Mill visit rekindles fond nostalgic memories for loyal Dewsbury worker

A Ravensthorpe pensioner with a mill service spanning over four loyal decades at the same factory returned to his former workplace last week for the first time in 17 years since taking his retirement.
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Haji Mohammad Afzal came to settle in Dewsbury at the age of 24 as a second-generation migrant from Pakistan in September 1960. It was in that same month when Mr. Afzal originally turned up barely a few days after his arrival into the town, looking for work at a mill that used to stand on Aldams Road.

At the time Mr. Afzal was convinced he would only do a week's stint at the factory. Yet, the young man never realised he was to remain working there not for a mere five days, but for the next 45 years!

Mr. Afzal doing some 'piecening' work on a Spinning Frame Machine.Mr. Afzal doing some 'piecening' work on a Spinning Frame Machine.
Mr. Afzal doing some 'piecening' work on a Spinning Frame Machine.
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Throughout those years, Mr. Afzal was to see vast changes in the mill's shop-floor production techniques as well as in its work patterns. He would see the mill's management changing hands to new owners on at least three different occasions. He would also twice witness a change in the mill's name, and have the experience of relocating with the rest of his workmates into new premises.

Known fondly as "Haji Ji" by the congregation at his Anwar-E-Madina Jamia Mosque, Mr. Afzal was invited by the current management of Lawton Yarns Ltd to an emotional return visit last week to his former mill.

Mr. Afzal being shown a newly installed Heat Setting Machine by the finishing manager, Mohammad Sherbaz.Mr. Afzal being shown a newly installed Heat Setting Machine by the finishing manager, Mohammad Sherbaz.
Mr. Afzal being shown a newly installed Heat Setting Machine by the finishing manager, Mohammad Sherbaz.

Mr. Afzal was welcomed by Lawton Yarns Manager Jason Willsdon inside the mill's new heritage conference room where he saw displays such as a traditional spinning wheel, along with models of some old machines.

He was then given a tour of the entire Lawton Yarns premises by the firm's Finishing Managers Mohammad Sherba and Khalil Rehiman, who showed him some of the newer yarn machinery equipment that has been installed in recent years.

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The elderly gentleman was also able to rekindle some tearful memories when he once again got the opportunity to do a few minutes of ‘Piecening’ work on a Spinning Frame Machine.

Mr. Afzal with one of the managers at Lawton Yarns Ltd, Mr. Jason Wilsdon.Mr. Afzal with one of the managers at Lawton Yarns Ltd, Mr. Jason Wilsdon.
Mr. Afzal with one of the managers at Lawton Yarns Ltd, Mr. Jason Wilsdon.

Explaining everything to the Reporter Series, Lawton Yarns Manager, Tim Yates said: "The job of 'Piecening' is a highly skilled task because when the ends of a thread break, the method used to rejoin the two ends together is called 'Piecening'.

“So, workers like Mr. Afzal were doing an invaluable job for decades by moving their fingertips very quickly and with lots of skill."

Mr. Afzal at Lawton Yarns Ltd.Mr. Afzal at Lawton Yarns Ltd.
Mr. Afzal at Lawton Yarns Ltd.

Speaking to the Reporter Series about his work background, Mr. Afzal said: "The story of my relationship with Lawton Yarns Ltd began many years ago at a big mill situated on the Aldams Road area of Dewsbury town centre.

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“This mill moved to Ravensthorpe and then changed its name to Ravens Ings, and in later years came to be known by its current name Lawton Yarns Ltd.”

He further explained: "The old Newsome Spedding Aldermaston Mill stood on the exact site where the Church Of The Nazarene, and the police Station, as well as Dewsbury Bus Station's grounds are now located.

“It was a massive huge mill covering that entire area when I first started working there as a young man in September 1960.

"I came with a friend who was already employed by this carpet yarn manufacturing firm.

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“What I found really amazing was the fact I didn't even have to fill in an application form to join the factory's workforce. A lot of mill owners used to be so desperate in those days to take on new workers they did not even bother with form filling procedures!"

"I was trained up for a week to operate the machinery. Yet I was still not so sure in that week's training if they were going to keep me. But they did - for the next 45 years!"

Talking to the Reporter Series about his experience working at the mill, Mr. Afzal said: "The mill's owner Mr. William Graham was very open minded for that period of time towards the needs of his Pakistani workers.

“It's easy today for many people to forget this was an era when taking just one day off work to celebrate the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr used to be a sackable offence in most of our local factories during the 1960's.

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“There were no 'ifs' or 'buts', and the unions were not even willing to help.

"Yet I never had any problems explaining to Mr. Graham about the importance of Eid. He was always happy to give a day's holiday to all his Indian and Pakistani workers whenever I knocked on his office door."

Mr. Afzal continued to explain: "I can remember the mill moved to its new current premises on Huddersfield Road at Ravensthorpe in April 1964. A new owner had got the keys before the move. So, the factory changed its name to Ravens Ing Mill. It was also in this same year when I became a Foreman.

"I was happy with my job and stayed at Ravens Ings Mill working day in and day out, week after week. I was then promoted as Works Manager in the year 1979. The owners must have seen my dedication, and my punctuality coming to work on time every day."

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"But I suppose everything has to come to an end at some point. I retired from factory work in the year 2005.

“Lawton Yarns was a big part of my life for over four long decades and will remain so. I have many fond memories of that place. These memories will stay with me forever.

“Last week's visit to my old mill was tear-jerking, yet it was also an enjoyable experience to take a nostalgic step back into my past."

On behalf of the management at Lawton Yarns, Jason Wilsdon said: "We were very pleased to welcome back Mr. Afzal to Lawton Yarns. He was an integral part of the workforce for 45 years. It was also an honoured privilege for our team to show Mr. Afzal around the mill, and to also show him our new heritage showroom.

"I am sure Mr. Afzal will have noticed many changes having taken place over the years.

"It was a pleasure to have him return at the mill. Last week's visit will have brought back lots of fond memories of the time he spent working in this place.

"Mr. Afzal is not only an important part of the mill's community, he is the community living outside our firm, and the discipline he showed for 45 years paints a bigger picture of a very hard working generation of people who once made up the town of Dewsbury.

"It was hard working Dewsbury folk like Mr. Afzal who were a lifeline for our local economy.”