Association of Operative Cotton Spinners

Association of Operative Cotton Spinners

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By 1800 over thirty cotton towns in Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire had local spinners' friendly societies or trade clubs. The first documented society was at Stockport in 1785. Other important spinning organizations existed in Preston (1795), Manchester (1795) and Oldham (1797). These societies became illegal under the terms of the 1799 and 1800 Combination Acts. Sometimes societies were reformed during industrial disputes such as the spinners' strike in Manchester in 1810.

After the repeal of the Combination Acts in 1824 and 1825, spinners had more freedom to form associations of workers. In 1828 John Doherty became leader of the Manchester Spinners' Union. The following year textile factory owners began imposing wage reductions on their workers. In an attempt to persuade the employers to change their minds, members of the union went on strike. The strike lasted for six months but in October the spinners, facing starvation, were forced to accept the lower wages being offered by the factory owners.

John Doherty realised that it was very difficult for local unions to win industrial disputes so he organised a meeting of spinners from all over Britain. The result of the meeting was the formation of the Grand General Union of Operative Spinners of the United Kingdom. Doherty's union only lasted two years and it was not until 1845 that a similar organisation was formed. This time it was a group of spinners in Bolton who created the Association of Operative Cotton Spinners. Despite its name, few people joined from outside that part of Lancashire.

Other attempts at forming a national union took place in Preston in 1852 with the Friendly Association of Hand Mule Spinners. This time membership included workers from Lancashire, Cheshire, Yorkshire and Derbyshire. However, it was not until 1870 with the establishment of the Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners that the trade had a real national union.

Catalogue description Archives of the Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners and Twiners

The archive contains a wide range of records. Records include minute books, benefit registers, cash books and other financial records, rulebooks, wage lists, cuttings books, general secretary's notebooks, publications and numerous correspondence and subject files. Very few records from the nineteenth century have survived. Most records date from the period 1940 to 1976, and the collection is therefore very informative on the decline of the Lancashire cotton industry. There is much material relating to the major issues of this period: new working practices, protectionism and trade policy, the Cotton Industry Act 1959, and conditions in cotton mills.

The archive has been divided into the following classes:

ACS/4 Contribution Records

ACS/6 Subject and Correspondence Files

ACS/8 Wage Lists and Agreements

ACS/10 Newspaper cuttings books

Manchester Central Library, Local Studies Unit holds a small collection of Amalgamation records including minute books, agenda books, letter books and a cash book.

JRULM also holds the records of Bolton Operative Cotton Spinners' Provincial Association (BCS). Other collections of Amalgamation branches include the archives of Oldham Province at Oldham Local Studies and Archive Service (TU/1) Preston and Haslingden districts at Lancashire Record Office (DDP: acc 6137 and DDX 1134 respectively) and the records of Bury and District Operative Cotton Spinners Association at Bury Archives Centre (UCO).

Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners, Self-Actor Minders, Twiners and Rovers of Lancashire and Adjoining Counties, 1870-1976

Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners and Twiners, 1870-1976

The Amalgamation has been subject of an official history: Alan Fowler and Terry Wyke (eds.), The Barefoot Aristocrats: a History of the Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners, (Littleborough: George Kelsall 1987). See also H A Turner, Trade Union Growth, Structure and Policy: a Comparative Study of the Cotton Unions, (London: George Allen & Unwin 1962).

Trade unionism in the spinning industry dates back to the late eighteenth century. Combinations of spinners were active in the some of the industrial disputes of the early nineteenth century.

The trade unions established by mule spinners were probably the first specifically for machine-minders in the emerging factory system, where they quickly established themselves as an elite of the workforce. These early trade unions were essentially local affairs, concerned with the enforcement of wage lists in a particular district. Attempts at more co-ordinated action had not proved successful in 1837 mule spinners in the North West had set up the Association of Operative Cotton Spinners, which brought together many existing district associations. The aim was to make possible general industrial action, involving all mule spinners, to regularise pay and working conditions. However the Association proved unable to build up the financial reserves to do this, partly because of resistance from the districts, which jealously guarded their autonomy.

Prospects for a stronger central union improved in the prosperous years following the Cotton Famine and, in 1870, the Association was refounded as "The Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners, Self-Actor Minders, Twiners and Rovers of Lancashire and Adjoining Counties" (the name was later shortened to "The Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners and Twiners", and it is henceforth referred to as the "Amalgamation"). Among the reforms introduced in this period was the standardisation of subscriptions from each branch. These monies were used for a central reserve fund, allowing the Amalgamation to equalise burdens during a strike or lock-out. Previously exhaustion of funds had forced smaller and poorer branches to break ranks during general industrial action.

Among the administrative changes introduced was a larger executive council, and a more professional, full-time post of general secretary. These reforms soon proved their worth by the mid-1870s all the district associations had joined the Amalgamation. By the 1880s over 80% of all mule spinners were members, rising to almost universal coverage by the twentieth century. Membership peaked at 25,309 spinners in 1919. Almost two-thirds of members were from the Oldham and Bolton provinces, which dominated the affairs of the union. This success in recruitment made the Amalgamation one of the richest trade unions in the country at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Amalgamation remained a federation of largely autonomous districts, with the branches responsible for most aspects of collective bargaining, especially the administration of wage lists, and friendly society activities. Policy was effectively determined by Bolton and Oldham members, with their built-in majority in the Executive Council. Unlike other major trade unions, a large centralised, bureaucratic organisation did not develop in the twentieth century. The grass-roots a remained powerful voice through their membership of the General Representative Meetings, the Amalgamation's legislature. Delegates were elected by the branches proportionate to number of members. The Meetings called strike ballots, and could veto measures proposed by the Executive Council. The latter, consisting of fifteen elected members (nine of whom were working spinners) and three officers (later reduced to two), was responsible for policy formulation and execution. For example, it oversaw wage negotiations with employers' association, and had certain discretionary powers over the conduct of strikes.

The Amalgamation had very few professional staff for most of its existence appointing only a General Secretary and President (a Treasurer was also appointed until 1932).

