I've taken liberty here of retyping pages numbered 270 to 274 to provide clearer reference. Book appears to have been first published in 1913, before same author published 1938 title The New History of the C.W.S.
A longer and more disturbed history attaches to the next productive department concerned with the supply of C.W.S. drapery. It reaches back to 1867. In that year, according to Mr. Ben Jones in Co-operative Production, a co-operative hosiery society was formed in Leicester. The society carried on a small business until 1875, when the Hosiery Operatives' Union decided to commence making hosiery, and incidentally to buy out the co-operative hosiers, paying 233 for every £1 share. But the law and an eventual majority of the organised operatives were against the ruling body. With a loan from the union, therefore, twenty of its members finally agreed to form a second Leicester Co-operative Hosiery Manufacturing Society. In 1890 this society " had 235 members, of whom 88 were co-operative societies, 23 were employees, and the remainder private individuals." The capital was then £5,832, of which £1,600 was contributed from outside, and £173 by the employees. The sales for that year amounted to £17,079. By 1901 the sales had reached an annual total of about £70,000. At this point the Hosiery Society approached the C.W.S. Bank to negotiate a loan for extensions.
But the Wholesale Society by this time had developed a hosiery trade of about £75,000 yearly, of which only one-third (between £23,000 and £24,000) was supplied by the Leicester Hosiers.
The time thus being ripe for a C.W.S. Hosiery Factory, the Wholesale Society made a counter proposal to buy out the Midlanders. The property, machinery, and fixtures stood in their balance sheet at £15,236, for which the C.W.S. ultimately offered £29,000. With this offer went a promise to take over every employee, and to guarantee continuance of employment for twelve months. Employee-shareholders were to have facilities for re-investing in the C.W.S. Bank at 3 per cent. These terms the committee of the Hosiery Society agreed to recommend to the members. The latter body met on November 8th, apparently to hear for the first time of negotiations which had been going on for twelve months. The Leicester Hosiers " being one of the largest, oldest, and most successful of the copartnership societies," the news came to many people in that camp as something more than a surprise. One writer in the Co-operative News urged that the Hosiers' committee had no more right to sell the business than Parliament would have to dispose of England to America. The meeting was adjourned, the committee promising in the meantime to consult all the societies interested. At the next meeting, on November 29th, replies from 116 out of 380 societies were available as evidence. Seventy-eight of these, whose united purchases during 1901 had amounted to one-half of the Hosiery Society's output, were in favour of the transfer ; and twenty-four others were neutral. Some five hundred delegates and shareholders attended this meeting, amongst them a large number of the employees. The proceedings were reported as degenerating into " a perfect Bedlam of noise." A number of youths and girls interested as shareholders only to the extent of a £1 share apiece, were held to be responsible for the disorder, and in some quarters their possession of voting proved against large shareholders was severely commented upon, although the principle of votes for persons and not for capital is at the root of co-operative democracy. On the voting the Hosiery committee's resolution was lost by 286 to 204, whereas a three-fourths majority was required by the society's rules. Although the employees greatly swelled the opposition forces, it was stated by Mr. Aneurin Williams, Mr. Amos Mann, and others that had all the employees abstained the requisite proportion still would not have been secured.
After this vote the C.W.S. Committee could only withdraw their recommendation to purchase. "The course of the Wholesale was Leicester Hosiers and the C.W.S. now clear and straight," said Mr. Shillito, "and they would have to enter into this business on their own account." The C.W.S. could not re-open negotiations; but a hint was given that fresh offers from the other side still would be entertained. And the Hosiery Society, whatever its faith in the principles of copartnership, proved disinclined to carry independence so far as to find another than the co-operative market. A special committee appointed by the distributive societies interested as purchasers, or shareholders, or both, met the workers in conference at Leicester on February 14th, 1903. Now the fighting spirit ebbed, for one of the Hosiery Society's travellers pointed out that his week's orders from co-operative societies had fallen from £700 to £150, and a colleague on the road agreed that the feelings aroused against the Hosiers made an acceptance of C.W.S. terms "inevitable." And at a meeting of the Hosiery Society on February 28th, not only was a resolution for re-opening negotiations carried by 212 to 54 votes, but each member of the committee alleged to have " sold the pass " was re-elected, the chief C.W.S. critic at the Quarterly Meetings of the federation being an unsuccessful candidate. The arrangement of the transfer went forward after this very quickly indeed. The C.W.S. price and conditions remained the same; and in June, 1903, the Wholesale Society's Committee found themselves in a position to recommend the purchase to the delegates, who agreed unanimously and without discussion.
