The Todmorden Antiquarians column by Sue Clough: The story of Nutclough Mill and the Co-op

Mill Talk: Hebden Bridge Andrew Bibby told the story of 'Nutclough Mill and the Co-op'.
Mill Talk: Hebden Bridge Andrew Bibby told the story of 'Nutclough Mill and the Co-op'.

Andrew Bibby, the popular freelance author from Hebden Bridge, told the story of ‘Nutclough Mill and the Co-op’ to Todmorden Antiquarians, based on his book ‘All Our Own Work’.

He recounted the Co-operative Pioneers successes from 1870 – 1918 and the unique connections which evolved.

Joseph Greenwood, the son of poor handloom weavers, was put to fustian-cutter at just eight years old.

He continued in the skilled but boring work until aged 36, while educating himself, planning and envisioning a worker-organised factory.

Andrew explained the growing success of Worker’s Co-operation after Rochdale Pioneers were founded in 1844, improving worker’s ambitions.

The Nutclough venture started small in 1870. Greenwood and his fellow workers clubbed together to pay for an old man’s funeral whose death from overwork exhaustion fired their senses of injustice. Many local folk were near starvation, working hours were from 6am to 6pm. They pledged to make small contributions to set up premises and manage their own fustian production.

But they couldn’t raise enough cash to establish themselves and consequently made the crucial decision to sell shares to outside investors, enabling them to buy the abandoned original Nutclough Mill in 1873. With these unique elements, people from far-and-wide wanted to visit this worker’s Co-operative, established to produce clothing from corduroy fabrics. The pioneer’s business ran for over 50 years, successfully making profits shown in their six-monthly accounts.

Andrew found that the more he researched, the more he discovered, questioning modern workers’ engagement.

He emphasised the unique influences of the Co-operative pioneers on Hebden Bridge. The first branch of Co-operative Women’s Guild began in 1883. The Co-operative made links with Oxford University benefitting young Robert Halstead an orphaned Nutclough weaver with unusually high intellect who later became one of the Founders of Worker’s Educational Association. Martha Helliwell pursued social issues, founding the first Women’s Co-operative Guild in 1883. Jesse Gray, a Nutclough Secretary became important in Manchester, then nationally for the Co-operative Society.

Andrew concluded that in 1919 the Hebden Bridge Manufacturing Co-operative ceased to exist, taken over by multi-national Co-operative Wholesale Society.

The next Todmorden Antiquarian meeting will be on Tuesday, November 19 at 7.30pm in Todmorden Town Hall Court Room when Sheila Graham will present ‘People full of business, Halifax from Probate Records’.

Visitors are welcome, £3 at the door.