These officials were appointed by the General Representative Meetings. The General Secretary was responsible for supervision of disputes, certain welfare tasks, collective bargaining with employers, and membership of various industry-wide bodies and general trade union committees. His post was summed up as "visiting, advising and reporting", and he often seemed a less powerful figure than his counterparts at the head of the Bolton and Oldham provinces, who possessed larger staffs and more impressive head-quarters. Only in the very last decades of its existence, did the Amalgamation become more powerful than its component members, as bargaining and other industrial matters shifted to an industry-wide basis. This was particularly the case after the introduction of the universal spinning list, or 'Evershed' List, in 1949, which abolished local determination of wage rates.

The Amalgamation was a 'closed' union, i.e. one which did not recruit outside a particular trade. Membership of the union was confined to mule spinners (including specialists such as twiners), and to men. Women were successfully excluded from mule spinning, although they dominated ring spinning, which was slowly eroding the dominance of the mule. Ring spinners were organised by the Cardroom Amalgamation.

The Amalgamation was concerned to maintain the mule spinners' customary control of work practices. Spinners usually worked in teams of three the spinners and his two assistant, the piecer and little piecer. The team was paid a lump sum by employers, which was then divided up between them by the spinner. Piecers enjoyed relatively poor wages, but were compensated by a strict seniority system of promotion within the mill, granting spinning posts to the most senior piecer. Declining opportunities for piecers in the inter-war period saw considerable discontent with this system, and it was partly to prevent the piecers forming breakaway unions that they were admitted to the Amalgamation in 1919, though with fewer rights than the spinners. Following the recommendations of the Evershed Report 1945, the position of piecer was abolished and replaced by that of spinning assistant. Due to recruitment problems, women were allowed to take the latter position, and could therefore become members of the Amalgamation (the veto against them becoming spinners remained).

Industrial disputes in the spinning industry had often been violent in the mid-Victorian era. By the late nineteenth century, however, industrial relations were stabilising, although they were still far from harmonious. In 1893, the important "Brooklands Agreement" was signed, encouraging joint discussion between unions and employers before strikes and lock-outs could take place. By the inter-war period, economic problems were discouraging all-out industrial militancy, and despite some serious disputes, there was a growing trend to work with employers. Collective bargaining became highly formalised, and unions and employers co-operated on a number of non-wage issues. Industry-wide bodies, such as the Cotton Board and various joint commissions of enquiry encouraged this development.

The Amalgamation remained an independent trade union until its demise. Despite co-operating with the Amalgamated Weavers' Association and the Cardroom Amalgamation in bodies such as United Textile Factory Workers' Association, its members viewed the idea of a single textile trade union with suspicion. The Amalgamation was also affiliated to the General Federation of Trade Unions, set up in 1899 as a mutual insurance body for smaller unions, and to the TUC. It was originally one of the Congress's more important members and until the 1940s had continuous representation on the General Council.

The Amalgamation was also an early supporter of the Labour Party, where it tended to support the Party's right-wing.

The fate of mule spinning, and hence the Amalgamation, was effectively sealed in the 1950s. The Cotton Industry Act, 1959, had a considerable impact, subsidising the scrapping of old machinery, in particular, the mules. By the mid-1960s the Amalgamation was having difficulty meeting all of its obligations to remaining members. By the early 1970s, most of its constituent districts had been wound up, although mule spinning survived for a little longer at Haslingden and in West Yorkshire. In 1974, the former Cardroom Amalgamation, now known as National Union of Textile and Allied Workers, united with the Weavers to form the Amalgamated Textile Workers' Union. The Amalgamation did not join this body instead it was decided to wind up the union and pay out the remaining funds to members and former members. The Amalgamation was removed from the Register of Trade Unions on 26 June 1976, although its officials remained active for some time after, disbursing dissolution pay.

Bolton and District Operative Cotton Spinners Association WW1

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Memorial details

Current location

Only the surviving plaque is held
The Working Class Movement Library
The Crescent
Greater Manchester
M5 4WX

OS Grid Ref: SJ 81957 98657
Denomination: Undefined

  • 77
    Bolton and District Operative Cotton Spinners Provincial Association
    St George's Road
    Greater Manchester

  • First World War (1914-1918)
    Total names on memorial: 0
    Served and returned: 0
    Died: 0
    Exact count: yes
    Information shown: Undefined
    Order of information: Undefined
  • Bolton Journal 23 Sept 1921

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Association of Operative Cotton Spinners - History

Year of Establishment: 1948 (1948-55 known as Spinners Club)

Objectives of the Association:

  1. To promote and protect the interests of people engaged in the cotton spinning trade or industry.
  2. To co-ordinate activities of the cotton spinning trade or industry.
  3. To promote and protect the interests of members of the Association.

Chairman's Message

The spinning industry was the initial catalyst of the development of Hong Kong. From its inception in 1948, the Hong Kong Cotton Spinners Association (HKCSA) has been ever present in the textile and apparel trade in Hong Kong and has active membership in the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, and the Textile Council amongst other association bodies.

Our members remain active in the industry across the border in China, and HKCSA arranges regular seminars to disseminate information to the industry of cotton pricing outlook. With this increasing volatile world we live in, with cotton being one of the most volatile commodities in the past years, this has been an invaluable service to the industry.

Innovation and new product development continue to be the key competitive edge for the industry, with emphasis on eco-friendly material, and performance & functional features that can be easily appreciated by the final consumer.

With China remaining as the largest consumer market of cotton in the world, and a significant amount of cotton and textiles still being transacted through Hong Kong, we feel that the Hong Kong Cotton Spinners Association will continue to have an important position for the textile and apparel industry in the region and we will aim to continue to serve the industry to the best of our ability.

Lancashire Working lives

Following the introduction by John Horrocks of the first successful cotton mill enterprise in Preston in 1792 and the addition of a further four mills under the same ownership by the end of the century, the town expanded rapidly. From a population of 11,887 in 1801 Preston grew significantly over the next decade with 17,065 persons living within the town borough by 1811.

The Problem of Sewage

Within the rapidly expanding towns and cities of the Victorian age the problem of waste disposal, including night soil (human sewage), became more and more acute.

Disease, Mortality Rates and the Sanitary Condition of Preston

The poor sanitary conditions in Preston undoubtedly contributed to the shocking mortality rates in the town during the 1870’s with the statistics even suggesting that it was the most unhealthiest place in Britain to live. So severe had mortality rates become in Preston that during the last quarter of 1873 death rates were exceeding those of births.

Illegitimacy and Infanticide

In an age when adequate and reliable birth control was virtually nonexistent, unwanted pregnancies for working class women, especially those already suffering grinding poverty, could have enormous consequences both for the mother and her child.

