The Nostalgia Column with Margaret Watson

Margaret Watson.
Margaret Watson.

HAVE you noticed there’s a definite hint of spring in the air these days? And just to remind you what to expect when it does eventually arrive, I am showing this lovely spring picture taken in 1957, of a young weaver from Wormald and Walker’s Mill, Thornhill Lees.

Marlene Walls is seen here posing among the crocuses for the firm’s spring edition of their quarterly magazine, “Dormy”, which was named after the mill’s famous blankets.

IN FOCUS: Young weaver Marlene Walls is shown posing among crocuses for the firm's spring edition of its quarterly magazine.

IN FOCUS: Young weaver Marlene Walls is shown posing among crocuses for the firm's spring edition of its quarterly magazine.

Marlene, who worked in the weaving department, was one of a number of young workers, both boys and girls, who were chosen to be photographed on the inside cover of the magazine.

No other details are given about Marlene, but many women of my generation will identify with the outfit she is wearing.

Cropped pants and three quarter sleeved striped blouses with winged collars were all the rage in the 1950s.

This was after all, the age of Rock ’n’ Roll, and teenagers like Marlene were determined to look as unlike their mothers as they possibly could.

Marlene, as a mill worker would also have been earning good wages, and keeping a good deal of it for pocket money to spend on clothes, make-up and going out dancing. Oh happy days!

Being a weaver was a skilled job but it was hard work and the hours were long.

The reward, however, at the end of the week was a bigger wage packet than the girls working in the office.

Wormald and Walker’s mill employed thousands, both men and women, and the woollen blankets they turned out were the finest in the world.

I still have two woollen Dormy blankets presented to me on my wedding day 53 years ago and I still have one of them on my bed today.

They just never wore out.

The mill presented Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh with six Dormy blankets on their wedding day.

I often wonder if they ever put them on the bed. I’m sure they did because they couldn’t have got better blankets anywhere in the world.

Reading through a selection of old Wormald and Walker’s magazines this week, I was transported back to another time and another world, a world in which Dewsbury’s textile industry played a major part.

Employment was high, and young people leaving school had a wide choice of jobs to go to, and many were able to serve apprenticeships which served them well for the rest of their lives.

In coming weeks, I hope to publish more pictures of the people who worked at Wormald and Walker’s, and the jobs they did. I’m sure there are still many people living in Dewsbury who worked there, who will enjoy recalling those days.

An indication of just how hard-wearing Dormy blankets were was revealed in a letter received by one of the company’s directors, John Wormald, in 1953 after he appeared on BBC radio ‘Woman’s Hour’.

The lady who wrote the letter was Mrs J Hayes, of Primrose Cottage, Nether Poppleton, and in it she enclosed a piece of blanket.

She wrote: “Listening to the Woman’s Hour yesterday on the care of blankets, I have enclosed a piece of blanket which my father brought from your mills 61 years ago.

“It has been in use ever since and has now been made into three chair back covers.

“I got my mother’s home when I was married 47 years ago and have had a family of children, so it has stood up to some rough usage.

“There is a lot to be said for the good old Dewsbury blanket.”

The piece of candy-striped blanket which she enclosed was still in excellent condition, and the five colours were still bright and attractive.

It would seem that this particular blanket had been woven in the late 1880s and one wonders what Wormald and Walker’s would have been like in those days.

We know that the hours worked in those days were long and working conditions were poor compared with today.

Workers also worked on Saturday mornings but before they could leave work, they had to first clean their looms in readiness for when they arrived back at work on Monday morning.

Workers were often fined for bad workmanship or for arriving late, and proof of this can be found in an old mill notice which was pinned to the weaving shed wall in 1876.

The following is just a few do’s and don’ts the weavers had to adhere to but you will have to use your imagination to understand some of the unusual textile terms used:

GOSSIPING: Much time is lost by weavers going about the shed to talk with each other. No weaver must leave her loom unless it is really necessary,

EMPTY BOBBINS: All weavers must take their bobbins back with them when they go for weft, and put them into the skep in the weft room.

STRIPING: Every weaver must apply to Charles Hanson for striping. We shall not pay for the striping of ANY piece damaged by using wrong striping.

CLEANING: Every weaver will be supplied weekly with sufficient cotton waste to keep her loom clean, and on no account must any sort of thrumbs be used for cleaning. All thrumbs must be put inside the last piece of the chain and sent into the perching place.

LIGHT PIECES: Many pieces having been spoilt by the wrong number of bobbins being put in, a fine of 3d per pound will be strictly enforced on all weft left out.

SATURDAY: No loom must be stopped to be cleaned before half-past twelve o’clock.

There was also the following notice to loom tuners pinned on the wall in 1876:

LIGHT PIECES: a fine of sixpence will be inflicted on the tuner for each piece he turns out of his looms made too light in weight.

STRIPES: The tuner will be fined two pence for each blanket striped contrary to particulars given in the book.

EMPTY BOBBINS: Tuners must all see that the weavers put their empty bobbins into the basket instead of throwing them on the floor.

LEAVING LOOMS; Each tuner must keep the weavers at their work. Cases of girls leaving their looms frequently must be reported to the head-overlooker.