image provided by the Lancashire Evening Telegraph for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project


The textile industry has been around in the Calderdale area since before medieval times. For many centuries it was mainly woollen cloth that was manufactured, the sheep on the moors providing the raw material, which was converted to cloth by the rural inhabitants in their own homes and sold on by the clothiers at market.
In the Todmorden area it seems that the majority of the manufacture was organised by local farmers, and they became known as Clothiers. They built farmhouses with land on which they might have kept their own sheep. Some would be small affairs with two chambers on the upper floor and two rooms downstairs. The entrance was through the gable end into the living area and there were service rooms built along the back length of the house. In the 1730's Paul Helliwell, who was a clothier-cum-farmer, occupied such a house, known as Lower Ibbotroyd. Another is Flailcroft at Todmorden Edge.

Typical small farm with entrance through

gable-end, probably a one-loom



Typical small cottage of the period

Smaller farms such as the above would normally accommodate just one loom. Other farms were larger and would incorporate a workshop for the production of the woollen cloth. Most of these farms were at the centre of a small settlement, which would contain a few cottages. These were often used to house members of the extended family. These cottagers relied almost entirely on the cottage industry to eke a living.
At the top end of the scale is Todmorden Hall. John Fielden bought the Hall in the early 1700's. He went on to establish a flourishing business as a woollen clothier there. Likewise, his father and brothers had successful businesses. His father Joshua (died 1693) was a stuff or woollen cloth maker, and identified with Bottomley Farm in Walsden all his life. All his sons worked in the production of woollen cloth.

Todmorden Hall in 1890 by kind permission

of Roger Birch


North Hollingworth

Joshua's other sons also flourished in the trade. Nicholas, who died in 1715, founded a clothing business at his family home at Edge End in Todmorden. Thomas, who died in 1726, became a farmer and stuff maker at North Hollingworth in Walsden. Samuel worked both with his brother Nicholas at Edge End and also with his brother John at Todmorden Hall.

Edge End


A gentleman farmer-cum-clothier was Anthony Crossley of Scaitcliffe Hall in Todmorden. When he died in 1707 he left:

20 kersey (wool) pieces  

5 packs of fleece wool

1 pack of skin wool

Meal in shed at Scaitcliffe  

Sheep at Scaitcliffe  

Scaitcliffe Hall


Other inventories show us that some farmers had as many as 4 looms in their possession.


Joshua Lord of Ditches died in 1686 leaving 1 loom and a warping frame.


Thomas Helliwell of Stansfield who died in 1692 had 2 looms, a spoil wheel, a warping frame and rings, 3 spinning wheels and a line wheel.

Jonas Clegg of Rodwell End Stansfield in 1720 had cards, 3 great wheels, a line
wheel, 2 looms and 4 tenters.

William Sutcliffe of Swallowshaw had 4 looms, 4 wheels, combs and a warping
frame. He produced kersey and worsted cloth.


A painting of the taking in steps at Kilnhurst

by local artist Alfred Bayes

The clothiers-cum-farmers would obtain the wool either from their own sheep or by buying it in. They would manufacture much of it themselves and distribute the rest to local small farmers and cottagers. This was known as "putting out". After the wool had been made into cloth the handloom weavers would walk from their hillside farms and cottages with their finished pieces to deliver them to the clothier's house in return for payment and more wool. This was known as "taking in".
The clothier's workshop would almost always be on an upper floor of his house with a separate door for the purpose, arrived at by a flight of stone steps. Some had a hoist instead of steps. Taking in steps can still be seen at Higher Kilnhurst in Langfield (above and right) leading to a door on the upper floor, and also at Royd Farm in Stansfield. These were larger farmhouses and would house several looms as well as the taking in shop.

John Fielden's business at Todmorden Hall was very successful. His taking in steps are still used and are shown left, leading to his large workshop on the upper floors. His workshop is shown below.



George Walker, Clothiers (1814)

When the cloth was finished the clothiers travelled by packhorse to the markets and piece-halls of Rochdale, Hebden Bridge, Halifax and Leeds to sell their cloth. There were no valley roads as such until the mid 1700's when the turnpikes arrived.
The packhorse trails criss-crossed the higher ground. They were narrow, winding and rough, climbing the heights and down again over the shoulders of the hills, but avoiding the valley bottoms which were mostly heavily wooded and too marshy for the horses. The only travellers in these parts were on business. No-one did it for fun.

Handloom Weavers by A.W. Bayes

a renowned local artist of Langfield

The small hillside farmers who were given the residue of the wool to manufacture in their own homes combined this with farming. The main processes of this stage were carding, spinning, weaving and finishing.

As it needed maybe 7 or 8 people to card and spin for one weaver, the entire family was involved. Everyone from 4 to 84 who could see and who had nimble fingers played a part. If the farmer had insufficient family, then he had to employ neighbouring cottagers to assist.


