film ends with men folding up the dried blanket. Context This promotional film, made by the Empire Marketing Board for Wormald & Walker Blanket Mills, is significant in that it charts each stage of the production process, from the arrival of the raw yarn to the delivery of the finished blankets. It is one of many films held by the YFA showing textile manufacturing in the region, another being Worsted Spinning Mill made a short time after in 1936. Of particular interest are the filmmakers themselves, the Empire Marketing Board, although they are not credited on the film. The Empire Marketing Board was set up in the 1920s by the Government to promote public issues, and market British goods throughout the empire (including, presumably, the export of British made blankets!). Under Sir Stephen Tallents, the EMB was joined in 1927 by John Grierson who set up a film unit. In 1931 he described it as, ‘ . . . rather like the League of Nations. It performs for the different countries of the Empire services which each country might find very difficult to do for itself. Common international service is its hunting ground.’ Grierson had the independence to make innovative films, often influenced by Russian filmmakers, and, with his associates, went on to make many films, including feature-length documentaries like Drifters (1929), Robert Flaherty's Industrial Britain (1931) and Basil Wright's Song of Ceylon (1934). These documentary makers were highly influential, both through their modernist style, seen particularly in their posters, and through those who worked for them who went on to become important figures in other national institutions like the BBC. When the EMB dissolved in 1933, Tallents moved to the GPO (General Post Office) and took his film unit with him, where they made important documentaries such as Coal Face (1935) and Night Mail (1936), and which grew into the British documentary film movement [see References]. It is interesting to look at this film in the light of the reformist social democratic political agenda that many of the documentary filmmakers had: is this evident in the way the workers are portrayed in this film? The origins of Wormald's and Walker goes back to 1811 when local landlord John Hague decided to branch out into textiles and bought a mill in Dewsbury for £33,750. The Hague family lived in Crow Nest Hall; also occupied by the Walker family in the eighteenth century. In 1800 Dewsbury had a population of only 4,500, most of whom worked in the woollen cloth-making trades. But the introduction of machinery, and the invention of shoddy in 1813, soon changed that. Dewsbury became the centre of the shoddy wool industry: recycling old woollen items by mixing them with new wool and making them into heavy blankets and uniforms. Shoddy makes for a short staple (fibre length) that is easily raised – the process which brings up the nap on a piece of cloth to make it furry and soft. The term “shoddy” is somewhat misleading as the layperson would hardly know the difference between this and new cloth. At one point three quarters of the world’s shoddy trade passed through Dewsbury, which, along with Morley, Batley and Spen, was known as the “Heavy Woollen District”. The entry of "professions and trades" for Dewsbury in Pigot's Directory of 1834 lists 100 names under Blanket Manufacturers; and this growth was reflected in a Cloth and Blanket Hall being built in 1836. The extension of the Calder Navigation in the 1760s opened up the region to the Irish Sea to the west and the North Sea to the east. By the end of the 1860s the population had risen to nearly 25,000, and by 1871 to 54,000, roughly what it is today. The proximity of coal also helped: having 32 collieries in the Dewsbury district in 1872, when the number working in blanket manufacturers totalled 1,042 males and 292 females. Although most of the wool was local, some of it was also brought from the Antipodes and Australia via Hull and Liverpool. The wool arrived in bales by steam train, and a sample was taken from each bale to be checked for its quality and properties in the mill’s ‘Wool Office’. The wool was then expanded and scoured to remove the lanolin before being blended with other wools of differing properties to achieve the desired quality. Blending was initially done by hand and then by machine, whereupon the lanolin was replaced. Yarn was then formed through a process of combing and carding to produce fine threads. The yarn was then transferred at right angles from the ‘scribbler’ to the ‘carder’ by a ‘Scotch feed’ to ensure threads were of a uniform quality and colour, and wound onto condenser bobbins prior to spinning. This partially formed yarn was drawn and spun on a multi-spindle unit known as a spinning mule, and wound first onto a back beam and then a weaver’s beam to ensure the yarn was even and would roll smoothly during weaving. Wormald and Walker used the Jacquard loom, named after the French inventor who pioneered its mechanisation in 1805. The loom was controlled by punch cards, with each line of the card corresponding to one line of thread, and produced the most complex patterns. After weaving, blankets were passed through one or more of the finishing processes of souring (dyeing), felting (smoothing) and beating with fulling hammers, designed to produce heavier blankets. The blankets were then hung on a tenter frame with tenterhooks to be dried and stretched to the required width, and brushed with teasels mounted on large rollers to soften the pile. The blankets were then ready to be packaged for delivery via steam train. The mills, and the Victorian buildings that sprung up in their wake, look distinctive of the area now, but at the time they were based on a Renaissance style adopted from Italy, or on designs influenced by migrant German architects. Many of the old mills have been converted into other uses. For example, Machell’s Mill is now home to apartments, as too is the Grade II listed Joshua Ellis’s mill, in Bradford Road, Batley Carr, built in 1767. Others are being converted into business and retail premises, such as Cloth Hall Mills, where the Machell brothers moved their shoddy and mungo business in 1875. Many local families made a fortune out of the textile trade, often building grand houses on the outskirts of the towns overlooking the moors. This contrasts with the life of those who worked in the mills. If the number of processes shown in the film looks bewildering, so too were the different wage structures and trade unions. Each aspect of the job seemed to have its own union; such as the Bradford and District Wool Top and Noil Warehousemen’s Union. The film shows a smooth operation in the factory, but the woollen and textile industry has a tortuous labour history. In the early 1800s Dewsbury was one of the centres of Luddite opposition to the introduction of machinery, and in the 1830s it was also one of the centres of Chartist agitation. The Chartists sought political and social reform, demanding a more democratic system of government through extending the right to vote to the working class. In August 1838, after a speech by Chartist leader Fergus O’Connell, a mob of between five and seven thousand people besieged the Dewsbury Poor Law Guardians in the town’s Royal Hotel. This radical tradition is reflected in the town’s first elected MP in 1867, John Simon, being a Jewish lawyer from Jamaica and a Liberal. In the mid 1920s the employers attempted to cut wages by 10%, leading to a lock-out. The unions won on this occasion, but in the lead up to when this film was made in 1932, with a weaker market and after bitter disputes, pay cuts were forced through. References Jenkins, J.G. (ed), The Wool Textile Industry, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1972. Mitchell, W.R., Yorkshire Mill Town Traditions, Dalesman, 1978. Neil Sinyard,’Griersin and the Documentary Film’, in Boris Ford (ed.), Early Twentieth Century Britain Cambridge Cultural History, University of Cambridge, 1989. Wrigley, Chris, Cosy co-operation under strain: industrial relations in the Yorkshire woollen industry 1919-1930, University of York, 1987. Land of Promise: the British Documentary Movement 1930-1950, box set of DVD and booklet, BFI Screenonline John Grierson in his own words Edited version of a 1931 article by John Grierson, the Chicago social sciences scholar active in the EMB. Articles on Crow’s Nest from the Dewsbury Reporter and from Kirklees Local History See also the entry on Dewsbury in Wikipedia.