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BGSG Seminar in Burnley

by Pippa Moss – November 1, 2012

In October we had our annual BQSG Seminar. This year’s venue was Burnley, Lancashire. Of course Lancashire was the centre of the textile industry so there is a lot of heritage to be found in this area. As usual, the committee had come up with some great venues. We stayed at a lovely hotel, the Rosehill House Hotel, a former mill owner’s house. The group meals were fun and worked well. The house visit this year was to Gawthorpe Hall, while the actual seminar was held at Towneley Hall, which had a new and modern lecture hall.

Gawthorpe Hall is a late Tudor/early Jacobean manor house, and the home of the Rachel Kaye Shuttleworth textile collection. Half of the group toured the house while the other half viewed a selection of quilts from the collection. We were not allowed to take photos inside the house, and while we were allowed to take photos of the quilts for study purposes, I’m afraid that I cannot post them here.

Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth was committed to crafts and embroidery, which she felt contributed to a balanced personality and helped also in rehabilitation. She founded a crafts school. The study collection, now numbering over 30,000 items, was intended as a teaching aid, to demonstrate the different techniques found around the world. We were able to see a selection of quilts, some new and some old. There were also some display cases in the house itself which were well worth looking at.

Although not a part of the official programme, David, Susan and I made a flying visit to the Queen Street Mills outside Burnley. Burnley had over 100,000 cotton looms in its heyday, and Lancashire had over a quarter of a million looms.  After my visit to the wool museum in Wales, these looms seemed very sophisticated and capital intensive. Cotton fabrics from Britain dominated world markets during the 1800s and made a major contribution to the wealth and economy of Britain.

The weaving shed  – it has 360 looms which make a deafening noise when turned on. This room originally had 1000 looms but many were scrapped in 1959. Filming for many films and TV has taken place here, inlcuding North and South.

Weavers soom went deaf with the noise and also caught ear infections from dirty earplugs. A miming language was in use among the weavers, also lip reading was used. Even today in Burnley you often see people in town cover their mouths while saying something they don’t want heard – so that others cannot see.

There was an apprentice system practised, with the looms in groups of 4, 6 and 8 machines. As the apprentice became more adept, the weaver could tend more machines himself. Weavers got paid for teaching. Each loom was checked for about 15 seconds before moving on to the next – so a busy, noisy and dusty job.

Only the weaving was done at this site – the cotton thread was brought in and rewound on a beaming machine (see the gallery). The white cotton, called grey goods, was sold to dyehouses where it was printed and dyed in fashionable colours and patterns.

The  museum has a collection of looms from other now-gone mills. These were specialised machines, each producing a single type or quality of fabric. Calico, canvas, teatowels and a thicker waffle fabric are still woven on site and sold  in the gift shop. The museum is popular with school groups – well worth a visit.

More about the seminar in the next  post. Pippa Moss