Weaving a Century –
The centenary celebration of Binns’ Factory
The following text is copied from the Centenary Book published to commemorate 100 years of Binns’ weaving factory in Cowling.
1852 – 1952
“If we tried to sink the past beneath our feet,
Be sure the future would not stand”
John Binns, the founder of the firm, was born in 1810 at Cowling, a
small village beneath the moorland hills of the Pennines on the Yorkshire
side, two miles from the Lancashire border. Ills family were farmers and
hand-loom weavers and, during the decade before the business was
founded, had lived through the “Hungry Forties”. Yet, in spite of the
daunting difficulties of those hard times, John Binns was to prove
himself deserving amongst his fellows and worthy of recognition equal to
that which Cowling men accord to more widely-known sons of the village,
who include one who became Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The mid-period of the nineteenth century was a time of great industrial
development. The use of the power loom was becoming established, in
spite of the violent opposition of the hand-loom weavers and riots in the
neighbouring towns of Colne and Skipton had been quelled by the
military. The growing use of the power loom threatened the livelihood of
the people of Cowling, and with no alternative employment available, the
outlook was serious. At this time, John Binns was a carrier as well as a
small farmer and he had contact with a wider world as he delivered the
hand-woven goods to the cloth markets at Bradford and Colne. He had
already entered public life, for amongst other duties he had undertaken,
he was now a parish overseer, a guardian of the poor, and a pre-Peelite
village constable (in modern times, a “special”). With all this, he was
a robustly religious man, being a Leader at the Bar Chapel of the
Methodist community. His friends and neighbours found in him the man
they needed to start power loom weaving and thus preserve the life of
the community at Cowling. Many urgent meetings must have been held,
for there had already been attempts and failures. John Binns was not a
rich man, but action was needed to secure the future and his friends
helped him as necessity arose.
The first requirement was a site for the proposed new mill. Richard
Bradley Wainman of Carrhead, the local squire, was approached for a
portion of land in that part of Cowling called Middleton Bottom. Here
was met the first difficulty, for Mr. Wainman refused to sell the land,
stating that he did not desire pollution of the atmosphere by smoke from
a factory chimney. Thus occurred one of the clashes between landed
proprietors and industrialists which assumed specially defined political
significance in later years. Richard
Hill, owner of the Bay Horse Inn, was
next approached and he agreed to sell
land at the back of the inn known
as “The Croft”. Building began and,with building, borrowing.
The people lent money and those without money lent their labour. John Gawthrop
carted stones from a nearby quarry and when doubts arose about payment
he said: “Well, John, if tha cannot pay, we’ll be noa worse friends i’
heaven!” John Binns paid, and by his rectitude established such a
reputation as to make him banker to the village.
Even with all this help, the money was exhausted as the building
reached the first storey. At this juncture, however, John Binns found
a partner in William Marchbank, a Bradford shopkeeper.
William Marchbank was a man of more education than his partner, an interesting
personality and a versatile man. He had opened a grocer’s shop at
Cowling. It is said of him that at a later period of his life he invented and
connected a telephone from his house at Lane Ends to the house at the
other end of the row.
The mill was completed. The first building consisted of two storeys,
with boiler and beam engine in the bottom. The second floor was used
as a warehouse. At right angles to this block and completing a letter
“T” was a long two-storey building with looms on both floors. John
Binns and his partner William Marchbank, trading as Binns &
Marchbank, started with 80 looms. They sub-let part of the mill to
William Watson, who also had 80 looms, and to John Snowden who
had 50. The first loom was started in 1852 by Mrs. Elizabeth Bradley,
whose grand daughter retired from the same firm and the same occupation
in 1951! Friday was payday and, it is said, that in the evening John
Binns would sit at the mill door to pay the workers, the wages book
on his knee, a bowl of silver on his right and a bowl of copper on his left.
The firm were worsted weavers and the cloth woven was known as
“camlet”. It was 33 inches wide by 57 yards long by 19½ lbs. weight.
It was sold mainly through Bradford merchants, dyed red, and finally
found its way to the Russian and Baltic armies. Even today, there is
some of this camlet cloth, the gift of John Binns, on the cushion upholstery
at Bar Methodist Chapel.
In 1865, the tenants of the mill were given notice to leave. William Watson
went to a Cowling mill. Binns and Marchbank had bought some looms from
a William Shuttleworth of Cowling, who had tried power loom weaving and
failed. They became sole occupiers and, in 1867, they had 260 looms running.
In 1872 the partnership between John Binns and William Marchbank was
amicably dissolved. By this time, John and Thomas Binns, the founder’s
two sons, were old enough to enter the business which then took the
name of John Binns & Sons. William Marchbank continued as a manufacturer
and built Royd Mill Shed, Cowling. In 1875 the firm had 298 looms
running and in this year plans were made to convert the two-storey
portion of the mill into a single and larger weaving shed and also to
build a new warehouse. These alterations and extensions were done by
direct labour. From this time and onwards the firm also ‘gave out work
on commission’ and there are records of transactions with other mills
at Cowling, Colne, Lothersdale, Silsden and Skipton, many of whom
continue in business today.
