Of the Visit of
H.R.H. the Prince of Wales
Black Dyke Mills, Queensbury,
May 30th, 1923.
JOHN FOSTER & SON, LTD.
BLACK DYKE MILLS, QUEENSBURY,
THE BLACK DYKE MILLS.
A Record of Notable Achievements.
(Reprinted from the “Wool Record and Textile World,” May 24th, 1923).
The life story of John foster, one of the great pioneers of the modern wool textile industry and the founder of the world-renowned firm at Queensbury which bears his name, is too well known to call for more than passing reference here. John Foster was born in the year 1798, and entering the worsted business on his own account at the age of twenty-one. At that period the factory system which was to revolutionise the textile industry had not been established, but already for many generations the inhabitants of Queensbury and the surrounding villages had won something more than local fame in the production of cloth, and when in the fullness of time the great change over was made from the hand-loom to the power-loom, the workpeople brought into the mills that inherent but indefinable skill that has remained to this day an asset of incalculable value to the British textile industry.
It is interesting to recall that when John Foster entered business the country as a whole was fast recovering from the period of acute trade depression which resulted from the Napoleonic wars, and the commercial world was ripe for wisely-directed enterprise. ” Mr. Foster,” we are told by an appreciative historian of the 19th century, ” was one of the first to take advantage of this improved state of things ; and in hundreds of cottages on the remote hill top in and around Queensbury there was to be heard from morn to night the sound of busy looms, engaged in making the worsted pieces for which Mr. Foster found a ready market in Bradford and Halifax.
“In course of time Mr. Foster became the largest employer of hand-loom labour in the district, and for certain special fabrics acquired a considerable reputation. The goods chiefly manufactured by him were lastings and damasks. The former were, as their name implies, textiles of a very strong description, hardy, stout, and sturdy, like the people who were engaged in producing them.”
Under Mr. Foster’s capable guidance and far-seeing enterprise the business continued to expand, and in the year 1832 a large factory at Great Horton was taken over in which, for some considerable time, the main portion of the spinning business was conducted Three years later (1835) Mr. Foster erected a mill at Black Dyke, Queensbury, the site of a farmstead which had been in his wife’s family since the year 1779. The mill had between 3,000 and 4,000 spindles turning out yarn at the rate of about 5,000 lb. per week “. . . . a quantity which, at that day and in that locality, was looked upon as something prodigious.”
Judged by contemporary standards this was an enterprise of “great pith and movement,” and it must be regarded as the foundation upon which the immense business of to-day has been so successfully developed. Almost from the first the venture proved conclusively that Mr. Foster was a born leader, and although difficulties were encountered during what may be described as the period of transition between the hand-loom and the power-loom, the founder of the firm clung tenaciously to his ideas and ideals and ultimately had the immense satisfaction of knowing that his efforts had been crowned with success.
Power-looms were introduced into the Black Dyke Mills in 1836. “The next ten years,” says the historian, “were perhaps the most eventful in the history, not only of Queensbury, but of the worsted trade generally. Simultaneously with the invention of new machines the invention of new fabrics went on, new fibres were discovered, and a variety of effective and fresh arrangements and combinations of old materials was hit upon.”
In this connection it is interesting to mention that Mr. Foster was experimenting with alpaca as early as 1837, and in the manufacturing of both alpaca and mohair he took a foremost place among the small body of pioneers who revealed the wonderful possibilities in cloth production of the wool of the alpaca and the hair of the Angora goat.
In the year 1842 Mr. William Foster, eldest son of the founder, was admitted into the firm as a partner, by which step a fresh and powerful impetus was given to the operations of the establishment, and no wave of adversity at that time appeared able to reach the remote heights of Queensbury. Indeed, the handsome clock over the entrance gate of the mills bears the following striking testimony to the high esteem in which the founder and his sons were regarded by the workpeople: —‑
This clock was presented to Messrs. John Foster & Son on Good Friday, April 21, 1848, by their workmen, in gratitude for the regular employment their business talents have procured for all employed at Black Dyke Mills of late years, particularly during the panic of 1847.
Mr. William Foster was twenty-one years of age when he was admitted into partnership, and he died in 1884. Other sons of the founder—Mr. Jonas Foster, Mr. Abram B. Foster, and Mr. John Foster, junior—were admitted into partnership in later years, and each rendered valuable assistance in his particular department in extending and consolidating the concern.
