The heritage of the early East Midlands Textile Industry is well known – children learn about the invention of cotton spinning and the mills of the Derwent Valley. Nottingham’s lace industry is well documented, as are the hosiery and knitting firms in Leicester, Mansfield and around the region. The Nottingham Trent University School of Art and Design was founded as a school to train designers for the local machine made lace industry.
However, as you get into more modern times, there is less information, which is why Textile Tales is focusing on the late 20th century when the industry was in decline and the mergers and takeovers that had happened in the 1960s were starting to unravel.
By 1981 the East Midlands textile industry was described in Parliament as being in a “catastrophic state” by Mr Greville Jenner. In the same year, East Midlands workers marched in protest against cheap imports with the wonderful banner slogan of “if you’re wearing foreign knickers, gerrem off” which is what they were singing as they were marching towards Market Square.
This era saw a transition from the heyday of the past to the greatly reduced state of the industry today. We are trying to find out how many companies disappeared and the sights, stories and feelings about this.
A brief timeline of Textile Manufacturing in the East Midlands from 1980 – 2000 looks like this – were you there? Did you work for any of these companies or any others? Can you tell us more?
1980 – Marks and Spencer still bought 90% of its supplies from British companies
1981 – The National Union of Hosiery and Knitwear Workers march and rally in Nottingham to protest against the import of cheap foreign textiles
1982 – Montfort (Knitting Mills Ltd) (formerly Newby, Brown and Humberstone) located in Leicester became part of Palma Textile Group.
1983 – William Cotton Ltd (machine manufacturers) went into receivership
1983 – The Nottingham Manufacturing Company has the highest payroll and turnover, of hosiery and knitwear producers for chain stores and supermarkets
1985 – A O Anderson closed down losing 18,000 workers between 1980-1985
1985 – The Marks and Spencer Merchandising Development Department closed
1988 – HATRA (Hosiery and Allied Trades Research Association) closes
1988 – Nottingham Manufacturing Co (formerly Hine and Mundella) factories close down
1989/90 – Oakwood Group (men’s branded knitwear) declared insolvent
1989/90 – Corah plc disbanded
1991 – J Pick and Sons closed
1992 – The Association of Suppliers to the British Clothing Industry (ASBCI) was formed
1993 – EMTEX (East Midlands Textile Association) is created to address problems of industry manufacture “going offshore”
1994 – Atkins of Hinckley, ownership passed to Coats Viyella plc
1997 – 65% of Courthaulds’ turnover and nearly half the labour force were outside Britain
1997 – Ladies’ Pride (Rudkin, Launder and Co of Leicester) was declared bankrupt
1998 – D Byford and Co Closed. R Rowley and Co Ltd closed
1999/2000 – Cherub Ltd (formerly Arthur Foister Ltd) closed
1999/2000 – Courtaulds Textiles was acquired by Sara Lee (USA)
By 2000 Marks and Spencer now bought 40% of its supplies from British companies.
Across Nottingham, Leicester and Loughborough, 50,000 jobs were lost in the decade 1992-2001.
For further details www.knittingtogether.org.uk
Chapman, S. (2002) Hosiery and Knitwear, four centuries of small-scale industry in Britain 1589-2000. Oxford University Press
Rudd, Bramwell G (2014) Courtaulds and the hosiery and knitwear industry:a study of acquisition, merger and decline Carnegie Publishing Ltd