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Crepe expectations: Grout & Co

Grout & Co was the largest manufacturer of crepe in Britain.

Grout & Co is established
Joseph Grout (1781 – 1853) was born in Bocking, Essex. The family were apparently descended from Huguenot refugees from the Low Countries, and anglicized their name from Groot.

Joseph Grout became a saddle and harness maker. He began to manufacture “Norwich crepe”, a lower cost imitation of French crepe, at Patteson’s Yard, Magdalen Street, Norwich, from 1806.

Grout was the first person in Britain to produce crepe. He was soon joined in partnership by his brother George Grout (1781 – 1860).

Large mills were soon established at Lower Westwick Street, Norwich.

A silk factory was established at a former military barracks at St Nicholas Road, Great Yarmouth from 1815. The Yarmouth site was selected due to its lower labour costs.

An average of 3,908 people were directly employed in 1825. A large proportion of employees were young women aged 16 to 24.

A silk crepe factory had been established at Ponder’s End, Enfield, by 1829.

The capital invested by Grout & Co amounted to £143,546 in 1832. Around one third of raw silk came from Bengal, one third from China and one third from Italy.

The Great Yarmouth site was destroyed by fire in 1832, and had to be rebuilt.

Mills were established at Ditchingham, Norfolk, around 1833.

The largest manufacturer of crepe in Britain
The Grout brothers became extremely wealthy, and had entered into retirement by 1835. Management of the firm was taken over by William Martin (died 1849), a close relative.

The Great Yarmouth factory employed 1,100 workers in 1837. 970 people were employed at Norwich, and 560 were employed at Ditchingham.

Following the death of William Martin in 1849, the firm was managed by John Brown, a Mr Robison and a Mr Hall.

The Norwich, Yarmouth and Ditchingham mills regularly employed over 2,000 people by 1854. The predominant manufacture was gauze, which was then sent to the Ponder’s End factory to be converted into crepe for mourning purposes.

Grout & Co was the largest manufacturer of crepe in Britain by 1862. Over 3,000 workers were employed. The Norwich factory was the principal production site.

Grout & Co was the leading crepe manufacturer in Britain in 1887. There were warehouses in London, Manchester, Paris and New York, and factories at Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Ditchingham and Ponder’s End.

Crepe went out of fashion in Britain, and almost all production was exported to Latin countries by 1890. That year, manufacturing was centralised at Great Yarmouth, and all other factories were closed. The company also expanded into other textiles.

Grout & Co and Courtauld dominated English crepe manufacture by this time.

Grout & Co was registered as a company in 1894.

The Great Yarmouth factory employed around 1,000 workers in 1907.

Crepe bandages were manufactured from 1920.

Grout & Co produced silk parachutes during the Second World War.

Sale of the company and closure of the factory
Grout & Co was acquired by Carrington & Dewhurst, the largest manufacturer of filament fabrics in Europe, in 1962.

Carrington & Dewhurst merged with Viyella to form Carrington Viyella in 1970, one of the largest textile manufacturers in Europe.

The factory was relocated to Harfreys Industrial Estate, Great Yarmouth, from 1975. Grout & Co focused on the production of crepe bandages.

Smith & Nephew acquired the Great Yarmouth factory from Coats Viyella in 1994. The factory was closed in 1996.