When I started at Bell Woven (often contracted to Belwoven) textiles was still a significant employer in Lancashire. Although the writing was on the wall for functional specialisation and careers in it, there were still opportunities for those who looked around. Bell Woven was one of those. It was in a niche market but played correctly it was a haven from the meltdown in textiles. My boss told me that many companies had been offered an inducement to textile business wishing to get out; subsidies for selling existing plant and machinery to India. It was a common perception in the work force that government had once again sold them out. Certainly there were far more technically qualified people than jobs.
I took the opportunity to look into Hansard and it’s pretty evident that the top layers of government were hostile to the concerns of those employed in the industry – textile imports were being dumped in the UK, subsidised by foreign governments, and / or produced at slave-labour rates, in effect being sold below cost. “Bring your proof” said government officials, plainly intent on doing nothing about the matter. There was opportunity to correct this but there was always another excuse for not doing so.
A brief dip into economic history and fit the jigsaw pieces together, the British government, as part of its settlement with post Empire India, had determined that it was wise to get out of textiles. Leaving out the rights and wrongs of the matter, what it proposed was to give grants to mill owners who sent their textile machinery to India; an exit strategy was offered to owners who got an unexpected balloon payment. The workers got nothing, just high levels of unemployment in communities that often had only one employer.
Over to Jim Langley. He was the textiles buyer at Bell Woven. Life had channelled him from a much larger outfit, with no future, to a tiny place like Belwoven. One of his tasks included providing month end pricing information in order that our stock of raw materials could be valued.
Pricing: fine. Valuing stock: no one wanted to put their name to that, besides it involved going into the mill. Go inter t’ mill and you’d get ribbed by the weavers, you might not get any help in counting the stock – you might even have to count it yourself. Stock didn’t mean tiny boxes all neatly stacked in a prissy little store room, no, it meant bloody great beams full of warp – from five foot to ten foot wide, weighing in at 100kg at least. What was a warp? Think of a bobbin of thread, now make it longer, wider (particularly this), deeper – it’s have up to 6,000 individual ends (i.e. threads) securely and neatly wound around the barrel up to a length of say 3km. These were kept in a side annexe along with the boxes of weft, until they were ready to be twisted into a loom. Our two twisters were Charlie Metcalfe and Phil Terry. Twisting meant connecting each individual end to the corresponding ends already in the looms, secured at the reeds.
Then there was weft. It came on cones in boxes weighing anywhere between a couple of kg (if there was just one cone) up 50 or 60 kg. Each cone was wound with one thread possibly several km long (depending on its denier or decitex). Most weft was black or white – as an example white weft white warp would effectively set the a white background colour for a label design; but there plenty of other colours. One colour that was rarely used was Fuschia. A decimal point error at the ordering stage some years earlier, meant we received 100 times more than was required. For many years there were 174kg of weft, colour: Fuschia, fully provisioned, kept on the off-chance of future use – technical terms require context, I picked up knowledge the traditional way, by exposure and by doing.
Anyhow I was young bright and eager; I got the monthly job of counting raw material stock: beams of warp and boxes of weft, and having done this, popping over to the accounts office for a sit down chat with Jim Langley, esq, for a chat about warp and weft prices. These were to be found a set of five foot high metal filing cabinets set against the wall, holding supplier records, including invoices. Belwoven bought polyester fibres which went under names such as diolen and terylene – from business such as Bemberg (Italy) and Lawson (UK).
As this was a time of inflation (3% to 8% p,a,) and varying exchange rates, prices per kilo often varied. Volume discounts reduced the price, inflation raised it, foreign exchange rate variation played its part and it would often fall to me to select the most representative price – it goes without saying that this involved a good deal of personal judgement – was there a median price? what was the weighted mean? should each respective loom’s warp cost be reflected in an individual raw material entry – this was only significant when we had orange warp beams for a Levi tabs order – a tab was barely large enough to include the company name: no washing or care instructions, no size, just the logo.
The results of our deliberations I would take away to my humble desk in order to convert into month end value of raw material. Valuation was done by calculator:
• kg x price per kg = value
• each set of beams (2 per loom) whether in a loom or in the side annexe, and each box of yarn, adjusted for cones issued to the winding department.
I well remember converting the stock schedules into spreadsheet format some 10 years later. Supercalc. Who remembers that? I still have a working copy of Supercalc somewhere – heck I’ve even got a PC that runs it! Perhaps I’ll blog it someday.