The close family connection that has been maintained down to the present day constitutes a direct line of succession which is probably unique in the annals of the industry. Moreover, this uninterrupted family succession has been in no small degree responsible for the wonderful achievements of the firm at home and abroad. The direction of affairs has passed from father to son, and the fine old traditions of the firm have thus been maintained even while old methods and old machinery have been superseded in the steady march of progress. But with all the changes demanded by modern requirements—and the Fosters have ever been pioneers in the application of science to industry—the high reputation of the firm has been worthily upheld, and the standard of excellence established by the founder has been consistently maintained.
In November, 1891, the firm was placed under the constitution of a private limited liability company. The present directors are Mr. Robert J. Foster (Chairman), Mr. Herbert A. Foster (Vice-Chairman), Mr. Philip S. Foster, Mr. Edward H. Foster (Managing Director), and Mr. J. Kenneth Foster. The assistant managers are Messrs. Gerald R. Foster and Cecil G. Foster. Mr. Robert Hall is secretary to the company, the registered office of which is Black Dyke Mills, Queensbury.
It would be a difficult matter within the scope of a brief review adequately to trace the development of this huge concern for upwards of a century. The extraordinary growth, however, is eloquently told in a few facts recorded in the new power house, and one cannot do better than quote the following significant details: —
1835. Old Mill, Beam Engine, 150 I.H.P.
1848. Shed Mill, Beam Engines, 600 I.H.P.
1868. Victoria Mill, Beam Engine, 1,000 I.H.P.
1910. High Speed Compound Engine and Generator, 150 K.W. = 200 H.P.
1913. No. 1 Steam Turbine and Generator, 600 K.W. = 800 H.P.
1913. No. 1 Steam Turbine and Generator, 600 K.W. = 800 H.P.
1922. No. 4 Steam Turbine and Generator, 1,750 K.W. = 2,300 H.P.
Statistics, one feels, are frequently cold and forbidding ; they lack, indeed, that spirit of romance which one instinctively realises has always been associated with the Queensbury business, but the foregoing facts, plain and unadorned, convey to the most unimaginative a sense of real achievement. It is in the power house that one obtains a first glimpse of the magnificent organisation that remains in evidence through every department of the mills—immense energy so beautifully balanced and controlled that one is hardly aware of the guiding hand, so naturally do the various cogs of the vast machine fit in.
The total floor area of the mills exceeds 15 acres, and the comparatively isolated position, 1,100 feet above sea level, has compelled the management to develop so many subsidiary services that the whole concern is now practically self-contained. That is to say, not only are all the processes of manufacture carried out, from sorting to dyeing and, in the case of some fabrics, finishing, but special facilities are at hand for dealing with all cases of emergency and urgent repairs. A well-trained staff of mechanics, joiners, tinners, plumbers, basket makers, cobblers, etc., renders the establishment independent of outside aid, and the life of the community proceeds with clock-like regularity.
At present there are about 60,000 spindles and 500 power looms, and all the cotton, alpaca, mohair and silk are dyed on the premises. The raw material, received from all the markets of the world, is sorted, combed, spun, woven, and dyed, and whatever advantages may be claimed for the system of specialisation in certain processes, which generally obtains in the British worsted industry, it has been proved conclusively at Black Dyke Mills that the most satisfactory results are obtained when every process is under the direct supervision of those who have to sell the finished article. The raw material is selected in the first place with a particular object in view, and every process through which it has to pass is regulated in accordance with that object.
About 1,400 workpeople are employed. The central boiler-house contains six boilers, besides a Green’s Economiser of 600 pipes. The mills are electrically driven throughout, and 2,000 horse power is required to drive the machinery. The water supply is pumped from a deep well, and a water softener is used, capable of softening 100,000 gallons a day.
Special arrangements have been made to deal with any outbreak of fire. There is a fully equipped fire brigade, with two steam fire engines and large stationary steam fire pumps, and an installation of automatic fire sprinklers is provided.
Gas works were erected in 1836, and have supplied the mills and village since that date, having been enlarged several times to meet increased requirements. Eleven thousand tons of coal are consumed annually in the boilers and gas works.