In 1880, the firm had 360 looms running, and in this year John Binns
died. He had built up a successful cloth manufacturing business employing
more operatives than any other similar undertaking at Cowling. He
had done a great deal for the development of the community, for he not
only improved the livelihood of the people, but he helped to improve
their lives. During his lifetime the village of Cowling prospered and the
inhabitants established a reputation for pride of home and thrift which
they have never since lost.
THE SECOND GENERATION
The control of the business now passed to John and Thomas
Binns, sons of the founder. A new boiler-house was built and a new engine
and boiler installed, and during this decade the number of looms was
increased to 410. The scope of the firm’s activities was widened and,
in 1888, the first Manchester agent was appointed. At this period all looms
were fully employed, and many more firms were weaving on commission.
In 1890 John and Thomas Binns dissolved partnership, and the latter
built a new mill at Cowling. Two years later his brother, John Binns,
died at the early age of 49, his regime having lasted twelve years. He
had known every employee personally and was a strict disciplinarian.
It is said that the sight of his bowler hat, popping up from behind the
looms in the early morning, was highly disconcerting to those weavers
who were taking things easy. Widely known as a man of high personal
integrity and diligent application to business affairs, he was also a zealous
adherent of the Methodist cause, and he was the prime mover in the
building of the present imposing Methodist Chapel at Cowling.
THE THIRD GENERATION
In 1893, the firm became a Limited Company. The first directors
were J. P. Fielding (Chairman) of Rochdale; Mrs. H. Binns (Widow);
Everett Binns (Son). J. P. Fielding, a consulting engineer, was the
brother-in-law of john Binns the second. He was elected Chairman
because, at that time, Everett Binns was only 26 years old.
Everett Binns took over the active direction of the business and in
this he was ably supported by his cousin Stephen Emmott, also a grandson
of the founder. In the following years, the weaving activities of the firm
‘ were continually broadened. Coloured cotton weaving was introduced.
Broadly speaking, the worsted side of the business was controlled by
Everett Binns, assisted by Wright Snowden, whilst the production of
cotton goods was developed by Stephen Emmott.
In 1897 plans were produced for new office and warehouse extensions.
Handsome premises were erected on Keighley Road and a public clock
was installed. On one occasion, precise winding instructions were left by
the operator for his deputy: “Wind thirty-two times towards Crosshills”.
In 1898 the firm acquired the mill built by Thomas Binns known as
Carr Mill, Cowling, along with its full complement of looms and machinery.
The mill was one of the first in the district to be lighted by electricity
from its own generating plant.
At the beginning of the new century, there occurred the most important
event in the firm’s history. Its importance was not then appreciated, but
fifty years later it is referred to with pride. In 1902, the firm of John
Binns & Sons Ltd. was one of the first five weavers in the country to
weave artificial silk, known today as rayon. At Cowling was woven the
first cuprammonium yarn imported by the late Henry Bronnert of
Manchester. Since that time there has always been rayon weaving at
Binns’s and, thirty-three years later, the decision was taken to convert
the Company’s mills entirely to the production of rayon fabrics.
Progress continued and, in 1902, agents were appointed in London,
Glasgow and Nottingham, and in 1905, warehouse premises were rented
in Bradford where the Company inspected and dispatched its own
worsted goods. In 1911 the ‘Manchester agency was terminated and an
office opened in that city; a similar procedure was followed in London
The year 1914 saw the outbreak of World War I and, for the first time
on record, the mills of John Binns & Sons Ltd. went on half-time. Full-
time working was resumed at the end of the year.
In 1915, J. P. Fielding resigned his directorship and Everett Binns
became Chairman and Managing Director.
In 1919, following the war, boom conditions set in, terminating in
the severe slump of 1922. Like other manufacturers, the firm had its
difficulties. There was heavy cancellation of overseas orders, especially
of worsted goods in Canada, and Wright Snowden went out there to deal
with the situation. The firm survived these difficult years and, in 1924,
bought its own offices and warehouse in Bradford.
Everett Binns died in 1928. Representing the third generation of the
Binns family he had extended the progress achieved by his forebears.
He was especially fortunate and well served by his cousin Stephen
Emmott and by W’right Snowden. Stephen Emmott had opened out
important connections in the export trade and Wright Snowden had
ably assisted in the development of the home trade. With their loyalty
behind him, Everett Binns took wide interest in many forms of public
and political life.
