In our quest to learn more about the heritage of the area, we need to understand what has shaped Mossley to be the town it is today and meander the routes which connect our work at Vale Mill to its roots. So in the first of our Cotton Culture Connections talks our guest speaker, William (Bill) Westhead, shared some of his vast knowledge of the textile industry in the North West and Mossley’s place within it.
Giving us a real sense of ‘history from below’ Bill explained that Mossley, once an ‘obscure rural small hamlet’ with a population of 300 or so grew to be one of the most important textiles towns in the country in the nineteenth century. He painted a clear image of some of the working conditions that underpinned this growth and how attempts to create better conditions in the mills, a ‘reduced’ working day of 10 hours for women and children, were skirted round by some mill owners.
Not afraid to question the dominant narrative of success Bill told us how a thriving textile trade in India was suppressed to build a Lancashire textile industry, provide jobs and opportunity. Its eventual decline in Lancashire due to failures such as a lack of investment in new machinery, the impacts of competition, a Lancashire Cotton Famine because of American Civil War and the emigration of unemployed Lancashire skilled workers is a reminder of how globally connected we are.
In a lively discussion in the last half hour we learned how cotton workers from different continents faced similar hardships and how they often showed support for each while many of them left their homes to find work and create new lives.
Bill’s educational talk provided historical detail and our project is all the richer for his generous contribution to our understanding. You can watch the full video here