A Few of Our Favourite Things – Unwrapping the Thomas Robinson Archive

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Thomas Robinson & Co. Bleachers and Dyers occupied the Hope Works on Bolton Road in Ramsbottom and was a branch of the Bradford Dyers’ Association.

Volunteers Susan, Christine, Fred and Howard have been working on this project since September 2016 and have attended the training sessions in Cataloguing, Digitisation and WordPress, which they all found extremely useful. In addition, Jo Robson from Oldham Archives very kindly came to us in November to run through the cataloguing process again for those who had been unable to attend the first session.   Thanks Jo!  Regarding the WordPress workshop, it was interesting to learn the intricacies of ‘blogging’ – it’s not as easy as it looks!  Thinking about your audience, who you are writing for, using particular words and phrases – it’s not quite as spontaneous as it appears to be.  Thank you to Hayley at Wehearttech for a very entertaining and informative day.

This is a vast collection which had been partially catalogued already. The many boxes marked ‘Correspondence’ hadn’t though, and I thought that this would be a good place to start.  Little did I know what we would uncover!  The majority of the correspondence dates from the 1950s and 1960s, when companies from all over the UK (in particular Lancashire and Yorkshire) sent their fabrics to Thomas Robinson to be dyed; the huge number of companies involved became apparent when we started initially by looking through the boxes of letters and sorting them by year, and then by company.  The task at first appeared daunting, as in some boxes the letters had been put into folders and in some sort of order, but others were not so orderly.  However over a few weeks a pattern (excuse the pun) began to emerge; the same companies would recur and it became apparent that this correspondence related to quality control issues and the numerous tests being carried out on the fabrics.

Some interesting points have arisen about the cataloguing: that you very quickly learn that you may need to do some extra research about the company to understand what the documents are that you are cataloguing – do you know your tulle from your taffeta? There are many ledger-type books in the collection but when no-one has helpfully written in the front what they are, (ie. ‘Wages Book’ or ‘Stock Book’) how do you know?  I had an interesting conversation explaining what carbon paper was for, as we have discovered a lot of it!  This led to much reminiscing about the golden era of office supplies, pre-PCs and photocopiers, sparked by the discovery of a 1960s office equipment catalogue.

Some repackaging has been undertaken too, as within the collection there are numerous brown paper parcels tied up with string. On closer inspection some contain yet more ledger books, whilst others are a veritable feast of fabric samples and record cards which depict the test results for an array of fabrics from coat linings to umbrella fabric.  Susan and Christine have some prior knowledge of textiles and fabrics so they are having a great time uncovering these gems and helping us sort our grosgrain from our gabardine.

Here is just a small selection of the companies that Thomas Robinson worked with, including some familiar names:

Courtauld, Collins & Cawthron, Headen Weaving, B. Cohen (Morada), David Flower, Denholme Silk Weavers, Poulton Linings, Dublin Rayon Mills, Redman & Smith, Clare & Heyworth, Belstaff, Marks & Spencer, General Textiles Limited (Gentex), Morning Star Fabrics, Dennison Bros.. and many, many more.

The number of different companies’ letters discovered in these boxes of correspondence gives an idea of the size and importance of the UK textile industry at that time. As we continue to look through them I am sure there are more examples of design ingenuity and creativity  (like the ‘nursery rhyme’ fabric which was discovered by Christine) waiting to be uncovered and shared with textile enthusiasts, fashionistas, letterhead lovers (me!) and anyone with fond memories of our industrious past.

 

Thank you to Helen Lindsay, archivist at Bury Archives, for writing this fantastic blog post and to Wendy Gradwell, Archives Assistant at Bury Archives, for allowing us to use her brilliant images!

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