Poverty and Destitution

In the midst of the great wealth being generated by the rapidly expanding cotton trade in Lancashire, much of the working classes were gripped by poverty. For some unfortunate folk their lives descended even further into utter destitution and hopelessness.

Death and Injury at Work

Life within the workplace for ordinary folk during the 19 th Century was not only harsh, low paid and unhealthy, it was also extremely dangerous with many severe injuries and fatalities occurring. Health and safety regulations as we know them today were virtually nonexistent and regarded by both government and employers as burdensome and bad for business. Only the most rudimentary laws to protect workers from harm existed in the workplace and even in those cases, employers would often ignore them.

Insanitary Conditions within Cotton Mills

A report was issued in the first week of November 1893 by a number of ladies appointed as Assistant Commissioners under the instructions of the Labour Commission, to inquire into working conditions experienced by women in various industries.

The Practice of “Steaming”

The infusion of artificial humidity, or “Steaming” as it became known was the process of injecting steam from boilers into cotton spinning and weaving sheds in the 19 th and early 20 th Centuries. It was deliberately done to prevent the constant breakages which occurred to the more inferior Indian Surat raw cotton. The use of Indian raw cotton became more widespread during the American Civil War years of 1861-65, when the supply of cotton from there all but dried up. The effects on the health of Lancashire and Preston cotton workers was devastating

“Spinners Cancer”

Since the onset of the industrial revolution and certainly up to about 1850, cotton mule spinning machines were lubricated by animal and vegetable oil and in the main by Sperm whale oil. The introduction of mineral oils for lubrication in the spinning sheds accelerated after 1850 and was in widespread use by the 1870’s.

The first recorded instance of epithelioma of the scrotum in a cotton mule spinner, or “spinners cancer” as it became known, occurred in 1887 whenshale oil was the prevalent lubricant.

The Formation of the Preston Operative Cotton Spinners Association

Among the new generation of factory workers that emerged during the early years of the industrial revolution at the end of the 18 th Century, the cotton mule spinners were among the most radical. In Preston we know from the local historian Anthony Hewitson that the town’s cotton mule spinners had a shadowy organisation in 1795, just four years after John Horrock’s had launched the first successful cotton mill enterprise in Preston.

The Formation of the Preston Operative Power Loom Weavers Association

Unlike cotton spinning which had been successfully mechanised since the end of the 18 th Century, the process of introducing machines to weave cloth efficiently had not been as straightforward.

The Exploitation of the “Parish Apprentices”

Probably one of the most shameful episodes of the industrial revolution in Britain was the systematic and horrific exploitation of children. With the inventions of Hargreaves “Spinning Jenny” in 1764 and Arkwright’s Water Frame in 1769, a new generation of capitalists eager to exploit the vast potential of these new machines began the process of factorisation

In order to generate huge wealth in the shortest time possible the cotton mill and factory owners sought to recruit the cheapest possible available labour.

The 1874 Election and the Preston “Working Man’s Candidate”

With the final decline of the Chartist movement in the late 1850’s, and the dream of electoral reform in favour of working people seemingly as far away as ever, Trade Union and former chartist activists still clung to a central doctrine of reforming the political system.


Another great fear for ordinary people was the risk of explosions in the workplace which occurred with alarming frequency. These explosions were usually the result of machinery which malfunctioned from time to time, or steam boilers which suffered the same fate. Workers in all industrial areas were at grave risk of explosions, with Lancashire particularly exposed with its huge concentration of cotton mills and factories. In the Preston area numerous incidents were recorded.

Railway Injuries and Deaths

It is rightfully acknowledged that cotton mill and factory workers during the Victorian era were at constant daily risk of suffering injury or death at their place of work. However it is also correct to say, but possibly less understood, that railway workers during this time were equally, if not more exposed to horrendous workplace accidents and death due to inadequate safety procedures. The following examples are testimony to an almost scant disregard for human life in the rail industry at that time.

Children Killed by Burns and Scalding in Domestic Homes

Among the most harrowing aspects of working class suffering in industrial towns such as Preston during the Victorian era, was the tragic loss of life sustained by children from the dreadful effects of burning or scalding within the family home. Open hearth fire places were a major source of these fatalities.

Radicalism and Chartism

Preston was rather unique during the early decades of the 19 th Century in that unlike most English boroughs, a great deal of working class men were entitled to vote. This was a huge factor in attracting the well known radical Henry Hunt to stand as a candidate in the Preston Parliamentary election of 1830.

The Birth of the Cooperative Movement in Preston

In 1844 a group of 28 working men in the cotton mill town of Rochdale in Lancashire established the first modern Cooperative business called the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society. Faced with terrible working conditions and low wages they had previously struggled to afford the prices demanded many shopkeepers, many of whom were unscrupulous and sold poor quality of adulterated food.

Early Preston Trade Unionist’s

During the first half of the 19 th Century, the emergence of the Trade Union movement gave many working class people a greater opportunity to fight back against the mass exploitation they were subjected to by unscrupulous employers. Workers could now, under the banner of Trade Unionism, use their collective strength to improve their lives. Not only could Trade Unions fight for higher wages and better working conditions, they were also a formidable force in campaigning for legislation designed to improve the quality of life for all working people.

Religious Rivalries

Since the days of the Reformation a considerable proportion of the population of Lancashire, including Preston, had maintained their Roman Catholic identity, creating centuries old tensions between the followers of the Church of England and Catholicism. The influx of Irish immigrants from the 1830’s and 40’s, who were predominantly catholic, fuelled these religious tensions.

Domestic Violence

For Centuries, right up to the Victorian era and beyond, women in Great Britain had been widely regarded as second class citizens. This attitude prevailed across all social classes but for working class women, the impact was particularly bad

Domestic violence or wife beating as it was largely termed in the 19 th Century, brought untold pain and misery for those affected.

Crime and Punishment

The Victorians were extremely concerned about the level of crime which had risen sharply since the beginning of the 19 th Century. As industrial towns like Preston grew in population and crime levels increased, more and more people worried how criminals could be kept under control. For the working classes, criminality was often associated with desperate poverty and lack of the basic necessities of life. Others who felt nothing but hopeless despair descended into crime due to alcohol addiction. The vicious circle of chronic and persistent debt was also a deciding factor.

