8 January 1968 – the day Lancashire’s cotton industry died

When was the day that Lancashire’s cotton industry finally died? One candidate is 8 January 1968, with the shock announcement that Ashton’s Tulketh Mill was closing down. The closure was to throw hundreds of people out of work and threatened the existence of the mill itself.

Special case

Many mills had closed before 1968[1] but Tulketh Mill was a special case. There are many industry cliches about old buildings and an ancient infrastructure that couldn’t, or wouldn’t, adapt to the times. Tulketh Mill’s closure was a shock, however, because the mill was a ultra-modern exception.

Tulketh Mill chimney

Tulketh Mill in 1925

Super mill

Over £1 million had been spent on modernising the building in 1963. The management was described as ‘progressive’ by one commentator[2]; it was one of Lancashire’s huge super mills and when the closure was announced there were six months of orders on its books[3]. 8 January 1968 was significant because it made clear that it wasn’t only badly run, out-of-date, intransigent mills that would close. All of them would close. If Tulketh Mill couldn’t survive, who could?

An article the following day confirmed this realisation at the Manchester Royal Exchange: ‘The big question among traders was: “If a super mill like this finds itself overwhemed by the flood of cheap imports, what hope can there be for the rest of us in this industry”’[4]. No hope, as it turned out.

Imports

Why did Tulketh Mill close and the cotton industry die? The concerns over the rise of the cotton industry in the East were there as early as 1941, when JH Spencer wrote that ‘All the mills serving the Indian and Chinese markets have closed down’[5]. The headline of the Lancashire Evening Post on 8 January 1968 makes clear where the blame for the closure of the mill lay: ‘Imports doom super mill’[6].

Labour shortage

In the following week, the Lancashire Evening Post ran an interview with one of the sacked workers: Hector MacDonald, who gave a further reason for the mill’s closure[7]:

‘Hector MacDonald blamed the people who were not there […] “The mill is closing down through a shortage of labour”.’

He stated that men wanted to work on trucks, planes and security; women: ‘didn’t want cotton in their hair and headscarves and hard work. They wanted clean hands and dress shops and office jobs, and the chance never to have to say: “I work at t’mill”.

Mr MacDonald makes it clear that his job was always hard, but he is equally clear about the devastating effect of the closure: ‘A lot of people are taking it badly because they know the future holds practically nothing for them.’

Help yourself

Many looked to the labour prime minister of the day, Harold Wilson, for a solution. His response was summed up by another Lancashire Evening Post headline: ‘Lancashire must help itself’[8].

On the day the closure was announced, Harold Wilson was visiting Manchester. When asked about the mill, the prime minister appeared to wash his hands of the issue, stating that: ‘Such announcements should not go into politics’[9]. One suggested solution to the crisis in the cotton industry was a quota on cheap imports. Harold Wilson’s response was: ‘There is no answer in terms of quotas from low wage countries’[10]. No bailouts for the Lancashire cotton industry, it seems. We should have been bankers.

It took only 55 years for Lancashire’s centuries-old cotton industry to plummet from its most successful year, 1913[11], to the almost total annihilation of the industry.

Bibliography and notes

[1]p36. Hunt, David. An A to Z of Local History: ‘The Wharncliffe Companion to Preston’
[2] Lancashire Evening Post 9/1/1968 ‘Govt lashed over mill closure’
[3] Lancashire Evening Post 8/1/1968 ‘Imports doom super mill’
[4] Lancashire Evening Post 9/1/1968 ‘Govt lashed over mill closure’
[5]p35. Hunt, David. An A to Z of Local History: ‘The Wharncliffe Companion to Preston’
[6] Lancashire Evening Post 8/1/1968 ‘Imports doom super mill’
[7]Including all quotes about the interview which follow. Lancashire Evening Post 15/1/1968 ‘Not just a mill dying – it’s a way of life
[8] Lancashire Evening Post 8/1/1968 ‘Lancashire must help itself’.
[9] Lancashire Evening Post 8/1/1968 ‘Lancashire must help itself’. Note that this quote is in reported speech in the original article and so isn’t a direct quote from Harold Willson. Full quote from the article: ‘Mr Wilson told me that such announcements should not go into politics.’
[10] Lancashire Evening Post 8/1/1968 ‘Lancashire must help itself’.
[11]p34. Hunt, David. An A to Z of Local History: ‘The Wharncliffe Companion to Preston’

Thanks

Many thanks to Jim Goring for his excellent research!

Posted in Tulketh Mill
One comment on “8 January 1968 – the day Lancashire’s cotton industry died
  1. alan briers says:

    could any body tell me approx. amount of brick in tulketh mill chimney when first built

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