CRISIS AND RECOVERY
Everett Binns was succeeded by his only son John Binns, but in
1931, seventy-nine years after its beginning, the firm faced severe
difficulties which developed into a grave crisis. Carr Mill had been closed,
but by November further action became imperative. Meetings were now
called by the bank and John Binns, the new Chairman, resigned. Once
again the loyalty to the firm of Stephen Emmott and Wright Snowden
was demonstrated. They agreed to accept the risks of the situation and
to provide finance, upon which the bank agreed to lend support, subject
to a continuing improved position. Stephen Emmott and Wright
Snowden were appointed directors and once again a grandson of the
founder became Chairman of the Company in the person of Stephen
Emmott. His term of office ended a year later when serious illness com-
pelled him to resign. Wright Snowden succeeded him. William Stanley
Emmott and J. Raymond Emmott (sons of Stephen Emmott) and
Norman E. Snowden (son of Wright Snowden) were appointed directors.
These directors made plans and took bold decisions.
In 1933 it was agreed to turn over the Company’s production wholly
to rayon weaving and to carry out a planned programme of machinery
replacement and rehabilitation.
In 1934 more looms were running at Croft Mill than ever before in
its history. Higher wages were being earned and the mill was becoming
known far and wide for its progressive policy and the consistency of its
performance. Workers were coming in from outside the village and,
whereas fifty years ago, they had been “flocking to Lancashire” the wheel
had now turned full circle and some were coming back to Cowling.
Also at this time, Clarence Snowden, incorporated accountant of Leeds,
was appointed auditor. He is the grandson of the Manager who served
the first three generations of the firm.
In 1935, Carr Mill was reopened and work was planned on a shift
system and a new method of productivity, now known as “redeployment”.
In 1937 a new engine and power plant were installed at Croft Mill.
In 1939, war was declared. During the years of World War 11 the
Company operated under the Concentration of Industry Scheme. Croft
and Carr Mills were permitted to run in co-ordination with two Lancashire
firms. Output was shared and wartime contracts were accepted. These
included the making of Royal Air Force shirting, balloon fabric, sill:
charge cloth, rayon identification fabric, electrical insulation fabric and,
largest contract of all, man-carrying nylon parachute fabric. During the
war period a modern canteen was opened.
In 1944, the total number of men and women from Binns’ who were
in the Forces was eighty-four, but the following year brought peace,
followed by the welcome return of employees.
PRIDE IN THE PAST
CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE
With the return of peace, the Company embarked on new and
more ambitious schemes for extending its activities. It was decided to
carry out a programme of decentralisation and extension by opening
factories in new areas.
A factory was taken at Aycliffe, Darlington, for the training of labour
in rayon weaving and, in 1947, a new weaving factory was opened at
Shildon, County Durham. This is one of the most modern and well-
equipped rayon weaving plants in the country, and compares favourably
in layout and performance with any counterpart in America or on the
Continent. These developments were carried out under the direction of
Raymond Emmott, who took up residence at Darlington for that
The year 1946 represented vet another major turning point when the
firm became a Public Company. This year, also, Wright Snowden, the
Chairman, retired after sixty years of service. He had devoted the whole
of his working life to the firm, having risen from a humble position to
the highest. During the long period of his loyal service he not only pre-
served but promoted harmony of working at all levels, and at all stages
William Stanley Emmott became the new Chairman, his brother,
J. Raymond Emmott, Norman E. Snowden and Clarence Snowden
(formerly auditor) the other directors. Clarence Snowden was also
appointed Secretary. The Chairman and his brother, sons of Stephen
Emmott, are great-grandsons of John Binns the founder. It is interesting
also to note that they have connections with his first partner, William
Marchbank, who married Ann Emmott, the aunt of their grandfather
Increased output continued throughout 1948, with the result that the
Company now became the largest producers and weavers of rayon
fabrics in Yorkshire. The firm continued to expand its sphere of influence
and, in 1949, acquired two rayon converting organisations which were
consolidated in the Headen Weaving Co. Ltd., and this became a
subsidiary of John Binns & Sons Ltd.
In 1950, the directors announced the issue of bonus shares, the results
of the solid work of reconstruction and expansion steadily pursued
In 1951, Croft Mill was completely modernised. The mill the founder
built had been enlarged and extended on three occasions in the past and
was now brought into line with the requirements for machinery respacing.
To accomplish this the shed roof was supported on a cantilever principle
whereby seventy-eight pillars were removed and replaced by eight.
Each loom was fitted with its own electric motor, fluorescent lighting
was installed, and arrangements were completed to generate electricity
from the Company’s own power plant.
The firm of John Binns & Sons Ltd. has not merely survived a century;
the Chairman of the Company has now a wider responsibility than any
of his predecessors, and can look back on a remarkable and continuing
transformation. Success has been made possible by the sustained loyalty
of all who work at Binns’, and future progress depends on the creative
ability and quality of workmanship achieved at the various mills.
The founder of John Binns & Sons found cloth manufacturing a good
and honourable trade and, after “weaving a century”, the same can still
be said of his successors. Times have changed, and old John Binns would
view with incredulity the loom production of 1952. It is a far cry from
“camlets” to “crepe-de-chine”, but at the end of the firm’s century as
at its beginning, the same spirit of enterprise is evident, and the
Company’s Head Office is still at Cowling.
This site was last updated Sunday March 05, 2006