Guardian readers help write history

As revealed in last week’s Spenborough Guardian, Spen Valley Civic Society is compiling a history of 14 entrepreneurs and their companies selected to represent each of the key industries of the Spen Valley.

Saturday, 22nd February 2014, 3:11 pm
Henry Ellison Ltd, Cleckheaton.

For the next few weeks we will carry articles on the history of two of the selected companies as researched by the SVCS.

It is intended that these skeletal histories should be expanded to become more than a mere list of dates, names and events! The object of the exercise is to create a record of the local industrial heritage in a way that will make compelling reading for the current and future generations.

We appeal to readers to put the flesh onto bare bones by adding their families’ knowledge about the companies. We need personal anecdotes and recollections – verbal or written – as well as pictures, product labels or packaging, advertisements or press cuttings which may lurk in family albums.

Exchange Mills at Cleckheaton

This week’s subjects are Henry Ellison Ltd and Charles Hirst & Sons Ltd. The results of our research will be on display at Cleckheaton Library on Tuesday February 25 from 10.30am to 7pm. Please come and see what we have learned and – most important – bring any memorabilia with you.

If you can’t come on Tuesday, please forward any information to Margaret Heward, Spenborough Guardian, 17 Wellington Road, Dewsbury, WF13 1HQ, or e-mail [email protected]

Henry Ellison Limited

Henry Ellison arrived in Cleckheaton in 1871 as a newly qualified chemist to work at George Anderson & Son’s dyehouse: Henry’s lodgings on Whitechapel Road were next-door to Bentley Wrigglesworth, a part-owner of the Flatt Lane Chemical Works (Whitechapel Road was once called Flatt Lane).

Within his first year in Cleckheaton, Henry Ellison formed a partnership with Mr Wrigglesworth to manufacture dyestuffs by the distillation of timber products at the Flatt Lane Works. In 1876 Henry Ellison bought out his partner to create a company which, when incorporated in 1909, became Henry Ellison Limited. The initiative expanded rapidly to become a major manufacturer of tar, town-gas and many basic chemicals.

By 1927, two years after Henry’s death, the company, headed by his son – another Henry – had grown to become Yorkshire Tar Distillers Ltd, one of Europe’s largest chemical manufacturers.

In 1887 Henry Ellison diversified into engineering by founding The Spen Valley Engineering & Boiler Works at Moorend: this has evolved to become Clemo

Motors now run by Henry’s great-great-grandson.

Besides the Ellison Company, the two generations of Henry Ellisons (father and son) were involved in other local engineering and chemical companies including Cleckheaton Chemical Co, Saunders & Saunders, Stirzaker & Burnhill and Israel & Benjamin Umpleby.

This is a summary of what SVCS knows about Henry Ellison – a Victorian entrepreneur of whom the Spen Valley should be proud. What can you add to these potted histories? Do you know anything about the Ellisons’ involvements with the Burnhill, Saunder, Stirzaker or Umpelby companies?

On December 2, 1914, there was the fatal picric acid explosion at the White Lee Chemical Works in Heckmondwike. The White Lee Chemical Works on Old Leeds Road was described as “disused” in 1894 and barely anything of it remained by 1907: when and why was the old Heckmondwike Chemical Works on Hollinbank Lane renamed as White Lee? When, why and from whom did Henry Ellison acquire this site?

Charles Hirst & Sons

For over 100 years those approaching Cleckheaton from the east could not miss Hirst’s large wire factory at Exchange Mill, Moorend.

Charles Hirst and Joah Clayton, trading as Hirst & Clayton, started to draw wire at Tofts Mill in 1863 (the mill was located on Toft Road directly opposite Station Approach, Cleckheaton). Mr Clayton resigned in 1873.

Charles Hirst soon outgrew Tofts Mill and relocated to the larger, purpose-built Exchange Mills in 1878. The continual demand for additional space led Charles to buy the adjacent Farfield Mill in 1894. Charles Hirst & Sons was incorporated as a limited company in 1898.

By the time Charles retired in 1900 the company was run by his sons Robert and Herbert who in turn were succeeded by Robert’s sons, first John and then by Robert (Junior). Another Robert, Charles’s great-great grandson, was managing director until 1971.

Charles Hirst & Sons produced a wide range of steel, stainless steel and galvanised wire for countless applications including armatures, card clothing, hairgrips, tyre reinforcement, musical instruments, wire ropes and sound-recording.

Despite a substantial export business – particularly in North America – Hirst’s customer-base of predominately British manufacturing companies was, by the early 1970s, suffering from many company closures and the ever accelerating trend to source from abroad.

In 1971 the Hirst business was acquired by British Ropes Limited which in turn became part of Bridon Wire in 1974. In 1976 Exchange Mill was finally closed.

In the early days of WWII the Luftwaffe published a series of booklets to help their bombers identify strategic targets in Great Britain: the “North Midlands” booklet included an aerial photograph of Exchange Mills as target N⁰ 71.

This was the only factory in South or West Yorkshire to be listed – all the other targets were ports or bridges.

We hope that someone visiting the presentation at Cleckheaton Library on Tuesday may have some clue as to why Charles Hirst & Sons was considered to be of such strategic importance.