Chris Helme made a welcome return to Todmorden Antiquarian Society last week to present “There’s More to Firth’s Than Carpets”.
He told us the history of the small village at Bailiff Bridge whose carpet mills grew to a huge business of international proportions, writes Sue Clough.
The introductory slides showed aerial photographs of the growth and spread of Firths. Bailiff Bridge stands at the crossroads of two historic turnpike roads, one from Halifax to Wakefield, and the other from Bradford through Brighouse to Huddersfield.
Chris worked at Firth’s Carpets briefly after leaving school, before becoming a local community policeman. He has always collected local history facts, tales, photos and stories along the way.
Thomas Freeman Firth and partner, Mr Willans, bought a small 18th century mill at auction in 1867. Land belonging to Crow Nest Park was later up for sale nearby, allowing the works expansion and streets of houses to be built for workers.
In the 1880s Sir Algernon Firth opened a carpet mill in America. Workers were encouraged to go out to settle there, or could choose to return to England at the company’s expense.
Chris described how the organisation continued to expand, with supporting family needs such as a school, chapels, shops, sports facilities, a library and pubs.
At the company’s peak there were over 2,000 workers. There were large showrooms and a huge office block, besides the carpet works.
Two walkways which used to bridge the main road - one for workers and the other for directors!
The massive firm began winding down in the 1980s. In 2002 work began on demolishing the mills to make way for expensive houses and apartment blocks.
l Todmorden Antiquarian Society’s next meeting will be at 7.30pm in Todmorden Town Hall Court Room on Tuesday, March 22. Margaret Curry will present the second part of “A Tale of Two Cities - Salford”. Visitors are welcome.