Sixty-Two Years Of Mill Life

From the Blackburn Times of October 27th 1906.

The oldest overlooker in Blackburn, Mr, George Abbott of 98 Daisy-street, has recently resigned his position at Messrs. Lewis Brothers’ Springfield Mill after a career which well deserves to be included in the chronicles of the cotton trade. He is now in his 76th year, has worked in the mill for 62 years, and followed the occupation of a tackler for 51 years. He is a decidedly active specimen of a septuagenarian, and in enjoyment of his facilities to a remarkable degree, but a tackler has the work of carrying an average of about 35 beams per week, and each beam weighs from nine to twelve score of pounds. Hence, Mr. Abbott found the work telling on him during the hot weather of a few weeks ago, and got leave of absence for a short time. “During this period of rest,” he remarked to the Blackburn Times representative this week. “I came to the conclusion that it was getting time for me to rest altogether, and decided not to go back to the mill.” He has always treated those under him with consideration, and retires with the valued esteem and respect of his co-workers. During his 51 years term as an overlooker he has never been off work through ordinary illness, but on one occasion an accident whilst following his employment resulted in blood poisoning, which compelled him to remain at home for 15 weeks. Apart from this instance, he never remembers having a doctor. To our representative he gave the following details of his career, all from memory: I was born in the township of Brindle on February 17th 1831, my parents being Thomas and Hannah Abbott, both of whom were engaged in handloom weaving. Of course, there were no steam driven looms in those days. I was the youngest of ten children, and the only surviving member of the family. In 1837 we removed to Tyldesley, near Bolton and two years later came to Blackburn. My Father worked under the Hornbys at Brookhouse, as a loomer or twister, and my brothers and sisters were employed as weavers there. I attended the Brookhouse School, which was built in 1839, but has been enlarged since. Mr. Cheetham was the schoolmaster at that time, and I remember he had lost one hand when 13 years of age. I learnt weaving at Hornby’s Mill and worked there up to about 1848, when I removed to Mr. Henry Ward’s Swallow Street Mill. On May 19th, 1852, I was married to Miss Mary Ann Loynd, daughter of Mrs. Mary Loynd, who kept a shop on Penny Street, then a more important thoroughfare than it is to day. My next move was to Duke-street Mill, at that time run by Mr. John Abbott, and from there I went to Messrs. Lewis Brothers’ Springfield Mill in Stanley-street. About 18 months later I learnt tackling and remained at the Springfield Mill until 1859 when I got a situation under Messrs. Healey and Constantine, who rented a shed at Church, known as the Bury Shed. In 1863 I came to the same employers’ “Rhubarb Shed” at Bank Top, but left in 1869 to work at Mr. Solomon Longworth’s Walpole-street Mill in Lower Audley. I remained there four years, and was afterwards employed at Messrs. J. and W. Taylor’s Moss-street Mill, Mr. Henry Livesey’s Greenbank Shed—which I gaited up—Messrs. Hutton and Baynes’s Mill at Greenbank, Mr. Henry Almond’s Mill at Cob Wall, and Mr. Driver’s Mill in Quarry-street, finally coming back to Messrs. Lewis Brothers, Springfield Mill in 1886. I have been a member of the Power Loom Overlookers’ Association from its formation, and another fact I would like you to mention is that I have been a subscriber to the Blackburn Times ever since it was started.

