Thursday, 21 March 2013

Thomas Mellodew, an Oldham cotton business and a first for the blog

Now today I am going to be a little self indulgent, and copy one of those features of some blogs which post progress reports.

In my case it’s a review of a book which is a first for me and I hope an insight into the discipline of writing about someone else’s work and I hope in the process revealing something about the subject matter.

Of course I am bound to say that I am limited to what I can say after all it is one thing to review the book another to tell its story.

And I know there will be those who mutter how difficult is it to do a review?  After all, it is just a matter of reading it and then writing 300 words on what it was like and what you thought of it.

The book in question is An Oldham Velvet Dynasty, by William M. Hartley.* the publishers say that "the history of Thomas Mellodew and Company Ltd is a part of the history of Oldham. 

For over 100 years, the family owned firm was an important local business and employer, spinning cotton and producing high quality velvet – a material much sought after in Victorian England.”

It began in the 1830s and lasted till 1956 so nicely fits into one of the periods I often write about.
Our township was still very much a rural community when Thomas Mellodew set up his 30 looms on a “windswept Moorside above Oldham, employing 260 hands.”  And the growing success of his company was at a time when Manchester was at the centre of those new textile and commercial enterprises.

And the demise of the firm and the demolition of its mills were mirrored by the loss of the Bradford colliery and closure of the countless engineering and foundry works in the east of the city and beyond which are topics I regularly return to.

So, this is day one of the project.  I have successfully negotiated the introduction which gives an account of cotton spinning and weaving and in particular employment practices and moved on to chapter one describing Mellodew’s early life set against the backdrop of the first three decades of the 19th century.

There is much I have learned but remain intrigued by that phrase “260 hands.”  It is a term which neatly places the human workforce in the industrial process.  Here are not workers, with families, interests, and stories to tell but mere adjuncts to the textile machines.  They are no more worthy of a second glance than the oil can and the spinning machines which also help turn the raw material into the finished cotton velvet.

Such was the outlook of so many of those 19th century employers, but I do have to be careful for already my own prejudice towards them and the system they were developing has cast a shadow on what I think of Mr Mellodew.

Now this may be unfair given “his attention to the welfare of his workforce” so we shall see.

In the meantime I am on to chapter two in 1851 on Shover Moorside which according to the biographer was an inhospitable spot, three miles from Oldham where  the comminity were largely “engaged in cotton spinning and weaving, coal mining and agriculture”  and eagerly anticipating why  "just eight years after the Plug-drawing Riots of 1842 [he] was forced ....... to take his 30 looms to windswept Moorside."

But that will as they say be for part two.

Picture; front cover of An Oldham Velvet Dynasty

*An Oldham Velvet Dynasty, The Mellowodews of Moorside, by William M. Hartley, Palatine Books, 2009, £14

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