Colne Valley in West Yorkshire, was a hub of cottage industry, spinning and weaving wool into cloth in the early 19th Century. But what made this area particularly suited to the manufacture of cloth?
The soil of the Colne Valley is thin and not very fertile, making it a poor choice for crop farming. People in the Valley had to find a different way to make a living, and so they started to graze sheep on the land. Breeds such as Lonk, Rough Fell and Derbyshire Gritstone were raised on the land and their wool provided the raw material for cloth weaving.
In addition to having plenty of land for grazing sheep, the area has plenty of water flowing through the valley. Water is needed in the cleaning and finishing processes involved in weaving, and it is especially important that the water used does not contain limestone, or is ‘soft’. The rivers in Colne Valley flow with this soft water, and are ideal for the production of woollen cloth.
As well as wool and water, a weaving industry in the early 19th Century needed plenty of daylight. There was no electricity, and sources of artificial light, such as tallow candles were expensive. Houses built on top of the rolling hills were designed with rows of large windows or ‘lights’ to do just that – provide light to the spinners and clothiers. The village of Golcar, sitting on top of such a hill, became one of the busiest of the weaving villages in the Colne Valley.
The villagers built their homes with the living quarters below and the spinning and weaving workrooms above. This combination of domestic accommodation and family industry could be found in many areas of the country, with families working in a variety of industries. This where the term ‘cottage industry’ comes from.
Weaving communities like the one in Golcar tended to be very close-knit, and almost everybody either knew, or was related in some way to everyone else. This meant that there was a lot of support available to help people through hard times.
Cottage industry – A manufacturing industry carried out in people’s homes
Fertile – Producing or capable of producing lots of vegetation or crops.
Raw Material - the basic material from which a product is made, e.g. wool, wood.
Soft water – water that doesn’t contain limestone.
Tallow - a hard fatty substance made from animal fat, historically used in making candles and soap.
Spinner – The craftsperson who took the fleece and spun it into yarn. In the 19th century, this job was usually done by older girls or women.
Clothier – The craftsperson who wove the yarn into cloth. In the 19th century, this job was usually done by men.