Execution and the Hangman’s Noose

For the crime of wilful murder during 19th century Britain, the ultimate penalty was to be executed. The preferred method was hanging and a considerable number of working men and women ended their lives in this manner on the gallows, with Lancaster a prominent venue for these acts. In an age where violence against women was commonplace, it was no surprise that many women suffered death at the hands of violent partners. Drunkenness, mental illness and despair were often major factors.

Hydrophobia- The Great Fear of “Rabies”

If ever an outbreak of a particular disease created great fear among working people everywhere, it was the disease of Hydrophobia, or Rabies as it was more commonly known. Rabies was not uncommon in 19 th century Britain and anyone who was unfortunate enough to contract this deadly disease was consigned to a fearful and distressing death.

With no known cure outbreaks of Rabies placed people and communities at great risk and Preston was by no means immune from the tragic consequences of this dreaded illness. Throughout the 1860’s and 70’s several documented episodes of Hydrophobia occurred in the town.

Trade Union Timeline in Preston

Many groups of workers followed the example of the Operative Cotton Spinners by forming themselves into Trade Unions throughout the 19 th century. These Trade unions often started as individual local town societies, or branches.

As these local Trade societies grew both in membership and influence, they were later expanded into regional or even national Trade Unions. With the strength in numbers working class people now had, they could effectively bargain for real improvements in wages and conditions.

About Us

Lancashire Working Lives has been created in Remembrance of the Historical Struggle and Sacrifice of our Lancashire Working Class Ancestors.

A union of spinners existed in Oldham by 1797, and may have been in continuous existence thereafter. In 1843, it was reconstituted under the name of the Oldham Provincial Cotton Spinners&apos and Self Actor Minders&apos Association, and established an office on Roch Street in the town. From the start, the union had branches in Lees, Shaw and Waterhead, in addition to Oldham, and it soon expanded to included branches in Chadderton, Hollinwood, Middleton and Royton. By 1868, it had 2,226 members. [1]

The union was a member of the Association of Operative Cotton Spinners, Twiners and Self-Actor Minders of the United Kingdom from its formation in 1845, but left in 1853, and held membership intermittently thereafter. In 1870, it was a founder member of the new Amalgamated Association of Operative Cotton Spinners, but it retained control over the welfare benefits it paid members, and over wage negotiations. [2] Initially its second-largest province, after Bolton, it grew steadily. By 1919, it provided 40% of the entire membership of the amalgamation, but when piecers were admitted, it again fell behind Bolton. [1] In 1939, it still had 10,000 members, spread over 15 branches. [3]

After World War II, membership of the union declined rapidly, and in 1973 it stood at only 12 people. Despite this, it survived until 1980, when it was dissolved. [1]

Shanghai Spinners: Pioneers of Hong Kong’s industrialization, 1947-1955

During the troubled years of the war against Japan, most of the Chinese industrial base concentrated in Shanghai was lost. In 1945, only 10% of the pre-war spindles were operative and, even though the Chinese industry recovered between 1945 and 1947, the economic crisis and political instability of China forced Shanghai capitalists to diverse and relocate their businesses. In the summer of 1946, some spinners of Shanghai began to investigate the possibility of establishing cotton mills in Hong Kong, a city with a stable currency, a solid banking system and trading facilities. Despite being a British colony, Hong Kong had not built a relevant textile industry before. But in the following years, cotton spinning and weaving mills were founded by Shanghai capitalists and Hong Kong became a centre for the textile and garment industry that would eventually export to the five continents.

Reference: South China Textiles Ltd. mid 1950s (spinning production)
Source: J. M. Braga (1957): Hong Kong Business Symposium. South China Morning Post, Hong Kong.

The first company that built a spinning mill in Hong Kong was South China Textile Limited (大南纺织有限公司), a firm founded by Shanghai capitalist C. C. Lee (Li Zhenzhi). Having acquired previous experience as a manager in Shanghai’s Datong Spinning and Weaving Company he settled down in Hong Kong around 1945. He started as a trading broker between both cities until he finally decided to open a factory in Kowloon. After trying unsuccessfully to train women workers from Guangdong, he brought 60 skilled workers from Shanghai. The shortage of skilled workers and labour legislation in Hong Kong were two of the main concerns of the first Shanghai spinners. Finally, in the first months of 1948, the firm started to produce cotton yarn with 5,000 spindles and a capacity to produce 12 bales of yarn per day.

Reference: South China Textiles Ltd. mid 1950s (spinning production)
Source: J. M. Braga (1957): Hong Kong Business Symposium. South China Morning Post, Hong Kong.

The second company to spin cotton was Hong Kong Spinners Limited (香港纺织有限公司), a firm associated with Shanghai’s China Cotton Mills. China Cotton Mills was a joint Sino-British company established in 1939 by C. Y. Wong, (Wang Qiyu, a merchant from Ningbo who became an industrialist in Shanghai) and William Charles Gomersall, a man with British and Chinese origins that owned China Engineers, a firm that imported textile machinery from Britain. In 1947, China Cotton Mills managed two spinning factories in Shanghai and had bought more machinery in Europe, but the difficulty in obtaining import licences drove them to put the machinery to work in Hong Kong instead of Shanghai. C. Y. Wong, a pioneer in the Chinese dyeing sector, was over sixty years old and left the new business to his son, T. Y. Wong (Wang Tongyuan), who would become one of the most important spinners in the city in the next decade. Hong Kong Spinners started operations in 1948 in a factory that was located in Kowloon’s Lok Shan Road near To Kwa Wan Road Initially, the plant (called Peninsula Spinners Limited) had a capacity of 8,000 spindles, but shortly after, a new bigger and modern mill was built in Cheung Sha Wan, with 35,000 spindles.

William Charles Gomersall had an important role as a middleman between the new industrial concerns, initiated by the Shanghai spinners, and the Hong Kong banking system, dominated by British businessmen. Gomersall had access to credit loans from the most important banks of the city, and gave financing facilities to the Shanghai spinners with a commission. He was also responsible for buying machinery in England in advance of the profits of the companies and facilitating the purchases of raw cotton in the foreign markers. Some of the machinery that was used to build the mills in Hong Kong had been ordered during the war period and were supposed to be used in Shanghai. However, as the situation in mainland China worsened at the end of the decade, it was finally placed in Hong Kong. However, some difficulties needed to be solved such as the climate, being hot and humid, and the lack of skilled workers. The first problem was solved by the introduction of air-conditioning machines the latter by bringing experienced workers from Shanghai and recruiting them as trainers. For all these reasons, it took normally one year or more from the moment the companies were registered until they could start to produce.

