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Gomersal Mills and the outbreak of World War One

Posted by on March 9, 2014

The outbreak of the First World War would prove profitable for some textile businesses in the West Riding, as wars had in earlier centuries.  They had supplied uniforms and other items for military use to this country, most of Europe, the Middle East and overseas territories for several hundred years previously.  I think they clothed parts of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army – and they certainly did well out of the Napoleonic Wars as the British army and navy expanded rapidly.  They often joked that unless Great Britain was involved, they clothed the fighting men on both sides of any conflict.

Gomersal Mills, rebuilt in 1913

Gomersal Mills, rebuilt in 1913

The firm of Thomas Burnley & Sons Ltd had rebuilt its premises at Gomersal Mills after a disastrous fire in 1913 and was ready to manufacture whatever the market required.  In the days leading up to the British declaration of war on Germany in August 1914 everything came to a standstill.  No business was transacted as everyone waited to see what would happen.  The banks were closed for some weeks.  Then the boom began.  And the war machine was a hungry monster.  It wanted khaki – millions of yards of it, flannel by the million yards, socks for soldiers, woollen cardigans – in a never ending stream flowed the demands of the War Office.  As orders came pouring in the price of mills was at a premium.  They could make any amount of money.   Until then Gomersal Mills had produced worsted yarn for civilians but quickly geared up to participate fully in the demand for khaki yarns and ran machinery extra hours for many months.  This surge was followed by spells of ordinary hours and by the end of 1915 things were distinctly quiet.  They soon picked up.  When the Armistice came in 1918 there was some disruption, as production switched from khaki to peacetime products and much new investment in machinery was made.



10 Responses to Gomersal Mills and the outbreak of World War One

  1. Diana Devlin

    This is an interesting case of ‘it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good’. We think about the supply of armaments, but here is a perfectly respectable business profiting from war.

  2. Margaret McAlpine

    True, but whether is was any more profitable than their peacetime business for this particular firm is not clear. Competition was intense in normal times, so this short term boost in demand may have supported less viable businesses. Also the War Office was a monopoly purchaser so I wonder if its suppliers could refuse its terms of business.

  3. Denise Claxton

    Hello I am trying to find out the name of the sister mill to Burnleys that was in Cleckheaton of near to Cleckheaton does anyone know please

    • Margaret McAlpine

      Did you mean another one in which the Burnley family had a share? That was Union Mill from 1837 which they built and operated in partnership with the Firth family, among others.

      • Denise Claxton

        I found out it was called Nelroyd Mill on the Bradford Road going towards Cleckheaton but thank you

        • Margaret McAlpine

          Nellroyd Mill was acquired in 1950 – although Thomas Burnley & Sons kept the name it had by 1850 the Burnley family no longer owned it after the fire in 1913.

  4. John Moore

    My family had connections with Thos Burnley’s from 1880 until its closure. On closure I “rescued” a leather bound sales day book which is unused and I reckon dates from about 1920 as it was going into a skip. The book was specially printed for TBS by Geo Harrison (Printers) Ltd with various column headings and obviously in ibs/oz and £SD. Now we are downsizing it needs a new home. It could be used by school parties to enter a “sale” and work out the total value. I’ve tried local museums but they have no interest. I’m prepared to drop it off in the Gomersal area if someone can make use of it

    • Margaret McAlpine

      John – this is interesting. I would be happy to have your book and keep it with the rest of my documents about Thos Burnley. I am occasionally in the area (was in Bradford a few weeks ago) so could collect if you can wait. What was your family connection and do you have any stories to tell?

  5. Rachel

    Kia ora, Margaret,

    Your blog is fascinating – lovely to read.

    Which mills are you referring to here:

    “They had supplied uniforms and other items for military use to this country, most of Europe, the Middle East and overseas territories for several hundred years previously” ?

    I only know of the Hainsworth mill at Pudsey but would love to know of another source. What are your sources?

  6. steve osborn

    Hi Guys , Who was Doris Woffenden , who worked for Thomas Burnley 1911 to 1961 ?
    This is a very long shot as I just a mad researcher .
    Kind regards.
    Steve Osborn You can find me on

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