One of the most significant features of the trade in textiles during the last few years has been the increasing demand for hosiery goods and soft-handling fabrics and novelties. When Mr. John Foster started in business at the beginning of the 19th century he was fully occupied in the production of lastings and damasks; to-day Messrs. John Foster and Son, Ltd., are engaged in the production of an almost endless variety of yarns and fabrics. Their mohair, alpaca, and hosiery yarns are recognised as standard lines both in the home and export trade. Among the fabrics for which the firm is noted mention may be made of mohair brilliantines, Sicilians, grenadas, alpaca linings, Botany dress goods, mohair velvets, silk seals, etc.
For the manufacture of these articles every class of fibre is brought into use—wool, hair, cotton, silk—all find a special outlet at the Black Dyke Mills, and in the manipulation of these varied materials the long experience of the firm enables them to achieve results which place their goods in the very front rank of the world’s markets. They have won a high reputation for the excellence of their Botany dress goods and their mohair and alpaca yarns and fabrics, and the key to their success may be summed up in the one word “Efficiency.”
Buildings have been erected to meet every requirement as regards cleanliness, good light; and economy of labour in handling materials. The plant has been installed with a view to getting ‘the most perfect production at every stage of manufacture, and the workpeople have been trained and encouraged to take a real interest in the work entrusted to them. Above all, there has been that expert supervision resulting from the close personal contact of the members of the firm with the every-day life of the mills. John Foster was. a worker in the true sense of the word, and his descendants have never shirked the responsibilities of the vast concern which has come to them in the direct line from father to son.
It is indicative of the enterprise of Messrs. John Foster and Son, Ltd., that in these days when it is frequently difficult to obtain an adequate supply of skilled labour for certain purposes, they have solved the problem by making special provision for the accommodation of girls and young women who may come to the mills from distant places. In recent years there has been increasing difficulty in finding sufficient spinners in the village of Queensbury, and the directors have hit upon the excellent plan of providing accommodation in a well-equipped hostel. This hostel contains 231 beds; there is a large dining room, comfortably furnished public rooms, and a kitchen fitted up with all modern conveniences.
A well-arranged laundry is included, and the whole establishment compares favourably with a modern hotel. At present tennis courts are being constructed, and there is every reason to believe that the practical interest which the firm show in the well-being of their workpeople is very sincerely appreciated.
In the year 1891 the directors erected a fine building, in the Queen Anne style, for the use of their workpeople. The principal object of the building – which was named the Victoria Hall, in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee in 1887 – is to provide for the work people of Queensbury suitable premises for their recreation and instruction. There is a large concert hall, with gallery, capable of seating 650 persons, and provided with a semi-circular orchestra for concerts, also a full set of scenery for theatrical performances, together with chorus room and retiring rooms. A dining-room and kitchen are fitted up with every convenience in the basement, and in an annexe are to be found a three-table billiard room, a boys’ club, and a girls’ club. There are also reading, lecture and recreation rooms, and a library.
Adjoining the concert hall there is a large swimming bath, 50 feet by 27 feet, men’s slipper baths, as well as slipper baths for women in a separate part of the building. In the basement adjoining the swimming bath there are washing and drying rooms furnished with steam washing machine, hydro-extractor, and mangle worked by a small steam engine, also heaters and circulating pumps for the baths, which are worked with steam conveyed from Black Dyke Mills.
The whole of the work in connection with the above buildings was executed by Messrs. Foster’s own workpeople, under the superintendence of their own foremen.
In the entrance, under the tower of the main building in the portico, there are niches containing the marble busts of Mr. John Foster, the founder of the firm, and of his son, Mr. William Foster. The busts were presented on the occasion of the opening of the Hall by the workpeople of Black Dyke Mills.
A FAMOUS BAND.
No article dealing with the activities of Messrs. John Foster and Son, Ltd., would be complete without at least a passing reference to the famous Black Dyke Mills Band. The organisation owes its formation to the late Mr. John Foster, and it has continued to receive the whole-hearted support of the family ever since. As far back as 1866 the band was placed first in a contest at the Crystal Palace in which 169 bands competed, and at the same place in 1902 the Black Dyke Mills Band, in competition with the best bands in the country, won the One Thousand Guinea Challenge Trophy, a first prize of £40, and a gold-plated cornet, valued at twenty guineas, together with a bronze medal for each member.
