British Textile Manufacturing since 1870
Find out more about the history of Edward Clay & Son below.
Edward Clay and Son was established in 1870 by Edward Clay JP, first Mayor of the Borough of Ossett, and began life in premises off Prospect Road as Rag Merchants.
Edward Clay, son of the late Jacob Clay was born in Ossett on April 21st 1844 and educated at the Wesleyan and Grammar Schools, Ossett. He served his apprenticeship as a hand loom cloth weaver and afterwards started business as a rag and mungo merchant in 1870.
A move to Wesley Street1889
Above: Wesley House & Edward Clay J.P. (1844-1921) and his second wife Amy
During the year 1889 the firm moved to Wesley Street having acquired Wesley House and its land from a Mr. Gartside. Here they continued trading as Rag Merchants. There were fifty women in the top storey of the warehouse, who removed zips, buttons and seams with hand shears from the old unwashed bales of clothes. They sorted the rags into shades and qualities i.e. worsteds, merinos, stockings (knitted cloth) and half wools (half cotton and half wool) etc etc
From 1900-1905 there was no motive power at Wesley Street apart from a gas engine which ran a rag shaker and belt driven crane. At some stage during this period two rag machines were rented at the firm of Jonas Glover’s which was situated at Westgate Mills further up Wesley Street. They were cloth manufacturers and because they had a mill steam engine, which provided power for the cloth making machinery, it was an ideal arrangement for Edward Clay and Son to utilise the power by running two rag machines.
The firm was primarily trading as Rag Merchants at this stage but the manufacture of shoddy and mungo was an up and coming business and this was a natural follow through from rag sorting.
The first lorry1912
John Arthur Clay’s first lorry.
Around 1914 the transformer house was built next to the mill for the Yorkshire Electric Power Company and consequently this enabled the firm to buy four 18” rag machines with 25 horse power motors. The rag sorting and ripping side of the business gradually contracted and the shoddy and mungo side expanded.
By now, John Arthur Clay, son of Edward Clay, had joined the firm but sadly in 1918 he fell victim to the influenza epidemic and died aged 48. This left Edward Clay in sole charge and his grandson, Edward Wilson Clay returned home from the First World War in Palestine to take over the running of the mill with his grandfather. Edward Clay Senior died in 1921 aged 77 years which left the firm in the hands of his grandson, Edward Wilson Clay.
The War Years1920s – 1930s
During the twenties and thirties the mill went through two slumps but managed to survive and during the Second World War it was made a Limited Company. By this time the firm had four 24” rag machines and during the war years rag prices were controlled. A certain price was fixed by the Wool Control Board.
During the war the mill’s storage areas were used to hold tons of sugar and tins of tomato puree for the Government.
In 1946 John Arthur Clay, son of Edward Wilson Clay, joined the firm having served his war years in the Fleet Air Arm. At this stage there was still some rag sorting and manufacture of shoddy but a chance meeting with a representative of Slumberland changed the future of the mill.
During the war the army had barracks on Westfield Mills and when they had departed at the end of the hostilities the land and buildings became vacant and the bedding firm, Slumberland, showed an interest in the site. A representative from the firm happened to pass the gates of Edward Clay and Son Ltd and saw a bale of shoddy in the yard. It was enquired whether the firm made flock. This was denied but as the manufacture of flock was a similar process using the same machinery as for shoddy it was agreed to start making flock. In the event Slumberland never did acquire the Westfield Mills site but nevertheless it paved the way for a new venture for Edward Clay and Son and introduced them to the bedding industry with which it is still connected today.
Expanding the mill1950
In the mid 1950’s Antony Clay, younger son of Edward Wilson Clay, came into the firm, after completing his national service in the navy, to join his brother after their father retired. The two brothers continued the management of the business, building a new boiler house, expanding the office buildings and enlarging the main body of the mill.
Woven textile manufacturingPresent day
Today the company occupies two sites in Ossett and is managed by Edward Clay (Chairman) and John Clay (Managing Director). The Company has expanded into many different areas of non woven textile manufacture and now make thermal bonded as well as needle punch products with the most up to date and modern equipment. In addition to mattress and upholstery fillings the firm manufactures felts for the horticulture, packaging and insulation industries.
In 2014 Edward Clay’s great, great, great grandson, Luke Jackson joined the company to continue the family management tradition.