150 years on Hugh threads the story of the Crossley dynasty

Crossley and Sons' Dean Clough Mills photographed from the air in the post second world war period
Crossley and Sons' Dean Clough Mills photographed from the air in the post second world war period

A IN deepest Suffolk, by the sea near Lowestoft, is a piece of Halifax – a stately pile that has been the home of our town’s greatest industrial dynasty for exactly 150 years.

In 1862 majestic Somerleyton Hall was bought by Francis Crossley, of Belle Vue, Lister Lane, Halifax, as his country estate. Francis, Hal-ifax MP and baronet, better known as Frank, was the youngest son of John and Martha Crossley, whose family built the greatest carpet-making business in the world at Dean Clough. This was John Crossley and Sons or, simply, Crossley Carpets.

John and Martha Crossley's first mill at Dean Clough, bought in 1802

John and Martha Crossley's first mill at Dean Clough, bought in 1802

Even now, nearly 20 years after the last of the great Dean Clough mills closed, there can’t be many local people who don’t remember the name of Crossley and carpets like the legendary Sultana that were once made in Halifax.

The shock following the announcement, in January 1982, that the Dean Clough complex was to close reverberated round the town. Not only was the loss of jobs a personal disaster for those involved but the closure of Crossley’s symbolised the drastic decline of industry in the place famously known as “the town of 100 trades”.

Thankfully most of that enormous Dean Clough complex of mill buildings survives, part of the great Crossley legacy left to the family’s home town.

These days, thanks to Sir Ernest Hall and his late partner, Jonathan Silver, with their vision of a “practical utopia” combining commerce and the arts, the mills and warehouses hum again to a mixture of business, art, theatre and music – even a hotel.

Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk, bought by Sir Francis Crossley in 1862 and still the Crossley family home today.

Somerleyton Hall in Suffolk, bought by Sir Francis Crossley in 1862 and still the Crossley family home today.

But for 180 years Dean Clough made carpets. Back in 1802, when John and Martha Crossley took over their first mill beside the Hebble Brook, it was only the start of something big. That first mill, on the site where the giant E mill is now, was not much bigger than a decent sized house, six windows long on three floors, plus an attic.

But John and Martha had eight children and three of their six sons, John, Joseph and Frank, turned their mod-est business into a carpet-making empire whose products were sold all over the world.

From 1840 – three years after the first John died – they built a series of mammoth spinning mills and weaving sheds in the narrow confines of the Hebble valley. The mills were named with letters of the alphabet – A Mill first, in 1840, overlooking the Hebble, then B, a year later, and over the next 30 years followed mills C, D. E, F, G and H, ever bigger and grander, plus Old Shed, known as the Axminster Shed, and New Mill, or Gripper Shed, and later, the Victoria Shed.

By the end of the century Dean Clough, with more than a million square feet of space over 20 acres, could claim to be the greatest integrated carpet mill in the world, employing 5,000 workers and running for an unbroken half mile up the Hebble valley.

The firm expanded overseas from Europe to America and Australia and its world-famous carpets graced such places as the Royal Opera House, Christiansborg Castle in Denmark and the Empress of India steamship.

Meanwhile the brothers, John, Joseph and Frank, were using their new-found wealth to improve and enhance their home town. They built a orphanage near King Cross, now Crossley Heath School, built Park Road Baths and were supporters of various Congregational churches.

Joseph, who spent most of his time running the company, built almshouses for the elderly in Arden Road.

John, twice Mayor of Hali-fax, built Crossley Street and Princess Street, including the White Swan Hotel, in the town centre and provided the land for the building of Halifax Town Hall in 1863. He also created the workers’ industrial village of West Hill Park, between Gibbet Street and Hanson Lane and built himself a great mansion called Manor Heath.

Frank bought Belle Vue house in Lister Lane and turned it into the finest Victorian mansion in Halifax. He built almshouses in nearby Margaret Street and then, following a visit to America, gave Halifax the People’s Park, one of the finest urban parks in the country, with serpentine, fountain, bandstand and terrace with urns and statues. He was MP for Halifax and the West Riding and in 1963 he was created a baronet.

Which brings us back to Somerleyton... for it was a year earlier, in 1862, that Frank bought Somerleyton Hall and estate from a fellow industtrialist and friend Sir Morton Peto. After Frank’s death in 1872 his wife, Martha, chose to live at Somerleyton Hall on a permanent basis with Savile Crossley, their only child. Sir Savile, Baronet of Halifax, was elevated to Baron Somerleyton in 1916.

Hugh Crossley, the present Lord Somerleyton, the fourth baron, succeeded only in January this year following the death of his father, the third baron, Savile Crossley at age 83. And now, 150 years on from the year the Crossley family acquired Somerleyton, Hugh Crossley is planning to celebrate with an exhibition - called the Crossleys of Halifax - which will tell the Crossley story from its beginning. It will obviously focus on the development of the carpet-making company but also on the civic and philanthropic roles played by the Crossley family over generations.

Lord Somerleyton has recruited Halifax historian John Hargreaves to carry out research for the project which has involved trawling though a huge amount of archived material, including the archives at Halifax Central Library. John’s research is unearthing the Crossley story from 1802, when John and Martha Crossley took over their first mill at Dean Clough, right through to the present day. It includes work on the history of the Dean Clough mills, the family’s extraordinary philanthropy and a look at the importance of the Crossley legacy. It also includes around 30 biographies of the men and women who created the Crossley story and a gazetteer of places associated with the family.

Lord Somerleyton is also appealing to Nostalgia readers to come up with items of memorabilia for the exhibition, which will run from May to October next year.

Bearing in mind that thousands of Calderdale people worked at Crossley’s or were connected with the company in some way it’s a fair bet that,lingering in attics and boxrooms there are objects or paper items or photographs that would help to tell the Crossley story.

Like the Clough magazine: this was a company magazine that was started in 1953 to mark the company’s 150th anniversary and ran through the 1950s and into the ‘60s. It included fascinating articles ranging from the company’s history, developments in carpet technology and expansion overseas to personal stories, from the latest appointments to workers’ marriages, deaths and children’s births.

Or records of major events on the Crossley journey, such as the commemorative booklet produced on the opening of People’s Park in 1857, or the memoir printed on the death of Sir Francis Crossley in 1872, or special publications to mark the company’s centenary in 1903 or 150th anniversary in 1953, or to commemorate the visit to Dean Clough by Prince Charles in 1989.

Catalogues of Crossley products - or letters between company and employee or other work-related objects. Or photos - both of the Dean Clough mills, spinning frames or looms, or of those who worked there, often for a lifetime, at work or at play, perhaps as a member of a Crossley sports team.

You might even have some Crossley’s crockery! There are items of crockery at Crossley Heath School - originally the Crossley orphanage - with the family crest. Maybe there are some such items gathering dust in some almost forgotten corner of a Halifax home.

If you can help please let us know. Contact me, David Hanson, on 01422 260248 or the Courier newsdesk on 260226, or email david.hanson@halifaxcourier.co.uk