Archives Hub feature for January 2017
Our large collection of business records relating to the Horrockses cotton firm was first deposited at Lancashire Archives in 1969, and has proved popular with researchers throughout the last half century. A recent funding award offered the opportunity to spend some time working on the earliest records in the collection, primarily those which date before 1887 when an amalgamation led to the formation of Horrockses Crewdson and Co.
John Horrocks was born in Edgworth, near Bolton, in 1768. His family operated a quarry in the area which was where Horrocks would first begin spinning cotton, selling the finished yarn in Preston. One of the earliest items within the Horrockses archive is a map showing the land owned by the family at Bradshaw, which clearly identifies a stone mill owned by John Horrocks Senior alongside a cotton mill owned by John Horrocks Junior. John Horrocks eventually moved his business to Preston, opening his first factory in 1791. As the business flourished additional factories would be built on the site, which collectively became known as the Yard Works.
The company grew throughout the 19th century, and probably the most interesting material from this period relates to international trade. Horrockses Miller and Co had a number of agents throughout the world, in countries as diverse as Portugal, Mexico, India and China, and made arrangements not only to sell their cotton in these markets, but also to ship other goods for sale. This trade included the purchase of opium in India to be sold in China, where they would then purchase tea and silk to be brought back to the UK. Much of the correspondence also dates from a time of international conflict, and there are references to the Opium Wars, rebellions in India and Portugal and the Mexican-American war.
The company was also involved in conflict much closer to home. The longest industrial dispute in Preston’s history took place between October 1853 and May 1854, and became known as the Preston Lock Out. During the 1840s cotton workers throughout Lancashire had suffered a 10-20% cut in their wages and they began to strike in efforts to have it reinstated. In retaliation the cotton masters locked the workers out of the mills denying them a living. As well as direct action, public opinion seems to have been central to the dispute, and the archive includes a collection of bill posters written from the viewpoint of both the striking workers and their employers.
Yet despite events such as these there was also much to be celebrated during this period, including the Preston Guild, an event dating back to the medieval period but which still takes place every twenty years. Horrockses Miller and Co would take the opportunity to publicise their goods, providing floats which would appear in the trade procession and building decorative Guild arches from cotton bales.
Heritage always seems to have been important to the company, which perhaps explains why we are fortunate to have such an extensive collection of surviving records. Advertising would celebrate the longevity of the firm both in terms of the date that they were established and the quality of the goods being produced. As the business moved into the 20th century they sought new sources of income, most notably with the launch of Horrockses Fashions in the late 1940s. It is this part of the business which is perhaps the most widely known, as the company began using their own cottons to produce off the peg dresses which would prove to be extremely fashionable. Designs would be sought from artists and designers including Pat Albeck, Graham Sutherland and Alastair Morton, and the Queen would famously wear Horrockses dresses on her first Commonwealth Tour.
We are currently fundraising to finish cataloguing the later records within the collection, which should help us to learn more about this important and famous period in the history of the company. To find out more or make a donation, please visit http://www.flarchives.co.uk/catalogue-horrockses.html.
Lancashire County Council
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