Decline in the 1950s
An indication that all was not well in the industry, came in 1951, when there were extended stoppages at the September holidays. The situation worsened sharply in 1952. Many mills closed for extended periods, and five ceased trading. The number of weavers in Blackburn fell from 10,890 to 9020 in the year. Coronation year, 1953, brought an improvement, and predictions were made that exports of cloth would exceed 1951. However, the special orders for export and in connection with the Coronation were not repeated. In subsequent years the industry in Blackburn declined.
The large amounts of cloth being imported free of duty started to affect the home market. By 1955 imports from India were in excess of our exports to that country. The number of young people leaving textiles because of greater security of employment in other industries meant that the work force became composed increasingly of middle aged or older weavers. England was becoming a dumping ground for cheap subsidised textiles produced by low-paid labour with which no Lancashire mill could compete, said Mr. G. R. Bury, President of Blackburn Mill Managers Association at their annual dinner on 23 November, 1955.
The decline continued all through the 1950s. 20 of the 50 working mills in Blackburn closed, and 2,500 textile workers were displaced. The events of the next few years were to change the entire structure of the textile industry, but Blackburn was largely a spectator to the board-room battles, take-overs and company mergers. The net result was the creation of four giant groups, later reduced to three, which were engaged in the entire field of textile operations, from manufacture of new "man-made" fibres, to dyeing and retail distribution.
Blackburn mills affected were Imperial Mill to the Courtald Group; Haston Lee Mill to English Calico; and Roe Lee, Salisbury and Ewood Mills to Viyella International. This movement, which placed some mills on a sound financial basis, was offset by the closure of others, and many more textiles jobs were lost. Competition now came from Portugal, which could produce cotton goods 40 per cent cheaper than Lancashire, as well as continuing competition from Pakistan, India and Hong Kong.