“And to what do you attribute your good health Mr. Abbott?”
“First to the religion, secondly to temperance. I put religion first because it keeps a man composed in his mind. At the same time I have not been what might be termed a “sour Christian.” I believe in reasonable enjoyment, but I’m convinced that had it not been for religion I could not have withstood the hardships and knocking about I have had to go through. Then I was blessed with a good wife. She was a rare one for looking after me. She died just twelve months ago at the age of 76. I have always taken meals regularly, and my hobby for 40 years has been bowling. I have taken part in many an interesting contest on the green attached to the Butlers Arms at Pleasington. I have not always been teetotal. I was once induced by some mates to take a little drink, but I rued after. I took it in moderation for ten years, but became teetotal in 1882, when the Blue Ribbon movement was going in Blackburn. My advice to those who want a long life is to abstain from drinking, smoking, and tobacco chewing. I have never been a smoker, though my brothers liked their pipes. When 10 years of age I had a try at smoking, but after a few pulls I could not feel my feet properly, and in the end had to clear off to bed. That first pipe cured me. I thought to myself if smoking makes me ill like that there’s something wrong about it. It’s not worth bothering with. I attended James-street Sunday school when it was first opened. I was a teacher there for a few years, and my wife was a member of the chapel choir. On removing Bank Top I joined the Chapel-street Church, and my family has been connected with that place of worship ever since. I might say that I have seven Children living, and eight grandchildren.”
“I must have witnessed many stirring incidents in my time? Oh yes. I well remember the Cotton Famine of the [18]60’s. I was then working at the Rhubarb Shed. They called it working but sometimes we had no beam in the looks. Now and then we got a little order, and just about 20 looms on to each overlooker. I am rather proud to say that I never received a farthing’s value during all that time in the way of charity. It was a trying experience, but I was very independent, and could not bring myself to accept charity. My wife and I took credit to the extent of about £8, and when I got on my feet again we paid of the debt at the rate of about a £1 a week. There were men who were then getting double my income through charitable channels and yet I was said to be working, and they were spoken of as the unemployed. Some weeks I earned nothing at all, and during other weeks 8s or 10s. My ordinary earnings at the time would be about 38s a week with full work, but they would make more now off the same number of looms, because the poundage has gone up a penny in the £. Then, of course, there was the great strike of 1878. That was another trying time for the operatives. I was then working at Greenbank, but I did not see much of the disorder that went on. In my opinion Colonel Jackson was singled out by the operatives because he was the spokesman for the manufacturers, and not because he was any more to blame for what had occurred than the other employers. The simple fact was that the people were excited, lost control of themselves and someone had to suffer. I have had some lively political experiences when canvassing and working at elections. I have always been an ardent Liberal, and here I might say, that Messrs Lewis Brothers have never interfered with me in the slightest on account of my political views. I took a very active part in the Parliamentary elections of the [18]70’s and had some warm times. I happened to have a pretty good crop of whiskers then and on several occasions they got pulled by excited women as I was walking through the streets, but the pulling didn’t hurt, neither did it change my political convictions. When I was working at the Rhubarb Shed Mr. Healey and Mr. Higson put up for Bank Top at the Town Council election, and both got in after a hard fight. Both sides were paying for votes. At one stage a vote was worth 2s 6d, and as the election drew nearer prices went up to as high as 5s.

Of course there have been many changes in the cotton industry since my early days. When I started there was no steaming in the sheds. The atmosphere was much purer than it is now, and there was not the same speed of machinery. As a rule, too, the yarns were much finer in counts than they are now. Today there is a deal of 32’s twist, but it used to be 50’s, 60’s or 70’s, and some times 80's. At some places there were coarse counts even then, but there is so much adulteration in the size now that it makes a lot more work for those weavers and causes more cleaning than there was when they did not put so much rubbish into the size. With the present method of sizing they would get about 1s a week less off a pair of looms if they did not put steam into the sheds. If steaming is abolished the masters will, if they mean the operatives to keep up their earnings, be compelled to use better material, because the steaming is simply introduced on account of the inferior quality of the yarn, and as I said before, of the sizing.”

“I suppose you have followed the recent newspaper discussion as to morality in the mills?”
“Yes, and I think a lot has been said that is not true. I think they are as good in the mills as any where else, and I’ve been surprised at some of the allegations made against them. They are off handed and straight in what they have to say, and some times they say a bit more than they need, but things are not as bad as painted. When I have had anything to say to weavers I never used bad language, and I believe they have paid more attention to my remarks as a result. I have tried to consider other people’s feelings as well as my own, and have always got on well with the other mill hands.”

Below is information on some of the mills George Abbott worked at during his life; they are in no particular order.

Springfield Mill Stanley-street.This was a spinning and weaving factory built by the five sons of John Lewis. By occupation John Lewis was a grocer and because of this the mill had the nick-name of “Butter Tubs.” It was built between 1851 and 1860. At its height, in the 1890’s there were 62,580 ring and mule spindles and 1266 looms. The mill closed early 1930 and was demolished 1936-40. Thomas Boys Lewis was the son of Thomas Lewis, and gave the Lewis Textile Museum to the town.

George Abbott talks of the “Rhubarb Shed” at Bank Top. This was on Turner-street, built by Thomas Sharratt in 1860. It was then leased to Henry Whalley and Co. It was known as “Rhubarb” because it was built on the site of some allotments. In 1861 it had 312 looms and employed 200 people. It closed in 1931.

Walpole-street and Lucknow Mill, Lower Audley, run by Solomon Longworth. This mill was built in 1865 and had 445 looms. Weaving finished at the mill in 1957 and the buildings were sold.

Moss-street Mill, Daisyfield. Built about 1859-60. It had 690 looms. Weaving ceased in 1924 and the buildings were demolished in 1934 to make way for extensions to British Northrop.

India Mill, Greenbank. The weaving shed was built in 1854 by John C. Hutton And Thomas F. Baynes, the brother of John Baynes of Cicely Bridge Mill. When opened there were 330 looms and about 180 workers. The mill closed before the Second World War. The buildings still remain.
The above information on the mills was taken from the book “Industrial Heritage, a guide to the Industrial Archaeology of Blackburn; Part one : The Textile Industry” by Mike Rothwell.

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