Shanghai spinners in the mid 1950s with the Chairman of the HSBC
From left: Mr. Vincent Woo (Central Textiles), Mr. H. C. Yung (荣鸿庆,Nanyang), Mr. C. S. Loh (陆菊森, Wyler), Mr. T. Y. Wong (王统元, Hong Kong Spinners), Sir Michael Turner, Mr. C. C. Lee (李震之, South China), Mr. Mou Lee (李楙, Kowloon), Mr. Y. C. Wang (王云程, Nanyang), Mr. Z. D. Woo (何瑞棠, Hong Kong Spinners) and Mr. T. Y. Tung (童振远, South China).

Source: 40 Years of the Hong Kong Spinning Industry, p. 58.The next companies to settle in Hong Kong came from one of the most important Chinese industrial groups. During the 1930s, T. K. Yung (Rong Zongjing), the boss of Shenxin Group, owned 20% of the total spindles of the country and was one of the richest men in China. He was one of the most important tycoons of the golden age of Shanghai’s bourgeoisie but, when the war broke out, he moved to Hong Kong where he died in 1938. Then, his extended family started a fight for control of the business. One part of the industry was moved to Nationalist Chongqing while other assets remained in occupied Shanghai. Finally, at the end of the 1940s the family was dispersed between mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Hong Kong, Wu Kunsheng (with the support of one of the sons of Zongjing, Hongyuan) and other shareholders such as C. S. Loh (Liu Jusen) founded Wyler Textile Limited (伟伦纺织有限公司) and built a spinning factory in To Kwa Wan. At the same time, Y. C. Wang (Wang Yuncheng), grandson of Rong Zongjing registered with his relative H. C. Yung (Rong Hongqing) a company called Nanyang Cotton Mills Limited (南洋纱厂有限公司) and opened the first vertically integrated mill capable of spinning, weaving and dyeing in Kowloon (Ma Tau Kok Road in Hunghom, on the seafront). The company was in search of more capital and found an enduring partner in Lord Lawrence Kadoorie, who became Chairman of the board of directors from 1948 until his death, in 1993. Finally, Liu Guowei who managed the Shenxin business in Chongqing during the war and his relative Mou Lee (Li Jiyao) founded Kowloon Textile Industries (九龙纺织有限公司) in 1948 where they opened a factory in Shum Tseng, near Castle Peak Road. The company started to operate in the spring of 1949. These three companies that appeared more or less at the same time came from the same family origin (the Rongs) and shared the same business legacy (Shenxin). However, they represented different factions and their relationship was rather complex.

Three more companies entered the race for cotton spinning before 1950. South Sea Textile Manufacturing Co. Ltd. (南洋纺织有限公司) was founded in Tsuen Wan by Tang Xinghai (Tang Ping Yuan) in March 1948 starting operations in January 1949. Like C. Y Wong, Tang Xinghai was a pioneer in the Chinese dyeing sector and, like the Rongs, came from Wuxi, in Jiangsu province. The Tangs were a wealthy family that sent their male members to be educated at the best universities in the US, such as Boston’s MIT. However, in 1945, some members of the family were accused by the Guomindang of collaborating so it is very likely that the Tangs left China for this reason. Another company, South Textiles Limited (香港东南纺织有限公司) was founded in 1948 but started to operate in 1949 in Castle Peak Road. The firm was run by the sons of a famous textile trader and industrialist named Liu Guojun, who decided to stay in Communist China. During the war, the Liu family had already moved one factory from their native Changzhou (also in the Jiangsu region) to the safety of Shanghai’s International Concessions. The sons of Liu Guojun, Liu Hankun and Jerry H. T. Liu (Liu Handong) moved to Hong Kong afterwards continuing with the textile business. Meanwhile, the daughter of Liu Guojun (Liu Biru) married Cha Jimin, a dyer who pioneered in establishing one of the first and most important finishing mills in Hong Kong: China Dyeing Works (中国染厂有限公司). Finally, a small company, Lee Tai Textile Company Limited (联泰纱厂有限公司) also started to operate in August 1948 with 5,000 spindles in Shatin. The company was founded by T. C. Ying (Ying Dingcheng) a Shanghai spinner from the region of Ningbo, like C. Y. Wong.

Reference: South China Textiles Ltd. mid 1950s (spinning production)
Source: J. M. Braga (1957): Hong Kong Business Symposium. South China Morning Post, Hong Kong.

At the end of 1948, six of these mills were operating and the number of spindles totalled 120,000, with a production capacity of 7,200 bales of yarn per month, far exceeding the capacity of the weaving and knitting sector of the city. The rest of the factories would open the following year.

The weaving and knitting industries had been the most important industrial sector (besides shipping) of the economy of Hong Kong before the war, with 550 companies employing more than 40,000 workers in 1937. But the war dealt a severe blow to the sector mainly composed of small and middle companies and most of them disappeared. However, the development of the spinning business helped the knitting and weaving sector to recover and forge ahead at pre-war production levels making Hong Kong an important exporter of yarn and finished cloth as well.

In the beginning, the spinning mills turned to the Chinese market. But the difficulties in getting import licences under the Nationalist regime and the restrictions of the Communist Party after 1949 to import cloth made them change their minds. Then, the Korean war broke out and trade between China and Hong Kong came to a standstill. New markets were opened up for the Hong Kong spinners. The Second World War had a profound impact on the industrial powers that exported textile products to South-East Asian markets. Great Britain and Japan were not in a position to export textiles at that time (although Japan and India would become strong competitors of Hong Kong shortly afterwards). Thus, Indonesia was one of the first and most lucrative markets for the Hong Kong spinners, followed by Malaysia, South Korea, Pakistan, Burma, Taiwan, and the Philippines . During the 1950s, Hong Kong’s textile industry expanded and reached other continents such as Africa (South Africa), Europe (England and West Germany), Australia and America (the United States). Although, Hong Kong had no raw cotton it was a commercial entrepôt centre that could import fibre from the South Asian cotton fields and from the USA. However, imports of raw cotton from the US were restricted by the trade blockade with China and the emergent Hong Kong industry had to find other supplies, not only in Asia (Pakistan, Burma), but also in Africa (Kenya, Sudan), Middle East (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Turkey) and America (Brazil, Argentine, Peru). Consequently, Hong Kong became a strategic textile centre that participated in a truly global trade.

