Huddersfield has long been renowned as home to the world’s finest cloth, but how did textiles become so woven into the fabric of the town? Our managing director Simon Glendenning was recently featured in Topic UK, unpicking the illustrious history of clothmaking in the region. If you missed the article, you can read it in full below…
There are certain things that Huddersfield is famed for around the world – being the birthplace of rugby league, the first female Doctor Who and Felix the station cat are just a few. But long before these iconic events, it was the town’s booming textiles trade that brought it international recognition. And thanks to the prevailing popularity of Huddersfield-made cloth across global markets, this renown continues today.
Situated in an imposing Victorian building on Northumberland Street – known as ‘The Towers’ – cloth merchant Dugdale Bros & Co. has been working with weavers and finishers in the local area since 1896, to supply premium quality fabrics to tailors and fashion houses throughout the world.
Acquired in 2001 by Robert Charnock, the company was previously owned by his father Keith, who worked there for 20 years before buying the business from the last remaining Dugdale. Managing director Simon Glendenning was brought on board in 2015, and maintains that the company still remains true to the original values and motto of its founders Henry and Frederick – ‘with pride, with passion, with integrity’.
“It’s no secret that we’re proud of our heritage and independence,” Simon elaborates. “Dugdale Bros was established from humble beginnings, and even though our cloth has become a mainstay within the cutting rooms of Savile Row tailors and luxury fashion houses around the world, we still see ourselves as a boutique Huddersfield cloth brand.”
So, what is it that made this modest town such a hub for cloth production in the first place?
It all began with the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Thanks to its unique geography, the region’s water provided optimum conditions for washing wool – almost all impurities are filtered out by the millstone hills of the Pennines, which enables the fibres to retain their lustrous quality and soft handle. Mills began to spring up in the surrounding valleys and as technology, techniques and skills advanced, Huddersfield-made worsted cloth became known for its unbeatably fine finish.
Although the number of working mills in the area has diminished in recent years, Dugdale Bros still collaborates with neighbouring historic weavers Taylor & Lodge and eminent finishers W. T. Johnston & Sons, to produce its fine fabrics.
“We work closely with our trusted partners at every step of the process to ensure the highest standards are achieved,” explains Simon. “Firstly, we source the best class of merino wool available from growers in New South Wales, Australia, which is then shipped to the UK. Next, this is transformed into the highest quality yarns by some of the industry’s finest wool processors – also located in Huddersfield – before being transported down the road to be woven into cloth. Finally, the fabric is washed and finished nearby, to achieve the premium quality we’ve become renowned for.”
This elemental process has been at the heart of the company’s operations since its establishment. Having crafted over 2,000 different fabrics within this time, Dugdale Bros currently has 26 collections available, ranging from legacy cloths to innovative high-performance textiles.
According to Simon, it’s the company’s dedication to authentic craftsmanship that has enabled it to continue thriving today. He explains: “Within the modern fashion industry – where a throwaway attitude to clothes seems to have erupted – we remain advocates for taking the time and putting in the effort required, to create something that’s both stylish and long-lasting.”
And time, it seems, is the thread that holds the entire process together. Not only has the history of fine worsted cloth taken centuries to unfold, but the manufacturing itself is something that can’t – or at least shouldn’t – be rushed.
“When you look at how cloth is made, it’s more a matter of evolution than a step-by-step process,” continues Simon. “Centuries of development and the gradual enhancement of techniques all play a part in the collections we’re producing today. And that’s precisely why we choose to work with local artisans, who have unparalleled experience and the ability to keep up with the latest advancements. All in all, our yarns and worsted cloths are processed within a 20-mile radius of our Huddersfield base.”
Although slowly achieved, these refinements are most obviously apparent when it comes to the weight of the cloth. Whilst the average would have been around 540g in 1915, just over a century later the standard sits at approximately 280g. Technical developments are largely to thank for these lighter, finer fabrics, which are proving particularly popular overseas.
Fulfilling the evolving needs of its international market has been pivotal in recent years, explains Simon: “As demand has risen for more functional fabrics that perform well in warmer, more humid conditions, we’ve listened and tailored our cloths to meet these requirements. Along with our recently developed lightweight Travel Flannel, for example, we have also expanded our range of linens with the launch of two new collections – Lisburn and Crommelin.”
And with three further ranges set to be unveiled later this year, Dugdale Bros’ cloth production shows no sign of slowing.
“Pride in the legacy of this town’s illustrious textiles history is woven into each and every cloth we produce,” comments Simon. “And it’s this heritage – combined with the quality of the materials and craftsmanship at every stage of the manufacturing process – that makes our ‘Made in Huddersfield, England’ selvedge so highly regarded around the world.”