Huthwaite CWS

Production Begins

A locally reported opening of the new Huthwaite CWS factory in December 1907 only really announced that building work was finally completed. It then took just a few more weeks to fully transfer all the machinery from the original Leicester works, and while some workers did relocate, majority would require training up.


The Co-operative Wholesale Society historically recognised 4th February 1908 to be the opening date for its new hosiery factory, based on when production began. And they also recorded a problematic startup! We would not be aware that it was facing heavy losses. But the sad outcome of realising customer complaints multiplied within the first few months of business, was an unforgivable fact relayed down to my generation.

Investigating these problems practically brought production to a standstill. The Committee were forced into making other bold decisions in order to ensure future success in manufacturing quality goods. Root of the problem was blamed on carrying over a very large stock of unsold goods. These proved difficult to sell and were further depreciated by an unexpected fall in yarn prices. Adding upheaval of relocating and setting up new works was claimed to have further pressured management into allowing production of inferior goods.

Figures presented to the board chairman at the first general meeting had been described by one delegate "as the worst balance sheet on the productive side ever placed before them." Nonetheless, actual amounts did prove insignificant in hands of good accountants. By restricting purchasing while selling off lower priced goods, they rebalanced the stock levels to allow a totally fresh start under a newly appointed manager.Smoke CWS

November 1908 could thus be loosely considered yet another opening date, because that's when position of manager was taken over successfully by Mr H France. He led the CWS factory into producing quality hosiery. No doubt ably assisted, its still a remarkable turnaround to present a productive 1908 year profit. From £53,000 to over £80,000, less surprise to see an annual leap from £85,000 into £107,000, and £127,000 for 1912. The Huthwaite hosiery factory was nonetheless, still in its infancy.

Incidentally interesting to note, CWS would become an equal if not larger employer to the New Hucknall Colliery. And because Huthwaite now boasted a regular Mansfield tram service it made commuting affordably possible from or beyond Sutton.

To just start production at the Huthwaite factory initially required around 400 workers. This had been a rough maximum formerly employed at the Leicester premises. About an eighth of those accepted CWS invitation to continue their work here. There was little difficulty in locally recruiting vast remainder, because the previous lack of suitable jobs especially for young women was main reason behind enticing this new industry. We already had historic reputation for manufacturing hosiery. Not on a modern factory production line basis. There's no comparison to a past home based cottage industry of stockingers, who'd run hand operated and antiquated wooden framework knitting machines.

Operating larger knitting machinery continued to be regarded as a male occupation. They'd kept most of those skilled key workers, but this fully equipped factory did need many more men to perform an array of heavier jobs. Photographs can barely reveal the enginehouse or other ancillary buildings below the tall chimney. They stand behind the L shaped main structure, best seen in a magnificent architects sketch.

Females performed majority of the nimble tasks involved in producing finished goods. Described to be often "so simple that any normal girl can learn it in a short time ..." suggests a repetitive monotony. Such thinking could have, however, devalued the time served skill at being able to do jobs both well and very quickly. Quality control did prove to be an initial problem. So more attention to detail was given second time around to make sure all received adequate training, and manufacturing methods kept closely guarded.

When God himself forbid any unmarried mothers, there was one unbreakable company rule remembered by all former workers. Woman who got married had to leave the CWS factory. Never to be questioned, even after strict attitudes had loosened elsewhere through the effect of two world wars. Positively it reopened jobs, showing hiring preference from an endless queue of eager young girls straight from leaving school.

According to the 1914 CWS annual, the company telephone is listed via a Sutton-in-Ashfield number 66. And figures relating October 1913 reveal employees had noticeably risen to 612. Further reference could be found updated from The New History of the C.W.S. published in 1938. That asserts the years for three major extensions, accomodating vast expansion until their Huthwaite hosiery factory then employs 1,500.

Written 23 Jul 14 Revised 24 Jul 14 © by Gary Elliott