At the same time, Hong Kong experienced a process of industrialization and the government provided facilities for the new industries. It changed its labor regulations so women would be permitted to work before 6am in the morning and after 8pm at night. Cotton spinning mills were provided with dormitories, medical facilities and meal and cloth subsidies for a working shift that, at the beginning, lasted 12 hours a day. However, after the first years, the government changed to three shifts of eight hours a day. The first problem that the spinners had found between 1947-58, the lack of industrial workers, was partly solved by the massive immigration of refugees who entered the colony after 1949. The continuous flow of migrants enabled cotton factories to keep salaries low while the price of yarn was high due to the postwar scarcity, securing a good margin. The mills soon doubled their size. Wyler started with a factory of 140,000 square feet which expanded to a total of 225,000 square feet very shortly afterwards. Hong Kong Spinners began with 8,000 spindles but in one year it would increase its capacity to 37,000 spindles, becoming the biggest industrial company at the end of the decade. Since all the spinning industries were concentrated in Kowloon and Tsuen Wan these places became industrialized and urbanized.

In 1950, eleven cotton spinning mills were operating in Hong Kong with a total of 165,000 spindles producing 10,100 bales of yarn per month. The success of the cotton spinning mills was related to the modernity of the factories (they all used new machinery), the price/quality ratio of the goods and the potential of trading with overseas markets. However, some markets, such as Malaysia and Africa, did not have the ability to finish textiles, and, thus were not interested in buying cotton yarn. This impelled the spinning companies to become vertically integrated installing annex mills for weaving, dyeing and knitting. The development of the spinning industry during the 1950s paved the way for the boom of apparel and knitting of the next decades. As they grew, textile companies invested in marketing and publicity, launching famous commercial brands like Golden Peak (Nanyang Cotton Mill), Flying Fish (South Sea), Camel (Wyler Textiles) and Red Rose (Hong Kong Spinners Limited).

Advertising cotton yarn brands: Flying fish and Camel
Source: Hong Kong Textile Annual, 1956.

In 1955, The Shanghai spinners felt the necessity to create an association to represent the interests of the 13 spinning companies that already existed. Thus the Hong Kong Spinners Association was inaugurated and its members chose C. Y. Wong (Wang Qiyu), the founder of Hong Kong Spinners, as its first Chairman and Tang Xinghai, from South Sea Textile Manufacturing, as Vice-Chairman. By this time the textile industry had become the largest industrial sector of Hong Kong’s economy.


This paper was made possible through a post-doctoral research grant from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, European Programme. I wish to express my greatest appreciation for the generosity of this organization.


  • Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), 1947-1956.
  • Hong Kong Textile Annual. 1956. Hong Kong Merchants Association.
  • Kubo, Toru (2009): “Chapter 1: Development of Cotton Industry in Postwar East Asia: Case Studies in Hong Kong and Taiwan”. In久保亨 (2009): 20 世紀中国経済史の探究. 信州大学人文学部, pp. 19-36.
  • Nishida, Judith Mary (1990): The Japanese influence on the Shanghainese textile industry and implications for Hong Kong. Non Published Doctoral Thesis in Hong Kong University. URL:
  • The Hong Kong Spinners Association (1973): 25 years of the Hong Kong Spinning Industry. Hong Kong.
  • The Hong Kong Spinners Association (1975): A Glance at the Hong Kong Cotton Spinning Industry. Hong Kong.
  • The Hong Kong Spinners Association (1988): 40 years of the Hong Kong Spinning Industry. Hong Kong.
  • Wong, Siu-lun (1988): Emigrant entrepreneurs.Shanghai Industrialists in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.

This article was first published in the Indhhk email Newsletter 9 sent out on 9th November 2013.

Cotton Industry Jobs

The following is a list of jobs which I've found while researching my family history. Many of my relatives worked in the mills of Lancashire, and some of the occupations which appear in censuses are unfamiliar to most of us. Indeed, some of them do not appear in dictionaries, since those are written by people who know little about Lancashire, let alone the manufacture of cloth.

Quite a few of the descriptions were provided by my mum's older sister, who worked in most parts of the mill during her life, providing training to others. This is very unusual, since most workers would not move from one part of the production process to another without a major cause.

Should you find any errors, or are able to add information (or whole new jobs!) please contact me at andrewalston(at) (symbol removed to stop email address harvesting).

Removes the slubs (bits sticking up from the surface of the cloth). Also does quality control of the finished cloth.

Another term for a Carder. In some places it may refer to Doubling, because of the combing action inside the doubling machine.

Takes thread from hanks (from spinning) and winds onto cardboard bobbins forming a cone of thread.

A creel (short for cop reel) is a bobbin of thread used either for warp or weft. If used for warp it went on to the Beamer or Drawer, if for the weft it went straight to the weaving shed. Also known as a Quill. A Creeler winds thread onto these bobbins.

Bleach Croft or Dye Croft

A croft is a piece of land where Bleaching or Dyeing is carried out. After processing, the cloth would be stretched and allowed to dry in the open air. When the air became more polluted, these trades had to move indoors.

Loads empty cops (bobbins) and unloads full cops from a spinning machine.

Organises the pattern of threads, taking threads from many bobbins of thread possibly forming a pattern. The individual threads are initially on bobbins which are placed on a large framework arranged to keep them apart. The legwork is done by a Reacher under his supervision. There were disabled people employed as Drawers, because the job could be done sitting down.

Someone who tidies up a product before the next stage of manufacturing, or to make it ready for sale. I have come across “silk dresser” used to refer to dyeing it was unclear whether this referred to thread or finished cloth.

Repairs faults in fustians and velvets. This might involve sewing up cuts in the base fabric caused by a slip of the knife, or trimming untidy parts of the pile. A special square-ended pair of scissors was needed to avoid causing further damage.

Tidies up the surface of the cloth after bleaching.

A fly is the mechanism which moves back and forth so that thread is wound neatly on a spindle. An engineering job.

Someone who looks after spinning frames.