The men of the family would busy themselves with the work on the farm whilst the women would see to the milking and the cheese making as well as the household chores. When that was finished the wife and her daughters did the carding and the spinning. They were known as spinsters, hence the word normally given to unmarried women. The weaving was hard manual work and usually left to the men folk. The system ensured full employment for the whole family.
The drawing shows a spinster with a hand-carder on the floor. This was a wooden block with a handle and metal spikes set in leather. The fibre would be combed to untangle and straighten it into lengths suitable for spinning. It was a difficult process and essential to the spinning.
After the carding, spinning and weaving were done, the cloth had to be finished. The first stage of this was known as fulling. After the weaving stage the cloth was little more than sack cloth with loosely interwoven thread. The fulling process tightened and shrank the cloth into a closely woven piece and also served to cleanse the cloth of the grease and oil introduced during the spinning and weaving stages. Initially this was done by men walking and trampling on the cloth in a tub containing a mix of stale urine and water, or in shallow streams using fullers' earth.

As early as the 1300's fulling mills were being built as the system became mechanised with the use of waterpower. Wooden mallets powered by a water wheel were used to beat the material. The mills were built close to large streams and a fulling miller would be employed to do the work. Such mills were often known as "walk" mills after the old fashioned method of walking on the cloth. In 1557 Richard Horsfall gave his daughter Ann:

"one walke mylne within the township of Longfelde".

This is the first known record of industry at Lobb Mill in the township of Langfield.


There was also one at Inchfield in Walsden, which was operating in 1706 and managed by James Crossley, known as Jam at Mill. He later moved to become the fuller at Scaitcliffe Mill.

After the fulling process the cloth was literally hung out to dry on a tenter fame. This was a bit like a post and rail fence, each rail fitted with a row of tenterhooks onto which the cloth was fastened. The lower rail would be lowered so as to stretch the cloth into a fixed width. Some unscrupulous dealers would stretch the cloth to add a few inches.


Between 1724 and 1727 Daniel Defoe toured the country and wrote a three-volume travel book entitled "Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain."

As he reached the Calderdale district he wrote:

"... Almost at every house there was a tenter, and almost on every tenter a piece of cloth ... look which way we would, high to the tops, and low to the bottoms, it was all the same, innumerable houses and tenters, and a white piece upon every tenter"

Some farmers set themselves up just as finishers. One such man was Henry Sutcliffe of Langfield who died in 1720. His probate inventory recorded that he left 3 tenters, a press, dressing tools, wheels, cards and a tub and oil, but no loom.



To do all this the family needed tools and machinery. Many farms had more than one hand loom and as they were often very expensive, some of the weavers would rent them. On a farm they would be housed in a shed or barn known as a shop, but in a cottage they would normally be in the bedroom.


image provided by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council for use in the Cotton Town digitisation project: www.cottontown.org.


By 1700 the woollen industry was arguably the most important in Britain.


In the late 1600's the fashionable ladies of the affluent society were wearing cotton fabrics imported from India and these became very popular. In order to protect the existing woollen and linen industries, in 1700 the Government placed so much tax on imported cotton goods that the practice ground to a halt and was then banned altogether, which in turn prompted the country to develop a home-based cotton industry.


By 1750 pure cotton as opposed to the cotton-linen mix known as fustian was being produced in Britain. The import of raw cotton from the West Indies began in a serious way, most of which found its way to the hills and valleys of East Lancashire mainly due to the damp atmosphere, which was needed to help with the spinning process. The local folk were already experienced wool manufacturers and had no difficulty in changing over to cotton, as the processes were much the same


The cotton arrived by ship at Liverpool and was taken to Manchester, and from there the merchants carried it by packhorse to the villages of East Lancashire, including Todmorden & Walsden.


The weavers walked down to the village market place to collect the bags of cotton, returning at the next visit to hand in the finished cloth and receive payment. The merchant would carry the finished goods back to Manchester where it would be dyed before being sold on again. It wasn't long before the entrepreneurs of the district realised that money was to be made by cutting out the merchant. Some of them set themselves up as middlemen, known as fustian masters.


They travelled to Manchester themselves to collect the bags of raw cotton, often carrying these home on their backs. They opened up the upper floor of their homes as "putting out and taking in" shops, and therefore became similar to the woollen clothiers.


The masters attended the weekly market in Manchester where they sold their pieces of cloth to the merchants, returning with more bags of raw cotton. These middlemen became known as putters-out and were the pioneers of the cotton trade. They worked hard for their money, setting off to market very early in the morning so as to find the best bargains, and returning the same day.


By then this cottage industry had brought great wealth to some and provided valuable income for the majority of the inhabitants of Calderdale. In some families the farming was subsidiary to the manufacture and in others it was the other way round. If the rent could be raised from the farming side alone, so much the better. For a piece of cloth made from 12 pounds weight of cotton, a weaver could be paid 18 shillings plus a further 18 shillings for the carding and spinning. This would be about a fortnight's work.


1750 to 1780 was an idyllic time for the folk of Todmorden & Walsden. The farms were small and easily managed, and gave the family the opportunity to be self-sufficient. The cottage industry gave them money to spend so the traders also flourished. The cottagers were fully employed. There was no abject poverty and life continued at an unhurried pace.


As the cottage industry grew from strength to strength and the rates of pay were good, so many people of Todmorden & Walsden became prosperous. However, in about 1780 the system began to change and the Industrial Revolution was born.