Weaving history: John Crossley & Sons

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

Establishment and growth
John Crossley (1772 – 1837) was a hand weaver of carpets in Halifax, Yorkshire. He was promoted to mill manager. Crossley went on to lease a modest-sized mill at Dean Clough, eventually buying the property outright.

John Crossley died in 1837, and his three sons, John Crossley, Joseph Crossley and Francis Crossley took over management of the business. John Crossley & Sons had 300 employees and the fourth largest mill in Britain.

John Crossley was the general manager, Joseph was in charge of the machinery and Francis was the commercial mind.

Francis Crossley was responsible for the rapid expansion of the business throughout the mid-nineteenth century. He pioneered the development of steam-powered carpet manufacturing, which afforded the business an enormous cost advantage. Licensing the use of their patents to other carpet manufacturers brought in substantial revenues from royalties.

Francis Crossley (1817 – 1872), c. 1862. Image used with kind permission from the National Portrait Gallery.

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.

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

Largest carpet manufacturer in the world
John Crossley & Sons was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world by 1862.

The business was transferred to a joint-stock company from 1864, with the primary aim of allowing its 3,500 employees to become shareholders. 20 percent of the company was sold to the workforce at preferential rates. John Crossley & Sons was perhaps the first large industrial business to provide a profit-sharing scheme for its staff.

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.

The company boasted annual carpet sales of £1.1 million by 1872, 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.

Dean Clough Mills in 2008. Image credit.

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.

Post-war developments
Around half of production was exported in the post-war period, with Australia and New Zealand representing the largest markets.

John Crossley & Sons merged with Carpet Trades, one of the largest carpet manufacturers in Kidderminster, in 1953. The two companies continued to be managed separately.

The former Meredith & Drew factory at Brighouse near Halifax was acquired in order to produce the new, lower-cost, tufted-style carpets. The carpets were sold under the Kosset brand, using American marketing techniques.

John Crossley & Sons was the largest carpet manufacturer in Europe in 1968.

John Crossley & Sons-Carpet Trades merged with the Carpet Manufacturing Company of Kidderminster to form Carpets International in 1969. The company was the largest carpet manufacturer in the world, with 29 percent of United Kingdom sales. Company headquarters were transferred to Kidderminster. Kosset and Crossley were the leading brands.

Sales of imported carpets grew to take the majority of the market between 1970 and 1980. Between December 1979 and 1982 the workforce was reduced from 6,071 to 3,600.

Carpets International suffered heavy profit losses between 1980 and 1982. The Dean Clough Mills had been rendered uneconomical, and the site was closed in 1982. The company blamed the impact of the economic recession and competition from Belgian, Danish and American imports. 800 staff were relocated to other sites, although 400 jobs were lost.

Carpets International entered into administration with the loss of 1,200 jobs in 2003. The company blamed increasing imports and a growing preference for wooden laminate-style flooring.

One thought on “Weaving history: John Crossley & Sons”

  1. Thank you. Francis Crossley ( and Titus Salt) deserve rather more present day coverage than they get as pioneer industrialists with a soul.

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