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Weaving history: John Crossley & Sons

John Crossley & Sons was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world throughout much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Based at Halifax in Yorkshire, it declined as cheaper imports arrived from overseas, and the factory closed in 1982.

John Crossley (1772 – 1837) was a carpet weaver in Halifax, Yorkshire. He was promoted to mill manager. He then leased a mill at Dean Clough. Eventually Crossley bought the mill outright.

John Crossley died in 1837, and his three sons, John, Joseph and Francis took over the business. By this time the business had 300 employees and the fourth largest mill in Britain.

Francis Crossley (1817 – 1872) was responsible for the company’s rapid expansion throughout the mid-nineteenth century. He pioneered the development of steam-powered carpet manufacturing, which gave the company an enormous advantage in terms of cost of production. Licensing the use of their patents to other carpet manufacturers brought in substantial revenues from royalties alone.

John Crossley & Sons operated the largest carpet factory in England by 1848. By this time the business held a Royal Warrant to supply Queen Victoria. Carpets were retailed in Halifax and also supplied to London and Liverpool, with a substantial export market in the United States.

Unusually for the time, Francis Crossley operated a policy of paying women equal wages to men for doing the same job. Many of the Crossley family values were inspired by their Congregationalist faith.

John Crossley & Sons was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world by 1862. In 1864 the firm became a joint-stock company, with the primary aim of allowing its 3,500 employees to become shareholders. 20 percent of the company was sold to the employees at preferential rates. They were perhaps the first large industrial employer to profit share with their employees.

John Crossley & Sons was the largest publicly-quoted industrial company in Britain by 1868, with an ordinary share capitalization of £2.2 million (about £220 million in 2014). 5,000 people were employed. By 1872 the company had annual carpet sales of £1.1 million, including exports to the United States valued at nearly £500,000. The buildings at Dean Clough Mill covered 20 acres, where concentration of production at a single site lowered costs.

John Crossley & Sons was one of the largest manufacturing companies in the world by 1877.

John Crossley & Sons employed 3,770 people in 1903.

John Crossley & Sons employed about 5,000 people at the largest carpet works in the world in 1923.

During the Second World War the company was largely engaged in cotton spinning (identified by the government as an essential industry) from its mill in Rochdale as well as the carpet export trade.

In 1953, John Crossley & Sons merged with Carpet Trades Ltd of Kidderminster, but the two companies continued to be managed separately. A new factory was opened in Brighouse, West Yorkshire, to produce the new, cheaper, tufted-style carpets, which were sold under the Kosset brand, using “new” American marketing techniques.

John Crossley & Sons merged with Carpet Manufacturing Company of Kidderminster to form Carpets International, the largest carpet manufacturer in the world, with 29 percent of United Kingdom sales, in 1969. In 1970 the headquarters of the group was moved to Kidderminster. By 1977 the number employed had declined to around 1,700 people.

In 1982 production at Dean Clough Mills was shut down, following two years of heavy losses at Carpets International. A factory in Kidderminster was also closed down, and between them, 500 jobs were lost. The company blamed the economic recession and subsidised American and Belgian imports.

In 2003 Carpets International went into administration, and 1,200 jobs were lost. The company blamed increasing imports and a growing preference among British consumers for wooden laminate-style flooring. Almost no carpets were imported into the UK in 1970. By 2003, 63 percent came from overseas.