The C.W.S. entered into possession of the Cranbourne Street Factory on July 1st, 1903. The stock taken over from the Hosiery Society was valued at £34,792, an amount almost equal to six months' production. With these goods in hand at the factory it became necessary to work short time, and a special depreciation of the stock in addition caused the results of the first six months to show a loss of some £1,174. The output for the same period was £32,382. Mr. George Newell, an original promoter, and, as manager, a chief builder of the second Leicester Co-operative Manufacturing Society, had died before the transfer to the C.W.S., and the effort to find a worthy successor resulted about 1906 in the factory being under its third manager since the acquisition. This last change appeared to be beneficial, for the small net profit of 1905 changed to net four figure gains in 1906 and 1907. And, with this first sign of return to what seemed like normal production, the original need of extension and also of a more conveniently arranged factory made itself felt. The Committee decided to build an entirely new works.
Various sites were visited, and in December, 1906, sanction was asked for a purchase of four and a quarter acres, for £719, at Hucknall Huthwaite, near Sutton-in-Ashfield, in Nottinghamshire. The intention to go outside both Leicester and the county aroused protests at the old centre, but the Committee asserted a need of extending the production to include the finer manufactures of the Nottingham district, and of having room to provide for the processes of dyeing and finishing, not undertaken at Cranbourne Street. Delegates from the Nottinghamshire district combated the statement that Huthwaite was an unsuitable locality for the works; and the proposal was everywhere approved.
The new factory began operations on February 4th, 1908. Idealists of all kinds and varieties unite nowadays to advocate the taking of works into the country. For well-to-do people who can afford frequent visits to the nearest city, or for those whose business takes them into the full stream of human life at tolerable intervals, certainly it is delightful to work amidst fields and trees. But people of limited means have reason for sharing Charles Lamb's genial love of streets and crowds ; and it is doubtful whether any removal of a C.W.S. works from a city or large town to a comparative village, however healthful, has been wholly appreciated by the employees. Nevertheless, forty-two of the forty-eight male operatives employed at Cranbourne Street followed the factory to Huthwaite, but only sixteen out of forty warehousemen, and fourteen among 208 girls. At the London Quarterly Meeting, where these figures were given by the chairman, it was stated that a lower trade union rate at Huthwaite affected the latter body; at the same time the coming of the C.W.S. increased the local rates; and, temporarily, at least, the loss of so many skilled workers created a difficulty. In some of the C.W.S. factories some of the work done by feminine fingers is so simple that any normal girl can learn it in a short time, and do it quickly and well. It is different with knitting machines, which, although almost as light for women's handling as a pair of needles, still are extremely intricate. Capacity in this industry usually is sure of reward, being clearly worth paying for. And, although skilled hosiery workers already were to be found in the Huthwaite district, much of the C.W.S. work differed from theirs; and a good deal of training became necessary. Again, to admit of supplies during removal, the stocks at the end of 1907 had been allowed to reach the figure of £62,000; and subsequently the price of yarn unexpectedly fell, leaving the stocks difficult to clear. Under the pressure of these circumstances, with the disturbance of a removal, and the increased fixed charges, the management found relief in producing inferior goods. But this false step proved, at any rate, that the co-operative movement was not indifferent to the quality of its supplies. Complaints multiplied; the magnificent new factory was brought practically to a standstill while the Committee made their investigation; and a fourth change of management quickly followed. Realising the necessity, the Committee further resolved upon a bold course. The stock was specially depreciated, certain unnecessary contracts for yarn were determined, and everything done to make a clean new start. The delegates had then to be faced with a half year's loss totalling £35,000, or £40,958 on the whole year 1908. The task was rendered still more unenviable by the same balance sheet happening to contain various other losses totalling in all £20,000. However, it was stoutly faced by the Productive Committee of the C.W.S., led by its chairman, Mr. Lander, whose frank statements at the final general meeting did much to restore confidence. After all, although described by a delegate as the worst balance sheet on the productive side ever placed before them, the accounts for this half year showed a substantial net profit from all the productive works, after reckoning every possible penny on the wrong side.
The new manager, Mr. H. France, capably assisted, began his uphill task in November, 1908. The quality of the fresh productions was jealously guarded, the training of workers devotedly undertaken, and, with a restored confidence, the annual production climbed from the extraordinarily low figure of £53,000 in 1908 to over £80,000, to £85,000, to £107,000, and last year (1912) to £127,000. There, with a full output and restored profits, the story of the factory may comfortably be left.
Written 26 Feb 13 Revised 01 Jul 14 © by Gary Elliott