Huthwaite CWS

The Co-operative Wholesale Society Hosiery Factory

CWS Ltd had of course soon added hosiery sales to its expanding range. By 1901 the annual total reached towards £75,000, even though production relied upon other companies. Supplying about a third that market were Leicester Hosiers, given fuller detailed reference from the Wholesale Societies Jubilee history.

Formation of a Leicester Co-operative Hosiery Manufacturing Society was result of a troublesome 1875 buy out of a smaller co-operative hosiery society. Appointing a historically influential George Newell as General Manager, they moved on from a small cottage using old hand frames, to finally expand in 1890 setting up their Cranbourne Street Mills. Powered machinery increased production until marking their successful year in 1901, dating when they approached CWS Bank looking to fund a factory extension. Instead, back came a rather opportunistic counter proposal from the vast Wholesale Society. Rising profits suggested this was a timely chance to acquire their own hosiery business, although it triggered another bigger Union opposition.

Offering £29,000 for the Cranbourne Street factory, complete with machinery, fixtures and a healthy balance sheet, CWS furthermore promised to keep all employees working for at least 12 months, adding chance to become bank investors with guaranteed interest rate. The deal mutually agreed by Leicester Mill employers ultimately needed the seal of approval by the workers union. Recommendation through a Hosiery Society committee came at a much later arranged meeting dated 8th November. Hearing for the first time about their proposed takeover, its members quickly erupted!   Despite angry and prolonged opposition, protestors only suffered the consequences of severely dropped sales, until forced into accepting those original terms.

1st July 1903 marked the CWS eventually taking possession of their first hosiery factory in Leicester. After a further problematic startup requiring reappointment of a third manager, the Cranbourne Street business did eventually show a slight profit. Leicester Hosiery Factory Production swiftly rose from 1905 into 1907, only to again claim reaching the factories limitation in size and poor layout. It made an acceptable excuse based on the former Leicester companies known need for an extension. Nonetheless, its troublesome past could well be regarded as another good reason why the CWS had not only quickly sought out a suitable relocation, but already agreed a deal.

Quite possibly again unbeknown to the workers, the Leicester CWS factory had been destined for closure. Shown last sketched 1907, it did reopen March 1909 with conversion and modernising as one of the CWS Printing and Box Making Works.

According to the societies own 1913 history, they agreed to purchase a 4¼ acre site in Hucknall Huthwaite for the cost of £719 in December 1906. This may reveal some corporate spin selling, when able to compare our local press announcing the new building had been commenced some months earlier. Initial plot size also differs after the local Unwin Land Society attracted the CWS with offer of one free acre of land. Talks earlier that year started negotiating an initial 2½ acre site, but took into account more land for future building expansion, all barely delaying choice for Hucknall Huthwaite taking over mass manufacture of CWS hosiery.

1908 CWSNamed architect from Manchester was Mr F E Harris, and building contractor a Mr J Dickinson of Derby. The allocated large plot would overlook Rooley Bottoms, being sited atop and just off the main Sutton Road. It formed and almost filled north side of a partially housed High Street, to corner onto and lead down a steeply extended North Street. In relation to most of their other nationwide factories, this actually presented one of their modestly sized additions. But in this rural area, the impressive two storey large windowed frontage alone could have set some kind of Huthwaite record for the biggest brick structure.

In less than 18 months, local press announced near completion suitable for opening business in last week of December 1907 with just a few dozen employees. Maybe these two postcards captured that reported opening, although finer weather could better relate official 1908 opening to clearer show off the CWS new factory. Unmade roadways lit by a gas lamp still obviously awaited council attention to cope with heavy carrier cart traffic and seeing the advent of motorised road vehicles that ended up replacing the demand for train stations.

Measuring 50ft deep and allowing generous room height, premises formed a right angle extending 350ft by 230ft. Upper floor housed machines for 5 departments to handle separate manufacturing processes. Ground floor rooms finished off and packed goods to warehouse staff. An imposing corner doorway grandly led to centralised offices. All of which materialised from 1908 transferal of equipment and staff from the Leicester factory.

1908 CWS

Written 28 Jun 14 Revised 11 Jul 14 © by Gary Elliott