John Binns 1810-1880 The man who led Cowling into the steam age.

Much of the article below has been taken from Weaving a Century 1852-1952 – John Binns & Sons Ltd page 5-10.We have made changes to update the style, add information and make observations.

John Binns, the founder of the firm John Binns & Sons Ltd, was born in 1810 in Cowling parish. His family were farmers and hand-loom weavers. We know nothing about John’s early life.

In 1851 at the age of 41 he was a well established and respected man. As well as being a farmer at Gill Top Farm ( 1841&1851 census) and a carrier he had already entered public life. Amongst the extra duties he had undertaken, were; a parish overseer, a guardian of the poor, and a pre-Peelite village constable (in modern times, a “special”). In addition , he was a robustly religious man and a leader at the Bar Chapel of the Methodist community.

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 the parish as the majority of Cowling’s population were involved in handloom weaving and with no alternative employment available, the outlook was serious.

John Binns had contact with a wider world, as he delivered the hand-woven goods to the cloth markets at Bradford and Colne with his carrier business. He’d also shown himself to be energetic, public spirited and a leader. Although he was not a rich man he was encouraged to become a manufacturer, start power loom weaving and thus preserve the working life of the community in Cowling parish. Many urgent meetings must have been held, for there had already been attempts and failures. 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 parish called Middleton Bottom. This would have been near to John’s farm and Middleton handloom weaving hamlet would have provided a ready made workforce. 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. How might urban development in Cowling parish have changed if Wainman had agreed?

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 came the necessary borrowing. This was a community venture. The people who could 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 who had already opened a shop in Cowling. William Marchbank was a man of more education than his partner, an interesting personality and a versatile man. 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.

With Marchbank’s financial input the mill was now 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 (See article on Early Textile Mills and Workshops pre 1850), who also had 80 looms, and to John Snowden who had 50.

The first Croft Mill

The first loom was started in 1852 by Mrs. Elizabeth Bradley,whose grand daughter amazingly 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. Until its demolition over a hundred years later, some of that early Camlet cloth was seen on the cushion upholstery at the Methodist Bar Chapel. It was a gift from John Binns.

In 1865, the tenants of the mill were given notice to leave. William Watson went to another 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 completed by direct labour of the workforce.

From this time and onwards the firm also ‘gave out work on commission’ and there are records of transactions with other mills in Cowling, Colne, Lothersdale, Silsden and Skipton.

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. He not only improved the livelihood of the people, but he helped to improve their lives. During his lifetime the parish of Cowling prospered. The new village developed as houses were needed for workers, then shops and small businesses opened to supply their needs. Three more mills were built and a school. Cowling owes a great thanks to a man whose energy, public spirit and leadership played a large part in this progress.