When we venture away from our town, we Huddersfield-dwellers are often met with puzzled expressions when we tell people where we’re from. Saying that we hail from a point that’s halfway between Leeds and Manchester usually works to allay this confusion, but leaves us feeling deflated about how understated – and undervalued – our town often is.
However, when you move into certain circles – especially ones that are wound up in wool – things begin to change. When you step into the world of fine cloth and tailoring, recognition and renown for the humble Huddersfield name starts to emerge.
Of course, it’s no secret that at Dugdale Bros, we’re immensely proud of our heritage in the town – not to mention our status as the last remaining independent cloth house in its centre. But tread further afield than Northumberland Street, Yorkshire and even the UK, and you’ll find tailors, couturiers and style aficionados who understand just what value our ‘Made in Huddersfield, England’ label really has.
Huddersfield’s cloth-making heritage
The secret to how Huddersfield became home to the world’s finest cloth is largely down to a number of strands of history becoming wound together in the right place, at the right time. There is no singular characteristic that made this possible, but rather the steady refinement of spinning, weaving and finishing processes over time.
The first woollen fabrics in Huddersfield were made by hand at home and brought to the Cloth Hall to trade. Wool from the local area was spun, washed, dyed and woven together to create rough but durable fabrics, suitable for making basic clothes. But these cloths were a long way from those that we’re used to seeing today.
Water and weaving
It was when water power started to be harnessed, and mills began cropping up along the rivers Colne and Holme, that the town’s looms really began to take off. In fact, water played an important part in the finishing process too – and still does to this day. By using soft local Yorkshire water to wash the wool with natural soaps, softness is imparted to the fibres, and it’s these specific conditions that no foreign manufacturer has yet been able to emulate.
As time went on and we Brits began travelling further afield, imported merino from New Zealand and Australia started replacing coarse local wool, resulting in Huddersfield’s ability to spin finer yarns and even softer cloths. Mechanised weaving methods born out of the Industrial Revolution then began to improve both the production efficiency and quality of cloth too.
The development of worsted weaving techniques in the 18th century was a turning point for the textiles industry – using longer fibres and two-ply yarns in the weaving process, the resulting cloth was tougher, finer, more resistant to creasing and less likely to pull. The mills in Huddersfield became renowned for the quality of their worsted fabrics, and this premium status still holds strong today. Although more traditional woollen cloths are still produced for outer garments thanks to their durability, worsted has become a mainstay for everyday clothes and suiting.
The global recognition that Huddersfield cloths receive is nothing new – centuries ago, mill owners were travelling as far as Asia and South America to sell their wares, bringing the latest exotic fashion trends with them when they returned home.
Today, we witness similar trades happening but on a much larger, more streamlined scale. Cultural influences from all around the world are easy to spot in new lines every season, and we continue to supply our fine cloths to tailors and garment makers far and wide.
So, the next time someone asks you where you’re from, don’t mumble something about Leeds and Manchester and the point that lies halfway between. Instead, declare proudly that you’re from Huddersfield, the town that’s home to the finest cloths in the world!
Thanks to Gordon Kaye for sharing his local expertise on Huddersfield’s rich textile heritage.