A child who spent half the day at school and the other half earning money in a mill. Typically they would start work at 6am , work in the mill until 1pm , then go to school until 4pm . It was quite common for them to fall asleep during lessons.

A jack frame is a machine for lightly twisting the roving as it leaves the carding machine.

A Jacquard loom uses punched cards to control the production of fancy patterns in the finished cloth. In extreme cases, full colour pictures can be made this way. A higher status job than ordinary weaving, since the finished product is worth more.

A piecer. The term has been found in the Royton area.

Prepares the chemicals ready for bleaching the cloth.

A spinning mule spins a length of thread at a time, with a frame moving towards the operator as the thread is spun, then back again as the spun thread is wound onto bobbins. It was invented by Samuel Crompton, and combined features from two different earlier machines, hence "mule". Mules can produce all types of thread, but cottton requires a more complicated mechanism than is used for wool, which has longer fibres.

Someone whose job is to keep the shop working smoothly. What is known these days as Middle Management.

Mends broken threads during spinning. Often called a “little piecer ” because they started young. Usually employed by the spinner, rather than directly by the mill owners. A spinner would often employ their own children, thus keeping the money in the family.

Mechanised equivalent of a cloth hooker.

A quill is the metal spindle in a shuttle which holds the thread, otherwise known as a Creel. This person’s job is to wind the thread onto these quills.

Does the actual work for a Drawer-in.

Reeds are fine-toothed comb-like devices used on a loom to push the weft into place against the previous row. Making these items is an engineering job.

Ring spinning uses a different action to the mule, generating thread in a continuous process. It can normally produce only coarser threads.

Roving is the name for the loosely assembled group of fibres before it is twisted to make a thread. A rover operates the machine which takes the mat of aligned threads coming from the carding machine and splits it into these groups of fibres.

Mis -transcription of Reeler

Scutching is the separation of the valuable fibres from the woody seeds of the raw cotton. Considered one of the worst jobs in the mill – very low status!

Operates a self-acting spinning mule, patented by Richard Roberts, which could be operated by semi-skilled personnel.

Normally referred to as a half-timer.

The beams of prepared warp sometimes need sizing. A sort of glue (like starch) is applied to stiffen the fibres and make the shuttle’s path smoother.

Makes the spindles used for holding thread on the looms

Operates one or more usually two facing each other, spinning machines, each with many spindles, to make thread. Because the floor beneath spinning machines was soaked in the oil from the cotton, spinners usually worked barefoot. Spinners normally employed their own piecers and paid them directly. A spinning mule might have up to 1200 spindles from end to end and be nearly 100 yards long. A spinner would be paid according to the amount of thread produced. Poor quality cotton with short fibres broke more easily. Ask a spinner to spin Surat and they would be most unhappy, knowing that their piecers would be unable to keep up with the number of breaks, forcing them to stop the mule.

Joins the start of a roll of cloth onto the end of the previous one, so that the progress through the bleaching tanks can be a continuous one.

Maintains the thousands of wire teeth on carding machines. An engineering job.

Someone who sets up a loom ready for weaving. Threads the warp in etc. In some places the name refers to someone who installs the machinery. The stereotypical tackler is possessed of more brawn than brain and is the butt of many jokes.

Weaves cotton tape - up to a couple of inches wide.

General term for someone who tends machinery. One of my relatives was a "Gate tenter" - operating a level crossing on the railway.

Runs a Throstle – a type of spinning machine named after the noise it makes. Throstle is an alternative name for a thrush.

Joins the ends of a fresh beam of threads onto the warp already on the loom. A sitting-down job, sometimes done by people who were crippled.

Runs one or more looms to weave cloth. The more looms, the more money. Weaving is a very noisy operation, leaving many weavers deaf. Whether deaf or not, most weavers will have learned to lip-read since this is the only way to hold a conversation in the weaving shed. Making the lip movements without bothering to produce sound is known as "Mee-mawing".

Corinda State High School came to visit with their alpacas and lambs.

Lots of amazing work for sale in our members’ shop.

We had lots of lovely traders selling amazing products.

The fashion parade was full of fabulous items.

Sunday 11 October 9 am – 3 pm

Buy the best of handmade, beautifully crafted works in wool, cotton, silk, and paper.

Market Stalls + Fashion Parade + Food + Demonstrations

Since 1969 Spinners and Weavers have been throwing open the doors to showcase the best of fibre arts.

We are proud to display, exhibit, and demonstrate the breadth of our member’s skills in spinning, weaving, felting, knitting, crocheting, dyeing, paper arts, bookmaking, and basket making.

All from our dedicated premises at Fibrecraft House, home of the Emporium, our shop full of fibre goodies, tools, and equipment.

The Mill Town That Never Closed

The Textile Heritage Center in the town of Cooleemee (pronounced COO-luh-mee) has humble roots. It began as just a bulletin board behind plexiglass at the post office. Today it fills a historic two-story house that was built for a general manager of the local cotton mill in 1923. The mill was erected on the banks of the South Yadkin River in Davie County at the turn of the 20th century and operated until 1969. In its heyday, in the 1940s, some 1,800 workers heeded its whistle. Many of those workers and their descendents still live in Cooleemee, a town of 960 people, and their memories have lent authenticity to a sweeping, homegrown history project.

Shortly after word got out in 1989 that the Cooleemee Historical Association wanted to record old-timers' stories about mill life, the tape was rolling. Men and women, mostly from the World War II generation, shared not only their stories of life on the work floor, but also what it was like living within the confines of a town built for one purpose: to turn cotton into cloth. Some of what they said surprised the interviewers. Rather than lengthy tales of deprivation, Cooleemee's former doffers, carders, spinners and weavers described working in a tough environment while having a measure of autonomy that made them feel valued. They also recalled a tight-knit community where neighbors were more than co-workers — they were like family.

The town, owned by the mill, was provincial and cosmopolitan at the same time. On the one hand, mill families could maintain many of the traditions of self-sufficiency they'd had as farmers. Their homes sat on lots big enough for a garden, a few chickens and a smokehouse. On the other hand, they had some city-style amenities, like a department store, drug store, cafe, library and even a movie theater in the town square. Millworkers had their own traveling concert band, and the Cooleemee Cools had their own lighted baseball field and grandstand.

