Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A lost world

Back in the day the Corporation tip was a mountain of shite in the middle of a muddy field. You tentatively reversed your car up through the mud, opened the boot and threw out the bags of wallpaper strippings, brickbats and plaster dust. A crowd of hopeful no-hopers hung about waiting to pounce on whatever was being flung out. Could the DIY detritus from 40 H.M. Road it be stripped down to something of monetary value?

It was a little bit alarming to be descended on quite so enthusiastically. My father who had spend 3 years in the RAF in Algeria (we think dispatching cargoes of this and cargoes of that - another story here I think) spent enough time observing the local population to describe our opportunists as 'sand Arabs'. He must have had his reasons.

These days of course, tips have become 'Recycling Centres' - visions of bespoke and labelled skips standing on pristine concrete overseen by a hi-viz jacketed workforce who invariably have made themselves a cosy den in a bijou Portakabin. 'Elf 'n' safety reigns.

We toss our 'recycling' and minimal refuse in the appropriate places and push on. Where's the fun in that? But here in Potter's yard - Welshpool's state of the art recycling centre - there is always the lure of the bits and pieces put to one side for 'sand Arabs' like me to pick over. We not talking treasures here - mostly it's discarded car boot tat - la crême de la dross - but sometimes - just sometimes - a little gem turns up.

Look - I've found 'The Cotton Spinners and Manufacturers Directory (for Lancashire and adjoining Districts.) Pocket Edition. 1920'.  A fab find indeed. Musty, dog-eared, the size of a large prayer book - documentary evidence of a lost world.  I notice I have found it almost 90 years to the day from when its owner - A B Goss inscribed his purchase with a bold and florid hand.

Did I say 'lost world'? Well, the days when cotton was king in Lancashire are long gone - the textiles' trades have moved to the far east where labour is cheap. We just do thinking and drinking in those cotton towns these days.

My little book is, as it says on the cover, a Directory. There are entries for nearly 3,000 manufacturers. District by district mills are listed; listed by process and by product - it's a world of specialists; spinners, bleachers, fullers and finishers, cloth clippers, cloth raisers, dyers, finishers and sizers - pause for breath - doublers, flax, jute and hemp spinners, plush manufacturers, wool and worsted spinners, calico printers, sizers and slashers....what? What is a sizer and slasher? Raiser, stretcher and beetle finisher? Beetle finisher?

The Park Mill Spinning company in Bolton lists: '102,882 spindles, 20/110 twist (so far so good - I understand that bit), pin cop and doubling weft, bastard and full twist size, combed and carded mule, flyer-throstle and ring twist, ball and cheese warps, beams, bundles, comes and tube barrels...' I couldn't make that up.

The products are pretty esoteric too - such  wonderful variety of woven materials, the names of which roll off the tongue; lenos, lappets and repps, jaconettes, alforgas, dobbies, jeanettes, dorias, sateens,  royal ribs, poplins, pongees and gaberdines. Grandrills and pyjama cloths.....I want to recite this strange poetry, savour the half familiar terms...alhambra quilts.....swansdown....moleskin. Nankeen. Such a rich lexicon. Does anyone in the textile trade wherever it may now be, still use these terms?

Raw goods in from overseas, up the Ship Canal, from America and Egypt and out again to home and empire. 'Cotton Goods for the West African markets!' Not only did we rule the world - we clothed it, curtained its windows, sheeted its beds, clothed its tables and made linings for its overcoat pockets. My vivid imagination supplies a sound track of mill town noises - the thunder of looms and the clatter of clogs on cobbles - played out under smoky and tenebrous skies.

All gone now of course. The air is clean. Mills demolished and chimneys toppled and with them a way of life almost as remote and mysterious as that of the dinosaurs. My little book is perhaps the equivalent of fossilised remains.

17 comments:

Frances said...

Glad that you found that book with its rich and mysterious vocabulary. Do hold on to it! I think that recordings like this will grow in value as decades accrue, and our everyday lives become increasing banal and ... virtual.

xo

bayou said...

What a lovely find! I love all the words of this industry and the fact that descriptions like that and this book itself is a witness of a time long ago and we are then privileged enough to "smell" some of the past. I can see your enchantment and it makes me smile.

Kirsty.a said...

Fab - I love socail history like that. So much more interesting that Kings and Queens

Wipso said...

What an amazing find. Thanks for sharing it. I'm still chuckling at the thought of a beetle finisher....My image is a conveyor belt with lots of beetles on and a row of women with hammers in hand....well, I guess they had to squash them to get the cochineal out of them!
A x

toady said...

Blimey what a find and I'll arm wrestle you for that book!!
I'm always banging on about how nothing is made here any more. I'll be book marking your blog so don't be suprised if you get a few strangers looking.

Chris Stovell said...

What a treasure! And thanks for allowing us to peer over your shoulder and catch a glimpse of the lost world within.

Twiglet said...

What a brilliant find - but it begs the question of who dumped it and what was their connection to the cotton trade if any? Fascinating.

MBNAD woman said...

I want an alhambra quilt. I have no idea what it is but I want one.

Mad x

Pondside said...

Amazing, what one can find at the dump! The vocabulary alone makes this a treasure - a relic of a bygone industrial age. Today there is so much choice, but little variety. I can buy 100 different patterns printed on the same cheap, flimsy cotton blend fabric.

Nikki-ann said...

I never imagined you'd be able to find books at Potters!

her at home said...

I am delighted to find another sand arab happy to rescue such gems from the flotsam of the tip. Middle came hoem today very excited as they had been looking at copies of medieval documents in school and it has openend an entire new world of mystery. I shall make him a sand arab soon too!!

IanMcL said...

I agree with the others, an amazing find! It's also a little sad; you can imagine it being the treasured possession of the said Mr Goss up to the end of his natural and then . . . Potter's Yard . . .

I knew of one chap who spent a good 40 years researching his family history; when he turned up his toes his wife was going to throw it all out until another friend rescued it . . .

It's not just about the monetary value of things - I'm sure his family history was practically worthless to other folk - it's the emotions that have been stirred up and time and care invested in such things that count . . . and as a record of past lives they are invaluable.

I would be interested in any sections on Wigan and district - if Toady hasn't wrestled you to the ground for it first! :)

Fennie said...

What exactly is a brickbat? It's a word everyone uses but what is it and why should you be throwing them away?

Love the directory. A index to a lost world.

rachel said...

What a fabulous post, Mountainear! beautifully written and full of things to make one think, wonder, go away and look up.....

elizabethm said...

What an eye you have for the interesting and easily overlooked! It is a world my grandparents worked in. My grandmother left school at 14 and worked in the mills. From 12 she did half days, mornings in school and afternoons in the mill. Really not so long ago!

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

A book full of romance !! Jaconettes , Dorias and Grandrills , duels and family feuds , barouches and faded roses .

Anonymous said...

Just spotted your blog about the Cotton Spinners Directory. Fascinated,as my son started his working life at Park Mill as a Management Trainee. My BIL was also a Union Official for the Cotton Spinners.