Without going into details of the wonderful record of successes, it may be mentioned that the band has won prizes to the total value of £14,331, including 35 challenge trophies, 129 gold medals, 53 silver medals, and 25 bronze medals. There are 88 instruments, comprising 28 comets, 9 tenor horns, 7 baritones, 21 euphoniums, 14 trombones, 4 basses, and 5 drums.
Immediately on the outbreak of war, the directors of John Foster and Son, Ltd., guaranteed to keep open the places of all men who enlisted, and upwards of 150 men went from these works, of whom 10 gave their lives for their country.
The whole of the textile machinery was soon engaged in providing materials for uniforms and knitted goods for the Allied Armies.
But the war activities of the company were not confined to the textile trade ; the well equipped engineering and wood-working departments were quickly put at the disposal of the Ministry of Munitions, with the result that the firm took a very creditable share in the production of munitions and thus helped in some small degree to hasten the victorious end. The following were among the many classes of munitions produced :-
Gaines and Hammers for Shells (upwards of 2 million). Stokes Guns.
Minesinker Drums and Plugs.
Howitzer Gun Bases.
Shell Boxes (over 20,000).
Planes and Ailerons and numerous other Aeroplane metal parts.
On November 15, 1919, the firm entertained 600 Queensbury ex-service men to a dinner which was held in a large room in the piece warehouse. Mr. Robert Foster, the Chairman of the company, presided, and proposed the toast of “OUR GUESTS,” which was replied to on behalf of the men by Brig. Gen. E. N. Whitley, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., of Halifax, under whom many of the men had served in France.
The firm have participated in the National Scheme for Disabled Men since its inauguration and are on the King’s Roll of Honour. The present number of ex-service men employed is 167, of whom 38 are partially disabled.
VISIT OF H.R.H. THE PRINCE OF WALES
TO BLACK DYKE MILLS
DURING the last week of May, 1923, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales visited several of the principal towns in Yorkshire and spent a strenuous time in gaining first-hand knowledge of conditions in the textile, steel, and other industries for which the county is famous.
Included in the itinerary of His Royal Highness was a visit on May 30th to the Black Dyke Mills. There the Prince was welcomed by the chairman, directors and officials of the company, together with a number of friends.
Queensbury was en fete for the occasion and the Prince had a rousing reception from the eagerly expectant gathering of inhabitants, supplemented by a large influx of visitors from the surrounding districts. The streets were gaily decked with flags and bunting interspersed with greetings of welcome characteristic of the Yorkshire people.
When the Royal procession of cars swept into the mill yard the celebrated band of the Black Dyke Mills played the National Anthem, after which the following ladies and gentlemen were presented to His Royal Highness: Mr. R. J. Foster (chairman of directors) and Mrs. Foster; Colonel H. A. Foster (vice-chairman); Mr. P. S. Foster (director) and Mrs. Foster; Colonel E. H. Foster (managing director) and Mrs. Foster ; and Mr. R. Hall (secretary). Mr. J. H. Smith and Mr. J. Balmforth (chairman and deputy chairman of the Queensbury Urban District Council) were also presented.
Colonel E. H. Foster conducted the Prince through the various departments of the mills and explained the processes of manufacture. His Royal Highness was obviously keenly interested in all that he saw, and asked numerous questions regarding details of management and production.
While he was watching the wool being prepared the Prince chatted with an ex-service man, first about war service and subsequently on the preparation of wool. He also had a kindly word for the foremen in the different departments, and in the spinning section he engaged in conversation with Mr. Sydney Mann, who has had fifty-two years’ service with the firm. Thirty workpeople with records of service with the firm varying from fifty to sixty years were also introduced to the Prince.
At the close of the tour of inspection, work in the mills ceased for the day, and the large army of workers assembled in the mill yard to demonstrate their loyalty to the Prince. After a refreshing cup of tea served in the office, the Royal visitor and his party emerged for the return journey. This was the signal for a great outburst of enthusiasm, and the Prince drove away to the accompaniment of ringing cheers.
A guard of honour at the works was provided by members of the Halifax branch of the British Legion and also Boy Scouts from Halifax and Bradford.