The duality in old Cooleemee created what Lynn Rumley calls "an industrial folk culture." Rumley is the director of the Textile Heritage Center and the town's mayor. She is a passionate curator of Cooleemee history and the southern cotton mill culture at large. Rumley was usually the interviewer with whom Cooleemee's elders shared their recollections. To date, the center has amassed 120 hours of video from 30 subjects. The center has also archived thousands of pages of written histories from 151 mill families.

The community stayed together

Some of the personal stories have illuminated the somewhat unique story of labor relations in Cooleemee. Given the comparatively small foothold of organized labor in the South, it may surprise a lot of people to learn that the Cooleemee mill was unionized, though it came about atypically. When 65,000 North Carolina textile workers walked off their jobs during the industry-wide General Textile Strike of 1934, the Cooleemee mill hands were not among them. They believed that company officials promised they would not thrust upon them the new, increasingly common practice of "scientific management," in which workloads were doubled and tripled and mill workers toiled to the tick of the stopwatch. The so-called "industry engineers" even timed bathroom visits. The general strike of 1934 was an abject failure in the South, with organizers unable to enlist enough members to successfully bargain on the workers' behalf.

Minnie Grimes on the job in the mill.

In Cooleemee, company higher-ups eventually brought in "time study managers," prodding workers to operate more machines in less time. "In place of them sticking with us, they really stuck it to us," said John Henry Nail, who was in his 80s when historians interviewed him. "(They) brought the checkers in here and put more work on us." For decades, mill hands had worked hard in exchange for not only a paycheck, but some unofficial fringe benefits — such as time off to kill hogs, go hunting, tend to a sick family member or even take an extended break from the work floor when they were caught up.

"My father was the overseer in the spinning room," said former mill hand Fred Pierce. "When they doffed all the frames they'd just go up the river and take a swim, you know, until the bobbins got full again, and then he'd go out and whistle or holler and they'd all come back in and start doffing again." Cooleemee workers wouldn't stand for the loss of independence. In 1937, they unionized, with 90 percent of the workers paying dues.

Cooleemee's former mill workers and their families have contributed way more than words to the story of their past. As news of the history project spread, people shook out their attics, dug into cedar chests, and pilfered scrapbooks and photo albums. More than 3,000 old photographs have been donated to the center and digitized for its archives. The Mill Village Museum, housed on the center's first floor, is filled with artifacts that document the routines of work and play, school, worship and home life. There's also an auxiliary building, the Mill House Museum, an original mill house furnished with donated items — including a wood stove, beds, quilts, tables, armchairs and rockers, enameled bowls, cast iron pots and pans, butter churns and canning jars — everything a typical mill family would have used in the early 1930s. Almost all the artifacts were collected locally.

Cooleemee's cotton mill closed in 1967, putting its last 750 workers on the street. A closing often spells the death of a mill town, but most people stayed here, even if they had to drive out of town to work, says Rumley. The Cooleemee Historical Association did a survey in 1996 and found that 75 percent of people living in the original mill houses were either native Cooleemeans or had Cooleemee roots, she says. "I think Cooleemee is one of the few mill towns in the South that have gone through a closing and remained intact in terms of a community." The mill building and some 330 original houses still stand, and now there are enough memories to fill them.

Watch the video: Hypothermia in the Ambulatory Surgical Patient: The Importance of Prewarming and Normothermia


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Name of Job Where Carried Out Description
Art Silk Spinner Spinning Room Artificial Silk is usually known as rayon, and was one of the first man-made fibres to make it into production. It is made from cellulose extracted from plants.
Beamer Reaching Room Takes cones of thread by the hundred and organises them to make the warp ready for weaving. The beam is a huge bobbin. See also Drawer.
Beam twister Weaving Shed A Twister
Beam warper Winding Room A Beamer.
Blow room operator Blow Room The blow room is a more modern process replacing scutching. It uses airflow to remove debris from the raw cotton.
Bobbin carrierCarries bobbins of thread to the looms ready for use by the weavers. A weaver without a ready supply of thread would be most unhappy!
Bobbin maker Workshop Makes the bobbins used for holding thread. Usually wood with a steel core. An engineering job, involving a lathe.
Box tenter Weaving Shed Jacquard and other multi-weft thread looms had a box containing several shuttles with different colours and this box rotated to make the patterns. A box tenter was the person whose job was filling the box corectly.
Card tenter Card Room A carder. Someone who tends a carding machine.
Carding machines perform a combing operation, aligning the fibres so they will make a strong thread when spun. The process leaves the operator covered in cotton fluff. Seen as a low-status job by others in the industry.
Cloth hooker Warehouse Puts cloth from a roll onto hooks so that the cloth can be folded concertina-fashion, making a parcel ready for shipping.
Cloth picker Warehouse
Creeler Spinning Room In spinning, a creeler replaces the roving being fed to the spindles as the supply runs out.
Doubler Carding Room Doubling is the combination of two or more groups of fibres (roving) into a single group ready for spinning. The original rovings may be of different qualities these days there may be natural and man-made fibres to combine.
Fustian cutter Finishing Room Fustian is a fabric woven like a close corduroy. By cutting the loops, a finish like velvet is obtained. A knife about a yard long, with a blade about an inch deep near the handle and tapering to a very sharp point, is slid into the loops to cut them. The fabric would be stretched on a long table and the cutter would walk along with their knife. A good cutter could use a knife in each hand. Top quality fustian would need 40 cuts per inch, so a cutter would walk 72 miles to cut a pair of cloths each 145 yards long and 18" wide.
Picker maker Workshop Pickers are strong pieces of leather at each side of a loom, used to drive the shuttle from side to side. The leather needed to be durable. One of my relatives describes himself as a "Buffalo leather picker maker".
Roller coverer Workshop The rollers in many of the machines used to make thread are covered in leather to get the right amount of grip. This skilled tradesman makes a tube of leather which is then stretched over the core of the roller and then smoothed to give the right surface.
Scavenger Spinning Room Cleans up the cotton fluff which inevitably accumulates under machinery. Commonly a job for a child, who would go on to become a piecer. The cleaning had to be done while the machinery was operating, making this a dangerous job.
Slasher Sizing Room The Slasher was the name sometimes used for the machinery which did the sizing. The threads were dipped through starch and then passed over a steam-heated drum to dry them before heading on to the beam.
Warehouse Still the same job today, but done with pencil and paper rather than computers and bar-code scanners.