History group casts light on the region’s old mills

Wendy Storey and Ann Fearnley, who are seeking former mill workers to interview about what it was like. (d10041247)
Wendy Storey and Ann Fearnley, who are seeking former mill workers to interview about what it was like. (d10041247)
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THEY have long since closed, but the many mills that once cast a fog over the skies of Batley and Birstall have left a legacy in the town.

And that legacy is one which members of Batley History Group are hoping to keep alive through a series of interviews.

From rag sorters to weavers and tuners to dyers, Ann Fearnley and Wendy Storey are hoping to unravel the stories of the mills.

Once collected, the stories will be presented to the history group and may be published in a brochure.

The duo said their inspiration had come from their own mothers’ tales of life on the factory floors.

Ann’s mother, Olive Barraclough (neé James), used to work at Stubley’s Mill in Hick Lane and Ann, then just seven or eight years old, remembers her mum clocking in at 6am and leaving for the night at 5.30pm.

“It was long hours and hard graft,” she said.

“The noise they had to put up with as well, it wasn’t nice.”

Ann, 64, said she remembered that when Olive started work after leaving school, she was mentored by her own sister.

And for the privilege, Olive had to pay her weaver sister a shilling from her wages for the tuition.

“In the end mum was working two looms, and that was something to be proud of,” she added.

Ann, a former Batley Carr girl who now lives in Roberttown, said she remembered going to meet her mum in the mill – something health and safety laws forbid today.

She said: “I used to be able to sit and watch her weave while I waited for her to finish work.”

Olive worked in the mills until she retired, aged 65.

Wendy’s mother Gladys Hall (neé Bristow) worked at Jessop’s Mill at the bottom of Soothill Lane.

Wendy, 65, too remembers the sounds of the trade.

“The noise was horrendous,” she said. “That’s why all the weavers of the day could lip read; they still can to this day. I daren’t say anything unless I had my back to my mum!

“But I can still smell the factories, and picture the workers in their navy dungarees. On a Friday the women would have rollers in their hair, ready to go out when they finished work.”

Wendy, who lived in Soothill and now lives in Mirfield, said she could also remember coming down Soothill Lane and walking into the smog from the factories.

Gladys left the mill to work at Fox’s Biscuits.

The women recall at least 60 mills, mainly shoddy mills, between Batley Carr and Birstall, and say there were many more than that up to the 1960s. Then came the time when, one by one, the mills started to close.

Ann and Wendy put the end of mill trade in Batley and Birstall down to the children who, once they had passed their 11+ exams, aspired to not work in the mills.

Ann said mill owners also refused to pay for modern equipment, and brought in synthetic fibres like nylon.

“They became greedy,” she said. Ann and Wendy are hoping to hear from anyone who worked in any of the mills in Batley and Birstall.

Wendy said: “There are so many people who worked in those mills who are still around today. We would love to speak to them, whatever it was they did.

“There are so many mill buildings still around, but nothing going on inside. We need to keep the memories alive.”

If you have memories to share, contact Ann on 07984 552732 or Wendy on 07538 670736.